It’s 6:49 AM and barely light out when I get on the train at Fenway Station. I’m clutching my coffee in one hand and digging for my CharlieCard in the other. I sit down behind a bespectacled man wearing a peacoat and sweater, both open wide enough to show off his chest hair. People baffle me. Lately, though, most things do.
The train rumbles down into the tunnel, into the dark. I shut my eyes and lean my head against the window. I am so tired. Early this morning, I jolted awake, shot up in bed like a cartoon character, convinced I’d overslept my alarm. When I looked at the clock, it was 3:24 AM. My dreams these days are vaguely unsettling. Strange forms and colors and snippets of conversations churn through me all night, galloping nonsensically through my brain. A handgun. A phone call. A bad tattoo. When my alarm drags me up through the shallow layers of early morning sleep, I feel like I’ve barely rested at all.
Hynes Convention Center
Once I’m awake though, I like my routine. I’ve been student teaching for a week and a half now, and I like being at school, with the students I’m working with, being on my feet instead of hunched over my laptop all day.
I take another long swig of coffee. I make a mental list of questions to ask my supervising teacher. I remind myself not to let any silences get too long, and that I have to be the best version of myself all the time now. Grow up, I say to myself. The tone of this command is less unkind than it is afraid.
My first full week of student teaching has corresponded with the first week of the Trump presidency. I am not sure how much of the stress and tiredness I feel comes from adjusting to working full time while still going to school nearly full time and how much comes from watching the world seem to get darker and more hostile every day.
The train screeches around the bend after Boyleston Station, and I scroll through my email. A friend from home has sent me a message about how anxious she is these days, how miserable. She closes with I thought you’d understand.
I get off the train and join the stream of people pressing down to the lower platform. I find an empty stretch of wall to lean against while waiting for the Ashmont train. The nice thing about commuting so early, I think, is that I beat the morning rush hour, so the trains and platforms aren’t as crowded as they will be an hour from now.
I’m still thinking about my friend’s email. I do understand. The 24-hour news cycle is wearing on me, is wearing on everyone I know. I read the news in the morning, and by the time I leave school in the afternoon, it seems like a week’s worth of sadnesses have piled up.South Station
Lots of people file out of the car at South Station, and I take a seat. I pull out my phone again and open up Twitter. My feed is full of anger and sadness and calls to action. It’s important, I realize, but I struggle with it. I am too slow, I think, for social media. It takes me ages to write out even 140 characters. A Facebook post, of the sort many of my friends have been posting lately, feels like an enormous undertaking. I write, pause, delete, re-write, edit, give up. Even re-tweeting things, sharing other people’s words feels like a deliberate act of curation that must be undertaken with care.
Since the Women’s March especially, I’ve been trying to understand the relationship between doing something and being seen doing something. Is making yourself, your work and your beliefs, more visible self-serving? Or is it imperative to calling in others? Can it be both?
While commuting, I’ve started listening to podcasts—mostly about disability rights and activism so far. This is a way of focusing my energy, making myself look outwards when I naturally tend towards introspection and rumination. There’s a quote from President Obama that I repeat to myself sometimes, and it floats back to me now as the train pulls into the station: “But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself…then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
The problem with looking outwards, with focusing on the work, is that it requires a belief that you are capable of doing the work, that you have something to give.
Two days after the election, I wrote in my journal: All the cracks are becoming visible…Things that held together just enough, stayed just hidden enough, are splitting apart, being laid bare. All the underlying ugliness shows. In the past four months, the country has unraveled, my family has unraveled, my own hard-won mental health has unraveled. I am not sure of the goodness of my loved ones, I wrote, not sure of the goodness of the world, not sure of my own goodness. It’s hard to reconcile this frightening rush into the future (student teaching, graduation, the impending Real World) with the sense of falling behind and falling apart.
A teenage girl wearing a backpack and a puffy purple jacket gets on the train and sits down across from me. I make a promise to myself to call my little sister this evening.
Just a few other people left in the train car now. I wonder who they are, where they are going. What they are doing and what the world is doing to them. I wonder what they say to their wives and husbands and children when they read the news. I wonder whether they are looking inwards or outwards. I wonder what they repeat to themselves in order to keep going.
The conductor’s voice crackles through the train. Ashmont, last stop. Doors will open on the right. Last stop, Ashmont. I step off the train, straighten myself, take a breath, and face the day.