The Old Grey Mare, She Ain’t What She Used to Be; Thank Goodness

All this talk about evolution lately and what I’ve been trying to get at is so simple: I’ve changed the “thesis” of this blog a number of times and I’ve finally settled on what I mean to do.

First – this was intended to be a place where I could warn y’all off of some bad experiences. I was experiencing life with some very bad witches and hoped to keep you apprised of the pitfalls.

Second – it tried to be about teaching the practice of Witchcraft.Those shoes didn’t fit – so I branched out to Open Path (which languishes in the months where I have to teach in the classroom).

The reason the fit was so poor is because the shoe was forced on – like Cinderella’s slipper on a substantial -footed step-sister. It’s like this: The Bad Witch *will* teach if it’s called for. And I’m damned good at it. Really effing good. But I’m a researcher at heart. My passion has always been research and writing (not *teaching* research and writing). [1]

You know that saying, “Those who can’t *do*, teach”? (And those who can’t teach, teach Phys Ed.) I call bullshit. That’s an elitist, tenure-based-hierarchical ball of pus that researchers who are not good at teaching like to tell themselves. And each other. And the teachers who hold up the university superstructure that allows them to be researchers.

Teaching is hard. Dang hard. It involves an ability to both do and teach others to do. It’s two skill-sets in one.

Those who can’t teach well, shouldn’t teach at all, in my opinion. Just like those who are not gentle and sympathetic should stay the feck out of medicine and geriatrics. As a teacher, I know lots of teachers. As a parent, I know lots of teachers. Not all teachers are good teachers. Some are just doing it for a paycheck. But some – ah, some – some are fan-flipping-tastic and will change your life. Those are the people who should be teaching.

Wait, I take that back. I am a fan-flipping-tastic teacher who changes students’ lives. But I’m trying to argue that I should not be a teacher.

So – you have to be fan-flipping-tastic and you have to be passionate about teaching and learning.

I used to be both. I’m not anymore. Maybe again someday – just not now.

But that door swings both ways, right? You can’t just be passionate about teaching. You also have to be passionate about learning. But – here’s the rub. In order to be a good teacher, you must also be a good researcher. I mean, you can’t teach what you don’t know – right?

Shite.

Imagine if The Bad Witch were to teach architecture from her gut? It’d be like Jericho every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30-10:45. I guarantee. The structures might look pretty on the outside – and may even be logically formed on the inside; but I wouldn’t want to be there seeking shelter should a stiff wind blow. No solid foundations would be found.

Or even something more intuitive. Imagine if TBW were to teach something aesthetic like “Art Appreciation.”[2] I mean, I know what I like. I know what makes sense to me artistically. I know how to get students to talk about what evokes what in art – I can pull touchy-feely-BS out of my hat for hours and make it sound like law. But – but- but – if I know nothing about the Dadaist movement or about Minimalism, how in the feck am I supposed to teach students about the truth behind Jackson Pollok or Kazimir Malevich’s “Red Square”? Anyone can tell you if they “like” it – can they tell you they “understand” it? That’s real learning. And I have to understand Marx before I can get to Dada. And before I can teach the Avant-garde I have to understand the “stale tradition” to which it is reacting.

Horribly embarrassing side note:

The first research paper I’d ever given at a conference was superb. To this day (almost 25 years, three kids, and two advanced degrees in literature later), I can go back to it and gather bits of fabulousness. It was about the differences in the bite-marks on the necks of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The title of the paper was, “The Displaced Vagina.” I was a fresh undergraduate and making my way through a Gothic lit course (Dracula, btw, is a Victorian novel – just saying). I had no idea who Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, or even deBouvoir were. After the paper, I got kudos all around. But during the Q&A someone asked me if I was going to include the French feminists in my work. (Horror of horrors,) I answered, “It’s a British novel written in the late 19th-Century; why would I include French authors from the mid-20th-Century?” I didn’t even have the good sense to be embarrassed. 

Today when I think about that exchange, I’m mortified. At the time, I didn’t know Irigaray from a hole in the – wait, bad pun.

But the paper itself, the instinct that caused me to connect the literary dots, the historical background, the biographical background, the textual evidence – it was all magnificent. Graceful. Insightful.

For an undergraduate paper.

However, I was poorly prepared to enter into the realm of conferences with its professional professorate – all of whom seem fairly willing to turn their heads and smile sympathetically when a youngon’ (especially someone else’s youngon’) makes a mess on the hotel conference room carpet. But scholarly conferences also have egotistical PhD candidates, angry permanent adjunct-faculty, and “that dude who always has to try to force you to make your work about his most recent project” – you know him. I was simply not ready to play with the big-dogs. I am now. But I wasn’t then.

(I suppose you could just say, “Well, Imma stay the H-E-double-hockey-sticks away from conferences then.” To which I’d have to say, “Really? And miss out on a learning experience?”)

My point in sharing this painful, awkward, undignified experience is just to say – if you have decided to be a teacher, you have to ask yourself, “Do I only have great instincts which make my thesis interesting at an undergraduate level; am I actually out of my league as a scholar?” It’s a hard question. And when we’ve gotten great kudos from those who didn’t expect eminence from the pen of a freshman, it’s a hard pill to swallow that we might not be “all that.” It’s very hard to admit that we might have to put in a little more shadow-work. It’s even harder to admit that, in order to teach Poe and Dark Romanticism (American Gothic) we might have to learn about things we don’t like learning about – like Transcendentalism (and the Harvard Divinity School which spawned it), blech. Especially when we’ve pulled so much lovely intuitive BS out of our hats in the past and we’ve made it sound like law for so long that even we believe we are erudite.  (I mean, it’s easy to fool a Pagan-metaphorical-freshman into thinking we’re knowledgeable. It takes a Pagan-metaphorical-grad student or a Pagan-metaphorical-PhD to call us on our Pagan-metaphorical-“what about the French-school” shortcomings.)

Today, I’m mortified that this little exchange happened. Sure. Would I ever like to ever in a million years show my ass like that in semi-public? Hells-to-the-no.

But I am also able to look back and say, “Dang, I’ve always been pretty intuitive; indeed this field of study is for me.” That’s a good affirmation.  Also, now? Sheezus, I know so much more than I did in the 80s and 90s. And, and, and I realize that there is so much more to learn. It’s magnificent. Looking back at what a squirrel I was then, knowing where I am now, and looking forward to looking back again in a decade or so – knowing even more? Can’t hate on that. Really can’t.[3]

Thank goodness I had good teachers.

So, yeah. Decent teachers have to be even better researchers.

Again, shite.

Teachers – good teachers – have to do it all. And they have to love doing it. For little or no pay, mind you. And no real cultural cache.[4]

And this goes for Pagan teachers of Pagan subjects too. We don’t get off the hook just because there is no system of accreditation for solitary teachers. Right? Right. We have to be both knowledgeable (about our tradition and about traditions aside from our own) and passionate. We can’t skate by on good looks and silver tongues forever (I’ve known a history professor or two to prove it).

In the end, this is all to say that teachers (good teachers who do their research and remain passionate and able to engage students in scholarly discussion) have my ultimate respect. But I can’t do it anymore. I’m tired. I think I may have been doing it for the wrong reasons. (Being told: “You’re good at this, you should do it full time.” Being told: “We need more teachers like you.” Truth of it is, being “good” at teaching, just like being passionate about teaching, is not enough.)

And, to be honest, I’d love to sit a spell in the classroom and be a student for about a minute-and-a-half.

Thirdly, and finally – this blog has come to be a product of real passion: research and writing about Pagan practices, Pagan ethics, and Pagan hermeneutics (especially those that fall squarely in the crosshairs of Paganism and JudoChristianity).

While there are still some bad experiences with some bad witches, and I will still keep you apprised of the pitfalls, and while there will be plenty of teaching and learning moments along the way, I want to keep solid scholarship as the forefront of my objective.

Hope you’re all still in for the ride.

You may notice a few of my posts migrating over to Open Path from time to time, though I may never get to it. I’ll leave a bread-trail.

And who’s to say that this won’t take a fourth turn? I’m actually thinking about adding a page on “Introspections” for anyone voyeuristic enough to read over my current hermitlike state and the permutations of my shadow-work (those appropriate to publish). Maybe. We’ll call it “The Bad Laundry” or something irreverent.

Sorry if this came across as melancholy. I’m not downhearted, I’m simply shocked at my own relief. Looking back on the Seven of Cups, I had too much on my plate to enjoy.

Less horrible sidenote: My husband recently went to China where, as I understand it, there is a cultural practice that says: “If it’s been offered to you, you are obliged to take it.” He says mealtimes complete with non-stop drinking and smoking were so overly-indulgent that he dreaded them. It’s like that. Too much of a good thing is often just too much.

I’m learning to say no to some of the things I’m offered so that I can concentrate on the things that really get my blood pumping. Like research writing. This time Pagani style! (Wow, there’s a seeming linguistic oxymoron.) I’m paring back. Making choices instead of having choices thrust upon me. I’m stepping back and smelling the flowers – the ones I planted but never got to enjoy. I’m going to have my cheesecake and I’m going to eat it too, goshdarnit.

I have a woodshop full of wood just begging to be carved. I have a sewing-room full of fabric to be sewn into fabulousness – and a commercial

My last oil project (2004); I never really finished.

grade serger in my shopping cart that I might just purchase after all. I even bought new sable brushes and paint. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – oil, not the instant gratification of acrylic. Not this year. This year I’m going to Skype with my brilliantly talented sister (whose work is at LakeMuse.com, just saying) and go toe-to-toe painting and chicken farming. I’m going to say yes to that plastic index card box full of ideas that I intended to get to “someday.” I’m going to say “no” to the (third) job offer I was given. I’m going to say “no” to the (two) TV projects I was asked to join. Sounds like tons of fun, but I can’t carry a ton right now. (I can make a recommendation for a substitute, right?) I’m going to teach my son to cook jambalaya. And I’m taking my daughter shopping for a prom dress.

But I’m keeping my maid.

Thanks for listening to my prattle. I’ll be more on-task next time. Just needed to vent.

BB & 93,

TBW


[1] As a matter of fact, in my secular work, though (due to bureaucratic university nonsense) I would have had to do it in 2013, I have opted to pace myself back to teaching “part time” (a year early) so I can work on all of my non-teaching projects. I’ve never felt such a relief.

[2] Lahws, the reason Mona Lisa Smile is such a good movie about teaching (if nothing else) is because Julia Roberts’ character both loves teaching and is very well informed on her subject. Sure, she asks her students to figure it out on their own, but at least she knows where she’s aiming.

[3] ‘Less’n you’re just lookin’ for somethin’ to hate on.

[4] Don’t get me wrong, some teachers derive a great deal of validation by being king/queen of their classroom realm. And that’s valid.

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