Thursday, June 21, 2007
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Jane, one of my best friends in the world, has just started AzerbaiJane, a blog all about her experience in the Peace Corps. She leaves on the 24th to start her training before flying to Azerbaijan on June 26th. What she writes will definitely be worth checking out--she's an awesome, interesting, and fun person and I sure she'll be able to capture that all in her writing as she does this very important work. By the way, isn't her blog's name awesome? I wonder what amazingly clever and witty person came up with it.
Then there's my good friend, Shannon, who keeps a blog about her cats, especially an epileptic stray she recently took in (you can't make this stuff up!). She hasn't updated it in awhile, but it's a good read, especially if you are a cat fan.
We’ve already covered where I am from and where I am going. Now how about a post (albeit a seemingly tangential one) about what I do? My immediate answer when people ask me, “So what do you do?” is, “I teach English,” quickly qualified by “mostly American lit and writing.” I won’t pontificate too much (at this point) about why this is (for me) the most awesome job in the world. Instead, I just thought I would share a brief story from today that has had me thinking a lot about what I do, why I do it, and why it matters, and how the rest of the world sees it.
I was at Eckerd picking up some Diet Coke. They are having an awesome sale this week—four twelve packs for $10. (This is an important detail for anyone who loves A) Diet Coke and B) good deals. I happen to fall into both of those categories). Anyway, I had some other items, too, and anyone who knows me a bit can guess the next important part: each of the items was also on sale and I had coupons. The woman at the checkout (maybe in her late 50s?) looked at one thing I was buying and then reminded me that the Eckerd brand was also on sale that week and might, therefore, be cheaper. I thought that was pretty cool of her, a sign of the kind of courtesy you don’t often get these days. “Thanks,” I said, “but I took a look at them, too, and with this coupon, I think this is still cheaper.” She was impressed by that and then said, “Sometimes you wish you had a calculator to help you do shopping, right?”
“You know,” she said, “I always say that kids should have to take math all the way through school.” She explained (and I don’t know how true this is) that by high school kids don’t have to take math every year, although she claimed, “they do have to take history and English every year.” I just nodded and agreed, saying, “I know what you mean—I’ve forgotten so much of the math I used to know, and part of me wishes I could still remember it.” (And this is quite true—I used to know things like calculus and what the heck the quadratic formula meant).
She went on, “I mean, I know those other things are important, but math—you use that every day.” I agreed with her, but at this point, my conscience and my firm (idealistic) belief that you do use the things you learn in English class every day were both begging me to say something in defense of my discipline. So I said, “Well, I teach English, but I see your point.”
I think this caught her a bit off guard—she must have thought that I was offended a bit by what she said. Of course, this wasn’t the case. But she explained, “Well, I’m not saying you don’t need to know grammar or how to write, but some of the things they are doing and reading” (and I think she mentioned Ivanhoe as an example), “how are they practical?”
Now that voice inside of me was getting louder. After all, I believe that there is a lot of value—even practical value, whatever that means—in reading works like Ivanhoe. But I didn’t say much more—just a flippant and friendly remark about grammar before saying good-bye and thank you.
As I walked to my car, I couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation. I could see completely where this woman was coming from. In her mind, school is about helping kids learn what they need to learn to succeed in life and what they need to learn to be happy people. But I also know that good reading and writing abilities are a key component to that happy life—and not just business and professional writing, but the kind of reading that values the aesthetic experience of it all. Appreciating art has value in itself. And I know that this woman—a hard-working, tax-paying older American—is precisely the kind of person with whom I should want to have this important conversation.
And yet I didn’t even want to try. I didn’t want to sound like some impractical, out-of-touch, ivory tower type. But isn’t that sad? And doesn’t not talking about ot simply reinforce that very separation that keeps people like us from understanding each other?
Sunday, June 17, 2007
But the other reason is entirely self-serving: I think I am at a place of transition in my life. Big changes and all that. And it feels right to document it (for me more than anyone else--believe me, I know I am not all that interesting to others) in order to better understand it all--in order to be a better person. Yes, the writing teacher in me really does believe that good reading and careful writing can make you a better person. So here we go. I want to start kind of small, though, with a bit of "Where I've Been" and "Where I'm Going."
Where I came from:
Rocky Point, NY (birth to age 17, 1977-1995)
Roanoke College (undergrad, 1995-1999)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (MA and PhD and a lectureship, 1999-2006)
The University of Richmond (a one-year visiting position, 2006-2007)
Where I am going:
Shepherd University (a tenure-track position in the Department of English and Modern Languages)