Happy-the-dog and I got caught in a huge downpour on our walk this morning. I thought I had perfectly timed our walk for in between downpours, but shortly after we commenced, so did the rain.
Happy and I had an interesting walk. I learned that my green waterproof jacket is still green but no longer waterproof. I also learned that the violet-green swallows love dive-bombing the pond in the pounding rain. And I got to see something I don’t often get to see: the layers that live underneath the surface. Perhaps because of the storm or the construction at our park, the Water Bureau had cut a large rectangle out of S.E. 21st street’s asphalt and then dug a hole so deep that I could barely see the top of the wet head of whoever was inside the hole fiddling around. As we walked closer to the hole I was able to peer inside at tree roots, stratum of rock and soil; underground mysteries.
I haven’t been on a walk for a few days, which is quite uncommon for me. Happy hasn’t been feeling well—he had a relapse of a bad skin infection and until the steroids kicked in, he was driven to distraction by the overwhelming impulse to scratch his itches. As for me, I worked myself to a state of utter exhaustion finishing up the big book project before Fall Term at my university starts. I got every last thing related to the revision of the book and all the instructional materials submitted this past Friday, three days before the deadline, which is today.
I can’t help wondering if it was worth it to be ahead of the deadline if my reward was three days of puniness in the extreme.
I felt really great on the walk! My body has been pleading with my mind for movement these past few days as I’ve been in sedentary scholar mode. Though my clothes and hair are still wet, I quite enjoyed being caught in the downpour, out in the world and feeling embodied in a way I haven’t experienced much lately.
Today is the first day of Fall Term at my university. Hooray! I love this time of year!
I fell in love with this time of year, specifically with the beginning of the school year, when I was a tiny girl attending nursery school. Forty-something years later – all of those years filled with learning (and schooling) and then teaching (and more learning) — and I still feel like I’m falling in love all over again on the first day of school. I have a general distaste for shopping for anything other than food, books, and music, but there are few things as exhilarating as shopping for school clothes and supplies. These days, though, such start-of-the-school-year adventures are had on behalf of my daughter who is a couple of weeks into her senior year of high school. (Alas. How I miss going school clothes shopping with my Gramma Jewell!)
I now have a different ritual for the new school year. In the days leading up to the start of Fall Term – any term, actually– I enjoy reviewing all of the accumulated artifacts for each of the courses I’m soon to teach: outlines and scripts for each session; learning project plans and handouts; assigned readings; archived student work; teaching evaluations; copies of poems I’ve read in class and scraps of paper covered with jotted notes about some connection a student made between ideas or some experiential learning activity I might try in the future; prompts for in-class free-writing and discussion.
I get to teach four really awesome courses this term, though it is a strange collection that might at first consideration seem disparate. Here they are:
- Senior Seminar (a team-taught undergraduate liberal arts capstone course);
- Learning: A Fundamental Human Process (an undergraduate Human Sciences elective);
- Human Studies Perspectives (a team-taught pre-requisite course for Human Studies majors); and
- Embodiment in Later Life (a core graduate-level and upper-division undergraduate-level required gerontology course).
I’ve taught variations of each of these four courses before and in the case of Embodiment in Later Life and Senior Seminar, I’ve taught them many times over the course of many years (ten or more!), so there are a lot of artifacts to review and new plans to be hatched! In advance of teaching a course again, I always make some adjustments to the choreography – sometimes the changes are minor, sometimes the changes are major.
For the two courses I facilitate in collaboration with colleagues – Senior Seminar and Human Studies Perspectives — there are additional layers of individual and group pre-work that must be done, as effective real-time collaboration in the classroom (whether the classroom is on-campus or on-line) requires a great deal of intentionality, humility, confidence, empathy, ego-work, and preparation.
So, in addition to the violet-green swallows, my ineffective raincoat, and the layers that live under the asphalt, I was also contemplating all of this as Happy and I were on our wet walk.
As Happy and I stood under a tall thick conifer tree during a particularly fierce moment of the downpour, I recalled a favorite poem from Wislawa Szymborska:
Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;
to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;
to tell pain
from everything it’s not;
to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.
An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
wtih the lamp switched off;
and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,
mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
“To keep on not knowing something important” may very well be the idea around which the four courses I’m honored to be a part of this term cohere. Actually, this bit from Szymborska’s perfect poem may sum up something essential about why I keep doing the stuff I do, even when it is arduous and exhausting. And it might also serve as a reminder to me in the future that I almost always get into trouble when I forget that confusion is a legitimate state of being, that I can take a walk and still get my work done, and that as with rain storms everything, every single thing, is constantly changing, is in a state of flux.
Would it surprise you to hear that the moment Happy and I walked up the path to the front stoop of our house the downpour stopped (at least for now)?