Ian and I have both been thinking a lot lately about the concept of living this so-called "Simple Life" that we keep hearing and reading about in places such as Kinfolk or via the LL Bean Signature webpage--you know what we're talking about--that quintessentially perfect (dare I say "white") culture ideal of beards, plaid shirts, Airstream trailers, hot homemade bread from the oven, ticking patterns, wool sweaters, perfectly unkempt hair, Holga cameras and skinny jeans.
You know it as that lifestyle that causes you to open up such magazines or blogs and think to yourself, "Gosh, why aren't I doing this? THAT'S what I call living. I want to live in the woods in a small sustainable cabin and wear wool and chop my own wood and then drink coffee out of a French press."
I could go on and on, but you get the picture--it's that image of living this life outside the confines of a city, outside the confines of "normal" life, outside the confines of consumerism or capitalism. The image of living inside the Kinfolk Table issue--throwing amazing dinner parties for your family and friends who are all dressed in equally fabulously simple outfits with fabulously mussed hair and the first growth of a 5 o'clock shadow.
The perfect life.
And it doesn't exist.
But then why are there so many Pinterest boards and Tumblrs dedicated to creating an image that it does? Why do we have conversation after conversation with our friends about escaping it all, running away, and starting over in the woods in Maine or on an organic farm in Northern Michigan? Why are there numerous folks out there doing exactly this--here, here, here, and here?
I'm not sure--I'm not sure if any of us are sure, but there are lots of people out there trying to figure it all out. And I think it might have something to do with authenticity and the craving we all have for a real experience.
Because there is something about our generation that is desperate for this lifestyle--desperate to get away from it all and simplify and live quietly and drink really quality coffee out of tin cups in the woods.
I'm not pretending I'm living this lifestyle--but that doesn't stop me from pinning it.
As we prepare to leave for our long trip across this great United States, Ian and I find ourselves more and more talking to our friends and families about this very concept--the idea of escaping it all--the hum drum life--and striking out for new territories.
It's not just us either--it's loads and loads of folks in our generation--that weird age between 28-35 who have gone to college, gotten great jobs and then left those jobs because it's unsatisfying. There is something incredibly wonderful about leaving it all behind and living quietly--I suppose that's why 5 months in an Airstream trailer on the road sounds good to us right now...especially after the insanity of Chicago for the past 7 years.
A few weeks ago, Ian and I were talking about various people we know and are friends with--about who, of all our friends, would do what we did--quit really good jobs, sell a bunch of our stuff and start paying for health insurance out of our pockets--and we have a few people who we know WANT to do this...they just haven't yet--for whatever reasons--family, babies, etc. In our conversations, it comes down a lot to this idea of living an authentic life--a life that is built upon experiences rather than income, upon adventures rather than doing what is expected of you. And that's a really, really hard way to live sometimes.
But I think that is what many in our generation are craving--authenticity. And it's difficult to get authenticity sometimes in our current world--so controlled are we by our devices and our social media, that it all comes determining what is real and what is valuable and what is worth the risk.
When people ask me why I left teaching, I try to explain it was because I was no longer teaching--I was being asked to prepare students to take a high stakes test. I was not being asked to educate kids to think critically, but rather being asked to give them practice test after practice test of filling in bubbles and returning scores that only caused them sadness and anxiety. To me teaching and education is about literature and learning and asking great questions and having fabulous debates--yet that was no longer happening in my classroom and it was a disservice to staying the classroom when I didn't really believe what I was doing was valuable.
So began my sabbatical year--a year away from urban education to recharge myself and figure out what, exactly, it is that drives me. I haven't figured it out yet, but I have come to a few conclusions:
1) Teaching is my heart--I miss it. I will return to it. I am working to get back to the classroom currently and I know it will happen soon.
2) More importantly, teaching WELL is in my heart. I will not return to the classroom until I find a school and a place that I feel truly encourages quality teaching rather than mindless test prep. This might prove difficult, but I know it's possible.
3) Education in America today is a wild and rough road. There are massive amounts of amazing teachers, administrators and classrooms out there...but, unfortunately, there seem to be just as many who aren't amazing...and those are the ones who are being profiled by the media and by the pundits--the ones where the union is protecting the bad teachers or the teachers who don't care anymore or the teachers who are simply crazy.
As you can see, I've been thinking a lot about teaching lately--and I've been doing some research about urban education specifically, about testing and the testing culture and about what it means to truly be a quality teacher. Not sure yet where this research will lead me, but at the moment, it's helping me prepare for this trip. On this trip we are seeking a lot of things--sure, we are seeking an adventure, and great stories and great photographs.
But at the end of the day, we are seeking what I truly believe most folks our our generation are seeking--Authenticity.
True, honest moments.
Hopefully we'll find some along the road.
T-minus 2 days until we depart, folks.