Eric Wahl

March 1998

I've been asking myself the same question a lot recently: "Where has the time gone?" Another month has gone by, and I tell myself I should have more control over my time ("manage" my time, as if that were possible). Time controls us in the end, I suppose. Sorry to seem obtuse. I've been thinking about the role I thought I had in life, the role I want to have, and duty and obligation and all the stuff somebody ought not to worry about until at least into his or her thirties.

I began writing in Oasis because I wanted to add my two cents about teaching in public secondary schools -- what it can be like for queer teachers and students, etc., and I seem to have lost my way for a number of reasons. I believed that I would come back from my globe-galloping to Kansas, get my Master's Degree, and run headlong back into secondary education as a high school English teacher. I wanted to be a trailblazer, all gung-ho, can-do, and that lot. Armed with memories of my own mostly yukky public school experiences, my interactions and observations with queer students who I knew were desperately undeserved, and my own emotional "need," if that's the word, to feel I had done something altruistic (that I had done something for the betterment of my society), I thought I could encourage others to do the same. And now something has changed, and I'm not sure just what.

Here I am nearly done with my MA, having achieved something great, getting a 4.0 GPA, being involved at this school, and enjoying teaching, and I hate to say I think I must be getting selfish or cowardly or SOMETHING. I don't want to go back into teaching in secondary schools (said with a sigh). I know I don't want to go back to that, and it has nothing to do with the students and everything to do with administrators and right-wing communities. And when I realized I felt this way (or acknowledged I did), I felt disgusted with myself.

I know firsthand how our schools, no matter where they are, have queer kids who are in situations like I was in, maybe like you are in, who need teachers in their environments who can say to them, "See, you are worth something. You can make a difference. You aren't bad/wrong/etc." I so wanted to be that kind of person, and I suppose I have been sometimes to some people. That gives me joy, and that's why I teach. But I know that the pressures of teaching in public schools and the job-security threats are often more than one can bear. I could go on with my own education. Become a professor, an author. I'm faced with this choice now, and I should feel great. I should feel on top of the world as all these new doors are opening for me. So why do I feel like crap? Why do I feel like my initial feelings of altruism were actually just an inner need to feed my ego (or, worse, to right wrongs I felt were done to me in public school by homophobic peers and adults)? Maybe my reasons for teaching in public school were not the right ones?

I say that and then think of the students who came out to me in different cities. The thought of letting people down always weighs on me, so I feel selfish for even thinking about deviating from my "Lofty Goal." "How can I urge people to become public school teachers if I abandon the profession?" Well, folks, I can't answer that question, I'm ashamed to say. I gave it my go. I've taught at university two years now. I have more academic freedom here. I like it. But I know I'm not reaching (or available to) a number of kids who might not get to college. Bleah! At least it feels like a moral dilemma to me.

Last month I "prayed" for just one queer student. Some of you wrote me saying I probably have several. Well, in this town, I'd would have to disagree with you, but in this, my last semester in Emporia, I can at least say I finally have one out student. And it's about time. So, of course, I'm happy about that. In related news, a student in my 2:00 class said something about a student in my 12:30 class, ending with, "but he's gay, so I don't talk to him." As I sat stunned, a female from Dodge City turned around and snapped, "So what the heck do you care? What does being gay have to do with anything?" This may seem like small potatoes to you, but in a small town like this, it's what's called progress (but not by a lot of people). And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Dodge City, KS, for producing one fair-minded individual and sending her to my class. Amen. I felt like snapping at the student who wouldn't talk to gays myself with the obvious, "WELL, YOU TALK TO ME!" But, of course, I didn't, but I should have. At some point I'm going to -- what have I got to lose?

The only thing that panned out with Mr. Applebee's waiter, if you read my last month's essay, was a high phone bill. Two hours away is not a good way to start anything, but at least the experiment was interesting. I have a friend who wants me to sell all my stuff and go travel the world. It's all I've been thinking about lately. It would be so reckless and unlike me, so why . . . ? I already know I'll be in Bulgaria briefly this summer (I'll tell you next month), but I'm feeling drawn again to the middle east. I'm thinking about writing a book about queers in Moslem countries. Am I crazy? I AM wordy, so, in the end, all I can do is end. May March bring whatever rebirth you need.

As always, yours,


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