Yesterday I tasked my Creative Writing students with the a little snooping. Purposeful snooping, of course. Peer into lives and find the story hiding.

Sometimes I use their in class writing time as a time to just sit and process how my activities are going that day. I “circulate,” a fancy teaching term for making sure everyone is on task, but if I’m honest, sometimes it’s more of a perambulation than a circulation. My brain coasts a little. I’ve realized I need these brain breaks during the school year; my days are so jam-packed lately that I crave the autopilot a little more than I’m proud of.

Sometimes (ok ok, often!) the subway is designated brain break time. Yesterday I was horrified to discover that I had fallen asleep on the large, comfortable shoulder muscle of the man sitting next to me. I don’t know how long he let himself be my pillow.

My point in sharing this particular embarrassment is that yeah, I admit it–I coast! And that was my full intention this morning when I stepped onto the subway. It would be more accurate to say when I was jostled onto the subway, sandwiched between the entire early morning crew. And I feel a little guilty because I’m coasting a little right after tasking my students with being alert and aware but it’s 6:00 AM and the only thing I want to be aware of is Maeby’s nose on my arm as we fall back asleep.

And that’s when I notice a tall girl with clumsy feet, her cornrows braided together, and I notice that she’s holding onto the pole with one hand and her history notes in the other, and she’s studying while standing up! And I can’t help but muse, it would be more accurate to say marvel, that anyone could be so present in a crowded subway, that maybe the luxury of brain break time is not afforded to everyone. And then I notice the balding man right next to me, with his back turned to me. He’s holding onto the top subway pole with one hand, only letting go momentarily to flip a flash card. And so my brain break was officially over because all I could do was think about how hard it sounded to focus while holding onto a subway pole.

I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself lately, to be honest, because I have once again become very busy. It’s self inflicted and also a Sierra Penrod trademark mode, but I’ve been feeling sour about my new schedule and my lack of social energy. But this was the little pick me up I needed to remind myself that there are thousands and thousands of alarm clocks that ALSO go off at 5:00 am in New York alone, and that there are some people that get home later than 9:30 on a school night, and there’s other people so present that they can study while standing up.

And if they can study standing up, then I can join my students when they’re tasked with snooping.