Archive for November, 2007

who’s first?

November 30, 2007

I’ve incorporated a journal component into one of my classes this semester. Most of the students are future teachers, juniors and seniors in English Education, so I envisioned the journals as a space for teaching ideas, concerns, observations about the practices of other teachers, field experience notes, etc. However, many students create their own prompts, which is perfectly fine with me.

During this last round of journals, one prompt was especially popular: a list of identities, qualities, skills, beliefs, etc., beginning with the phrase “I am.”

I haven’t used this prompt yet. And tonight, right now, I think I know why. What would I put first? How would I begin?

I am a woman? I am a teacher? I am a wife? I am a student? I am anti-corporation? I am a closet Weezer-lover? You get the point.

Here’s the problem I’m dealing with tonight: I really might put things in roughly this order. I mean, yes, somewhere near the beginning I’d also identify as a daughter/sister, daughter-in-law/sister-in-law, and an aunt (family is important to me), but “teacher” would most assuredly be in the top three.

What if I’m not teaching next year? Can I do anything else? In my mind, who I am is so wrapped up in what I do that I’m all of a sudden frightened. What am I if I’m not a teacher? I think I’d rather say “I am a writer”!!!! At least I have a wee bit of control over that identity.

(A shaky premise, I know, but I have to have something.)

What would you put first?

positioning one’s lap

November 27, 2007

(Warning: meandering post ahead.)

When I think back on things I’ve hoped for and received, I often imagine? recognize? a string of coincidences that lead me to believe that fate played a major role in my success. For example, I chose to** read Middlemarch rather than study for a virology exam, which I subsequently failed. Because I had to take the course over the next spring (seriously, folk, I really failed–I earned a 21% on the exam!) I ended up as a double-major, which itself subsequently changed my life. I could go on with this example: there was an opportunity to co-teach with a favorite professor that gave me teaching experience, a terrific phone “interview” with a graduate director, etc., etc. But the point is that I started graduate school for my MA at the ideal school for me, landed a TAship, and fell in love with teaching, all because I read Middlemarch instead of my Human Virology textbook.

Though not the best example, I suppose, this chain nevertheless illustrates a question that I think about a lot, probably more than I should: How much of my success is luck and how much is the consequence of my actions?

***

Lately, my desire to write has been non-existent. Furthermore, I have not taken a picture with a camera other than my stupid phone for months. I’ve barely been eeking out journal entries for my 304 class, and these entries are the antithesis of inspiring. They suck. It’s embarrassing. I think the worst part about my utter lack of creative output is not the dearth itself—I mean, I’m busy with teaching and job searching—but instead the overwhelming apathy I’ve been feeling about it. I simply haven’t cared to take photos or write or even knit really. Mind you, I’m not depressed. It’s not sadness or melancholy. I would admit as much. No, it’s been a deep feeling of “screw it all.” And, honestly, I haven’t written about it because I really haven’t cared to. I feel like Bartleby—I’d simply prefer not to.

***

In an informal conversation with a professor/mentor of mine, the subject of fate and success emerged. I shared with him my question: how much of our success is luck and how much skill and hard work? He responded with some advice that I’ve carried with me since then. He said, “Things do fall into our laps, but it never hurts to position your lap…” I know I could boil this statement down into a tidy and familiar maxim, but I don’t want to. I like to think about being ready for good things to happen instead.

***

Tonight I walked to the local grocery to pick up a few items. Most of our trees are bare now (yea!) but the sweet gum in my neighbor’s yard is still in full force. I looked up, and as I did I recalled an earlier photo of this tree, taken about this time two years ago. As I continued my walk, I thought about my enthusiasm for taking pictures, and for writing, and I began to wonder if I’d ever feel it again.

***

In this time of non-writing, I’ve been reading way, way more crap online than I ever have in my life. Okay, so the New York Times isn’t crap, but a lot of the other sites I have been hitting are worthless. Lately the reading has been making me feel icky, as if I should be doing something else. And truth be told, I should. But there’s a part of me that feels empty, void of ideas, and reading these sites (along with books, of course) makes me feel connected. For example, I read an article a few weeks ago about The Ambassadors (my favorite James novel) on Slate.com. Earlier this week I read an article about sedum as a colorful and practical ground cover for arid climates. Both entertained me, and both offered a few beautifully constructed sentences—neither encouraged me to write.

***

It occurred to me on my walk tonight that one of my major problems at this point is that I’m not creating opportunities to write. I’m not actually doing any writing, nor am I setting up an environment that encourages it. My stash of white narrow-ruled legal pads is exhausted, my planner has been sitting at home because my bag has been heavy with student papers and job stuff, the sheer number of student emails I receive in a given week has increased exponentially this semester. I could go on. The point is this: things are not going to fall into my lap unless I position my lap, unless I create an environment where writing can emerge.

***

When I look back on this post in a couple years, I want it to represent the seed crystal, the catalyst, for my renewed interest in writing… I want to recognize this moment as a shift in position, one that puts me in a better position to “catch” the writing when it falls.

***

Thank you, Dave B. I know you’ll probably never read this blog, but your advice stays with me to this day. The other tidbit I carry with me? Your honest response to my inquiry about whether or not most professors have read every book in their offices cover to cover. I didn’t drop out of grad school because of your honesty. So…thanks. You’re the best.

**Yes. I know that “chose to” implies that it was my actions, not fate. But why did I pack THAT particular book for a weekend in Memphis? And how did I end up loving George Eliot when many readers would gladly read Human Virology in its entirety than deal with Eliot’s, um, lovingly rendered descriptions?

the one good thing

November 14, 2007

about the nights when russell works really late?

I can have asparagus and red wine for dinner, and nothing else, and no one complains.

In other news, I am not that girl.

new mitts

(By the way, I’m not proud of this photo. In fact, I’m perfectly ashamed. But I’ve been too busy to write anything but dissertation and job materials, so taking a real picture is out of the question. Not so anal after all?)