Saturday, December 21, 2013

The teacher's TGIF and other news

The other day I thought, There is no truer TGIF than the one that issues from the mouth of the teacher.

I don't want to compete with anyone for the hardest job, but you must agree that it's certainly up there. The "bedside manner" is what distinguishes the profession from many other difficult and trying jobs-- the teacher has to be a bit of an actor, and must affect a certain posture of the soul for the entire time that she is interacting with the students. It's a major relief, on the weekends, to simply be able to react to one's surroundings without first asking "what will my reaction teach the students?"

Perhaps the words "actor," "affect" and "posture" reflect poorly on my attitude towards this aspect of teaching-- these words smell somewhat disingenuous. Well, I don't mean to be. First, I suppose I am feeling a little bit disheartened these days, as in the public school where I work this year, I am trying to quietly conform to a system I don't believe in. So my word choice probably indicates some real bitterness. Second, although the words sound negative, I'm not sure how else I would say it. When I think of what for me is the highest existing breed of teacher, the St. John's College tutor (or any other teacher who engages in that carefully cultivated Socratic practice,) I see heroic levels of self-restraint and many small, brilliant poetic deceptions. One grows up and realizes that perhaps the tutors were not saying what they really thought. But that is what it took to lead a sleepy student from their dim childhood to become the peer of the thinking adult teacher. A teacher who simply says what they think and expects the students to agree may gain acolytes, but they will not win true companions in their contemplation.

 Indeed if one considers Socrates himself as portrayed by Plato, one has a hard time pointing to any genuine, heartfelt statements or actions that can be interpreted plainly, in only one, obvious way. Far from being an indication of insincerity on Socrates' part, his "deceptive" manner is the best way that he can undeceive his students, something that I believe he wants to do with all his heart. He doesn't want fans who think he says smart things, he wants friends to strive toward the truth with him. He cannot accomplish this through revealing all that he is and knows. (I don't know what he was like when he went home to his wife and children. I would be fascinated to learn.)

One is reminded even of Christ-- his incarnation is often spoken of as a divine "condescension." We are poor, heavy creatures, who cannot perceive the unmediated radiance of the Father lest we be completely obliterated. The Son of God appeared to us as we are, without compromising his divinity. There is no deception in the words of Christ, and he does not pretend to be something other than God, so that he can trick us into our own transformations. But he does reveal himself in his glory before death only to three close companions, showing that he is cloaking himself somewhat to those who do not have the eyes to see. In this I think we see the most perfect Teacher, who becomes the same sort of thing as the Student without ceasing to be the Teacher.

All of this is to defend my use of the words "actor," "posture" and "affect" in my claim that a teacher's job is exhausting. I am not Christ, Socrates, or even a St. John's tutor, and so I do this poorly. Doing things poorly hurts and makes you tired, even if they are good things to do. (You can probably think of a hundred examples of bad posture during physical activity resulting in injuries or chronic damage.) If I were a better teacher, this would simply be an aspect of my being which I showed to my students, in the same way that I show myself diversely to my husband, my father, or my priest. I won't use the word "natural" to describe the process (maybe it would be appropriate insofar as a habit becomes part of one's nature, see Aristotle), but maybe the transition between Teacher-self and Weekend-self would at least be less abrupt.

In other news, I have killed my kefir, by doing one or more of several things wrong. I did not transition it slowly from raw goat milk to pasteurized cow milk to raw cow milk; I left it in the fridge for a long time, and then I left it out with milk for a long time. The result is that I have a jar of spoiled raw cow milk. Interestingly, it does not smell as bad as spoiled pasteurized milk. It almost smells pleasantly cheesy, but it doesn't taste very good. I am sad.

At my appointment with the midwife, I had gained about 4 pounds in one month, which doesn't seem like very much to me, especially after my five pound loss in the first trimester. Also, my fundal height was 13 cm, and I think it's supposed to be 15 at 15 weeks. (For boys and single ladies reading at home, the fundal height indicates the growth of the uterus and therefore the child.) My midwife agreed that it was a little small but didn't show that she was worried or give me any advice.  The baby's heartbeat was very strong, so I know I shouldn't freak out. But I had already been worried that I wasn't eating enough, so now on this Christmas break I am going to be extra diligent about stuffing myself. I guess my mom always had such big babies (from 9 to 11 pounds!) that I will be surprised and (unfairly) disappointed in myself if mine is small.

Of course I'm not fasting for Nativity. At first I thought that I'd give up this or that, or abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, or something.  I couldn't imagine not fasting in any way. But then morning sickness happened and I realized that it was completely impossible to try to map out any external restrictions onto my appetite. When you can eat something, you absolutely must eat it without regard for anything else, because you don't know when you will be able to stomach it again. Whatever saint said that eating during pregnancy is itself a kind of fast knew, somehow, what he was talking about. And really, if I were to fast, I would be forcing a baby to fast. And that would be cruel.

I am wondering when I will be able to fast again, though. Conceivably, a mother could be pregnant or breastfeeding from marriage to menopause. My mother had her last child when she was 42, and she told me she had signs of fertility as late as 52. I'm 25 now. That could be 27 years. Well, if I'm pregnant and breastfeeding for 27 years straight, maybe not being able to fast will be the least of my worries.

One more thing. I was getting into Notre Dame de Paris (also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame,) when I started getting a little suspicious about the edition I was reading.

First strange portent, from page 8:

The other is this noble quatrain of the old humorist Theophile:--
Certes, ce fut un triste jeu
Quand a Paris dame Justice,
Pour avoir mange trop d'epice,
Se mit tout le palais en feu"---
which, unluckily, is quite unsusceptible of translation, on account of the pun upon the word epice, which signifies fees as well as spices.

Excusez-moi, mais didn't Hugo write this book in French? Why is he telling me that something is untranslatable from French to English?

Second strange portent from page 74:

A history of vagabondism, beggary, and thievery, could it be faithfully and sagaciously written, would form neither one of the least interesting nor least instructive chapters in the great history of mankind, and especially in that of all such old governments as have been established originally by violence and brigandage (commonly called conquest), and for the benefit of the invading and armed minority and their descendants, at the expense of the unarmed, peaceful, and laborious majority-- of such governments, in short, as that of France before the revolution of 1789, and that of England before the grand Norman plunder and ravage of our country, and butchery of the best and bravest of our free Anglo-Saxon forefathers....

This is just too much. Hugo was French. He could not have spoken of the Norman invasion of England as "the grand Norman plunder and ravage of our country." Just the word "our" is obviously wrong, but the whole attitude in general sounds completely un-French.

I went straight to Wikipedia to make sure that I wasn't crazy and that Hugo was French, and wrote this book in French. I was right. Moreover, in browsing the article on this book in particular, I came across several references to "The Preface." There was no such section in my edition. "I wonder who the translator is," I thought, and discovered that there was no translator listed anywhere in the book, nor was there any publication information whatsoever. Where did this volume come from? I almost suspect that it is diabolical in origin.

So now I must walk in the rain to the library to find a more authentic edition and start over. Au revoir.


  1. For what it's worth, the copy I'm (slowly) reading is the Modern Library Classic edition, translated with notes by Catherine Liu. She soberly puts her notes in the back of the book, thus far free of lamentations about the Norman invasion of England. The introduction by Elizabeth McCracken was an interesting read as well.

    1. I didn't end up going to the library to get a copy because I didn't have a card or any mail with my name on it, so we'll try again soon. Oh hey, I wanted to get in touch with you to talk about More Spirited Than Lions. My email is my first name plus the last name of the family in Peter Pan at the most popular web based email server in the world, with no punctuation. Take that, robots.