Friday, September 21, 2007

Doubt and renewal.

I spent a lot of last weekend reading and getting ready to write a big paper. Monday was teaching, more reading, then my Teaching college composition class. Tuesday was…you guessed it! READING! The reading load is really heavy. I have to read all the books an articles assigned to me, as well as whatever I assign for my students to read and any assignment they turn in to me. (The books at left aren't the books I get to read. They're actually the books I bought with the awesome gift certificate Madrid and Chris gave me. Thanks a billion, guys! I realized, as a poet, I should own some poetry and a poetry-market guide. Luckily, there's a break coming up when I might get to read non-assigned books.)

On top of that, I’m trying to teach my students analysis, which is complicated. No one really taught me to do it. In college, Nadine just kept handing me piles of well-written papers. It’s not like reading them really helped me figure out the steps of analysis. It’s more like I read enough of them that a pattern formed in my brain, and soon my writing came out in that pattern. Some people are naturally good at writing, and I’m one of them. The disadvantage is that I don’t know how I do certain things, I just do them.

I had the same problem when trying to help my struggling readers in the Bronx. Some of them had a second grade reading level in the eighth grade. I had a second grade reading level when I was, what, six? So to help them I had to do a ton of research. Well, this is the same way. I’ve been asking my boss and my coworkers, as well as searching the internet. During today's (Friday’s) class (when I was being observed by a classmate for Teaching Composition assignment) they really seemed to get it, though. YAY! It made me feel much better after Tuesday and Wednesday, which were rough.

Tuesday I was working hard on research for my paper on Emma. Then it was time for poetry class. It was a good class until we got to my poem “On Whiteness.” Basically, they tore it apart. Well, that’s how it felt. I may be over-sensitive. I noticed tons an tons of suggestions and critiques and no compliments. I think every other student’s poem received at least some praise. They thought my poem left readers with too many questions and perhaps didn’t earn the last two lines or live up to the title. At the end, our teacher Tim told me, “Keep going with that one.” I managed to hide my feelings as I asked, “Well, which part did you like?” He and the most vocal student in the class agreed that my topic was bold and intriguing.

Okay, let me say that some of the comments were warranted. There are things in the poem that make perfect sense if you’re from Iowa, but don’t if you’re not. I can see the topic making a good new poem, but then do I try to fix the old one or just let it die? Can’t poems be enigmatic? And I thought it was one of my best poems. Didn’t my language or rhythms connect with anyone?

I went home and cried. I admit it. I was shaken. They only like the topic? If this were Project Runway, it would be like saying, “I hate the design, the cut, the color, and how you sewed it, but I love that you chose to make a dress out of velvet. Keep going with that one.” If they didn’t like anything but the topic of what I had considered one of my best poems, what was I doing here? I was so upset that I couldn’t do the work I needed to do for a paper due the next day. I mean literally couldn’t do it. My eyes were blurred with tears. Eventually I just went to bed.

Wednesday I got up early to do my lesson planning, taught my class, worked on my paper from 9-noon, went to a noon meeting, then worked on my paper again from noon until right before class started at 4 p.m. People in my office kept talking to me and around me (eight of us share a room with four desks, and several of my office mates came and went during that time). It was distracting, but the library or my apartment would have been as bad or worse.

Well, hopefully there were no glaring problems in my paper. I hope I got at least a B. Then after class, I got roped into a Graduate Students of English meeting. I overheard one classmate, Jake (I think), saying he was going for Thai food. I LOVE Thai food, and haven’t found a restaurant that delivers here, so I hitched a ride with him. He’s an interesting guy. After high school, he enlisted because his family in rural Nebraska was so poor. “Didn’t want to end up up to your eyeballs in debt, huh?” “Yeah. I ended up up to my eyeballs in blood instead. Well, it was a choice.” Jake had to take a break from grad school for a few years when he was diagnosed with fatal cancer. He’s in remission now, and loving much life. Talk about an interesting perspective, right?

Almost dying (first in the armed forces, then from cancer) really made Jake focus on what he wants in life. He is here now because it's what he wants most in life. So am I. Even when it's hard, I have to remember that.

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