on work

It’s the end of the semester. A friend reminded me of the fact that this term was actually shorter than others we’ve had, and he wondered why he felt so worn out. I figured it had something to to with the density, rather than the volume, of the academic period. Because of the time of year and the density of the past 15 weeks, I’ve been writing nothing. I’ve written memos to the Provost and emails to students, deliberations to faculty and explanations to advisees. It’s all the kind of writing that requires a lot of effort but doesn’t amount to much in the long run. So, I’ve written a lot. I’ve written nothing.

The semester has also finished with controversy and strife. Oh, the students are fine, mostly. (There is that one.) It’s the faculty that have the fits. It’s all been hard to see and work through, and the efforts, like the writing, amount to a lot of nothing. Just to add perspective, though, one colleague had a brain aneurism a couple of weeks ago. (Amazingly, the prognosis is very good, a full recovery expected.) I substituted for the last week of class, gladly. “Better than a brain aneurism” is my new motto.

All of this fragmentation and the end of the semester makes me claw for the edge of the academic year, like grasping for the edge of the pool after a long swim. Just a few more strokes. Just get to the edge, pull yourself up, and take a breath. Two weeks from right now I should be finished with a train ride through the Rockies, the initiation of a writing retreat. The image of the track, the retreat, the sole purpose — these all sound so appealing in the wake of the term. It sounds like work, work that I can dig into and make progress on.

This weekend, in the midst of working on the memos and the reports and other pieces, we went outside to work. Karyn had assembled 60 square feet of new perennials for the front yard to take the place of the xeric grasses that had done so well for the past two years. It meant that I had to pull out my favorite yard tool, the pick mattock, raise it over my head, let it swing down and cut into the sod. And again. And again. And again. And dig, dig, dig. And pull out the sod, and turn over the dirt in the hole. And repeat, moving over to the other plot. It was a therapeutic afternoon, digging in the dirt. Sure, the holes weren’t as elegant as my memos of the previous week, but they got bigger with each thrust of the shovel. Karyn eased the new plants into the ground, and there they take root. It’s nice to see something that moves forward, that makes progress, even if it’s as basic as a hole in the ground.

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3 thoughts on “on work

  1. Yesterday, I ran across a Latin saying that we learned by heart in high school, and then I forgot until now: mens sana in corpore sano. (No wonder nobody learns Latin anymore—stupid spellcheck auto-complete…). It means, ‘A sound mind in a sound body’. Sometimes digging a hole is the nicest thing you can do for your head.

  2. Of course… We also learned this one: elepantus non capit murem (the elephant does not catch mice) and this one: Aquila non capit muscas (the eagle does not catch flies). Both of which, apparently, we’ve replaced with ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’. To my modern Looney-Toons self, however, the picture of an elephant and mice meant something completely different—elephants are afraid of mice, right?!

    Sometimes I wonder if four years of Latin just filled my head with a lot of random idiom…

  3. Where did these new plants go? The strip between the sidewalk and the street? Pictures, pictures!
    While I certainly appreciate the metaphore here (almost at the end of my swim, trying not to drown before next Thursday)…the designer in me wants to know about the literal!!
    Hope to see you this summer!

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