I love writing. I have opinions, and I think it’s important that I express them, especially because the number of women publishing op-eds in major news outlets is so dismally low. When I presented at the CWWN conference two summers ago, when one audience member asked a question that seemed very skeptical towards the validity of blogs and online news sources, one of my fellow panelists remarked that, if we choose to trust only printed media that is filtered through many, many levels of editing and marketing tactics, we are not really receiving the best information. It is blogs and independent media that truly give us the perspectives of the masses – gritty and unfiltered and important.
I love being a part of this independent media. I love blogging here, just as I love blogging for Care2, just as I loved blogging for GAB and many of the other sites with which I’ve participated in the past. I loved diving into the community with my literacy interview and master’s capstone project to gain a deeper understanding of how these people who have never met in real life can form bonds sometimes stronger than those we have formed with childhood friends. I have made so many friends in this community that live around the country that I have seen one internet friend every time I’ve visited another city, and I’ve met a few as they’ve passed through Chicago, as well.
I’ll say it again: I love writing, and I love the community that comes with it. I feel very passionately about my writing and my activism, and I believe that the extensive writing and thinking I did this year partially led to the amazing school year I had, for when I am constantly thinking about ways to teach and ways to bring up the next generation of activists, I am filled with an energy and a plethora of ideas that I bring to my classroom.
I think it’s obvious that I love writing, which is why it has been surprising so many people to hear me say that, this year, writing will no longer be my focus.
Don’t worry. I’m going to keep writing here and for Care2, and I will absolutely submit pieces to other places if the mood strikes me or if I write something that I believe needs a specialized audience. But I am not pursuing writing as a full-time career.
If you read the above paragraphs carefully, you’ll notice that what I love about writing doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the writing itself. Sure, I love being able to put my words on paper and I love sharing my thoughts with the world; there certainly is a sort of high that comes from writing a piece you can feel deeply proud of. However, what I truly love about the writing is the community. Of course, to be a part of that community, I have to keep writing – and I will! – but I am not a writer by trade. Nor am I an activist. I am a teacher.
I think there is a definite distinction between the three, even though I use all three skill sets – writing, activism, and teaching – interchangeably. As with anything you do interchangeably, though, one generally reigns supreme, and for me, that is education. It wasn’t always this way, though, and it has taken me a while to arrive at this realization.
At the end of the 2010-2011 school year, I found myself desperately seeking something else to do with my life. I had a particularly bad school year, and people were trying to persuade me left and right to do better things. And there was always a nagging voice in the back of my head that was telling me that they were right. “Look at your life, Ashley,” it said. “You grew up with the dream of being a famous author and look at how far you’ve gotten. Nowhere. You’re just a teacher.” As most of us do, I admired the big-name writers and activists in the feminist movement and, having kept this blog for so long, I thought that it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch for me to at least write a book or start trying to take on more journalistic assignments and make the transition from teacher to writer. It was a quarter-life crisis, if you will, and I was deep in it.
As I deepened my involvement with the writing community – different from the blogging community in this case – I began to notice things I didn’t see from the outside. Big name writers are rarely willing to help their fledgling counterparts, and, in order to get noticed, you have to be reactionary and, of course, you have to cover the big-ticket news items with some sort of incendiary commentary.
I started to realize that I’m not reactionary, nor am I incendiary, nor do I want to cover news items that have been commented on ad nauseum by big names and fledgelings alike. All saying almost the exact same thing. What I was interested in, however, was working with other writers, and students, to build a connection to an activist community of which writing was one part. I was interested in helping writers build their careers and publishing a few pieces along the way. And what I was most interested in was sharing that knowledge with my students. I find myself attracted to like-minded, education-focused people, as well, which is probably why I have made the connections I have, and why I love the community so much. It’s because we all truly help each other and want each other to succeed in whatever path we choose.
I’m so glad I stuck it out teaching this year. If I hadn’t, I might not have realized that I am an educator in the truest sense of the word. Even in my writing, I am educating. And I cannot think of anything more important I could be doing with my life. My teaching fulfills my sense of purpose and seeps out into every aspect of my life. I feel so comfortable in my classroom that, when I gave my end-of-the-year speech this year, I didn’t even write it; I just started speaking and the words flowed. And, as I was speaking, I started to realize that this was the feeling I had been searching for in my writing. I felt home. It’s like I was telling my students in my speech: like the firefly, you already know how to make light. You already know.
I already knew. All this time, I already knew I was doing what I am destined to do. I just had to step back to realize it.
Photo Credit: Charles Jeffrey Danoff