I’m sitting in an Ethics in Politics class next to a square jawed conservative Republican, having a debate about the recently elected Bill Clinton’s stance on women in the military. Jack or John or Jake, I can’t remember his name, leans over to me quietly and says, “You know, kissing up to women is not going to get them to sleep with you.” And I am unable to articulate in that moment that I am not trying to kiss up to women. I am not trying to get them to sleep with me. I am trying to believe in the right things.
I teach by what I am moved by. In my class, whether that be writing or politics or technology, what happened yesterday is a catalyst for today’s lesson. What I saw or read or thought makes its way into the classroom in near real time. My classes lack the long perspective classical learning achieves, the efficacy a more conservative approach might provide. They fail to honor the filter of time. But, they are present, and fluid, and real. They keep me, as a teacher, engaged with the world, and I hope they keep the students engaged in the class. They are not boring.
Comedian Bill Burr is onstage, in black and white, telling a story about a man who jumps 500 feet from a helicopter during a tour of the California coastline. It’s three quarters of the way into his special that was released on Netflix just last week. It’s great storytelling. It’s visual. It’s detailed. I have four distinct turns that I can highlight in my writing class.
The On Being podcast this week is about social change, about revolutionaries who get burned out when the conscience of the world lumbers on undented by their fervor. On this episode they mention the book of one of the guests, Courtney E. Martin, entitled Do It Anyway. She is writing from the point of view of the generation I am either a part of, or that is just behind me.
It’s 1995 and I am living in Albany, New York being disillusioned by my first interaction with legislation, politicking, and sausage making. The main book in the pile library growing on my window sill is a collection of essays by Gen-Xers. The book is lost to my personal history now. I can’t even find the title on Amazon. Its thesis remains. It’s not that we, my generation, doesn’t want to change the world. It’s just that we’ve been told our whole lives that it is pointless to try. It’s all been done.
When I show the class Bill Burr they get his first point quickly, the American dream is dead. They get the second turn after a slight hesitation, seize the day. The third is harder, but they come to, your life will not work out the way you hoped. The last lesson they do not get. I do not get. We discuss but can’t pin it down. We sort of say it all works out, or we all die, or fuck it, whatever. What we are all looking for is Courtney Martin’s title, do it anyway.
You can write essays on a blog, poetry that won’t sell, have useless arguments with well off conservatives. You can pine for lost loves, run marathons, support women’s rights, teach ungrateful kids or just play cards. And when you are dead, when the vast majority of us are dead, the everlasting, ever forgetful drumbeat of culture will move on. No one will remember. The girls didn’t sleep with you. Your great grandkids will probably never know you. Do it anyway. Though the chances of any of it keeping you alive beyond your death are slim, do it anyway. For no good reason. Because you can. Because you must. Because that is the best of yourself you can do, do it anyway.
I went online and read the introduction to Courtney E. Martin’s book. I’ll add it to the now large library of things to be imbibing. I am not twenty-two anymore. The seminal questions of my own life, where to live, who to love, who to marry, what career paths to take, all seem to be answered. I am probably not going to be a revolutionary. But I will read it. And I am sure I will use something of it for some class I will teach. I might even use it next week. And even if I don’t, even if there is no point to reading it, if it brings about no change in my view, or my life, or my work, I am going to do it. Just like I will keep writing, keep teaching, keep myself open to what happens this week. It may not lead anywhere. Fuck it. Do it anyway.