I made pizza a few nights ago (yes, that’s it in the photo). My three year-old cats sat on the windowsill and observed with mild interest as I simmered sauce, stirred poufs of flour into water, kneaded dough, and grated cheese. Dough’s nature is to abandon itself to your hands, and the moment it yields under my fingers is one of my purest, simplest pleasures.
My cats looked at me. I looked at my cats. And then I realized: Although cooking is one of my favorite things to do and pizza is probably my favorite thing to cook, I hadn’t made it in over three years.
That just seems wrong. The process of pizza-making is the opposite of teaching, writing, thinking, and reading, which is how I spend most of my time. When I am cooking, my hands, nose, and tongue experience every sensation while my head empties and floats out of the kitchen like a helium balloon. Also, almost everyone of any age can be made happy with pizza, and I have no particular qualms about exchanging homemade pizza for affection. I am reminded of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, when Gaston the waiter explains, “The world is a beautiful place. You must go into it and love everyone. Try to make everyone happy, and bring peace and contentment everywhere you go. And so I became a waiter….”
I love teaching. In fact, I’m crazy about it. Even when I “go into it and love everyone,” I can’t make everyone happy, nor can I bring peace and contentment everywhere I go. Knowledge – when I am skilled enough to impart it – is unsettling and challenging more often than not. The slice of me that thinks, reads, plans, and grades feeds one set of mouths, and the slice that wants to serve peace and contentment topped with grilled eggplant and sundried tomatoes feeds others.
Every January and every August I tell myself that if I scrupulously manage my time and energy, I can have the whole pie. I can return papers on time and read lush, fat novels; I can be brilliant in the classroom every single day; I can fulfill the CDC’s physical activity guidelines; I can write twenty pages a week; I can sleep eight hours a night, entertain every weekend, and launch a wildly satisfying and time-consuming love affair with no impact on any of the above.
If a meeting runs late, an emergency comes up at work, a home repair becomes urgent, or a cat has to go to the vet, my January/August illusions fall apart. Usually, the disillusionment process occurs sometime during the first week of classes and accelerates until it’s time to refuel my illusions again.
I am like many other teachers in that I have a hard time making a commitment to fulfill my own needs when the needs of students are so often so much greater than my own. I can tell myself “Put your own oxygen mask on first” as often as I like, but frankly I don’t like watching other people turn blue while I take time for myself. I don’t think the habit of gasping for air makes me a better teacher, though, and I’m fairly certain it doesn’t make me a better person, either.
Lately I’ve started thinking that maybe it’s not better to lavish all my attention on one slice of pizza when I could be serving up an entire sumptuous pie.
Blah, blah, blah.
First, I need my January/August syndrome to last until February.