January 27, 2014 10:52 am PST
I receive an email with subject: CONGRATULATIONS. I don’t know it yet. I’m teaching my second section of English 101 in my second semester of my MA program but my first time as a regular teacher.
I’m using a new online learning software that my partner worked on and works on as part of his phd work. It’s going great. Teaching is going great (I think).
I see the email and suspect what it is but don’t dare hope. They said I would hear back by the 25th of January so when I didn’t I just assumed I didn’t get it. I’m in my History of Language class which I’m nerding out on as one of my earlier discovered loves; the discovery a success out of the failure of my first semester of college ten years ago. I resist opening the email.
When I do I know I received funding to go to my first CCCCs conference without acquiring new debt. High on this I write a scholar/author/teaching on the east coast that I’ve been research-stalking for months. He writes me back. It’s wonderful. Everything is so stinking good that I have the thought that I’d better prepare for the fallout. But I don’t dwell on it.
I’ve come to feel I’ve got to enjoy these spots of time because they will not be permanent or lasting except in inaccurate memory. I’ve come to be a little more accepting of the imperfect and sad and fumbles because they heighten the highs.
And indeed, exciting for my first peer review with the online software I got to class even earlier than usual. I didn’t have a defined backup plan, just ideas and interests to pull from when the peer annotation system completely failed and after fifteen minutes on the phone plus some emails, neither my partner nor his chair who author the software knew why it wasn’t working. It wouldn’t be fixed for my second section either.
I assign something different and am being a bit ‘naughty’ in Professional Development Colloquium or PDC as I try to work on some things for the student and my plan B lesson on my laptop. I get another email.
January 29, 12:37 pm PST
Sometime when I was sleeping perhaps, or excitedly getting ready to teach, or maybe while all of my teaching plans were going wrong, Linda died. Professor Linda Kittell died. And there is nothing I can do. And I cannot cry because I’m in a PDC. And then I cannot cry because I’m in History of Language and I split it two in a way that I know intimately but will not share here because it is a public space and while typos and developing writing are okay to have attached to your professional name, there are things, many things, that I can only say under my penname and remain “hireable”.
I used to split in two on a regular basis. I did it for Linda’s class four years ago, spring semester 2010. I regularly explained this to my professors in detached and clinical terms so I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable and so foolish but also so that they would understand what was happening with me as an older-than-usual, struggling college student. Professors were always extremely support and understanding. But Linda did not just support and understand she had lived experience, a term retaught to me by a wonderful woman and colleague of the TRiO community we share as first-generation college students.
Linda knew splitting in two. She wouldn’t let me off the hook for it. But somehow, was so completely empathetic too. I got a ‘C’ in her class. I didn’t agree with her teaching style though I didn’t really think I deserved better than a ‘C’ either. I didn’t see her much after that. I split in two again. I would think about her a lot and always felt conflicted about her.
She remembered me, but I don’t think she fretted like I did. She had bigger fish to fry. She was writing. But then, she got sick. And then I never saw her until she finished her book of poems. She remembered me, but she didn’t fret. I remember how changed she looked from her battle of cancer. But her laugh, the way she read aloud, it was just like in the classroom. I bought her new book and her old one and she signed them for me. I think I will always feel split in two about Linda. Grieving is a selfish, self-absorbed process so much of the time and I think now is no exception.
Could I have tried harder in her course even while split in two? Is she watching me struggle with theory now and laughing, “I told you so.” Is she cheering me on? The answer is neither. Why the hell would she care? It’s not that she didn’t care about her students, she just has bigger fish to fry. Baseball to watch and play. Peace and release from pain. Who gives a fuck, about a ‘C’ four years ago?
My eyes burn but I don’t cry. I go about my day. I keep my vaccination appointment for my travel this summer that will fill my MA’s language requirement and in a way that isn’t grade-driven and is soul-filling instead of flattening. I go to my graduate seminar. I split in two. I answer emails about the fiasco technology fail in class this morning alone in my closet-made-office while I eat my leftovers heated up dinner. My eyes burn but I don’t cry.
I go to Dr.Dyson’s speech as planned. I reconnect with very important people to me, that TRiO colleague I mentioned, and another TRiO colleague I haven’t. We talk about my upcoming trip to Guatemala because my arm is sore from all the vaccination shots and the newly mentioned college has some ties in Guatemala. And we talk about community and plans we have and race, class and gender issues and what I am learning about the earmarked ‘working class’ community in the field of English (most of us TRiO folk/alumni are working class and first-generation college students and often categorized ‘low-income’ and ‘high-risk’ for dropping out of college). It’s very fulfilling; it’s very important to me.
Part of the walk home is talking with one of these wonderful women. The other part listening to a podcast so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts. My eyes burn.
I get home to good news! The technology, the peer annotation software is fixed and working. It’s would be so wonderful. It will be so wonderful.
But first I shut myself in my home office which is chaotic and roomy and me, not like my graduate school closet (right of passage, I understand). I bring out Linda’s books. I take pictures to avoid reading them. I will reread them; they are good poems, but I just can’t. Not just yet.
And I feel compelled to sit down and write this to you now. Because for a long time writing is where I don’t feel split in two; even when I lie to myself or try to talk myself into believing a certain ideology in my writing, or convince someone else that I believe a certain something, or that I’m totally and completely of the academic mind, even all these things, when I write I am whole. When I write I am not split in two. When I write I can cry.
I pretty sure Linda got that.