Students always ask questions that I cannot answer: How many people get A’s in this course? This is in a Critical Thinking course where I want them to know what’s critical is that they are learning to think and that a grade cannot exactly measure their growth. But I can’t tell them that grades don’t matter (to me as their teacher) because I know that they are the keys that these students are seeking, keys they can turn into universities, into careers, into happy, stable lives (no pressure). When they ask this, I offer what I can: the list of our assignments, the rubrics they are assessed by, the texts to read, the promise of lively discussions to illuminate the material, some extra credit, office hours, my willingness to respond to emails at nearly all hours of the day (provided they are not asking questions about what grade this essay would earn at this point). I want to say: you have an A; ow what will you learn? But I know, for some of us, it would be far more productive to promise an F from day one. It’s a tricky balance that we usually figure out by the time grades are posted.
I gave myself the task of writing twenty-five love poems in a year. I found that I spent nearly as much time counting them as I did writing them, especially in the beginning. And, I found it helpful to tell as many people as I could about the project (except the person for whom they were intended), so that I would actually get it done. More than drafting twenty-five poems, I learned a great deal about writing about love. The most important lesson is that not all love poems have to be loving; they can be about the difficult, even ugly, complexities of love. In fact, with some exceptions, I found the more complex the love, the more complex the love poem. Simply, love poems don’t have to be happy, or even nice, poems. Maybe I started stretching things or getting tired of my own project, but now that I am “done,” I wonder if all poems are love poems. Maybe not always in the sense of affection, but I write poems about things by which I am affected. Do I love all of those things? Not exactly, but poetry helps me to find some way to celebrate not the long flight, but the way the sun shone through the window warming my hair. I loved that. I don’t suddenly appreciate the rage of the engines, but I do admire the river’s contours in the distance. I do love that I can see things from this distance.
Imagine that it is a hot afternoon, the type of weather that almost automatically makes you want to throw yourself down on the shady bank of a small creek, under the bridge your lover is measuring for a client. But before you find a shady spot to laze in and listen to the near stillness of your surroundings, you notice that, with almost every step you take, a cloud of light blue butterflies is stirred into commotion at your feet. This constellation of blue is no higher than your shins and moves frantically so you do not crush the entire colony. Suddenly, there is no safe place to sit. Even more, you cannot resist the urge to disturb these otherwise (practically) invisible creatures. So, you find yourself, despite the temperature, pacing the bank, crossing one side of the creek to the other: butterflies. Crossing back: butterflies. Pacing, sweating: butterflies!