dear reader

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.

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8 thoughts on “dear reader

  1. I think it would come as a relief to discover the flaws in a hero. My love and admiration only deepens when I learn that someone is mortal. If we wish to believe we move among Saints, my advice is to not dig too deep. Or move to New Orleans to be near their NFL team. Take your choice ’cause I don’t really give a shit.

  2. The joy that you get from teaching shines right through all of your writing, at least for me.

    Frustration with the processes of life is inevitable. Honesty about that frustration is a rare and precious commodity, indeed. Thank you for the honesty, for the writing, for the sharing.

  3. Fuck ’em. Or, as we used to say when I was in college, ‘Joke ’em if they can’t take a fuck.’. Or maybe it was the other way ’round…

    You are a good man, Adam Johnston. I look up to you, at least in part because you have the guts to be completely honest and forthright here. It helps me know you better. Please don’t let this narrow definition of goodness have any more play in your mind than you’ve given it here. You are a good man, Adam Johnston. Anyone who says different is missing the ENTIRE point.

  4. Thanks, one and all, for the encouragement, as well as the irreverence. I can’t match up to the mouth of the native of New Jersey.

    The additional thing that really strikes me in all this is not only that I am misinterpreted, but that the anonymity of the note makes is so that I have to wonder if this thinking is sourced from any of lots of different students that I’ve been close to, have worked side by side with, and have admired, including those I’ve written about really favorably here, e.g., https://zerothdraft.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/on-students/. (But I can’t blame not signing the note — students don’t have the privilege to feel that kind of security.) The handwriting is familiar in a way that it could be from any class from any semester, so it would be too easy to misjudge, reflexively, any of hundreds of students. So I’m trying to think about this and forget about it all at the same time.

  5. ¿Cuál chucha es el problema del carajo?

    Honesty, vulnerability and exhuberance are much more valuable to me than artifice, gilding and euphemisms. That’s why I enjoy reading your blog so much; because what you think and feel is in display, authentic and gutsy and unvarnished.

    You don’t have to clarify who you are. I already know that you’re among my most admired, cherished and exemplary friends.

    I think that being too nice and proper at all times makes someone a fuckingly boring wussy-saint. Yawn.

    Please, keep using vulgarities. I’m always on the lookout to learn more of these and add them to my bilingual sewer bomb collection.

  6. I know I don’t need to write a response here, as I have already talked to you a lot about this at home, but I still feel compelled to say something in this space.

    I like to think I know you better than anyone. We’ve known each other for 19 years and been married for 14 (wow!). Although you are a marvelous teacher, you are a better friend, husband and father. You are not perfect. None of us are, but thank God for that.

    For this student to express any kind of disappointment in your character appalls and shocks me. While I am un-nerved that a student happened upon this blog, I don’t think this student is in any position to judge you based on this blog. I don’t think there’s anything here to be ashamed of. Please don’t doubt yourself for one more minute.

    You have a depth of character that reaches far beyond what your students encounter. And that’s a good thing. Nothing about you as a teacher is false, but that is not all you are.

    You are intelligent and thoughtful, and you write beautifully and honestly. When you write about our girls, you make me weep.

    I am proud to be such a big part of your life. Don’t stop writing.

  7. Keep writing.
    I have known you for a while and I love that you can be so honest about yourself and your feelings through words. Certainly you were not encouraged or taught to do this growing up. I am so very happy that you have this outlet.
    I have always been proud to have you as my big brother – and I think it is only appropriate to use Mom’s favorite swear word 21 times. Shit – she used it at least that many times on a good day.

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