I knew it was coming, but it came so fast. I feel like a stranger waiting at a train station shrouded by a blue-gray fog wrought of elation and grief. As I prepare for finals week, a bullet train, once a locomotive, screams into the station.
I’ve been a college professor for almost 9 years. Before that, I taught in corporate. So all together, I’ve been a teacher for over fifteen years.
And now it’s all coming to end. So many emotions at once; my feelings are like Noah’s animals fighting for space aboard the Ark. But that’s why I’m retiring from teaching; on a writer’s ark, there is very little vocational space for anything but the writer. And writing. It is a beautiful and necessary insanity.
My heart goes out to all the teachers who are writers. I’ve played the juggling game for many years. They say that too many disciplines do not a master make. Perhaps that’s true. But you need the most difficult blessing to do just one thing, especially art, full-time: the blessing of circumstance.
At age 47, circumstances have finally blessed me. Very soon, I’ll actually be a full-time author. By the end of this year, I’ll have 4 books published. I have two out now, both international list bestsellers. But that’s not enough. Oh, it sounds great, doesn’t it? But an author needs multiple “big list” bestsellers to make a decent living. Yes, I’m rolling the dice a bit. But I believe in myself. I believe in my publisher. I believe in my fabulous literary team and amazing author friends. And I believe in my readers and reviewers.
I taught philosophy for the last 9 years, at the college and university level. What did I learn? For starters, that neither a degree, nor age, necessarily result in knowledge. I have learned more from my students than from books … though I’m quite grateful for my graduate school education; it gives me a stronger boat against the sometimes wicked currents of life.
I’ve also learned that education is one way of building a bridge to an artist’s soul. Had I not pursued professorship, I would have never had a chance at a writing career. In fact, it is because I failed at one, that I discovered a chance at the other. I was a pretty good teacher with a lot of good lecture memories, and always high evaluations. But instead of pursuing my PhD, all I did in my spare time was write novels. In the end, my own actions betrayed me … revealed my true destiny. I don’t believe that novelists are born. They are forged in the fires of fate.
It’s difficult to say goodbye to teaching. It’s pretty to think that perhaps retirement is not a permanent thing. I can see myself leading a writer’s conference, perhaps, in some distant future, my old teaching skills buzzing back to life as I lecture young writers on writing, and this crazy biz.
But for now, it’s goodbye.
Final words to my students? Simple …
When I board the bullet train soon, and watch all of you from the stain glassed window of memory, the train will once again become a locomotive. Remember me, if you will … if you can. For all trains ultimately connect … all tracks converge. And what makes them converge …
… is love.
In the spirit of how Dostoevsky ended one of my favorite philosophical/literary novels of all time, “The Brothers Karamazov,” my dear students, let us all remember the positive moments we shared together over the years, over the lectures; and let those positive memories throw us anchors when the seas of our lives toss us to and fro.
In memory, I love you. In philosophy, I love you. In education, I love you. And should I fail, stand broken and dreamy eyed on the sidewalks of New York, if you read the novels I wrote, in their words, I will have loved you more.
And that is why I go.
Yours in literature,