This morning, under my office door, I found one of the more surprising and important notes I can remember ever seeing on my floor. It was a handwritten note from a student about this blog. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m a little stunned, first of all, that there could be a student out there reading this. I sometimes find out the hard way that I have a bigger public profile than I’m aware of. I’m also embarrassed. Some of this writing is really terrible. Mostly, though, I was sad and shocked that maybe someone interpreted me differently than who I think I am.
This entry might sound like a response or maybe an apology or perhaps an excuse to the writer of that note. The truth is, it’s not meant to be any of those things. This is meant to be a clarification of who I am.
First, reader, I’m sorry that you were offended by some offensive language that I use here sometimes. It’s true that I could have said some things differently, but some of what is here is a reaction and display of the limited ways I have to express myself. Without trying to excuse myself, the language that sometimes surfaces inside my head really isn’t an attempt to be vulgar so much as it’s a result of the language I’ve heard much of my life. It’s cheap to blame my mother, but . . . well, it’s true. I grew up around loggers. And in college, well, there’s a whole other world. It’s a poor excuse, but there are a few German words and French phrases that pop into my head for similar reasons. But, yes, you’re still right. As you said, I “could have stated [my] ideas in perhaps ten different ways” besides vulgarities.
I have even greater remorse, though, in what I have done to your impression of me. I’m grateful that you thought so well of me as a professor and educator, and I’m horrified that you “wonder if part of [me] just pretends to be nice and will say anything that will make [me] popular or charismatic,” and that you “wonder what kind of person” I really am. That’s a good question, actually. And here’s the truth:
I am the very best person I know how to be when I’m teaching and when I’m working with students. I think that the person I am when I’m with my children is, on most days, second. It’s a really close second, but still, it’s too bad. I would jump in front of a bus for my children, but I give my soul to teaching, and my family has suffered because of it. Sure, if I have to choose between grading and reading a story to my girls, the story wins every time. But when you’ve seen me in class, that’s not only me and my soul and my passion, that’s the very best I know how to be. It’s honest, but it also takes a huge amount of effort. My writing is lazy, undisciplined and usually (clearly) not very good, especially on the first take. It’s also a lot of other things, including therapy, reflection, and practice. And sometimes it’s a good look into my inadequacies as a writer and as a person. But please believe me, the last thing I’d ever want a student to think of me is that I am not genuine in my presence as a teacher.
In desperation and self-reflection, I started to wonder just how much I was swearing here, and I did a search for “the ‘s’ word” as my former student pegged me on. For that, in this blog, I found 21 entries that included the profanity. Quite a few — a clear implication that I could do better. I also searched for a couple of other words and counted their entries, though:
- references to “love” — 56 entries
- references to “teach” — 128 entries
Clearly, there could be a lot less “sh_t” in my writing (on so many levels), and there could be a bit more love. I have room to improve. But I’m working on it. And, once in a while, I think I write something that even makes me cry or makes me re-think who I am and what I’m here for. And so I keep writing.