Samuel J. Tanner 4 minute read

Playing with Sharp Objects (I Promise)

I promise I'm still playing with sharp objects.

That's the working title for my next memoir. The book about being a teacher. It's mostly done. This book will come out eventually. I'm searching for the right way to publish it. Patience isn't a bad thing. I've written it. I even have art for it. The cover is the image for the blog this week. I think this is my best book so far. I'm excited to share it with people. It's funny. And it's sad. There are good stories. Bad ones too. Lots of material. It'll be out in due time.

I facililated a storytelling event at the State Theatre in downtown State College last week. It was an installment of the State of the Story, modeled after The Moth storytelling. My installment was titled Playing with Sharp Objects. Originally, I agreed to host this event because I figured I could promote my book. I curated an evening of stories about teaching and learning. I solicited teachers, professors, and community members to participate in the event. We ended up with seven storytellers. Each of them, in some way or another, shared a story about being a teacher.

My book hasn't come out yet but, regardless, the event was memorable. I wept as a storyteller described how they learned a former student had died over facebook. I laughed as one of the performers told a story about high school kids smoking pot on a field trip. The evening was delightful.

Teachers told stories, many of which were inappropriate, about teaching. We had a small audience. Maybe 45-50 people came out to listen. I felt really proud about the space we created together on a Monday night in State College. It seems to me that people benefit from spaces, away from watchful or evaluative eyes, that allow for an exchange of stories. This seems especially true of teachers, folks who are entangled with myriad humanity - the madness of our current age.

There's researchers who try to create such spaces for teachers. Graham Parr's work comes to mind. He's an English Education scholar that tries to understand the stories we tell ourselves (or are told by others) about being a teacher. I think back to the many times I shared stories about teaching with colleagues at the bar or even in classrooms with the door closed. This exchange always felt important to me. Telling and listening to stories always help me make sense of things. That's why I became an English teacher in the first place. Stories are important.

I went to graduate school, in part, because of storytelling. I ended up in an office at the University of Minnesota with stories about things that were happening because I was a teacher. I shared those stories with the person who would become my advisor. They listened. They laughed. Sharing those stories about being a teacher in that office in Peik hall dispelled some of my cosmic anxiety. It was healthy. Some of those stories, eventually, turned into chapters in my forthcoming book. This book feels important. Not as some sort of canonical, literary work. Rather, as an expression of the things that happened when I was a teacher.

I'm happy with the way my life is going. Facilitating a storytelling event about teaching in State College? That's a cool way to spend time. No, I don't ever want to be away from my toddler sons (until I'm with them and they're driving me crazy), but I continue to be involved in work and projects that are connected to the things I care about. Shopping Playing with Sharp Objects to publishers is exciting too. Yes, I wish I could just find a publisher and be done with it. But there's excitement in this patient quest, too.