Jonathan Edwards, Beowulf, excerpts from Washington Irving to illustrate descriptive writing to my freshman writing class. Clumsy attempts at poetry analysis, an enthusiastic rendition of the dragon in a dramatization of battles from Beowulf, group workshopping conversation about potential essay topics. 

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses, 1889 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Vincent Van Gogh, Cypresses, 1889
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

My teaching days are full of surprising transitions and juxtapositions: face beside face, voice beside voice, my head a jumble of ideas-to-be-shared, and the preparatory notes I scribble for myself always insufficient to prevent my wandering off the charted course. (I wander away from the podium as often as not, drift away into ad-libbing on this idea and that idea, launched from last-year’s marginalia in the anthology or from a student’s unexpected comment.

They indulge me in my efforts to draw us all back to the plan, and I wonder how much they realize we’ve deviated, how much of the day’s work I left to chance in the first place, trusting to these inspirations to fill in the outlines I’d sketched in mechanical pencil. 

And, truly, no matter how much detail I add to the plan, it is only ever an outline without the students. They come with their various colors and bring my outlines to life: not always so neatly or thoroughly as I’ve imagined, but with a zest that my imagined colors lack.

I relish it, the flavor of life lived with people, in the classroom and out of it. You, reading this, bring a color I cannot provide, and when we meet face to face, we create lights and shadows that each of us unaided could never produce.

Sometimes, I resent the changes, the days colored in vigorous strokes from your brushes thick with paint, where I had imagined pale washes of color through which the texture of the page would show rough and bright. But the truth is, even the days I spend alone never look as I imagine: the paints run into one another, the outlines get blurred and texture mushy; I end frustrated and weary of my never-fulfilled expectations.

These days we create together? These are masterpieces, and I end grateful for a God whose plans cannot be derailed by any stray word of mine, who is never surprised by the colors that appear on His page, whose mercies are new and sufficient for each new day.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

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