Thursday, February 15, 2007

Teacher Man

I'm now reading the latest, greatest offering from Angela's Ashes writer Frank McCourt. It's fun and it makes me slightly embarrassed. He writes, in the first three chapters, of how he's not teaching correctly--instead of covering the material, he's telling stories about himself. He knows that the students are pulling him off the track of the lecture deliberately. That they'd rather do anything but what's required. Still, he lets them. He allows them to pull him off the track into his life, his past, into story land.

Of course that's what I do. I tell stories about myself, Lizzie, Dave, high school days, that have nothing very much to do with the subject at hand--literature, how to write a poem about grief. When I do it, I feel the same elation as Mr. McCourt. Time passes before we can catch it. Bells ring, classes change. Sometimes, before that happens, someone in the class offers her own story.

I'm sure that McCourt's lurking thesis is that this is real teaching, after all. Still, we have to suffer through that sense that we're misleading them, that we're taking them away from their destination, that we're incompetent, selfish, self-involved shysters rather than teachers.


Talked to a friend this morning about what it means to be an Adult Child of an Abusive Parent. "Turns out," I said, "all of my friends are Adult Children of Abusive Parents."

She snorted. (She's a therapist.) "Well, duh."

"I've gotten through all the descriptions of the problem and now I'm at the part where I learn how to heal. Problem is, I don't want to heal. I think I want to hang on to this problem."

"You've got to stop repeating the same old stories from the past. Got to move on," she said, as if she'd managed, somehow, to put away her own horrifying stories of neglect and abuse, along with all the clothes and books stacked in her basement. As far as I know, she's still restacking, reboxing, the same old shit.

I was talking to her on my cell, walking from the car to my office. It was about 10 degrees and my hand had already started to go numb, along with my ear. I can't stand people who need to talk on their cells while they're walking from place to place, as if the sound of their own thoughts would be too terrible to endure. I frowned, even though she couldn't see it. "What if I give up these stories and then don't have any more?"

"Maybe you'll find new stories to tell," she said.

Like a happy one, maybe? Right. Because everyone likes to read happy stories. They're so much fun! And happy people write so much about their happiness--just look at all those novels written by happy people about happiness. Let's see, there's ...

Fuck it. Give me my darkness. I like how it tastes. What's that poem by Stephen Crane about the man eating his heart in the desert? It began to run through my head as I steered my cell conversation into new kittens and 104 degree fevers. The narrator of the poem is eating his heart in the desert and he's asked: why are you eating that heart? So he says something like "Because it is bitter, and because it is mine." Yeah.

Something tells me I'm done reading AC of AP, and done talking about it. But not about the past, or the evil people and events that give it that nice, rich coffee color.


If you're interested in reading that poem, here it is:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Maybe the trick is to learn how to describe the darkness without succumbing to it. Detach and observe, rather than wallow and drown.