16 August 2008


"When you going to retire?"--some people ask, as if I have been hanging around too long already. At age 61 and in my eighteenth year of teaching, some think that I couldn't have much else to say, nothing to add pedagogically to our collective education, and can't possibly continue to guide the moral lives of young people. Perhaps this is true. But after lately living awash in too much Weltschmerz--despondency caused by the seemingly ubiquitous lying, urban-legend emails (the actual state of the world) spread about Sen. Barak Obama compared to the reality of his unique background (the truth as the ideal state of the world)--I could use some levity for a topic to think about. So, this anecdote.

Back to my teaching career: I will continue to teach as long as it is (relatively) fun and I think I have something to contribute. Since I grew up as a printer's devil at my father's newspaper office, in Central City, Kentucky, a job that I began around age six, and one that kept me covered in ink--anything after that would be seen as a better way to work for a living. I remember being smeared nearly completely over my adolescent body with black, greasy, probably poisonous, large and small streaks of newsprint ink. Back then, in the era of "dirty news-type," I was the Dickensian picture of a blackened child-laborer, who crawled under the large rumbling, hissing news press to gather up any pieces of ink-covered newsprint that had fallen there. All work after that would be considered a relief. I think I'll continue teaching.

I also have had jobs shoveling asphalt onto summer heat-shimmering roads and dead dogs off them in Muhlenberg County, Ky.; laying sod while yanking fingernails in Louisville, Ky.; selling men's apparel to surly customers at a clothing store in Lexington, Ky.; building houses as a general laborer in Napa Valley, Calif.; gathering Douglas fir cones from the tops of very tall swaying trees near Mt. Shasta, Calif.; landscaping and harvesting avocados in San Luis Obispo, Calif.; child-caring for two brats of a music-industry executive in Malibu, Calif.; and schlepping luggage as a bellman at a hotel in Biloxi, Miss. I also caught fierce, non-cooperative NASA rhesus monkeys, injecting them with knock-out sedatives, in order to clean their wounds in a basement of the Chandler Medical Center in Lexington, Ky.

So, you see that after all these grievous jobs, teaching is a relief. Eating newsprint ink, sodding, hammering, shoveling fetid dead dogs, and injecting fanged monkeys were never considered as vocations. I'll keep on teaching

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