An Open Letter to All Teachers

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my history around creative shame and a wonderful reader named KJ left this comment:

“I honestly did not realize I was sitting on a volcano of this until I read this post. I love serving people, but I am SO TIRED of being told that EVERYTHING – every post, every class, every session, apparently every stroke of the toothbrush – has to be concluded with pithiness. Tell them why this is relevant! Tell them how this will help them solve their problems! Tell them why they should care!

I feel like a dancing bear, terrified that if I stop waving my paws the right way there will be no more food…

Is there something about the world of serving people that means that creativity must be a slave to value? I know what you describe applies to so many of us in this world (and in many others) and I’m curious why… “

When I read what KJ wrote, I thought, “Hell yes, so many of us feel that way! Running on the same hamster wheel, a wheel made of keeping up, of getting attention, of showing our students they should take classes / programs / retreats from us. Pick me! Or doing the same for whatever company or administration we work for. That there is no time for play, self-expression, and creativity – let alone goofing off – because we have to keep waving our paws to get the attention, make the sales, get published, keep the school board happy, etc.

I, for one, am sick of this thudding drumbeat of desperation, of the hectic, breathless headlong rush to keep the fuck up.

Artists and teachers have always been rabble-rousers, have always been the leaders of change. It’s part of our job to point out what is not working. Now we need to point out – at least to ourselves – that all that matters is marketable value and pithy takeaways. Or test scores. Or page views, Facebook shares, articles published only for peer review. That some kind of bottom line is all that matters.

We have to take back what we love about creating & teaching, about learning and sharing what we learn.

In Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912, mill workers went on strike for shorter work hours. During the strike, the mostly female workers sang, “Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses, too.” Brigid Schulte, in her excellent book Overwhelmed, writes the workers meant they wanted time for family, for joy. We need our own kind of strike.

We have to strike against the “faster, bigger, better story” and allow ourselves the rest and deep creative learning and thinking time we need to survive. Yes, survive. Roses are not a luxury because beauty and meaning are not either.

We have to say, “I will stand for the stories I need to tell, the genealogy I want to study, the sweaters I want to design.” Just because.

I’m not saying this will be easy, nor am I saying we shouldn’t care about making a living. But we must stop thinking being of service means being everything to everybody in pre-cut, easily digested squares. We must stop thinking that to be successful we have to be a dancing bear.

Yes, hive mind hums just a click away, where you can immediately feel out of date, failing, falling behind. You can find a thousand people telling you what you should do to be successful, make money, stay in front of people, be of service, be relevant.

Marketing is not evil or wrong, whether that is marketing yourself to a tenure committee or your slice of the planet. I’m not saying go live in a cave and create just for yourself, never share what you are learning. I’m saying that deep within each of us is a creative heart that needs protection and expression and we must never EVER let the marketplace destroy or own that part of us. And that includes the marketplace of productivity and checking things off your to-do list.

You decide. You break away. Then you model this for others.

You refuse to abandon your best self’s creative truths on the altar of value.

You and me and KJ and every single one of us reading this are the keepers of what is sacred. We are artists of learning, students of life.

I say no more dancing bears. Or at least, not all the friggin time!

Love,

Jen

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