So, I taught my last class at UC Davis yesterday. The students gave me an ovation and I got all misty-eyed. I will miss this job very much. Honestly, it was easy to shed the identity of an academic. I thought it would be trickier, but basically it entailed no longer performing textual analysis for my superiors and no longer writing articles in a language that is completely unnatural to me. It turns out I can manage that quite well! So well that I can only understand in the dimmest way that I’m still supposed to take an examination next quarter; it no longer quite seems real.
No longer teaching literature is going to be a lot harder though. That really worked its way into my heart. I am a total crackhead for that look of dawning understanding on my students’ faces. Best thing ever. Sometimes I wonder if and how they will remember me. I wrote the following about teaching in a short story once:
The Egyptians had no hell. The punishment for the wicked was oblivion; there was nothing worse than not existing.
The students absorb this piece of information quietly. Probably some of them even write it down. They are very sweet, in many ways still children. In many ways they do not understand yet what I tell them. Certainly they will forget everything I say before they are old enough for it to really sink in, but sometimes I wonder if I leave a trace. Any trace at all. I wonder if they will recognize something that is happening to them slightly sooner because I told them to expect it.
You cannot really tell someone something they don’t already know. Teaching is not about filling blank minds. It is about inducing a flicker of recognition.
The protagonist of that story was an adjunct who couldn’t stomach finishing the PhD (I wrote it over a year ago–prescient, no?). I will try to get some kind of contract teaching work after I get my MA, maybe with the UC extension. After the book comes out, maybe I will get a job in a Creative Writing department? Quizás. It still seems far away. For now I have to access the totally feral, slightly unhinged head space I get into while writing a novel. But I’ll be back in the classroom eventually–if only to have a reason to get dressed in the morning! Writerly isolation can do unfortunate things to your psyche after too long.
This week, I also had to clear my desk in my office in Sproul Hall (they didn’t waste any time reclaiming my space!). It was a melancholy endeavor, despite the fact that Sproul is an utter dump no sane person should miss. My desk was a bleak-looking gray plastic-and-pressboard affair no bigger than a coffee table, lodged in a completely naked train-car-shaped room that gets broiling hot the instant the sun so much as kisses the roof. One time I tried to open the window in there and the whole pane fell off. Fell right the fuck off the side of the building, only kept from tumbling nine floors and ending the life of a passerby by the rusty latch, which did not open. There also has been a weird and unpleasant smell emanating from the wall in the corner of my office where the lone eldtrich computer resides (I swear that machine dates from the Clinton administration) that has not been resolved in all the three years I’ve been there. And that expiring groan the elevator makes when it grinds to a stop at the ninth floor freaks me the hell out; I always wonder if this is the time the whole contraption is going to let go and and plummet down into the basement, where my mashed flesh will mingle with the poorly-written student papers in my satchel. Plus Sproul Hall is never, ever cleaned. I think some of the dust bunnies in my office have evolved sentience, plus there is a green Skittle® on the floor in the staircase that has been there for so long I believe it has tenure by now. It began its life between the fifth and sixth floors, and when I didn’t see it for a while I surmised that perhaps whatever is making the weird smell in my office wall might have eaten it–but then I was relieved to find it crushed into the second floor landing. I will miss you, green Skittle®; don’t ever change.