Nonfiction: A Day in My Ukrainian Life

To Do List – Thursday, 1 November, 2012 (Retroactive)

  • Prepare for class by waking up at  8:00 am  9:00 am  9:35 am  10:00 am  okay, whenever you get up for real, and with less than an hour left, now you don’t actually have time to really plan, but you’re good on your toes, and something always comes up in the moment, right? Right? Yes, you’ve got it—music video on mute!
  • Prepare to pass again today as a teacher even as you’re still unsure that you are or have ever been one.
    • Prepare to feel that familiar panic spread, standing there in front, even now after so many sessions still wanting to flee.
    • Prepare to root yourself to the spot, despite your internal churning and chafing, shape your trunk to appear strong, solid, sure.
    • Prepare to smile: relax facial muscles, pull right corner of mouth up with right cheek muscle, do same on left side (if possible, simultaneously), open mouth slightly—note: you’ll still need work on sparkling out genuineness in the eyes, but now you can…
    • Prepare to begin.
  • Prepare to feel proud of what follows—your own muted music writing, drafted alongside your students—for a moment before realizing how much more preparation it will need to actually be good:

You’re not ready yet so you’ll set the needle straight on the record of your day, even when the pen strokes won’t quite come, the groove will soothe you, press the coffee and set it down to keep the table honest about its name. Today moves, more than yesterday and tomorrow even, the notes won’t leave, they crowd the ceiling and cling to the upholstery, as if someone is sitting there singing, strumming, stubbornly refusing to move, but don’t worry, ma’am, I’m a professional, after all, and I can lift the chair with him still in it—the music bouncing back at us from the corridor walls will finally be more than mere footsteps. You say that it’s time for a change of place, and so you’ve quickly packed the porcelain birds in with the coffee mugs and the egg timer, you’ve put the canary in your pocket for sound and safekeeping and stashed the empty cage away among the plastic lawn flamingos, and at last, you’ve made sure the hi-fi is tucked in tight, even while it still spins. Mark that box ‘Fragile’ even though—or perhaps because—it only contains a feather boa from that time you pretended with your friends that you were in Brazil, and a key to which you’ve lost the lock. Mark that one ‘Glass’ and that one ‘Bathroom Gadgetry’ and that one over there, mark ‘Rough’ and tumble it down the truck ramp end over end—better get it over with now because it’s only going to happen later anyway, sorry about that, hope it wasn’t anything too precious, irreplaceable. Today moved, but everyday you empty one space to fill the next with the song of you, sweet like birdsong but never repeating even once, even to the skipping static end.

  • Prepare to get the feeling that two years haven’t brought a lot of personal and/or professional growth, even though you know they have.
    • Prepare to chastise yourself yet again for gross self-deprecation.
  • Prepare to meet new people even now toward the end, even in your own classroom, make room for unexpected people like “Sasha”, a student who never stops moving and definitely knows American movies better than you—though you pride yourself on knowing modern movies well—he will tell you in his accented English that he’s been to Miami, transition into talking about Don Johnson and how f***in’ Colin Farrell was a terrible choice for the recent film version (prepare for the explicit lack of stars in real life), don’t start him talking about Tarantino or else you’ll never get to class on time, and even if you do, he’ll likely knock on the door and interrupt you in the middle, ask to sit in, then interrupt your regular students with his own answers until you’ll have to say—as kindly as you can, while secretly wishing for this amount of unbridled enthusiasm everyday—that he is welcome to watch but that you need to hear your own students speak from time to time for marks’ sake.
    • On second thought, be prepared to be unprepared for Sasha, and enjoy the foul-mouthed, spastic, fervent adulation while it lasts.
  • Prepare to prepare for tomorrow’s trip to Cherkassy, though you know you won’t actually make moves on this until right before leaving time and it will take your minutes at most.
    • Prepare to feel like an expert packer.
      • Prepare for an inevitable flash of the sometimes difficult, back-and-forth, here-not-there past that led to this expertise.
  • Prepare to hear that Scar song from The Lion King over and over in your head later while you are reading over and re-editing this piece.
  • Prepare to sit in this chair all evening and far into the night with television and video games blaring you numb even when this could be your time to:
    • Prepare for:
      • possible grad school apps
      • leaving gifts for people left behind and taking others to those left at home
      • clothing donation, sorting to decided what deserves lugging all the way back and what does not
      • bed and the sleep you’ll invariably miss while traveling
      • the writing challenge that you’ve so readily accepted, and which but for a few notable exceptions has felt largely over-pressed and messy each day, like you don’t really have the time to put in the work, even though you so obviously do
      • a dinner other than the usual pasta, sauce and cheese
        • because you didn’t prepare enough yesterday to have bought the usual onions and garlic to add in
      • the overwhelming amount of work you’ll now have to do for ADITLOU as one of its leaders—editing, collecting, site creation, emails, site maintenance, certificate creation, emails—by getting ahead now before they really start pouring in.
  • Prepare for the coming, crawling end of your years in Ukraine.
    • Prepare to feel a tightness in your chest, from the stress—yes, for sure!—and also distress over leaving friends behind and work undone, but even more because today is just another segment of the hellishly slow exhale that seemed to start months and months ago when folks started asking you “what’s next…”
      • Your lungs will ache and pull for whatever freshness the next, not-soon-enough-too-soon breath will bring, so be prepared for that, too.

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