I can’t write while I teach. Like at all. I’ve attempted to do it before – some feeble stabs at a story over here, some anemic excuses for a poem over there. Nope. Not at all. It’s as though, by standing in front of a classroom, my body becomes a conduit between the creative well beneath my feet and the waiting brains in the desks before me. When I teach fiction, all of my training from teacher school about constructivist classrooms (“Don’t be the sage on the stage,” intoned my professors. “Be the guide on the side!”) gets thrown out the window. When I teach fiction, I employ the Personae Dramatis theory of education. I allow every ounce of passion, every discrete unit of energy, every thought, every feeling, pour through my body, and let it fill the room. It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally, but it’s worth it. And honestly, given the sheer amount of writing that I require from these kids, there’s no other way that I know of to get them bought in.
But, it’s problematic. The more I teach, the less I write. The more I teach, the farther behind I fall on my deadlines – both self-imposed and editor-imposed.
Today, I got my last round of notes from my editor for my novel (the one that has, up to now, been called Jack Be Quick, but will now, I’ve learned, be called something else – though I do not yet know what) and I can’t even look at them. And even if I did look at them, there’s nothing I can do for my book. I’m in teaching mode. I couldn’t write if I tried. Fiction, I mean. Writing fiction requires a reserve of creative energy that is different, I’ve found, from any other type of writing.
And honestly, I think it’s better this way. If I held back from my students, if I toned down what I offered them every day, I would be doing them a disservice. The whole point of the residency is not to teach writing, but rather to allow the kids to experience writing. To have that moment of utter excitement and thrill as a story unfolds -quite of its own accord – on the page. I give them my passion for the art of fiction because no one else has done it for them yet. I want them to feel it.
And I think they do. And they seem to dig it. And anyway, the sound of thirty two kids, all bent over their pages, breathing through their mouths, their pencils scratching furiously against their pages….. Well, there’s no better sound on earth, I’ll tell you what.
Still, I keep on thinking about how I could do my job better, and how I could add…..just that little something special to bring me just over the top, so I turn to one of my teaching heroes – Mr. Russo from Freaks and Geeks. Enjoy!