Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Morning Thanks


I talk a ton about retiring. It's four years away, and sometimes I wish it would come a lot sooner. Sometimes, just for kicks, I count my fingers.

Then again, sometimes not.

For me, classroom teaching is over for the week. I pack my Tuesdays and Thursdays, which leaves me weary but allots some extra time, or so it seems, on M,W,F.

Last night I proofed, once again, a manuscript I finished last summer, then slept well because it was a good week. Tuesdays I had six preachers into my writing classes to talk about how they write sermons. I thought the classes went extraordinarily well. Yesterday was a good day, too--you can always tell by the eyes. I yakked a ton--too much by contemporary pedagogical standards, but my wife agreed that I knew a bit more about Puritan New England than my students do. She's told me that lectures are just fine, but then she's old-fashioned and never cared much for small groups.

The dashboard on this blogger site says this is my 675th post. Just more than two years ago, I committed to a blog, not only to understand a bit more about the revolution going around me, but also simply to keep writing. With age, I get progressively worse at multi-tasking. The school year means I'm a teacher; during the summer I'm a writer. Never the twain shall meet. And it's getting worse.

So "Stuff" keeps me at it, and that's good.

And I know this too--I'm a heckuva lot easier to live with when I'm teaching. Somewhere, I'm told, Hemingway used to say writers shouldn't talk about either sex or writing, and I know what he means--about writing anyway. When I go on and on about what I'm working on, I let the air out the whole thing. So, during the summer, I walk around in this world, carrying an entire other worldin my head--the world of the novel--telling no one, showing no one, just keeping it all going inside. I get hard to live with. Ask my wife.

September comes, students walk into my office, the novel gets saved to a disk or sent off, and the social Schaap shimmies out of a file cabinet. I talk. I laugh. I joke. A kid comes in for help on an essay, and when she leaves, I tell myself that I'm not as much a dinosaur as I think. If my feet don't hurt, I walk home with some lilt in my step.

Somewhere else, Hemingway once said that writing is never a full-time job. About that, he's right too. If I had to find everything I write in the stuff in my basement, I'd not only find myself starved, I'd be crazy as a loon. Life is good, but life is also full of material--sounds crass, I know, but it's true.

I got body-slammed in the last couple of weeks by the Pequod War, a bloody mess in and around Massachusetts Bay Colony that I knew almost nothing about. I have a Ph.D., in American literature, a speciality in Colonial Lit. I know all the Puritan writers. I've taught the course for a quarter century, and I understand the troubles Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson brought to those beloved, pig-headed Calvinists doing their best to create a truly Christian nation.

But I never knew a thing about the Mystic Massacre of 1637--not one thing. I should have. I wish it hadn't happened, and the story isn't pleasant. But I learned something, and at my age, learning something, having your mind and heart and head twisted in a new angle, toward a new vision, is an immense joy, because the pressures of age are limiting. When we age--trust me on this--our worlds get progessively smaller and, sadly enough, what remains within them gets, understandably, even grotesquely, bigger. Maybe I ought to say it this way--what happens outside our worlds is of less consequence, while what happens inside the ever-decreasing circumference looms even larger. So here's what I think--I take great joy in learning something I never knew, even if I should have known it before. Even if that-I-should-have-known is the lesson. I should have known the Mystic Massacre. Teaching helps me learn. I'm a teacher.

674 posts ago I started this thing, taking Garrison Keillor's advice and giving thanks for something every last morning. I didn't really abandon that goal, but now, more than not, I depart from text.

So this morning, after a good week in the classroom, after enough shining eyes to put me to sleep (at night), after too much yakking, I suppose, but warm and eager kids, I'm getting back on task and being thankful for darn good work, for life with purpose, and the education that I still get, day to day, reading and, well, yakking. Meaningful employment not only puts food on the table, it can be just as good as the Bible says it is.

If you're wondering about sex, don't ask. I won't tell.

1 comment:

Joel said...

My sister passed on to me that bit about not talking about writing--great advice. I'm now trying to follow it with sermon writing--helps me stop procrastinating and, if I can keep it bottled up until Sunday morning, makes me feel like I still have something to say (which, incidently, is the best advice I've heard on how to have an engaging sermon/delivery--have something to say.)