Tuesday, a week before classes start, the bookstore writes and says, your book is out of print. What the? I couldn’t believe my eyes. I called and they said they only got two copies in, the publisher’s phone doesn’t pick up. But the book was only published in 2012. The Defining Decade. A marvelous book about how young people should tend to their twenties, not fritter that decade away. I’d thought about this course for a year, how I would revise it from the haphazard job I did last spring, as I backed into the resources NIU’s career services offered students to help them.
Mike Rowe’s critique of college as a proper preparation for careers, his critique of how following your passion is not a good idea, intrigued me as an exercise in critically thinking about that old maxim: follow your passion, never give up. I’m not so sure but that dreams are all they are cracked up to be. They never come true how you think they might. And I’ve seen dreams become beautiful like the ice cream shop in town, with antique wooden shelves, bar and great ice cream, only to close because people didn’t support it. Bruce warned me last year to shy away from Rowe because he plainly says college is a racket, and right now NIU is trying to stop losing students. Even with academic freedom, I’m not so sure how wise it would be to challenge the whole idea of college. My students hope it will deliver them into a better life, but there are no guarantees of a job. Crushing debt is guaranteed. Nowadays financial aid doesn’t cover the cost by about $800. For many of these families, that’s like a million dollars. This semester financial aid needs to come p with three million in order to bring some students back.
My syllabus was just about complete. While I spoke to Marsha at the University bookstore, I looked at my other text from last year, Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element. It pulled on me bit I thought it was bit dry. And my center assignment, go to the career fair, would repeat skills I’d taught in fall semester. I’ve heard rumors that students might get a course in career planning later. Maybe my course would be overkill.
So I swapped everything to the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World. Our world is nothing if not troubled. Is it even possible or right to be happy when little girls are strapped with bombs, whole villages razed and people who had nothing to do with anything, are murdered, children shot for waving a pellet gun in a park?
But I regretted not sleeping on it.
Our pastor told us that when John baptized people in the river Jordan, he didn’t dunk them in a pristine mountain stream. No he dipped them in a muddy, dirty river, the filthy water a sign of their submitting to the messiness of service. I sighed. It’s never a good sign when your pastor talks about how life up ahead won’t be easy, shouldn’t be easy. The semesters I taught The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World were not easy,oh boy they weren’t easy, but, but the Dalai Lama asks questions I’m asking, our whole culture is asking: How do we live in community? What is the nature of human nature? How can we even think about happiness when grief abounds? How? So maybe I made the right choice, picking a book students likely won’t enjoy reading, and the silence of teenagers not dancing the student/teacher dance because maybe the dirty, cold water is where I should step.
Besides maybe I’ve got it wrong, in my thinking that messiness is hard, but maybe, maybe it’s a relief, what I teach the students about writing “shitty rough drafts” about not thinking but writing, about getting their t thoughts down again and again. I want them to think of writing like playing in the sand box, with toys and shovels, and cool sand rounding our bottoms.
Martha Beck writes that she’ll never get life right, that maybe botching things has driven the grumps out of her life.”By being my incompetent self, I seem to have weeded out the friends and acquaintances who can’t stand my inadequacies. Each year I’m surrounded by more kind, understanding people who seem willing to love the messes I make.” She later says, “Maybe, instead of being here to get things right, we’re here to learn to love the mess that is every human life. If that’s the one thing I get right this year, it just may be enough.”
So maybe this baptism my pastor described drops the weight to get my life right, releases me to make a mess, to play in the sand and to love others as they make their messes. Besides, when we relax about the mess we make, we make more good things.
Yesterday Morgen followed me too closely as I walked out to bring in her hay bag. Her steps behind me made me nervous. Could she wheel and buck and kick up her heels? I feel it when I walk into their paddocks, an urge to run, to wave my hands, to dance with the mares. I unhooked the bag and turned to her and gave her treats. I said, “Your walking so close scares me.” She stopped and looked at me and let me walk to the door. “Thank you,” I said. She stepped forward to my hand and waiting pellets.