Joseph Weil, one of the English department’s most distinguished professors, has been at Binghamton University for 11 years. Between teaching poetry and the occasional fiction class, he is a professor unlike any other. Weil is a genuine, funny, wise and loving man. He doesn’t hold anything back from his students. As part of a new series, Pipe Dream sits down with Professor Weil to learn more about this campus figure.
Pipe Dream: What’s something about you that no one knows?
Joseph Weil: “I’m shy. I’m extremely shy. I can’t even talk to the professors at the University because I’m always afraid. I get tongue-tied. I used to stutter when I was little. It’s because I’ve always felt self-conscious. I’m so much in my own head so when I would go to get it out it would come out all wrong. That’s how I became a loud mouth. Now I can perform. But when I’m home my wife says, ‘You’re so dynamic outside and when you come home you just want to sit here quietly.’ You might as well hang me in a closet on a coat rack. My inner self is still a quiet and reflective person but I’ve learned to perform. Teaching is a type of performance. I’ve learned that I have something to say and I shouldn’t be worried how people would perceive me. Now I realize that if I kept quiet I was going to be quiet to my grave and I wouldn’t ever be able to get all the things out that I needed to get out.”
PD: What are you passionate about?
JW: “Painting. If I could I would be a tap dancer. I like musicals. I love vampire books. If something doesn’t make me feel intense, I probably won’t go anywhere near it to begin with.”
PD: What was your life like in your late teens, early 20s?
JW: “It looked like I was never going to be anything but miserable. I mean both of my parents died. I had to work in a factory. I didn’t think I’d ever be a teacher or a writer. I wrote still but I did it to survive so I didn’t die as a person inside. I didn’t have many ambitions because they had been knocked out of me by circumstances. But I had a wild imagination. My parents instilled in me the values that you live for more than just yourself. I raised my sister. She was 13 when they died. I made sure we were off the streets and had a roof over our heads. When I was 18 I was being a parent. So I did my life backward. I became more kid-like when I got into my 40s.”
PD: What got you to this point in your life?
JW: “Passion. Caring. Wanting to get up in the morning. Helping others. I did advocacy for the homeless. Living for more than just yourself otherwise then you’re always thinking about yourself and that can make you miserable. I’ve played gigs as a musician. It was good. Fell in love. Got my heart broken.”
PD: Why did you choose to teach?
JW: “I didn’t choose it, it kind of chose me. Like I was just going on with my life, doing my own thing. Then someone quit this job, they didn’t think they were getting paid enough money. Someone said, ‘Joe, why don’t you take the job?’ and I said, ‘What do you got to do?’ and he said, ‘Well you teach a bunch of kids writing and you get paid,’ and I said, ‘Well that’s good money!’ I’ve been teaching almost 20 years now in one way or another but [at the] college, 11. I never intended to be a teacher. I never went through grad school being excited to be a teacher. I hated teachers growing up. I hated them because they weren’t ever nice to me. I never felt like they were being honest. And they would get mad at you if you proved them wrong. I might get mad but I won’t penalize you for it. I’d just get mad because I have a big ego. At least I know.”