So I’m in the bathroom brushing my teeth, talking it over with Jesus, and I say to Him, J, how do I teach my husband what I know about you, if I can’t teach him what I know about language or learning or loving dogs?
Before I give Him a chance to answer, cuz I already know what He’s going to say, I continue.
He resists me, and when he listens he doesn’t respect me…
Jesus cuts me off: Welcome to my world.
I begin laughing and praising him so loud my husband enters, enquiring about my well-being. I reassure him and Jesus continues.
You think folk haven’t been resisting and disrespecting me since the beginning of time?
What I like about Jesus is He doesn’t throw my own failures back in my face. He doesn’t add, including you. Guess He knows that’s what I’m thinking. Even though I know the conversation is over because my heart is broken wide open and the tears are streaming, I continue with every excuse every student has ever offered for why something wasn’t done since I entered the classroom on either side of the desk.
To each objection Jesus replies, “By example”. And He doesn’t stop till I cry uncle, aka hallelujah! He simply finishes me off with, so you still want to teach? To which I reply, never did. And He checkmates: Precisely.
We’re back on the map! And to think, all it took was what it always takes – a lifetime and a moment, the Hand of God and walking in His will. Tonight what that looked like was a little pushing of the envelope of self beyond the elliptical-induced-knees-talking-shudda-wudda-gone-to-run-in-the-pool-instead, itchy, scratchy, gotta go to be but not before eating-everything-that-isn’t-in-the-doggy-dish, receiving the prophesying of Pastora Dinorah Jimenez, and staying up waaaay past bedtime. For my reward, I encounter this Night of Writing Dangerously poster at NaNoWriMo while looking for details on the annual book drive. If only I were in SanFran to dance my way to a higher word count. If only pigs did fly. If only I had a why to write, to paraphrase Frankl, who deserves so much more, I could live with almost any what. In any case, thanks be to the Great Ink Slinger in the Sky, at least this much we know is true, this is how!
The writerly activity for today was attending Tyler Perry’s adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf with one of the three women who said they wanted to see it. We had a good time. I cried hard in the scene with Bo Willy Brown that I read in college. How this adds up I don’t know but I am certain, in Jesus’ name, that it does. We stopped by the Chinese take-out and enjoyed NY caliber House Fried Rice and split a Mango Arizona Iced Tea. The movie was on me, the dinner on her. She bought two plates so we both had enough to take home and to share. Sleepy now, daylight savings rescinded, I give thanks to you, Jesus, Holy Ghost for who you are and your infinite gifts and guises. Thanks for showing up at Mountaintop today and all ways, amen.
NaNoWriMo T-27 (aka Day 3) The words came earlier today and more freely but of course, that’s because I went way off-topic. The jest was: freewrite three times per day, 30 days in a row, and see what happens. So how could anything be off-topic, really? I’d intended to read a teaching journal entry, then write. A simple enough plan gone miserably awry.
This morning, for instance, I got in a snit over online students’ learned helplessness, and instead of responding to the Parker Palmer quote on inwardness, which happens to be the talking point to open our department retreat this Friday, I began with a rant that led to a bigger rant which, on second or 50-zillionth thought, is precisely what I wanted to write about; the perils and pitfalls of teaching and learning, and how they dance side by side on the head of the same pin all the time. Was that correctly punctuated? Where’s Jimmy Baldwin (R.I.P., Beloved) when you need him.
Well, I’m 2,070 words closer to goal than I was three days ago but still a far cry from the 4,980 words that I intended to have by now. I’m still waiting for the deluge. It could happen, and not just to Cinda Freakin Rella – to paraphrase Kit DeLuca. It could happen that at some point, in the not too distant future, while simply showing up for a brain dump, slavishly each day, as intended, the Muse could appear and begin to breathe into this project and wrest it entirely from my hands, mind or heart or wherever it seems to be trapped. Till then, I will endeavor to stand in the tragic gap, taking comfort in Palmer’s wisdom, served up in Courage to Teach:
If you are a teacher who never has bad days, or who has them but does not care, this book is not for you. This book is for teachers who have good days and bad, and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes only from something one loves. It is for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life.(1)
In the middle of my Day 2 NaNoWriMo draft, MacBook takes a nosedive. I took to the sorbet and said to heck with teaching. After all, it’s the dessert that matters. Okay. So the title question is posed by Parker Palmer for our upcoming department retreat by way of our retreat organizers. Generally, I don’t mind such intrusive questions. Today, well, let’s just say that teaching online doesn’t quite have the same payload of satisfaction. I mean how many times can you answer the same question, Is Monday’s homework due this Monday or next? with grace after you’ve sent an email to all clarifying that very point for this and subsequent weeks? Jesus might say 70 times seven. Living in Las Vegas, I’d improvise and say, feelin lucky, Punk? At least that would be my response if it didn’t have to be written down and remain a virtual reality for time or digits immemorial.
The fact of the matter is I can put off this inconvenient truth no longer. I am not cut out for writing. I do all the things a writer does – I teach writing, I procrastinate, I entertain more ideas than I can possibly jot down in several lifetimes, I wear black 90% of the time and clean other people’s houses, and still can’t seem to come up with a line worth keeping toward a novel, novella or bumper-sticker for that matter. In short, I do every writerly thing I can think of except write.
The day started off promisingly enough. I slept late, saw sister and niece off to work and school, cleared a writing space near an electrical outlet, spent a couple hours in my Bible, another couple hours on the phone with hubby and still couldn’t bring myself to face the task of recalling any of the teachable moments formerly deemed noteworthy. I even deliberately, it turns out now, misplaced the tracking number for the near Birkenstocks I’d ordered and had forwarded, so I couldn’t spend time stalking my package as it makes its way across two state lines, UPS ground.
Eliminating all the possible distractions – did I mention I’ve eaten a record five times today? – I have come face to face with the facts: Teaching cannot make one do anything. Yes, it can reinforce or interrupt the mental conditioning we’re subjected to on a daily basis both in and outside the classroom. And yes, it can give you tools with which to carve out a life almost worth living, but it cannot enhance a soul that is not bent on transformation. So, what it says about the condition of my soul is this, in short: I did nothing to sway the vote in today’s election, and so deserve the level or lack of commitment to teaching and learning that results.
The fact is, instead of three, ten-minute sittings of 600 words plus, I sat down once today and pumped out a paltry 796 words – less than half of my daily goal. Not too impressive as far as portentous beginnings go, but sat down I did. And while I may have neither clue nor characters for a first novel, I do have the chutzpah to begin. All I have to do is the same thing tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow again, only more. Right?