Where I took my mind for spring break

Physically, I had a staycation for spring break.

I was at home and the office pretty much all week, except for the occasional trip to the grocery store. It was quiet and I needed that. I had reading I needed to do for my class on Dickens, thirteen professional papers I needed to edit (2-4 hours per paper), some writing that I needed to do (the first weekend of spring  break)–which then inspired a blog post that will be my writing guide for the next year or two. SO that last thing was huge.

I hope.

I have been wanting to write about my teaching life for a long time and just didn’t feel like I could do it or what that would mean or look like. But in the last few weeks–thanks to you all in Honors Comp II, students in my Dickens’s class, and a few friends–I seem to have gotten INSPIRATION big time. Everything started to come together a week ago Sat. I’m delighted because, as writers, you know how hard it can be to articulate a large idea into parts that can be conquered over time. Like a research project with various requirements, writing a book is a gesture in faith as well as perseverance. And I will need to persevere (don’t you think there’s a good reason “severe” is part of that word?).

But the good thing is–the vision crystallized and clarified a bit.

My spring break mental trip, then, was something of a map of the future, a path I can follow to grow and learn and keep writing. It is a yellow brick road to something like an emerald city, an Oz, that I need to get to, in order to find the wizard, discover he’s just a dude behind a curtain, defeat an evil witch, tap my ruby slippers together, and come on home–to where I’m happiest.

That would be a classroom. Home is a classroom.

Writing without fear, dancing because it’s my job

We just watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on TED.com, which I’ve seen a couple of dozen times and have used in multiple classes.

Her central question is: “does artistry always lead to great anguish?”

Her premise is that perhaps we need to go back in time to adopt and adapt the ancient idea of a genius who lives in our walls and occasionally comes out to help us. We can neither be the sole creator of a work if it’s fantastic–and take all the credit–nor are we to blame if the work is not stellar. Our daemons (Greek) or geniuses (Roman) literally live in the walls of our “artist’s studio” to help shape the outcome of a work.

It takes off a lot of pressure.

As I think about the pressure of creative endeavor, I can’t help but think about how higher education is its own kind of high stakes pressure. Papers need to be written, tests need to be taken, quizzes are popped upon us, writing in blogs is required all the time in some classes, some classes require different technology to communicate, reading, reading, reading, thinking, talking, presentations, studying, learning, knowing, AIEEEEEEE, and it never ends over the course of a semester. There are unmanageable aspects of performance in education, too. An individual cannot control when tests are scheduled or when papers are due, but what we can control is our openness to how we learn… we can be open to planning and trying to plan and then being open to the learning that can happen in unusual ways.

Today, I said I was a composition professor (I profess the worth of writing–true enough), but I’m also a composition counselor… Writing can heal us.

I know we need to do something today that we can call finished and feel good about. It’s important to have things to point to that are finished when there is so much around us that is unfinished, that mocks us, that undermines our efforts to do anything productive. These are the things that sap our energy. We NEED to rethink how we deal with sapping things. They’ll happen, sap happens, but we can encounter them differently than we might normally. We CAN do something that we can be proud of. We CAN watch a video about how to think differently about writing. We CAN write something about this experience and call it finished.

Fred Astaire... dancing because it's his job.

We can do that.

If there’s nothing else we can do right now, we CAN do this. We can think; we can re-think; we can see; we can re-see; we can revise; we can write and learn from the text we craft.

So the lesson today might be: write because it’s your job for this class. On days when you can’t stand it, show up anyway–do what you CAN rather than cave into feeling like you CAN’T do anything.

Be transcendent–let the words come to you as they can and if they don’t come right away–get tough with your genius in the wall. But regardless, do your dance.

Just remember to do your dance anyway.