Friday, September 25, 2009

84) climbing higher, seeing broader

the literary life 9/25/09

I've been feeling a bit nostalgic this week about academic life.

I've been feeling nostalgic about my years in graduate school: the introspective quality of those years studying religion. I miss sitting in coffee shops until late to finish a challenging theoretical text and having high level discussions in graduate seminars. The funny thing is that it was these very things that inspired me to leave; I had grown weary of such discussions.

After six years in graduate school, I lost the motivation to talk theory. I also became fractured, I think, by all the insights that were coming at me so fast. Reading texts on deconstructionism and post-modernism, I got stuck in questions way beyond my grasp: how can anything really be known? How can anything have meaning? Isn't every book just a translation, a subjectivity? I left graduate school because I thought the research I would do would be personally satisfying but socially meaningless. I wanted to make a more direct impact on the world.

Through teaching and writing poetry these past few years I've found my ethical and moral center again. I lost this a bit in graduate school. In other words, while a part of me knows that that truth is elusive, there's no reason why I can't define it for myself and have some faith in my definition. I've come to believe it's essential to do so. It's part of asserting who we are. Back when I was in graduate school, I was considering writing a mixed genre dissertation that would emphasize its own subjectivity through experimental writing on the page. I wanted to write a dissertation that said, this book's based on research, but like every other book, it's just another version of the truth. I want you to think about this book's relative subjectivity consciously as you read it. I want to smack you on the head with this "truth."

Now if I were back in graduate school, I wouldn't feel the need to experiment this way. I have grown more traditional, more trusting ironically. I think traditional research is beneficial if we believe in the benefit of the research and begin with a moral sensibility. Maybe back then I saw research in terms of myself. Now I view it in terms of society: the common good. My goal in the coming weeks is to raise myself to a higher academic level, to take a leap of faith. It's not enough to just teach anymore or write creatively anymore. I've been visiting professional websites in my disciplines of interest: Education, teaching, literature, writing, poetry, religion, history, and art. I've been feeling a greater sense of engagement with my academic self. I want to continue to take courses and workshops in various subjects; I'd like to attend conferences in my discipline. Maybe as a fourth year teacher and post-pen poet, I'm remembering the utility of staying connected with the broader academic community. I like being in this hyphen space between teacher and researcher. Yesterday I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a copy of The American Scholar and read it today on my lunch break. It was nice to dive into something jargonistic--to stop "working" and just nourish my brain for a while. It helped me connect with my academic self and reminded me of my first year of graduate school when I had the naive faith of a novice. Thumbing through this journal, my faith was affirmed, but I wasn't looking to be carted off with golden wings. I just wanted to connect with the big picture. Given the frenetic pace of my day, I wanted to dive into a little silence. I read an article titled, "Where Have All the Students Gone? The Demise of the English Department." I read some poems, a piece on the connection between applied math and poetry. And this is what I thought: I want to be forever interdisciplinary. And I don't want my poet-self, teacher-self, and academic-self to be islands. Reading this journal, I thought about how the information presented affected several parts of me. I thought about feeling grateful for having a job as an English teacher. The work I do is about others. I'm just a step in a complex ladder. I feel more inspired to give back. Maybe it's about seeing work and writing as more than a paycheck and a hobby (though on some days, when I'm spent, this is how I see it). I guess what I'm saying is that I want to see my work both as a calling and a responsibility.

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