Monday, August 15, 2016

What if?

With few exceptions, you've only taught classes you wished in the first place to teach, based on your increased belief that the best way to learn a subject is to teach a class or write a book about it. So far as the former is concerned, you only agreed to teach a course in grammar because of your belief that it was something you'd found yourself railing about a great deal. 

With respect to the latter, there were two times you agreed to write books about subjects of no particular interest to you for an understandable but not acceptable reason--you needed the money. In these cases, you returned the advance on the first, andalthough you ended up returning the advance on the second, you did so only after having instead of writing the book you'd contracted to write, wrote a book you wantged to write,

The course in grammar produced a dramatic resolution of a near similarity to writing the book you wrote instead of the book you did not wish to write. The program director called you into one of those "Come in and close the door" meetings superiors sometimes have when dealing with subordinates as notional as you. 

The director's first words upon your closing of the door behind you was an observation that it had come to her attention you were modifying lesson plan assignments and introducing disturbing arguments about not using the verb to be in any of its forms when you couold possibly substitute another verb.

The payoff of your director's observations and questions relative  to your admonitions against the verb to be was her appearance in the next meeting of your class, wherein you asked the assembled students, "Is there anyone in this room who categorically has no interest in having something they've written appearing in print as a published work?"  

One young man wrinkled his nose sufficient times to cause the frames of his eyeglasses to migrate back to their intended position on the bridge, They, he joined his classmates in conveying not only through silence but body language his tacit admission that he would not mind being published.

This was neither the question your superior expected nor, once it was answered, the results. In the hallway outside the classroom, you and your superior reached an agreement whereby you could finish the semester teaching the class any way you saw fit so long as you did not return to your vilification--her word--of the verb to be, which, she feared, would create confusion and possible trauma--again, her words--among these students who, it was felt, needed this exposure to  a course called Subject A, when you were an undergraduate, Remedial Composition during your early days teaching in a graduate-level program and Freshman Comp at yet another school where your students were undergraduates.

The significant joy you pulled from grammar-related classes in which you were a pupil was the uncanny ability to diagram sentences to the point where the excitement overcame your smartass proclivities, translated to outright pleasure, then secured into place a sense of a sentence being the equivalent of a map in which some treasure or hidden cache were located. "We are going to learn," you told your class, how to locate and liberate buried secrets and treasures."

"You're fucking with us, right?" the young man with the glasses said.

"No," you said. You had a bigger target in mind.

Amusing as the experience was ans remains at this distance of retrospect, these events also led you to a favored trope not only in your teaching but as well in your reading and writing: what if?

As in, What if you taught a course on Chaucer? What if you wrote a story about a man who was accepted into a group of friends not because of his accomplishments as an highly paid actor but because of his dog? What if you taught a course in satire? Humor? Writing the modern short story? Genre fiction?

Your awareness of and, over the years, responses to What if? have been the lathe on which your personality and sensibilities were articulated. You can still replay in the YouTube of your memory the clip of Mr. Bailey, the woodshop teacher from Middle School, securing in place a two-foot length of sugar pine on a lathe, then beginning to demonstrate how to use the lathe and what its transformative powers were. 

As the rectangle morphed before your eyes into the potential leg of a table or chest of drawers, you wondered What if ? there were ways to turn paragraphs from textbooks into segments of story.

Over the years, What if? has led you over an arc of existential and dramatic observation in which the escape portal from any situation of boredom or brueaucratic rote is yours, literally and of course figuratively for the asking.

What if? What fucking if?

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