This week I have been waking up at 5:15 every morning to be behind the wheel of my Honda Pilot by 6, so that I can be at Yale by 8 to get ready to teach my morning class at 9 a.m. I’m wiped out and my brain’s fuzzy, but it’s Thursday and this week is almost over.
I do love teaching, but I love it only if I can do it intensely for a short time, whether it’s writing workshops in Missouri or an investment analysis class at Yale. I have taught semester-long courses, and I end up throwing myself into them too, but I know I also don’t do much writing, or much of anything else for that matter, because I think students deserve a great experience in my class. It’s what I owe them as a teacher. So I teach, but only in short bursts, and then I return to my life.
What has kept me going, 81.5 miles from New York to New Haven in the morning, and 82 miles back to Manhattan in the late afternoon, besides hearing how well Sonia Sotomayor has handled the endangered, antsy white men of the Senate Judiciary Committee, besides my gulps of java, besides NPR, 1010 WINS, CBS News Radio, besides the occasional deer a few feet from the asphalt of the claustrophobic yet verdant Merritt Parkway, has been the speed of the car itself. That is, my going has kept me going.
I have pondered this phenomenon in my writing as well. I begin a story, and at a certain moment, which could be an early draft, the story itself begs to be told the right way, the story demands that I finish it, a certain movement has been created, by me, and it must be finished. Or else, what? I’m not really quite sure. Or else I don’t live up to what I expected of myself or the story, or else I don’t live up to what I wanted in my brain. Or else I created something, but only half-created it, so that it doesn’t have a life of its own. When something I started is not completed, the story, the task, and I are not fulfilled.
One lesson I have learned about myself is that I must be careful what I start. If I start the drive to New Haven, I will finish it. If I commit myself to teaching this class, then I must finish it. If I create characters in a novel and they reach a point where they are speaking to me on the page, but in garbled language and confusing situations, speaking yet not being heard clearly, then I must finish this story. I must rewrite it. I must make it so that these proto life-forms can reach their fruition. When these characters can be heard, somehow, in them, I will be heard too. ‘Heard’ does not mean what the characters are saying is ‘obvious.’ What ‘heard’ means is that the characters are true to themselves. The best characters for me say many things to different readers.
I perhaps say many different things to many different readers with this blog. I am not trying to be obscure; I am just trying to be real. Why we extol the personal experience of Alito as a judge, yet demand Sotomayor distance herself from her personal experience as a judge, why movies nowadays must always have good endings, why politicians never admit mistakes and change their policies publicly, and why news reporters believe pointing out glib contradictions is the epitome of free expression, and not the death of it, I don’t know. I don’t know these things; they don’t seem real to me. I am just driving to New Haven every day and watching the road. That’s real enough for me.