Word Medicine by Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

Weekend morning. I wake early and creep downstairs into the kitchen, setting the kettle on the burner and stretching my neck, my arms, my hands, shaking sleep off. Two cats circle like shadows around my feet, waiting for their breakfast–sleek and silent as the kettle starts its slow hiss and boil. Out comes the mug. The tea. My mind begins its checklist of the day ahead and the dreams behind. Because it is a weekend, the steaming mug travels back upstairs to my bedroom with me and I set it on the corner of my desk.

I settle myself in the chair, get the notebook and black ink pens out, and stare out the window, my breath a slow breeze through me. My gratitude is immediate as I rake my eyes across the neighboring field and distant tree line, still winter-stark and bare, waiting for spring. I let my eyes wander, cataloguing signs of the season shifting, watching for hawks and vultures drifting high, and geese who flock to the field all winter, their broken cries cracking the silence open wide. Squirrels erupt along the tree branches and the black cat from across the street stalks them for any misstep. Deer often graze when the field is high, bookmarking sunrise and sunset with their nervous energy. Foxes sneak past at dusk–but now, morning is just getting started and the scene is quiet but for a few crows circling, silent and black as the ink in my pen. My pen starts to move across the page. Meditation. Memory. Magic.

When it is warm out, the glass is thrown open, echoes of an old poem, “outside the open window, the morning air is all awash with angels.” Angels. Animals. And the first moments of peace I’ve had in days.

People will tell you to choose a job you love and you’ll “never work a day in your life.” But they don’t account for those like me who’ve chosen a job they love that makes them work harder than even seems possible. I am a teacher. My job is full-time, August to June, with those two infamous months off that many say make this career-path “easy” and me “lucky,” as if I am the one responsible for the academic yearly calendar. Yes. Those two months are wonderful. Like most teachers, I find them essential for recovering, recharging, and reflecting on the classes I had and the students I served all the best ways I know how. But, “easy” and “lucky” are not the words to describe how it feels to be responsible for the education of every single student who shows up in my classes with a whole history and agenda of their own.

I teach six classes this semester at the same community college I’ve been teaching at for over sixteen years now. I have 100 students I plan for, grade for, guide and (hopefully) inspire each and every day. I teach writing, so my job can’t be just assigning multiple choice quizzes or tests and calling it a day. I have the task of working with them on essays from brainstorming to multiple revisions, equalling hundreds of pages of reading each week. The emails are endless, as are the questions. I have no teacher’s assistant or co-teacher. This is a one-woman show that runs all day every day, and a couple of evenings, too. I am overwhelmed daily. I am also inspired daily. Impressed. Moved. Full of love, concern, and hope. When I leave campus each day, my bag is full of things to grade or long-range plans I am hoping to work on in between meeting the needs of the three young adults I am a single parent of–also no assistant or partner there to share the weight–a one woman show running 365 days per year, 24 hours a day. Also a job that leaves me full of love, concern, and hope every day.

I have chosen the job I have and the children I have (not that I expected to be a single mom when my family began, but then, life is full of surprises). Both my work and my children provide me with the fuel of life I need to run on. But burnout, in both the role of teacher and of single mother, is a very real concern and is something I constantly have to work against to be the teacher and the mother my kids all need me to be.

This is where my weekend morning rituals come in. This is where the waking early, hot tea, writing at the desk, and staring out into that field must be. The first twenty minutes of my writing is just brain drain–concerns, struggles, and self-doubt about whether I am doing a good job at either of my beloved occupations. But eventually, I tap into that third vocation I am called to–the writer in me sings out, full-throated, still alive in me in spite of everything.
My weekend morning ritual of time spent writing does more than stave off the possible emotional collapse from my weekday demands. It allows me to access all of the most vibrant, powerful, alive parts of who I am.

I once imagined a life for myself where all I did was write, spinning out entire invented universes from the blooming tip of my pen. I’d travel at will. I would sequester myself in the woods or alongside a mesa or a mountain or beside a tide-heavy shore, living to create. Undisturbed. A Virginia Woolf Room of Her Own dream. I still have this fantasy sometimes. I’ll teach, but teach less. My children will grow more fully into adulthood. The writer I am will take up the space she’s due.

But even this dream only works when teaching, motherhood, and writing coexist. I, quite simply, couldn’t do without all three. Yet doing with all three is staggering. This contradiction frames my life and challenges me in ways only another person working within constraints like mine could ever understand.

The pressure, the ache, and the exhilaration of these three things have taught me the profound power of self care. For me, it looks like a quiet desk by a window overlooking a field full of life. What was a weekend morning routine has been infused with a significance that makes it sacred to me. Perhaps the only line between routine and ritual is how desperately the person needs it. My ritual renews me, offers me moments of grace, and fortifies me for another week of balancing everything. Weekend mornings are my ritual. Words are my medicine. I wake early. I brew the tea and open the windows when I can, looking for angels. I channel the determination of my students, the love of my children, and the power of my imagination to slip from the sunlit field in front of me into the wild expanse of my salvation–my flawed, imperfect writing life.

Cathleen Delia Mulrooney

cathleendeliamulrooney_bioRestless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.

Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.

Through her Queen of Cups Tarot community, she offers private, group, and online tarot readings. Find her online at http://cdeliamulrooney.com and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/queenofcupstarot/

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