I love a perfect drive. In golf, at least for amateurs (and I’m a level even below that), you hit the ball, one shot at a time down the fairway, each shot a means to the green. But there are, at least for me, some shots, some moments that are perfection. Sweet. Unreal in how incredible it is that I took this club and hit this tiny ball and it went right where I wanted it to go. Hundreds of yards away. And when I played regularly those were the moments I played for. The drive that sailed, that landed right where I wanted it to go. It always amazed me how I came out of those swings not able to describe what went right. There was either in the swing or out of the swing. And once out of the swing, there was no way to recreate in words the seamlessness, the perfection, the resonance of that moment.
The golf swing is an act. An action. A moment where my physical body is. It is not just me. It is the swing, the ball, the club, the flight, the arc, the divot, the tee, the wind…When it goes right it is every part in tune and I am more than a human; I am a human within the world. In this moment, I experienced being.
How do you explain being? Sitting here, I want to stop writing. Because I can’t describe it. There is no way to share that moment with you; there’s only describing after-the-fact. But that doesn’t mean the moment wasn’t worth it. That doesn’t mean the moment didn’t exist. That doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced your own moments of being while engaging in the activity that puts you in closer contact with this resonance I felt in the swing of a club.
I believe we live for such moments of being. Chase them. Because we experience what it means, in those moments, to not be outside of and thinking on the world, but to exist within it. And it is the linking together of those meanings, those moments, the reflection upon them later, and the striving forward to get back to them that opens us out toward the other and into community instead of closing us down into the self and off behind immunity.
Writing and reading are also acts. Actions. Moments where the body physically does and physically is. The way theorists and higher education continue to theorize and use them, however, discards their physicality for practicality. Writing and reading are too often only talked about as tools. For memorization, for communication, for argumentation, for production, even for creation. Those moments where the writer writes or the reader reads are too often seen as shots along the fairway, a means to the green, to the essay, to the assessment. Students are rarely asked to reflect on who they are, how they understand themselves, what happens to them in the act of reading or writing.
They may have the moments—the perfect drive where putting words to paper or reading lives off the page resonates. Where they touch upon or experience being. But they aren’t asked to consider those moments. To reflect on them. To contemplate what they might mean. They are told that writing better or reading more will make them better citizens, better students, better employees. And yes, they might. But, as I said in my prospectus, these are intrinsic motivators at best and hegemonic moves at worst.
Not every act of writing, not every act of reading will be an act of being. Just like every shot I took in a round didn’t sing. But language, unlike golf, is not a game humans can as easily opt out of. However we engage with language—writing, reading, speaking, signing, brail—we do engage it. And that is a fact—a space for possibility—that we, as writing and reading teachers, too often fail to bring up, much less reflect on with our students.
For me, that’s The Way of Seeing. I once thought that writing poetry (as I heard from Ric Masten) was an attempt to capture a moment in “a corral of words” in order to share it with others. Across the years, I not only grew to see that a horse in any corral is not the same as a horse anywhere else and that words are unavoidably inadequate for capturing any experience, any moment. So, what’s a poem for? To share the moment in a way that invites a reader to seek such moments of seeing and experiencing. It’s not so much sharing what the poet sees but how. And, voila! Look what I wrote just three days ago:
first draft (in e-mail to TL)
Poetry at Its Best
I prefer writing poetry
to reading it; reading poetry
aloud to the other way.
I prefer reading almost anything
to reading about poetry
on most days.
I want to write I’d rather hear
a poem read than read a poem heard,
but I do not believe it’s true.
I write what’s not true because I rather
like the wiggly way the words wind the line
like a worm on a fish hook.
Most days I enjoy reading
a poem I have heard read
as much as I enjoyed hearing it. Read.
Today comparing one joy to another
seems wrong like enjambment writing
awkward on purpose or not true.
I prefer seeing visual art
to creating it; seeing how my creations
take shape robs me of much joy.
Not so much do I compare
my work with other artists’ as
with the art I make in mind. Before hand.
The words my mind makes
that some days I call art remain
the same in my mind and on my line.
Or else I change them.
Poetry at its best invites
others to write it. Poets at their best
make poets of us all.
Who claims art at its best invites
others to buy it, makes us critics all,
picture framers, comparison shoppers,
commodity traders all.
Additional line that begs inclusion: But somebody has to pay for the paint.
I think this business of art and experience must be especially relevant to post human pedagogy. Isn’t it?