Lessons & Gratitude
So, I wrote a beautiful blog post (hahahahahaha, yeah...) on Friday morning and I attempted to post it on Saturday while I rode the LIRR into Manhattan for the last class of my teaching stint at Stony Brook University ... only to find out that none of it saved. Not a single word. It was long, too. So this post -- which is supposed to be a replacement -- will be (probably, hopefully) more concise and also nothing like the first. (Yay! you say. I know. I can be long-winded.)
I'm writing now from a bar at the Moynihan Train Station, which is steps from Penn Station. In prior Saturday evenings this fall, I met my friend Jennie here to have a drink or two before catching my train home -- the class ends at 4:30 p.m. and the train to Speonk runs at 7:00 p.m. But she's at a conference in Philadelphia this weekend, so now I'm sitting here with a celebratory glass of prosecco (natch) and rewriting or reinventing the lost post because I feel like a little bit of reflection is appropriate.
The last class today was good, albeit slightly sleepy because of the rainy, unnaturally warm weather. (Also probably end-of-the-semester syndrome?) My students presented their final projects, which were works straddling the line between poetry and prose. They listened to each other and offered feedback for future iterations. At the end of the day I gave them a handout with submitting/publishing resources (explaining/giving pros and cons of Duotrope, AWP, Poets & Writers, Submittable... and also advice for navigating life after the MFA and when/if they decide to leap into the abyss of academia.
(Just to be clear -- when I use the abyss as a metaphor, I'm thinking of The Abyss, and Michael Biehn suffering from the bends.)
And then, like all those dudes at the end of Ocean's Eleven, we went our separate ways.
This graduate class was a beautiful gift. Maybe it wouldn't have been if I was submersed in a regular semester of teaching at the community college, but I kind of doubt that. There's something to be said for students who show up ready to learn ... whether it's from me or each other or the work that we're reading and discussing. There's something to be said for older students who have shaken off the cloak of high school and undergraduate nonsense and are present because they're in possession of themselves as people in the world.
To be clear, I'm also really appreciative of my students who are decidedly NOT in the world. Students who don't really know what they want to do or where they want to be -- I love having honest conversations with them and acknowledging that sometimes not-knowing is part of the process. But it takes a particular kind of energy to engage like that -- and after almost two decades of that kind of engagement, I'm happy to try something different.
The difference comes down to the students who wrote some really cool prose and poetry this semester. And some of them failed in their aims, but it was awesome to see them try to meet those aims, and to hear them speak about what they learned in the process. AND to hear them talk about their "final projects" in terms that made it clear that the projects themselves aren't over, aren't final, aren't anywhere near complete.
That's much more of the work I'd like to be doing -- so the goal, now, maybe, is to figure out how to make this happen in undergrad.
But maybe that isn't possible? I mean, maybe it's a matter of age. Maybe my general student population at Stuffolk is too young, too close to living at home with parents and siblings, too close to the top-down nonsense of state-governed education to really fail and also appreciate the act of failing for what it can reveal. And maybe it's not fair to replicate the graduate experience in undergrad, to expect them to have that kind of autonomy and ownership over their creativity. At least at a community college.
Maybe this is really obvious to everyone else reading this. I'm just trying to make sense of my working life and what I want it to look like.
I had so many other/different things I wrote about in the Failed Friday Post. But right now, this is on my mind. It's difficult to balance acknowledging and being grateful for the opportunities you've been given while also being honest about what you'd truly desire to do with your time. I'm grateful to still have my job at Stuffolk (and to have kept it through the pandemic and beyond), and to work with my colleagues (well, most of them), and to guide and mentor the students who truly want to be there.
But working with the graduate students at SBU has left me with a warm, positive glow at the end of the semester, which is a VERY different feeling than semesters at Stuffolk. I don't feel resentful or bitter or anxious. It's kind of miraculous.
I'm learning a lot this fall -- about playwriting, yes, and about publishing and being a writer in the world, and about the craft of writing in general, sure. But also like, maybe I shouldn't trust the autosave feature on WiX. And also, maybe, I should apply for more graduate teaching positions.