The first set of grades are in, the next set should be done in a few days, and then I will officially be finished with this first semester back in the classroom in two years. There were so many great moments this semester, especially in the classroom and office hours, but the semester feels like a failure. After discovering a love for the writing life and a rhythm in which I could live it during my sabbatical, I told myself as I returned to teaching that it was time to learn to be a writer while living my “normal” life as a professor. Bottom line: it didn’t happen.
Now, this isn’t simply a classic case of professor-berates-himself-for-not-getting-more-done. I got a LOT done. I copy-edited two books. I proofread one of those, too. And indexed it (a new level of soul-crushing work I discovered this fall). I proofed two other articles and a book review, wrote a few conference proposals and a proposal for a classroom edition, not to mention all the course documents, comments on student writing, email, tweets, and other acts of verbal composition. And pretty much all of it past deadline.
As scholars of literacy and media point out, this is the age of writing—like many of my fellow Americans, I wrote more this year than at almost any other time in my life. And I’ll have two books and a handful of other publications next year to show for it. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that the wonder-filled flow of watching thoughts take shape on paper hasn’t been part of that. I’m not drafting long-form work. I’m not learning what’s on my mind. I’m learning plenty of other stuff, but the frantic workaholism of this semester has left me less in touch with myself than I was on sabbatical. Then, I was in a strange place physically, I often had to wander a mile or more to find a good space in which to write, but I had the time to do it, and I could keep that commitment to engage myself and the mystery of bringing new-found information into the realm of knowledge—which I’ve started to think of not as more certain than information so much as more embodied, more alive. That act of creation has given way to other needful, urgent, demanding acts that still might fit under the general rubric of writing, but misses the relational dimension in which, to paraphrase Emerson, I found the other part of myself in its expression.
Now, at the end of the semester, I’m sneaking a few moments while we prepare to take a three-week trip to California. There will be next to no opportunity to do work while I’m out there. I hope that means this will be an important reset on the busy-ness that has dogged me since August. And I hope I’ll still have a chance to write. Not for scholarship, but for myself. There’s so much I feel I need to say. Some will likely be through journaling. Some may be through blogging. Some may simply be building up little segments of essays, attempts at attempts, quietly watching trails of thought follow the ink leaving my fountain pen.
January will be busy as well. I’m taking a course in New York for a week, getting courses ready that I haven’t taught in several years, and preparing for a tidal wave of college work that should crest somewhere around February. But that’s then. Now is Advent. The season of waiting. And right now, a big part of what I’m waiting for is words.