Monthly Archives: May 2013

Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn (W-OZ) Reminds Me of David Foster Wallace

In which Carrie still mourns publicly over the death of her friend,  mentor, and teacher, Zinn, while telling her Smiling Ghost some stories of goldfish and the meaning of life…

Dear Zinn,

I find that I am thinking of you a lot this morning (while crying in the meantime) and wishing this manner of grieving the loss of your presence in my life could be exchanged for illumination.  You come to mind a lot when I have stories to tell of educational adventures.  And being the stronghold to the university where I learned from you, also the symbol of the question whether to persevere on this teacher-track or “to fly to others I know not of…”  I was recently in a classroom where lived a goldfish in a bowl on the teacher’s desk.  A student had given this person two, named Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Guildenstern had died a couple of days ago, not by beheading as in Hamlet, but likely something to do with overcrowding of habitat.

I observed Rosencrantz throughout the day and toward the end he was spending much of his time up at the top of the bowl, sucking air it appeared.  I began to realize that he was probably suffocating, and after having a student do a quick check with google, confirmed the likelihood.  I was tempted to steal it from the room.  Some of the students encouraged me to do so. I almost did except for the questions I might have been asked upon leaving the school with a goldfishbowl under my arm.  I balked under the pressure of self-consciousness, and what an oddity my impulse would have seemed to those I passed in the hallways.  But, I cannot bear a suffering thing.  That I did not follow through on this impulse toward compassion hurts me now.  This heartache was reinforced by the following video,This Is Water, in what appears to be a commencement address by David Foster Wallace, who I associate with you.

And so I ask If it is not all about me, if I am not the center of the universe, why does it seem like I am?  I grieve the loss of you in my life, often.  I think of it mostly in terms of a question: who can I derive understanding and strength from besides the perfect person for the job?  You understood me and had just the right kind of encouragement for a “different” kind of teacher like me. There is the  default setting of missing you because of the benefit you brought to my life, now absent in the corporeal sense.

In another way – as I connect myself to a larger world as Wallace suggests to seniors everywhere –  that you have persisted in memory, I can recall your similar struggles in education and other places.  I still remember once staying with you in November (NaNoWriMo month) and how you confided your frustration over students “Philosophies of Teaching”  essays spread out in piles, as you were grading them, on your bed.  You lamented that they were writing “for you,” presupposing things they thought you would like to read in a philosophy of education stance. But you just wished they’d be themselves.  You wished them to be authentic.  I wonder now how they became so self-conscious, so unsure of their most authentic philosophies of living.

You always liked quotes, here is one:

“If one were required to consistently say that it was not about oneself, it is not clear how one could properly say that a painting is beautiful, a meal satisfying, or that someone is lovely and worth all the commitments of one’s heart. 

Recognizing oneself as the center of the world, and that in a sense it is all about oneself allows an opening of moral authorship and creativity, as well as the greatest of commitments to an involved, experiencing life.” –Steven Schultz

I wonder if your persistent fight to make the world better, to care for and affect the subjectivity of your students, killed you.  Did you feel the suffocation of objective thinking?  The dehumanization of our societies more in love with counting than with what counts? Were you adequately appreciated?  I am sorry for not reaching out to you more.  I think you could have used my help.

I write this to help keep myself going, because you believed in me, and are thus symbolic of something larger than my missing you as a person in my life.