I read a book several months ago written by poet Lucy Grealy entitled The Autobiography of a Face. The story is sad, especially for those of us who are parents and want only the best for our kids.
Raised in a struggling Irish family living in New York, Grealy, 9 years old and a twin, fractures her jaw and in its repair, doctors discover a rare cancer.
Her once round face becomes triangular when they remove most of her jaw. Lucy Grealy co-existed with her disfigured face, which had endured over 35 surgeries, until she died of a drug overdose before her 40th birthday.
The account is painful to read and think about, but it reminds the reader of the mysterious nature of our existence.
Grealy’s bravery in the face (literally) of society’s obsession with physical beauty is startling to those of us who have stressed about a blemish or a bad haircut.
Despite Lucy Grealy’s talent and high-octane intellect, her overarching need for approval strong-armed her life in a tortuous way.
How much do you depend upon it?
During my first year of teaching, my suffocating need for approval by everyone in my sphere—students, peers, administrators—guided me in ways that only Piaget and Freud together, at lunch, might figure out.
If a student looked bored, I burned 300 calories more in order to suck that student back into my orbit.
If Joe observed my lesson and suggested that more content and less storytelling be fused into my unit on the American expatriates in Paris, I stopped at the library on my way out of town and checked out ten books on the topic. That way, I could add Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, and John Dos Passos to my stories and meet with Joe’s approval.
The years have tumbled by in a pleasant way, and with the passage of time, my need for approval has slipped away, for the most part.
Now, I spend some time, sharing my stories with young teachers. In counseling them, I pull out a simple statistical model, also known as the bell curve.
“So, Christina, you have a class of 35 students. You are delivering your best lecture of the year on Truman Capote. Just as you reach the climax, when he choked to death on a bottle cap from one of his sedatives, some disinterested student yawns big and rolls her teenage eyes at her neighbor.
Your neurons mis-fire, like the muffler of a 1972 Barracuda, telling you that those two kids don’t like you, don’t like school, and certainly don’t give a damn about Mr. Capote. You lose your mojo and your concentration, right?
Remember Christina, 10% of the students will worship you as the Greeks did Athena.
Remember, 10% of the students will deplore your every move as the expats in the Sun Also Rises did Robert Cohn.
And 80% of the students will enjoy your class some of the time, as I do with the San Francisco Chronicle.
My need for approval has retreated to a far corner of my universe.
Hooray! I am free from myself.
Photo by Cheri Block Sabraw 2009