Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Donne said that no man is an island

Recently a friend wrote this sentence in an email to me: "I used to be a HUGE oversharer before social media was a thing." I thought about social media. Lots of people just put up pictures of their vacations / parties / marriages / children at their finest moments and call it a day. I actually know of numerous people who have deactivated their Facebook accounts b/c the competition got to be too much. They feel like everyone else is saying, I have the best vacation, the best husband/wife, the best baby. With the implication of, and you don't. I got the feeling that this friend who emailed me feels like sharing their life, in all of its dimensions, is frowned upon.

I have a problem with the term "oversharing." Also, the word "needy." "Oversharing" assumes that no one wants to hear your personal stuff, that it's impolite or socially wrong to share your personal stuff, that we should all walk around projecting only positivity and the more shallower dimensions of our lives.

Everything looks shiny; no one allegedly has to feel anything except YAY YAY YAY.

When really, I think it's a continuum. At my old job, I sure as hell would not share personal things with certain people. Especially administration. Most jobs are like that. But I think it's okay to share things with people who are your friends or close colleagues. Because what the heck are friends for if you can't be there for each other during the positive *and* negative times?

My friends are some of the best people ever because they have listened empathetically to me and really been there for me, especially over the past year-and-some-months, when things happened with my mom. Or they have distracted me with wonderful things like coffee and Indian food and visits and children and simply the beauty of their presence. I never feel judged by them. And I in turn feel special and honored when they come to me with important emotional things. Like: wow, they trusted me enough to ask me to listen. I feel capable and strong when I can support them.

The word "needy"gets kicked around a lot, just like "over-sharing." "Needy" pathologizes the idea of interdependence. As a culture, we live under this delusion of self-sufficiency, like that's the ultimate thing to strive for. It's very American. Or United-States-ian, I should say. But when you dissect it, the idea of INdependence is fundamentally impossible unless you decide to become a hermit on top of a mountain. And then what happens if you break your leg or need to go into town for food?

Each in their various ways, my mom and dad raised me to believe that self-sufficiency was the ideal. In  reality, they were not self-sufficient, but I was raised to believe that I should strive to be. I think they thought they were doing me a service. This created a schism in my thinking which still continues. On one hand, I feel the old emotional pull: do it yourself at all costs. Appear strong at all costs. If you can't, that's bad. Other people will take advantage of you OR You're weak. Incapable. Less-than-adequate

On the other hand, I know my reality, and I try really hard not to judge myself for it. Ahem, I'm not saying I succeed in being nonjudgmental, but I try. Yeah, sometimes I need. Everybody needs. And sometimes I NEED. And everyone in their life goes through a period of that NEED too, whether they admit it or not.

I think about need, and sharing, and interdependence also as it applies to teaching. I think about it a LOT. When I went through teacher training in grad school (ages ago… yikes!) I was taught that students are people, that learning is collaborative (students learn from the teacher, students learn from each other, the teacher learns from the students), that each student will have a different learning style, that it's okay to be honest with your students when you don't know the answer, that it's okay to be vulnerable and to expect (and accept) your students' vulnerabilities.

Then… I taught at a certain place for awhile and it really made an impression on me. The culture was rather the opposite of the way I'd learned to teach. Not necessarily through word but through example, the ideal classroom was presented as: the teacher makes the rules, the students follow the rules, the students get punished if they don't follow the rules, each student is an information bucket into which you deposit key skills, and then they somehow translate those skills into a well- or poorly- written paper and then you grade them. Nobody needs to be feeling their feelings all over the place b/c there's no room for that in the syllabus.

I really tried to be that latter teacher and I did not do well being that teacher, and it burned me out. I had colleagues who taught at that place, and still do, who somehow managed to be a combination of the former teacher and the latter teacher. Or colleagues who were so untouchable (some concept called tenure of which I know not) that they could be the former teacher and the administration could go… fly a kite.

If anywhere I thought I could succeed as the former type of teacher, it would be in the teaching of writing. Whether you are writing poetry or a thesis-based argument, the idea of empathy is important. The ability to accept  and not vilify emotions is important.

Now that I'm feeling a lot better, I'm going to start revising / submitting my own work again in January. I'm also thinking about teaching (as a concept), because I really miss it. But, especially given my geographic limitations, I don't know where the right place is for me, if any.