Dear Governor Ducey,
I’ve avoided telling you this because I know you’ll hold it against me, but I’m on sabbatical. Tomorrow, I promise an accounting but today, I’m on my way to teach at the prison because I’m on sabbatical and I think it’s better to say ‘yes’ than ‘no’ when people invite you to do things. In fact, I say ‘yes’ probably too often. I like to be liked. It’s one of my worst character traits. For example, yesterday, after the West Fork creek hike, I went to work on my writing project at Indian Gardens. I sat on the patio to eat lunch and to type. I’m trying to revise a novel, I think I mentioned. It’s tricky to try to whole 300 pages of ideas in your head at once. There are some really knotty moments that I’m going to have to try to iron out. Maybe the book is a disaster. Maybe it’s good. I vacillate between moments of extreme certainty and extreme bewilderment, as Nick Flynn once called it. Yesterday, I read on Facebook a post about Fanny Howe, who is a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, “In an essay titled "Doubt," Fanny Howe speaks of the moment when "doubt shows itself to be the physical double to belief, ... the invisible engine of hope, the force behind every step taken." She describes doubt as "a mesmerizing and glorious force" to be welcomed and mined rather than feared and avoided. By facing doubt, we own up to what we do not know and cannot control, and in doing so, may be granted a glimpse of grace.”
So I’m trying to be good with doubt and I’m trying to say ‘yes’ to things even though going to teach at the prison makes me nervous and I’m trying to learn to say ‘no’ to things that I only say ‘yes’ to because I want to be liked. As I was trying to write at Indian Gardens, trying to confront my doubt, trying to say ‘no’ to some sentences there, ‘yes’ to some chapter placements here, a couple asked if they could sit at my table—there were no other tables. Of course I said ‘yes.’ I kept working but they obviously wanted to chat. I could have been rude. I could have said, “I’m trying to write.” And perhaps if I were a less doubtful writer, maybe I would have. But my writing is just that—full of doubt and these people were certain people so I stopped typing and listened to their stories of where they were from and how their daughter Karen teaches at a performing arts school and loves her job but has 2 teenagers from a previous marriage and 2 little kids from her current marriage and is just plain worn out and the mother wondered if feminism had really just made it so her daughter was exhausted and trying to have it all at the risk of having a nervous breakdown. She was worried about her other daughter—the youngest, who has worked for three prime ministers but quit her political jobs to teach so maybe she could finally settle down and have kids, if she meets the right guy. The son, he’s a writer, too, but he has newly diagnosed neurological problems and is so full of doubt, he can’t say yes to a single sentence. I could have written instead of listening for those 45 minutes. And, I admit, at the end, I turned back to my computer so I could claim a few minutes of writing time. But I think saying ‘yes’ to them was the better thing to do in the end.
I’m not nervous to teach at the prison because the students will be incarcerated, (I know I should get used to student prisoners and volunteer labor, since that is the future you imagine for Arizona’s future) but because teaching is always hard, especially when I don’t know the students and I hope I have enough of the right things to say.
But I’m doing it because I’m on sabbatical and I have time to say ‘yes’ and because I think it’s the right thing to do. Saying yes is its own problem. It’s the problem of the democrats. A curse and a gift. A generally great thing to say, ‘yes, I can help you out. Sure, I can be there for five minutes.’ ‘Yes, I believe we all deserve an equal shot.’ Republicans are the party of ‘no.’ ‘No, you can’t have any.’ ‘No, I don’t have any time.’ ‘No, you can’t sit there.’
The problem with being a party of ‘yes’ is that you’re prone to saying ‘yes’ at the expense of your writing—which is, in the end fine, with writing, but also ‘yes’ to your political adversaries, which is not so good for the people. ‘Sure,’ the democrats say, ‘we can give that a whirl.’ ‘Sure, we can compromise.’ ‘Sure, why don’t you take the money from the poor people and give it to the rich people? We can see how that goes.’ If you want to get anything done, either writing or policy-making, we’re sometimes going to have to be stern and say, ‘no.’
One day I will learn to balance assent with dissent but as an educator, assent is basically what I do. Dissent will have to be a part-time job until I become a better politician.