It’s hard to predict one’s own life. It’s easier to just do things and keep doing them, and then maybe later a pattern emerges. But, I’m going to try and predict the direction of this, my Le Poisson Nage project.
First, let me reflect. For the first few years, the project was about learning French. I like the blog form because it is a living document. I am a bad editor and the web allows me to erase. Also, blogs are interactive–allowing readers to contribute French/funny/writing resources.
Initially, I was very interested in language and the ways people speak to each other. I liked to satirize this with a weird persona version of myself. I don’t know her name, but I think of her as someone named “Carol Sicelski” or “Linda Flamingo.” I don’t know. She’s not me, but part of me. Or maybe the part of me who I try not to be.
In the last few years, I became very interested in how a person monopolizes a conversation. I’ve had a lot of experience with this. Both listening to this kind of person and being this kind of person. I have recently figured out that this comes from my life in academia–both for my own schooling and then as my work for four years an adjunct professor. In my opinion, Academia celebrates an Aristotelian view of communication. The speaker who is the most “credentialed”, who knows the most, who can talk the most and who can make everyone else think they are right, essentially, is celebrated. Hence the idea of “lecturing” and “sage on a stage.”
A lot of current adolescent education theory refutes this–using Vygotsky, Piaget and Dweck. Urging teachers to be more socialist, collaborative. Teaching is a social act. Encourage process or product. Tap into a student’s schema. Encourage hard work over innate talent. These are interesting ideas for sure and if I returned to “traditional” education, I would probably look for a K-12 position because I think it’s a pretty exciting place to be.
However, I find myself more interested in a Buddhist model of conversation. Most notably, placing emphasis on listening, on the equal state between the participants, and on really understanding what someone is saying. Asking clarifying questions. And, in my opinion and after being encouraged by the work of Toni Packer, being most interested in sorting out “the truth.” Therefore, empathetically questioning what someone is saying. Using empirical, observable data, rather than theories, to ask, “why is this?” or “is this a good way?” or more factually, and more simply, “what is this?” What is the way of this person? Last year, I began to listen to Tara Brach’s podcast a lot. I found her ideas about our different trance states to be helpful.
For me, this change in me occurred last November when I experienced a deep sadness and confusion, after one of my students was killed. She was a writer in my class. She had an optimism that felt radical and revolutionary to me. I still think about her a lot.
After this happened, I felt a serious disenchantment with higher education for many reasons–most concretely, they didn’t pay me well or give me health care. I found myself really suffering in this environment. It felt false to me. And I felt like so many participants in higher academics were blind or disillusioned. It seemed like they could not see clearly. And, I couldn’t see clearly. Not at all.
So, I turned to a meditation center and found refuge in silence. I began to realize that when I meditated, when I was quiet and listened, truly listened, I engaged in conversation in a different, more meaningful way.
I still feel that I either want complete silence or meaningful conversation. So many times, conversation feels enervating to me–largely because how I’m engaging it. After I speak in a Aristotelian way, I find myself exhausted, spent, mentally fragmented. Part of why I like working with children, is that I like listening and speaking to them. They watch and listen to the world in a way I admire. They are deliberate in their conversations.
I’m still figuring it out, but I found myself looking for work at a Montessori school because it felt close to a Buddhist meditation model. Sometimes, at the school where I work, I don’t know if I am a teacher or a student. The Montessori model de-emphasizes the teacher or the guide. The goal of the teacher in a Montessori school is to no longer be needed. To create self-sufficiency. A teacher or a teacher’s opinion, validation or assistance is not required. I love this idea. I also love the silence and slowness of the classroom. At times, the classroom’s air feels cozy and heavy with the quiet murmurs: the pink silence of students working.
I blamed part of my anger with higher education on language. I found myself constantly bombarded and oversaturated with words. After a trip to Japan in the spring, I appreciated the simple, declarative sentence. I appreciate non-speech. The silence of trees. The silence of a fast train. The silence of footsteps. When the lead teacher at my school, advised me “less is more,” I felt like my job made me closer to the person who I want to be. Since last fall, I have been on a quest to clear out excess language in all my work. I have a long way to go.
Ironically, the director of the school has encouraged me to speak French with the children. She and the lead teacher have suggested I prepare French Montessori work. This makes me smile. I don’t have as much control over the world as I think. I haven’t escaped language at all, but rather stepped farther into the thick forest of words and meaning of not only English, but now French, and want even more of the other languages at the school: Russian, Japanese, Hindi, Spanish, Telugu, Portuguese, and Chinese. I love language, but, it’s a complicated love affair.
Allors (so), as we all look at what happened in 2017, and walk backward into 2018, I intend for “Le Poisson Nage” to be more and more about teaching French to 3-6 year old children in an American Montessori school.
I am afraid it may not be very funny anymore. But, maybe it can. I don’t know. It used to feel refreshing to make jokes. But, now it feels like it’s a time for seriousness. Maybe I’m a little sick of all the joking around. Or maybe I just want smarter jokes.
So, I have an idea for making it funny: include one overheard sentence from the children. They say beautiful, hilarious things that I try to remember because they are so fresh and funny and pure, in a way that much of the world is not right now. I will start with that.
Overheard: “Where is your spell* book?”
*I read poems at lunch. A student calls the poems “spells.” I don’t correct him. Who am I to say a poem isn’t a spell?