Friday, October 13, 2017

Of Fardles and Bon Mots

It has been a few months since I began my new job. One could say that I am settled in, though I do  remain, at heart a lit major, in spite of not having stepped into a classroom for almost a year now. I had not realized this until this past few days when a couple of events brought it to my notice. I do not yet know how I feel about it.

The first event was utter, sheer exhaustion, though one can not always call that an event. It was rather a breaking point that came on a Thursday afternoon on one of the busiest weeks my writing lab has ever seen. There were days when it would be a couple of hours before I could reach my office and check my email: I would be enveloped in student needs from the moment I'd step into my writing center. Students had the hunted, much-wept look of the lost and the displaced as they haunted the center, trying to access  their email, begging me to do some magic that would give them access to My English Lab or D2L. They hung on to their school responsibilities as though to an anchor; if their grip loosened, some sort of apocalypse would follow and they carried this desperate urgency as their most treasured cargo. If I did help them access whatever they needed, or explained a concept to them, they looked at me with gratitude of cosmic proportions, which defeated me. This is natural in a world that is left behind by a storm that closed down my State for over a week. However, we were all exhausted by the Thursday of that week. The talk was of the end of the world, how nothing was ever going to be the same. So I distributed Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" and we discussed the short story for about an hour. I had distributed the story not just to my staff but also the couple of students who remained in the writing center. Later, as I walked back to my office and the writing center began to get busy with the evening traffic, I realized that this kind of discussion was exactly what was missing from my present life. This stolen hour had adjusted my perspective and I have vowed that this would not be the last time that a story or poem is discussed in my lab. My staff, too, confessed to thinking of the story repeatedly over the next few days. Perhaps we were all lit majors at heart?

In fact, I would go far enough to say that what my colleagues and managers refer to as my managerial techniques owe their origin to my experience as faculty. Controlling discussions that do not get lost in the woods, demanding work, being intolerant of excuses yet understanding of lack of training, identifying what needs fixing, keeping records, creating schedules and planning meetings: all of these I learned as I stood alone behind the desk for decades, forever separated yet deeply connected to the people who faced me and tried to convince about twenty strangers to shift perspective and learn to analyse.

One could say that essentially, I am still doing the same job.

My friend asked me if I miss teaching and before I could even think about the question and consider it, my mouth said, "No!" The definite nature of that answer took my friend aback, I think; I, too was surprised by it. Upon reflection, in fact, I'd say that the best parts of my old job are still very much with me, while the worst, like grading, have disappeared. Yes, there are evaluations and hiring decisions, but they are nothing compared to endless oodles of ungraded assignments that had crowded my life in infinite sets of twenty each.

A couple of days ago, my Facebook newsfeed offered up a Keats ode read by Benedict Cumberbatch. I wept at the sheer beauty of the poem. I often indulge in YouTube Midsummer Night's Dream and cry at Macbeth (a play that continues to shock me). Teaching was never where I'd thought I'd end up when I decided that I was a confirmed lit major and could be nothing else. I had not really thought much about where I'd end up with a lit degree, of course. I had some nebulous idea of being a priestess in a sanctuary of words or just drinking in Prufrock under a spreading tree as the sun set behind some mountain. I had no clear idea about the actual work or ritual the routine of such a person would comprise of.

So no, I do not miss the classroom. I do miss the literature, but when I reach out for it, I find that it has not wandered away. It is right where I'd left it, beside curriculum to be assigned, files to be graded, departmental and all-school meetings to be attended, and LMS to be organized.

Ultimately, the aim of my having Read Literature seems served: it was to decorate the walls of my ivory tower so that the fardles that flesh must bear may be tolerated, conquered, and lived through.

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