This Morning

This morning, I am done with grades. This morning is the last of my school year.

This morning I received notification that California has approved my application for a teaching license. This doesn’t change my immediate plans, I will still be staying in Tucson for the next academic year; but it gives us more options for the year after that. It also shows, I think, that my sordid past is now behind me, because if even the champion nanny state approved me, I don’t think anyone will say nay because I was mean on a blog almost ten years ago.

More importantly, this morning is the last of my wife’s career as a teacher. She returns now to doing what she always should have been doing: making art full time. She has been a wonderful teacher, who has helped many students to improve their skills, gain confidence and interest in art, and especially to see the world in a different way; she will be sorely missed at school. But this is the best thing for her, and this is what is right: because look. Just look.

 

 

 

So congratulations, Toni. You have more than earned this. I am so proud of you for what you have done as a teacher, and I’m even more proud that you are walking away from it to dedicate yourself to art. You amaze me every day.

Especially this morning.

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This Last Morning

This morning I’m thinking about endings, about finales.

Oh right, I hear some TV show ended last night, didn’t it? Sure hope that lived up to everyone’s expectations.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.

This morning I turned off my alarm clock for what may be the last time for the next two and a half months. That is a lovely thought.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about this morning.

This morning I am thinking about my friends who are leaving my school. Because today is their last day of teaching.

My friend Veronica, who came to Tucson and to this school from out of state, and was thrown right into the deep end, teaching high school students who have, many of them, gone to the same charter school for five, ten, or even twelve or more years (We had a graduate last year who went to pre-school with this charter, so, fourteen years in one school. It’s like Little House on the Prairie or something.), and who were used to their friends and their teachers, and who DON’T LIKE CHANGE. Then a year later, and for no valid reason, she was switched entirely to middle school students — who are, of course, demons. Turns out, Veronica is a splendid demon wrangler, and she spent the next two years lashing them into submission, mostly with her height, which is remarkable; her voice, which can be both piercing and booming as she wishes; and her humor, which is far more biting than her students knew.

But I knew, and that’s what I’ll miss: her humor. The evil little chuckle, the manic smile, the way she says “YEAH!” when I make some joke about making students suffer. I’ll miss the dedication and effort she put into helping children, too.

My friend Kellie had a similar experience with coming from out of state to teach high school and then ending up with middle school, except Kellie’s was even faster: she never even got to teach high school. And it’s an absolute crime, because she is exactly what a high school teacher should be: she has deep knowledge of and love for her subject; she’s cool and relaxed; she can relate to teenagers and speak to them like human beings. The school found a great science teacher — and then they threw her into the demon pit of middle school, where she suffered all year, without support, without any consideration for her needs or wishes. Since she had taught before, she knew exactly what she was missing, and she is leaving this school to go where she belongs: to a high school.

I’m going to miss her humor, her style, her passion for science, and her companionship. It’s been great to have her on my end of the hall, and it’s going to be far less interesting next year without her.

Adriana, my fellow English teacher, came in specifically to teach middle school, because clearly she’s insane. But what’s really insane is this: she taught them. She taught the hell out of them. She took students who were absolute hellions, and she not only controlled them, not only taught them to follow her rules and expectations — she taught them English. Whoever ends up teaching those kids when they get to high school is going to have a far easier time, with far more capable students; and it will be because of Adriana. I am personally grateful to her because her willingness to teach those tiny hyperactive, hypersonic imps meant that I didn’t have to do it: she spent three years jumping on grenades for me, and I can’t thank her enough.

I’m going to miss having her in the department, having her in meetings, hearing her infectious laugh, and knowing that the students were being mashed into some kind of shape by her incredible efforts. She’s been an inspiration to me, and I’m grateful for it.

The last one is both the hardest and the easiest to deal with: because it’s my wife, Toni DeBiasi. She’s been in the classroom next to me for the last three years, which has made them the best and most enjoyable three years of my two decades in teaching. She’s been utterly incredible: she came in with not much experience teaching, certainly nothing like multiple classes for an entire year, and she mastered it, entirely and completely. She’s so smart, and so capable, that she has been able to build a successful fine art program, in a STEM school, while also becoming a vital emotional and mental support for her students, who love her almost as much as I do. She came in to an empty room, almost — except it wasn’t, it was chock full of crap — because the previous teacher took out all of her teaching materials and lesson plans, and left Toni with a small, cramped room filled with shelves, filled with old paint and old paper, old clay and ceramics, old tools and materials that she had no idea what to do with. It took months to clean it all out, even while she was trying desperately to come up with material to teach her five classes, covering every ability level from elementary to college. May I also note, since I saw it first hand (Though I’m sure that the other three did the same in their own lives), that she managed to help me keep our household together and running, if not smoothly, at least consistently.

I’ll miss her at school, but at least I have the consolation of coming home to her every day.

 

I want this post to be more about recognition than making a point, but there is a very clear point here: all four of these women are excellent teachers, and all four of them are leaving the school within three years of being hired. That’s an issue. All four of them taught middle school, and for three of them, that’s the main reason they’re leaving (Veronica can’t stand the Tucson climate, which is also fully understandable.); that and the near-complete abandonment of them all by the institution. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with, or it will only get worse. Though all of them have gotten support from fellow teachers, friends, and loved ones, still, the school has not been able to give them what they need, and so the school has lost them — but the loss will be felt most keenly by the students. And by me and the rest of the faculty, of course, because these four women are lively and fun and intelligent and splendid to be around, and we’ll miss their spirit.

I will also note that three of the four are leaving teaching, two — Adriana and my wife, Toni — leaving forever. This is, again, a problem that needs to be dealt with, and it is a problem for this entire country. Twenty years ago, nearly, I wrote an essay about being a teacher, and in it I pointed out that the lack of structure and support, and the lack of respect and interest from students, was the main reason (along with money, of course) that 40% of teachers left the profession in the first two to five years. That has not gotten better: if the trend at my school is any indication, it’s gotten worse.  We need to fix it before we lose everything.

But any fix will be too late to save this loss.

Thank you all for your friendship, and for your wonderful gift of teaching. I appreciate you all, and I will miss you all in the hallway.  May the best of your past be the worst of your future, and may the road ever rise up to meet your feet.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about appreciation.

Yesterday I tried to recognize the teachers and educators I have worked with (And I still forgot a few — so thank you, Mary Wells, for all that you do, and thank you, Nora Caragan, for being the best paraprofessional in the history of paraprofessionals), and I got a grateful and heartwarming response. Teachers loved hearing what I had to say.

But there’s a problem there: I had to say it.

One of the things I object to, even though I participate in, is the support network that teachers provide for each other. It is a staggeringly wonderful thing: these people, who are already working so hard, and who are already giving so much, turn and without hesitation give even more to each other. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it: teachers go into each others’ rooms all the time, and frequently the visitor comes in mad or frustrated or down — until they see the face of the person they are visiting, and see that that person is feeling even worse. Suddenly, whatever the teacher came in to complain about or vent or even ask for help with is gone: frustration vanishes in concern, and the visitor says, “What’s wrong?” Prepared, in an instant, to take more burdens onto shoulders already weighed down with overwork and the emotional strain of seeing up close and personal the struggles and sufferings of children (And also with the strain of struggling through the suffering caused by children — and the worst is that it is often the same children, that those who are neediest and most desperate are the most obnoxious people we see. Which is saying something.), not because we don’t need help any more, but simply because a friend, a fellow teacher, needs help more, or even just needs help too: and so we help.

It’s amazing and inspiring. I will say, without any humility, that I participate in this, that I support my fellow teachers at all times and in whatever way they may need, and that I rarely ask for help myself because  I don’t want to trouble them.  I’ve even seen this go too far, when I was part of my union’s negotiating team and we were  fighting for better compensation and working conditions; trying to get teachers to actually stop working, to stop sacrificing, to start asking for something for themselves — and not luxuries, but a living wage and necessary health care and the like —  was nearly impossible. They wanted to give up whatever they had to give up in order to make everyone else happy. The magnificent bastards.

But here’s the thing: we shouldn’t have to do that. Of all the people who should be sacrificing in order to keep teachers sane and healthy, IT SHOULD NOT BE TEACHERS WHO DO IT. That makes no sense. It defeats the purpose. We not only put on someone else’s oxygen mask first, we take ours off and strap it on top of that person’s own oxygen mask just so they can be twice as safe while they watch us suffocate.

If it’s not clear already, this drives me nuts, that teachers do this. I don’t like that I do it, either, but it is without doubt who we are as people, and what the culture of teachers encourages in us. This is why we spend our own goddamn money on school supplies for our students, despite how little we are paid. And perhaps the worst part, though this is not the place to get into this, is that we are therefore propping up a system that is in many ways a terrible system: not terrible for us, though it is that, but terrible for the students, and terrible for the country. Yesterday I bought donuts for all of my students taking the AP Literature test. I encouraged and helped students to “succeed” on a high-stakes test run by a private corporation with disproportionate influence on college admissions. I structure the whole class around that damn test: a test I should be opposing with every fiber of my being. But I bought them donuts.

So here’y my request, for those who want to appreciate teachers — REALLY appreciate us, not simply nod in our direction while we lie bruised and bleeding in a ditch. (I know, it’s hyperbolic, but it’s also the end of the year, and it feels like that. I feel bruised. I feel sick because I haven’t been sleeping, and I feel sore because my body has been too tense for too long: my shoulders honestly ache right now.) Ready?

Make it so we don’t have to hold each other up.

Give us enough support, and take away enough of our burden of responsibility, that a single person can do a teacher’s job alone, or at least can handle the pressure alone.

Specifically, that means essentially three things: money, time, and trust. In the first years of a teacher’s career, there is a fourth, which is: help.

I don’t want as much money as I want, if I can be permitted that sentence. I want as much money as is needed so that I don’t have to worry about it. That’s all. I’ve been a teacher for twenty years, and I still don’t earn enough to own a home, and I don’t have any retirement savings, and I still have debt that I haven’t been able to get rid of.  I want to make enough money to take care of those problems. I don’t need enough to pay for vacations or jet skis or that diamond-encrusted pirate hat I’ve had my eye on; just enough so that I don’t have to suffer from money stress. I want to be middle class. I aspire to the bourgeoisie.

I want enough time in my school day to get my work done in my school day. I don’t mind planning lessons from home; it’s kind of fun sometimes. But I don’t want to have to spend one more weekend grading, not one more evening filling out paperwork. I already work 40 hours a week at school; why is it that I am expected and required to add another 10-20 hours on top of that, every week? It’s because I have too many students, and too many requirements for teaching those students. Too many things I have to cover, too many things I have to compensate for, and too many people I need to report to and satisfy in order to show that I did my job. You know what should be the only evidence needed that I did my job? That my student can read a book, write an essay, discuss a poem. That’s it. Don’t ask me to prove that I did my job: ask the kid. See what he can do. And ask him, honestly, if I helped him do that. Make it his responsibility to prove that I did my job. He is the product, after all. (Please note: this is not a serious suggestion for assessment of teachers. Students shouldn’t have to have that burden either, and too many of them are not reliable witnesses nor reliable learners. All I’m saying is that I don’t want to do it, to prove to all and sundry that I did my own job.)

And anyone who thought “But you get summers off!” just know: I am currently mentally punching you in the brain. Hard. Kicking, too.

The last thing I need is trust. I have proven that I am a good teacher. I’ve won awards, I’ve won accolades, I don’t have anyone who disagrees with that basic premise: not students, not students’ families, not other educators. Of course not everyone likes me or likes my class: but I don’t believe there’s a single person who could genuinely say that I teach badly. So please, I beg you. BACK OFF AND LET ME TEACH. Don’t try to improve my curriculum for me, or my methods. If you’ve got suggestions, I’ll listen, of course; but don’t tell me what to do, especially if you’re not versed in my subject or my profession. Stop assessing me: my driver’s license is valid for 25 MORE YEARS: and that’s based on a single test I took more than 20 years ago. Yet my teaching license expires every three to six years, and requires hundreds of hours spent on learning to be a better teacher. I get observed every year, often twice a year, and have multi-page evaluations, every year. How much proof do you need that I can do this job? The answer is that there will never be enough proof that I can do it, because I will never be trusted to do it. That has nothing to do with me and everything to do with our culture and our system, but I don’t care why it is that way: I just want it to stop.

I already care about my profession, and about my students, and about my subject. I care about my fellow teachers and educators. Please, stop making me also care about and for myself: let someone else do it. Give me some real appreciation.

And don’t let it come from other teachers.

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about being positive.

I’ve been as critical as I can  be, the last few posts; I think I should try to come up with some positive solutions to the problems I’ve been describing. After all, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Okay, actually, that’s the first thing. No more either/or thinking. No more win or lose, no more all or nothing. (Okay, maybe a little bit of all or nothing. I don’t want to be definitively black and white about this.) It is entirely possible to be both part of the solution AND part of the problem; I  think most of us are like that at least some of the time. It says something positive about you if you have enough self-awareness to recognize that you are part of the problem, and if it is a serious enough, complex enough, intransigent enough problem, then the effort, the incremental steps towards being part of the solution, are good enough. Working is enough. Trying is enough. There are also those who are only part of the solution, not part of the problem, and they will be the ones moving things forward; if those of us who are still stuck with one foot in the muck can just ooze out of their way, that will be enough.

Example? Sure. I do a lot of things right as a teacher. I focus on the actual material and the skills that students can gain from it. I am open and willing to take student input on what we will do in class, how long we will work on it, and so on, so I give them agency in their own education and also some ability to make their education more useful and appropriate. I care about them, but I do not mother them. I know and love my subject, and I model that love and that knowledge for them, as often as I can. So with the problem of, say, adults who don’t treat teenagers with respect but expect both respect and unending effort (and humility) from teenagers, I’m not part of the problem, only the solution. With the problem of education being detached from utility and from interest — the sort of education that stops at “The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” — I am part of the solution and not part of the problem.

But when it comes to argument, I still tend to want to win, and to show myself as smarter and more right than my opponent, and I am all too willing to see my students as my opponents. I overwhelm them and cow them, and make them feel like they’ve been defeated, rather than like they’ve been taught. I do this in all of my arguments. I am aware of it; I am trying to fix it. I am trying to stop myself from taking up arguments in class; two years ago I inserted myself into a class assignment on writing argumentative essays, and I wrote essays in response to my students’ arguments; I don’t do that any more. So I’m learning. But it’s difficult, because I run a discussion-based class, and I want my students to offer attempts and theories, but I also want to challenge them to go further and explain better what their point is. Too often that challenging discussion can slip right into an argument.

So I’m working on it. Still not there yet. If someone else could come in and fix that for me, it would be great, thanks.

But that’s not the positive solution I wanted to offer today. (It’s part of it.) The issue I wanted to talk about today is the one from yesterday, the way that teenaged boys suck. I feel like I’ve got some connection to this problem, though not as much as someone who is actually raising a boy, so I can at least offer some suggestions.

The first one is the most obvious: toxic masculinity has to end. Not the competitive indoctrination, which is a separate issue; but the idea that men must be manly, must be strong and especially silent, must enjoy and appreciate only manly things: all that has to stop. The training in violence that comes with this also has to stop, for more reasons than just for the sake of the boys who our society makes into brutes. So if we can continue to work on the problems of bullying and emotional isolation and gender specific activities and traits and strengths, that would help enormously; I think those things would help all of us be less douchey, not just teenaged boys.

But yes: the thing that I believe will make the most difference with teenaged boys is the constant shouting in their faces that they must be competitive, and they must always strive to win. Sports is the first and most obvious issue here. Sports, especially little league sports, have to be changed entirely and immediately. We need to stop keeping score. We need to stop talking about winning and losing, and about doing whatever it takes to be the one on top.

That probably has to start with how adults consume sports. I was listening to NPR yesterday, and the news host was  talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning, a hockey team who just got eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by a team they were supposed to beat. And though part of me questions whether that is even news outside of Tampa Bay (or Columbus, the team that beat them), the larger issue was the tone of the story: the host actually asked a Tampa sports reporter if the people of Tampa felt angry and betrayed by the loss, in addition to being shocked and disappointed. And the Tampa reporter said: Yes.

Look: if your year, or even your day, is ruined by a game lost by a team that happens to share a zip code with you, you have bad priorities. I will die on this hill.

I am fully aware of the arguments for team spirit, how it brings people together and gives them something to cheer for and to bond over; but there is too much evidence that losing hurts more than winning, and that our time and money would be better spent on almost any other activity rather than watching professional sports (Just look at how “winning” a professional franchise affects a city) to sustain that argument. We’d be better off treating sports as something fun to watch sometimes, and more fun to play, if we’re not too hardcore about winning. That’s how sports should be treated with young boys.

That’s how everything should be treated with young boys. And with grown men. There are serious things that need to be taken seriously: the problems with the world, and the causes of suffering. That’s where we should be aggressive, and take no prisoners and never retreat and never surrender: getting clean water into Flint, Michigan. Ending the spread of AIDS. Peace in the Middle East. You want to teach your kids to fight? Teach them to fight those things. Fight to make this world a better place.

Otherwise, maybe we should teach our kids to just have fun. And we should mean it.

(To be continued.)

This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about deadlines.

I’m a little afraid I’m going to miss this one, because I woke up this morning without a definite idea of what I was going to write about, and then in trying to think about a topic in the shower (one of my most productive thinking times), I thought of too many topics, and I couldn’t focus on one and follow a line of thought to a conclusion. That’s okay, I often don’t know where these written thoughts will end up when I start them; that is, I know what my opinion is when I start — I’m against deadlines — but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to say about them. Will I end up affirming my opinion? Will I find some compromise? Who knows?

This comes up most often at school, of course. I try not to use deadlines. I don’t quite believe in standards-based grading — which means that the only grade a student should really get is whether or not they have met the standard, and it’s a large topic that I will write about another time (Note to self: SBG.) — but I do agree with a component idea of it, which is that grades should be based on the work a student does, not on a student’s behavior. I think schools have taken on too much of the responsibility for raising our students, and I don’t think it’s good, and personally I don’t want to do it; therefore I don’t want to use the school’s (theoretical) focus, education and achievement, to bully students into doing what they’re told. Giving students a deadline, and then imposing grade penalties when they miss that deadline, is not educating them in a subject; it is an effort to instill a work habit. It’s a good work habit, but that’s more akin to character building than it is to education, and therefore I’m pretty much against it.

Now: I am not against being a model, as a teacher, of good work habits. Good any habits, really; I think it’s important that I be visibly and clearly respectful of others and their opinions, that I be kind and generous, that I explicitly oppose sexism and racism and intolerance and injustice. Without doubt. I think that everyone should do those things all the time with everyone they know: I think I should model good behavior with my wife as well as with my students, though for an entirely different reason: I don’t need to show my wife what good behavior looks like, I need to show her that I know what good behavior looks like so she knows I’m not an asshole. And if that sounds, by the way, like a lot of work, if it sounds like I always have to be performing and therefore I always have to be focused on doing certain things and not others, that’s true, but it also assumes that my relaxed, default state is being an asshole, and it takes extra effort to resist being one when I’m at home; I don’t think that’s true, and if it is, I don’t want it to be.

So I am in favor of meeting deadlines as a teacher. I try. I try to get their work back to them before grades come due. I try to have materials ready in time to use them. I try to have lessons planned well enough in advance that I’m not giving them what they keep asking for, a “work day” or a “free day.”  I do miss all of those deadlines sometimes, especially the grading ones; the most common response I get from my students when I give work back is, “Oh, I forgot about this!” And I give them work days, and I have had to change lesson plans in the moment because I don’t have handouts ready or I couldn’t get the reading done myself the night before.

But that’s the point: things come up. Things don’t work out. I get insomnia, or I have to deal with a sick dog, or my car gets a flat tire. The copy machine breaks, or is full of multi-page math jobs. A student stops me to ask for help, or even worse, comes to me in tears in a crisis. Things happen, and stuff doesn’t get done on time. We all know it: we all live with it constantly. I hate being late for appointments, but sometimes there’s traffic. And sometimes I get to the doctor or the dentist or the hair salon and they’re running late, and they ask me to wait for a little while before they can get to me. I complain all the time about the thousand little tasks that are incessantly assigned to me as a teacher (A colleague of mine refers to this as “death by a thousand cuts.”), and what bothers me most is that they are given artificial and unreasonable deadlines, often without sufficient notice: this year we were asked to contribute to our own evaluations (which is its own travesty — note to self; personal evaluations) and were told we needed to collect “artifacts” (which does have a nice Indiana Jones feel to it, which I like; I kind of want to burst into my principal’s office, sweaty and covered with cobwebs and maybe a couple of blowdarts, and drop a golden idol on his desk and say, “I GOT THE ARTIFACT!”) as evidence of our expertise; but we weren’t told of this in advance, simply given a deadline about a month out, during our busiest time of year. I am not ashamed to say I didn’t make that deadline.

So when I impose deadlines on my students, what am I teaching them? That they are held to a higher standard than me. That I have the power to boss them around, but they can’t return the favor — after all, they never get to tell me when I need to have something graded by, and if they even try, I bristle and get self-righteous about it. On some level, I tell them that their behavior, adhering to a deadline, is more important than their work, because if a student writes an A paper and turns it in late, they don’t get the A; the quality of the work never overrides the lateness of it.

So what priorities am I modeling? When they see their parents missing appointments, running late to work, turning in their taxes on April 16th, and not really suffering very serious penalties, if any; and then I cut their grade in half if they’re a day late, or even a few hours? What does that say?

You know perfectly well what that says. It says the thing we pretty much all said when we were in high school: it’s a joke. It doesn’t prepare us for the real world, because the system in high school is exclusive to high school. It is self-contained. It mimics the real world in a number of ways, but there are a number of things we do in high school because we have traditionally told ourselves that they are preparation for the real world: and then we just do them, without really thinking about them. At some point they become self-sustaining, because we keep trying to think of better ways to make this artificial system work for us; until we stop thinking about why we do it in the first place.

I take it back: that is preparation for the real world. It’s just preparation for the very worst parts of it.

 

Wow, that was longer than I thought it was going to be. But most important: DID I GET IT DONE ON TIME???

This Morning

This morning, I think I have an answer to my question from yesterday morning.

Yesterday, I was wondering what I could say to my wife, to my students, to myself, that would help comfort us in the face of inevitable suffering, and I wished that I could rely on God as that answer, because then I could at least stop thinking about it — and I should have said worrying about it and fretting about it, because that’s the point; it’s not the idea of not thinking, it’s the idea of “let go and let God.” Which I can’t do, but I appreciate that people can.

But I have another cliche that I have gleaned from outside of the fields of the Lord (And that enormously obscure reference is brought to you by the podcast I’ve been listening to, Sunday School Dropouts. Probably also why God has shown up in this atheist’s morning ramblings.), that as I understand it, many churches focus on as the heart of their message (and others may sprinkle in, in between railing against homosexuals and abortion and Democrats in Washington), which is this: God is love.

Once again, that doesn’t work for me. But it comes with another way of looking at it, that I think does fit in nicely with what I’ve been looking for:

Love is God.

That is to say, love is everything. Everything that matters. It is the alpha and the omega, it is the answer to all questions, all doubts and fears. Love. And love, I think, can offer an answer precisely as satisfying  — and not any more satisfying — as can the answer “God.”

What should I tell my students when the future looms ominously over them? Love. Look for love in your life, look for love in what you do; if you don’t find any love in your life, then change it, and if you don’t find any love in what you do, then stop doing it. Don’t work for money, work for love: and I don’t mean to be flippant there, because I am a person who works for money precisely because he cannot live on what he loves; but for me, the money I earn is spent on those I love, and used to give me an opportunity to do what I love, which I am doing right now. So I never mind my job very much, because it is done for love, if not always in love. And yes, sometimes I love my job: I do love books and poetry, and I love writing, and I guess I don’t entirely loathe my students. (No, I love some of them. More, I love the people they become, and the potential I see in them when they are young.)

What do I tell myself when I am in my darkest, foulest, most hopeless moods? Love. I have lost some of my liberal idealism in these last few years, and I have begun to lean a wee bit more conservative; it has made me worry, because I know that this is a common pattern, especially among aging white men, as we start to get a taste of power and become greedy and start worrying about people taking away what we have. And I do not want to be that guy. But I think that so long as I focus on love, so long as my actions and intentions are begun with love in mind, then I won’t turn into someone I would hate. At least some of my shifting to the right is based on the consideration that people on the right can’t be bad people, can’t be evil people, not all of them. (Trump is.) Not any more than there are evil people on the left. It’s not reasonable to take a person’s political leanings as the sole evidence of their morality or their value, or anything else apart from their political leanings; evil people are conservatives, conservatives aren’t evil people. Thinking that makes me give some conservative ideas (like the free market and lower regulation, the independence of states and, perhaps most shocking to me and those who know me, the value of the Second Amendment) the benefit of the doubt, and that makes me move away from my liberal roots.

But that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I’m a liberal or a libertarian or a moderate or an anarchist: so long as I consider what is best for my fellow men, and treat them always with respect and with love, then my ideas will never be bad, even if they are wrong.

I also need to remember this for myself when I am disappointed in my writing career. When I think about how old I am compared to other writers, and when I realize how good I am compared to some other writers — and then when I think about how entirely devoid of success I am compared to most other writers; I need to remember: love. I do this because I love it, because I love the me who does this. And so long as I write for love, with love, and out of love, then I can’t be a failure. I am a writer.

What do I tell my wife when she worries about our future, about what we’ll do for money, about where we’ll live, about how we’ll see the world and how we’ll live in it? I will tell her, as I do as often as I possibly can, that I love her, without limits and without end, and that I always will, and that love will see us through, no matter what else happens. Always. Love.

It doesn’t solve the problems we all face. But then, neither does God. I hope that it brings you some comfort, as it brings me some. I hope that it gives us all the strength to keep fighting towards our goals, and I hope it keeps us from hating those who fight against us, or at least in the opposite direction. I hope that the love in your life is enough to make you smile, as it is for me, even on a Monday morning.

Thank you for reading what I write. I won’t say I love you, because I don’t know you, but I love the fact of you and the existence of you, and what you give to me. Thank you.

Now go love!

This Morning

This morning I am thinking about waiting.

Time heals all wounds, we’re told, and it doesn’t. That’s a lie. Not all wounds heal. The implication that we don’t need to do anything actively to heal the wound is often a lie, as well. But it is true that wounds that can heal, will heal with time. I’ve always liked when I see this metaphor taken to completion and the healing described as full medical wound care, because wounds need treatment: once you have cleaned a wound, and applied first aid, and assuming there aren’t deeper complications in the wound and the damage done by the original wound isn’t critical — THEN time heals all wounds.

That doesn’t have the same pithy brevity, though. Too bad: because what could be a valuable piece of advice about patience and waiting and allowing things to happen, rather than going out and forcing them to happen, is somewhat ruined by — well, by impatience, by the need to keep the truism short and to the point. Four words sound good; forty tell the truth; we generally pick the four. It’s faster. Easier.

And, often, false.

Waiting is one of the best things to be good at. One of the hardest things for a new teacher to master is wait time: when you ask a question, you have to stop and give your students time to come up with the answer. It’s hard, because of course you as the teacher already know the answer, so in your brain, the necessary wait time is zero, and there you are, staring out across this room full of blank faces, thinking, “Come on, how do you not know this? It’s hyperbole, for god’s sake! Everyone knows what hyperbole is!” And if no one comes up with it immediately, you turn into that annoying kid who blurts out all the answers. It’s unfair, and it’s not good teaching — but it feels good, because first of all, you know all the answers (Maybe the hardest thing about teaching well is learning to not need to be the smartest person in the room.) and secondly, it’s so awkward, sitting there in a silent room while nobody is saying anything! If you just give the answers right after the questions, then everything moves forward, quick and smooth and easy.

And without learning.

Learning to resist that urge, learning to wait, is extremely difficult. Took me years. It took me enough instances of saying the answer just to have a student say, “I was just going to say that!” and feeling guilty for cutting the student off, and enough instances of recognizing how great it is when they come up with the answer themselves instead of me saying it, to learn to wait for someone to answer. It has made quite a difference in my teaching.

Now, of course, I have also learned to enjoy their (slight) discomfort. I like making them wait in silence. I like making them feel the need to fill that void with something, anything, at least a guess. I like asking hard questions, and watching them have to stop and think. I especially like staggering a smart student, one who is rolling along, doing great, smashing every question out of their way like a marathoner going through those ribbons at the end of the race — and then I ask something that needs more thought, and they have to come to a halt to consider. I like to be the wall the marathoner bounces off of. I love that. (I love it even more when, after a five- or ten- or even twenty-second pause, that same kid comes up with the answer. That’s the best thing.) I might love it too much: I am well known among my students for refusing to give them answers, ever. I’ll ask a difficult question —  why does the author make this choice instead of this other choice — and then they try a few thoughts, and we discuss it and those thoughts don’t work; then a pause, then they try another, and it doesn’t work either. Then somebody says, “Well, will you tell us why?” And my response is generally, “Oh, I’ll never tell you. You’ll figure it out, or you won’t know.” They groan. I grin.

But the point is, the waiting is the key. Time may not heal all wounds, but time is a necessary component of any change: from unprepared to prepared, from sad to happy, from good to great. It is rarely, in my experience, the only component; I think effort is probably equal in almost anything, and also thought — but time is necessary. Patience is necessary.

I’m still learning that. I’m 44, soon to be 45, and I’m still unpublished. (I am traditional enough to think that self-publishing doesn’t count. It does. But it isn’t what I really want, what I really really want, therefore…*) I think my writing has improved, but I haven’t reached my goal. It is not easy to deal with. Ten years ago I blamed everything on callow agents and a heartless publishing industry that just wouldn’t recognize my talent; now I tend to blame myself for not being good enough, for not having the right ideas. But in either case, I still don’t have what I want, and it hurts. It hurts all the time. It bothers me every time I see someone younger than me publishing books. It feels a little better when I see those posts and memes that list the ages of successful artists and authors who were older when they had their first breakthrough; but I’m starting to move into the middle of that pack, too. I saw on Twitter yesterday where someone was trying to give this kind of affirmation, and said, “I didn’t publish my first book until I was 38. Now I’m contracted for my tenth.” And I thought, Shit.

I also don’t always wait and think things through, especially about the effects of my words. I like to just type and go, hit Post, Reply, Send; I like doing that fast. It was a problem when I argued online regularly; now I do that less, but I still have the same problem. And it is a problem, not just  because I often misspeak when I do that; it also means I don’t realize the effect of everything I am about to say before I say it, and so I do things to people that I don’t mean or want to do. I make them angry or I make them sad, or I make them laugh and scoff at me, or I make them feel embarrassed or ashamed. And if I would just stop, and think, before I hit Send, and re-read what I wrote, then I would probably realize, “Oh, no, I shouldn’t say that, I shouldn’t say it that way.” And I’d fix it, and then I would prevent a problem that is caused by my own desire to hurry, my own inability to wait. But I hurry, and so I do harm, to someone else or to myself.

In other words, time may not heal all wounds: but impatience causes them.

Waiting is the key.

 

*Yes, that is a Spice Girls reference. Here, watch this: this will make it better.