I'm currently an art historian, but in grad school I was a film scholar, and before that I was a Russian major for three years in undergrad, and between that and the film scholarship I was thinking maybe I'd be literary theory guy. In high school I was good at everything (chemistry, english, math up to pre-calculus: EVERYTHING), so I never had any steady career idea of what I'd "do for a living."
So the path has been determined instead by life obsessions, questions I lived in.
This semester, at the art school, I am teaching a 100-level intro course on "contemporary art" (think Jackson Pollock to the Sensation exhibit: 1950 to 1997), a seminar for Capstone writing in the major (art history seniors), and two sections of a seminar in Abject Art (read: art of the disgusting, violent, and generally repellent).
Life changes every four months when you're an academic. There is September to December, January to late April or early May, and then "summer" which is May to about mid-August. The year "begins" in September, like some weird kind of culturally different New Year ritual.
I teach two late mornings (10:30-11:45) and three afternoons (roughly 12:30-3:30). On the afternoon days, I plan for morning practice, either at the studio between classes or up at the Y if I feel audacious (it's 6 miles away) or need a shower. Morning-class days, like today, I aim for afternoon practice, but of course there is syllabus design and paperwork galore which gets in the way.
Yoga-wise, I teach my well-established Sunday 12:30 ashtanga (Mysore/led blend, depending on membership; yesterday it was 16, with about 9 people Mysore-styling) and also a Friday morning, which is 75 minutes and thus more introductory, and I not infrequently sub the 11 am Saturday ashtanga (again, Mysore-led blend) and the Monday night (7:15 pm) which is billed Mysore but again, depending on membership, becomes Mysore-led blend.
I also teach Larry Schultz' "criminal" Rocket sequence at 6 pm on Thursday nights.
So I'm damn busy.
Today was the semester's first teaching day: intro to contemporary. Dada and Surrealism. Duchamp's famous urinal. A whole bunch of new students who have to acquire a taste for my tangent-laden lecture style and my comedy and my interactivity, which is not the clunky kind designed to "elicit answers" to leading questions, but is more generally interactive: Feel the art! Dig this thing! Be compelled, be repelled, BE SOMETHING!!
Tomorrow is the Capstone seminar, which is awkward to teach in that way. I often rely on biography instead, so I will probably tell my this-way-and-that grad school trajectory, which saw me do almost thirteen years of grad work while, with barely any guidance except at the end, where I was more-or-less pulled over the finish line, I somehow cobbled together a MA thesis and a PhD dissertation.
It's a game of "Who have I been" or maybe "How did I get here?". The Academy as Talking Heads song.
In the Abject course (Thurs and Fri, syllabi I should be finalizing instead of writing this), I have a lot of prior students, people who are expecting a deep and silly and scandalous tour of art that is specifically designed for "saucy content" (a phrase I have used for YEARS to describe art that is sexy, dark, conceptual and hot, my favorite mix of qualities for any life experience).
Different "weights" of me, different "dosages" of me, dispensed as by an apothecary. I also, am the apothecary. What can they handle? How big a dose of "how I run a class" do I give on the first day? How inspiring or offputting is that long rambling bio? How "saucy" are they expecting it, in Abject Art?
The interface: I set the expectations but also meet them. This doesn't happen this way, not as overtly, in a yoga room. The levels of an imaginary binary change: one is expected to be more physical in the yoga room, less so in the educational room.
No one gets wrestled into a bind in an educational room.........do they?
I teach with physical humor, and I teach a lot of "tactile" art since that's a consistent method that artists have deployed for "reducing the distance" between the infamous (and apparently immortal) "art and life" duo. "Let's move around, let's go into the hall and pretend we're this art installation."
This is to keep people from falling asleep or zoning out. Some still do.
In the yoga room, there is a type of zoning (perhaps ZONING IN, exactly!) that is encouraged, that is discouraged in an educational room.
At the start, I teach the movements, hint at the breathing and the gaze, but am also trying to sell the students on this class, at this time, with this mode of practice. I become too interested, too invested, in whether or not they will STAY, whether or not they will go to Kino's workshop, and what? See the "realer" practice? Get the ACTUAL AUTHENTICITY?
This is what I'm trying to dig into with this post.
Do I not trust them to like it, to continue, to see an avenue, or at least some sort of highway-of-interest that might lead into what is currently darkness? I fall for the authenticity trap. "The certified teacher." Yes, obviously, Kino has practiced more rigorously than I have, given more workshops than I have. But is she BETTER at what I do, in this town? In one weekend? How can I phrase this question so that it gets at what I want?
Is it what she's providing or what my students can bring (and thence, whether they will bring it or not)? Obviously both. One could expand this to the Mysore question: what is it that one DOES GET THERE (or is it, BRING THERE)?
On a surface level, we get a workshop in our chosen practice, with an experienced soul. On a surface level, we get a Mysore-style class (and really, that's a thrill, it'll be our first with a teacher of this kind). And I feel that (again, on a surface level), IF WE REPRESENT, we can get a reputation as a growing scene.
That's where the pressure comes from.
But is it serving those yoga students to say....what? "Come to this, it's gonna rock"? "Come to this, it'll enlighten you?" "Come to this, it's better than my regular teaching?" See?
How can I invite the newer and yet enthusiastic students, to go to Kino without making it sound like HER Mysore-style room is magical while mine is somehow ordinary? See how that reflects not so much on ME as, in a way, on THEM? See how it becomes distasteful?
"Bring this woman your practice and she will change it." But that REALLY HAPPENED to me. Kino changed my backbending practice for EVER when I did the whole weekend in fall 2009.
But I don't want to promise them that, as if my room cannot also provide that, and most importantly, as if THEIR OWN PRACTICES cannot provide that.
THE PRACTICE ITSELF changes you. And teachers disappear, or better, go within. I still give MYSELF the "final backbend." I do it as Kino taught it to me: walk in, head down, creep, dig in with fingertips, LIFT! And I'm not sore, no matter how crazy far I walk in, as she said about Sharath recently talking about SKPJ's own backbend adjustments.
The teacher goes within.
How much do I have to be forward, and yet back off, how do I have to run my own room, so that this practice sort of slips into the students, so that they wade in and come out with watermarks up to here? I am not the sea; the practice is the sea. But demonstration hasn't gotten them here; lecture hasn't gotten them here.
It's always contingent. Trust them to enjoy the wading.
In the academic room, I press, I train, I make the move, say things, laugh at things. I TRAIN them how to do tactile, physicalized, how to get out of their heads and into an embodied relation with the art, as far as I can.
But in the yoga room, perhaps I sit back, like a flirtatious wallflower. Stop thinking. This, I have felt before. Less META-. Academic teaching, with its faculty annual reports and all of the self-maintenance, the conceptualization of oneself (the "statement of teaching philosophy!"), is constantly, insistently meta-.
But the yoga teaching does not love that. Don't CONCEPTUALIZE it, just keep breathing. Teach whoever comes, and LET THEM GO.
I missed a week of Mysore with Clayton back in 2007 because my cat died at random one night while I was in SF. "Sorry I've been gone," I said on my return. "It doesn't matter," he said.
Ok, so they don't "HAVE" to go. Well, better said, their interest in going is both to learn and to promote the scene, if they are so interested in doing. But in PRACTICE TERMS, they don't have to go at all.
It is not better, there is no guarantee of magic. But there is that possibility, but always that possibility. Even at home alone on the rug.