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April 2018

I spend Easter like any other Sunday: Several hours at school to prepare for the coming week, grocery shopping, and relaxing. This is my last day of relative calm, so I make the most of it.

It’s the first day of our abbreviated “tech week”, the rehearsals where sets, sound, and lights are added in to the mix. We’ve already been using the first two, but tonight is the first night with the new lights. Kevin, our light guy, has things mostly set up when I arrive for rehearsal, and finishes up while the rest of the cast filters in and George takes care of announcements. We change into costumes and get started. Tech rehearsals take a long time: While the lighting has been thought about before, this is the first time it gets used, so there’s a lot of stopping and starting as cues are finalized and programmed into the computer that controls the system. In our case, the actors also have to get used to dodging the lighting equipment as we enter and exit the stage area; a couple of things have to be reworked to accomodate the new layout. Tonight’s also the first night with nearly-complete costumes, and with the brothers that need it passing the third mic around. All in all, it’s a long night, and I’m more than ready to fall into bed when it’s done.

My students keep asking questions about the show, including where and when it’s happening. A couple of weeks ago, I printed out the flyer George created and hung it on the wall outside my classroom door. Now, with opening night approaching fast, several students are happily telling me when they’re coming to see the show.

Our official opening night is two days away. Tonight is our one and only dress rehearsal; tomorrow night will be, in George’s words, “dress rehearsal with an audience”, as he’s invited the local clergy and their family members to attend. Tonight we finally have all of costumes and props. Things run relatively smoothly, although a few entrances and exits have to be reworked. We also discover that, at least for this weekend, intermission will run closer to 20 minutes than the traditional 15, as “Levi” needs time to complete his transformation into “Pharaoh” (patterned after Elvis Presley).

While we know it won’t be a large crowd, tonight is still the first time we’ll perform for an audience. I’ve been fighting nerves all day, and it looks like I’m not the only one; the kids, especially, are more keyed-up than usual. Once we’re all in costumes and sound check has been taken care of, George and Dr. T gather us in the greenroom for group warm-ups. Then we wait. I pace restlessly around the green room, mind racing, wondering and worrying about how tonight will go and what it will mean for the rest of the run. Finally, it’s time for our “curtain”. We hear the overture start, and quietly begin moving in to position for our entrances. As Elena begins singing the Prologue, I check my mic one more time to make sure it’s ready. My heart stops when I see a red light: The batteries have died! No time to fix it now, so I enter and sing “Any Dream Will Do” without it. (Thank goodness we practiced for so long without the mic; I know I can make myself heard.) The song finishes, the audience applauds. I exit a little faster than normal and make a beeline for the booth (the area where Dr. T, Kevin, and Bea are sitting to run lights, sound, and supervise the show). In whispers, I ask for fresh batteries and quickly swap them out, all while singing along with the next song. I finish just in time to make my entrance back on to the stage. And the show goes on.

The first thing George does on opening night is sit us down for notes from last night’s performance. Some props and costumes weren’t where they should have been, some entrances and exits weren’t as smooth as they could have been. Starting tonight, we’ll put fresh batteries in the mics before every performance, so that we don’t have another situation like last night. After notes, we run a couple of spots to check things over before adjourning to the greenroom to finish getting ready and wait. Rather than pacing restlessly, I pull out my phone, plug in my headphones, and start the pre-show playlist I made this morning. When I did theatre in high school, we always had music playing in the dressing room, and it also dominated a very specific set of pre-show traditions passed down from year to year. I neither want to nor can recreate all of those, but one in particular is easy enough to keep going on my own: Listening and dancing to the full version of Don McLean’s “American Pie”. Between that and the other songs on the playlist, I am able to burn off enough of the pre-show jitters that I am substantially calmer and more focused when the overture begins.

As opening nights go, it could go better. While I have no issues with my mic, Elena’s headset mic snaps, crackles, and pops so much during the first act that she switches to a handheld after intermission. Costumes and props are in their correct places, and entrances and exits go more smoothly than last night. As the show goes on, though, we’re not sure how we’re doing, because the audience is very quiet. They’ve applauded a couple of times, but not always where we expect, and a lot of our jokes and gags are met by silence or quiet giggles. But the applause at the end is nice and loud, and when we meet-and-greet in the lobby afterwards everyone says how much they enjoyed it.

From the beginning, this second official show is better than our previous two. Elena has a mic that doesn’t add its own sound effects. The audience applauds after “Any Dream Will Do”, and at the end of nearly every other song. When I walk through the audience to show off my coat, several of my students are very eager to see it. Laughter can be heard frequently. The audience fawns over Pharaoh almost as much as his retinue. We get a standing ovation at the end. Meet-and-greet for me starts when one of my students runs into the lobby and barrels into me for a hug, gushing over how much she loved it. Several other students also come to say hi. One says, “Mr. CJ, Pharaoh is a GIANT.” (Phil is 6′ 6″.)
I laugh and agree. “Do you want to meet him?”
“No!” the student quickly ducks behind his mom. She and I laugh.

The high from last night’s show makes it a little easier to deal with the fact that we don’t have much of an audience for our matinee today. (Blame the absolutely gorgeous weather for that.) More seats are filled for the evening performance. Regardless, both audiences enjoy the show, and we continue to get many compliments after our bows. We can’t meet as long with people after the evening show, because we have to strike, that is, pack up all of our sets, costumes, and lights. We talked about what goes in whose vehicles already, so organized chaos descends as we change and pack up while the Barn’s pastor and members of his congregation get things set up for services tomorrow morning.

For the most part, I’ve gotten over my nerves about changing in the green room with everyone. But there’s a moment on Saturday… Someone says something to me as I’m getting dressed, and I don’t pull a shirt on right away. When I turn back around, I catch one of the “brothers” looking at me. She turns away when we make eye contact, and never brings it up, but I have to wonder if she saw my scars, and what she’s thinking if she did….

Another Sunday morning at school. I succeed in getting in and out quickly, and have a few hours to unwind at my place before I head over to Stage A, our home for the coming week, for load in. It’s exactly what it sounds like: We need to bring in and set up everything we just took out of the Barn. The priority is helping Kevin unload and set up the lights, but I also unload the two trunks of costumes from my car, help black out windows, get the new greenroom ready, and help George and Kira unload their vehicles. By the time we leave, our crew of seven has everything ready for our next rehearsal.

For a variety of reasons, we have tonight off from everything show-related. Instead, I spend the evening getting things done around the apartment and crossing my fingers that the tickle I feel at the back of my throat isn’t a sign of impending sickness. Just in case, I manage to fit in two doses of Zicam before bedtime.

Glad I started the meds last night; I definitely have a cold. I make it through school and crash on my couch for an hour or so before heading to round two of tech week. It’s not quite a disaster, but it’s not far off. Cues are missed, lyrics forgotten, we have issues with sets and lights…. By the end of the night, we’re all ready to go home.

Thankfully, last night’s issues appear to have sorted themselves out. Good thing, too; tonight’s dress rehearsal is being recorded. I’m excited to have something to show friends and family who can’t come to see the show in person, I just wish I felt and sounded better. Oh well.

I hate colds. The Zicam definitely helps, but my current schedule doesn’t allow me to get as much rest as I should. Thankfully, my students and I have come up with ways to make sure I don’t have to raise my voice too much during the day, and they’ve gotten a lot better at asking one another for help so I don’t have to run around the room as much. Several kids have spent the week talking about the show, asking questions and saying how much fun they had. Others tell me that they’ll be at a performance this weekend. One of the kids asks why I seem extra nervous today; after all, didn’t the show go well this last week? I explain that, yes, that’s true, but I still have to focus on doing a good job each and every night. I also mention that this weekend I have a lot of friends and family coming from out of town to see the show, and I don’t want to disappoint them. Another student overhears this and says, “You won’t!”

Opening night at Stage A is probably our smoothest show to date. When I check my phone at intermission, I find a message from Dad: He’s arrived! I call him after the show so that we can finalize plans for tomorrow.

All week, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for Nunap and the surrounding area. Lucas, Andy, and Kelly are supposed to fly out this morning. If they can get as far as the Hub, they’ll likely make it to Seward with no problem. (Flights between the Hub and Anchorage are more likely to be on schedule.) As I well know, however, getting out of the village can sometimes be problematic. Thankfully, I get a text from Lucas around lunchtime: a picture of the three of them sitting in the Alaska Airlines terminal at the Hub, waiting for the flight to Anchorage. They’ll be here!

As we discussed last night, Dad meets me at school this afternoon just before dismissal. I show him around, introducing him to a fair number of the staff and a couple of students. I’ve got several errands to run, so we agree to meet back at my apartment. We spend the next couple of hours catching up before I have to head for the church. The cast does sound check and group warm ups and are gathered back in the green room when we hear the amazing news: Tonight’s show is sold out! Our performance tonight is on par with last Friday’s, and the audience responds accordingly. Several students rush me again in the lobby afterwards. I finally get a chance to talk to Dad on the ride back to my apartment. He has a great story for me: When act 2 started, he overheard a student say, “Mr. CJ got left in jail!” (Joseph ends act 1 and starts act 2 in prison.) We discuss the show (he loves it) and plans for meeting up with the gang from Nunap tomorrow morning.

I’m a little nervous as Dad and I head for the restaurant this morning. This will be the first time a person from home has met people from my Alaska life. I have no reason to think this won’t go well, but… As soon as we enter the building and I see four smiling faces (Lucas, Andy, Kelly, and Geri, my mentor during my second year) my happiness overpowers the nerves. I get hugs from everyone, introduce Dad, and we settle in for our meal. I worried over nothing, as Dad fits right in. Laughter frequently punctuates our conversation. Afterwards, we wander around town, enjoying the beautiful day. Eventually, I have to leave for the church; Dad agrees to get everyone there in time for the show. My nerves resurface as I get changed and do sound check, staying as quiet as possible to save my voice. I’ve been making jokes for the last week that today’s show will be the “CJ Fan Club performance”. Not only are Dad and the gang from Nunap here, but another friend is coming from across the peninsula, and D and her family are going to be here, too. I have a sudden vision of these people being the only audience members for this afternoon; I know they wouldn’t mind, but I find the idea mildly terrifying.
The show starts, and I see my prediction sort of came true: Aside from all of my friends and family, there’s only a handful of other people scattered among the pews. Fortunately, everyone seems to be having a good time. After bows, I do a quick meet-and-greet in the lobby before meeting with my huge group in front of the stage. Everyone loved it! Hugs are exchanged, photos are taken, and then (sadly) most of these people have to hit the road.

The evening show has a bigger audience than this afternoon, although not as big as last night. By the end, I’m running on fumes, and I know my voice doesn’t sound its best. Once more, the organized chaos of strike descends once the show ends. Dad and several other family members pitch in. Before long, the church looks like it normally does. Costumes, set pieces, and lights are in the appropriate vehicles; the foot locker I loaned to the production has been loaded in to Dad’s car for the ride back to my place. Just like that, the show is done.

This Sunday, I don’t go to school. Instead, Dad and I hang out for a few hours before he heads to Alyeska for a mini ski vacation. I collapse for the afternoon, but go to a cast party in the evening. Not everyone’s there, but it’s still nice to get together with folks and talk about the show.

I spend today as a lump on the couch, congratulating myself for my foresight in scheduling this day off from work.

Between shows on Saturday, we received our DVDs of the recorded dress rehearsal. I watched mine the other night; amazingly, I don’t sound ill at all. As a special treat for my students, I bring the DVD to school and play it this afternoon. Surprisingly, even those that saw the show in person (about half) are still riveted. They enjoy pointing things out to their classmates. Everyone loves asking me questions about what it was like. About halfway through, one student runs up to me and proudly hands me a piece of notebook paper. On it, she’s drawn a portrait of me as Joseph. Later, when the show is done and its time to go home, all of the kids tell me how much they loved the show.
When I get home that night, I hang the portrait on my fridge. I still can’t believe the show is done. I can hardly wait to see what we’re doing next year.

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CJ L_____ is thrilled—

No, I’ve never liked how that word looked in programs.

CJ L_____ first saw “Joseph” at the age of eight, and always knew he could play the lead.

Too pretentious.

When he’s not wrangling animals masquerading as students—

Too snarky.

After three years of living in the middle of nowhere, CJ L_______ is excited to once again live in civilization!

Nope.

CJ L_______ is excited to be part of this production of “Joseph”!

That has potential…

CJ L_______ is excited to be part of this production of “Joseph”! Previous experience includes behind-the-scenes work on high school productions of “Hello, Dolly!” and “Pippin”, and roles in high school productions of “Anything Goes”,  “Seussical”, and “The Dining Room”. He also worked on several college productions—

Too detailed.

CJ L_______ is excited to be part of this production of “Joseph”! While he’s had a life-long obsession with the theatre, most of his previous experience occurred in—

Needs some tweaking.

A life-long theatre lover, CJ L_______ is excited to be part of this production of “Joseph”! Previous experience includes various on- and off-stage roles in a number of high school and college productions.

Progress.

A life-long theatre lover, CJ L_______ is excited to be part of this production of “Joseph”! Previous experience includes various on- and off-stage roles in a number of high school and college productions. Thanks to George for this opportunity, the rest of the cast and crew for making this so much fun, and, most especially, to family and friends near and far for their love and support.

That’s it!

Located in southwestern Alaska, the village of Nunap is home to around 500 people, predominantly members of the Yup’ik tribe. The village can’t be accessed by road; plane, boat, snowmobile, and “river taxi” (driving in a car or truck on the frozen river) are the only ways in or out. For three years, I lived there and taught at the one and only school.

From Anchorage, you can drive onto the Seward Highway. Follow the road for the next 120-odd miles, and you arrive in Seward, the town. The year-round population of the town sits around 2500, although during tourist season that number goes up quite a bit. The airport serves more as a hub for sight-seeing flights in small planes or helicopters. Earlier this summer, I accepted a job from the local school district to work at the local elementary school. Two weeks ago, I finally started work.

Last year, the Nunap school housed just under 230 students, ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade. The hallways of the school make a squared-off U shape. One of the long halls is the “elementary side”, while the other is the “high school side” (everything from 6th grade on up). The short hallway has the main office, the teachers’ work room, and the office of the school tech guy. The gym/cafeteria/auditorium fills the center of the U, and the kindergarten classroom is actually in the old school building, a short walk away. On the elementary side, more often than not there is only one class per grade. Teachers on the high school side sometimes have to share rooms, and every available space is used for storage.

The elementary school in Seward is one of three school buildings. Currently, I believe it houses slightly less than 300 students from pre-kindergarten through 5th grade. My classroom is the only 4th-grade-only space, but Mrs. Rose down the hall has a mixed group of 3rd and 4th grade. The building is basically a straight line: The north wing houses pre-k through 2nd grade, while the south wing has 3rd through 5th. The central area has the main office, music room, gym/auditorium, library, nurse’s office, teachers’ lounge and work room, and the special education “suite”. In addition to classrooms, the south wing also has a “science lab” (a classroom dedicated solely to science instruction for all of us teachers to share), and a classroom for the gifted program.

Class sizes in Nunap could vary quite a bit from year to year. My first year, I had 19 3rd graders. The second year, 22 kids crowded into my room. Last year, I started off with 11 students, but by the end of the year only 9 kids called me their teacher. The first two years, I had an aide in my room for at least part of the day. Otherwise, I was with my kids the whole day: I taught not only the academic subjects but also P.E. and music, handled art at least half the time, supervised recess, passed out bandages and ice packs, and often made phone calls when students fell ill. My friend and colleague Andy was the elementary Special Education and resource room teacher, so she’d take those that had IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and provide me with strategies and tools to reach those students who needed a leg up (a label that, quite frankly, applied to the majority of my kiddos).

As of this coming Monday, I’ll have 28 students on my roster. (Fortunately, my classroom here is double the size of the one I had in Nunap.) I’m still responsible for the academic subjects and art, but I now have colleagues who are certified in PE and music and library who work with my students. There’s an actual school nurse, so I only need to worry about handing out bandages. Recess duty rotates among the staff, and we have enough people that I’ll only have to do it for six or seven weeks out of the entire school year. And there’s an entire team of Special Education teachers and interventionists who will work with my students that need additional help.

The support staff at Nunap school were all village natives. The teaching staff were almost entirely non-native and non-local, coming from all over the Lower 48. Age-wise, most of the teachers were twenty-somethings taking their first “real” teaching job out of college. They may or may not have significant others. Those who weren’t were often older, with grown children back in whatever state they originally called home. Outside of school, some teachers hunted and fished with the locals, or went to feasts or other get-togethers at locals’ houses. Most of the teachers would get together in some group or other, whether for movie or game nights, dinners, or Sunday pancakes at Lucas and Andy’s place. 

As near as I can tell, I’m now the baby of the elementary staff. Many of my colleagues are married or have significant others. Most of them also have children, some of whom are students at the school. At this point, I haven’t really socialized with my coworkers outside of school.

In the villages of Nunap’s school district, the district provided and maintained teacher housing. I spent the last two years living in an apartment in the kindergarten building; in fact, my living space had at one point been two classrooms. No roads within the village meant daily trips to the post office after school ended to check the PO box. The post office staff consists of two women: Chrissy, who works weekdays, and Ayap, who covers Saturdays.

I realized the other day that it’s been over five years since my daily commute involved a car. Prior to moving to the tundra, I lived right on a main bus route that dropped me practically at the door of my job, and I often walked home in the afternoons. In the village, I looked forward to the daily walk to school, even when I had to bundle up against extreme temperatures. I could walk to school now, but it would take considerably longer: My apartment is situated almost on the waterfront, almost two-and-a-half miles from the school. I’ll try it at some point, but when I have a lot of things to carry I’m grateful to only have a five minute drive to worry about.

Even though Seward has many roads, the post office still doesn’t deliver mail to houses. So I once again have a post office box. It’s still on the way home at the end of the day, except now I have to worry about parking the car while I run inside. I’ve seen at least five different people behind the counter in the month since I moved in, but have yet to learn any of their names.

At the Nunap PO, if you received a package too large for your box, you got a yellow slip, which many of the staff jokingly referred to as a “golden ticket”. The slips were covered in clear packing tape so they lasted longer. Take the slip to the front counter and pass it to Chrissy, and she’d return shortly with your boxes. Frequently, you’d reach the counter at the same time she brought your stuff out of the back, because she heard your voice as you came in.

The “golden tickets” are apparently a USPS procedure. Unlike in the village, the ones at the Seward PO remain un-taped and bear numerous hand-written and later crossed-out box numbers. I have yet to arrive when there wasn’t a line; frequently, one clerk will collect slips from however many people in line currently have them and disappear into the back while another clerk handles transactions for other customers.

In addition to the post office, I might also swing by the store after school to check what was currently in stock. While I would occasionally get lucky, more often than not I ordered the majority of my groceries online and had them shipped in.

There an actual grocery store in Seward, complete with multiple aisles, different departments, and a pharmacy. It’s also on the route between home and school, so I’m trying to work any shopping into my commute. After three years of making do with either frozen produce or what I could get shipped in, I feel spoiled by the variety of choices I see every time I step through the doors.

As far as I knew, I was the only L, G, B, or T person in Nunap, although I had suspicions about a couple of the high school students. I did come out as trans to several of my fellow teachers, but didn’t tell any of the locals until after I left this past summer. In such a small community, everyone seemed to know everything about everyone else, and I feared for my job and my safety if someone found out and decided I wasn’t fit to work with their children.

I have yet to find out if there’s an LGBT community in Seward, although I’m only a couple of hours away from the ones in Anchorage or Kenai. Since I “pass”, none of my new coworkers know I’m trans. I don’t plan on telling anyone yet, and certainly not until I have a better handle on people’s attitudes and beliefs. In the meantime, I have to watch what I say and how I say it, particularly stories about my past. Thankfully, I have a support network in the form of friends and family, accessible through phone, texts, Facebook, and even (gasp!) driving up to Anchorage.

Some things have changed, some things have stayed the same. Time to dive into another school year!

Five years ago today I woke up elated and afraid. Elated because I was getting top surgery! Afraid because I was getting top surgery.

I suspect the joy is a little easier to understand. From the moment I hit puberty the first time, I loathed the way my upper body looked. Initially I denied the changes that occurred right under my nose; once I finally acknowledged them, I refused to step out of the house in anything other than a tight sports bra. When my costume for the musical during my sophomore year didn’t allow for that, I wore a tight tankini instead. I tried wearing traditional bras a couple of times, but I hated how they felt and how they made me look. When I hit college and began Transitioning, I switched to Ace bandages for a while (not one of my brighter ideas) before finally purchasing several binders. Essentially a double-layer spandex undershirt, these garments flattened my torso even more than the sports bras had, letting me “pass” as a man when I wore clothes. I also bought a special binder made of swimsuit material for the summers, so I didn’t have to fight with a girl’s one-piece suit anymore. As long as I wore clothes, I was somewhat comfortable in my body. But that wasn’t enough. I remembered times as a kid when I ran around with no shirt on. I remember closing my eyes in the shower when my body began changing, and training myself to not look below shoulder level in mirrors if I didn’t have at least a bra on. The binders may have been a help, but they also added two very tight layers under my normal clothes, which meant I overheated even more easily than I always had. And I wanted back the feeling of freedom I had as a kid, when I felt more comfortable in my own skin.

From the moment I realized that I had to Transition to keep going, I wanted top surgery. For an assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) individual like me, that means I would basically get a mastectomy.  It’s not something every trans person wishes for, or can afford. But I knew that for me to be truly happy I needed it. The biggest question became when, as most insurance companies at the time didn’t cover ANY costs related to the procedure. So I kept working, kept saving, and did research. I learned about the different types of top surgery: Depending on how large your chest was pre-operation, the surgeon might opt to do “keyhole” surgery or a bilateral mastectomy with nipple grafts. The former procedure leaves less visible scars, because the incisions are made in the nipples. It also works best for folks who are no larger than an A or small B cup. I realized pretty quickly that I’d likely end up having the second procedure.

Spring of 2012 brought with it that long-term substitute teaching job, and with it, a large paycheck. As soon as I realized just how much money I’d have by the end of the semester, I kicked my surgery research in to high gear, because there was a very good chance I could have the procedure done that summer. After looking at costs and reviews, I scheduled my procedure with Dr. Medalie in Cleveland. And the countdown to 25 June began.

Even with how excited I was when I woke up that day five years ago, I was also a little afraid. As much as I disliked it, my body was still a known quantity, and had been for years. I’d never had surgery like this before; what would that be like? I’d seen a video on Dr. Medalie’s web site of the procedure, so I knew exactly what was about to happen. How much was it going to hurt? And what if, after all of this, I wasn’t happy with the results? What then?

Dr. Medalie performs this surgery as an outpatient procedure, so I didn’t spend any time in a hospital. I arrived at the surgery center a couple of hours before the procedure, and was back in the hotel room by early evening. The next few days proved to be the biggest trial of my whole Transition: The dressings on my chest and drains in my sides made moving around too much painful, and I couldn’t really move my shoulders. The drains also meant I had to sleep on my back (NOT my preferred sleeping position). I forced myself to relax as much as possible and spent the week catching up on sci-fi TV shows.

One week after the surgery, the drains came out, the dressings came off, and I got to see the new me. My first look didn’t do much to dispel my previous fear: The grafts and incisions were still in the early stages of healing, my skin was prickly with re-growing hair (my chest was shaved prior to surgery), and patches of yellow and orange showed where I’d been swabbed with iodine during the procedure. But over the next few weeks, as I exercised and stretched and got back to the business of living my life, I realized that the fear had proved unfounded.

Five years later, I have no concerns about how my chest looks. Regular exercise has allowed me to build a decent amount of muscle; between that and my body hair the scars of my surgery are a little hard to see unless you know what to look for. I no longer wear multiple layers of clothes to hide my shape, only for comfort. The first time I went swimming in just trunks ranks as one of the happiest days of my life. In many ways, five years ago today marked the start of ME.

When the school year ended, I didn’t know where I’d be at the end of the summer. I had hopes, based on several interviews, but no one had yet hired me. So I came back to the hometown with a huge question mark hanging in the air, the implied “What’s next?”

In the ensuing weeks, I’ve visited friends and family, gone to the movies and the library, relaxed as much as I can. All the time, that annoying question mark stayed put, just at the edge of my thoughts, ready and waiting to bring with it a whole host of other questions and worries: What if no one wants me? I know I’ve said I’ll work as a sub again, but can I really survive that? What’s taking so long???  

Actually, I already knew the answer to that last one: The state of Alaska had yet to finalize its budget for next year, so schools didn’t know their funding situation. This led in turn to a hiring freeze. Several times since I’ve gotten back to the Lower 48, I’ve had an e-mail or a phone call from some of the principals who interviewed me, telling me that they still couldn’t move forward with the hiring process. I also got automatically generated messages from the school HR sites, saying I hadn’t been accepted for other jobs I’d applied for.

Last Wednesday, I finally got a call from one of the principals. After thanking me for being so patient, she told me that someone else had been hired. I thanked her for letting me know, and for keeping me in the loop this whole time. I felt disappointed as I hung up the phone; that interview had gone really well, and I felt like I would be a good fit for that school.

Less than an hour later, I got a phone call from a different principal. Would I like a job? HECK YEAH! I may or may not have been jumping around the room in glee while telling him I accepted the position.

Instead of a village of 500 people, I’ll now be living in a town of about 3,000. My comings and goings will no longer be restricted by access to plane, boat, or snowmobile; the town is on the road system! I can take my car! I have a decent shot at a social life beyond my co-workers. I can get plugged in to the LGBT community at large and the trans community in particular in a way that I couldn’t really manage from the middle of nowhere. There will be mountains and trees and ocean, as opposed to flat, unending tundra. I don’t know too much about the job yet, only that it will be a “multi-grade intermediate classroom”. That translates to some combination of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders; the exact mix will be determined once the school administration has a better handle on numbers. In the meantime, I get to spend the next couple of months filling out a mountain of paperwork, researching apartments, and getting ready to move again. New adventures, here I come!

In one week, I leave Nunap. Not just for the summer, but for good.

Oh, I plan to return at some point to visit. But as of midday on the 22nd, I will no longer reside here. My resignation got turned in months ago, and I began actively searching for a new job a couple of months before that.

The reality of this decision really hit home today. While I’ve been packing things slowly over the last couple of weeks, my goal for this weekend was to finish as much as possible. The apartment certainly isn’t up to my usual standards of cleanliness. Several plastic totes and large boxes are strewn about, two of which are sealed and ready for mailing labels. Bubble wrap and butcher paper are piled on the carpet in front of the TV next to the tape gun. Books no longer adorn the bookshelves; instead, only various Star Wars figures lay on their backs or stand in their packaging, waiting to be put in whatever box has room. Only the calendar graces the bulletin board, and I can see faded outlines from where the posters and other items used to hang. In the bedroom, few clothes still hang in my “closet”, and the dressers drawers hold less than half of what they once did. I had the blinds up today to let in the sun, and as I worked I could see a crowd of middle schoolers playing basketball and riding bikes on the playdeck. At one point, as I watched three of the boys repair the hoop they built themselves (the old one fell down almost a year ago and hasn’t been replaced), it occurred to me that this is one of the last times I’ll see these kids like this, and I felt a little sad. I got the same feeling yesterday when Kelly brought more boxes over (she’s moving in to this apartment next year) and had two of my former students helping her. The kids happily put the boxes where directed before looking around. “So empty!” the one said. The other, who’s been one of my most frequent visitors since I moved in, asked my permission and, after receiving an affirmative answer, took up her usual place on the recliner while chattering away.

I’ll miss the kids. I’ll miss my co-workers, especially Lucas, Andy, and Kelly. But it’s time to move on.

When I took this job three years ago, I had very little idea of what I was getting in to. Prior to moving up here, I had only the vaguest idea of the geography of Alaska, its history, what the people were like. At an earlier point in my life, I’d’ve been terrified of moving so far away from everything I knew and found familiar. But I wanted to get back in to teaching. And I was ready for an adventure. So I took the job. I figured I’d learn about a new part of the world, gain some new experiences, and probably come back to my hometown in a couple of years with some great stories.

One thing I didn’t really imagine was falling in love with the state. While part of me will always be back in my hometown, I have become so fond of Alaska that I’m only looking at new teaching jobs here in the state, albeit on the road system.The last year or so, I could feel myself stagnating, the routines of living and working in such a small place seeping in and setting like concrete. The familiarity brought some comfort with it, but lately it’s just been stifling. Even though I’ve come to appreciate the stark beauty of the tundra, I long for things like trees and hills or mountains to break up the unending flatness. And while I’m glad to have had the experience and stories that come with living in such a remote location, I desperately want to get back to where I have more control over my comings and goings, where I have places to go to and come from. Going along with that last thought, I’m also ready to live in a larger community again, both from a geography and a population standpoint.

In the end, though, I’m just ready to move on. It’s time for the next adventure.

 

My first winter in Alaska didn’t have a lot of snow. A few inches covered the tundra from November until early April, getting replenished every once in a while, but never in large amounts. That winter stands out most for the fact that all of February passed without a single positive temperature. Ambient temperatures hovered in the -20s, and the wind chill frequently pulled that down to -40. I didn’t set foot outside without my heavy parka, insulated bib overalls, boots, gloves, hat, face mask, and goggles.

Last year’s winter had more snow and less extreme cold. I don’t think we ever saw below -25 with a windchill. On my return from the semester break, I enjoyed the discovery of at least a foot of snow covering everything, with drifts in some places that came up past my waist. One drift outside the store actually stood tall enough that you could almost walk directly onto the porch without needing the few stairs left uncovered. (Even this amount doesn’t match the stories I’ve heard from the locals. Several people have shared that, as recently as five or six years ago, so much snow would fall that buildings would effectively be buried, and you’d need to dig down into your home.)

This winter has been the most “Alaska” winter so far. As early as November, we experienced those incredibly cold temperatures again. Since the beginning of the calendar year, we’ve had what I consider record lows, including one day with an ambient temperature of -27 and a wind chill of -57. (That day, Lucas, Kelly, and I tried for ourselves the fact that boiling water thrown in the air will instantly freeze.) We’ve also had 3 outright blizzards since the beginning of the semester, two necessitating early dismissals and one cancelling school completely. Thanks to the snow, wind, ice fog, and low cloud ceilings, we’ve had more than a few days where no planes have flown, complicating travel plans and stopping the mail. The blizzards have brought quite a bit of snow, but the winds carry much of it away again. What doesn’t blow away gets sculpted into amazing forms. I look forward to what the rest of winter brings!