On playing well w/ others (II)

The other live collaboration is teaching. My vis po group delights me yet with their attention and good cheer. I love spending time with them; they’re a twenty-one-person friend; I’m going to miss her him them when we’re done.

One thing happening, new for me, is what I’ve been calling co-teaching. Instead of breaking up the class period – student presents then I teach – I’ve let the presentations go long and tried to weave my teaching into their teaching. That’s made for challenges. I can’t wholly recede into the role of just-one-more-student. There are lines of inquiry I’m best positioned as teacher to introduce. If I just chill and let the conversation go wherever it wants to then I’m not really doing my job.

How to do my work then? My best work has always been done Socratically. But it’s been hard to work Socratically in this new context. Turns out there may be space for only one Socrates in the room. Is that what Athens meant by the hemlock?

Gist of my last post was, look how strong these friendships are, that they can withstand some sore tension, be hardly shaken. Here my gist is, look how strong this class is, its esprit de corps, that they can let me learn along with them, so exposedly.

No question I feel exposed – they see me fuck up half a dozen times a day – but some mix of apology teasing and good cheer keeps me persistent. The fabric feels not injured by my error.

Half a dozen times a class, I need to make a call, do I step in here, redirect our line of inquiry, and if so, by two degrees, or twenty? (How does anyone teach who’s not OMG a martial artist of the mind? What all factors are in play that moment? My sense of the presenter’s confidence level. Of her command of the material. Of the chances she was headed there anyway. Of the class’s interest and engagement. Of who does and doesn’t have the text. Of X’s irritation at not being called on five minutes ago. Mirror neuron overload. Also I need to pee.)

Let’s say I do, I step in. I want several things at once. I want to model, for the presenter, the Socratic method – how to use questioning to lead your charges down a path of inquiry. (Coupla troubles with that I see now. One’s time frame – I’m wanting to deliver in seconds a lesson that may need weeks months years to offer. Another’s ego – why should my given method be template for another?) I also want the class to taste the fruits of Socratic method in action – if we can get there that way then someone has been actively making connections. And I want maybe also to sustain the arc momentum substance of the class.

I wonder why I’m tired after a two-hour class and ravenous? Surely my brain has burned a burrito’s worth of blood sugar.

In practice, as often as not, stepping in, I knock the presenter off his game. He feels interrupted, disrupted, not I hope corrupted. And I do my Socratic thing, pursue a line of questioning, maybe get to an answer, maybe also model the process in the way I’ve meant to. Then awkwardly hand the presentation back, perhaps with apologies, and we laugh, but it’s awkward.

I often don’t know where I’m headed with a blog post when I start one. That’s what makes these worth writing – what makes them live, long I, the way poems are live. The reason I’ve spent hours on this one (yeah, believe it, hours) is that I’ve slowly come to see, in my own internalized Socratic process, that I’ve been headed for something all along. It’s this.

It’s this. Though it’s been awkward, though students have felt off-put, though I’ve felt sorely mixed about the move I’ve made, these may have been the most important moments in our time together.

I’ll say it again. It may be that exactly in these most awkward moments we’ve done our best learning and our best teaching.

One thing that happens in such a moment – I’m exposed as not in charge and not not in charge. That’s not nothing. Another thing that happens – the presenter’s been challenged without being told she’s doing it right or told she’s doing it wrong. That’s huge. (She’s doing it a perfect that’s other than right or wrong.) Another – everyone in the room has been witness to these aporias, these insoluble knots, and that’s gotta shake your head.

Any of this can only be done, sorry to go all dharma on y’all, this can only be done in a context of perfect and complete, one bright pearl. That is to say, the joy I’m feeling in this company is the joy of sangha, like minds gathered in.

Most focally, sangha means, community of fellow practitioners, meditators, followers of the eight-fold path. Most widely it means all sentient beings, and maybe some mosses too, rocks and stones, broke girders. Somewhere between those two it means hanging out with some folk who get some sides of you as they are.

I fell out of formal Buddhist practice a while ago but seem to keep stumbling into it informally and here I see’s been one way.

Have I gone on long enough? I think so! Wanted last to say though, these have been good teaching days, both classes. My intro to Brit Lit, we hung out with Billy Blakefish today, I don’t know why I call him by that. They seemed to get quite quickly that this prodding


is invite to wander out of the lockbox of the senses, enter a life of imagination, of Imagination, the world-making faculty of mind, which for Blake was undifferentiable from God. Before we were done one offered, prompted by nought but irritation & consequent inquiry, that this Proverb of Hell

Where man is not, nature is barren

(which pissed me the hell off, too, when I first read it, and it still can) made sense in that light. Nature is made to be nature by human mind. Not anthropocentrism – phenomenology in embryo.

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I write draw teach blog in and from the Pacific Northwest of America.

2 thoughts on “On playing well w/ others (II)”

  1. You’re right that the best teaching and learning happen in these moments/places of risk. Thanks for that affirmation, which, if I feed it enough, will make me a bolder teacher come fall. I believe what you say, and yet so often, in the moment, lack the courage to wade into that . . . earthquake? flood? volcano? So I’m the “good enough” teacher, but I could be more.

    And yes to the martial artist of the mind metaphor. So well put. When we really think about it, teaching is impossible.


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