As I was writing yesterday’s post, I realized I wasn’t feeling well. The day had started with coughing and sneezing – but The Dog, who has allergies similar to mine, was also sneezing. Then, all of a sudden, came wave after wave of exhaustion and nausea. I’d had a list of things to do – things that seemed important on Sunday night. But by 11:00 Monday morning, I was shaking with chills. The list, along with things like eating, would have to wait for another day.
So I spent Monday afternoon and evening sleeping, trying to stay hydrated, and checking in when I could on remarkable Google+ conversation threads, especially the ones in the WOOC-MOOC Community. Apparently it was a brutally hot day outside, but I wouldn’t know! I got a call filled with good news from a friend, and some emails arrived with more potentially good news. But for most of the day, my attention was focused on basic survival. Could I stay awake and read This Thing, or would my eyes spontaneously close again? Could I get to the nearby sink for more water? Did The Dog or The Cat need attention?
When you’re focused on survival, it’s hard to believe in dreams and transformation. And factory-model structures and mindsets keep us firmly focused on survival. Earlier this summer, when I read that article about sick systems, I hadn’t been physically sick in a while. But now, as I’m trying to recover from Whatever It Was, the power of that metaphor seems even more profound.
What do you do when you’re sick? I usually try to rest first and let the sickness run its course. Sometimes that’s not enough, and you have to go to the doctor – but all too often, the doctor isn’t much help. “We’ve seen a lot of this going around,” my Former Doctor used to say, “and we assume it’s viral. Go home and get some rest, and here’s a prescription to treat the symptoms.”
That’s one reason why he’s my Former Doctor. I didn’t want to pay him to tell me what I already knew. Besides, my Former Former Doctor (who would still be the family’s doctor, except that he had to move away for family reasons of his own) had told me, years ago, that what physicians can do is limited. “In the end, the body heals itself,” he used to say.
In the midst of the fever and exhaustion, I was tempted to pack up my hopes and dreams. It would be “easy” and “convenient,” wouldn’t it, to go back to the factory and pretend to smile? It would be a lot less trouble if I waited just a few more years, until the Golden Promise of Retirement provided a “guaranteed” minimal income and some “guaranteed” healthcare benefits. If you’ve ever been down that chain of thoughts while feverish, you know how it triggers feelings of inadequacy and incompetence, fears of permanent failure and scorn and letting everybody down. Fears that seem ridiculous in the light of day, even though my temperature is still elevated and I still can’t move much. But they seemed real, even monstrous, yesterday.
“No hope, no possibility of change, just grin and bear it and hold on till …” is one of the most seductive factory-model songs. As Back to School Season arrives, I hear it from friends and colleagues. “It’s not that bad, and I’ll make a real difference for at least one kid,” they whisper – and, to be honest, there’s a part of me that whispers, even screams, that message too. It seems that, at least for a while, I’ll be spending my days in that familiar factory-model place. For all the expressed interest in alternatives, all the potential Tres Columnae Project subscribers, all the folks who think an after-school program or alternative school model would be “an amazing idea,” I can’t see how to get those things going in the next few weeks. Bills and obligations remain even when you’re trying to build something amazing.
But in doesn’t have to mean of. I don’t have to embrace the mindset of the factory, and I don’t have to live in fear and desperation. I don’t have to be scared of what They Might Do like poor Ms. X, and I don’t have to allow the pain-punishment cycle.
Or do I? When you work on the inside, even temporarily, are you part of the sick system? Do you reinforce it even when you think you’re working around and against it? I keep asking these questions, but the answers are still so unclear.
Of course everything could turn around in an instant. There’s a new possibility for selling the Current House – I’d hoped to call them yesterday or today, but that will have to wait until I’m less sick. A friend is really, really interested in making the after-school program happen somewhere … but will that interest turn into action? Or will action only come when I take that leap of faith, walk out of factory-school, and walk on … to what? What’s the actual worst that could happen, and am I willing and able to deal with it?
These are hard questions to grapple with when you’re healthy and well-rested, harder still when you’re sick and, consequently, tired. And factory structures keep people sick and tired much of the time, which is why we “don’t have time” or “don’t have energy” to deal with these questions.
So … pack up those dreams, put them in a box for later, or pursue them? Or is that, too, a false choice? When you move on from one place to another, you do have to pack up the things you take with you. Even in the midst of some fever and much exhaustion, maybe I’m still making slow, painful progress toward that joyful community goal.
What do you think?