I had a moment yesterday sitting in the Stockton campus center when everything seemed ok, and I was happy with myself & fine.
It seems rather crass to say (I was happy & fine), but I can be a bit hard on myself most of the time, so it’s good when my mind settles down enough to sip some coffee and remind me of myself. I expect a lot from myself and others –– maybe too much; maybe, at times, an impossible sum. I feel that I am not being unreasonable. I admit that I am stubborn.
When I first started teaching, high school, up in North Jersey, I took over –– about this time of year, in fact –– for a woman going out on maternity leave. The students described her as having been “a demanding task-master;” I laughed; I let the children have too much fun in her absence, sort of like an overindulgent aunt/uncle. I learned.
Now sometimes I worry: if I had to go out on some equivalent maternity leave halfway through the semester, if someone had to take over my classes, would my undergraduates say, “He was a demanding task-master. He expected too much of us.” No, no; I can’t think so. Besides, I know my students are the best: all of them, la crème de la crème. I only want what is best for them. I only want us all to do good, honest work.
But there are some of them who feel that South Jersey is a bit of a cultural wasteland, though I disagree. Or, at least, I feel it exists in a state of almost negative capability, which is what Kathy Graber mentioned this week in class; one can slip in and inhabit it, shape it into whatever one wants, like a piece of soft clay. But one must do the work, and it is sometimes dirty and labor-intensive stuff. One must organize; execute plans; in short, create something from scratch, which I find exciting. We exist and swim around in this potential energy just waiting to be cracked. So why all this sitting around for?
My mom said something to this effect recently, when her own students were complaining that there was nothing to do around here. “Nothing?” she winced. “Nothing? What do you mean? When you want to have fun, you have fun. You go make your own fun. DIY fun.” I think that’s true. But I shouldn’t want to be an importunate host. I have fun, and if others have fun, so much the better. But if not, well –– your loss, lovey.
One day over winter break, while shopping at the Superfresh in town, I came upon an electric kettle on sale. “I’d like to start having tea at the lit-mag meetings,” I decided. How civilized that would be. How like a bit of civilization. It is like drawing a circle around a certain space at a certain time and saying, “Here and now, with this electric kettle, we are going to have ourselves a time.” Maybe eventually the tea will become routine. The weather will warm –– what then?
Last spring, when stopping at my parents’ house one day, I took down some old quilts from an upstairs closet, packed them up in my car. A few of my creative writing classes met outside then.
The wind mussed our hair and the sun was warm.
And I had fun, anyway.
And maybe you did, too.