The equation

Monday 20 October:

I get ready for work – and don’t get a text. I tell myself it’s ok, there’s no reason to panic. Even if there’s hardly any day jobs around at the moment, money’s taken care of up to the end of the month. But I can still feel that I’m holding my breath a little bit. Because this is the story for the rest of the term; I know it.

I toy with the idea (I really do) of telling the boys I got a call from the agency, and then just ‘going somewhere’ for the day. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about the situation. It’s more that if I worry and they see that, then they’re going to worry. And I don’t want them to worry.

Thankfully I come to my senses, telling myself firmly that that’s the dumbest idea ever. Running away won’t help, fleeing and scrabbling around for a spot to lay low. It makes me laugh, really, to think how very like Tau I am in this regard.

But I miss having a job. It’s not that I miss school, exactly – I miss the routine things. Knowing what time to make coffee, eat lunch. Casual conversations. Some kind of easy professional validation – too easy, really. Facile, often times. But I miss it nonetheless.

Instead, I find myself trying to work on four job applications at once; wondering what time to take a break. I have a routine of sorts, but all the same, I’m on dangerous territory. My fears can so easily take over. And it’s hard to keep my energy steady; it feels like I’m trying to land a big jet aircraft, keeping it level, getting that baby safely on the ground.


Thursday 30 October:

The idea of lying in bed on a weekday morning is only tempting up to a point. I get up and take a shower, then find that the boys have finished the yoghurt last night, eaten the kiwifruit I was going to have for breakfast, and used up all the milk as well. I’d say something if they were doing stupid stuff – but eating isn’t stupid. And Tau’s got enough issues around food without me adding to them.

It actually makes me happy, in a way. Happy and scared. Money’s tight – but I’m glad they’re here. So glad that sometimes I can’t even explain it. I have to learn how to work through everything, accept the contradictions and not be afraid


I spend eighty dollars replenishing the stock of groceries. Previously, I would have considered this a feat of great economy – now it’s just everyday life. And I’ve got no real action plan as yet. But the need for one is dawning on me.

So I write down all the key dates for the next few months and do a first attempt at adding things up. Straight away, I can see that at certain points along this timeline I’ll need to have my own payroll in place to cover a variety of income permutations – because nothing’s going to be set in stone. And there’s a whole four weeks in January where I need to generate a livable income without school.  It’s like playing the wild card. And yet, somehow I have to do it.

Objectively (if there’s any such thing), finance poses the biggest obstacle right now. But somehow I don’t see it that way. Instead, I feel like I got out of MC just in time.

Besides, I’m convinced it’s not another ‘career path’ I need. I didn’t quit teaching to work on someone else’s institutional goals, and I’m tired of pretending (not always in so many words) otherwise. I just have this feeling that if I can harness the slightly wobbly energies that are around me right now, I could catch a ride to something different.


Wednesday 5 November:

I fall asleep to the sound of fireworks outside, like intermittent popcorn at first. After a while it becomes a steady artillery barrage which is actually quite calming to the senses; any rises and falls in tone and volume being constant enough to soothe, rather than irritate my mind.

I drift off to sleep, trying to think of things I’m grateful for, and, “I’m not grateful for anything…” I murmur, at first. Then, “Ok, I’m grateful the boys have a place to go,” I remind myself, quietly and very sincerely.


Monday 10 November

The big problem has suddenly hit me out of ‘nowhere’ (I know, right?) The money’s going to run out in, ooooh about three weeks. When that fact dawns on me, I feel my heart kind of flip. For two reasons.

The first is straight panic stations. I can almost hear my own thoughts rushing and gabbling at me: ‘Maan-you’re-such-an-idiot-why-did-you-leave-MC-how-could-anyone-be-so-out-of-touch-with-reality-did-you-really-think-you-could-just-snap-your-fingers-to-get-a-job-and-why-haven’t-you-been-trying-harder-you-are-really-a-dumb-bitch…’ and so on.

The second is a moment of sparkling curiosity which kicks in right when I need it: ‘Oh, I made it this far! I’m here, at the crossroads!’

And both of these feelings flick-flack me up and down like a fish caught and swiveling.


Tuesday 11 November:

I stroll past all the cafes at the mall, thinking how good it would be if I could get a coffee just for no reason. There’s two dollars in my account – so when I get home I make one instead.

Trying to stay in the present: There’s food in the fridge, and gas in the car. Right in this moment, I’m not dependent on anyone.

I do need a job though. I need to tie these two; no, three things together: happiness and work and financial security. It’s weird how I’ve always had them two at a time, never all together. The notion of work at all – well, it needs to mean something quite different from the way I’ve always interpreted it. Which until now, has been like this:

Happiness + work ≠ financial security

Work + financial security ≠ happiness

But happiness + financial security has, up to now, seemed an impossible conjunction. It’s just figuring out how to get all three things stacked up. What’s the equation?




Wednesday 29 January, 2014:

I wake up at 4 am, with questions that press at my thoughts and won’t go away, like a large and persistent cat squashing and squirreling itself onto a cushion. What am I doing back at MC? How am I going to cope there on my own? And when my mind straight away adds, ‘without Slade’, I lay in the peaceful dark, and feel tears sting my eyes.

The troops have left… I feel like the last watchman, sometimes. I need to pack up the last handful of stores, shut the door quietly on the dusty rooms, and ride out.


Sarsha mails me – Tau didn’t go see her last week. I say I’ll try to get hold of him. I guess his beni’s been cut by now. He has to actually go to a course, for Winz to be satisfied with paying him on an ongoing basis. Having said that.. obviously I’ll help in whatever way I can to get him reinstated.

It’s not like he doesn’t know the deal, either. It’s more that… things get in the way, I know they do. And Winz (apart from Sarsha) have been useless, really. They insist on ‘compliance’, and at the same time they make it technically so difficult to attain. But as far as I’m concerned, Tau’s entitled to something. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about that. He does his best with all of it, and he tries over and over again. It’s just – like I said – things get in the way.


Thursday 30 January:

Just being at school keeps  irritating me, just scratching at me all day. I have to keep reminding myself to take ‘that look’ out of my eyes. Even so, it hovers there.

Sometimes it works to just tell myself – honey, you’re doing good, you’re doing great. No shit – but my eyes still feel big and hounded. I can’t imagine how anyone wouldn’t notice.


Sunday 2 February:

Shame is so embodied, for me. I never actually think  – oh, I’m ashamed – in advance of any situation. When it happens, it’s more like a physical and instantly betraying reaction. I feel it kick in, and then I’m powerless as a limp little kitten terrified by a big dog. My bones quiver. It can happen at the weirdest moments: one time it was the supermarket checkout. I could hardly speak, my mouth felt as if it might lock up, I was dizzy – I don’t know why.

And yet there are times I can just stroll in and take control, like it’s no thing. When the stakes are so much higher. When the game matters.

I guess in some ways, shame (that old knee-jerk reaction) could just be my body’s way of trying to cut myself some slack, after those high stakes situations. Maybe it forces me to go to ground for a while, and to rest.

But there must be other ways I can restore my energy. I look in the mirror and sometimes I wonder: So, what do I have? Do I have anything, or no? Could I ever be one of those lucky people who gets stronger, more useful with time? And I do not know.


Monday 3 February:

I’ve been thinking about how it feels (or how I think I remember it feels) to wake up and be relaxed and happy. Just plain “happy”, huh. Could I ever get it back? And I’m not sure. I remember a time, long ago, when I didn’t wake up with my jaw clenched like a trap, to steel myself for the day ahead.

Being unhappy, it’s like the worst habit of all. It’s not a thing you do in itself. It’s like a combination of all the other things, the things I was trying to write about yesterday. Endlessly looping that old shame circuit, with a little rest in between rounds. My mind’s constant wheeling and the exhaustion that brings me to an halt… before the whole thing just cranks up again. Over and frickin over.

There are things that make me happy, and there are times I’m happy – don’t get me wrong. But often, I have this sense that I’m just doing those rounds. That I’m allowed small bits of happiness, that I can have these crumbs if I’m ‘good’. If I’m loyal. Never complain, never refuse my part, never stand out, never try to be anything special.

It is enough, I sometimes think, to be acknowledged for your role (and you know by that I don’t mean teaching). But what if you can’t keep on proving your worth?

Makes me feel very quiet, writing this down.

Grey Areas

Wednesday 2 June, 2010:

In project, Dimario is exceedingly co-operative – especially considering he was so scratchy yesterday. He doesn’t even sit with his group, but up the front with Libya and Teki, so that he can help them with their work.

At one point, when Teki asks me for the little felts – the ones he used last time – I reply, “Sorry Teki, I lent them to someone,” and I see Dimario’s ears prick up.

“Who?” Teki says.

Dimario’s eyes narrow as he listens.

“Inia,” I say, and Dimario looks surprised – he was sure it was gonna be Tau.


But then, Dimario asks for the other markers, and I go get them – and find that Tau’s written CLUZO on the packet. I can’t help laughing as I say to Dimario, “Sorry Dimario – I didn’t know he’d done that…”

Dimario scowls.  But he sees I mean it, and regards me with some affection nonetheless, saying, “Oh Miss, again.”

“What… who’s Cluzo?” ask the juniors at the table with Dimario.

He rolls his eyes.  “Just a fag.”

“Man – you really hold a grudge,“ I say, but without being cross.

“Yeah,” says Dimario earnestly.  “I do – and you always back him up.”

“Who’s Cluzo?” the boys say, interested now in this conversation.

“A little fag that Miss always backs up…”

Do you? Do you back him up?” they say to me.

“Yes I do,” I say, and I look from them to Dimario, and add, “And I always back you up too, Dimario.”

Libya gazes at me and struggles to find the right words.  “Miss, you’re a…” he begins, and then says, with feeling, “A beautiful teacher.”


More developments with Karys and the ‘Chris Hapuru incident.’ After school I get one of those ‘request a meeting’ emails, via Karys’s PA. So, Tuesday 3:15 – and of course, what can I do but accept the invitation.

In my favour: the success of project, my moderation from NZQA, the walk throughs, my excellent stats for attendance and results, my connection with ‘at risk learners’…

But the management don’t trust my connection with this group of students, because they don’t trust them – and at the end of the day, they don’t really want them around. And it makes them uncomfortable that someone else does want them here: Tau, Alexander, Nio, Argos… and now Chris as well. Grey areas – and I can’t help being worried. But the fact that the meeting’s been scheduled a week after the letter (more) makes me feel ooo-k… cos if it was real serious, wouldn’t she be doing it hard and fast?

I think it’ll be alright, but I’ll get told off… and then there’s my teacher registration (which has to be renewed in August). I need to go in the best frame of mind, and play to my strengths.


Thursday 3 June:

I tell Eddie and Andre to put their phones away – nicely – but I sigh a little bit, to be dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ lately.  I say, “Come on, put them away. I don’t want you to get into trouble… or me.”

Andre looks at me, and says, “Do you ever get in trouble, Miss?”

I laugh, replying “Yes – now and then.”

“What about?”

“Oh… nothing much,” I say.

Eddie says, “What kind of things have you got in trouble about?” He asks this question very unchallengingly, and with a friendly and supportive look towards me, just as if he knows something.

I stop and say, looking back at him, “Eddie… have you heard something?”

He just looks at me, not sure what to say.

I say, “Well – it’s like this. Sometimes, with certain things you do… there are grey areas, and you make a call, and you do what you think is right. But then, sometimes… the school wants everything to be black and white… does that make sense?”

“Yes it does, Miss,” says Eddie, and looks at me with a little nod, and then says, simply and nicely, “I think… I know who you’re talking about.”

“I think you probably do too,“ I say. And we just exchange a smile, and his look says: On your side there, Miss. And I feel backed up – and I appreciate it.


Heta says, “Miss – have you got a brush?”

I grin and point to Andre, and Heta giggles. “Will he have a brush, Miss?”

I nod, conspiratorially.

“Excuse me -” she calls, and he looks over. “Do you have a brush?”

He takes it out of his pocket and passes it over without a qualm.

The girls giggle, and he smiles at them, as Heta says, “Ohh!” She strokes her hair with it, gently.

“Miss, does my hair look alright now?”

“Yes – beautiful,“ I tell her, quite indulgently.  I look at Andre and add, “I just hope you haven’t got nits…” and he starts laughing.


Sunday 6 June

One day, when I have to explain – on earth or in heaven – this is my testimony, and the testimony of my heart; it’s all I have to show anyone.

Really, I feel like I can only barely remember a time when I felt ‘happy’ – or at least not scared. And yet at the same time I can’t go back. because only by going patiently forward, even though I don’t know what’s going to unfold, does there exist the possibility of happiness. And God alone knows how I found myself here, but I know it’s for me, only I have to stake my claim to it: my living, breathing, warm and passionate claim to it.

I want, I want… not to waste time and life, even though I feel some days like that’s all I do.