A desk by a window. A view of snow. Birds perched along telephone wire, no longer in use. Squirrels terrorize the yard, skunk paw prints scurry, an opossum skulks.
For more than two years I have lived in this apartment, the longest I have ever lived anywhere in my adult life. Renewing a third year lease became a milestone, a shift, a promise to foundation, to stay. I can’t pretend it wasn’t terrifying, that something out of old habit didn’t creep up into my psyche and emotional sphere to say, “Eject! Abort! Mission failure! Go! Don’t stay! Move.”
I didn’t move, though. I stayed. I put Roxy on the lease. I held my hearth, my home, and learned harder to call it mine.
What I look back at when I see 2017 is a year full of gratitude, challenge, and growth. So much so I am almost baffled and humbled by it. The year led to graces I can only now see on the other end of it. Long, strange, significant (not unlike figures).
It began with a 16-week Chemistry course, January-May, a requirement for my grad program. I showed up, the only elementary education candidate in a classroom full of nursing students, English Literature degree in tow, published poet acclaim. What was this tiny poet doing in a chemistry lab for 16 weeks?
Learning to love chemistry, it appears. On our first exam I scored a 73, much higher than the class average, and much higher than I expected. By midterm I averaged a B. At the end of the 16 weeks, I created and conducted my own lab experiment (d=m/v) and passed an American Chemistry Society exit exam.
More so than learning about chemistry, though, this class taught me how to take tests, something I have been afraid of for the last 7 years.
Chemistry also taught me how to love, hate, and solve mathematical formulas, which transferred to the next 10-weeks of Physics I took online over the summer, yet another grad school science requirement. I got a B in that class, too, and realized I could solve the math problems posed about the earth and the stars with ease because of the preceding 16 weeks of chemistry. I was learning how to apply numbers to the scientific world around me. I was beginning to see the scientific world around me. I was beginning to see the world in a new way. In a bigger, and smaller, and more complex, and more beautiful way.
In August, I took four content exams. Literacy. Mathematics. Science/Social Studies. Art/Phys Ed. I passed the latter two on the first try, without studying. I scored 88% on the content area of Science. I was proud of that.
In October, I passed the Literacy exam.
I continued to fail Math.
What gnaws at me is the expectation of failure, of loss, of the inability to change one’s outlook or position in the world because so much of my life over the past 7 years has been rooted in loss, of varying forms. I planned to scurry, like the skunks in my yard. I planned to have numerous backup plans, labyrinths of retreat, backpedaling, change of course, rapid quick decisions, all in the name of survival, getting through, holding course, presenting stability.
I planned to fail the math content exam on December 28th. But I didn’t, and didn’t really. I aimed, I hoped, I studied, I told people I studied but spent afternoons watching Christmas movies instead, paralyzed by the weight of what I needed to do. I solved math problems in a booklet on occasion, till the problems got harder and harder. The best I could do was spend two days after Christmas taking multiple practice exams online in an apartment full of joy and good cheer leftover from the holiday, with the sun beaming in through my southern facing windows.
I like the formula for surface area of a triangular prism a lot (SA=bh+2ls+lb). I like unwrapping a cylinder. I like thinking about what changes the ratio of area vs. perimeter of irregular shapes, and why, sometimes, if the numbers are plugged in wrong, there are an infinite number of possibilities.
My friend Joseph said the Democrats should stop saying science is real. He is right. Science is unreal. It is magnificent. It is the possibility of impossibility.
I did not think it would be possible for me to pass this math exam and move forward in my elementary education teaching career. But we cannot lose faith in ourselves. We cannot lose faith in our possibility—in our beautiful, gorgeous impossibilities.
This blog is called Snails Are Good for the Environment, Too because there are so many people in this world who expect our lives to be impossible, sometimes even ourselves.
When I told people I passed the math exam, they told me they knew that I would.
That is the great betrayal of the self. We doubt our own possibility.
To have achieved something so great—in a year so hellbent, politically, on telling us we are impossible—is progress. It is resistance of the most personal and the most dangerous and the most effective kind.
Keep your impossibility alive.