I’ve assigned you what is basically a lecture about Context, and maybe I need to take a moment to think about how my role as teacher and yours as student might impact the way you perceive my message about dialogue and literature. I sometimes forget that I’m the Teacher, the kind of person you’d be surprised to see in shorts (because that would reveal that I actually have legs) or on line in a deli or supermarket, where your typical first thought might be, Hi, Mr. McAteer. What are you doing here? (FYI, food isn’t magically delivered to Planet Teacher.)
So I want to talk in non-literary terms about dialogue. First proposition: to dialogue with someone is to make a connection, and it is only through connectedness that we feel we are part of something.
When you look at the corkboard right by the computer in our classroom, you see part of my ongoing dialogue. From Stamford Advocate stories to stick figure drawings to little notes or pieces of art, by or about students who have impacted me as a person, I connect every day with what I should be trying to do in my job. When I have the choice to stop by the gas station for coffee in the morning, or buy Keurig cups in bulk so I can drink from the mug Gita gave me, I really have no choice, because the mug gives me a chance to somehow connect with the person Gita is every day. When that camel with its arrogant nose in the air looks down at me, Annie is looking at our classroom from across the ocean at St. Andrew’s. When the collage of U2 album covers catches my eye, I am reminded of the creative and critical presence of Caroline Mackenzie here more than a decade ago.
How empty my job would seem if it weren’t built on all these connections. And given that a job occupies so much of the space of a person’s life, wouldn’t my life be a shame if that space were empty?
Even the literary piece I’m asking you to read as an entry into complex, layered dialogue is a product of dialogue. When Bo McGinniss wrote to me from college that he had read East of Eden and that it was, at that time, the best book he’d ever read, I had to read it (because when Bo recommends a book, you know there’s something to it). And I’m sure that I was more open to enjoying the novel because while I was reading it I was also connecting with Bo, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. At some point soon, I’ll get to All the King’s Men, which is the most recent life-changing book he has recommended to me.
Even earlier this week, when Ember favorited a tweet practice video I almost accidentally posted, I felt the little thrill of connectedness, and it took me to the feeling I get whenever I see that someone who is a ghost to these hallways remains a human connection for me.
Generally speaking, writers, like teachers, have body parts and eat. They also have a desire to connect with all those works that have inspired them to write in the first place, and to be connected with by those whom they might inspire. Novels, plays and poems, even when they’re really complex, and even when you don’t exactly know what’s going on in them, are a lot less threatening if you think of them as opportunities to make connections rather than expressions that you’re supposed to judge.