Planting a Flag

I always seem to run into my friend Joe at the coffeeshops near where we live. On a couple of occasions, I’ve encountered him twice – at two different places – on the same day.

Joe is an educator, a mathematician, a genius, and a provocateur. I’ve lost track of how many degrees he has, and I think he’s working on one or two more. We’ve known each other since I took my current job. He has since moved on to another gig, one more in line with his strengths and with a much more appreciative audience.

Our conversations almost always start out the same way. “Are you stalking me?” I joke.

“Are you stalking me?” he jokes back.

“I can leave…” I joke, and shrug my coat back on.

“No, no… I was just finishing an article… sit,” he replies. “I actually just read this [article][book][essay] that I think you would really like…”

…and a half-hour later, I still have no coffee, but I do have three or four more items on my reading list and a few more things on my mind.

It’s spring break, so I’ve run into Joe just about daily.  Yesterday, he offered me some feedback on my blog and social media feeds.

I commented that the experience of working with editors was new for me, and that I’ve been trying to figure out my own voice – if I even have one.

“I feel like you’re always trying to teach,” he noted. “Maybe if you spoke in your own voice… instead of your teacher voice.”

“I am not,” I mumbled, a little indignantly. What teacher voice?

“Alright. It’s just something I’ve noticed.”

I’m not teaching anyone a thing in this post – just sharing something about myself. Not quite Buzz Bissinger style – but a little more than I usually share personally, I suppose. Humor me.

I don’t handle down time well. Having a week off might be a gift for some, but there’s a part of me that dreads the school break. For one thing, I’m not nearly as self-motivated as I’d like to be. The idea of waking up each morning to a self-defined schedule makes my stomach do flip-flops. If I didn’t have horses to feed and a dog to walk each morning, I’m not so sure I’d make it out from under the blankets.

And then there’s the matter of creating. It’s become a habit for me to spend time in the studio each day – but on breaks, I risk scrutiny and criticism if I go to the studio – which, for now, is also my workplace. “Did you spend the whole break at work?” my colleagues ask, intoning worry and skepticism. Occasionally I’ve been asked not to use the studio – except, of course, when I’m needed to fire kilns. It’s less complicated to just take the time off – yet, there’s a part of me that feels a little hollow when I don’t create. As I write this, there is no glaze or clay under my nails, and I feel a little… empty. Like I don’t know where the next ideas will come from, when it’s time to enact them. Like I haven’t contributed much to the world today.

Call it a compulsion to create. But life has found me in worse habits, I suppose.

So I suppose this is why Joe’s comment unnerved me a little. Have I become a compulsive teacher? Merely typing that made me cringe, but I’m afraid that some of the hollowness I feel this week is because, like creating, teaching has knotted itself around my person – and I’m not sure I’m okay with it.

This is not to degrade the profession of teaching in any way. Talk with me in person for about ten minutes and you’ll know that I approach education with fascination, passion, indignation at times – and always respect. But as for me as a teacher – truly, I’m not so sure I have that much to teach. I stumble into the profession, struggle daily with the basics, make messes (literal and physical) all the time, and now I’m spurting out blather on blogs and feeds? What in the name of anything qualifies me to even seem like a teacher, to someone like Joe – or to whomever else has noticed a similar trend in what I share with the world?

Sheesh. My apologies.

Here’s something else, since I’m in a tell-all-and-divide-it-with-section-breaks mode.

A couple of months before she passed away, I sat outside the laundromat one cold Saturday morning, talking with my grandma. Gram was always a bit of a know-it-all, but she earned the title. I can count on less than five ringless fingers the number of times this four-foot-nine pistol was wrong about anything. So as cancer quickly rampaged her body, her wisdom turned into treasures that I hoped would sustain me after she was gone.

“Kate,” she said, “I’m really glad you’re teaching, and I’m glad that you seem to enjoy it.” She paused. “But you know what I always thought you would be? A writer.”

I remember the steam of my breath rising as I waited for her to explain.

She didn’t. The next story was about her indignation at something going on in the church. But her pronouncement has nagged at me ever since.

All I needed was something else to complicate the goal of finding one thing I could actually do in this world.

So here’s the thing. At times – okay, maybe all the time – I feel underqualified for just about everything I do. I might have an expensive degree – but I’m not really qualified to teach. I might love making cups – but I’m not really qualified to create. And I might have a laptop in front of me, or a notebook in my pocket, but as for writing – it scares the hell out of me, every time I start.

With this post, I plant my flag of incompetence on this moon. The only thing I have to “teach” anyone who stumbles across something I’ve written is that you should forgive my compulsion to teach share. I’m just fumbling along – trying to figure out whether I have a voice and whether it matters.

As for Joe – well, it takes one to know one. And if ‘always trying to teach’ lands me in the circles of people like you – maybe it’s not such a bad place to be.

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