Beginning and end

The past month or so has been crazy. Days after we put Bobbi to sleep, J left for a two-week business trip, leaving me to tend the house and pets during the busiest time of the semester…and while J was gone, Toivo spent an unplanned week at the Angell Animal Medical Center being treated for a massive abscess in one of her hind legs. Toivo’s been home for a week, J’s been home a little more than that, and today I submitted the first of two batches of final grades: not yet the end of my semester, but another step closer.

Hairpin turns

This past month or so has felt like a marathon with an ever-shifting finish line. Weeks ago while J was out of town, one of our neighbors invited me to an Easter gathering at her house, and I begged out, choosing to focus on my chores and paper piles instead. I finished those chores and those papers, but others appeared in their place: this is, after all, the nature of both housework and paper-grading. Every time I see our neighbor, she asks whether I’m done grading, and every time, I say the same thing: not yet, not yet. It’s not that I’m not making progress; it’s that there always is more.

For good or ill, this is what it’s like to teach college composition at multiple institutions: as soon as you finish reading one batch of papers, there’s another coming in. I’ve come to see my workload as being like the tide: first one wave, then the next, then the next.


Today when I submitted final grades for my classes at Babson College, I took a minute to breathe a sigh of relief…and then I wrote an updated to-do list with the final papers and projects my Framingham State students are submitting today and Thursday. My final Framingham State grades are due next Monday, and that is when I can gratefully collapse into an exhausted heap of relief. Until then, I keep my head down and count every item crossed off my list as another step closer to done.

I took these photos of the memorial labyrinth at Boston College weeks ago, after J had left for his business trip and before Toivo’s unplanned stint at Angell. It was a pretty day when I felt like I had my life and to-do list under control, and then things took a proverbial turn.


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.

Flowering dogwood

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.

Past its prime

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.