April 24th, 2007



I’d understand if you’d given up on me or thought I’d been sucked into the blogger’s black hole. I’m surprised the truancy officer’s not knocking at my door.

I think now’s when I say, “The dog ate my homework.” But really, it was more like this:

A couple of weeks ago, we shopped for, and finally purchased, a minivan. I know, I know. Gasp, snicker, blush. Stick on the soccer decals and spill some dry cereal across the backseat. I’ve arrived.

This decision caused just a little bit of grief since it did not exactly get me closer to my VW bug convertible fantasy.  And there was the whole gas mileage crunching – older Subaru vs. newer van divided by a carpool or two, times one noble husband commuting by bike and bus.

Still, after driving it for 4 days and multiple playdates, I grew very fond indeed. This is why I was a tad distressed when the wind storm that Friday night pulled down our neighbor’s tree, which ripped out all our power lines and landed on said van.

As we gasped for air without a phone or computer or automobile, we talked about the difference between a hassle and a disaster. This fell into the category of hassle. Big, green, heavy hassle, but hassle nonetheless. 

The girls got it. Our six-year-old told us a story about a woman in Africa who was a widow with 11 children and they were all ill. “A broken van is not like that,” she sighed.

This was beginning to look like a bit of a blessing, in that teachable moment kind of way. 
We stopped gasping and began to breathe deeply again.

And then the Virginia Tech shootings happened.
A broken van is not like that either. At all.

Deep breathing? Impossible. There is a hook in every inhale as we think about the victims’ agony, the parents’ grief, the unfathomable choices of the mentally ill. I cannot begin to plumb the depths of all that suffering.

Too, I think about Cho’s teachers, his writing. When we read our students’ creative work we grow intimate with them in a way we might not if we were correcting algebraic equations. This is a privilege, and every writing teacher I know holds it carefully, in confidence, with respect. We are writers. We know what it is to take our hearts off of our sleeves and plant them firmly on the page.

The hidden burden of this privileged intimacy has now come swinging through the teaching community like a catapult. I sit here myself with a stack of student journals at my side, and am sorely tempted to try a laying on of hands instead of my usual close read. But that’s not my job. Writing without authenticity or provocation is cold. Writing without readers is lonely and empty. With privilege comes responsibility.

On the tail of all this, I went away last Thursday for a long weekend with three old friends. Old like introduced-me-to-my-husband old. Old like all-of-us-turning-40-and-needing-facials old. Old like good old.

We spent a blissful, funny, easy few days together. The blips were microscopic: the first night, the hot tub was cold; one time we turned right when we should’ve turned left; a crowd of greyhound buses overwhelmed one of the vineyards we visited. Nothing that even registered on the hassle scale, much less disaster.

And last night I arrived home to a beaming family — flowers on the table and the tent still set up from their backyard camp-out. This is the same family who’s out a van, but nevermind all that. What a difference a week makes.

Tonight, I’ll sit in circle with my students again. We will read each other's work and carefully comment and suggest and guide. And under my breathe, I’ll be counting my blessings. It’s only fair. Privilege. Responsibility.