I was reading a collection of essays by John Steinbeck and one on literary criticism had this simple idea that hit home with me:
“Here’s a thing we are most likely to forget. A man’s writing is himself. A kind man writes kindly. A mean man writes meanly. A sick man writes sickly. And a wise man writes wisely.”
After I wondered for a minute about how I write, I thought of different ELT blogs I’m most familiar with and the people behind those blogs that I met. It just made perfect sense. Steinbeck’s was instantly the clearest, most logical explanation of why I feel drawn to some blogs while others leave me indifferent (or even repel me) and where this connection comes from when we meet for the first time offline. Their writing exposes their character, whether they intend it or not.
Today’s post is the effect of one man’s writing.
Chuck Sandy writes here about the i
mportance need for listening to each other, and this couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m deeply bothered by the fact that students are not talking to me or interacting with me in a genuine, personal way, the way I know it, the way my job works for me.
I want to tell them about my day, about my life, about what makes me not just “sensei” (oftentimes nameless). It’s invariably painful when I’m addressed like that, even if I know it’s in the culture. I want to find words to reach out to them so that they know how that feels.
I want to tell them that I took an online sketching course and felt so excited to see I could have a little success, one at a time, and create something. I want to show them those photos of my sketches I shared on Instagram, because that’s something that gives me energy for teaching, it makes me myself now.
I want to tell them I started doing yoga and swimming regularly, and that I feel proud of myself for taking my own baby steps and carrying on with it for about a month.
I want to tell them about the book I’m reading and how interesting it is (or not).
I want to tell them about my dreams and hear theirs and talk about them together.
I want to tell them about my desire to travel all across Asia. I would tell them that I spend many of my evenings watching travel shows and taking mental notes of where I absolutely need to go in my lifetime.
I want to complain that it’s tough for me, too, to get up early 6 days a week, but that spending time in class together with them makes me feel better. That I relish their smiles (it is true).
I want to do this and yet I can’t, or I can but I don’t – because I’m shy, because I have a plan to follow and this would be wasting time. Because I heard student-talking time should be maximized. Because after the bell goes, they pack up their things and rarely say goodbye to me unless I say it first.
I want to tell them that I feel distraught and lost when sometimes they come 15 minutes before class starts and sit together in silence, not uttering a word to each other. At the same time I want to tell them I understand that this is just another class, and I understand they don’t have to actually like the people they share a class with.
I wish I could tell those things. I wish I felt comfortable telling those things, and it mattered that I shared them.
As I’m writing this, believe it or not, there’s a lump in the throat and tears welling up (which I stopped as proceeded typing feverishly).
I guess it’s true what Chuck wrote about becoming part of their lives. I want us to be part of each others’ lives, even if a little, even if for a short while, but genuinely so.
The teachers that I have warm memories about were the teachers who were empathetic, who said I was special, who genuinely praised me, who were real people above all. The teachers I didn’t want to upset by not coming to class or cheating on homework. The teachers in whose classes I felt comfortable sharing my views, even if contradictory to most others’, openly. I knew that they would accept and recognize me for me.
I started by the wise words from wise Steinbeck. As reading Chuck’s post drew me to the keyboard in a way I couldn’t resist or delay at midnight, I conclude and confirm for myself yet again that Steinbeck was right. A man’s writing is himself. So I call this post The Chuck Effect, because inspiring me to be pulling out the uncomfortable truths and writing from my heart is this man’s effect.
Thank you for reading.