I love Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis. Love it. If you're unfamiliar, the main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one morning as a giant human-sized bug.
I can't explain why this tugs on my heart so much, except to say that I think it's one of the most gorgeous, odd, true, terribly sad accounts of what happens when disease, mental illness, or addiction changes us beyond recognition. It's about what happens to families when someone is sick, how it breaks and remolds everyone involved. And I love it.
My students, on the other hand, do not.
They have in the past. I taught a class where they ate.it.up. and wrote about it in their papers and I could feel in what they wrote that it felt true to them, that Kafka struck something.
But not this semester.
"This story sucks," they said at the end of class today, after a week of talking about it. I wish that sentence didn't bother me so much. I wish it didn't make me feel like weeping, like a failure. You can't teach when you feel like a weeping failure. I mean, you can. I did. But it's not easy.
And the thing is, I learned all this stuff today. Based on evidence they collected, I realized new ways to read the text. I learned that in a way, Gregor's demise can be seen as the first time he allows himself to be selfish, to demand what he needs and wants. I learned that the sister is an incredibly intuitive character who understands her family and what it needs and, perhaps, saves herself and her parents from a fate similar to Gregor's. I learned and I learned, and I told them all about it, asking them questions, showing them how to use their evidence to prove surprising arguments, and all but jumping up and down in front of the room with the pure joy of seeing something new in a text that I really love.
This story sucked. That was their response. I say "they," but I suppose I mean a few of them. One or two. But still, when I was dying to know how universal the negativity was, and I asked them to raise their hands if they even remotely liked it, only half of them did. Half. And most were tentative hands. And the week feels wasted. And I worry I'm making them hate reading instead of love it. And I think, for the hundredth thousandth time, about finding a new career.
But I don't want a new career. I like this job, more and more. And when I'm not standing in front of a class of rude (because it is rude, is it not?) students, it feels like what I was always meant to do. Pushing aside all the annoying business, I'm beyond blessed to have this job. And sometimes they love stuff, don't they? Doesn't it work sometimes? Today, I can't remember.
Kafka said this thing about literature that maybe you've heard: "A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us."
So maybe they're all just frozen seas. Little frozen seas sitting in chairs.