I am sitting on the patio in front of my apartment as I write this blog. It’s hot-ish and windy. Ventura is always windy. The jasmine vine in my garden (also known as my strip of dirt, or ‘the facilities’ for all neighborhood cats) is in full bloom and my potato bush is covered in purple flowers. When I planted this bush, that is now taller than my head, it was just a stick—a stick that can apparently become a tree-size monster; but, it is my favorite plant monster and it hosts the loudly buzzing, giant black bees that visit my home. No bees today though, just a badly needed change of scenery…
Many of the teachers and professors who read this blog can probably empathize with me when I say that I have been trapped in my office for weeks grading. The last day of classes this semester was Friday of the past week. I’m not quite sure how I managed to so fully and completely overestimate my ability to read, comment on and score hundreds of pages, but I did, and so, I am sentenced to ‘hard time’ at my desk. As the Arcade Fire song The Well and the Lighthouse goes, “I’m serving time all for a crime I did commit.”
My twin sister rubbed this in a bit. She called me as I sat in my office Monday morning after a long weekend of grading and asked me what I was doing. I told her, “grading,” and she promptly started laughing at me and bellowed, “You’re in purgatory!!” She continued to laugh for some time; and then proceeded to post references to purgatory on my Facebook page throughout the day. (Consequently, she later noted my lack of response to her posts. Of course, I had been too busy to reply—see above comments on overestimating, end of semester and grading.)
(Btw- My bee neighbor has decided to visit! So, you can ignore my previous note of absence.)
Amused by my sister, I also felt prompted to seriously contemplate the implications of this attitude of mine of late. What does it mean, really, to say that I am “in purgatory” or “sentenced to my desk?” Well, for one thing, it means I’ve a talent for over-exaggerating. I do. I once watched my students’ mouths collectively drop after I made a particularly strong overstated comment. I replied, “…but I exaggerate,” and they laughed their collective relief. (I’ve taken to warning my students about my this not so helpful habit since the incident.) My attitude might also suggest, perhaps, maybe… that I’ve been whining a bit. This is also true. No excuses. I am totally whining; and generally, trying to make light of my overtaxed, over-committed predicament.
(By the way, I moved back inside. It’s too hot. The bee left and my bum hurts from sitting too long in one place. I am currently lying on my stomach on the living room floor. It’s deliciously cool—okay, cooler—in here. And dark, and not so blaring.)
However, the ethicist in me, the feminist teacher and the part of me that stubbornly refuses to skim, or cheat, or give everyone A’s just for the heck of it reminds me of something very important that I can forget when I’m tired and grouchy. I actually really like reading what my students have to say—particularly when they say it well! I sometimes think of education in general (teaching and learning) as a very long process of learning how to read; and every stage of education teaches us another way that this reading can be done. I love watching my students make connections and slide puzzles pieces of theory and evidence together. It excites me. Looking for these puzzle pieces, I also recognize language as a tool myself, and this helps me to encourage my students’ development of the skill (not the gift) of writing.
The women and men that I teach also give me gifts. They are so smart, creative. I am sometimes amazed to watch people learn. I see big ideas start to float into confusing and lightly held amalgamations as students incorporate new thought into old patterns. The process literally conjures images or feelings in my head of swirling pressure that is light and hard to gather together. I am witness to great questions; and I get to testify of their existence to the very questioners who created them. I love what I do. Moreover, I actually miss my student’s words when I don’t hear or read them. I have lamented my inability to read journals for more than one class—though the process of reading too many of these journals every week can lead to the very purgatorial feelings I mention above.
I do not mean to say that I love every piece of writing or assignment that crosses my desk (or floor for that matter). I do not. I hate lazy work or half-ass work. I am disappointed when I know a student can do better, or when I have to admit that perhaps, a student’s lack of effort in a course corresponds to his, her or their feelings of its lack of importance. I am not a big fan of assessing though I realize this too is often crucial to skill development. I find some rubrics confusing and frustrating—though my sister also reminded me this week that, as she put it: “You learn quickly, but you do not always make yourself teachable.” Check (as she would also say). I hear what you are trying to tell me.
(Okay. I’m back outside again.)
I plan to plan better. I am reminded of a favorite quote from the move Dune at this juncture:
Alight, I’m exaggerating again. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” (I just can’t help myself here.) Love is not always easy and work is not always hard. I can hold my passion and my challenges in the same space because they are a part of one another. I don’t always have to like it; but, perhaps, I can enjoy it a little more if I mix up the scenery every now and then.
I’d love to hear how you are managing your (end of school-year?) trials and holding onto love-ing. Thank you for reading my post.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the women studies in religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.