A Rudderless Black Pearl

WhiteboardSo, school’s out for summer and for teachers and students alike that means a ridiculous break—eleven weeks for teachers, thirteen for students. Thirteen. Over a quarter of the year. Madness. But, anyway, here it is: the start of an eleven-week break. Every year the same—the first few days I don’t know what to do with myself. Lost. Wandering around the house. Going room to room—we have five. Aimless. A rudderless Black Pearl. Go running the wife says. Organize your dresser. I’d rather drink henna.

Instead, I compile lists. List of summer goals—like New Year resolutions, but far more entailed. So instead of the obvious do more push-ups, eat less chocolate, meditate, be nicer to the long list of people I’d rather decapitate…. I begin with categories: Writing, Reading, Teaching Prep, Fitness, Hygiene and Personal Wellness, Family. And under each of these I’ll list either the resolutions themselves or the subcategories. So, for instance, under Hygiene might go Roll out hips x3 daily to help prevent early onset of osteoporosis, which, clearly, represents a resolution. But next to that might go Toenail care, which, just as clearly, represents a subcategory hence bolded not italicized, under which might go such actual resolutions as: Use nail brush daily; Cut across the nail; Moisturize cuticle with hair conditioner. Pulsating stuff.

The Reading and Writing lists are the longest, resembling something akin to the Kennedy family tree. Resolutions about resolutions. Most of them as unrealistic as they are unfettered. Things like: Post new blog content x2 per week (Tuesday and Friday); Tweet fascinating things x5 per week (not including tweets about blog posts); Finish War and Peace (That last one a non-starter. I’ve been trying for three years, on page 1,012 of 1,400 and bored to tears. Can’t even skim read it on the toilet bored); Read Mark Lewisohn’s first part of three-part Beatles biography (On page 200 and loving it. Highly recommended. Exactly what everybody should be reading on the toilet); Read Women in White; Plumly’s book on Keats; Devil in a Blue Dress; Citizen; Housekeeping; MLA guide to Wuthering Heights; Critical Responses to Huck Finn (Most of these as prep for classes so dutifully double-listed as such under Teaching Prep). Read the BBC news site each day plus The Guardian’s on-line Books page.

I’d need eleven weeks just for the one category. Toenails gone to pot. No conditioned cuticles. Not to mention forgetting the supposed faces of my supposed family. All of this an ineffective attempt at holding at bay this overwhelming sense of my own uselessness. Usually lasts 4-5 days, somewhere between a bad mood and just wanting to stay in bed all day and watch HBO, which is exactly what I would do if The Wire were appropriate for nine-year-olds. Took a while to figure it out, at first thinking it just, I don’t know, what…the loss of routine, of being busy, of being commanded by an institutional schedule. Which has to be part of it. And I think it absolutely has to do with loss—it’s a mini grieving period without the purpose and the alcohol that goes with real grieving. The loss especially of deadlines, each day the deadline of having something for them, something engaging about J.D. Salinger or Alice Walker or Sherman Alexie et al. Something to keep them from constantly flirting with the clock on the north wall. Something. Anything. To enter unprepared you might as well exist in that dream where you teach naked and leeches do that thing that leeches do with such aplomb (most teachers I know by the way have some version of this dream at some point in the year. Some of us several times. And you can stop with the Freudian psychoanalytical undercurrent. I just explained it).

It’s the loss of that sense of being required plus the loss that comes with it and with the leaving behind of all those attachments, eighty-plus needy, squawking, emotional water balloons. Gone. That’s the real loss. The looking around and twiddling of thumbs real enough, but the deeper loss the one of interacting every day with strings of kids at that vital moment when naiveté and ennui collide with silliness and madness and joy—a fiery space impossible to disentangle from without withdrawal. Maybe I should get the patch. Or, even better, for Father’s Day, during brunch perhaps, present a mini-lesson to the wife and kids on hyperbolic intent in Jane Eyre.


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