Writing as a Contact Sport

Tom asked me to send a few lines about my teaching, the intuitions I have about embodying the writing process for developmental writers. I told him I have the conviction and evidence for what I do but not the language. That’s why I’m back in grad school after all. But they cannot help me. As Bishop said, asking who among us is a David and reading from Samuel tonight: you must encourage yourself. So here goes. My students have taught me, against great odds and greater resistance, that writing is an abstraction. They have repeated in myriad ways that disembodied words, words that do not connect to their reality, have neither meaning nor power. This is of course obvious and as easy to say, but to understand it, to grasp it in its irreducible and inescapable entirety is another thing altogether. To then go and stand in a room, without confronting it, is like raising your paddle at an auction for the gas chamber. And so it is how I came to retire from teaching only to find myself in the classroom again once the dust and bluster of admitting abject failure the first time around had settled leaving me with something far more stinging and unshakeable; a genuine opportunity to learn – perhaps for the first time in my life. True enough I have the raw materials – an indomitable hope and enough actual or imagined people believing in me, and I in myself, to pick up the gauntlet because, as it turns out, it was tailor-made. But how I came to know that is a tale for another time. I create contrasting mental and physical activities to balance the attention. Tom suggested, and I researched, the somatic aspects of this pedagogy, and found I agreed, at least in some measure, with what I found in a brief spin in cyberspace. Dewey, Friere, Piaget all come together on the necessity of experiential learning but only art educators appear to go after it head on as central to their means and ends. Children up to a certain age, and adults of a certain disposition all practice it organically in play. When the truth of the matter is that to be creative is the hallmark of the species, part of our inherent nature as Harvey Jackins would say entirely without apology, permission or agreement from any quarter. Yoga instructors acknowledge in greeting and parting: namaste – which means something akin to I honor the divine spark in you that also lives in me. My Gentle Yoga instructor takes it a step further at the end of each class at the LVAC adding that ‘when we connect from that place within each of us there is peace.’ This is my libertory pedagogy, my writing as a contact sport, the reason we must do whatever it takes: freewrite till our hands fall off, polish the nails of senior citizens, hold up both sides of the conversation with bedridden inmates who have lost their tongues, vocal chords or minds. Because when we get to the bottom of it all, we find ourselves entirely connected to self and other. Once we’ve succeeded in sifting through the dust of millennia paraded about as much and coveted as the latest wired fashion we do find peace and pieces of ourselves in one another. The pen is then mightier than the sword. This is why I would not edit anything my Palestinian brother wrote unless it was his memoir. Politics can not save us. Economics can not save us and religion, for the very love of God, can not save us. We must get about the very dirty work and necessary of saving ourselves. I still have not said much about why and how I do what I do in the classroom. Perhaps some other time.

The Interpreter

God,
I sit in the echo of South African singing as the titles to The Interpreter roll. It is Wednesday, after Bible study at Mountaintop. The film I’d not heard of was about growing through and beyond pain – being the last one standing amidst the shards. It’s almost funny how close to my life it feels. But then you’re the one who gave me so sensitive, if not dramatic, a heart. The real miracle is that the same heart can feel such rage and yet raise no weapon but a word. Yours, if you give me the strength and clarity. Mine, if it be your will.