who and where i am
My name is Connor Joseph Bell (b. 1979 in Oshkosh, WI USA). Right now I’m living in Beechmont, a beautiful neighborhood in south Louisville with two wonderful little dachshunds that bring so much joy to my life. I’m a passionate person and spend my time pursuing knowledge and creativity. My curiosity feels insatiable and being creative, primarily through music, is an outlet for all that can’t be expressed so easily in life. After all, words are only one way to express oneself.
I’m sitting here sipping on a Grimm Double Negative imperial stout. I knew Joe and Lauren (Grimm) initially through music, but they’ve carved out quite a career in a totally different field with their very successful brewery. That seems relevant to what follows. Anyway, my ex-wife got me this beer as a sign of support shortly after resigning from my position as a teacher out at Kentucky Country Day in the fall of 2020. Sort of a ‘let’s celebrate the beginning of a new chapter’, even though she wasn’t happy about my decision. She felt it was rash and she was upset that she wasn’t adequately consulted. I certainly deeply regret that aspect of the story, but for me, it was the culmination of building frustration that started long before the strain of the pandemic. Reflecting on that process, I suppose the writing was on the wall a couple years earlier, when a personal day request was rejected. The need for a mental health day in the months leading to both my wedding and my mother dying apparently just wasn't enough. The haughty scoff from my boss when they told me my rationale was inadequate and the anger I felt at that response has never really left me. I deeply love, admire, and respect that mentor, but it brought to life the Maya Angelou quote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s the fear I had every day as a teacher, that something unintended would stick with a student forever without me ever realizing. For me, that was a moment that I will never forget. Fundamentally, I was insulted that an explanation was suddenly required for personal days in the first place. I have an essay I wrote in the midst of that frustration, and I’ll spare you the myriad of ways that policy is problematic. Regardless, the deterioration of my faith in the school continued after that for a variety of reasons and by the time I resigned, I knew I would not be in a good place if I tried to ‘be a good soldier’, which seemed to be the mentality at the school. It was purely a decision based on my survival at that moment. I think my father’s mental health struggles have made me acutely aware of the importance of being mindful of that dimension in life. If an employer wasn’t going to show that support in me, it became clear that there was an imbalance in that relationship. I’d have been a sucker for staying. But don’t get me wrong, with all this said, I still have so much love for that community despite my complicated feelings.
So I told my wife that instead of celebrating that decision to walk away, I’d save the beer until I found the new normal. Just over two years have now passed. The Grimm staring at me when I open the fridge, reminding me of the struggle. In the interim, my wife left me. I worked for about a year in the last two years in warehousing and logistics, but similar to KCD, it was clear that wasn’t a long-term fit, so I walked away. Life has been a struggle. I know I’m not alone in going through these trials, which offers solace in the storm. Increasingly, with regard to the seemingly interminable job hunt, I think I’ve come to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I think about the now famous meme of Michael Jordan’s endless ‘taking it personally’ to sharpen his championship resolve in the documentary series “The Last Dance” on the 90s Chicago Bulls. To be clear, I’m not Jordan by any means, but I think that mindset of a champion has been building inside me as I’ve been passed over for even relatively menial jobs. I’m not really angry, of course, just eager to prove myself.
Much of this past two years is couched in my years as a teenager, as my family life crumbled while watching my dad struggle to pick up the pieces after being laid off from a big fancy job. Granted, I chose to walk away from my job, he did not. But some of the same decision points have come up, and it’s easy to second guess yourself at each point. Do I pass up opportunities because family stability is important? We both did. Do I hold out for big things and show that self-belief, even at the risk of passing up other opportunities? We both did. He went from being a big shot with Humana and then Kosair to working in the local convenience store making less money than I did while I was a high school punk loading bags of mulch into the backs of cars at Frank Otte. To finish his story briefly, his marriage fell apart too. But beyond that, his sexual identity he had been hiding for a lifetime was something we came to discover he was also struggling with. He attempted suicide twice, but eventually found a new normal teaching kids with behavioral challenges in the public schools. He’s now retired and living in Mexico, and hopefully he has finally found some peace of mind. The challenge seems to be balancing optimism and faith in self and your ability with the deeply unjust reality that a lot of people who are capable of great things are stuck in soulless low-paying jobs. And then I wonder, why should I deserve anything ‘better’? Of course, I don’t. Yet, I have tried to stick with the belief that I’d find something stimulating, challenging, fulfilling in a supportive and equitable environment.
With all that said, I’ve finally landed a job that I think ticks those boxes and I’m excited to reward their belief in me. I’m grateful that they saw my humanity and potential. I now have that chance to prove my doubters wrong, even as I know the doubters are mostly computer algorithms. Very rarely did human eyes ever even look at my resume. Not only do I have an opportunity to prove my potential, but I look at this as an opportunity to prove to the world that teachers are capable of so much more. Despite the pats on the back we get, to somehow compensate for inadequate pay and support. Despite the absurdly broad range of highly transferable skills that are built in teaching, my experience suggests that we just aren’t that worthy of getting a shot. This pandemic has highlighted how deeply important the most marginalized of jobs are. Teachers are among those critical roles in society. This pandemic has highlighted that there is very little justice in our world.
It’s complicated what I’m feeling. I’m so excited to learn new things, expand my skills, and prove my value in a new field. But I’m also sad that returning to teaching is put off for now, maybe forever. As I mentioned in some interviews, the last couple of years have proven that making plans is a fool’s errand. I wanted to embrace the opportunity to try something new and now I get that chance. I’ll treasure the experience of teaching and sharing my passion for history. I’ll treasure the relationships with wonderful coworkers, students, and parents. Maybe I’ll return someday to the classroom. I think I’ve proven I can do it. Now it’s time to prove I can do something else.
Finally, I’ll spare you the longer rant about how deeply broken the hiring process in the modern job market seems to be by removing the human connection. Reducing everyone’s amazing potential to little keyword searches conducted by computers doesn’t work. But if it saves the cost of staff in HR departments, or saves HR time in their day, I guess the powers that be have decided it’s worth it. The expectation seems to be that you should have every skill for a job before you land it, rather than valuing ability and intangibles and trusting that by nurturing a new hire they will flourish and reward you by being a committed member of the community.
I’m thankful that this process is over. I’m thankful that after over two years of tumult, my new normal will hopefully really begin. I’m thankful for the beer and my decision to wait to enjoy it. I’m thankful that you have made the effort and showed enough curiosity that you made it through this lengthy essay.
I’m going to keep an archive of these little essays linked with my writing samples. I didn’t really intend this to be a blog, and it’s certainly not a regular update, but I do like that I can trace a bit of a line by looking these over.