The only way to beat the taxing grind is to get out of it, at least for a while.
It’s a tremendous honor to participate once again as a writer-in-residence at the Summer Literary Seminars in Vilnius, Lithuania. I gave a lecture and reading last year, and I felt the seminar was a great success. To have it in my favorite city was just a bonus.
Because I know what’s waiting for me this time—interaction and exchange with artists, scholars and publishers of enormous talent and vision—I’m anticipating it with much more energy than I did last year. I also have a take on it that’s appropriate for my weekly column.
Teaching at the community college can really get to you. Just like at any job, there’s a technical and methodical element to it: the grind of faculty meetings, analysis of data, etc. But the work can get quite emotional, even trying. While I have a handful of students each semester who benefit from my classes, I also face droves who don’t. As I’ve written here over the course of the past six months, some students have far too many obstacles in their paths, while others make the worst possible decisions. Others, and especially young men, don’t really want to be taking college classes.
Only the most cynical instructor can stand before so much disengagement without eventually questioning his utility. I toiled through several classes this semester. Sixteen weeks don’t sound like a long time, but they can be an eternity when students meet every assignment with malaise, every discussion topic with total silence or, worse, rolled eyes and sighs.
So it’s exciting to be interacting soon with other writers, writing students and travelers. My anticipation heading into the SLS leaves me feeling young and invigorated, similar to how I felt when I first started my teaching career and believed something would come of it.
This is a very simple point to make, but it’s a point that often escapes contemporary professionals, especially those who serve disadvantaged populations. For a variety of reasons, it tends to escape men more often than women. But here it is: It’s really important to get together with like-minded people on a consistent basis and just bang ideas around, or even to realize that other people with your interests exist.
For me personally, the community college can become a lens, a point of perception, and if I sit too long inside it, I face the isolating illusion that the entire world has become disinterested in itself. Stepping into an environment where people might actively and honestly talk about obscure poems or the history of an old city is a jolt of hope and happiness.
I was recently reading a book by Thomas Joiner titled Lonely at the Top. It analyzes the epidemic of male loneliness. The process begins in boyhood, when boys are taught the delusion of independence. and continues on through the years as men forego developing relationships while focusing on success and status. According to Joiner, loads of men don’t even really know how to develop relationships once they get past high school or college.
I think an important step is for men to force themselves out of their usual work environments. I can anticipate some men complaining that their wives or lovers won’t give them the freedom to wander off to a seminar, or something less nerdy, like a camping trip. I hope that’s not true for most men. It’s important for a husband’s health and long-term well-being to be able to meet new people and exist in a place outside his routine grind.
Of course, I’m very lucky to have a wonderful event like this to look forward to, and time in the summer to be able to enjoy it. I’ll be taking my five year-old daughter on the trip and along to many of the seminar’s events. What’s striking is how different I feel anticipating an event where I know participants will want to belong. I feel like a human being, not a worker, provider, somebody’s problem solver or like I need to be anybody’s role model. All of that gets so tiring.
Photo of Vilnius, Lithuania by Eugenijus Radlinskas
True Community runs each Wednesday. Gint Aras explores his experiences as an instructor in a community college that serves a lower-middle to lower class district in Chicagoland.
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