…that I am an introvert. I quite like spending hours writing in the solitude of my windowless, cinder-block office, which is really a glorified broom closet, but is very cheap to rent. Anyone who’s seen my characteristic broom-closet pallor won’t be terribly surprised to hear that I’m a bit worn down after week 1 of being intensively “on.”
The average high school period is somewhere around 1 hour long. My class, this summer, is about 4 hours long. I’m impressed that my students can listen to be babble and drone for most of those four hours without wanting to defenestrate me (yes, I taught them my favorite vocab word of all time. Defenestrate: v. To throw someone out of a window). At the end of a long day of hearing my own voice, I want to throw myself out the window!
So it was with interest and curiosity that I recently read Joyce Carol Oates’s article in The Atlantic. In a daringly personal, vulnerable essay after the untimely death of her husband Ray Smith, Oats says “teaching will be my lifeline.” She says “I am feeling almost hopeful, happy. Thinking Maybe life is navigable. Maybe this will work.”
Even if I weren’t overawed by Oats’s work, I’d be impressed by her fortitude. But I’m not sure that her generalization, that “in the lives of teachers there are teaching-days, teaching-hours like islands,or oases, amid turbulent seas,” necessarily applies to us all. I must say, I refuse to even entertain the idea of teaching while grieving, and see my teaching days and hours more as a battle I have to prepare myself for than a refuge.
But what I do love is this statement from Oats:
“writing—being a writer—always seems to the writer to be of dubious value. Being a writer is like being one of those riskily overbred pedigreed dogs—a French bulldog, for instance—poorly suited for survival despite their very special attributes…Teaching—even the teaching of writing—is altogether different. Teaching is an act of communication, sympathy—a reaching-out—a wish to share knowledge, skills; a rapport with others, who are students; a way of allowing others into the solitariness of one’s soul.”
However introverted I am, however tiring I find the work, I hope I’m always able to open my solitariness to my students, for whatever value they might find there.