"To me teaching is a really interesting activity," Irwin ventured, "and it’s also one of the most precarious activities in the world, because it’s such a huge responsibility…One of the first things I learned about teaching is that you have to respond to each student individually," he continued. "You don’t start with any idea of what they should be doing, who they’re supposed to be, or what their performance level is, and you don’t compare them to one another. You simply start with each one of them wherever they are and develop the process from there.
…”The first thing you have to do is establish a performance level. You have to begin with the students’ expectations. You have to develop their confidence and prove to them in their own performance that there isn’t anything they won’t be able to accomplish technically, eventually, given a lot of application, before you can begin to convince them that that kind of technical virtuosity doesn’t deserve the focus they have been led to believe it does by a performance-oriented culture.
"Simultaneously," he continues, "you want to be engendering a historical awareness, to help them to see that they begin in a specific time and place, in a historical context. You want them to understand that 90 percent of the things they take for granted are cultural solutions embedded in a history of such solutions: facts, but not necessarily truths. You want to give them a real historical awareness, not in terms of names and dates but rather in terms of a progression of ideas, leading to an understanding of why certain questions are now being asked by their contemporaries."
…Finally, however, the real questions Irwin was trying to engender in his students were located less in the past than in themselves. “All the time my ideal of teaching has been to argue with people on behalf of the idea that they are responsible for their own activities, that they are really, in a sense, the question, that ultimately they are what it is they have to contribute. The most critical part of that is for them to begin developing the ability to assign their own tasks and make their own criticism in direct relation to their own needs and not in light of some abstract criteria. Because once you learn how to make your own assignments instead of relying on someone else, then you have learned the only thing you really need to get out of school, that is, you’ve learned how to learn. You’ve become your own teacher. After that you can stay on—for the facilities, the context, the dialogue, the colleagueship, the structure, and so forth—but you’ll already be on your own.”
"Look," he said to me one day, "it’s really quite simple. Pursuing the questions which art provokes is a long-term activity that necessarily needs to be free of short-term measures and rewards. In order to maintain a natural balance and continuously develop the ability to make reasoned observations and decisions, it is necessary that you take very good care of yourself, since you are the crux of it all. I’m always very kind to myself. I indulge myself in lots of ways. I give myself lots of free time. I allow myself lots of room for mistakes and contradictions. And I spend a lot of time entertaining my personal fantasies and playing the games I enjoy. I don’t let money questions get to me. It’s just a matter of good health." His motto could be: modest needs lavishly met.
A Kind Message From My Friend, A Poet
I’ve been meaning to text you re: the writing you gave me. Thank you, Laurel. It’s strange to read—makes me feel like you remember (and re-member) other people’s lives so that they don’t have to. Or maybe they can’t—not all of it—not the full lengths. Or that the ocean exists for you—little neon gem, bioluminescent and glowing, even at the very bottom of it, even in the darkest dark.
He was the awkwardest speaker in the world apart from the lore of the sea, but there are times when it requires high courage to speak the banal.
Well, love after all is a habit like any other.
A habit, maybe. Like any other, no.
1. What sort of hopes do you place in love?
Luis Buñuel: If I’m in love, all hopes. It not, none.
The prudent mariner will not rely solely on any single aid to navigation, particularly on floating aids.
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
Our laws on love are cautious and prosaic; our songs of love, wild and tragic.
Starting today, for one month, I will be at a writing residency with very little Internet access. I will be sneaking Internet on my phone, but if I’m slow to return your message, it is because I am on an island, taming my demons to finish a book.
You who are our descendants, do not forget us. You who call yourselves by names we do not recognize, we were your grandmothers. We were from people whose names for themselves are lost. The names of the places we were taken from are not on your maps. But the places are still there, and we did live, and you are our children.
… . We are the ancestors of whom no record has been kept. We are trace elements in your bodies, minerals coloring your eyes, residue in your fingernails. You were not named for us. You don’t know the places where our bones are, but we are in your bones. Because of us, you have relatives among the many tribes. You have cousins on the reservations. Do not forget how wide your roots are in this America. Do not forget.
There’s a scorn in you, a weakness, a tenderness, a fury. A derision for the world, an ache for it. There’s a fire in you, and all the world is fuel. And soon, any object, all persons, become prey to your tenderness. It’s a maddening thing.