Leaf and imprint

Every semester, I labor under the delusion that someday, eventually, I’ll not only catch up with work, I’ll even get ahead. Every semester, I chase my own tail, and every semester, I eventually realize (not a moment too soon) that “catching up” and “getting ahead” are illusions.

Dried hydrangea

This week once again I find myself apologizing for taking longer than I’d planned (as always!) to grade student papers and comment on student drafts. Teaching for two different institutions is always a juggling act: while you’re catching up with one set of commitments, you’re falling behind with another. At this time of the semester, I often remember my mom once saying that being a mother means that no matter how hard you try to please your children, spouse, and other family members, someone is always displeased with you. Being a moonlighting adjunct feels a bit similar. No matter how much you scurry to keep on top of your to-do list, there’s always something else to do. Working too hard is never enough. And yet in the face of the Endless To-Do List, I still harbor the delusion that someday, eventually, I’ll be Caught Up.

Neighborhood redtail

This weekend I had a proverbial moment of clarity when I realized the mantra that always got me through my busy undergraduate and grad-school semesters–“Everything always gets done, eventually”–is incomplete. Yes, everything always gets done…but it never gets done a moment too soon. The illusion that keeps me frantically scurrying through a too-busy semester isn’t the hope of getting things done in the nick of time, as always seems to happen. The illusion that keeps me frantically scurrying through too-busy days is the vain hope that if I get things done faster, then I’ll have a moment’s respite. If I could not just finish my work but get ahead, then I could catch a breather.

It’s a vain hope: that’s what I realized this weekend. I always get everything done, eventually…but I never get it done a moment too soon. I’m always, perpetually, inevitably racing down to the wire, grading papers and prepping classes and basically showing up at my life at the last minute, feeling overdue and under-prepared. It’s not how I like to see myself, rushing in and looking flustered; if I had my druthers, I’d be caught up, on top of things, and in perfect control. Instead, the Universe seems to have a different idea, perversely refusing all my efforts to win the proverbial race with time.