Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pathos and bathos all over again: Never take advice from your students.



The beautiful woman in her paiseley dress wanted to know why I persisted as a teacher of writing.

"Why are you wasting your time at this," Eleanor Gallagher wanted to know. "You should be writing, not teaching.

"You are a writer. .

"And all you do is teach.

"People are counting on you. You have to go out and do something really fine. Stay out of classrooms.

"If you can't make it, none of us can make it."


This was more than just a challenge.

This was like me poised at my stake. Saint Sebastian, about to be executed by archers.

There is a school that says all creative wriing instructors are frauds and should be shot. Better with arrows. St. Sebastian. More pain.

I don't know how many times I had taken Eleanor Gallagher's advice.

And proved that I could do it, only to have to go out and prove it again.

Eleanor kept taking my course, over and over again, as had many others over the years.

I suppose my support group of perennial students spoiled me.

After the challenge from Eleanor Gallaher, I won my own column in Topic Magazine in these parts, and was soon writing essays for the Toronto Sun. My novel, The Black Icon, began to be reviewed in Toronto.

I began to have groupies, but never Eleanor Gallagher.She was my lady. My lady challenging the knight. This was courtly love.

Eleanor Gallagher wanted some proof from me that I was worthy..

If I could not produce something fine-- and no student ever surpassed a teaching master in York Region--then
I might as well give up both teaching and writing and go back to the ways of my father, master carpenter, probably a more honest trade in the first place.

"You must go out and write another novel, Ivan.

"Not just a fragment, like last time.

"The real thing."

I don't know why I had allowed a student to be a guide for me.
Maybe she had taken the words right out of my mouth.
Every teacher feels at some point in his/her life that she's a fraud. I was beginning to feel like a fraud.

I had to do a second novel.

Well, I did.

Eleanor Gallagher, who by this time must surely be a senior, would have been proud of me.

But the cost, the cost.

Loss of home. Loss of job. Loss of spouse. Loss of mind.
Loss, loss, loss
And yet enough love within the loss to almost make it worthwhile.
And proving to Eleanor Gallagher that I was not entirely a bullshitter.

And yet Ozymandias.

Shattered statue in the desert. Look how great I am.

Could this be what Eleanor wanted?

Do not the roads to hell start with good intentions?

There was a time when life was simpler, more authentic.


Young man on the make, with beautiful young wife, driving to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to write the great Canadian novel.

What was ultimately produced was a fragment, the story of my mother and father.And maybe that may have been enough.

Why did you torment me, Eleanor Gallagher?

The Black Icon is what got me the teaching job in the first place, that and some sheepskin.

Okay. I had long ago quit the teaching job.
The proof had to be in the pudding.
Well, after an eternity, the book she is writ.
And now where she goes, nobody knows.

Damn. Who was the master and who the apprentice.
Heaven forbid that the apprentice had sent the master down the well.

Well, someone has finally sent down a bucket.

I think I'm finally out of the well. The book is writ. And I should like to say I'm glad.
Or maybe the Man from Glad.

Mahybe I'm scaring the kids. "Mom!"

##

12 comments:

the walking man said...

If I read this correctly some congratulations are in order.

Congratulations.

I never minded stepping out on limbs that always appeared as if they would not hold my weight. Yet I always minded those few moments when the ground and I met and I could not catch my breath.

A teacher will teach whether or not he has the leather patches on his elbow or not, a learner will learn whether he has the doe eyed innocent look or not.

That is the nature of the beast.

benjibopper said...

the book is writ?! BIG congrats. can you give us a taste?

Mona said...

arey! what a moron that Eleneaor whoever is!

Doesn't she know that the books and the teacher are doing the same thing?

They both teach.

The only difference being that book may pay, but the teaching surely pays!

anyway I am glad you wrote the book. But cast away that moron...she doesn't deserve your ...er...torture...or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mark.

I have had some wonderful teaches myself, many of them published novelists.

ivan said...

Benji,

If all works out, I will send you the entire book.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Mona,

Thanks for the encouragement.

It is possible that the lady was a teacher herself and was monitoring me, picking up stuff. These things happen in academe.

Midnight said...

I have read, that the teacher gains more from the student, than the student from the teacher ; figments of past memories of reading, perhaps, or Zen words of wisdom. Probably both.

But I agree ; hell hath no inspiration, like a Woman adorned.

ivan said...

Midnight: That is apposite.

My department head, who probably had a gay streak, had said to me, Ivan you are anima-haunted.
Well, haunted by some women anyway.
A poet's true lady friend will teach him how to use his left hand. But one has left me using both hands.
Peter's Pretty Pass Syndrome:
My, things have come to a pretty pass!

benjibopper said...

wooooo!

ivan said...

Indeed.

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