Author & Teacher

Occupations and Preoccupations

Another month has gone by! I went back through old posts, and it’s nice to see there is a progression, or progress, small as it is.
I’ve spent much of the past year-and-a-half forcing a writing life that felt like the embodiment of dryer lint stuck in my throat. I’ve been purposefully passive, trying to allow ideas and feelings and concerns to flow through me, but I think a lot of them have become stuck on that ball of lint.
The nice thing is, I am writing. I am writing all kinds of things, unable to settle on one project. Rather, I can’t seem to stick with any fiction project I start.

I listened to an interview with Leslie Jamison (First Draft podcast) and she found the same thing. She was trying to work on another novel, but non-fiction kept pulling at her until she wrote what would become an award-winning book of essays – The Empathy Exams. To heed the call of what wants you to write, instead of what you want to write (is there a difference?) is a worthy decision, I think.
And so, I have begun work on my project about my grandpa. I am spelling off between that, and my novel. (Can I call it a novel? After discussing it with Gail Anderson-Dargatz, I think it’s a series of ideas and scenes, but I guess it’s a start!)

Writing and planning my piece on my grandfather has forced open a few vaults I’d closed. I am starting to see a connection between losing him, and all the instability that has come since. To be clear, his death was not the start of a really hard time, but the catalyst that brought the challenges I was already dealing with out in all their glory.

Something I did this past year that further rocked my foundation, and at the same time solidified it, was going back to teaching full time. I know I’ve mentioned in previous posts, and in my tinyletter, that teaching is what I was meant to do, but I’ve found since summer started that the importance of all the issues I have been preoccupied with on a macro scale – appropriation, mental health, writing, politics, social justice – are tinted with a surprising immediacy because I am faced with a roomful (rooms full!) of mature children/young adults that want very badly to know. And I don’t mean know as in “tell me what to think,” but know as in really dig in and know what people are thinking and feeling and why. Because of their age, much of this is knowledge that will be used to further their own personal agendas, but that’s normal, I think. (I say this with my tongue only slightly in-cheek.)

Seeing those students every day drove home the responsibility I have as an educator in a way that I don’t think I fully appreciated as a half-time teacher. That said, teaching teens is an intense carnival ride – it’s the Polar Express – 100km/h backwards, but with no slow moments. Can’t see where you’re going, or what’s coming at you. Non-stop, full-blast  hard rock in your ears. And damn, if you’re on the outside of the seat, centrifugal force will have its way with you. It’s in the middle of this that a teacher has to not only deliver curriculum, but do so in a way that engages, all while managing 30 personalities, mental health and learning issues, body odour, and “what do you mean I need a pencil?”

All this while trying to contextualize the big picture of what’s happening in the world. How do you teach Diary of a Part-Time Indian without getting into Canada’s treaties, and racism, and addiction and oh wait, masturbation, and poverty, and teachers who don’t care, and the importance of recent and relevant resources? Answer: You can’t.

I think I’ve been stumbling through so much frustration in my writing (my writer friends Sonal and Kate have kindly heard me out on this issue more often than I deserve) because I am missing the connection between all of it, and my place as a teacher. Both Kate and Sonal have told me this more than once, in different ways, but if there’s one thing I learned in this challenging year, people aren’t ready to hear until they are ready to listen.

I’m doing my job of listening, and I hear what’s being said. Now I need to turn pull these preoccupations into my occupation (vocation?) and advocate for my students more vocally, more strongly, and with more conviction. I can do it through teaching them writing, or reading books with them, but also through the old “show, don’t tell” advice all new writers get.

In the meantime, I will chip away at my novel, and continue working on my non-fiction pieces. The non-fiction is where I feel my preoccupations are going to find their homes. We shall see.

There we go. July done. There’s a good chance that without some kind of change of focus, there are only five blogs left in my future. Feels strange, but good.

Run – My running loop is solidified. Getting faster. (Still not disclosing location, sorry.) Documenting “the pit” of trust on my Instagram when I go out.
Book – By Gaslight – Steven Price (the writing is…wow)
Song – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright – Indigo Girls (harmony)

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