Muscles Ache for the Feel of a Stylus

After John Dos Passos.

The old teacher walks slowly by himself through the crowd that thins into the early classrooms; back sore from hours of sitting; eyes greedy for healthy flush of faces, answering flicker of recognizing eyes, intent strides, the way pairs of students separate and coalesce; heart beats quicker; mind a beehive of preparation, the perfect phrase, the explanatory diagram; muscles ache for the feel of a stylus, the orderly argument, the rhythmic pacing between tables of  students practicing, the murmured “aha”, the wry look, the puzzled question.  The old teacher stands by himself, searching faces with greedy eyes, ears hungry for the questioning voice, by himself alone.

This is after the first paragraph of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. (see below).  I found the book (second printing, 1938) in one of those piles of stuff people put out by the curb.   I was most taken by the phrase, “muscles ache for the knowledge of jobs.”  The memories are dim now but my muscles still ache for the flick of a hammer against a nail, the pull of gravity on an axe head, the gritty catch as a shovel slides into the earth.

This term I have only one formal lecture class. I could glibly call it “my refugee” but no.  It is not where I go for comfort and safety.  It is where I go for stimulation, to renew vitality, to strive and to care.  And to be humbled.  Teaching is hard.  Perfection ridiculously unobtainable.  After all these years there are still blows to one’s ego and daily regrets. I still love it.

The young man walks fast by himself through the crowd that thins into the night streets; feet are tired from hours of walking; eyes greedy for warm curve of faces, answering flicker of eyes, the set of a head, the lift of a shoulder, the way hands spread and clench; blood tingles with wants; mind is a beehive of hopes buzzing and stinging; muscles ache for the knowledge of jobs, for the roadmender’s pick and shovel work, the fisherman’s knack with a hook when he hauls on the slithery net from the rail of the lurching trawler, the swing of the bridgeman’s arm as he slings down the whitehot rivet, the engineer’s slow grip wise on the throttle, the dirtfarmer’s use of his whole body when, whoaing the mules, he yanks the plow from the furrow. The young man walks by himself searching through the crowd with greedy eyes, greedy ears taut to hear, by himself, alone.  – from U.S.A. by John Dos Passos

About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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