1. Do you see yourself still doing this sort of teaching for several more years? If not, what? (“I don’t really know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.)
I do see myself doing this sort of teaching for several more years. That might be five, it might be two, it might be twenty.
For them what don’t know, I teach ancient and medieval history to middle schoolers and ninth graders. This is a nice shorthand way of saying that I teach everything. I tend to work a little history of science and mathematics in with weird religions, peculiar customs, writing and editing practice, origami, mythology, archaeology, fencing, and modern politics vs. ancient politics.
The life quite suits me in some ways. I get up early, pretend to write for a bit, and then shower, shave and get dressed. I wake my dormitory at 6:45, have breakfast with the boys at 7:00, teach from 8 until 2 every day. I coach a sport (fencing right now — I get to have naked steel in my hand every day for three months!) every afternoon. I get to write a little in the evenings, after I correct papers (I tend not to spend lots of time on correcting papers. I work to find one thing wrong in each paper, and try to correct that one fault on a given day. It’s not that I don’t pity those who have to teach them later on, but a lot on my kids don’t get “their”, “there” and “they’re”right on a regular basis — so that’s the stuff I work on). There’s a lot of time to build my own ideas about stuff, and lots of time to bounce ideas off of other people, and there’s lots of thinking time.
And then there’s a teacher’s three favorite words:June, July, and August.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of work. So it’s possible that at some point, I’m going to want to move on and do something else. I think if they tried to give me a ninth grade dormitory again, for example, I’d think about leaving.
2. Some people do a lot of pre-writing in their head and then when they sit down at desk or keyboard, the words flow readily. Others spend a lot of their writing time not actually writing. Which are you? If it varies, do you notice any particular correlations with general state of mind, energy, etc.?
I do both. It often happens that I sit down at the computer, and I know the next passage that’s going to come out of my head and flow onto the computer screen, or I sit down and I write with a pen the next thing I need to write. Sometimes it’s a poem; of late it’s been the Orien journals stuff. Orien I’ve been workng on in some form for the better part of four years, and the world gets richer and richer each time I pick up my pen or sit at the keyboard.
It also happens that I’m sometimes doing something completely unrelated to writing, and I’m suddenly in writing space. Better yet, I call it imagination space. I’ll be looking for a book in a library, and suddenly I’m an X-Files-type researcher, or the linguist guy from Stargate. I get into that mindset for a moment, quite naturally. I’ll be hiking in the woods around here, and suddenly I’m an Orienese black cloak on a mountain path to a backwater village where I’m to find my successor. Once, I found a silver ring on a street corner, and, putting it on, discovered I’d put on Narya, one of Tolkien’s elven rings.
I’m a junkie for these kinds of experiences, but I don’t seem to be able to trigger them consciously. They leap on me with a suddenness, and I just have to ride it for a few minutes, sometimes as much as an hour. In any case, I find that one such fugue moment can generate thirty or forty pages of writing. IF — and this is a big if — IF I can sit down and write undisturbed for several hours or days after the experience.
I’ve always been able to do this. My cousins noticed that I did this frequently in childhood, and they were always willing to join in my imagination games. Now it’s a little harder to do, and there’s also an adult/dark side or even occult side to this which I don’t really want to talk about here.
3. Your work at weight loss and fitness has been one of the major encouragements to me to work on my well-being. Based on where you are now, what would you have done differently? What’s proven most significant in your progress?
The answer has two parts:
A. I’d use the school gym every other day in winter. Muscle burns sugar faster than fat; by building more muscle, I could increase the speed of my metabolism. It would be a good replacement for walking, which I was doing every day this fall. By asking the question, you’ve inspired me. I’ll go to the gym tomorrow.
B. I wouldn’t have cheated on the diet part during Christmas and New Year’s. I managed to reach the weight of 248 on Christmas Day, and then I blew the diet on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I’ve had a lot of trouble getting back on the horse, and my weight is back up to 260. I suspect that part of it is the weather; It’s cold and nasty and I’m not getting my daily walk in.
The most significant thing has been eliminating a lot of high-purity high-refined sugar. I stopped having candies and chocolate and ice cream and dropped 20 pounds almost at once. Of course, that was back in July, but still.
4. What has it got in its pocketses? (If you’re not wearing anything with pockets right now, what was in its pocketses?)
Let’s see… In my right hand pocket is a little moleskine book, the kind with squared pages and a pocket in the back. It contains one of my current writing projects, Book of Days, which is a haiku-a-day for a year. My left-hand pocket contains a wallet-on-a-chain attached to my belt. During the day, I wore a sportcoat-type jacket, and in the left-hand pocket of that is a leather-cover book with a wrap-around leather tie ($35 at borders) that contains only sonnets; there are eight books like it in my finished journals shelf; each finished book contains 284 sonnets. This is book #9. The other pocket contains a fountain pen with a titanium steel nib. It’s a beautiful pen, but the nib is horrific — it’s not conforming to my hand very well (titanium steel… DUH!). It was a gift from a student who broke my old pen. I’m getting myself a Waterman fine point fountain pen as soon as I can afford one again, and find a seller.
5. Close your eyes (when you’re done reading this question) and stretch your hands out straight to each side. Let them fall slowly, with a little back and forth motion. What does each hand strike first? Tell me about those things.
My right hand touches a book on the corner of my desk: Clive Bartlett, English Longbowman, 1330-1515, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1995. It’s a great little book. My favorite illustration is plates F-G, which is a visual representation of the equipment of a household archer on campaign. Swords, bucklers, two bows, arrows, quiver, hose, canteen, boots, shoes, pen case, rosary, soap, sponge, towel, shaving kit, flint, tinder, candles, gloves and more. It’s really cool.
My left hand touches my bookshelf first, and then lands on top of my scanner. I made 600 slides of photographs from my artbook collection of ancient world stuff to show in class. ANd just when my collection seemed barely adequate for teaching ancient art history — the school’s last working slide projector broke, and they decided not to replace it. So at the moment, I’m stuck without one. Blast. So I bought a scanner, and I’m in the process of scanning my slides into my computer. Then I discovered I didn’t have enough memory on my computer to store the images, and didn’t have the right software to project the images from my computer to a screen in the classroom. So I bought a new laptop to handle handle the projector and the images, and it turns out that the software to run the scanner won’t work with OSX. So I’m working on that. In my copious free time.
The bookshelf is kind of hard to describe. It’s wood, about six and a half feet high, and running maybe fifteen feet along the wall. It’s full. No, it’s not full. It’s overflowing. My mom says I need to get rid of books. Every year, I give the school four or five boxes of books, and dedicate them to students interested in the relevant subjects. So one student got his name in a book on origami, another on Japan, another on Lewis Carroll, another on weather… It’s one of the ways I try to improve our collection. From time to time the Librarian comes to me and says she’s deacquisitioning one of my books, and I usually ask for it back. The books aren’t in any particular order — my mom calls it “alphabetically arranged by color and height.” There are nine shelves dedicated to paperbacks, and six shelves of ‘artbooks’ — most of which were gifts, or bought on sale at Borders or Barnes & Noble, and maybe three and a half shelves of RPG books.
Thanks for the questions!
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