Little Red Riding Hood left the safe path to gather flowers.

Addictions are hard to overcome. But I can’t deny that I like the thrill of teaching. Yes, teaching is an addiction. Like most addictions, teaching creates longing which can often be confused with passion. How does one sort out the difference between an unhealthy addiction and a thriving passion? My feeble mind can’t. Watching a kid “get it” is my kryptonite. No, having a parent tell me that I’ve changed their kid, that they couldn’t have achieved the next step without me is my weakness. I know I’m good –most days–at helping kids on that first step. Weak this feeling of success makes me. Every time I think I’ll leave teaching, I think on these kids who need me. I get weak in the knees, to borrow a cliche, rendering me unable to march out of this career.

That’s the problem. The weakness of my addiction to people needing me is the very thing that drives me towards the high-tail-it-and run!-mode. I don’t want to be needed. I want to be needed. I don’t want to be needed. Being needed is draining. It holds me in one place too long. Is there a patch or a pill to cure this insanity?

I’m not sure why this need in me to be wanted competes with the gawd, I can’t be needed, and why the competition drains me. Why do these two halves of myself combat? I can say the same for wanting to belong. I often want to be part of a group, I long to be like Norm who walks into the Cheers bar and everyone knows his name—do you remember the theme song of Cheers—where everyone knows your name? I like that idea in theory. The idea that people see me as someone who is part of their social fabric feels comfy, like a well fitting pair of shoes. Why not?

Yet as soon as I feel that I belong, I feel shaky, I sweat, I start edging away. What’s the problem? I can’t deny that belonging brings a measure of comfort, but does it bring a measure of success? Is the problem that I’m always looking for a something but can’t figure out what “it” is? Or is my desire to do tough things (yes, it’s a quirk of mine: one must do hard things) in my life as a way of growing—or a penance for something I’ve done wrong—lead me away from belonging too much.

What is too much belonging? When is the time right to step away and leave them wanting?

I know right now that I’m not paid enough and feel a bit taken for granted. So that might be where I’m right in stepping away. I need more money to pay for my two sweet kids to go to college. That the job swallows me up doesn’t help. I don’t seem to have time for creative pursuits–for that which I long to do—write. When I’m planning the next lesson, reading the next essay or story, and the next and the next and the next, I drown in the next thing to do. Those nexts are almost as intoxicating as the high of being needed and the embrace of belonging. Deadlines met are satisfying.

Right now I figure I have two paths –though they stretch out in myriad possibilities. One is to make more money, solid money that I can count on for paying for college, stashing away for retirement, addressing the wear and tear on my home and car. The other is to forego the dollars in favor of immersing myself in what my psyche seems to demand—to write—to do something I’ve never done, to conquer a mountain that stands before me. Am I being unrealistic? Can I do this? Why am I compelled so? she asks herself as she stands and looks from the bottom to where mountain meets sky.

I feel as though I might not be able to breathe if I don’t make that first step off the path of right now, if I don’t take my foot off the shoreline of the now to go towards the shoreline of one day. That sounds scary. Both leaving and staying sounds scary. I love my students. They are sweet and wonderful. They are needy and intelligent. Though the gig doesn’t pay well, I have what looks like free time. (Looks like? a voice scolds.) I’m blessed in my career. The problem is that it doesn’t pay well and the free time isn’t free. My time is filled with ignoring my writing, overlooking my own needs to fulfill the needs of others. Working on tomorrow’s lesson plans and the next book to teach is much easier than sitting down to write. What is it that a writer said? “Writing is easy; all you have to do is slice open a vein and bleed.” Everyone I’ve talked to has said that writing is tough. You’d think that the truth would stop me in my tracks, but it hasn’t. I want to do the tough. I would hope my students and my children would want me to do the tough.

I worry, though. What if this dalliance on the path away from a secure harbor is self sabotaging? What if I’m like Little Red Riding Hood, leaving a safe path to gather flowers in the most dangerous way? What if I arrive at grandmother’s house only to find my own big, innocent eyes have led me to the jaws of large teeth of disappointment and financial ruin? What if I’m Goldilocks trying out chairs and bowls of mush to find the right fit, only to fall asleep in a bed that clearly doesn’t belong to me? What right do I have to be at this house that belongs to bears?

What ifs are horrifying. What if Red never left home? What if Goldilocks never ventured to places she hadn’t been invited? No story there. The irony is that the main character in my novel (I like saying “my novel” as if I’ve already arrived to my destination of “writer”) is a girl who doesn’t want her life to change, but change it will and change it must. Like X, I have to venture forth, otherwise my story will wither. I’ll read the stories others have written, I’ll teach the stories others have written and I’ll even do what I love, help others write their story, but my feet will be bound by my fear, and eventually I’ll be unable to move forward.

My little voice asks me if that would be so bad. I could become a tree with deep roots. I’ll be prized for my shade and bring comfort to others. It’s what I’ve been.

The other voice says no. There is time for that (no, I can’t guarantee there’ll be time for anything). Now is the time to step forward, to take one step into the darkness, towards the light blinking far off in the distance, like a guiding star. I can’t deny I feel fear. I don’t know where my steps will take me because I haven’t been on this path before. But that’s what’s exciting. One deep breath and one more step. Exhale and one more step. Into the darkness with the hope that the journey will be an adventure, that there will be places to rest, that there will be friends along the way, that I will find the strength to quell my enemies—including my own doubt, and arrive at a different place-whole and filled with the thrill of being me.

Wolves, I’m coming.

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