The cool thing about being a teacher is my accidental dedication to lifelong learning. So often the texts and lessons I plan for my students ends up profoundly affecting my own life. Here’s the latest.
My morning drive to school is a sacred time. I drink my perfect coffee (Lavazza Perfetto with a splash of coconut milk creamer) and listen to New York Times’ The Daily Podcast. Sometimes this is a bad idea, because the episode makes me cry, and my mascara is smudged before 7:30 in the morning. But it’s also a time to reflect on the world. I spend my drive to school listening and my drive home mentally constructing a response.
I’ve mentally constructed many, many responses.
I’ve worked through my reaction to the Derek Chauvin trial.
I’ve let myself imagine living in Joe Biden’s version of America.
I’ve pinpointed what I find most tragic about the current COVID surge in India.
I should write these down, I’ll tell myself whilst driving. I should tell someone what I think.
But by the time I get home, I’ve convinced myself that anything I’m thinking will have been thought by someone smarter than I. And anything I’d write would be written by someone more eloquent than I. And so no one hears my thoughts on Chauvin, Biden, or India. More importantly, I’ve silenced my own voice before I’ve even made a sound.
This week, I was hunting for an example of a classic essay for my grade 10 students. I wanted to show them the difference between an essay and the terrible writing we produce for our Psych 330 class in college. An essay blends textual analysis with personal reflection. We allow ourselves to be moved and changed because of the media we consume; we trust our reader to share that personal revelation.
The essay I happened to find and make copies of on my lunch break was a piece in The Atlantic by Justin Mann. Mann writes about this essay he read by J.R. Ackerley entitled My Dog Tulip. Ackerley’s essay is unironically and very literally about his beloved dog. One hundred seventy pages chronicling every detail- bowel movements, walks in the park. Mann was moved by the fact that Ackerley didn’t stop to ask if writing about his dog was worthwhile, rather Ackerley made his essay worthwhile because he cared so much.
Mann’s essay, inspired by Ackerley’s essay, tells us the first thing we need to do is care.
Oh my gosh! I thought! I care! I care about so many things!
And it’s time for me to stop psyching myself out. It’s time to stop silencing myself.
I tell my students that the beautiful thing about writing is the funnel it creates. “Writing is like a tube of toothpaste,” I told them Thursday. “You have all these thoughts swirling around in your head, but you can only write one word at a time. It takes a mess and you squeeze it out letter by letter. Writing makes you make sense of everything you’re feeling.”
And so here it is: my first essay inspired by an essay that was inspired by an essay. So meta. Once again, the message I delivered to my students was the very one I needed to hear myself.