I submitted final Keene State College grades on Tuesday morning, right before the noon deadline…and then after lunch, I started chipping away at a long list of neglected tasks. That’s how it is every spring: I look forward to submitting grades in the hope of having a chance to hang out and relax when they’re done, but instead I find myself facing a laundry-list of chores.
Now that spring semester classes at Keene State are done, I can focus on my two current online classes (one undergrad, one graduate), or the Summer school class that starts next week, or the online class I’m redesigning from the ground up: new textbook, new assignments, new everything. Or, if I don’t feel like working on teaching tasks, I can catch up with neglected housekeeping: the bookshelves that need scrubbing, or the basement pile of unpacked belongings from last year’s move, or the routine doctors’ appointments that have yet to make themselves.
It’s not just a woman’s work that’s never done: work itself is unending. As we say in my Zen school, “A day without work is a day without eating,” or, as the old saying goes, there is no free lunch. All around me, I see plants pushing out flowers, rabbits diligently munching leaves, and birds rushing to and fro, distracted with the business of migration, feeding, and courtship. The earth turns nonstop, with no vacation days or paid time off…but as Walt Whitman correctly noted, the earth never tires.
There is something strangely comforting and even restful about replacing one sort of work with another sort of work. Now that the face-to-face semester at Keene State is done, I’m relishing the additional time I have here at home, even with a long to-do list. This morning as I folded yesterday’s laundry, I remembered my favorite line from Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, where the narrator imagines her grandmother as a new widow hanging wash on the line, “performing the rituals of the ordinary as an act of faith.” It’s a line I fell in love with the first time I read the novel, and it’s a line I return to time and again, every time I return to a to-do list that never ends.