I didn’t want to grade papers, so I made a game for myself. I know, I’m the teacher, the role model, the honorary adult as it were, but, to be fair, this is my first time playing this sort of make-believe. So I wasn’t always this immature.
I had 17 students, so I wrote an ultimatum of a kind: “I will draw 17 creatures, one for every paper I grade. They will be beautiful.” Since I had 14 plus a little extra, I could assign 2 creatures to every color of the rainbow and the last 3 to black, white, and gray. The results I would post on Instagram. I never drew any creatures.
By the time I returned to grading, I had 16 students (a withdrawal? don’t know what happened there) and realized that what’s holding me back is guilt, not over the papers themselves, but a more generalized teaching anxiety. More of my lessons have fallen flat than succeeded. Walking around, going through my days, grading that same stack of papers every once in a once in a while, I would tell myself, “It’ll get done. It’s not about what I want to do, or what I have to do. It’s about what I do. And this I do.”
If it was guilt, maybe I could take on the persona of a robot, grading with a steel eye. But that’s not what I pretended.
No, I pretended there was a villain who didn’t believe in me. First it was Harime Nui (squealing anime girl – sorry), but then it became an imp. It cackled in my bag, slapping its imaginary knee. “Are you really gonna do it?” it said in its chipmunk voice. I took the form of a sighing warrior, a Conan the Barbarian type almost. You know that Adult Swim barbarian pilot guy? That, except with zero personality other than being responsible and gently, ever-so-gently aggrieved. “Ugh,” he/I would sigh. The quiet knowledge of the imp’s defeat was with Korgoth…but until then, he would have to endure the laughter and petty insults.
The villain’s other form was a dragon, black and blue and fire-breathing. Lanky and rough-sharp-edged. Pretty much exactly like Maleficent. This villain thought he was indomitable even as I, with the manner of a shot-putter, dashed a spear into his hide. It hurt – oh, I could tell – for even though he did not stagger, his blood, a royal blue, came forth. Each spear was a paper newly graded; each time a spear landed, he snapped it in two, but this was a pitiful attempt to rip the whole splinter out, and the jagged remains were stuck in him. And then he’d gloat, the poor thing! “Is that all you’ve got?” he said, even though he knew and I knew that 6/17ths of his health bar had been depleted (I was counting the withdrawn student in my favor, dammit).
When I realized I wasn’t gonna blitz through papers on Tuesday and that that was okay, the dragon slumbered on my windowsill. He thought this was a victory, but he thought wrong. I called him Thursday’s Dragon. His blood pooled underneath his belly.
As I write this it is Wednesday night, and, honestly, I may have sabotaged myself by writing this in between grading, ‘cause now my wrist hurts. Not that much, though. Besides, I do have Thursday, and this is really Thursday’s problem. I look to my left at the pile of graded papers, which can be metaphorically construed as the dragon’s clotted blood and dropped organs if you’re into that (and feeling mighty charitable). I haven’t done bad. Not bad at all.