I love a good teacher workshop. Want a full-size poster with six types of learning styles coordinated by the colors of the rainbow? You got it! Bow arm exercises for a five-year-old in Book 1? You’re in luck! Group class ideas for advanced violists? BAM! There it is!
When I’m feeling stuck professionally, a workshop leaves me energized, excited, and bubbling with new ideas. Plus, catching up with colleagues and swapping stories and advice cheers me up as much as the actual instruction.
Naturally, I’ve been looking forward to the Winter Workshop for Suzuki Method string teachers in my area. Clinicians from different cities fly in and run group classes, violin masterclasses, and professional development lectures for teachers at least once a year.
A month earlier, I had filled in the online application, skipping over the sign-up for volunteer positions. Since getting sick, I’ve learned the hard way that almost any commitment is an over-commitment. I never know how I’ll be feeling on any given day, so I try to avoid volunteering altogether. This way, I won’t have to back out at the last minute if I’m too sick to help.
These days, I practice the fine art of “leaning out.”
When I clicked submit, that annoying error message that pops up when you leave a field blank directed me back to the volunteer section.
Damn it. They’re onto me.
I scrolled past stacking chairs, cleaning up, and setting up, knowing that too much physical exertion is a one-way ticket to the land of Bed for Days.
Stuffing folders. Picking up clinicians from the airport. I’m hoping to feel well enough for one day so I can attend the workshop. Any extra day is pushing it.
Registration. That involves getting up in the morning, doesn’t it?
While I nearly always feel better as the day progresses, nausea, fatigue, and occasionally joint pain like to gather and hang out in my bedroom every morning. Few things short of a house fire can pry me out of bed before 10am.
I’d finally settled on helping tune students. I’ve been tuning instruments for the past twenty years, so this would be hard to screw up. Also, I’d be at the workshop anyway, so this required no extra time or physical effort beyond my ability.
Or so I thought…
A few days before the workshop, the coordinator emailed me to confirm that I would be available at 8am and 3:20pm to tune instruments.
I could explain to the coordinator that I’m sick and my 8am is the equivalent of a regular person’s 4am, but I hate it when people assume I’m asking for sympathy, or, even worse, that I’m intentionally trying to shirk responsibility.
My fingers tapped out a reply.
“Mornings are my nemesis.” No. That won’t do.
“I’m morally opposed to any hour of the day before 11am.” Too dramatic.
“Mornings are against my religion.” Not very believable. Also, difficult to prove.
I finally settled on a simple request to be reassigned to a task later in the day, sans explanation. Fortunately, the coordinator accommodated my request without questioning it.
The morning of the workshop, I woke up tired and achy after a night of disrupted sleep. I rolled out of bed, walked the dogs, swiped some makeup across my face, and rushed out the door to arrive at the workshop just in time for the lunch break. No sweat; I still had half the day to observe and learn.
To my surprise, I caught a glimpse of an acquaintance from Austin sitting across the lunchroom. He’s my age, but a rising star in our field, for good reason. If energy and creativity were magical, he’d rule his own enchanted forest full of rainbows and unicorns.
“Meghan!” He exclaimed, giving me a hug when he saw me.
“It’s been what, three years? What’s new?”
Oh, you know. Relearning to walk. Getting over some brain inflammation. Leaving my husband and filing for divorce. Same old, same old.
“Not too much. You?” I asked.
“Lots going on!” he grinned. In the years since we’d seen each other, he’d successfully auditioned for the Austin Opera Orchestra, presented at at least one state teachers’ conference, and guest taught at a handful of summer institutes across the country- not to mention running his own institute. Truly, my friend is an amazing teacher and deserves all the success in the world.
Is that wedding ring on his left hand new? Did he get married last year?
“Do you have any students here?” he asked.
Ah, that deadline I missed. I remember that day! I spent it reading up on DIY divorce, printing out papers, and getting my ex to sign them in a public place (because I’d read that was safest). He couldn’t handle me being sick, so I imagined he won’t take to the whole divorce idea too well, either. Then I wandered downtown cluelessly asking random passersby where to file them until I finally was lucky enough to stumble into the correct line in the county courthouse. They’d confiscated my water bottle at the metal detectors at the entrance for being contraband, but at least they didn’t take my shoes…
“Ah, no. But maybe next year.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to teaching them next year, then!”
By now, the other teachers were packing up their lunches and squinting down at their itineraries. He slipped out the door in a crowd of instruments, tote bags, and teachers. I started to follow him when I nearly bumped into another teacher I knew.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
She smiled in response, then coughed.
“How was Disneyland?” I asked. She and two other teachers had just returned from a tour in which their students had performed.
“Amazing! It truly is the most magical place on Earth,” she croaked.
What dosage of immunosuppressant am I on this month?
“Exhausting, though,” she continued.
I nodded, mentally filing ‘Take Students to Disneyland’ under Things I’m Probably Not Able to Handle.
“I’ve been sick since we got back. My doctor says it’s a retrovirus, which is an old virus that comes back when your immune system is down.”
“Hey, can I borrow your schedule printout?” she asked suddenly.
Red alert!! Red alert!!
“Sure!” I said brightly, handing it to her by the very tips of my fingers.
She flipped through it, pausing to give directions to a colleague who asked for help.
“Here you go.” She reached to hand it back.
“That’s ok!” I said, keeping my hands by my side and hopping back a little. “I don’t need it anymore.”
“Here..” she tried to hand it to me again.
She looked bewildered as I slipped awkwardly out the door.
Once back home, I opened my computer and noticed an email from some website called urbandictionary.com. They asked to use my picture for something called a “hot mess”- whatever that is. I guess I’ll get back to them when life is less crazy…
Ultimately, I enjoyed the teacher workshop and came home swimming in ideas, just as I had hoped. Any day that’s only minimally affected by lupus rather than fully hijacked can’t be a bad day.