If we're not going to pay teachers what they deserve, then we should at the very least give thanks and honor them whenever we can. I'm biased, of course, as a teacher, and the child of teachers, and the beneficiary of so many great teachers over the course of my education. Teachers let us in on worlds we might never have discovered on our own. That's such a special thing--so special to me I'd like to go on learning forever. I'll be looking into that...I smell a doctorate program wafting down from around the bend. Anyway, below is a letter I wrote about five years ago to a favorite English teacher of mine years after I learned to appreciate him and the new worlds he introduced to me. I post it here in hopes more will remember to thank a teacher.
Dear Dr. D.
I’m sure there is little chance you would remember mine among the blank faces you’ve entertained over the years—especially one four years in the back of your mind from a brief summer session—but in light of things quite recent I thought of you and realized that what I interpreted as a brand of academic torture at the time was nothing of the sort. It was you, after all, who inflicted the tedious, labyrinthine musings of Jorge Borges on me. Who knew I would one day thank you for that sadistic rite and transform it to masochism?
In case you become lost in my verbose effluvia (yes, that is the right word, though I doubt you’ll have any trouble), this is a thank-you note that tries in earnest to sound extra intelligent—an English professor should have no problem wading through with pinched nostrils, as he is accustomed to it.
You clearly said, “this one is my favorite,” referring to Borges, to which I responded (silently), “this guys is nuts.” You then drew messy diagrams of Reality on the board, which confirmed my thesis. I figured that John Barth’s cyclical madness had pushed you near the edge, and Borges’ ghost had spooked you over.
You had us attempt writing in the style of Hemingway, a task I miserably failed (you gave me a “B,” I think out of sympathy). To this day, I use that experience as an anecdote to explain why I like Faulkner better. But I still wonder why, given your proclivity toward torture, you didn’t have us give a go at rewriting Don Quixote like Pierre Menard.
I joke now, because I am further removed from the pain. That’s not true. I was joking then, even on my final exam, where after attempting a messy sketch of Reality like you had taught us, I resigned myself to draw a bunny instead. You got the joke, I think, because I did quite well on the test. In lieu of Hemingway, your next short story class should be challenged to B.S. with as much skill as I have demonstrated.
I had already exacted my revenge on you by asking you to suffer through a naïve, self absorbed, meandering, and somewhat arrogant Forward I had written about a four-year-long poetic fit of mine. You were kind to say, “it was quite fun to read,” but looking back at my own words I realize it was excruciating and confused. Thanks for that, too.
But I’ve strayed from the point.
Recently, some event brought to mind "The Sect of the Phoenix." This was the only Borges tale I truly understood at the time of your class, primarily because you explained it. I’m sure the other students joined me in shock as we learned it was about sex. I fished out Labyrinths because I wanted to share this crazy Argentinean with my fiancée. I read it aloud to her and became as tickled as you must have been to inform her of what the hell he was talking about. I tossed the book aside again and forgot about it--that is, until this weekend.
It peeked at me from the hallway outside my bedroom (where I had left it some months earlier), and, being the masochistic type I’ve become (I find myself these days delving into some rather difficult and tedious things on purpose—treasures, it turns out, are not come upon easily), decided to pick it up and give another try at my nemesis, who discouraged me from the start four years ago with his dense tale of discovering Uqbar.
To my surprise, I understood it (mostly, I think). I even liked it. I was amazed at the loaded sentences, the importance of each paragraph, the exacting choice of words. Even more amazing: I had grown enough in four years to comprehend the genius of it, though I still had to read each paragraph more than once (a joy now, not a curse).
I’ve dizzied myself at the thought that rediscovering Borges was no Lottery of Babylon. Chance, or fate, or some in-between, meant for me to find it, and to enjoy it with my fiancée, who is much better at reading than I. She is now a fan as well. The words, especially those of the dreamy "Circular Ruins," I’m sure (and this is not so arrogant as my Forward), were written especially for me (to believe this you have to discount a certain rigidity to time and space and accept that a deceased blind Argentinean and I are intimately and cosmically connected).
I say that because the man whose goal it was to dream a man with “minute integrity and insert him into reality” couldn’t be any other than myself--the dreamt man too, as well as many other fantastic things!
I’m 29 now, barely a man, but grown nonetheless and able to examine with greater clarity the capriciousness of my youth. I see now what you were doing and I think it’s great.
I’m a writer now. I write incredibly boring things about Google and Yahoo and Microsoft for an Internet news website. I thought and despaired for a moment that I would like to write as Borges did and felt it would be an impossible feat. My fiancée informed me that it was not important that I write like him, but that I should write like me. Also, because of you and a handful of others, I think I should like to teach once I’ve finished graduate school.