Friday, March 05, 2010

When is pretend, not?

My recent vague frustration about work was (partially) about not being able to say anything about a school-wide activity we were doing this week. As of today it's done. In order to create the element of surprise for students we were asked not to let anyone know what was going to take place. It's finally over, so I can get my thoughts out. I feel like I've been sitting on my hands for about three weeks, about to explode with crazy.

We participated in a national program--a simulated tragedy designed to scare students into not doing the bad thing that would cause the tragedy. There's one day of the actual event itself, and one day of a mock funeral for students who would have been affected. I did this same program once about two years in to my teaching career, and it was very intense. Eventually I put it out of my mind as several of my students died and real mourning took the place of the already difficult simulation. The time finally rolled around for us to do this program again and I was sick just thinking about participating. Too close to home.

I couldn't do it.

I wear my heart on my sleeve like a soldier wears his stripes. I was always a touchy person; once I was a mom, the barrier between my emotion and the world became eggshell-thin. I feel things so deeply. I'm not a black and white person. I'm a green and orange check with a swirl of purple and a drip of blue person. I harbor things. I treasure things. I internalize things. I lay awake at night thinking about things and they give me the crazies. I cry with the dependability and volume of Portland rain. I hardly ever brush anything off or let it roll off my back. I let it sink in, and then I carry the scars. I move on, remembering exactly how I got them.

If a good memory is a curse, a memory for feeling is its twin burden. Why do some of us dance the same dance of each emotion over and over again?

This is why I asked to opt out of this activity several weeks ago. Long story short, that eventually got worked out, but it was tough and awkward. Of course it wasn't easy to find an alternative and it required some embarrassingly specific proclamations about my own weaknesses; it involved hearing from various people that "it was just a simulation" (duh) and I just needed to "suck it up."

I have serious qualms about sucking it up just for the sake of sucking it up. I have serious queasiness about how manipulative a simulation can be to some people's emotions. There are no "fake" emotions for provocation. Only real. The situation may be a mime, but the emotion is legitimate no matter what inspires it. I knew that if I went, that eggshell would crack and I'd be left open and broken in front of my students, vulnerable in a way that gives me pause.

As I said, I know I'm extraordinarily sensitive to things like this. I eschew situations where I'll feel that manipulated or exposed. I avoid scary movies or movies where bad things happen to kids; I hate any kind of cruelty or torture in entertainment. People I'm with will say "but it's not real," but I can't get past the idea that for something to exist in popular fiction it must have sprung from something that actually did happen--the distance between fiction and honest human experience is so small. It sometimes feels like we cheat the memory of someone else's pain by putting it on display. This event also all happened on the day of the fifth anniversary of the the tragic death of one of my AP students who collapsed in his basketball class. It was too much. I've had to see several students put into the ground. I couldn't pretend to do the same today. I couldn't hear parents read imagined eulogies. I couldn't, couldn't, couldn't.

I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish here.

This isn't a post with a message or a call to action. It's just me trying to explain where my head has been the last two weeks. I know my opinion is only my own. I mean no harm or disrespect. I admire the aims of the program and the terrifying problem it seeks to address. I just had so much inner turmoil about what it was going to let into my mind and my heart when we played pretend.

I'm glad it's done.

I'm disabling comments for this post only because I don't want the program or my school mentioned by name. This doesn't mean I don't want to hear from you. If you have comments, you can email me by clicking the black and white envelope icon in the right-hand column. Thanks for reading. This was hard to write, but I felt like I needed to in order to process this week.