Sunday, August 28, 2011


Dear Friends,

I have so often found myself reading or watching or listening to a story that I had begun to anticipate certain overtures in my own life. What no novel, teleplay or director can bring are the day to day moments that sparkle with infinity and drudgery. Time erases many of these for us – and most of us prefer it – but it is in those moments that our experiences gain their authenticity and excitement, so when something does happen it is a sparkler – bright and coughing up flame in the dark. There are many such moments here in Mississippi, but many have been lost on my tired eyes. This weekend that enthusiasm and awareness was restored thanks to my landlords. That sentence has probably never been uttered in sincerity – maybe in some bygone age.

There are people who restore your sanity. When in Ypsilanti almost everyone I knew was such a person, and the greatest gap for me in moving to Mississippi was the loss of that group. When searching for a place to live I cold called countless landlords and setup meanings, using my best on the phone customer service skills. Only one person gave me a positive impression, T---and E---. When T--- picked up the phone and figured out who I was he said, “Let me just first say thank you for coming here to teach our kids.” He explained that someone else was likely to take the house, but I insisted to look at it anyway on the off chance that things fell through. When I visited T--- and E--- they had me over for dinner and introduced me to their daughters. The daughters stood hands on hips. They grinned - all freckles and sandy brown hair - and said, “Are you going to leave like the last guy because we miss him.” The previous tenant had been a Corps Member – he still lives in town, but teaches farther away.

I knew I wanted to live above this couple’s garage, but the other renter was pretty sure they wanted it. As you may have guest they backed out at the last minute, and I write to you from that above garage apartment. Last night they had me over for dinner and we watched a movie together and ate ice cream after our delicious meal.
Their home feels like a home. Although there are many TFA gatherings, the houses resemble the residence we all lived in college – low on atmosphere and decoration, high on cheap furniture and eclectic cups. To be in a home, complete with knick knacks and area rugs and without a teaching supply in sight, restored my soul and resolve. My little break with T---- and E--- reminded me of why I’m teaching. On occasion I’ll look at the students and think: what am I getting them into? Paying back my loans, not sleeping, going bleary eyed in front of computer – I forget that this is not the norm.

The first year of teaching is a crucible and all the bad habits I acquired in college are melting away. Most of those habits were parasites that in return gave a certain sense of luxury and self-satisfaction. At this current stage in my life both luxury and satisfaction are earned with labor and dedication. All of that to say: Monday here we go.
Aside: The library is now at 140 books, 70 of which are checked out and being read by students. Thank you all so much for your contributions! This is so amazing, and underneath the obligatory teenage apathy I can assure you that there is joy taking place. One student who is reading the Graveyard Book started off not reading it. I asked him questions and he would give vague answers, and at some point he realized that he would actually have to start reading it, if only to make my obsessive, obnoxious and persistent conversation starters end. He came to class a few days later and said, “Hey Mr. Stevens this book is actually really good!” From there he told me all kinds of details – without me asking- and sat down and read it before class started. Students will surprise you. The rule of first impressions does not apply in the classroom – there is almost a rule of opposite expectations – with notable exceptions. The library is a success and continues to grow, which is wonderful.

The biggest request from students at this moment is for biographies. They crave them and ask me each day when I will get them. If you have any sports biographies lying around your house send them to me please!

To return to my meditation at the beginning before we depart: I have really begun my own story here in Mississippi and that is very exciting. The night is engulfed with all manner of sparklers now, and I will attempt to record them here. You can add your own as well through a book, a word of encouragement, a comedy recommendation (those keep me going) or just a quick hello – all is appreciated.



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  2. also, this is beautiful. thanks for being andrew stevens.

  3. You're welcome - and oh the Onion. I hope these letters are standing in for the ones I can't write.