“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” sings Bob Dylan in “My Back Pages”. In all honesty, I had to look up that song’s name prior to writing this and can’t readily recall any of the other lyrics. But, for some reason, that one line has stuck with me since I can remember (maybe because it repeats throughout the song), and lately I’ve been thinking about it more and more. When I was 21 years old I graduated from college, turned 22 a couple days later, and then went directly into the Teach For America program where I taught elementary school for three years on Chicago’s South side. I didn’t really know what I signed up for. I knew it involved teaching, that it would require a tremendous amount of work, but I really did not know the full extent until I got to the Summer Institute Training, which I refer to as Teacher’s Boot Camp. I went out to L.A. and taught second grade in Compton, while taking classes and training sessions. I’m not going to go into the details, or write about my day to day classroom experiences once I got home and started my real job in Chicago’s Englewood (that’s for a forthcoming book). However, I will say that I was in L.A. when it all hit me, and that Bob Dylan line popped back into my consciousness. I remember telling my friends at the time, “I can’t wait to be 24, and be young again.” What hit me, like a ton of bricks, was the fact that there would be no post-college “lounging around” for me. I didn’t hit one Monday @ Evil Olive (or 2005 equivalent). I never went out on a Thursday night, and only went to school with a little hangover once, it was extremely painful, and I never let it happen again.
I think about that period from time to time, and it’s almost shocking to me how different my life is now. As a teacher, I lived a very disciplined life. I went to bed early, got up early, and had a focused routine of going to the gym after school, cooking dinner, and planning for the next day. I squeezed in time for writing, doing interviews, and DJing, but when I started dating another teacher, I realized that something had to be cut and I took about a year off from the turntables. I wore a tie to work everyday, and regularly had conference calls with parents, adopted character voices for the morning “Read-Aloud”, submitted to performance reviews, and attended workshops…Anyway, my point is not about teaching…Rather, it’s that I’m about to turn 27, and feel much younger than I did at 22, something like the Bob Dylan quote above. I don’t exactly know what that means yet, or even if it’s a bad thing. It just is…
Also, since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I’d switch things up a little bit and share a poem that I wrote during my teaching experience, and that I re-read over the weekend. The piece is called “Sleep When I’m Dead”…Check it out…
“Sleep When I’m Dead”
You know what CPS is?
Dumb and senseless where centless students grow young and restless
Next these students fail ISAT tests, s**t.
Somebody tell these mindless officials who Treasurechest is…
See, I teach in the valley where the shadow of death lives
In rent subsidized housing with free lunch and breakfast
Did you catch it? It’s kind of hard
Squeezing so much anger into 16 bars
But I’ll keep writing the sentence
Till you ask what I meant with
Using poetic devices to express resentment
I see optimistic youth turn pessimistic
When that fire in their belly gets put out, and dreams extinguished
Relight the flame? It’s kind of hard
Better stop before you burn out all smoked and charred
I’m still relieving persisting scars
That follow me around through clubs and bars
And my friends keep asking me, ‘can you come out tonight?’
But I can’t, I got lesson plans to write
And tests to grade where my students got less than half them right
And I stress about who will ask my ex-girl to dance tonight
I just need to breathe and release,
Before my heart stops from the grief
They say you can sleep when you’re dead, can you interview
Mos Def while deceased?
Can I apply from the grave and recieve a doctoral degree
Publish a book and recieve copyright fees?
Can I accomplish my goals by implanting my soul
In the body of someone with more stamina than me?
1,2,3, I need all eyes on me
Talking stops now let’s all read silently
I just need some quiet, some time for me
Some time to relax, hold up, I can’t breathe
And it seems I can’t write
I’m repeating rhyme schemes
And deleting the lines that don’t stick to the themes
Is this hopeless or hopeful?
Humble or boastful?
Some s**t to breathe easy, or words that will choke you?
Wrap two hands around your neck, squeeze hard and break knuckles
Turn this s**t up, this is not to be mumbled.
I’m a valuable person
Take whatever’s in your wallet or purse and
Both your hands to add up what I’m worth and
Most people don’t get it
Most people neglect it
Let it stand in a corner, leave it alone, unprotected
I walk around loneliness, pick it up, and collect it
I know I’m set for greatness, no matter which way I’m heading
You can pray to g-d or believe me
Follow or leave me
You can quit while ahead, or work till your bleeding
I’m on a mission as long as I’m breathing
And I’ll sleep when I’m dead, and believe I’ll sleep easy!
Til next time…Stay Up,