Friday, September 28, 2007
The First Crack of Tao
Fall equinox sounds like something you might get in Tijuana, and I've certainly had a fall or two, the visits to the doctor, the waiting for the results, the feeling of "Ah, Faustus, now hast thou a bare hour to live. And then thou shalt be damned perpetually."
And the feeling, out of Marlowe, "Stand still ye ever-moving spheres of heaven, that time may cease." All this in the course of a full moon and right on the date of the Fall Equinox.
And certainly it is the sun "standing still", twelve hours of daylight, twelve of night and one is no closer to redemption or piety.
The first thing I wanted to do after being told I have neither AIDS nor cancer, was to have a drink and a smoke. And I did. In spades.
Now I'm really sick.
Doom and gloom.
Tossed the I-Ching. It said "remorse." "You have dipped your tail into the water.
" Nothing will further."
This is not good
The Fall Equinox and its inexplicable depression.
We tend, like trees, to grow around the barbed wire of the sore spots in our lives.
Today's depression harkened back to another time, to where the problem was unresolved; the tree had to grow around it.
Oh how much fun it had been to have been the cock of the walk, Seneca's prime teacher, the "Creative One", to be talking to the Dean and everybody around the campus knowing who the really important guy was.
No campus head games with this guy. He was in print every week and 67,000 people knew about it every week and the "Creative One" felt so good, he just wanted to jump up and grab his own tail.
And then, suddenly, inexplicably, "black dog."
Came all of a sudden in the course of a full moon.
And it would not go away.
Stopped. Can't go another mile.
Stumbling around the house with your beautiful children oblivious to your condition, with your wife wondering what was wrong, a quarter million in the bank, a sexy teaching job and the man is depressed.
Fall equinox. The fall. Not for nothing did I teach Camus.
I was actually teaching communications to a new class of future museum curators, this depressing enough, but I learned they already had their B.A.s, and had, for some reason (as B.A.'s?) found themselves unemployable. And here they were at a place I'd anagrammed in a joke to call "Senescent Collage of Applied Arse and Irrelevancy" --in a hope of learning something practical, like journalism.
Great. But they wouldn't do the work. Would not hand in their assignments.
Not wanting to totally destroy work in their programme, I gave each one of them a "Did not attend" or "Did not write", where in actual fact they certainly would not attend half the time, and they ceratinly would not write.
You couldn't give a student an outright F. Hurt his or her feelings.
I was not used to a crowd like this. "I already have my B.A. and there isn't much you can teach me at the undergraduate level"
Where did they get their degrees and how could they graduate in anything with an attitude like that?
I learned shortly afterwards that my new class really comprised a cult. They moved from college to college in a group, their academic paper was worthless and this time around they had stumbled into the hardest course at Seneca College--mine, for you had to produce in my class and substandard, unpublishable work just would not do. My course was practical, that is to say, "we'll get you a job in the media."
But to not produce, not to write write-- sorry Dwight!
Imagine a magazine editor or TV director with a staff that kept yawning and refusing to produce.
Where did Seneca find these people?
I learned that the course head had personally recruited them all in to pad enrolment in his course.
Where did he go to get them? The Salvation Army?
These were not students. These were bums.
I had been on a trimester. The course I taught had been in summer. It was September now, and after pretty well failing this bunch of communal farmers and stoners and, as it turned out, their course head too (he was fired), I was pretty well burned out.
I was exhausted and depressed. "You shouldn't have been there," said a friend. "Your discipline is creative writing and this bunch consited of rejects from 'The Summer of Love.'"
First crack of realization.
The community college approach in local learning. Failed totally in life? We'll reward you with an education.
Failing people did not go with my temperament. I had been something of a star at the college and now felt somehow like a red dwarf.
Ah, the first real test of a teacher. To face a hostile class and not flinch or falter.
I had gone through it, but the semester had left me burned out.
"You did not cave in. Most teachers faced with a cult like his would quit. It's a good thing we had somebody feisty in the deparment. You did not quit." The Dean speaking and assuring me there was lots of work around.
But now I was depressed and wanted to quit.
In fact, I did "quit", asked for a sabbatical and got it.
But the depression would not go away.
Life was gray, gray, gray.
I stayed that way for a year. Could not write. Lost the selfconfidence to teach. Sort of like William Burroughs staring at his big toe.
One day I sat down and wrote something resembling a newspaper article.
The article resulted in another regular column for me.
"I think I can, I think I can."
Inexplicably, my wife came into a million dollars. An inheritance.
There was certainly nothing wrong with me that a million dollars could'n't fix. Made short work of the depression.
Hey, back into the classroom, smelling of success and money.
There is a tao to all this, but I don't think it is the tao of Ivan.