Learning From Teaching, Learning From Learning

The past two weeks have been busy with all sorts of awesome.  An old college friend visited from out of town.  My brother’s work was selected for the Mass Art All School Show.  I wandered the galleries downtown for First Friday before spending a weekend among hoards of geeks in cosplay at Anime Boston.  All these things make for good posts, but of course, I was too busy to actually blog about them.

My writing is on a new schedule now.  Things are always changing, and somehow I consistently forget that life never stays the same.  While I was drafting my book, I woke up every and wrote until I had nothing left to offer anyone.  I took a break when the manuscript was being read by some friends, and marveled at how good it felt to relax.

Now I have found some of that balance I have been looking for–  I work in the morning, committed to a specific writing task, and take care of other errands in the afternoon.  This routine reminds me of an interview I read in The Believer Book of Writers Talking To Writers.   This is one of my favorite resources on my bookshelf.  The book is exactly as it’s describe– writers interviewing other writers and talking about writing.  Really, doesn’t get much better than that.   This particular excerpt is taken from a discussion between Paul Auster and Jonathan Lethem–

Jonathan Lethem:  What were you doing today before I appeared in your house?

Paul Auster:  The usual.  I got up in the morning.  I read the paper.  I drank a pot of tea.  And then I went over to the little apartment I have in the neighborhood and worked for about six hours.  After that, I had to do some business.  My mother died two years ago, and there was one last thing to take care of concerning her estate– a kind of insurance bond I had to sign off on.  So I went to a notary public to have the papers stamped, then mailed them to the lawyer.  I came back home.  I read my daughter’s final report card.  And then I went upstairs and paid a lot of bills.  A typical day, I suppose.  A mix of working on the book and dealing with a lot of boring, practical stuff.

JL: For me, five or six hours of writing is plenty.  That’s a lot.  So if I get that many hours the other stuff feels satisfying.  The other stuff feels like a kind of grace.  But if I have to do that stuff when I haven’t written–

PA:  Oh, that’s terible.

JL:  That’s a terrible thing.

It’s reassuring to know that I share the same attitude as two authors I read and respect.  I thought that when my friends returned my manuscript to me, I would get back to work with the same vigor I had throughout the winter.  Somehow, I couldn’t conjure up the same resolve.  I am as dedicated as ever and I know there are lots of revisions to make before this book is anywhere near publication, but I’m not worried about it.

I guess that’s what faith is.

It’s a work in progress and it’ll get there, but I have the space now to live my life.  There are also other important writing tasks that I have been putting off because I was too busy with my book.  I have a list of magazines to query in my to-do list, so I anticipate atleast one cranky blog post next week.  I also returned to teaching– I lead two creative writing classes at an after school program in Cambridge.

I was initially surprised that they included creative writing in their curriculum.  At my old work, my boss was insistent that our students were too young to enjoy writing.  The kids I teach love it.  They arrived at class on my first day and asked, “Can we please write what we want?”

“Of course you can write what you want!”  I told them.  “What else would you say, if not what you wanted to say?”

Although they did get a little chatty or distracted, they generally worked without needing me to prompt them or even help them with their stories.  When I asked one group of students to share their work, they were reluctant.  One girl, who prides herself in her writing, even expressed, “I don’t want to share my story until I know that it’s perfect.”

I could not force her to share her work, but I encouraged her to atleast consider it.

I keep thinking about that moment.  I certainly understand her sentiment, I also have that similar reluctance.  It’s about pride, not wanting to be vulnerable.  Hearing the words from this child was a reminder for me to be courageous, to share my work and to be open to feedback.  It also reminded me that I learn from teaching.  I was glad to be working with kids again.

When my friend from out of town mentioned that he has been taking dance classes, I suggested we try African dance together.  I had been meaning to check it out for a while– the class was slotted in the same space prior to a hip hop class I used to take, and I was always enthralled by the African dance– the drumming, the flow of movements that transitioned in effortless rhythm.  Mostly though, everyone involved– teacher, students, and musicians, even the people watching, including myself– seemed so happy.

Trying the class for the first time, I felt especially uncoordinated– an unusual feeling for me, years of practicing kung fu trained me to be halfway decent at following along with movements.   It didn’t matter though, I felt happy.

What I mean by all this is that there is so much in this world, things to learn and things to share and times that people teach us new things, even when we are the teachers.  Sometimes we do the same for others without even knowing it.