Thursday, August 26, 2010


Funny thing about leaving. You're gone before you're actually gone. People start thinking about you as yesterday, in the past, not current. There's something comforting in that--of being spoken of in the past tense, even when you're still alive. I'm noting, with interest, the responses to my impending departure: one is a deep sigh of relief, a gratitude for my silence. "She's finally shut up." Another response, the most puzzling of the bunch, is the anger: "How dare she?" There are those who think I've flipped. "Who, tell me, WHO gives up tenure and a great job in this economy?" I do. And despite my anxiety over the unknownness of it all, I feel better than I've felt in a long, long time--maybe for as long as I've been in the academy. I have no more obligations "to the race." I have no more obligations to "diversify the institution." I do not have to be spokesperson for faculty, staff and students of color. I get to be nobody, in the way, a has been. A teacher on the decline, nearing retirement, nuts. I find it incredibly satisfying to have forfeited my title as HNIC. Nobody cares what I say or if I say or.... A ton of burdens have fallen from my weary shoulders, and for once, I'm thinking about me, my life and the life of my partner. I've not had one moment of regret about this decision. I'm committed to giving my best to the students in my courses this semester, but I wonder if I have any best left in me. I apply for positions others can't imagine that I really want, but I want them. Executive assistant to a college president, entering the corporate world, working in a bookstore. All are possibilities that excite me. All represent a certain freedom from an all-consuming profession. I imagine the joy of reading bad novels. Having a day where I don't have to figure out what to do. What I want to do now is just have fun, enjoy my family and friends, enjoy my life to the fullest. I just want a job--just a job, even if it's one I don't like so well. Perhaps everything really does go full circle. Maybe I long for the childhood I never had--the time for play and frolic; the time for ME. I think, for the very first time in my life EVER, I'm making a choice for me, my life rather than for someone or something external to me. I'm going to continue chronicle this journey. Lots left for me to learn. At the moment, I'm flying high.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Toni Morrison is one of my favorite writers. I taught a course on Morrison years and years ago. A colleague audited the course, and as an extravagant end of semester gift, she gave me a complete set of all of the novels Morrison had written. The last Morrison novel that I read was JAZZ. Though I purchased the subsequent novels, I've not read one. There's a reason for that, and the reason is JAZZ. The literary crescendo from THE BLUEST EYE to BELOVED is stunning, and although BELOVED is not my favorite Morrison novel, it certainly deserves its place among American literary masterpieces. After I read BELOVED, I wondered what Morrison could possibly have left to say to her readers. How could she possibly write anything comparable to BELOVED and the splendid novels that she'd written prior to it? I read JAZZ, and I got a response to my question. Morrison couldn't outdo what she had already done. None of her subsequent novels have received the acclaim of the first four. Morrison likely needs to write; believes she has something more to say, and that's okay. However, I wish she had recognized the greatness that she'd achieved and simply understood that she had reached the top of the mountain, and her current work slowly creeps back down again. I've read enough chapters and passages to know that about the more recent novels.

And now to me. I've been a teacher for the past thirty years. I've spent all of my professional life in or near the classroom. I've been a terrible teacher, and I've been a superb teacher. Many of my best teaching years have been in college classrooms. I've remained an excited and enthusiastic teacher despite my battles and woundings in the academy. I've have always known that the academy and I were not, as we say, a "good fit," but my passion for teaching; my love for my students, my excitement about classroom interactions; the sheer joy that teaching gave me made the suffering (and I mean suffering) bearable. That is no more. For the first time in my life, I dread the beginning of a new school year. Though I have emotional tugs toward the classroom, and I can't imagine life without students in it, I know that it is time to go. I have started to creep back down the mountain, and that it not the place where I want to end my life as teacher. The passion is gone; the enthusiasm is gone. I love teaching, and I love it enough to leave it before I don't love it anymore. Although I'd like to merge my attitude toward teaching with my feelings about my workplace, I think that's not quite the case. As far as the workplace is concerned, I've weathered too many storms. Many would argue that the storms are of my own making, but they were storms nonetheless. I'm weary of institutional politics, institutional racism, and while I know I'll most certainly find them in any organization with which I'm affiliated, I need a new and different variety. The academic versions have burned me up, exhausted me to the point of no return. It's time to leave SLU. It's time to leave while I'm still able to conjure up a fond memory or two. It's time to leave the profession. It's time to leave teaching while I still believe in its power and importance. It's time to leave the profession while I still love it; while thinking about leaving it makes me cry and feel sad and lost. Why not stay? I've read the declining evaluations. I feel my waning desire to read the books, grade the papers, stand before them and teach what I teach. I'm impatient with them. I'm weary. I hope this will be my final semester. It's definitely my final year at SLU.

You got to know when it's time to go. We all know people, celebrities, athletes, colleagues and friends, who have held on too long--those who reached their peak and refused to recognize or acknowledge their decline. You got to know when it's time to go despite the assurances that you're okay or you've got a lot to give. YOU got to know when it's time to go.

And so, I venture out on faith. I've interviewed for a job. Waiting to hear. Terrified. Afraid of failing, but also excited and thrilled about the possibility of learning new things and exploring new worlds. There's comfort in the familiar. The future is uncertain, but it looks bright and positive. And when I imagine what I'm leaving with great sorrow, I imagine what lies ahead and I smile. Hail and farewell to my students past. Hail and farewell to my colleagues and friends. Hail and farewell to "Writin' Black from the Academy." You got to know when it's time to go.

Thank you, kind readers, for your time and attention. Thanks for your comments and criticisms. Thanks for making my words matter. May peace be with you. Margaret