As I was writing in my journal last night, the thought occurred to me that in the very act of doing so, I achieved some victory. It is, admittedly, not a great one; all I did was write a few pages in the current slim volume I use to that end. But it marks the reinforcement of a discipline I have imposed upon myself. I sometimes falter in upholding it, certainly, and I work to compensate for those times I do neglect my evening writing. (I imagine my journal has something of a staggering quality therefore--and I mean staggering in the sense of a drunkard's walk rather than in the sense of so good it causes the reader to stagger as if drunk. Just to clarify.) Overall, however, I have been able to maintain some shape in my days through the writing of my journal; when I write in it, I am not wholly beaten.
If I am beaten at all, that is. For when I write in my journal, I do so largely for myself (although I entertain the conceit that someone, sometime will find it of value--if that person can decipher my penhand). I am not in contest with anyone. I usually write along, so that none are present. Who, then, is to best me? Against whom do I strive? And if none, can I be beaten? And if I cannot be beaten, is there actually victory? (I am reminded suddenly of Edith Hamilton's comments in Mythology. She notes that, in effect, the Classical gods cannot be brave; they are assured of victory and so have no reason to fear. Superman is in the same vein.) Without an opponent, there is no contest, and absent a contest, there cannot be victory. Or so it seems.
There is hope in such thought, that there is no meaningful opposition. But there is also the great peril of hubris; in not facing opposition, one can easily come to believe that no opposition is possible. When it then does occur--and it will--that one is confronted not only by the opposition itself but by the shock of its sudden appearance after so long of not having any, as well as by the additional difficulty in not have practice in negotiating difficulty. It is a problem with which I have had to wrestle these past few years; I am fortunate to have been gifted and to have had the opportunity to nurture the gifts with which I have been provided. (I know it sounds arrogant. I know it reeks of privilege. Neither means it is untrue.) This means that, in a life that has been largely centered around the work to which those gifts conduce, I have not had so much trouble as a great many others have had. At times, being not nearly so wise as I am learned, I find myself feeling that such ease is my due; it is usually shortly after such times that I find myself confronted by challenges. I have not got much experience in handling them, so I react less well to them than I otherwise might. In effect, I am having to develop skills that others have long since mastered--or at least grown familiar with exercising.
Such experience informs some of my teaching. I have heard a number of my students--and others'--say that they do not need the classes we teach. One told me that she was "already a better writer than [I]'ll ever be." Some of them, doubtlessly, have been coddled throughout their schooling, told they are excellent when they are not as part of the fetishization of the child and the cult of self-esteem-building that has been presented as typical of the current American educational system. (Not that there really is a single such thing. Look into it.) Others are doubtlessly in situations similar to my own; they are gifted, the tasks presented to them have not been challenges to their gifts, and so they have come to accept success as their due. But I do not allow the tasks I set to be unchallenging; knowing that I did not begin to do really well until I was told to cut the crap and pushed to do so, and wanting my students to do similarly well, I push them. Some push back, and find that I have much better leverage than they. Others accept the acceleration and go forward farther than they had otherwise thought they could. It is for the latter that I do what I do in the classroom.