Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lowering the Bar

It's been ten days since I've posted anything. I could make lots of excuses, if excuses were called for. The start of this school year, while interesting, while challenging, while incredibly rich and various, has not been easy.

Once upon a time I thought that if I stayed at something long enough, it would eventually get easier. That has turned out to be true in some cases. I can, for example, after three years of practice, now play a C major scale on the piano with both hands without screwing it up too badly. I can throw together a salad in five minutes before dinner, without injuring myself, whereas once it was even money if I could get it done without breaking into the Band-Aid box.

But this is my 38th year of teaching, and I've gotta tell ya, whatever else it is, it isn't easier. The teaching part is always interesting and always challenging in a good way. It's the stuff that's going on around the edges just keeps getting more complex. This week alone I've been teaching classes, responding to student papers, setting up a readings for our writer-in-residence which is to take place on October 4, coordinating the publication and sponsorship of that reading with Bamboo Ridge Press and with the University of Hawaii, meeting with veteran teachers to go over their annual reports and younger teachers to talk about things they have questions about, conferencing with students, preparing a written report detailing how our department is going to move forward in support of the Punahou 2016 Sustainability plan, working with the freshman subdepartment head to strategize about how to use the laptops all the students are now bringing to class, preparing a video report on a learning fellowship with a sustainability focus that took place last year, getting the department ready deal with new course proposals, trying to find some time for reading Anne Fadiman's collection of "familiar essays" At Large and at Small and re-reading Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker, as well as for practicing the piano, playing a little chess, and eating a meal here and there. Students are showing up with envelopes full of college application letters they want me to write. Oh, and did I mention that tomorrow night is Parents' Night?

My Google Reader aggregator keeps piling up with interesting stuff. There's a post about essay writing on Ken Ronkowitz's blog that I've been dying to respond to, and I've got interesting new education-related books sent along by Doug Carlson and Eric MacKnight that I want to talk with them about. Not to mention several extraordinarily cool-looking new books, like Writing Toward Home which Christine Thomas recommended on her blog recently.

And then there's Throughlines, with no posts for ten days, which my son was busting me about this afternoon. One obvious and predictable dynamic about not writing is that with each day that goes by in which One Has Not Written, the subtle pressure grows that says that The Next One Better Be Good. Which raises the bar, which creates performance anxiety, which leads to avoidance, which is Where We Have Been.

So what I'm doing here is making a conscious effort to lower the bar. This is not going to be my most memorable post, but it's going to be the post that gets posted today. I've got a lot of nibbles on the line out there.

I was talking with a colleague in a conference yesterday about the course she's teaching and in passing she gave me what feels like an irresistible lead-in for a poem. She was talking about the course she teaches, The Bible as Literature, and a question that arose in the class discussion of Genesis. The narrative demands that we accept that before The Beginning there was God, and that it was only because of his intention that there was a beginning at all. Which raises the question, what does it mean to generate something from intention? The first words we hear God speak are, "Let there be light." So suppose, as a writer, someone (you? me?) were to begin the process of artistic creation by asking ourselves what we might call into being by intention. If you could conjure a reality simply by saying the words, what words would you choose to say?

Of course, it's hardly a new idea. Ian Grant and Lionel Rand noodled around with the concept some 67 years ago in writing the song "Let There Be Love":

Let there be you, let there be me
Let there be oysters, under the sea
Let there be wind, occasional rain
Chili con carne, and sparkling champagne

Let there be birds to sing in the trees
Someone to bless me whenever I sneeze
Let there be cuckoos, a lark and a dove
But first of all, please
Let there be love
So it might look like that. Or like a dozen other songs. Or it might look like something else entirely, after you get done with it, or I get done with it.

Anyway, that was perhaps a ten second snippet of a 40 minute conversation which had easily 100 or two hundred ten-second snippets worth following up on. If there were world enough and time.

So that's the dispatch from the Happy Isles today. Didn't know where I was going, don't know where I've been, don't know what's coming next. Ain't it grand?

1 comment:

sdavis said...

You may not think this is your best post, but for any teacher out there who is tired already, just a few weeks into the year, it is a refreshing confession. Thanks for making me feel a little less lonely about being exhausted from all the other stuff, as valuable as it may be, that has wormed its way into our teaching lives.

A ten-day lapse is not so bad for me for my blog, but I'm working on more frequent publication. I'm at a boarding/day school, The Chinquapin School, for low-income students from the Houston area, so you can imagine how the other stuff multiplies. Your blog, with its great titles, often calls to me on my RSS aggregator. (My blog is, if you have an interest.)