Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Why Aren't You Writing?

Story board for talk.
This was the subject of an email in my box on Sunday afternoon. It's from a series directed at young faculty that I subscribe to (because while I'm not a young faculty member any more, it's good to know what advice is floating around out there for my junior colleagues). I always find it somewhat ironic that these emails land on Sunday afternoons when their stated raison d'etre is to help academics stop working endlessly, while still getting tenured and promoted. But then again, there I am, looking at my email on a Sunday.

The email repeats the basic advice this group gives embedded in a cautionary tale: write at least 30 minutes every weekday, do not let anyone or anything keep you from your appointed task. Or else you will be the tearful and unaccomplished academic featured in the email.

Why am I not writing? I haven't posted anything on the blog since Easter, which is not to say I haven't written anything —I have. An essay for Nature Chemistry on chirality, three talks in the last two weeks, a reflection for a retreat. A stack of letters of recommendation (rec letters are a genre in their own right, so should count!). And a final exam. Which then generated a thousand pages of grading.

Why am I not writing? In large part because the pneumonia disrupted my regular writing habits, first literally taking the air from my lungs, and then stealing the metaphorical wind from my sails as I recovered from it, careful not to do too much even as the work I didn't manage while I was sick mocked me from the corners of my desk. As of yesterday, I seem to have finally caught my breath.

I have missed the rhythm of exploratory writing as well as the vastness that open up when I'm not pressed up hard against a deadline.  I opened up a blank screen this morning, intending to sketch out a piece, but founds myself pouring whole chunks into it, like water finally freed from the ice dams of late spring. Cool and clear and overflowing.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Amazing. Grace.

Last night, about 10 pm,  Math Man and I found ourselves surrounded on our own driveway by the young people who make up Pomona College's Glee Club. They are touring the East Coast and we had them to dinner.  And before they left, they gathered around the ping-pong table that The Egg had set up on the driveway and which moments before had been the scene of a madcap round robin game and sang. Their voices were so clear, so crystalline, I could hardly bear to listen. I loved watching their faces, the eyes that danced, the quirky smile on my own son's face as he took a spot in the ring for their second piece.

They sang Vaughn Williams "Rest" (from this Christina Rossetti poem)... and a setting of "Amazing Grace" that I first heard when they sang in Rome. It was amazing. It was grace. They were bright and shining like the sun.

I've been thinking today gratitude. The notes that students have left for me. The music last night. How gratitude perdures. How it is sweet and bracing both, like my tea.

...thank you what in us rackets glad
what gladrackets us...
From a Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay

What a glad and wonderful racket.