Samuel J. Tanner 4 minute read

A break

I went to the NCTE conference in St. Louis last weekend. I left early on a Saturday morning. I presented in a panel that afternoon. I spoke again on Sunday morning, and returned to State College on Sunday night. It was a whirlwind of English teachers. Cheerleaders too. There was a cheerleader convention in St. Louis last weekend too. The St. Louis Convention Center was teeming with glitter and tweed jackets.

This fall has been a whirlwind too. I need a break. Two months on a beach somewhere might help. Maybe a season in the woods. Get my Thoreau on. A little Emerson. These aren't realistic escapes. There's two little mouths to feed. And by mouths to feed, I mean toddlers to wake Katie and I up every morning at 6:00am. Sleep in? Not likely.

Work continues to be work. And work piles up. There's writing to do, classes to finish teaching, and an improv company to found. My laptop is a tasklist. There's always more to do. I'm pleased this fall is coming to an end.

I continue learning about myself. I'm funny. One of my mentors from The University of Minnesota provided me insight in St. Louis. Tim Lensmire was a discussant on one of my panels at NCTE. He said very kind, very smart things about my work. Tim also told me I'm silly and courageous. I certainly don't feel courageous. still, I'm always putting myself out there, and being vulnerable in all sorts of ways. This is true of my teaching, my living, and maybe even my writing. Silly? I'm absolutely silly. I can't help that. Courageous? Sure.

Putting myself out there? I guess I'm always doing stuff. All sorts of stuff.

I briefly returned to Minnesota last year around this time. I interviewed for a position at UW-River Falls. It would have been nice to return to the Twin Cities, but the job wasn't a great fit. Still, I was able to spend a moment with my aunt. We had breakfast after the campus visit, before I flew back to State College. We talked about my mom, and we talked about my family. Soon, I found myself crying. I was tired last fall too, I guess, and it was nice to be with my family. Cue emotional venting.

I owned my emotion last fall, just as I owned it in my blog last week. Sometimes a brother's got to cry. Especially on the anniversary of his mother's death.

Anyway, Polly and I talked very openly about my mother last fall. Mom essentially abandoned me when I was seven. Dad won custody during the divorce. I was very close to my mother as a little boy. Intellectually, I understood it was best for me to be with Dad. I even understood that Mom's alcoholism was a problem. I wanted to be away from her. Still. Emotionally? I don't know if I ever fully processed why somebody I loved, my mom, would leave me.

"I wonder if I work so hard," I told Polly through tears, "because I learned not to trust that people will love me unless I'm useful to them?"

Polly listened warmly. She's a great woman.

I'm no therapist. But I'm all about talking (and emoting) freely with people. Put stuff out there. Be vulnerable. Make sense of what emerges. Those things seem healthy to me.

If my realization with Polly is true, then part of my work ethic might be related to a fear of abandonment. Look, I like that I'm productive, that I'm always up to things. But a guy has got to be careful. You can run yourself ragged this way, especially when you're 37. Conserve that energy. I've heard that advice before, in any number of ways.

So I'll conserve some energy over winter break. Recalibrate a little. Find a little of that peace. Seems like a healthy thing to do, I suppose.