TITLE: Finding a Balance Between Teaching and Doing AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 08, 2017 9:48 AM DESC: ----- BODY: In the Paris Review's The Art of Fiction No. 183, the interviewer asks Tobias Wolff how he balances writing with university teaching. Wolff figures that teaching is a pretty good deal:
When I think about the kinds of jobs I've had and the ways I've lived, and still managed to get work done--my God, teaching in a university looks like easy street. I like talking about books, and I like encountering other smart, passionate readers, and feeling the friction of their thoughts against mine. Teaching forces me to articulate what otherwise would remain inchoate in my thoughts about what I read. I find that valuable, to bring things to a boil.
That reflects how I feel, too, as someone who loves to do computer science and write programs. As a teacher, I get to talk about cool ideas every day with my students, to share what I learn as I write software, and to learn from them as they ask the questions I've stopped asking myself. And they pay me. It's a great deal, perhaps the optimal point in the sort of balance that Derek Sivers recommends. Wolff immediately followed those sentences with a caution that also strikes close to home:
But if I teach too much it begins to weigh on me--I lose my work. I can't afford to do that anymore, so I keep a fairly light teaching schedule.
One has to balance creative work with the other parts of life that feed the work. Professors at research universities, such as Wolff at Stanford, have different points of equilibrium available to them than profs at teaching universities, where course loads are heavier and usually harder to reduce. I only teach one course a semester, which really does help me to focus creative energies around a smaller set of ideas than a heavier load does. Of course, I also have the administrative duties of a department head. They suffocate time and energy in a much less productive way than teaching does. (That's the subject of another post.) Why can't Wolff afford to teach too many courses anymore? I suspect the answer is time. When you reach a certain age, you realize that time is no longer an ally. There are only so many years left, and Wolff probably feels the need to write more urgently. This sensation has been seeping into my mind lately, too, though I fear perhaps a bit too slowly. ~~~~ (I previously quoted Wolff from the same interview in a recent entry about writers who give advice that reminds us that there is no right way to write all programs. A lot of readers seemed to like that one.) -----