I have a mug. It's currently sitting in a plastic see through bin in my attic. Every time I climb the latter to the attic, I see it looking at me, begging for me to release it from it's confounding plastic prison. It doesn't help that it has a face. I feel mean saying no to it's little face. You see, I'm torn. I want to bring it down and give it a home in my kitchen cupboard because I love the story behind it, and it's a nice large mug perfect for a morning coffee. Yet I leave it up there in the attic because that mug represents who I no longer want to be.
The story of the mug goes back to when I was a young, new teacher. I was working in Surrey. I have always had a tumultuous relationship with teaching. At the age if 22, I was thankful to be earning a paycheck but resentful of what I had to do to earn it. I was never a girl to play "teacher," to be honest, I never understood how that could be fun. I became a teacher not out of desire to mold young minds, nor even the twisted desire of a captive audience of young adults. I became a teacher because of a "should." I was graduating university and I "should" find a career. I "should" pick something reliable, not the outlandish acting career that I longed for. I "should" do what my step-dad does, because he loves it. By some miracle I even got accepted into the most difficult teaching programs in the province, with absolutely no teaching experience. It must be providence. It must be God. Interestingly enough, God often said similar things to my mom, or so I thought back then. Now I know better.
So here I was a young twenty something teacher. Leading a band class of grade 8 students (thirty-sixty 13 year olds in one room... try that!) who really did not like to get quiet so I could talk. I found myself yelling with frustration to stop playing and/or talking while I was teaching. I remember one concert having to stand on a classroom table before we went on, yelling and waving my arms so I could give them instructions. Teaching junior band was the first time I noticed shoulder tension. I remember sitting in the conductor's chair and thinking, "huh. My shoulders are up by my ears. That's interesting." The tension only increased in those early years as a secondary band teacher.
One day, I had a student tell me she was going to be away for a few days before spring break. Her family was going to Disneyland in California. She was a quiet girl who played percussion in my class. She was a grounded female presence surrounded by the male dominated percussion and brass section. She was no nonsense. She rarely smiled. Generally, she was a good student. I thanked her for letting me know, and then joked: "Make sure you bring me back something then." It was a joke and I assumed she understood it to be one. Although, like I said, she was incapable of cracking a smile so I should have known better.
Upon her return a couple of weeks later, she walked up to me after class was finished and her fellow students were packing up there instruments, and presented me with a mug. "Here. This is for you." I was shocked: "Oh! It was a joke. You didn't have to get me anything." Her rhythmically capable arm did not retreat but steadily held the gift out to me. "I thought of you when I saw this," she said. "Ok, thanks," I said taking the mug presented to me. Upon inspection of the gifted mug I wasn't so flattered. Yes, it's a large, heavy, well constructed mug with the Disney stamp of approval on the bottom, but the image is of a rather grumpy looking Donald Duck. He looks as though he's in the middle of some anxiety ridden sentence of frustration. Now, he is cute, but only in that "he's so upset and miserable, isn't that funny and cute" type of way. Is this how she saw me? A miserable, grumpy, incoherent duck of a woman?
The truth is I was miserable and grumpy. I was continually trying to threaten the kids into good behavior. I said yes to teaching because it fell into my lap, because of this odd belief I didn't have the right to chase after what I wanted, or that the easy thing is a sign of God's will. The irony is that it wasn't at all easy in the long run. I was a young teacher, who looked like I was still in high-school myself and I was trying to manage large classes of hormone ridden 13 year olds. I wasn't happy because I was living a life of what I "should" do, not what I wanted to do. I allowed myself to believe I had no choice, even though I did. Resentment does not make a great teacher. Period.
My relationship with teaching has changed since then. Perhaps it's finally embracing a life as an actor, which prepared me to accept the teacher part of myself. I have often bristled when people say, "Oh you're a teacher," and ignore the actor part of my life. So I have chosen to define the teacher label for myself. My definition of being a teacher my not jive what others think I "should" do, especially other teachers who look at job stability as everything, but my definition works for me. I say yes to being a flexible teacher and say no to jobs I don't want to do. The irony is that in so doing, I'm actually a very good teacher. I know the kids respond to it too.
Back to the infamous mug....
It has lived in my kitchen cupboard in the years since. It has been my "go-to" mug for morning coffee. It rarely gets used by anyone but myself. It makes me smile and is, oddly, comforting. It has survived multiple moves in and around Vancou
ver, a few relationship heartaches, a resignation from the Surrey School Board, a career as an actor which has been it's own type of rollercoaster, and a move to London, which is the reason for it's exile to my attic. I remember when I left for the UK in 2014, I placed it there for storage fearful it may get broken as my ceramic floor is where dishes go to die. I still feel like it holds some sort of odd power. I imagine drinking from it will poison me like Snow White and the apple. The poison slowly seeping in and I am lulled into the stupor of the "should" life. I never want to be that grumpy duck of a girl again. I am different, inherently from age and life experience, but I fear the poisoned lull of the "should." So the mug is tucked away safe and sound. I know it's just a mug. I know it's a funny little story I tell myself. But it means something to me, and so it will stay in it's plastic home in the attic for the time being.