Monday, March 11, 2019

Hard Questions on a Monday Morning

I lay awake in the dark, early morning hours, wishing fervently I could go back to sleep. It's hard to stay focused and have the patience needed to work all day with 24 third graders and sit through two meetings on only four hours of sleep. As usual, I could not will myself to sleep despite my attempts at deep breathing and visualization. Instead, I found myself listening to the noisy thoughts swirling around in my head.

I had been thinking a lot, even before my interrupted sleep, about the poem I wrote yesterday, "Giving Up," and some of the ways people had responded to it. One reader had questioned how I defined success and suggested that simply showing up was a victory worth celebrating. I couldn't agree more.  This is as true in life as it is in this writing challenge. There are days when going through the motions takes everything we have, and the fact that we show up at all is a success in and of itself. Most days, though, we set the bar higher, strive for something more than simply being present. Ultimately, whether it is in life or in writing, I think we look for connections and feeling that our contributions mean something to those with whom our lives intersect.

While my poem may have been born from my frustration at having failed to make those kinds of connections, it took on a much deeper meaning for me, part of which I think I only realized after looking at it and analyzing it more closely after it was written. The more telling line to me was "It's true what you have feared." That nasty inner voice whispering to give up is more a product of underlying insecurities than it is of current realities. When we are feeling strong and confident, we brush such ideas aside if in fact we hear them at all. It is only when we are at our most vulnerable that the whispering begins, rising to a shout that we can no longer ignore. The persistence makes us believe that it must be true.

When I wrote it, my favorite part of my poem was the ending, where the "give up" turns into a question uttered by my own true voice and I assert that I refuse to give up. This is a truth about me; I don't give up. Even at my darkest moments, when the voice of doubt is at its loudest, I refuse to give up. I remember many years ago when I had just moved to the Sacramento area and started a new teaching job. It was a year-round school, so I had worked for two months, July and August, and had the month of September off. I was miserable. I was working with an entirely different clientele than the one I had worked with for the previous six years and felt relentlessly questioned and attacked. I spent the first week or two of my break repeatedly asking my husband if I could quit my job. I was in a vulnerable state anyway, having recently suffered a miscarriage, which definitely didn't help. Then for no apparent reason, my attitude changed. I got pissed off and decided no one was going to drive me from my job. I finished the year stronger and more confident (and seven months pregnant). My refusal to give up saw me through.

But today I find myself questioning if refusing to give up is always a good thing. We are fed a steady diet of "never give up" from the time we are children. How many times do we tell our students that? How many stories do we read to them with that message? Is it possible we are not teaching them an entirely accurate lesson?

If we're being honest, there are times when we need to give up. I'm not talking about the Slice of Life Challenge here. There's no need for me to give up. My persistence in this case is healthy and benefits me while causing no harm to others. That's not always the case in real life. So, how do we know when it's time to give up? It's a question I keep coming back to and an important one, I think. I pride myself on being a warrior, going bravely into battle when it's called for, often to protect and fight for loved ones. But what if my loved one does not wish for me to fight? Do I continue anyway? And just who, then, is it I'm fighting for? I suspect at that point it is no longer a valiant battle for someone else but a selfish one fought for my own purposes and to satisfy my own needs. Am I fighting for a cause or simply fighting because that is what I do? But how do you give up when you fear what the consequences of surrender might be?

I don't know if there are any easy answers to any of my questions. Or, perhaps there are, but I do not want to acknowledge them because if I did, I would be forced to admit it was time to give up, and I refuse to know the meaning of those words.

We admire the ones who never give up. We see them as strong and determined. Sometimes, though, it takes a hell of a lot more strength and determination to let go.


  1. Lots of thoughts going on in your head. I've recently taken a class on mindfulness and as much as I try, I still have a hard time turning off the "monkey" brain. But all of your thoughts are worthy. It is hard to know when to give up. Your experience in teaching, though, has shown you that it's never time to give up on kids.

  2. The power of letting go is definitely underrated. Absolute pronouncements rarely serve everyone's interests. If you're already powerful, it's great and someone else is likely putting in the real work or bearing the brunt of any risk. So that maxim of 'never give up' may not always be best. Sometimes it's a good thing to walk away and recognize when something may be harmful. Your reflection brings up a lot of feelings in me which strong writing should do. So, thank you.

  3. Powerful reflection. I agree with you that besides "Not Giving Up" another lesson to learn is "To Let Go" - not easy to know when to do which. And sometimes it is ok to make mistakes and experience failure. I guess what matters is the reflecting and learning that happens along the way.


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