On faith and future

I’ve read a lot about the difference between educators who identify either as “a writer who teaches” or “a teacher who writes.” I have wavered on that line for so long, not really wanting to choose, because to me they are complementary skills, like fiction and nonfiction. The challenge for me has always been time and space. How do I value my time as writer? As a teacher? What is the best way to develop as both?

I found much comfort in Don Murray’s words. Two weeks into the Invitational Summer Institute at the San Jose Area Writing Project, Ryan and I drove up to the Eastern Sierra to camp out for his birthday. I was a ball of worry. I did not know how to adapt my ideas for my presentation. I had committed to teach at a summer camp for children but was in desperate need for a mental vacation. I was still waiting to hear back about a potential full-time writing gig, one I that both excited and worried me, because I knew that by accepting this job, I would not have the time or space to teach. I could tell Ryan was tired of hearing me worry, so I opened up Don Murray’s book and searched for a passage to read aloud. As luck would have it, I opened to this paragraph, entitled “Faith”:

“Hardest of all for me. Faith that I can write, that I have something to say, that I can find out what it is, that I can make it clear to me, to a reader, that I can write so that the reader is not aware of the writer, but the meaning.

Faith enough not to read what is written until the entire draft is done and then not to compare it to what it might have been or what others have done, but to listen to the writing, to see in it its own meaning, its own form, to hear its own voice. Faith enough to stand out there all alone and invite the lightning.”
-- Murray 84-85

I’m not a strong believer in epiphanies - more often than not, they are moments that confirm a secret fear or desire, one that lay hidden within us all along. I suppose epiphanies are less the moments themselves and more the strike that starts the lightning. We were driving through Los Banos and I found myself clutching this book, learning, once again, that no matter what I decide to do, I get to be the one that decides. I have a book I want to finish, so I’ll work on it bit by bit until I can share it with my readers, and then I’ll work on it rewrite it and revise it and rework it until it something I can feel proud sharing. I have exercise and health goals, so I’ll do my best to make time for running and eating well. I value my friends and family, so I’ll try to find time for both. I want to learn so much - how to teach, how to design websites, how to draw, how to speak other languages, eventually, how to parent - and so I’ll simply have to trust that these are things that I’ll learn, in time.

And perhaps the greatest irony here is that I felt so validated when reading Murray’s reflection on his own wavering faith. These are things we all feel - Anne Lamott certainly has, Hemingway likely did (they say he wrote the ending of one of his novels something like 38 times?), teachers seem to. But what I’ve learned about teachers this summer, at least the ones I’ve met, is that the commitment to their students is stronger than any fleeting insecurity. Perhaps it is comparable to the commitment writers feel to the page, but I don’t know if it is. A page doesn’t talk back to you or endure standardized exams. Perhaps this could explain how my greatest fear as a teacher was facing a room full of empty, expressionless faces. How could you know what you were doing had an impact?

You don’t - just the way I don’t know where my writing will take me, if anywhere, but it’s the pleasure in the process that keeps the words coming.