Thursday, December 2, 2010

Home on the Path


Frost’s poignant poem about the two paths diverging wants extension in my experience. What about the unmarked path that forms while walking, made as a person’s nose develops a more acute sense of place? Perhaps it’s a recovery of an inborn gift that gets lost because it’s devalued by our externally-driven culture. Perhaps we’re born knowing the truth but we forget.
For thirty-plus years, I wandered the billboarded highway of an academic profession filled with organizational conferences and refereed journals and merit-pay discipline. As I did so, the intrinsic quality of situated knowing retreated further and further into my interior. For me, the academic pathway filled with a crowd, while I felt increasingly alone, lost, and farther from home.
Truth and home cannot abide the bashing by external expertise, the grand theorizing that’s divorced from “felt sense,” and the celebrating of keynoters, whether in the crowded ballroom or in the session with more presenters on the panel than in the audience. I’ve walked each of those rooms, lecturing and listening, storytelling and applauding, thinking I was home or getting there, but the hollow gnawing grew.
The quality of truth that I long for can’t be found around places characterized by loud arrogance, especially my own. My voice goes shrill and abandons me when I forget to respect the penetrations of authentic experience. Sarcasm or even a faint smirk betrays me, and if I’m paying attention I feel the lie.
Truth won’t hang around the “poor-me” either. The part that came in as a birthright, following Wordsworth’s clouds, seeks out big questions, like those a child asks, and risks searching for them. Truth befriends the courage to stand up, to discern, to risk, to act for good.
When I’m honest, being abandoned by my own truth hurts. My sense of being home cannot be severed from feeling that truth is nearby. If these two are separated, I’m haunted by the loss. It’s easy then to get drugged-out and not even know it. Overdosing on food, drink, spectator sports, or internet activity hides the pain, temporarily. But to wake up seeing my life lived out inauthentically hurts worse, especially when I’ve felt how good it feels to live with integrity.
As so often happens in the old tales, one day a stranger came to the village; in this case, it happened to be the university building where I was tenured and officed. My apprehension of and longing for the authentic, like the faithful semi-sleeping dog, woke up and started sniffing the air. Where did that strange resonance track? It reminded me of something like yeasty fresh-baked bread, like home. It led to the National Writing Project.
The path with the politically-correct meetings then got left in favor of something more like what we used to call “bush-whacking,” getting off the well-traveled path to seek out the hidden treasure. Although it wouldn’t mean merit-pay increases, I decided to apply for an NWP site, because these were the folks who were committed to local knowing and to supporting the teachers who would risk theorizing their own practice. Most of the persons in positions of power still don’t understand what that means. Maybe they never will.
Perhaps a person can be home and alone, but family offers advantages. With the National Writing Project, I’ve found I don’t have to be alone with my convictions about situated knowledge. These family gatherings of twenty or more persons have affirmed meaning that is actually grounded in significant experience; and the experiences are not just personal but are on the quest of social justice, joy of learning, increased tolerance, healthy ecology, and respect for multiplicity.
My breath deepens with the feel of home and the presence of friends. The home-path prioritizes respect for situated knowing, enriches it in a discourse community that theorizes practice, and leans into continuous inquiry that moves toward a world ecology of peace and justice.
That’s what I love about the National Writing Project.
In a world where so much of what I hear does not ring true, I want a home that dispels cynicism and affirms integrity. We can work toward education that helps persons discern what is true. Citizens can learn to read the tone of voice of would-be leaders and vote according to the presence of integrity and commitment to social justice. We can take on the challenge of moving ourselves and others toward better alignment so that we do walk our talk and so that our policy statements and actions align with peace, justice, freedom for all, and the other values affirmed in our constitutions and creeds.
Doing this is what I love about the work of the National Writing Project.