Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Danger Zone


Well, tonight was almost the night I fell off the wagon, but then Chris Lehmann gave me a nice pat on the back (Thanks, Chris) and so I find myself strapped into my bucket seat facing the challenge of yet another blank page and blinking cursor. Only now the pressure is on to say something that will live up to the advance press. Gulp.

I guess where I'm going to start is by passing along two recommendations I got from Scott Esposito over at Conversational Reading. In his February 2nd post, he made reference to a couple of books that looked relevant, given my recent renewal of interest in photography. I read his post and fired an order off to Amazon and the books arrived today. I've read the first chapter of each and am eager to read more. The Ongoing Moment by Geoff Dyer is a series of essays on photographs and photographers (Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Alfred Steiglitz, Dorothea Lange, and Andre Kert├ęsz among them), and Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences by Lawrence Wechsler is a compilation of a series of essays on art and photography that originally appeared in McSweeney's magazine. In his introduction, Wechsler describes the origins of the idea:
I...have increasingly found myself being visited by... uncanny moments of convergence, bizarre associations, eerie rhymes, whispered recollections—sometimes in the weirdest places. At a certain point I began keeping a folder of such visitations—usually just feathering in the images themselves, occasionally including a textual exegesis of my own.... Somehow the politburo over at McSweeney's got wind of the file and asked if I wouldn't mind sharing some of its comments with that journal's august readers. And I figured, what the hell.
This is a process that feels very familiar to me. My file cabinets at school are more or less filled with folders of exactly this kind. I'm often taken, when I read something or run across a picture, with the sense that "Hey, this would go very well with that other thing I was just reading." I had a couple of posts in January about intertextuality (Juxtaposition I and Juxtaposition II) and the opportunities it presents for generating new ideas. So I was intrigued to see that Wechsler has pushed the idea hard enough to make a book about it. Why didn't I think of that? (Maybe I should dust off those folders and take another look?)

Was walking back from lunch today with a colleague who was trying to figure out a way to give herself permission to do a little less work, to shoulder a little less responsibility for what the kids don't know. She was up correcting papers for four hours the night before and the night before that, and as result was suffering from tendinitis in her shoulders. She's about the same age as me, and we are both aware of the fact that we're getting tired easier, that our bodies and our brains don't simply comply when we put them under prolonged stress. She's a terrific teacher, and one of the things that makes her a terrific teacher is that she goes way beyond the extra mile for her kids. But now she, like me, like all of us, is faced with the question of sustainability: how much can I do and be still be able to keep it up? At Punahou, we see our students for an hour a day, four days out each six-day cycle, for fourteen cycles. That's a total of 56 hours. All of our courses are semester courses, so we don't usually get to see the same kids again. She is very aware, and I am very aware, of the time ticking away. We've got good kids, and most of them really want to learn, and there's so MUCH for them to learn, and there's so little time to do it in. Every time we decide that today we are going to do x, we are aware that it means that we won't be doing a, b, c, d, y, or z. And so we tend to drive ourselves, and sometimes our students, a little nuts, obsessing over stuff like this.

Especially when we are entering into what I have come to recognize at The Danger Zone. I love the beginnings of semesters, the first two or three weeks. And I really like the last month or so as well, because at a certain point everyone begins to realize that our time together is coming to an end, we all to view each other through this lens of compassion or pre-nostalgia or whatever you might call it, that warmer and fuzzier set of relations that are aroused by the approach of the End of Something. But in the middle is The Danger Zone. I didn't recognize it for many years, but one year I was feeling gloomy and stressed out in early March, and was questioning myself and my students and the whole idea of having schools anyway—whose idea was that?— and was writing about it in my teacher-reflection journal, the one this blog has essentially replaced, and I said "What I'm writing feels really familiar? Have I written this before?" and I went back to my journals from the previous year and the year before that and sure enough, there it was, all the same stuff, almost word for word. And then Light Dawned on Marble Head: it's a biorhythm thing, or maybe a calendrorhythm thing, that period of time when The Novelty Has Definitely Worn Off and The End Is Not Yet In Sight, the time when even the most capable and experienced teacher, the most dedicated and loving teacher, the most insightful and compassionate teachr, can feel a twinge of self-doubt, even panic: Are we ever going to get through this? Are they going to be able to learn half of what I hope for them to learn before the semester is over? Is there going to be enough time? And it can go on for several weeks.

And then, of course, you look up and it's June and it's like poof!, where did that year go? And you start thinking about how much fun it's going to be in the fall.

It's a weird profession, teaching.

Quick question for any of you technowizards out there: if you look at my archives listing in the sidebar you'll see that the dates are, uh, basically messed up. The archive function is being controlled by robotic drones deep in the heart of Googledom and I can't seem to be able to figure out a way to notify the people in charge. They have this very interesting set of menus that offer you the option to report a bug but when you click on the button to do so it brings you right back into their regular help menu. So apparently they Don't Really Want to Know. Not a big deal, since most people using the archive will figure out that the years are wrong and that December is not usually the first month of the New Year. But if there's something you know that I don't, please share. (The time and date in my computer preferences are correct.) Thx.

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