Something disturbing happened today. The nature of what happened made me extremely uncomfortable and on top of that, I’m disturbed by the larger implications of what happened.
On my flight home from Iowa today, I cracked open my laptop to work on the next Quilt Scout column. I’ve been thinking I should write about the time I flamed out teaching a class at the 2013 QuiltCon, how much I learned from that experience, and how without that disastrous class, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today. At the top of the open document on my computer I titled the piece, “On Failing As a Teacher.” I drafted three or four paragraphs and it seemed to be shaping up with no major problems, so I closed my eyes to catch a quick snooze. I woke to the flight attendant tapping me on the shoulder to put my laptop away because we were in our final descent. Perfect.
When we came to a stop, before they opened the pod bay doors, the man to my left leaned toward me like he was going to say something to me. It was almost imperceptible, but I am a perceptive person, so I noticed it. But he said nothing and I thought, “That was weird.” But right when our row was free to leave, he did say something:
“You know, I think you’d be a wonderful teacher. I can tell you’re a very insightful, sensitive person. I don’t think you’d fail at teaching, even if you did in the past.” He didn’t really look me in the eye. He didn’t introduce himself. He didn’t say, “Listen, I’m sorry, but I saw something on your computer and…” No, he got right to the point.
I can’t remember the last time I mumbled. I avoid mumbling. But I was so flummoxed, so caught off guard and utterly uncomfortable, I mumbled: “I… Well, I am a teacher, I… I’ve been teaching a long time… This was –” and then I stopped because I could not compute this. He had read my computer screen. While I was asleep. He read my screen and read it so completely, so thoroughly, he could comment on the story I was drafting. I didn’t need to explain what it was he had read.
Look, I’m going to tell you straight: I was disgusted by this. I didn’t think it was nice. I didn’t feel it was a point of entry for conversation. It was a violation of my privacy. Even when you’re squished together with people on an airplane a person still has her personal space. A furtive glance at someone’s screen or a peek at what book they’re reading; that’s normal. But he read three paragraphs of what I was writing. While I was sleeping. I felt like I needed a shower. He was a few paces ahead of me as everyone walked toward baggage claim; I could’ve caught him to tell him what a creeper he was, but I did not want to engage this person further.
But here’s the lingering problem: if I had found him attractive, would I be upset? This man was not my type. At all. He was unattractive to me in a myriad of ways. But if Andy Garcia in TheGodfather III had said, “I think you’d be a wonderful teacher” and “I can tell you’re a very insightful, sensitive person” would I be using words like “violate” and “disgusted”?
When I ask these Big Questions I get scared that I have wandered into some hoary, post-modern dialectic and that my multiple blind sides are going to out me as a pathetic, politically incorrect waste of space who is so clueless she can’t be salvaged. But I can’t be scared to ask: if that man had looked like Andy Garcia, would I feel the same way? What does that say about me? Is it wrong? How come this stuff matters? And I don’t want to undercut these legitimately confusing-for-me questions by being flip, but also: have we confirmed that Andy Garcia in The Godfather III is an actual human and not a hologram of physical perfection and smoldering sexiness created to make me swoon and die with hormone overload?
It’s good to be home, but it’s so weird that Claus isn’t here.