“…I think of how much beginnings have to do with freedom, how much disruption has to do with consciousness and the awareness of possibility that has so much to do with teaching other human beings. And I think that if I and other teachers truly want to provoke our students to break through the limits of the conventional and the taken for granted, we ourselves have to experience breaks with all that has been established in our own lives; we have to keep arousing ourselves to begin again. ”
(Maxine Greene p.109 Releasing the Imagination)
I’ve written here before about struggling for balance between tangible creative output in the form of art: short stories and now photos and multimedia narrative, and tacit outcomes through raising daughters and mentoring young writers in the college writing classroom and now rural-community storytelling projects. I’ve written about how I firmly believe that teachers must be practitioners of what they teach, and yet for years, the best I could do on that score in my creative writing classes was to keep a writing notebook with bits and pieces of conversations, character sketches and snatches of scenes. Later on I did the same with image/text and digital-story fragments and shards. Nothing complete, though. Nothing finished, very little put out into the world except through the personal space of my blogs. Academic thinking/writing/presenting, on the other hand, was easy to do from inside the walls, and is much more challenging now. I am sloughing off my academic self for someone who works in the unpredictable, shifting spaces of local community and personal creativity, and some days I’m just plain old nowhere.
I envied colleagues who went on publishing creative works through those years of teaching and child-rearing–I just couldn’t sort out how they did it all. (How do they do it?) I tried, believe me, but failed. I’m slow. I wrote a novel during the year I spent on sabbatical in Ireland, but at the end of the year, the demands of full-time teaching and parenting re-focused my creative energies and the novel slipped under. I felt acutely what an old Irish farmer said to me one time during my daily run past his farm: “We’re putting our energies to different ends.” Writing a novel felt incredibly self-indulgent, whereas helping students stay connected with their imaginations felt significant and way more than I could ever do on a page. How silly to be running just to run, to stay in shape, but not actually to go anywhere that needed to be got to. (Sometimes it’s how I feel about hopping on my bike in the middle of the day just to ride–how privileged–versus commuting on it or using it as part of my livelihood.)
And so, I turned my classrooms into disruptive creative studio spaces. We were going to do something, go somewhere, explore, experiment, create against the grain, to put our ideas into contact zones, to adopt a practice, to commit to that practice. As my students went on to pursue creative lives that included writing, teaching, mentoring, activism, I told myself that whatever loss I felt at not being in full touch with my own writing was more than made up for by the magic going on in class.
But now, a year out of the classroom, I feel new and shiny in my creative skin, somewhere between tacit and tangible creativity, between searching for form and having to conform to forms already given, between mentoring and practicing. I’ve had photos accepted in a show and now one (“Heading Home” just above) in an online annex to another show; I’m deep into short stories again, even experimenting with sharing drafts on bgexperiments–I’d love to have your feedback) while writing a white paper on storytelling and participatory planning, and continuing my work with rural communities and storytelling. I watch Laura working on a book, Jen writing like crazy, Keira dreaming up learning parties–all women who left the higher ed scene; all mothers; all still sharing knowledge, connecting, mentoring, teaching, but just look at them finding deep pleasure in their creativity.
Sure none of us is raking in the dough. And it’s easier for me as I’m a bit older than they are, with children in college and beyond. I don’t have the same pressures of saving up for tuition, much less paying the rent or mortgage. When I was in that position, I was teaching. I didn’t have the courage and will that they do. They are my heroes.
So maybe I still don’t have the mix down, and I’ll continue to struggle with the balance, but being in this disruptive space sure feels good.