Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are There No Good Collaborations?

I am reading John Steinbeck's East of Eden this summer, and though I am only 150 pages in, I have been thoroughly seduced by it.  His characters, so odd and human, rise from the page; the conflicts in which they engage tug nastily at my heart.  I can only read for short periods of time, partly because my sons keep begging me to take them to the pool, but mostly because in each sitting I am moved to re-examine myself -- a beneficial, but sometimes painful, process.

Yesterday, this passage leapt into my lap: “What do I believe in?  What must I fight for and what must I fight against? Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man.  Nothing was ever created by two men.  There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy.  Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything.  The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of man" (Steinbeck 132).

The word collaboration struck me.  In education, we constantly talk about the power of collaboration.  Our district provides collaboration time twice a month, I recently finished a week-long institute which expected collaboration for the creation of learning scales.  Collaboration seems to be one of those concepts (might I say one of the rare concepts) about which few disagree.  We laud its benefits and clamor for more opportunities, but I found myself replaying that statement in my mind -- "There are no good collaborations." Perhaps we all want to be in on the miracle, we all want to be the one who had the idea, or found the solution, or brought something new into the world.  But our job as collaborators is a bit less visible, and certainly less glamorous than that.  Our job as collaborators is to  put aside the dream of creation and embrace the notion of nurturing an idea to maturity.  For teachers, many of whom were drawn to the autonomy often enjoyed in this career, this is bitter work. I could see this in my colleagues as we worked throughout the week. 

I wonder if the challenges of marriage might also stem from this concept.  Marriage is a collaboration, but many of us want it to be our creation.  We want to take credit for its existence in our lives. Yet, often, neither spouse wants to follow or be led.  And so, we miss the opportunity to build and extend the relationship as we argue about who owns it.  I know I do this.

In Steinbeck's, The Grapes of Wrath  he states that "owning freezes you forever in 'I,' and cuts you off forever from the 'we'."  I have read that book at least five times, studied it with numerous classes and never did I take that concept of owning beyond physical possessions.  But now, I am considering that statement in light of my work and my life -- teacher and wife.  What am I trying to create, and thereby own? Is that keeping me from experiencing the richness of community? When must I accept the precious loneliness of "I" and when is it best to join the efforts of "we" in building something together?


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