Saturday, April 29, 2006

Nick Drake

Photo: Nick Drake

I've started a new blog called "Reflective Teaching." It's mainly for myself, so I didn't enable it to accept comments. I want to keep track of my thoughts about teaching for at least two semesters. We'll see where it goes from there. Once in a while, I will share some of the entries from "Reflective Teaching" on this blog. The purpose of the "Reflective Teaching" blog is to help me work out some of my feelings about how my teaching and my creative life are related. Below is the first entry:

The great and mighty go their way unchecked. All the hope left in the world is in the people of no account-- Ursula K.LeGuin

This is my first entry in this Reflective Teaching blog. The blog is inspired by several discussion sessions I attended at Bowling Green State University. I attended the sessions because for a long time my creative life and my teaching life felt like separate things. I told the group that if I wasn't able to resolve this, I would have to quit teaching.

The group was sympathetic. And simply through the act of expressing my dilemma out loud, I began to feel better. I began to think I might be able to find a solution to my feelings of being stilted and at an intellectual and spiritual dead end.

I've been teaching since 1985, a little more than twenty years. I know people do get burned out from teaching, but I believe it doesn't have to be this way. Shouldn't teaching energize us? Energize our creative lives?

It is Saturday, and the last day of class for Spring Semester 2006 was yesterday. I'm listening Nick Drake CDs. A few weeks ago, a young man in my Native American Literature class gave me a CD he burned for me. It has some of his favorite music on it: including "River Man" by Nick Drake.

Listening to "River Man" for the first time, I could understand why my student was so attracted to Drake's music. When I looked up information on Nick Drake, an artist I'd never heard of, I saw his music described as being "Autumnal." Although Nick Drake was young when he made his albums and young when he died, he did, indeed, have an Autumnal spirit. Drake was wise; his music sloughs off the garish leaves and becomes something simple and stark. Drake lived his life deep inside his spirit.

Now, listening to Nick Drake on my stereo, I think of my student leaving class late Thursday afternoon past, wearing the same dark pair of sunglasses as when he'd given his reading in front the class just days before. My student had read his own haunting prose about his struggles with clinical depression, which Nick Drake also had.

I was out in the hallway because the students were finishing up a test and then doing the end of term course evaluations. We stood there, my student and I, saying our good-byes. I thanked him for sharing his music with me and told him I'd ordered Nick Drake CDs and looked forward to receiving them.

My student said, "An English Professor shared Nick Drake with me. It makes me feel good that I can complete the circle by passing Drake on to somebody new." His eyes were hidden by the glasses, which disappointed me, because I enjoy seeing his thoughtful eyes, but I understood. He'd been keeping late nights studying, doing his final projects, and perhaps struggling with his inner demons, too. He told me he was "Beat," and his eyes must have shown it.

Throughout the semester, as we were discussing the literature, this student would laugh quietly and nod his head: he obviously identified strongly with the themes in the pieces we read, especially the theme of the struggle for survival.

Listening to Nick Drake now, I identify with his acceptance of the ephemeral condition of our lives:

Fame is but a fruit tree
So very unsound.
It can never flourish
'til its stock is in the ground ...
Life is but a memory
Happened long ago
Theatre full of sadness
For a long forgotten show
Seems so easy
just to let it go on by
'til you stop and wonder
Why you never wondered why
Safe in the womb
Of an everlasting night
You find the darkness can
Give the brightest light...

The lines, You find the darkness can / Give the brightest light remind me of what Viktor Frankl said of survival and the Holocaust experience: What is to give light must endure burning.

When I think of my student standing there in his sunglasses in that darkened hallway of University Hall on the campus of Bowling Green State university, I think of Frankl, of burning. My student is a survivor; he is burning to survive.


ckays1967 said...

This idea of seperate blogs is one that fasinates me to no that I can not reconcile (my adult ADD gets in the way I think) to.

The discipline alone amazes me!

Now, this entry is divine and it will be great to read all of your thoughts.

Vicky said...

Thank you for sharing this, my dear. And for doing the two blogs. I am looking forward to seeing how they unfold together.

As for teaching vs. writing, I have to say that whenever you write fondly of any of your students (as you do from time to time), it is often the writer who is driving the teacher to express those thoughts, yes? Or is it the teacher finding ways to share them? Seems a fairly inextricable mix to me. For all of us who do work we love, there are parts that suck, to use a familiar term. The paperwork and the occasional adversarial situations in my work are anathema to me, but I keep doing it because of the essence that I love so much. I suspect that you still love teaching and drawing out the creativity of the young people who are your students. It's the rest of the crap that is so hard.

Burning to survive is such a good metaphor. One doesn't just "emerge" from clinical depression. One doesn't just swim to the surface. One fights and claws and engages in a mighty battle to rise out of it. Burning indeed.

Love, Vicky

Gannet Girl said...

What a wonderful entry, Theresa. I am so looking forward to your new blog.

GreenishLady said...

I found your response to this student so touching. I don't know if you feel you HAVE to make a choice, but it seems you would be a sad loss to the world of education. Not many teachers or educators seem to care to that depth about individual students. And then... you write so wonderfully, so wonderfully. Hope you find a solution to your dilemna that resolves the problem.

beths front porch said...

Theresa, I found the reflecting teaching entry beautiful. I love how you seem to see each student as a unique really "see" each one. My experience is that process is simultaneously draining and energizing.

Often I ask how I ended up in my own field and how this process can help my creativity. They are not antithetical; I simply am not working the connection. I listened to Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point," and this helped me. Well, maybe that's a separate blog entry.

Love the Frankl quote, which is of course also in The Sun, every issue. Truth, authenticity, burns.

ggw07 said...

Lucky students, university, us to have you to share-

Erin said...


I enjoyed reading this entry. For me, it called to mind my college days when I had the privelege of being one of your students. You really did see each student as an individual and encourage us in ways that other professors did not. I was very grateful for your attention and thoughtfulness, and I know many of my classmates were, as well.

I love the Frankl quote!

Anonymous said...

My mom is sistercdr. I just wanted to say that I love you, and I love your student. I think there is like this like unspoken circle of people who love and appreciate the beautiful things, and that includes Nick Drake.


Vicky said...

My dear - look who you touched - LOOK WHO YOU TOUCHED!!

Food for thought.

Love, Vicky xxx

V said...

...Drake was wise; his music sloughs off the garish leaves and becomes something simple and stark. Drake lived his life deep inside his spirit.....
Beautiful, Theresa. Makes me smile, the words.

In graduate school, I had the pleasure of driving Viktor Frankl and his wife from their hotel to the University for his invited lecture. A quiet man, small, aging. Very poised.

beths front porch said...

Theresa, I also liked the entry "Letters" in your Reflective Teaching Blog very much. The entry was like a letter to us, your readers. And the Olympia...isn't it great? It's just what I'm doing, pounding away, not correcting, and it's always there, ready to go, no power on or off, no waiting, and the typing is legible. Anyway...I like your letters. We don't really think of them as communication, do we? They are just...hallmarky. Beth

emmapeelDallas said...

Oh, I like Nick Drake very much, and I like this entry. Drake was so eloquent...I love his song about depression, Black Eyed Dog...


Tom said...

The idea of someone who is "burning to survive" is one that I can particularly relate to. I have read Frankl's book, and it reminded me somewhat of my experience in the state hospital and its development of the survival instinct. I'm not familiar with Nick Drake, unfortunately. I will search out and give his music a listen.

TiAnKa said...

It takes a creative spirit that is able to reflect the depth of his soul,in order to reach students that may otherwise be lost in lifes endless shuffle.

It is my hope that you continue to teach until your feet are unable to carry your body to the podium. The world needs teachers with souls like yours...

Love and hugs,




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"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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