New Year Reflection & Resolution, Part I: Academia

The web-world is filled with New Year's Resolutions as well as reflections on the past year, and I might as well put forth my own contribution to this electronic, public Literature of Good Intentions, since I'm going to be doing it anyway, whether it's public or private, and perhaps other people will find my own list helpful/interesting, as I find the lists of others helpful/interesting.

2012 was a relatively good year overall. I feel more confident about my teaching than I've ever felt, but I've loathed the other parts of being part of academia this year -- particularly the politics of department and administration, and to some extent, union, and I find the whole business draining and soul-sucking and I don't think I'm going to engage in any of that nonsense much more. If I can help it. I probably CAN'T help it, by virtue of my nature and by virtue of the nature of the job, but if I can keep "STAY OUT OF IT" ringing inside my cavernous head whenever work conversations or department meetings veer into the realms of Messily Nonsensical/Ridiculously Nonproductive/Grossly Outside My Area of Expertise, than I shall operate at least 90% more efficiently in my job -- which is, lest I forget, that of Educator, not Administrator. 

I've been thinking a lot about Cormac McCarthy and No Country for Old Men over the past few weeks, since I teach it in my Introduction to Literature course and it's the text and the note on which we finished this past semester. It's a beautiful book in a very different way from which The Road is beautiful -- it's beautifully crafted as a novel, in its architecture (whereas I find The Road filled with gorgeous moments of prose that border on poetry). Anyway, in No Country, Sheriff Bell opens the book with a monologue about his fear of engaging with a new evil -- an evil he acknowledges almost like a fact, or necessity, but one that he is reluctant to face regardless of its factual-ness or necessity. He says that to engage such evil is to be changed by that evil -- and at the end of the novel, he retires, because he realizes he can't do his job without engaging this new evil, and he's too old to change (and he'd have to break the code he lives by, his own set of morals or ethics, the laws that not only govern him but make him essentially him). 

And, of course, Bell's character echoes the speaker in Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium," who acknowledges himself now outside the "sensual music" of life. Because he cannot change, because he cannot force his old soul to "clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress" he begs, then:
O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
He is resigning himself to resignation -- he is asking for help with that resignation. And he is acknowledging that whatever aims or ambitions he had for immortality -- the "artifice of eternity" via "monuments of unageing intellect" (read: poems) are, in the end, futile, because the world is always caught up in its cycle of making "sensual music" and doesn't value the static, unchanging "monuments" of what-was.

That's my reading, anyway. And this all ties into my life in academia -- how? Well, it has less to do with the latter, the futility of art, and more to do with the former: the subject of Resignation, and Acknowledging One's Differences with the World. 

Yes, I know it may seem hyperbolic and strange to compare Yeats' and McCarthy's struggle with Big, Soul-Shifting Change to my struggles at Stuffolk, but I can't help but apply what I've read, and learned, to my own everyday. I can't help but see the direction the college is moving in -- one in which Assessment and Institutional Outcomes is a priority to so many, and is --granted, by necessity, because of accreditation concerns and SUNY mandates -- becoming a focus of of the college as a whole; and I can't help but recognize that I don't fit in this particular world, that I fucking loathe and cannot abide the formal study of education and the facetious language that is invented and bandied about by those who study education (not the subjects of education, mind you, like History and Literature and Philosophy, but Education itself). I can't help but recognize, at this point in my career, that to engage with this world is to be changed by this world, and I don't want to be changed by this world, particularly because it's a huge distraction and has the potential to be antithetical to what I believe is my role as a Teaching Artist. 

That may sound hideously pretentious (that self-affixed label, at the very least), but it's important to note that I'm not saying the Study of Education is absolutely evil, or that it is unnecessary, or that it's even in direct opposition to the role of Teaching Artist. But I do believe that immersing oneself in assessment and teaching outcomes has the very real potential to be evil, to lead one away from what is necessary into a murky, confusing realm of directionless tasks and vague, circular language, and that to engage in the world of Assessment and Outcomes is to be changed from Teaching Artist to Trainer, someone who imparts knowledge only for the sake of eliciting a desired outcome -- like when I train my puppy to sit and stay.

I don't want to train my students to sit and stay; and also, I'm not very good at being Trainer, as is evidenced by the magnificent failure of my efforts with Sir New Guy over the past few months, who continues to chew anything and anyone and has no idea of what it means to stay put unless he's thoroughly exhausted or locked in his crate. 
Sir New Guy, chewing happily the plastic squeaker he ripped from a brand new Christmas toy.

And I'll acknowledge that this may sound like a cop-out, or a refusal to do the precepts of my job, but I prefer to think that it's just a matter of interpreting the makeup and function of my job differently than some of my colleagues. I'm going to do my job my way, according to my own set of ethics, my code, until it becomes impossible to do so. Then, like Sheriff Bell, I'll retire -- or move on. It could just be that the institution at which I'm currently employed is not the institution for which I'm best suited. 

But if the Hey! Academia! literature I receive monthly in the mail is any indication, pretty much all of the liberal arts higher ed institutions are struggling to deal with this country's obsession with Product -- something that is in direct conflict with the original purpose of liberal arts curricula, but nevermind. It appears that liberal arts curriculum, or what we used to recognize as liberal arts curriculum, is something that belong to the ranks of Yeats' stodgy "monuments of unageing intellect."


Well! That's an uplifting beginning to the new year, eh? I'm actually NOT feeling as pessimistic as the above may sound -- I'm just trying to give my reasons why I'm not going to participate in much of Stuffolk's huge push to create Institutional Outcomes and begin yet another super-cycle of assessments, all of which are being touted as super-urgent and super-important. Of course, there's more than one reason I won't be participating, too -- I am, after all, very much pregnant at this point, and I'll be dropping foal sometime in March (fingers-crossed -- don't come early, Vampire Baby!), and so I won't really have the opportunity to become intensely involved. (Phew!) 

For the next few days, at least, I'm going to be intensely involved in reflecting on "past practices" and "assessing" (see how much of the Kool-Aid I've imbibed already?) my performance and goals in the areas to which this blog is dedicated: Academia, Writing, and Parenting. Also, I'm going to be involved in an intense round of house-cleaning and organizing, as my combination of travel (south to see family over the holidays) and party-hosting (New Year's Eve) has decimated my house on all three of its levels.

Additionally, I'm going to spend parts of today preparing the Fabulous Beast manuscript for a second round of first-book contests; proofreading the interior layout of my chapbook, designed excellently by my sister M.K.; and taking dogs for walks -- hopefully all before the kiddos get out of school. 

It's an ambitious plan, I know, and probably 1/3 of it will actually see fruition, but one doesn't get anywhere without dreaming about where one can go, does one?

(WTF am I talking about anymore? Time to stop blogging!) 

(Also, Happy New Year!)


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