Old habits are hard to break. I’ve spent the past week freelance teaching at the Shakespeare Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. Working on Shakespeare, debate and argumentation with groups of 13-16 year old GSCE students from parts of Birmingham and the Black Country (English West Midlands).
When offered, I jumped at the chance. I love Shakespeare, and I love sharing Shakespeare with others. And so, how did I fare, on this, my return to the classroom in x-number of months?
Well, to be honest, it just felt like “work.” That is not to say that I had no joy in it at all. I did enjoy myself, but, I was completely and utterly drained even after just my first day “back in the grind,” as my friend in Philadelphia would say. Have I missed it? No. Not at all. But it is like riding a bicycle. You never, ever forget how to do it.
There is a “teacher” switch that flips on in your head, that throws you into “high-energy overdrive.” And it is precisely this “up-up-up-motivational-mode” that starts to get a bit old after a while. Last night in the pub, our friend, Diane, said to me: “Gosh, I can’t imagine what it must have been like, working and teaching like that flat out everyday in New York.” And as I think about it now, neither can I. The stamina, the energy, the madness. These things, I do not miss.
I have become quite comfortable with my simple writerly life here in rural South Warwickshire. It is funny to me that not so long ago, I was weeping for my ‘career wardrobe’ languishing in my new country closet. But now that I have started to take myself seriously as a writer, I cannot think of being or doing anything else. Everything else is a just tedium, a means to an end, a distraction.
But, there is something more. Of course, it is nice to have the extra dosh/cash that guest lecturing provides, but it provides something else, too, does it not? Dare I say it: Respectability. When I take on these little Shakespeare stints, I’m not just a “stay-at-home-writer,” I’m a “Part-Time Lecturer and stay-at-home- writer.” However, the delusion is my own, and really, and I am fooling no one but myself.
Respectability, what does it mean? Why are we as human beings so concerned about how other see us, rate and/or approve of us?
One day this week, I had lunch with Tracey, a young teacher from Sandwell. We had a lot in common, both being graduates from Birmingham University’s School of English. “I’m a writer,” I explained when she asked about my career. “I’m a writer, and a Shakespeare scholar.” I shocked myself. This was the first time I had spoken these words, in this order. In the past, I have always put “scholar” first.
Tracey was fascinated. “How interesting, “she said, “You know, there are just some people who defy ‘the boxes’, y’know, you can’t place them in a box? You are definitely one of those people.”
May be she's right.