If you're looking for something from me as to why I haven't been here for five weeks, I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place. Of course, I'm busy. Of my 79 students, I've had in-depth sessions with a third of them. I started a Sociology Club on campus in the attempt to get the pot off the floor and back onto the stove with a fire under it. I'm kicking off a Sociological Film Series (for the same reason) and did my homework to host a series of sociological speakers for the spring (myself included, of course). I'm on campus five days a week and doing a new prep for a course I'm making up as I go along (which means lots and lots of reading). I'm already working on my courses for next semester (choosing books and such). And I've started learning Spanish in my spare moments so I'll be ready to visit Mexico in the spring. But it wasn't being busy that shut me up. And I wasn't sure what it was.
That is, I wasn't sure until I got a hint on Friday when I met a man named Pat button-holing people outside the library on campus. With the energy of a big city street hawker, the face of a grandad, and the attitude of a circus clown, he only let go of the couple he was talking to before me once he had taken me hostage. And you know it ain't easy to take me hostage. I have a way of either extricating myself or returning the favor. I latched on.
It turned out that Pat had once been a monk--for considerably more than a decade--and he lives somewhere off campus now and just putzes around getting into mischief. He serves as a liaison between two schools ("I represent each to the other, so I wind up talking to myself.") He quickly beguiled me (and when you're being beguiled by an Irishman, you're being beguiled) with tales of successfully picketing with migrants to win union concessions, organizing students into doing loving acts for no pay-off (my favorite!), and founding orphanages for boys in trouble. "I had fun doing this for a while," he would say, "and then I had fun doing that for a while..." And everything he does is fun. A lot of it.
I found myself pausing ruefully to admit that I had begun to see everything I was doing as work. And I was reaching a point that I didn't like any of it any more.
"You gotta have fun!" he bubbled (the man bubbles, I tell you--it crossed my mind when he first captured me that, angel or not, he must be manic or something, but after awhile, I no longer cared--if that's manic, I need me some). By the time he let me go, some thirty or forty minutes later, I felt different.
And here I am. I've read. I've watched videos (on capitalism, for classes). I've studied Spanish. I've sniffed the internet for a position at a new school next year (oh, yeah! I wanna do this again!) And here I am. Swilling coffee so late, it's probably gonna keep me up all night long. But here just the same. Writing. Re-connecting. Dancing, as it were. Having some fuckin' fun. Yes, indeedy.
See, the thing is: when I came to this new campus, I was under the impression that I had to prove something to somebody. That I was somehow inadequate to the task. That I had to make up for lost time. That I had to "figure it all out." Yesterday. And it was not fun.
Then, a few students that I wouldn't have liked at any school showed up in one of my classes and since I was busy trying to "figure it all out," I thought I had to "reach" them. I know damned well you can't teach a pig to sing. But I thought I had to. Somehow. What a bummer. And so unnecessary.
Anyway, the students won for a while. I let them steal my joy. I mean, I've seen these self-righteous, little over-incomed/super-entitled/madras-wearing lacrosse players before. But normally, I just tune 'em out. That is to say, normally, I manage to tune them out. This time, they were so in-my-face, so bitter, and so unapologetically closed-minded, that I let them become every establishment authority figure I had ever been cowed by. (I know, I know. It doesn't seem as if I'd be easily cowed. And I'm not. I've faced down some real scary people. But that was always fighting for somebody else. When it came to fighting for myself, I didn't always--or even necessarily usually--have what it took.)
I knew I had the ultimate upper hand. Eventually, the ring-leader humbled himself to the point of admitting that he was willing to "do whatever it takes" to pass the class and even mentioned, by way of explanation, that he doesn't agree with the things I say, so he blocks out what he needs to be learning. I told him I could work with that, but it didn't make me feel any better.
Then, that afternoon, walking across the campus, which is beautiful, wearing my red and black argyle sweater in the sunshine, it occurred to me. Of course, they buck. I'm flying in the face of everything they think their future is founded on. And they could be right. They've never been forced to really consider this kind of stuff before, let alone forced to be graded on whether or not they got it, and here they are. If I think I'm miserable, just imagine how they feel, I thought.
Then, I remembered the juvenile delinquents I used to work with down in Miami and the way I used to train others to work with them. "Watch their feet," I used to say. "They'll grumble and mumble and call you names, but in the end, if they head generally--however slowly--in the direction you've indicated, then let 'em grouse. What difference does it make? They have to save face. They're giving up their power. You're winning, so can't you afford to let the silliness slide?"
All I have to do, I thought, walking toward the library in the sunshine, is just lighten up on the rein a little and ride the bull the way I know how. And then Pat reached out and grabbed my hand and said, "Hi, how are you today? I hope you're having a wonderful day." And by the time we parted, I was. And I have been all week-end. And I expect to be tomorrow. And I can hardly wait until Thanksgiving when I have a whole nine days to call my own. You better look out. I'm back. ;^)