On Teaching, On Writing
It seems like I’m always recalibrating. This is true in my teaching and in my writing. I arrive at a comfort in patterns, a pattern suits me for a while, and then all of a sudden the creative energy dissipates and my routine needs to be forged anew. I’m coming to terms with the realization that this upheaval is a vital, necessary component of what I do. Whether I’m writing a new course or a new poem, I’m always searching for some imaginary ideal along the spectrum between serendipity and control. How much structure or organization is the right amount? Too much? How can I construct moments—with others in the classroom and with myself in my poem-drafting chair—that become opportunities for wildness and discovery? Does the idea that I’m constructing these moments (read: deliberating them artificially into being) disqualify them from any chance of truly unique inspiration or insight? How many existential questions can I ask in one paragraph or gesture before any center of gravity no longer holds?
You get the idea. I imagine many of us go through some version of these internal gymnastics when we’re working on a project we care about. Lately I’ve been confronted with these kinds of thoughts in new ways. Last semester I co-taught a course for the first time with three colleagues—two from English and one from Art. The whole class, titled “Words and Pictures,” was a study in collaboration both for the students who combined their skills in writing and visual art to make new original work and for us as teachers who learned each other’s varied rhythms of improvisation and structure. By the end of the term we’d built a kind of creative laboratory where experimentation and risk were paramount. In order for us to get there, we all had to model sharing trust and control over the direction of the class. I hadn’t fully anticipated how difficult that would be. I experiences a fair amount of initial resistances, but once I embraced the challenge of finding my way through this new teaching style it was exciting every week to see what our students made together.
This semester I’m teaching another new class and facing more new shifts in routine. This time it’s “Writing as a Profession,” a class I’ve developed for students in our new creative writing concentration. We’re having conversations about what we do and who we are as writers in an effort to build more consistent writing practice around our individual motivations and goals. I’m continually impressed and inspired by the insight and self awareness my students bring to our discussions around writing and publishing. This is the class I wish I could have taken as an undergraduate—heck, even in either of my graduate programs. This class means I’m recalibrating again, looking at my own habits and patterns, re-energizing my approach toward what I’m doing as a writer and why. It means I have drafts and revisions piling up again around the house—each sheet of paper or notebook marked with its own incomplete code. It means I’m in the work again following fresh momentum as it presents itself, trusting it will show me when these new poems are ready. It means I’m building again—following an energy I can’t quite name. For right now, I like this part. It’s not always easy, but it’s what I need. This is the process. This is the core of what I love about what I do—when my words keep tumbling and tumbling and I come to the page knowing soon we’ll find our form.