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My Seminar on Reading and Writing to Ukrainian Teachers

Close your eyes. Now let yourself dream, but do that whole conscious dreaming thing that the psychedelics talked about where you put yourself into an Inception like world that you have created for your own nocturnal pleasure. Put yourself into the job that you love to do, that you have decided you may be meant to do for the rest of your life. Feels good, right? Wait. Now practice speaking to the people around you. As much as you explain to these people, they still look at you like you are from another planet, and even though this is the dream that you have chosen for yourself, you can’t make them understand everything you are saying. If you had to guess you would say that maybe they gathered half of the words coming out of your mouth, something in this world not so dream-like. Now open your eyes. Do you see what you have been dreaming of? No, of course not. But I do.

I stand in front of them, their frozen expressions immediately melted as I exude the warmth and excitement that I am trying to share with them, if not through my words then through some cultural-continuum osmosis or something, whatever gets the job done. James Brown plays from the speakers of my computer and I sing as loud as I can to make up for their lack of soul (it’s not their fault, only a handful of white men have more than a handful of it), pointing to those that I know should be singing the chorus, thinking back to a few days before when I received similar results in the village school, but how I would sing louder if that’s what it took. Smiles abounding and the ice not broken but evaporated (at least that’s what I told myself) I told them all to relax, now the fun was about to really begin.

The fluidity of motion, the ease of it all, the confidence that rung in the silence between the sentences that I paused to take a breath for, I felt like I was back on the jazz stage. No saxophone in sight, I just smiled and carried forth. “Does anyone live in a house that was built by their family member?” hoping someone would bite the bait I find that hand and use it as fuel. “Now surely when they building they didn’t just start slopping down bricks, letting the bricks teach them what to do next. No, they had a plan, a blueprint, a drawing of some sort. They did research on how to build a home, spoke with others about the risks involved, the proper way to make a solid foundation. Then, and only then, after many months of careful planning did they begin to build the home you live in now today.” Like a master of rhetoric I let them soak in the metaphor and continue forth. “Writing is the same way. Without a foundation, without planning, without spending more time on these things than the actual final product, you will not have a final product, or you will have one that will collapse when you think it is just at its strongest.” Without missing a beat I jump into the reading of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Clean Well-Lighted Place”.

The desiring wisdom in their furrowed brows reminds me of the opportunity that I have in the remaining five minutes and so I take a deep breath, the kind that you take before you go all the way underwater with a snorkel, so as to see as many beautiful things as you can, and not to swallow too much salt water either, and begin. “The opportunity you have is incredible. The fact that you have chosen this opportunity is even more so. There are so many who look up to, especially when you aren’t looking. I admire you so much for what you do, it tells me that you and I understand that our lives are not about us. I hope that you take this experience today and bring it wholeheartedly back into the classroom, sharing this knowledge with those who desire it, and believing in it, in yourselves, in them, all the way. Thank you for being here today, thank you for being you, and I hope to work with you again in the future. Have a wonderful day.” The faces of thirty teachers open up finally into greater grins and a light clappter (supposedly this isn’t a word, I just looked it up and it is not in the dictionary. I feel I have used it quite often, this is what being in Ukraine does to me) spreads across the room in a polite way and variations of “Thank you” in Ukrainian accents, as I smile and do that shuffle thing with my papers that newscasters do after signing off, but think that they aren’t still on the air, but secretly they know that you can still see them feel professional or unique or something.

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