Some suggestions for answering the questions, Why bother? and What’s the point?, both in terms of an education and a life, which for me, are inextricably tied. These suggestions do not include a teleology and are less about growth or progress, more about survival and learning to live within precarity.

from the unDisciplined Dossier:

Ask these Questions About Your Education

  • Does your education move you to struggle?
  • Compel you to feel the force of ideas, theories, questions?
  • Does it equip you with tools for being curious, listening and taking seriously the lives and worlds of others, and resisting and claiming your own voice?

Claiming an education is NOT

  • Worshipping professors as exalted Experts and uncritically regurgitating their ideas.
  • Perpetuating and protecting harmful academic values that ignore and exclude ideas, experiences, and voices that oftentimes by their very existence within the academy, question what and who education is for
  • Rigidly fixing the relationship between teacher and students as one in which a Teacher only teaches and students are only taught.

Claiming an education IS

Practicing your pedagogical values, not just protecting them.

Students are NOT

  • Consumers
  • Butts in seats, or “butts with jobs”
  • Faking anxiety
  • Coddled
  • Over-sensitive complainers
  • Prepared
  • Going to take it anymore

What is an Education For?*

  • To develop new languages for understanding mySelf and the world.
  • To connect with ideas, authors, other people.
  • To cultivate and practice being curious and capacious.
  • To be exposed to new ideas, new worlds, new ways of being.
  • To harness passion and direct it in meaningful ways.
  • To develop resources for processing and healing.
  • To acquire tools for resisting and reimagining.
  • To engage in/with LIFE.
  • And to contribute to and sustain ongoing conversations that are bigger than any one individual or institution.

*Besides learning marketable skills, earning a degree and getting a job.

Who is an Education for? Everyone.

As a Teacher, I am NOT giving

  • Advice
  • Permission
  • a Lecture
  • a Sales Pitch

As a Teacher, I AM giving

  • an Account of a teacher/person/thinker/troublemaker who is passionate about education
  • Proof that other ways of being/engaging/teaching are possible (not always successful or recommended, but possible)
  • an Invitation to engage, experiment, resist and unlearn unhealthy habits

On the Ethical and Intellectual Contract Between Students and Teacher

In “Claiming an Education,” Adrienne Rich describes this contract as “a pledge of mutual seriousness about students and about language, idea, method and values.” This contract is not simply one in which students work to take themselves and their education seriously and teachers work to help them to do so. Pedagogies need to be transformed. So do teaching practices and methods. Values. Teachers must do work, taking their own education as a learner and a teacher seriously and transforming how they understand what it means to be an educator and to claim an education.

Class Goals

The No Assholes Version*

  • Become trained on how to read theory, how to use theoretical language, and how to write analytically and critically about social and personal issues…without being an asshole
  • Learn various strategies for how best to have debates…that don’t involve being an asshole
  • Develop a sense of community in which class members (students and teacher) all can critically explore a wide range of perspectives in respectful and productive ways…without being assholes to each other or anyone else
  • Cultivate a community of learners…with no assholes
  • Become skilled in experimenting with social media, such as blogs and twitter, and use those media for fostering connections and engaging in transformative practices…that challenge and refuse asshole behavior and attitudes

*Official goals from my syllabi…with the asshole clause added.

The Troublemaking Version

  • Learn how to feel the effects of ideas encountered and the force of the questions posed
  • Unlearn assumptions about ideas, about how to read, and about even how to be/act in the classroom
  • Develop strategies for experiencing discomfort, not knowing and feeling trouble/d, be serious about your own resistances, and take responsibility as active participants and contributors to the class
  • Cultivate an acceptance for questions without answers, problems without solutions
What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade/ Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

What a class! The things listed here are impossible to teach, I suppose, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if our education gave more space for them to be considered? What if we took seriously the idea that the goal/purpose of education is to flourish and to learn how to be caring, responsible people in community with others instead of about individual success and competition and being better than anyone else? (from my RUN! log entry/ feb 10, 2021)

We do not need more successful people

While reading an interview with Williams, I encountered this quotation by David Orr from his commencement speech, “What is an Education For?“:

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.

To Get Through and Lessen Our Suffering

For me, I’m aware of how life has been difficult, and because of that I’m acutely aware of the things that have felt to me like mercy, or felt to me like something that has helped me get through. I am very serious about honoring that getting-through and the tools that help one get through, because those are other things; that’s something else that is not promised. And none of us are promised to find a thing that will lessen our suffering. And so to find that feels vital — to uplift it when you find it.

On Being Episode with Hanif Abdurraqib

Something must have made me keep going with it. Some atmosphere in my life must have shifted just enough for me to attribute it to the regular and concerted Doing of Nothing. A long-term sitting colleague of mine always says that people may start practicing because of a crisis, but they continue due to a profound ontological curiosity. More like making than fixing. How to Live. Why we’re Alive. What are Desire, Pleasure, Ethics and Self? I also like to quip, only semi-humorously—that when I sat regularly—I also didn’t want to top myself so much.

Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting/ Antonia Pont

I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.

Upstream/ Mary Oliver
I’m in my element
“I’m in my elemeeeeeeeeeent!” / Finn, the human
Goal: contribute to an archive of eloquence and response

And, yes, poetry is connected to contemporary life, but it’s also always connected to other poetry. We need an archive of eloquence and response.

Interview with Edward Hirsch
Get to the point

Her prose can be perplexing, but only because we are so used to our books coming with elaborate instructions that tell us how to read them. Rutkoff’s style may seem strange because it is telegraphic: it admits nothing inessential. She doesn’t waste her breath assuring us she trades exclusively in fact or fiction, or explaining how she shuffles the two. Nor does she firm up her credentials and reveal what knowledge, insider or otherwise, gives her the authority to speak about Ed Harris and Jackson Pollock and Rosalind Krauss and Haskell Wexler and Oprah. 

Some of us waste whole paragraphs and/or lives squeezing into the clothes of art critics and sociologists and psychoanalysts, fumbling with all those expensive, complicated buttons. Even Foucault’s Masked Philosopher declared his profession. Rutkoff doesn’t. Rather than wear a mask, she writes in the nude.

Naked Criticism/ Mal Ahern
make NOTHING happen

nothing as a place, a moment, a practice — possibility, the void, mystery, the space above a river, between 2 shores

from 29 march 2023:This idea of communicating nothing (with nothing not as no thing but as something in and of itself) reminds me of something else I read earlier this year about “making nothing happen” but couldn’t remember where I had read it. It took me almost an hour to track it down yesterday. The “make nothing happen” is in W. H. Auden poem for Yeats:

from In Memory of W. B. Yeats/ W. H. Auden


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

And the reading about it comes from Ross Gay and one of his incitements in Inciting Joy, which I first read as an essay for the October 2022 issue of Poetry:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard conversations about W. H. Auden’s famous line from his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”: “poetry makes nothing happen.”…At some point, probably I heard someone else say it,7 it occurred to me that all these poets, and all these conversations, were misreading Auden’s line, and that he was really talking about (inasmuch as a poem is him talking about something) what poetry makes, the sometimes product or effect or wake or artifact of poetry, of a poem. Granted the line feels emphatic, grand, provocative even—seriously, I can’t tell you how many tweed-jacketed refutations to Auden’s line I have endured; no one has ever explained to me the elbow patch—but what the line makes made is not nothing, but nothing happening. Or rather, nothing happening. The happening it makes is nothing. In other words, a poem, or poetry, can stop time, or so-called time at least. First of all, what a good reminder it is that a poem is an action, and as Auden has it, a powerful one, too. Secondly, and not for nothing, this is one of the suite of poems Auden wrote in the late thirties and early forties, a period when one might have wanted so-called time—the clock, the airplanes, the trains, the perfectly diabolical synchronous goosestep rhythm of time itself—to stop.

Out of Time (Time: The Fourth Incitement)/ Ross Gay

He adds:

you, too, might’ve been praying for a way to stop the march of so-called time, and poems, sometimes, might do that. Poems are made of lines, which are actually breaths, and so the poem’s rhythms, its time, is at the scale and pace and tempo of the body, the tempo of our bodies lit with our dying. And poems are communicated, ultimately, body to body, voice to ear, heart to heart.9 Even if those hearts are not next to one another, in space or time. It makes them so. All of which is to say a poem might bring time back to its bodily, its earthly proportions. Poetry might make nothing happen. Inside of which anything can happen, maybe most dangerously, our actual fealties, our actual devotions and obligations, which is to the most rambunctious, mongrel, inconceivable assemblage of each other we could imagine.

Perhaps I’m wandering too far away from the orange void here? Poetry as speaking the void, making Nothing happen, existing outside of the normal/rational/obvious/taken-for-granted. Gay’s explicit connection to time and against capitalism resonates deeply for me. Stop those clocks, those planes, that machinery we’re using to destroy the planet, the future.

my goals as an artist/writer, a draft

from my Plague Notebook, Vol 19 on 3 april 2024:

To describe the world (primarily in poetry) from the perspective of the peripheral and from where some central vision exists but is not/no longer centered. . . . new ways of writing about noticing the world that don’t center central vision or that rely on but don’t center peripheral vision (because peripheral vision, by virtue of how it works, can never be centered in the same way that central vision was/is). . . . a few images I’m currently obsessed with: birds, wind, the idea of the Form, not as Platonic but as vague, basic, lacking the specificity of focus — Tree Bird Cloud.