Buoyancy, Monday To Tuesday

buoyant (adj). 1 able or apt to stay afloat or rise to the top 2 cheerful and optimistic 3 capable of recovering


I woke feeling buoyant despite the tug of Monday morning and a job that is an anchor I've chained to myself and sunk deep in the riverbed. Three of the first four interactions I've had on the job today were negative, one of which has already been abusive. Buoyancy is my watchword even as I feel myself sinking.

Beginning the school year, I wrote myself this advice for surviving the job:

  • Float, tread water, don't sink.
  • Be cool and kind.
  • Keep to yourself.
  • Smile, shrug, walk away.
  • Leave school at school.

I'm really trying to follow that list. I'm really trying.

Most students this week have been sinking. Their boats capsized and they lack life jackets. They thrash in near frozen water, screaming, too shocked to save themselves. To grab hold of them is to risk being pulled down too. I talk with them calmly, quietly. I try to listen. We can do this, I tell them instead of it's going to be alright. Some will drown. I feel the cold panic and resignation in them. Our school has far too few boats into which we can haul them. There's always another storm brewing.

I keep hoping that thinking tenderly of them will buoy me up. I'm wearing a life jacket, but should I fall in the cold will get me if the seas don't.


By the end of Monday my boat had been capsized and gone down in black water. Tuesday I woke just barely treading water and was met at school with negativity, anger, and frustration before we even let students in.

When the students did arrive it was one hit after another. I stopped counting the times I was told to fuck off, that I'm a fucking retard, that I should go fuck myself after the first twenty and that was before lunch. I ate lunch without speaking to anyone and taught afternoon classes speaking only when I had to. I stood bus duty silently waiting for the last bus to mercifully arrive. Back in my room alone I shut the door. It felt like real waves were breaking over me, crashing down, driving me underwater. I could barely breathe.

This is how it is with buoyancy and survival. There are things I control such as taking care of my health (running, eating well, drinking moderately), my family (loving them as much as I possibly can), and doing good work (writing, writing, and writing some more). Then there are things I can't control such as the numbers of students per class, the homes from which they come, and how they treat me at school. I'm wearing the life jacket but I'm in the water now struggling to breathe. I've got some buoyancy, but have to either swim away or hope for rescue. There has to be some way to recover when good cheer and optimism disappear.

I apologize for complaining. Maybe I'm sending up a flare. If you're in The Coast Guard or have an idea for a job I should take instead, please come over and throw me a lifesaver. I promise not to pull you down.

Of course all this has me thinking of this Stevie Smith poem:

Not Waving But Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.