Thursday, October 1, 2015
Another Day in the Trenches Listening to the Irrepressible Whispers
Sophia's head rests on the desk. She looks angelic and sunburned. Her hours on the tennis court have exhausted her and she can't connect with the abstractions of analysis in the freshman comp class.
Andrew looks serious, really serious. He drills his attention into the white board with so much focus I think his gaze will knock down the wall.
Sarah is spilling out of her evening gown. As a member of a sorority on "evening gown day," she pulls Sterling's gaze and mind away from the screen where today's text patiently waits for dissection. Sarah's doppelganger, Gabby, tries to focus, but this world of gossip proves to be too much. She turns her head to Sarah to discuss who was in her cups the night before.
Noely and Jesus have their spot in the corner. They are quick with the tablets, way ahead of the rest of the class in finishing the assignment. Alex is right there with them, so quick it is frightening.
In the middle of all, Cristina sits in a kind of grace, beauty, and elegance that is permanent and unflappable. She has deep roots in calm presence born of years studying dance. Her poise and serenity is counterpoint to the chaos, hubbub, and diffusion of the late afternoon class.
Only fifteen minutes left, I think to myself, and forty-five minutes of work to do. Oh well, I'll catch up later, maybe. There are piles of papers to grade, the Promotion Criteria for Non-Tenure Track Faculty to write, the survey results to compile, the norming session to plan, the broken water main at home to repair, the syllabus to put together.
Maybe over the weekend.... after the prison workshops.
If I get caught up, I might get to write some of my own stuff. The question then becomes, to what purpose? To feed a need for accomplishment and recognition? Moving the work onto a bigger stage, a larger audience? Just because it is what I do? A way to fill the nagging void that whispers not good enough? Ah, who knows?
Plus the publishing world is rigged. My work will never see the light beyond the slush pile of rejections. Without an agent, nothing will get off the ground. Got to get to know somebody in the biz or I'll be here forever.
Wait a minute... I already have been here forever. Time is up, and I guess I lost.
Ken and Richard, journeyman writers, family by circumstance, are on a road trip. They are at Point Reyes at a quaint hotel, like the ones they stayed in on their book tour a few years back. Richard lost Lois to Alzheimer's earlier this year. In a Facebook post, Ken cites Richard as "hearing as extramarital lark." Richard's humor and poetic ear may be faded but are still sharp. I think of them looking at the mad tangle of lines that define student postures here in the classroom. We are not a finely composed painting or poem. Legs extend akimbo, heads push up against the back wall, back slouch, and arms cross in anticipation of exit. We are at cross purposes. I don't blame the students or resent being stranded here in this rough draft of a work life today.
They are good students, fine human beings, these first-year characters. In my way, I love them, as I love what I am trying to do with and for them. And the whole project has grown grotesque, is stunted, a tree root-bound in its narrow box.
Then time is up and I tell them to finish up their brainstorming for the next essay. Dutiful though they are, and hungry, distracted, they jot down some notes. The class ends unfinished, a work in progress. The jangling abruptness of the transition rings in my head as I walk down the hallway back to my office.
Martin, the custodian, is there, waxing the floor. "Every night," he says, "you walk the same corridor. But look at this tonight. I waxed it for you. You always stay late."
I do as he says. He is right. The floor gleams in the light, like a mountain lake under a blazing sun.
"It's nice," I say. "Thank you for your work." And I mean it.
My desk is testimony to the unfinished business of my day. I set down the clipboard, the attendance roster, the book littered with Post-Its that flag the upcoming lessons -- the march forward into another round of papers to grade.