This year, I’m celebrating Independence Day early. Herewith is my personal Declaration of Independence (minus the crinkly paper, fancy penmanship, and Thomas Jefferson’s inimitable style). Today, after almost twenty years of working in publishing, toiling in cubicles and offices, I’m giving my two weeks of notice and taking the next step forward with my life. I’m going to be a teacher—a high school English teacher, to be specific. For the next year, I’ll be studying towards a Masters in Education that, combined with my MA in English Literature, will allow me to help educate the next generation of leaders. I’ve briefly tried my hand at teaching in the past on the college level, but with the love and support of Annie and Alex, I’m taking the plunge and pursuing a whole new evolutionary stage of self. Teaching and learning are so intertwined that I’m sure that my love of learning will allow me to infect teenagers with the same drive to excel. The texts may be by Melville and Wordsworth, but the subtext will always be learning how to think about the world around us and communicate with the rest of humanity throughout time. Lofty goals, I admit, but after two decades of deadline pressure with little to show for it, I’m ready to tilt at windmills, although I’ll never believe that education’s a lost cause.
When I recently saw a picture of Bob Trotman’s installation sculpture titled Business as Usual (Coverup, Chorus, and Committee) (above), it struck me as the perfect symbol of my life in corporate America. For fifteen years, I belonged to a company that was bought and sold like chattel. We used to laugh at how quickly company letterhead had to be discarded to keep up with the latest name change. In 2001, however, we were finally sold down the river. A foreign company that couldn’t get past Clinton’s Department of Justice’s interpretation of a monopoly found the Bush Administration quite accommodating. The day of corporate judgment when the retained and the redundant were to be separated was scheduled for September 12th, 2001—yes, one day after 9/11. Two corporate suits unfortunately had seats on one of the hijacked planes and died. Out of respect, the company waited two whole weeks before axing 75% of my department. I was retained, but vowed never to forget the looks on the faces of my friends as they were labeled redundancies. In Trotman’s installation, I’m one of the Chorus in the middle, flailing my arms in frustration as such inhumanity is covered over and a committee of corporate types weighs the lives of people against the bottom line with all the compassion of a stone wall.
Two years after that, with an eye on starting a family with Annie, I made the jump from the for-profit world of publishing to the non-profit world, which was strangely making a better profit than the for-profit sector. Better benefits, especially for healthcare, lured me away despite a cut in pay. We were coming out ahead, at least at the beginning. Sadly, the corporate world seemed to follow me, with new corporate suits bringing their inhumane perspective to what was truly a great situation. The better benefits disappeared. Quality of life became a real issue. I started this blog in search of a way of finding a new creative outlet for all the things that I felt were trapped inside me. The job itself had become such a monotonous bore and the workplace a land of the living dead, ala George Tooker’s Landscape With Figures (above, from 1965-1966), that I needed a new escape plan. After much thought, Annie and I realized that teaching was not just an escape from, but also an escape to. I was escaping to the person that I wanted to be.
For the first time in a long time, I feel like my occupation will have real purpose. I’ve never found any real sense of identity in the publishing world. Actually, I’ve felt sorry for some of the people who’ve submerged themselves in their jobs to the exclusion of finding fulfillment in their personal lives. That’s a price I’ve never wanted to pay. The idea of teaching has me bursting with optimism, ala William Blake’s Glad Day (above, from 1796), except, of course, with my clothes on. I’ve always lived the life of the mind as a sideline, a hobby, but as a teacher I will finally be able to bring that part of my life to the front and center. I’m sure this sounds naïve, but I go into teaching clear-eyed. I know there’s drudgery and hierarchies to answer to in the educational world, too, but the final result is something I’m willing to work towards, which is something I just can’t say about publishing. The ethical and moral injustice I’ve witnessed in the field threatens to corrode my soul. Just the promise of teaching even one kid how to think better cleanses my spirit like a warm, summer rain.
I invite everyone to visit my “other” blog, a work in progress about my life as a teacher in progress—Disco Doceo, which roughly translates in Latin to “to learn to teach.” It has nothing to do with The Hustle or the Bee Gees, but will trace my progress learning the steps to the pedagogical dance. Art Blog By Bob will continue as before, but this new venture will surely color and, I hope, improve my writing and thinking about art and life.
[Infinite thanks to Annie and Alex for inspiring me to take this giant leap. I love you.]