I’m not going to write about Memorial Day today. What began as a time of reflection meant to honor those who have died in the larger service of the nation and then became a harmless weekend of picnics and parades has now morphed into yet another chest-beating display of patriotic machismo in which I am repeatedly informed that I am not a real American because I don’t support arming puppies in their struggle against totalitarian health care. Sort of takes the meaning out of the day as far as I am concerned.
Don’t even get me started on the festival of ideological pornography that the Fourth of July has become, here in the New Gilded Age.
So I focus on small things, homely things, the things that make up the daily give and take of life, because those things are what define us. And those definitions are much less offensive than the things I see in the larger world around me now.
The semester now being over, I have devoted much of the last few days to my semi-annual attempt to rezero my office. I’ve been digging out from the avalanche of paper that inevitably subsides over every available flat surface. Some of it goes into various files to be stored either in the drawer units I have in my office itself or the storage boxes down in the basement for the longer-term stuff. The rest either gets added to the large and ever-growing pile of scratch paper that sits on the left side of my desk, or – if it is printed or written on both sides – into the recycling bin.
All those words, all those documents, that were once needed and are now put away.
You need to do that, now and then – clear the decks, start over.
There’s the practical side of it, of course. Without such efforts I would eventually lose the ability to walk into the room and even if I did manage to make it to my desk to try to get some work done there would be a shuffling kind of rumble and then they’d dig out my mummified corpse sometime in the next century. “The Great Paperlanche of 2014,” they’d call it. I’d get written up in all the archeological journals, which would be something of a compliment I suppose but not one I really need.
More to the point, there is the intangible side of such deck clearing. You get to put a period to one thing and move on to another. The old gets put away. The new gets a clean slate upon which to write. It’s good for the spirit. Even historians know this.
One of the things I like about being an academic is that the year is divided into very discrete units. You teach for a semester and then you’re done. You teach for the next semester, and then you’re done with that one too. Sure, there are long-term projects also, but mostly they’re background things simmering away that you pick up and put down as needs dictate. It’s a very deadline-oriented sort of career, and once things pass they pass. There’s a lot of the theater in teaching, in many ways.
The down side, of course, is that after a while you can get pretty jaded about those cycles – if this one goes completely pear-shaped there’s always another one coming along. You have to guard against that sort of thing, because for the students it is their one shot at your class and they deserve the best you can give them.
I give them my best. What they do with it is their business. Some take advantage, some don’t. And the cycle moves on.
I’ve got a week to get my summer class prepared now. The rhythms of the year bang on and on, defining my world.