Saturday, June 20, 2009

American Itinerant

Posting is light this spring as I am on the road, essentially working itinerantly throughout Austria as a teacher. Speaking of which, on a late night binge not too long ago, I found myself laying into a fellow expat who had made the mistake of criticizing the profession of teaching English in front of me. His point was that it was beneath most creative types, unless is was simply a means to support their art. I hadn’t really thought about just how much teaching means to me until then, and only recently have I understood what a fulfilling profession it is, exclusive of any extra-curricular pursuits.

If you have ever worked in an office, you know that genuine and meaningful human interaction can be scarce. But people don’t typically work in offices to gratify any need for meaningful interaction. They work there for money, prestige, security, a sense of achievement, or, just as often, because they are willing to settle for a safe path. This was certainly the case for me when I worked in book publishing in New York. It is hard to match the feeling of receiving the first copies of a book you worked on, or seeing your name in acknowledgements, but these are rare enjoyments in a life of endless paperwork and corporate politics.

Teaching, on the other hand, is nothing but meaningful interaction. As one who spends a silly amount of time alone in front of a computer screen, the social aspect of teaching is not just gratifying, is sustaining. And it is one of the few jobs that makes demands on the entirety of your personality. You can even come away from classes with new friends, if you are open to that.

There is a long history of writers who make their living as teachers, from Robert Frost to Joyce Carol Oates, and James Joyce, to those that relied on it before they hit the big time like Stephen King, Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling. But even if I should be so lucky to have the most minimal success as a writer, I for one, would not give up classroom teaching. It is too emotionally stabilizing, and there is to much immediate gratification there. The classroom, any classroom, from Budapest to the far reaches of the Alps, feels like home. Teaching is not something to settle for, it is something to aspire to.

As this is the blog for a literary magazine, I am happy to include here a few modern haiku from a class I taught recent week in a Linz art school.

Maybe one day
I will understand the meaning
Of the decisions my Lovers make

—Sonja S.

(Dark) clouds gather fast
A light-elf is born to earth
(It’s) the first snowflake

—Luna R

Sleeping by the sea
Waves wake her up like lovers
In hot summer nights

—Christina S.

When he sings his song
I can’t say if it’s hot or cold
And my heart beats fast

—Teresa H.

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.