Marianne Williamson is not a teacher of mine. We worked for the same teacher at the same time, she left before I did. I have great respect for her accomplishments as a teacher and a community organizer, her Project Angel Food has been and is a blessing to many. We knew she hungered for a spotlight. Happily, she used it for good causes.
As my teacher’s designated substitute lecturer (and substitute funeral director) I had the spotlight for awhile, with a following that cut across enough factions to become significant. I was drawing enough listeners that I began to feel the pressure to shape subject and content to emphasize themes that were consistently popular.
I understood if I allowed my audience to shape me into what it wanted I could grow ever larger audiences. If I didn’t, my efforts would become constricted, disappointment would drive many away.
As I became more popular I had less time to spend in the explorations I love; my lectures were little more than notes, bits of photographic memory tied to the point as I saw it of my most recent studies. The more people liked my lectures, the more I was asked to travel, to promote, to take calls, to answer mail. Instead of showing my girlfriend this day’s amazing discovery while playing with my cats I was planning the next lesson for a private group.
I asked my two teachers, the rogue scholar and the seer, for advice. They both thought a talent should be used. But I could feel that path closing. I turned to the I Ching for advice. The ancient Chinese oracle had lectured me, tongue lashed me for years, or would that be pictograph lashed? I had already gone through the obsessive honeymoon stage of checking every action. Very often the response said I had been answered the first time but here I was a fool asking again. Misfortune.
But when I asked about my future, the I Ching gave me one line more than any other: calling crane in the shade. At first I thought it meant be content with your small audience but when my teacher asked me to leave, a story to be told at another time, I realized all desire to lecture had left me.
Little did I know then how much I still had to learn and how ludicrous was the idea that I was any kind of teacher. Perhaps it is true a teacher can teach useful things despite their own shortcomings and dysfunctions, but I had waiting for me mighty dwellers on the threshold, deep challenges to how I did things and how I saw the world.
Having always taken refuge in libraries, a safe place to hide from most bullies, I was about to trade in bespectacled teachers with stacks of books for teachers playing punk chords on cheap electric guitars, singing out with all their hearts the truth about their lives. A truth Eliphas Levi pointed out over a century earlier: until the genders are truly balanced this world will be a hell. Jean Smith, Donna Dresch, Madigan Shive, Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail and so many others changed many lives, including mine. Those were not big shows, as punk rock goes. They were like calling cranes in the shade.