Thursday, October 21, 2010

It is I, Yaro, To Discuss the Value of the Air. (A Repost From Yesterday, Since More than a Few Folks Felt Yaro Got Cheated when His Comments Thread Went Berzerk!)

I teach in a place, where the mouthbreathers used to take a beating, where my livelier charges would find opportunities to rally the assemblage.

I can remember a long ago term where a particularly splendid student offered himself up to a desultory fellow sophomore as a tutor. This offer was taken up, much to my surprise, and the two of them became quite a team, the mouthbreather raising his own grade to something like passing, and my better student developing his own love for the lectern.

What has gotten me off on that particular story today is a session I've just come from, a particularly tedious opening to class where my students's only addition to the proceedings had been carbon dioxide. (I would have used the appropriate chemical "notation," alas, I, Yaro, am a humanist, and, according to "Jim" and others, likely a pillock.)

Anyway, back to my tale. The mouthbreathers won me over for several minutes today. Despite the grand weather I'd not opened the windows at the start of my class - as is my wont - but I found myself staring out there anyway, into a sweeping quad and several collections of young people.

To be clear, I had asked a question, an essential one. This is my method. I don't take credit for developing it, for surely the ancient Greeks are somewhat more experienced in the matter than myself, but it is - nonetheless - what I, Yaro, use.

So I had asked a question - not necessarily clever or cute or tricky. Just a question that was one step along a long corridor to some answers that I knew would unlock my students from where they sat now to an elevated place from which to take on their next commission.

And the silence. Of course, the silence. In fact, Ms. Keef has touched on these matters earlier. (And I must confess how delighted I was to learn that the odd "sausage" line was not profane at all, but a clever turn that I, Yaro, could use in mixed company.)

I am sorry, I've gotten away from it again.

The silence. It was thick. It made me tired. So I stood, went to the windows, and opened them. And the American Whitman came to me - as if in one of the gusts themselves: "Unscrew the locks from the doors! / Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!"

And it made me so giddy that I chuckled.

Now, my students know that I have a savage humor, one that is strong but - admittedly - a little odd, so there was no particular notion among them why I had chuckled, at what or whom. Perhaps old Yaro had flipped his wig, was what I thought they might be contemplating.

But the wind blew in, and it filled me with something and I turned to them, these normally delightful young people, and I said, "My question, mes amis. My question still stands. It's still hanging, as it were, in the air. But I'm going to give you 7 minutes. 7 minutes to ease your way down the hallway and out into this wondrous day. Do not make a fuss, for God's sake, do not make a fuss. No clatter, no tweeting, in fact leave your materials, your devices, leave it all here. But take yourselves out into this day. You have my question, don't you? In fact can't you still feel it? It's all over this room. It's the very same that I uttered those minutes ago, the one that drove me out of my chair and to these windows. I see it now, people. I see that the air outside is waiting, that is ripe, that is enlivened. So, go to it. No backpacks, please, this is not an escape nor a dismissal. But go out there. 7 minutes as I say, and then a return. And I will expect this fine day and its pleasures will motivate you. I trust that la petite brise will bring your tired brains the necessary launch to bring this all into focus, to help us find the answer."

Certainly you know what happened next. Of course they scattered. Their eyes were flashing, their smiles were wide. It brought me an insane pleasure to watch them transform. Good to my word, I stayed behind and I, Yaro, was standing at the very same windows when I saw them explode out into the quad. They stood perplexed for a moment, and then - slowly, seemingly inexorably - began to move toward my open window.

"Professor," one of them said. "You were asking us about the transition from having an idea, and how that 'idea' must somehow transform to something like 'claim' in order to be suitable for academic discourse. Is that correct? I mean to say, I believe that was where your question had us headed."

And I was delighted. I nodded, there inside the classroom, now jauntily resting a newly bare arm on the edge of the sill as the whole class gathered around the open pane.

"Indeed," I said. "That is an excellent first step."

Dr. Whitson, a rather unpleasant Sociologist I know - although I want to stress that Whitson is not unpleasant in any way that has to do with his discipline. I almost married a Sociologist, years ago, right out of the Academy, a lovely woman, and a much better Sociologist than Whitson ever dreamed of being, he with his hollow leg and even more hollow good sense. But Dr. Whitson went by and saw our odd grouping. When he tilted his blockhead toward us to catch the flavor of the dialogue, my student Abernathy was making great hay out of a point concerning an essay we'd read in class that at first had received some reproval from us for its simplicity, but now he, Abernathy, noted how elegant the promise of that essay's introduction had been.

Anyway, the details of Abernathy's eureka is not important.

7 minutes, almost to the jot, another student said, "Professor, is that our time? I mean to say, it appears that we've exhausted the period you've assigned us."

"Splendid," I said. "The time has flown. And I'm pleased with the effort. Come on back, retrieve your materials, your electronics, and we'll pick this up anon."

To be sure, I am not a deluded donkey. I know where milk and meat come from, and I'm not a Romantic when it comes to the occasional goodwill from a student on a brief hot streak. But I smiled big at them all as they left class.

"Remember this," I thought to myself. "Make sure they get a little air."

I take my leave of all of you, and remain your friend,


  1. This was a nice gesture by the moderator.

    I suspect Yaro's "acting," putting on a bit of a show. But it's lovely.

    I even like that the tales he tells feel real. His persona is hyperbolic - or am I just deluded - but his messages are true.

    And his language! What a tonic!

    Bravo, Yaro!

  2. Yaro has made me wonder about my own persona. I have to admit I have not taken full advantage of that opportunity. I wish now I'd been a little more adventurous. It does seem that choosing and developing your persona is one of the "fun" things available in blog-land.

    However, I also see nothing wrong with playing it straight.

    Does anyone, for example, use his/her real name?

  3. I, too, like Yaro. I think a few character-heavy members makes for a lot of fun.

    For myself, though, I want to always feel I'm listening to REAL people, real proffies with real problems.

    Don't persona-ize just because you can.

  4. There is so much pseudonymity in the blogosphere (I hate using that blogo word, by the way), and I occasionally get annoyed with it.

    I wonder why I don't just use my own name. I'm not saying anything controversial. I'm just reading the page, making comments when I feel moved.

    Is my own real life character so tender, so fragile, that it couldn't stand up the scrutiny that would come if someone learned that I liked Yaro?

    Real names? I wonder, too. Does anyone use them here?

    PS: I really am eating a low salt diet, so that much is true!

  5. I don't use my real name here, but I use a form of it on my blog.

    As for persona - I'm still trying to work out how to write over here, but on my own blog, I'm just me - the me I am in my head without all the little adjustments to not trigger colleagues' pet rants, without the professional mask needed to deal with students, without always feeling the need to act as if I'm adult, in-control and not-at-all-mental. The me I might be with a really good friend, who works at a different uni and in a different field (so we don't have people in common in our professional lives, but understand the setting). Which is the feel of this place - it's like a great conference bar chat that gets to go on all the time!

    Yaro, sorry to hijack your comments thread again. I'll buy you a drink if we ever do run into each other at a real bar!

  6. Dear God! We've hijacked Yaro again. I get the sense, however, that he wouldn't mind. Doubtless he'd wish us well.

    He is a rare treasure though. At first I didn't like his persona, his language. I thought it was designed to make fun of academics, to condescend in some way.

    But his heart seems big, and there is such a soothing quality to his prose. I can't get enough.

    But the idea of persona is certainly a valid thread concerning Yaro, so let me share my thoughts there.

    I'm on the job market, and I like when my real name "Pedantic Pete" gets Googled for the searchers to be taken to my more "official" self. I'm not ashamed of anything I write as "Pernicious Pete," but I'm not always on the clock either. I wear the flip flops and the Hawaiian shirts on the weekend, and sometimes NO PANTS, yet I wouldn't do that at school.

    Lousy analogy?

    Well, sue me...LOL. My persona reacts to academic misery in exactly the way I do; I just choose not to link my EVERY statement to my professional identity.

    Don't know if that's normal or not.

  7. He, Yaro, is not concerned about the comments beneath his post. We drift like stale air out the window, and he occasionally deigns to watch us pass, but normally fails to even notice.

    I do not believe anything could happen in the comment threads here that could reach up to the level Yaro, himself, exists on.

  8. Yaro, you blessed my otherwise God-forsaken day with your post yesterday. It was relentlessly horrific in my environ, from the start of the day right on through, with only your words to provide a fleeting balm. And bless you, Fab, for reposting.

    My moniker is a bit of a ruse; I am actually Ms. C. When I am recognized only as chattel to my husband, I am technically "Mrs. A". Both he and I are regularly amused when a student, upon meeting us together, refers to him as "Mr. C"...I do it to ensure a layer of privacy between them and me in the physical world, and it helps.

  9. He, Yaro, is a treasure of well-turned prose. I always think of Barchester Towers or A Confederacy of Dunces when I hear him.

    I chose Marcia Brady somewhat at random. She is the girl I wanted to be in the 1970s, more or less: tidy, prim, and generic, whereas I was sloppy, loud, and stuck out like a sore thumb. I have noticed that once I added her picture my comments sounded prissier. Since in real life I am a middle-aged dyke who calls 'em as I sees 'em--it's possible you'd find me annoying, but definitely not prissy-- I find this kind of amusing.

  10. Y'know, there's a lot to be said for doing the sort of thing Yaro did, without sacrificing content. I once had my students outside, writing their ideas in colored chalk on the sidewalk. They still remember that, as alumni. And how was it different from having them inside, writing their answers in colored markers on the whiteboard?

    I am always looking for opportunities to do it again.

  11. @Marcia... I think Marcia Brady is SUCH a strong cultural figure (seriously) that the choice of her was both inspired and inspiring. I'm sure your memory of her helps shape your persona (from another thread on here today).

    And there is just a nice comfortable vibe I get from seeing the avatar!


  12. Definitely a breath of fresh air; thanks for reposting, Fab.

    I want to grow up to be Yaro (even if he exists only in fables, or parables -- but isn't inspiration at least one of the purposes of those genres?). I fear, however, that I lack the personal magnetism (a metaphorical quality even harder to describe, or explain, than the literal kind, but which I suspect Yaro and his creator share) to draw them back, literally or metaphorically, to the window. Those fears notwithstanding, Yaro has left me longing for a room with a seminar table, and a window with a green view of the quad, and, most of all, the chance to guide students through answering a series of questions (and, eventually, formulating good questions of their own) about a text. Some of that is hard to arrange given my current position, but parts of it are possible, and Yaro makes me want to try (again; still).

    As far as personae go, Contingent Cassandra is pretty similar to Grumpy Academic's (virtual) self-description: she's basically me, but feels a bit freer to say what she thinks than I do in my day-to-day professional life (like her avatar, she lets her hair down; however, she's not quite so certain that she has the answers as the Cassandra moniker might imply). I'm not saying anything that I wouldn't be willing to "own" in real life, and I'm not being particularly careful about mentioning details that would allow someone who knows me, and thinks they recognize me here, to solidify, if not absolutely verify, that hunch (partly because I think it's highly unlikely that anyone would care enough to bother, partly because I don't think they'd achieve anything useful to them and/or harmful to me if they did). But I suspect it would be considerably more difficult for someone who doesn't know me in real life to follow the bread crumb trail back to the professional persona that is associated by Google and other web resources with the more formal variations of my legal name. Like Pernicious Pete, I value that degree of separation.

  13. I'm with Grumpy, Contingent and Pernicious. This is me, but not so easy to trace to my actual physical person. I occasionally say things that might suggest that I'm not entirely happy with my colleagues or administrators or job; or, if I don't, I might theoretically do so; and I don't want those comments sitting on the Interwebs forever to offend someone I work with if they ever happened on it. It wouldn't matter that I had posted in a bad moment when I had a headache and got over it five minutes later; it would still be there to upset them.

    I really welcome the chance to post as not-me; it gives me the chance to say what I really think.

  14. I'm posting here under my real name and without persona. Since I'm not actually an instructor (I'm a financial aid admin) I figure my presence here is at the community's goodwill, and the least I can do is not take up a lot of forum time/space by creating a potentially annoying fake self.

  15. I'm using my real name, because I'm lazy and I've lost track of my other gmail logins.

  16. @Marcia: WHAT?!?!? You mean you're not the real Marcia Brady? I am -so- crushed.

    @Darla: You mean you don't really look like that?!

    Jeez, next thing you know, you'll be telling me Yaro isn't real. Froderick Frankenstien is of course my real name: you can look me up.

    ;-) ;-) ;-)

  17. Contingent Cassandra -- once, I had such a seminar table and such a quad, and such students, and it was like conducting a magical chamber orchestra. I loved it, but they paid me only enough to eat dirt and rocks and so I fled to an R1, where I preside over large windowless lecture halls full of dazed text-messagers. Sadly, undergraduate teaching is now my least favorite of the many jobs we do.

  18. I use my real name, but only because it helps me memorize what it is when I see it written out.

    Sometimes I wish my parents named me something less complicated and easier to remember.


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