Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Call this the postprandial post, after feasting on pi.

I am keeping my fingers crossed until Thursday, hoping I got a 72 or better on my trigonometry final, giving me a C or better in the course and fulfilling my math requirement for teacher certification.

I called this trig class The Dead Hand, because a 'D' in a trig class at Rock Valley College almost 14 years ago caused me to spend the $450 (tuition, calculator and book) to take this class. The Dead Hand is a literary convention popularized in Victorian fiction where a bad deed a long time ago comes back to haunt a character. The wife-selling scene at the opening of Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge is one example that comes to mind. There's even a chapter in Eliot's Middlemarch with that title.

The Dead Hand is a rather quaint concept in modern American society. Our culture, for all its neuroses and paranoid tendencies, believes in second acts. From the founding fathers to Brittany Spears, Americans praise those who rise above former ignomy to achieve great things. Former shame is humbling and makes present glory taste all the better. It also humanizes leaders. No one likes an unblemished soul. That's too damn righteous. Democratization prefers a mown field to a pinnacle.

In this, my summer of peace, simplicity, and (often depressed) contemplation, I realize how humbled I am by my own present weaknesses and past indiscretions. My friend Andy gave me a backhanded compliment the other day on the phone. He said (and, of course, I'm paraphrasing), "You're not as much of a stuck up asshole since your divorce." Thanks Andy.

Failure can be a good thing. I failed at my marriage, and it will dog me the rest of my days. And I was particularly bad about how I ended it because I lacked the moral and emotional courage to strike off into single life on my own. But I've found strength in the processes I've put myself through. I know I can make it on my own. I know I can be a loving father and friend. I know I will find love again. And I hope I'm more forgiving and understanding of other's frailties.

I'm no longer the boy genius thru-hiker poet of yore. I'm a single dad, student, a prospective middle school language arts teacher, indebted, shackled to an economic system I hate, but lacking nothing. My pursuits are more practical, to live within my means, maintain a simple lifestyle, and try, try, try (and try not to try) to find peace and sanctuary. I've retired from the ideological and emotional front lines. I'm too tired for that. Nobody listens or cares anyways. Better now to be an observer than a participant, even though every fiber of my nature wants to jump into the fray.

Luckily, I have teaching as an outlet for creative expression and ideas. It's an outlet for me to be a ham, but it's also a much-needed connection to fellow human beings. I learn so much from my students. They've influenced the way I talk and even the music I listen to. Their openness and honesty are inspiring.

Good teachers connect with students on their level. My natural curiosity, I've discovered, is my greatest tool to being a teacher. I use extant environmental clues, like t-shirts and ipods, to connect to them. But I don't, you know, "try to be down" with them. There is a certain journalistic detachment to my inquiries. But they still eat it up. I'm a popular teacher because I allow students to teach me.

As I've written in multiple drafts of my teaching philosophy, I think of myself as a facilitator of knowledge. I show students the path to knowledge, but then give them the space and freedom to walk that road themselves. Despite my blowhard tendencies, I force myself to limit lectures to less than 10 minutes and then get out of the way. Student-directed learning is de rigeur in the teacher certification program anyways.

I called this post unencumbered because, for the next 12 days, I am not tied down to a job or a class. Of course, I have a pile of binders and workbooks at the foot of my bed, and must brainstorm lesson plan ideas for the first few weeks of class. I've got a day of student-teacher meetings Aug. 20 and have to get a TB test in the meantime, but other than that I'm a free man!

I also feel emotionally unencumbered. As I've referred to in past posts, this summer has been a rough one for me emotionally. Dark clouds rolled in and stayed awhile. I've fought with anxiety and restlessness. I can't be out there on the mountainside, pushing my endurance and running away from the world. I've needed this time in the valley, though I'll always maintain the valley stinks. The valley sucks. It's a polluted watershed.

But for the past couple weeks I've enjoyed a grace, of sorts, that I hope stays awhile. I'm starting to feel like the old Greg, the happy, carefree soul I see reflected in my child's eyes. I feel forgiven, forgiving. Wary, yes, and maybe a little more cynical, but refreshed. I have SO MUCH to be thankful for.

1 comment:

Shawn R said...

A boy genius? Nuh-uh.
Thru-hiker, yes, but not a boy genius at the same time. See you this weekend