The Work of the Dark

“Winter reminds us that everyone and everything needs some quiet time.” – Katrina Mayer

Tonight will be the longest night of the year. The long dark while the world makes its turn and tilt towards the light again. Winterdark. I always feel as though I want to mark this night, the beginning of Winter but, at the same time, the eventual advent of Spring and green and warmth. I have no Yule log, my greenery isn’t real. How can I mark the beginning of Winterdark? Moreover, some might ask, why would I want to?

I want to because there is work to be done in the dark, in the cold, and in the barrenness that Winter brings. I have been reading a great deal about the work of Winter. The need for the silence, the stillness, and the bleakness of the season. As a woman raised in perpetual light (ie, the Caribbean) for the first half of my life, this weighs heaviest on me about Winter of all its traits: the darkness. Rising in the dark, driving to work in the dark, being inside during whatever wan light comes during the day, and then, if I stay too late, driving home in the darkness once again. It is often very hard to think of that darkness, that silence, that bleakness as necessary, never mind thinking of it as good. But it is good. 

Just like the trees, the grass, and other plants, we need a pause in life. Growth cannot be continuous; rest is needed. Winterdark is a time for slowing, for pausing, for quieting down. Life doesn’t stop, of course, no. Not at all, but the long dark can remind us of our need for slowness, for catching our breath, and letting our pulse relax for a bit. I am not the best at slowing, pausing, and resting. The past few weeks have been a flurry of must-do’s in order to finish the school semester and all that comes with it before I left the building yesterday. And then there was the Christmas and birthday prep and officially moving my daughter into her new room upstairs. No…I don’t do “slowing down” very well. But I want to.

This Winter, I want to re-learn how to rest and how to embrace the slow and the quiet. I want to learn the work of Winter, the work of the dark, and the restorative properties of dormancy. I want to re-learn quiet. I want to re-learn care. I want to re-learn peace. Beginning tonight with Winterdark, I want to reclaim this season.

Tonight, after the bustle of the day, I will sit, bundled and warm, with husband, mother, and daughter. Then, later, with book and journal and pen. I will sit in the glow of my Christmas tree when the house is finally calm and quiet. I will reclaim and embrace silence and stillness, the work of Winter and the long dark as they begin.

Will you join me?

Frightening Control

Have you ever had a moment when you are so very angry but you find yourself with an almost marble-esque calm about you? When people say stupid things or ask obvious questions on purpose to be annoying, and you find yourself answering in a low, calm voice and with the patience of a saint, rather than smacking them and calling them the idiot that they are?

I have had that happen several times over the past few months, and it startles me a bit each time. Granted, I teach middle-schoolers AND I’m very pregnant at the moment, a perfect recipe for frayed nerves and a low threshold for stupidity. I think it worries my students a bit when I know and they know that they are purposefully trying to be annoying and waste time, and I answer them in the calmest voice known to man, perhaps with a touch of long-suffering in it, and tell them that we’re moving on, I’ve already answered every question they could think of (they are on their handouts), we don’t deal in “what if’s”, and they brought whatever the discipline situation is on themselves.

Yesterday, I had this particular issue. I have a small class of students are very…talkative is a mild way of putting it. Chaotic is perhaps a more apropos term. I separate out my class, sending the most self-motivated students to the library with To Do lists of the work they were to complete, and kept the remaining students (who honestly probably could not manage themselves enough to work on their own if their lives depended on it) with me. They also received a To Do List, along with discipline procedures and a new seating chart. They were told to read the To Do List, ALL of it. But, of course, they had questions. One young lady kept asking questions about what was going on that day and I kept referring her to her handout, which had all the pertinent information on it, which annoyed her to no end, I’m sure.

Is this was because of how we acted yesterday (when they basically told me to my face that they were not going to behave well unless the dean of students was in the room to watch them; he has been a frequent visitor to our classroom so far this semester).


How long will it be like this?

Until things improve.

This seat is uncomfortable.

You brought the new seating arrangement on yourself.

What if…

I don’t deal in what ifs and you are not being given an option.

The class was informed calmly and honestly that they had left me no choice but this method of high structure and swift discipline. For an 88 minute block, I sat at the front of the classroom and watched them closely, with a list close at hand. Every time they talked out, were out of their seat without permission, were off-task/not working, trying to communicate with other students, etc., they received a demerit and immediately notification of said demerit. And I stuck to it. I had given out 9 demerits to a class of 10 by the end of the day, multiples to some students. Some got the point, closed their mouths, and got to work. Others were fighting it in their own way but I stuck to my guns, again remaining calm and quiet, and that was that.

I admit, I scared myself a little bit, that I fell so easily into the position of jailer. But I remembered that I am doing what is necessary. My administration and the kids’ parents expect a great deal of me and I’ll be hanged if I let the students keep me from doing my job, which I told them to their faces. Plus, I need to watch myself and my stress level. I am two months out from my due date and this is as much to protect me, as it is to help them be productive and get their work done.

So, as I must, I will put on that mask, be the calm, swift jailer, as long as I must in order to make things work. Then maybe…MAYBE…something will click and change. We can always hope.