A worried man, a worried mind in the autumn of 2021

Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, by Vincent van Gogh

I miss knowing what I’m doing.

I don’t miss journalism. I don’t miss the culture, especially the online metrics-obsessed culture of today’s media.

But I worked in newspapers for a long time. If somebody tells me to go cover a homicide, I know exactly how to do that. And I’ll probably do a solid job of it due to sheer repetition.

I don’t miss standing on the doorstep of someone whose loved one has suffered inconceivable tragedy and asking them to tell me their story.

God willing, I’ll never have to do that again.

Yet, even in those ugly moments, I still had some confidence. I didn’t take the door slamming in my face personally.

Education — the process of becoming a teacher — is different.

I thought I knew something about education. I went to school and college. I covered education in the suburbs. I even worked for a university for a while.

Here’s what I learned in a year and a half of graduate school: I don’t know squat about education.

There is so much to learn.

And it’s an accelerated program. The lessons come rapid fire.

I sometimes feel like I’m standing in front of a machine gun firing rubber bullets and if I don’t absorb them all, I’ll be a failure as a teacher.

I have one class that is so nerve-wracking that I start thinking about it a good 12- to 18-hours before it starts. I feel as if I’m constantly behind, always missing something, and exposed as a fraud.

I’m getting an A in the class. It feels like I’m barely making it.

I lack education instincts.

I have journalism instincts. I have writer’s instincts. I have some street smarts.

But education leaves my head spinning. I’m confused and scared this is all going to blow up on my face.

This is a tremendous risk. I’ve bet everything on becoming a teacher. If I fail, I’m in serious trouble.

Now some of this anxiety is self-generated. I live with acute anxiety.

My brain takes adverse thoughts and puts them on a train to destination disaster. This is a hellish, exhausting way to think.

I take medicine. I got to therapy. But uncertainty drives me berserk.

These are uncertain times.

Some anxiety makes sense.

I’m recovering from knee surgery. My mobility and strength is improving slowly. I can walk short distances without any assistive devices, but I keep my walker and cane for longer treks.

This mobility challenge was scarier than I anticipated. I’m OK indoors or places where there’s things to hang onto.

Put me in a wide open space and I’m terrified. I fear falling. One, I’m a big guy and I don’t need to reprove “the bigger they are the harder they fall” maxim.

Without a cane or walker, I’m worried I’m going to have pain that requires me to stop and there won’t be anywhere to sit or lean.

I worry about safety at night. I’ve seldom been one to worry about my neighborhood or being out at night.

Yet when I fumble with my keys and walker to open my apartment door at night, I think about what an easy mark I make.

Just knock me on my ass, toss my walker into the street, and roll me for whatever cash I have on me.

Fortunately, I guess, I have very little cash. Unemployment ended in September.

I’m still fighting with the state and federal government to get into a program that would extend my unemployment benefits through the end of grad school.

I was denied once. I reapplied. That paperwork was lost. I reapplied again. I haven’t heard back.

If you’re looking for comfort, I advise looking elsewhere than the government.

They make education look like a study in simplicity.

This reads like a list of complaints. I don’t mean it that way.

Sometimes it’s cathartic to get things out. This blog has fallen largely silent in the last few months.

I didn’t want to make a space where I was constantly begging for money (donations welcome, as always) or bitching about my problems.

The truth is I own a worried mind. I work hard to keep it under control, but the horses run wild if I don’t keep the gate closed.

I wish I could impart some wisdom here, maybe offer up some cheery message about life and the journey and whatnot.

I ain’t got it today. Sorry.

Check back later.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.


  1. Karen says:

    As my mother always told me when I was overwrought about classes I was taking and later classes I was teaching, “If you are doing your best, no one can expect more.” That became my mantra. I know you are doing your best. It will be enough, probably way more than enough. For all the education you take, teaching is baptism by fire. Any teacher I know looks back on their first few years and cringes at the mistakes they made. But we did our best. And kids are very resilient. And we did a better job of teaching every single year. You will, too.


  2. Jackie Jillson says:

    It’s in you. I’m 57 years old – I would take your class.


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