1. At my core, I'm a stranger to passion. I've seen it in others: a passion for soccer or partying, for example. I've messed around with passion myself. Passion is another word for despair.
2. Commitment is what I know more intimately. I recognized it even as a child whenever I saw pensioners playing bocce or chess in the street. On that patch of dirt in the otherwise leafy park, heavy balls hardly moving, the players were calm and focused. On that folding table covered with a plastic tablecloth with a garish floral pattern, the only pattern the chess players saw was the checkered board and black and beige figures. That has always made sense to me.
3. Even though I only began teaching part-time at the age of 28, and full-time at 38, it's the line of work I knew I'd fall into one way or another. As I write this, I'm 42.
4. For the first 14 years as a teacher, every August, I'd write my syllabi and get excited about the semester to come. I knew my syllabi were fiction, a fantasy of a meticulously charted and (about to be) perfectly executed plan to help a group of strangers, teenagers who had just become adults, take control of language. I'd feel like teaching is my passion. This August, that feeling is finally gone.
5. For most of us, being a teacher involves thinking about teaching non-stop. That thinking is usually not in the forefront: it's more like a quiet but incessant background hum, like the sound of traffic behind closed windows and doors. I used to resent that.
6. For most of us, being a teacher involves knowing what your balance of money and time will be only one semester at a time. If there's enough money, that means you've strung together three or more part-time teaching jobs and will be able to pay for your health insurance, but will have no time to read anything other than student papers nor write anything other than feedback for those papers. (This is a problem when reading compelling books and writing the best work you can is the source of your mental balance.) If there's enough time, it means instant ramen and no health insurance. (The two can be a lethal combination.) I used to fear both scenarios.
7. This August, I feel no excitement, resentment, or fear. In their place, there's detachment.
8. What's the difference between resignation and detachment? In resignation, I'm frustrated and desperate. My ego is wrapped up with my day job, and it's never even remotely satisfied. At the same time, I plunge into a hobby—in my case it's neither a spectator sport nor partying, but that doesn't matter—with passion bordering on desperation.
9. But in detachment, I'm able to do my day job competently, and commit to my work of reading and writing and music with a sense of calm and focus. There might be a hum going on in the background: folders of papers, appointments and trainings, several work inboxes full of emails, ideas for future classroom activities, thoughts about the state of higher ed. So be it. Every day, I plug in my guitar with no other reason but to play it. I put lines on a page with no other reason but to convey images and ideas in a way that surprises me. I open a book for no reason but to experience images and ideas I am not able to convey myself.