Okay, it’s going to take a while to explain how we ended up here in the new digs–I hope you bear with me, but first, “Welcome! So nice to see you! I’m so glad you found the place! And thanks for the lovely gifts! Pear liqueur? I’d love some…housewarming plants, a nice throw? You guys rock–you can come to my house any day! Yeah–it’s a bit plain, I know, I’ll try to dress the place up a bit–I’m still talking Mate into moving the links from the old digs to the new…I might finally pull up that knitting mouse thing I love so dearly… you know, that sort of thing. But for now, sit down, take a load off–I’ll tell you how we got here.”
Let’s start with shit I’ve said in the classroom that could get me fired.
For the record, I’m not the only teacher with this mental file on hand–in fact, as I was trying to hold it together yesterday, a couple of teachers commiserated with me using that exact line–“Wow…some of the shit I’VE said in the classroom could get me fired.” Well, this post is sort of about my specific shit.
I’ve got this one story–I first told it in the following context, but I have no idea why I told it THIS semester. THIS semester, I was so desperate for a connection with my classes I might have said any fool thing to let them feel I was an approachable human being (I’m perpetually exhausted, so the odds of me saying any damn fool thing are considerably higher this year than when I’ve got a full 6 1/2 hours a night under my belt) but USUALLY I tell this story like this:
12th graders usually get to the point in their literature where they recognize that suddenly sexual themes are, uhm, popping out all over the place. “Why does it all have to lead to sex?” They ask, feeling a little like they’ve been offered their first beer in public. But it’s okay, because I’ve got a good answer to this one.
Literature is about the human experience (I tell them) and the human experience boils down to the four basic human relationships. There’s the filial–mom, dad, sisters, brothers–that sort of thing, the platonic–that’s where you are in middle school with your friends, the divine–your deity of choice, whomever you pray to when you get that pop-quiz and don’t know the answers, and finally, the sexual relationship. This last one is the only relationship we have with age taboos–grown ups (at least in this country) are highly uncomfortable talking about sex with younger people, so, when you encounter it in age-appropriate literature, it seems out of place. (Brave New World? 1984? Hell–MacBeth and Hamlet? If they’re not doing the nasty, they’re talking about why they shouldn’t do the nasty–but I digress.)
“But we KNOW about sex!” They tell me, and I nod. Of course they do. How could they not?
“I know.” I tell them, “But culturally, it’s one of those things that freaks us out. For example, my oldest son. When I was pregnant with the cave troll, the ‘sex talk’ was inevitable, and for the big T, it was a revelation! Oh my god… adults were DOING IT!! So one day, we’re watching a harmless PG comedy, (I think it was Maid to Order–J-Lo, Ralph Fiennes–I’d give it a C- at best) and the ‘lights go down’ and, T says ‘I know what THEY’RE doing–they’re having SEX!’ ‘Yes.’ Says my husband through his teeth, ‘Adults have sex. Your parents have had sex three times that you know of.’ ‘Four!’ Says T–‘Remember I caught you once!’ (Pause for laughter here!) ‘Remember–we’re not talking about that ever again.’ says my beloved mate.
Now the thing is, Mate knows that this is unreasonable–this story is going to be told at weddings, it’s going to be told to grandchildren, it’s going to be told at our funerals after we’ve passed–but we are desperate to make this one relationship off-limits to the young. Your parents have done it to you, and so have your teachers–and so often, the passages alluding to sex have been overlooked or cut from your literature. But you guys are old enough now to read those passages and to discuss them maturely, because the thing is, that after it looks like all roads lead to sex in your literature, you start learning that they don’t just stop there–there is usually a higher destination beyond sex that’s making an important point about the human experience.”
NOw see, even here, it leaps right over the fine line between appropriate into the inappropriate… but in the classroom, for three years at least, it worked.
Now let’s talk about the blog–you may remember that, for a month, I had a student visiting the blog, and I cleaned it up, got it sanitized and tidy, and kept things toned down for the student, and when she stopped visiting I gave a big sigh of relief–giving out my blog address hadn’t been one of my better ideas and I was glad it died down. But during that time, I posted the excerpt from BOUND–I was excited about the excerpt and mentioned it to the kids. It wasn’t particularly risque– it did use swear words, but considering one of their Junior texts is FALLEN ANGELS (which apparently uses the F-word almost as much as I do…) I figured it was no big deal–it wasn’t like any of them visited my blog really anyway.
Well, none of them have visited the blog–I’m not worried about them every visiting the blog–I’m not worried about them seeing anything I’ve written, and I’m certainly not worried about venting under my pen name.
But the skanky heifer I was venting about yesterday and her *ugh* mother, upon hearing my obvious reluctance to change the grade, brought in a complaint about my inappropriateness in the classroom with her cronies, using that story I just cited as an example. The blog was mentioned–for the reason I just gave and no other, and so I changed my address so I could tell my administration that ‘yes–THAT blog has been closed down.’ Could anyone follow me? Well, yeah. But they won’t, because that wasn’t the point, was it? The point was to pressure me and embarrass me, and it worked–sort of.
I e-mailed Mate about it immediately. His response was, “Well–you’ve been waiting for that complaint for years. Maybe they’ll fire you, and you can spend the year on unemployment getting established as a freelancer.” Now for the record? We’re not big fans of unemployment or living off the government, and at one time I loved this job with a pure and undefiled passion and I would like, I think, to renew that emotion and that zeal when there’s a little bit left of me to do so– but as far as supportive goes, it could have been a lot worse.
I am not an…appropriate person. I never have been. I wasn’t joking in my profile when I said I’m terribly weird. I knew that bringing that personality mix into a classroom was a risk–and usually that gamble pays off, because I’ve had students tell me I’ve made a profound difference in their lives. Someone once said about students–especially AP students–‘They’re not just innocent kids. They’re precocious adults. If a group of adults wants to fuck you, they can fuck you, and just like when the action hero is tied down by twenty bad guys and he takes a beating, you can take a beating.’ (Well, I added that last part.) It’s my year to take a beating. If I’m still standing at the end of the year, maybe I was meant to come back.
If I’m not, maybe it’s time that this profession and I part company–there are so many painful, heartsick things about my job right now that I don’t even want to discuss–so many ways you can be hurt when you do what I do for an administration/state/culture that doesn’t give a flying fuck, and maybe, like Green discovers, there comes a time when just fading away is the least painful thing to do. Or maybe, like Green, I can find a way to fight and a reason to stay. I’m not sure which right now.
But thank you all so much–I really appreciate your visiting my new house, and the housewarming gifts made it all worthwhile. I look forward to visiting you guys for the next couple of days–it’s one of my favorite things to do.