Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Yesterday a student came up with a packet of color photographs. His first project was a rather formal study of vegetables and fruit, sliced, against a plain background. Recently he took photographs when he and his wife went to visit her parent's large home in Connecticut. I urged him to print more than he'd chosen and he seems pleased with that, or as pleased as he'll allow. He has only a week to do a last project, almost everyone has dragged feet on this. And he wondered if he could do anything with these photos .... that he has on a disk, snapshot from Iraq, 2006, when he was there are a Marine in the reserves. Some were of gorgeous children, posing, others were of wrecked armored cars, bullet holes. One was of a captive with his automatic rifle. I didn't look at more than twenty or thirty in what must have been at least 150 images.

Another student did a long project on his time there, photographs of the equipment he still has stored, reproductions of the bracelets from his dead friends and photographs of him ready for combat, along with images of the person he is now, going to school, studying criminal justice. Each photograph was labeled with a fine-point magic marker which further clarified just when friends had died or that he was leaving for class. During critique other students argued whether he should pair the photographs about Iraq with those of his daily life now. They seemed to ignore the transitional group of images that tied the two sides of his experience together, but all were impressed with his work. He says that some days he can print for 4 hours, sometimes only 45 minutes. I've asked if I can show him to the Vet who runs the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, a poet, Kevin Bowen, but he had a hard enough time showing the work to a group he knows.

When he was starting the project, and I'd seen a bit of the work, I showed him the Dishwasher's blog since it seemed relevant to who he wants to be, the work he wants to do. And he sat there, scrolling down, reading the entries. Then I showed him Ontheverge, or On the Verge, to prove that the Dishwasher has a fine wife and life can be hard, but good. He wrote down the names of both blogs.....

A student in the 9 o'clock class, who is from Tibet, thinks that homeless men just say they are vets to get more sympathy. He said this to his friend, the one from Napal, who believed that the guy he photographed and talked to for so long was really a vet. I said that many vets end up homeless, but he wasn't very convinced.

Sometimes I get to talk with other faculty, like Taylor Stoehr who I just met. They tell me stories of students...as interesting as mine....it's been far more interesting, I think, to teach at a urban university, work with students whose parents probably haven't gone to college, or who are immigrants. Though teaching at MIT was far more prestigious, it was much too easy. Everyone was already programmed for success.

But I'm in despair about these classes. If I'd stayed around, not retired, I would have tried to keep the new kids on the block from cutting each class by 40 minutes, time I need so I'm not just working with the better students, so I could do more to help the ones struggling. I was programmed to two hours and twenty-minutes, had adjusted my skills to that amount of time. Now I feel like a failure and am, compared to what I used to be able to do.

But, as the Dishwasher would say, Nemaste.


  1. You may feel like a failure, but you are not.

  2. This is quite a story you have here. I think it takes a lot of emotional fortitude to teach this class. It sounds like you are providing a priceless service to your students. What is more important than finding a means to express oneself?

    Rather than feeling like a failure, I think you need to celebrate what you have already given your students and what you will be able to give them in the future. As we get older, we can not expect to have the same level of productivity from our younger years. Instead you will be able to share the depth of your wisdom and the length of your experience.

    Remember to stay strong for yourself and for your students.

  3. I felt touched by your post. Very poignant and humble. You're an amazing chronicler. Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  4. I suspect you might make more of a mark on your students despite their apathy. As long as you feel your despair but not act on it, you'll survive. By this I mean, persevere.

    Your blog suggests to me and clearly to others that you're doing a fine job.

  5. arent we all a bit in love with tearful D? he's fabulous...

  6. echoing Mim here...
    you are so NOT! a failure.

  7. dear everyone, thank you...
    I just liked it a lot better when the class was longer, 40 minutes longer, and I could listen more because I enjoy that...I feel more useful that way...and this compressed class is difficult and I'm just about done teaching, and it's hard to let go...