Festive formal wear

I taught my last Fall semester class on Thursday night, and I collect my first batch of student portfolios on Tuesday. This means I have this weekend to buy and wrap Christmas gifts, write and mail holiday cards, and otherwise tend to all the household tasks that have accumulated over the final weeks of the semester.

Happy Holly-days.

Every year, I have grand intentions of starting this holiday prep over Thanksgiving, and every year, I’m too buried in paper-grading. Whereas spring semester has spring break in the middle, fall semester is a schedule nightmare. Thanksgiving falls at one of the busiest times of the semester, and after Thanksgiving, it’s a mad rush toward the end of the term.

Every year, December arrives too early and passes in a blur. A month ago, one of my first-year students said she couldn’t believe how quickly the semester had flown by, and she asked whether all four years of college would fly as quickly. All I could do in response was smile and chuckle. My students are young and are only now learning how fast the days, semesters, and years can pass. When they’re my age, they’ll realize that time is a careening car that does nothing but accelerate.

Self-portrait with green mannequin

Time in summer is a fluid thing. As the temperature rises, humans and animals alike slow down, savoring spots of shade, while time itself seems to speed up, slipping by like an unwatched stream. Every schoolchild knows that summer days are shorter than winter ones, despite all those science lessons about planetary orbits and axis-tilts. Summer days are precious, so they slide by faster than the trudge of winter doldrums. One minute it’s spring and the snow is barely melted, then the next you’re rounding the corner toward August.

Hippie chick

This morning I knew it had been a while–about a week, I thought–since I’d last blogged…but when I checked, I was astonished to see it’s been nearly two weeks since my last entry, which I’d hurriedly posted from a cafe in Columbus, Ohio while visiting family. This is how my summer has been: first I moved out of my apartment, then I tended the house while J was away on a business trip, then the two of us traveled to Pittsburgh and Columbus to see family, and then it was Independence Day. I moved out of my apartment in May…so what exactly happened to the month of June?

Askance

Sometime while I was going then coming, spring slipped into summer: a transition I missed. This week has been warm, so Reggie and I putter even more slowly than usual on our morning walks, seeking shady spots as we round the block. A new online term started last week, and the usual tasks of getting two summer classes up and running have spread and attenuated, taking as much time as I give them. I’ve been working this week as slowly as Reggie and I have been walking, and when I’m not doing either, I’m doing lots of nothing: reading and resting and wiling my time with mundane chores and errands.

Cool shades

At the end of a day like today, what have I accomplished? I’ve crossed off a handful of online teaching tasks; I’ve done laundry. I’ve read and written in my journal; I’ve taken in the trash cans and done the dishes. In cosmic terms, this isn’t much; in homely terms, this is everything. Summer days are fluid because they give me the luxury of doing one thing at a time and taking my time while I do it. During the school year, there’s no time for puttering; during the school year, every minute is scheduled and accounted for. In summertime, seconds slip into minutes, minutes slide into hours, and hours drift into days. It’s a temporal relativity any schoolchild can vouch for, but one which science has yet to explain.

Tousled

Keene State is currently on Spring Break, so I’m in Massachusetts this week briefly enjoying the luxury of living in one state rather than two. Knowing that students never do schoolwork over break, despite their occasional best intentions, I arranged my syllabi so all three of my writing classes gave me essay drafts before break began. And so I’ll be spending this week in Massachusetts reading papers and continuing to teach my online classes: not exactly a “break” from work, but a welcome chance to catch up with teaching tasks while my perpetually exhausted students catch up with sleep.

Bejeweled

These past few days have been a whirlwind of activity, with me going to a poetry reading on Saturday, giving interviews at the Zen Center on Sunday, and getting together with girlfriends for dinner last night: a month’s worth of social interaction packed into one weekend. My typical lament throughout the academic year is that there’s never enough time: as soon as I finish reading one pile of papers, I collect another, and in the rare instances when I catch up with grading from one college, I’m inevitably buried in work from the other. Every year, I look forward to Spring Break not because I typically go anywhere but because it offers a brief opportunity at the heart of the semester to catch up, check in with friends I otherwise don’t have time to see, and take a breather: a chance to slow down, check off long-neglected to-do’s, and gather my wits for the second half of the semester.

Elegant eyemask

It’s fittingly ironic, then, that we Americans set our clocks ahead this weekend, springing forward into Daylight Saving Time as if time were something we could ever “save.” Not only did our clocks lose an hour this weekend, the earth itself is spinning faster after the Japanese earthquake, our days nearly two microseconds shorter as the turning world hunkers into herself in the aftermath of trauma. How many times during a busy semester have I silently prayed for the earth to slow down–for the days to flex and lengthen, stretching longer than my to-do list? But unlike Joshua, I’ve never managed to make the sun stand still and the moon stop: always the world keeps turning, the seconds keep ticking, and time keeps flying, whether I’m ready or not. The world shows no sign of slowing or settling; instead, Time keeps flying faster, hurrying and rushing and whirling like a dog chasing its tail, or a wolf nipping at our heels.

Masked

This morning, I enjoyed a brief respite from all this rushing, walking Reggie down sidewalks that are finally clear (here in Massachusetts, at least) of ice and hard-packed snow. The temperature is still brisk–it’s still only almost-spring, with reliably warm weather still weeks away–but for a moment this morning, I was content to wear shoes rather than boots and a winter jacket rather than a long down coat. Soon enough, spring will be here in earnest, and summer will follow surely after that; in the meantime, the dog and I have nowhere to go but around the neighborhood again and back, my to-do list waiting until we make the regular rounds, walking at the speed of an old dog.

Snow on fence

No sooner do I get home from Ohio, it seems, but it’s nearly time for me to go back to school: another example of time slipping out of my fingertips.

In one sense, I’ve already been back to school for more than a week. My new online term started last Monday, so two classes of students and I are well into the second of our eight weeks together. But for me, “back to school” refers to face-to-face classes, and those resume next week. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out where half of December and January have already gone. What happened to the long winter break I’d looked forward to during a busier-than-usual fall semester?

Feral in the snow

Time has a way of slipping away regardless of the traps and snares I set in its path. Yesterday I sat down with my Book of Lists–the notebook I use to organize teaching and other mundane tasks one to-do list at a time–and made the first set of lists for the new semester. For each day, a page; on each page, a list. Today, tomorrow, and the day after: here are the tasks, chores, and errands I have to do between now and then.

I have almost an entire book filled with such lists, and time slips away still. Do you know how many times I’ve lamented in occasional scribbled journal entries (some kept in the Book of Lists, and others elsewhere) about how I need to “tame time” through more efficient list-making, scheduling, and other time-management techniques? Despite all my organizational tips and tools, time refuses to slow for me. No matter how many times I make my lists and check them twice, time still continues to fly.

Tangle with tracks

Time, I’ve decided, is a wily creature that delights in wriggling from our grasp, creeping away into any tangle or thicket where we with our calendars, to-do lists, and time-lines cannot follow. Yesterday as I made yet another set of lists and noticed how my current Book of Lists is nearly full, I wondered whether I should keep it once I’ve moved onto its successor. I keep my journals–I have a portion of my bookshelf where they stand numbered and dated as they keep the time written within their leaves. How much more indicative of my days, I thought, is each day’s to-do list with its assortment of tasks Done and Still Undone?

They say Saint Peter stands at heaven’s gate with the Book of Life, a list he checks for the souls of the saved, their names appearing like a entries in a maitre d’s reservation book. Isn’t Saint Peter’s book merely a mythic version of my own Book of Lists, a whole lot of lives chronicled in his while mine keeps track of merely one? Time can’t be tamed, but it can be tracked, noted with each line-item like a snow-stamped footstep. Where have my days gone, and what (if anything) did I accomplish with them? Only the Book of Lists knows, if I dare page back and double-check the checked.

The second photo in this entry is intended as a visual reminder that even in the snowy wintertime, furniture sometimes chooses to go wild.