Friday, November 22, 2013

Fire in the Sky Now, Fire in the Test, Perhaps

There you are, sitting in the midst of the literature faculty of the college wherein you teach.  The dean has assembled you for a discussion of how to implement directives which in effect have mandated your college interact with other departments.

The atmosphere outside is of dramatic, gravid clouds hat have already dumped some rain over the city, the campus, and the nearby coastal wetlands.

The atmosphere inside is of teachers, many of whom, having come up through recognizable academic channels, seem to go into a peer review mode whenever they find themselves sitting about a long, rectangular table of a conference room.  "Have you at all considered--" some of them say as the Dean reads from an agenda list, then asks for comments.  You are transported to the equivalent of good-cop, bad-cop grilling of suspects.  Only the usual suspects, graduate students, presenting their thesis, are not here.  "You might also consult--" is another trope, heard along with, "When I taught at--" naming another college in this university or perhaps another department within another university.  The unspoken implication is that the speaker knows his or her subject, an important point.

The instructor is familiar with the subject at hand, has taught it elsewhere, the additional implication being that at the "elsewhere," such a subject--Chaucer, perhaps, or Milton, or even Shakespeare--was appreciated as it could only be appreciated at that "elsewhere" and, further, the instructor had notable success teaching it to the point where those "elsewhere" students were bringing in awards and recognition to the extent that the administration left them the fuck alone to teach as teachers should be allowed to teach, at full throttle of inspirational zeal and scholarly preoccupation.

In this curiously fraught atmosphere of intensity, clinging to the very walls of the conference room, good will and fear scrimmaged, the water cooler gurgled.  Story ideas and concepts were like moths on a summer night, batting against the screen doors of enclosed porches.  Each time the meme of creative writing classes was brought forth, you could feel waves of energy, as tangible as cheers at high school pep rallies.

"When I taught creative writing at Elsewhere--"

Rah rah.

"More creative writing courses--"

Rah rah rah.

"Our creative writing courses--"


Once again, you were reminded of the refrain from Ernest Dowsen's famed poem in which the narrator says:

"And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion."

By your count, you've taught creative writing in one form or another at  five schools, a major writers' conference, three other writers' conferences, and your own, ongoing Saturday morning writing workshop.  You have published widely on the subject of story telling, your own vision of story coming from a vision of a storyteller,rather than an instruction of how to write one,  by an Elizabethan writer, Sir Philip Sidney.

"With a tale, forsooth, he cometh unto you; with a tale which holdeth children from play, and old men from the chimney corner."

You are sitting in the midst of a demographic of what could be called your peers, men and women who teach such courses as you do.  It comes as no surprise to you that a parade of story ides send you greetings.  You smile in return, then begin writing notes to yourself.  Suppose an economist was brought in to your college, a he or she who could suggest selling futures on creative writing courses, or a hedge fund process where you could trade academic outcomes of students in particular departments.

You could also have yourself, wondering at your audacity in teaching creative writing to others when there is patently so much you have yet to teach yourself.  Are you in face a bit intimidated by the academic sound of things, orders on high from the Chancellor of the university?

Look at all the things you have to set aside in order to get at your daily ration of composition; can that be taught?  Or is it better agonized over, suffered through as you did?  Does it need a measure of despair?  When you read some work of resonance for you, whether it is from an old mentor or a new discovery, encountered by accident or some friend telling you this is something you must experience, isn't there in fact  a motif of heartbreak whispering in your ear, telling you of the wisdom of heartbreak that must be present in all work of aching beauty.

You discover a note:  "Fire in the sky now."  You rush outside to look at the heartbreak of a November sunset.

Such things are not to be shared with students any more than they could have been shared with you when you were at the beginning student aspect of your life as opposed to the now student aspect of your life.

Your cat miaows for his supper.  Foolish man, standing there, gaping at a sunset.

You rush inside to feed him, then back to the computer to see if you can find some way to capture "Fire in the sky now."

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