I’d rather be writing.
I’d rather be teaching.
Even if I believed that the way I spend my waking hours, my one and only life, could be reduced to a bumper sticker, neither of these would describe what I want.
In my community college basic writing class, one of three courses I’m teaching winter quarter, I assigned as content a few works, mostly short, about the Puget Sound area where my students and I live—or the Salish Sea, the native name we’re learning to use. I’ve begun with native myths about salmon, the buffalo of the Lummi, Snohomish, Pullayup and other coastal tribes, because that seemed natural, the best place to start. “Native” tribes are immigrants just like the rest of us, but their pedigree is older. Their forebears crossed the now submerged land bridge across the Bering Strait twenty to fifty thousand years ago, whereas other ancestral communities didn’t unpack their bags for good until the middle of the nineteenth century.
The problem is that I don’t altogether understand these native myths. If I did, I wouldn’t have assigned them. I know from past experience that the light will go on for me about ten minutes into the first class discussion of this material, and it will be a student who throws the switch. I love the suspense of this process and its collegiality. Now that I’m teaching again, I don’t think I can live without it. Still, it wears me out.
If you know the Myers Briggs Type Indicators, I’m an INFJ—an intuitive (N), feeling (F) and judging (J) introvert (I). (My under-developed capacities are thinking, sensing, perceiving, and extraversion.) I like Myers-Briggs, based on Carl Jung’s psychological types, because all the traits are given a positive spin. I am imaginative, compassionate, planful, and reflective—rather than illogical, unrealistic, unspontaneous, and antisocial. You could make a case that INFJs make good teachers as well as good writers. I seriously doubt, though, that doing both makes much sense for them, for me. We’re pretty high-strung folks, disinclined to spread ourselves thin.
Over the last week and a half I’ve met 80 new people, and because I’m “intimate’ (an aspect of introversion), I’ve learned about 70 of their names. I ran into several students from last quarter, which made me unaccountably happy. I signed lots of paperwork for financial aid and tutoring help without knowing much about the particular needs these services are filling. I listened to a vet explain PTSD in relation to Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, a connection that never occurred to me. Because I’m teaching Business English for the first time, I went to the counseling center to ask some probably stupid questions about who my students are and what they’re up against. The answer to that last part—what they’re up against—is a lot.
When I’m teaching I write about two pages a week. I have a pile of stories in my drawer, most of which haven’t been published, and new voices in my head--characters buying ferry tickets and begging each other not to jump into the Salish Sea.
Teaching slows writing down to a trickle. And writing, if you let it, can squeeze out everything else, rendering an introvert like me agoraphobic and mute. What I want to avoid more than anything else is spending my numbered days wishing I were doing whatever I’m not. That would be a real shame.