thoughts on my Spectaculars and a week spent receiving art

Monday, March 2, 2015

I call my students The Spectaculars, and they are. As kind as they are bright. As funny as they are compassionate. They are particular, unrepeatable people. And yet—oh my. Our whole.

Teaching them, I am teaching me. Racing out ahead with books and dreams. 

There is never enough time.

I watched "Whiplash" last week and wondered how any teacher could be so cruel—and if cruelty hones. I watched "Birdman" and considered the rewards of high narrative risk. I read Atticus Lish's Preparation for the Next Lifeand then sat with a student, just the two of us, and talked about the value of spending summers pumping gas and seeing life, the literary value of the un-rareified existence. I (and my students, along with the students of Lorene Cary and Max Apple) sat with the editor and writer Daniel Menaker and talked about how memoirs get made, how truth is shaped, the chronologies that must be broken (Lorene's blog post on that afternoon can be found here.).

But all of this wasn't enough, it's never enough, and so I began to read Ander Monson's Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries—a book that delights in breaking rules, a book that, in the midst of all its subtitle promises, its wild accords, its politics and prose, releases thoughts like these:

The space between biology and biography is vast. Both are tests. They seek to understand a life. We might believe we write our own, that who we think we are gives us the right to tell ourselves as we believe we are. The telling of a self is fiction too, salesmanship, however unintentional, how in narrating I we change the I—we make it harder, stellar, starlike, more like shell than skin, how we hide all evidence to the contrary, believe ourselves impermeable.

We read the world, we watch the art, we ask the questions, we do our own small parts. We can't make art without receiving art. Last week, most of this long winter long, I ceded, I cede, to receiving.


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