Rain is falling purposefully from an overcast sky, and gusts of wind sweep through in spontaneous bursts. It tears through the branches of trees, and a flock of brittle-winged yellow leaves takes flight outward, curving upward, then settling onto the soggy grass.
I take a single bite and realize in horror that this is one of the butterscotch-chip ones. One of the ones I made for me! One of my favorites! And I let it go stale?! I eat it anyway. When there’s enough butter in something, stale is not the deciding factor.
Fitzgerald once said that using exclamation points was like laughing at your own joke. Haha!
Sometimes I drink a couple of glasses of wine and I muse about life and philosophy and literature, and because I have had even the minimal amount of alcohol, I can’t remember a single author’s name or book title. But oh do I sound smart. Some of the time. At least once in the conversation. Maybe. One time in college I went to a friend’s party and spent probably an hour in the kitchen drunk and talking to a boy about politics and philosophy and who knows what. After I ended the conversation I felt thoroughly embarrassed. This was not a professor’s cocktail party; it was the kind of party where people passed up vodka for another Busch light and grind on each other in the middle of the living room. But then the next day my friend told me that the boy from the kitchen had told her post-serious/weird-kitchen-conversation how into me he was and how he wanted to get to know me more, hang out, spend time with me. She told him I had a boyfriend. But for the first time in my life, I felt like someone liked me solely because I was smart. What a bizarre concept.
I love meeting people who get as ridiculously excited as I do about philosophical and literary conversations. Like jump up and down in your seat fellow geek alert excited. Graduate programs are full of posers and arrogant douche bags, but there are also some who are just really smart, interesting, and interested people. And they make the experience worth while. I love borrowing books from these people–and then loaning my own in return. And then we sit and synchronously chatter and utter OhMyGod and YES!! and I loved… and I KNOW! in some bar where eavesdroppers probably look at us in utter confusion. Or delight–if they’re fellow scholars.
After these kinds of conversations I feel both exhausted and completely mentally alive. Ideas have the power to wake us out of our subconscious comas. So why does school put us to sleep? And there is so, so much to say about that subject, much of it having been touched on by the great Ken Robinson (Youtube-Changing education paradigms, RSA Animate). When these fellow interesting and interested people loan you books, you read them, no questions asked, excited to pick them apart with them, to compare notes. How do I bring that level of excitement into the classroom? Is it even possible? Or is this purely the kind of thing that is exciting to a literature geek like myself?
I’m going to consider this, and other ideas, and read while wearing my amazing new “Meow I’m A Cat” most comfortable ever sweater. Yes. It’s worth mentioning.
The study lounge has lovely peaked cathedral ceilings and windows on both sides of the room. The interior windows look at beige walls just like the sterile beige walls of the lounge. The exterior windows look at a tall, weepy pine tree. And a parking lot next to the construction of the new student building. And a dozen construction trailers.
There are styleless beige laminate tables encircled by burgundy and black plastic chairs that lounge. Well, maybe not lounge exactly. Flex. On one of the tables is an open box of doughnuts left over from someone’s class. A glazed jelly oval and a chocolate-frosted circle remain. The maple bars, of course, are all gone. If there ever were any.
This room was planned with all the right intentions: carpeting, natural light, a coffeemaker and microwave in the corner, a snack and soda machine on the opposite side. It should be comfortable, cozy even, but it’s not. The furniture is too academic, the ticking clock on the wall too prominent a feature.
This is not the place that inspires writing. Starbucks might be a better choice, were it no so crowded and over-air conditioned.
Weeks fly, minutes tick by. And I write about nothing. About student lounges in university buildings.
What are we doing? Watching the clocks, aching for the days to go by faster, for the hours to tick away so that we can leave work or school. And yet we yearn for life to slow down. We dread the next birthday. Our culture hides away the old, terrified of their brittle graying hair and erratically etched wrinkles. We pump chemicals and collagen into the epidermis, then stretch it and slice it with tweezers and scalpels. We color each wiry gray that emerges writhing from our scalps, then wax and gel and spray it until it lies flat with the others. Other cultures respect age; the youth look in awe at those who have lived so much life. But few of us have really lived much. We work the same job, day in and day out, saving up our vacation days for years and watching the hands of the clock tick in circles.
I am no different. I sit in class and watch the clock, I stand and teach and wait for the bell to ring, I come home and wonder where the hours, the days, the years go. This year, I say, I’m going to make the most of my weekends. I’m going to spend them with friends and the ones I love, in a boat on the lake, and weaving down the ski hill. And when I’m working full-time, I’m going to make the most of my summers, even if they are spent pinching pennies. And I’m going to read and read and read, and keep writing and learning. And when the wrinkles begin to line my face, I hope I will find the audacity to embrace them as a part of me.Continue reading
You’re at the check out stand and the grocery store down the street and two people behind you is a familiar face. Do you know her? You sneak a glance, then return your eyes forward; you don’t want to be caught staring. Because if it’s not someone you know, then you’re looking straight on at a stranger, someone like you just going through the motions of buying the necessities, trying to get supplies for dinner, get home, get on with her life. Someone who isn’t in a place that welcomes a stranger’s stare. It’s even worse if it really is someone you know because for the life of you, you can’t remember HOW you know her. No name, no memory of the circumstances under which you are acquainted. And if she recognizes you, then you have to make the polite, nameless, where-do-I-know-you-from conversation. How are you? It’s been a long time… What are you up to? etc. etc.
As you walk out the door you realize that the girl in line isn’t the person you know; she just looks like a person you once went to school with in a different state. What a relief that she didn’t catch you staring.
I don’t know why a moment such as this struck a chord with me today. Writing for myself has become sort of like that familiar face in the crowd, someone I know but with whom I’ve completely lost touch. And yet, it’s when I get busy like this that I write best. It’s a funny thing. When I’m playing housewife, home alone with hours to kill, I never write. I’ll sit and watch TV for hours, read a book, clean my house, mow the lawn, anything and everything but write. But when I’m in a high school from 7 to 3 and a class from 4 to 7, I itch to write.
Even though I want to write, I don’t really have the time, and my thoughts are so jumbled I’m not sure where to begin. I want to write about the aggressive driver in the 90s green Dodge pickup with Idaho plates and a strip of duct tape coming off his bumper, dancing like toilet paper in the wind as he weaved towards me on the freeway. I want to write about my newfound insomnia, about waking up every night at 3 a.m. like some sort of horror movie. Every. Single. Night. I want to write about missing English classes and all the frustrations that come along with being a student again. I want to write about stress, and about money, and about buying $7 jarlsberg cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich when my bank account is basically empty. But it’s almost 11 and I have to leave my place by 6:30 looking like a put together, professional adult so I’m just writing nothing and anything to scratch the writing itch.
Why didn’t I write this paper last Tuesday night when the class ended, when the information was all still fresh in my mind? is all I can think about when I stare at the stack of papers on my desk, lined with empty verbiage that I can’t seem to regurgitate on a Sunday afternoon.
Other people are at the lake or spooning frozen yogurt into their mouths in the summer heat. My roomie and her boyfriend are out to lunch somewhere, probably sitting on a patio or staring out into the sunshine from an air conditioned dining room. Meanwhile her kitten is curled up in my stacking baskets, occasionally yawning and peering up at me to make sure I’m still here.
People are at the park or taking naps or riding on roller coasters. And I’m staring blankly at my computer screen wondering why it’s so hard to just whip out this final paper. It only has to be four pages. I’ve written 10 page papers in a single night. I wrote a 100 page thesis. I can do this.
I’m so over being a full-time student.
When will I feel like a grown up? When will I become disciplined and mature? When will I have money to spend on trips and a house and a car and new clothes?
never, someday, soon.
I should really go get some coffee.Continue reading
Has it really been a month? I have been writing, just not here. But now, for the first time in a while, I have fast internet. I can stay up late to the comforting glow of my Macbook Pro and blog and pin and watch all the Mad Men and Orange is the New Black my little heart desires.
After homework of course.
When I’m not in school, I forget about the monotony of it. I’m excited to learn, to engage, to debate and discuss. But I don’t do well with routine. Maybe that means I won’t be a very good teacher. The research says create routine in your classroom. There’s safety and comfort in routine. That’s what kids need. But I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kind of girl, and my loathing for day-in-day-out routine is what made me choose teaching over an office job.
Each day feels the same. They blend together into a blur. How many weeks has it been? How many hours? Seconds? Is that clock slow? It has to be slow…
Wake up at 5, hair in a pony-tail, workout pants, neon pink vented shirt and sports bra. Nikes and out the door. 6 o’clock rowing, pushing my back muscles, pushing to be in sync with everyone else. With the middle-aged women and the college-aged boys. With broader shoulders than mine and thick-set hips.
7:30 and I’m back on Argonne, then the freeway, then the apartment, changing, combing, swiping on mascara and deodorant before snatching up my backpack and running back out the door.
Coffee, then class at 9, reflection, discussion, group meetings, 7-page readings, another working lunch, back to class, then to the language camp. There I work with a girl named Amina who only knows a handful of English words. And so it feels amazing when she repeats the words I tell her, then figures out the letter for the V- sound.
At 2:30, the kids leave for snacks, and I trudge back across campus with the others, back into my air-conditioned car, back to the apartment to read another chapter, another book, to write another paper. And then all the Netflix because it’s all my brain can handle after such a day.
I’m sharing a bed with my best friend for a few days. We chatter and giggle like we’re still in high school. We banter about politics and complain about boys and colleagues before finally resigning to sleep. In the morning, I turn off my alarm and creep out of bed. And then it starts again. Again and again and again. Day after day.
A couple of weeks ago I saw the high school boys from my hometown at basketball camp on my campus, and they all yelled out my name. “What are you doing here?! Shouldn’t you be at the lake?” Yes, guys. Yes, I should.