The summer is just one long planning period.
In the teaching and writing life, busy-ness comes in peaks and valleys. Sometimes people ask me if I can help them with something but seem confounded when my answer is something like this: I don’t have time right now, but I will in about [number of] weeks, but you need to go ahead and tell me what I need to do because by [date] I’ll be busy again. When I’m grading papers or meeting a deadline, I might not even have time to answer an email, but there are also periods of time when I’m doing a lot less— that is to say, catching up on neglected tasks while waiting to be busy again . . .
Having Closed Ranks to come out last November was a long-awaited blessing, but promoting the book, conducting the Newtown oral history collection, rebuilding the school garden, coordinating the Fitzgerald Museum’s literary contest, teaching and grading papers, and writing this blog made for a busy six months from November ’til April! While those were all good things, it has been nice to slow down in May and June, after sending the seniors to graduation, finalizing everyone else’s grades, and closing up shop. Yet, slowing down is relative— it’s already time to start planning!
Moving into year two as the coordinator of the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum‘s annual literary contest for high school and college students, summer is the time for me get the rules and timeline for the 2019 – 2020 contest set and finalized, as well as arranging for judging. I expect to have the upcoming contest’s details ready to share in August. The hint I can share right now is: where 2018 was the centennial of the Scott meeting Zelda in Montgomery, 2019 is the centennial of the couple’s wedding.
Also, now that the school garden has been rebuilt, there’s maintenance work to be done: cutting grass, watering, weeding. Later this month, I’ll be heading to Missoula, Montana for a week-long teacher professional development on sustainability. Aside from looking forward to working in the garden with students next year, it’ll be good to learn how I can help my school to incorporate sustainable practices, both on campus and in our students’ lives. My goals are to reduce waste and to create a system of composting, but before I get my heart set on those notions . . . the whole purpose of the workshop is for them to tell me what might work best.
And since I haven’t been working on any major writing projects since Closed Ranks was finished, it also been nice to do some reading. I got copies of Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion, How Dante Can Save Your Life by Rod Dreher, and Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm for Christmas and had read those by the time spring came. In February, a teacher at The Randolph School gave me a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, after we talked about teaching British literature; that novel and grading papers kept me busy through the spring. More recently, I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard but have most been letting my mind wander over different books: the first two essays from Mario Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture, parts of William H. Stewart’s Alabama Politics in the Twenty-First Century, A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines, and I just read the first essay in David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster. Additionally, last winter I started going weekly to spend an hour in our adoration chapel, and have taken that opportunity to re-read the four Gospels, as well as Ecclesiastes and parts of Proverbs and Wisdom. (I like the wisdom books particularly.) Right now, I’m reading Job, accompanied by Princeton University Press’s Literary Biography Series book on it.
Of course, no teacher or writer should spend the whole summer on work. I am finding time to sit by the lake, to drink some beer, and to throw the tennis ball to the dog. I spend mornings drinking coffee on the porch and watching the birds peck around in the yard. By late afternoon, the heat has subsided enough to return to the porch for a Fat Tire or maybe a Dickel. Sometimes I think I could get used to this life of leisure, and then I get real and think, Nah! It just wouldn’t do.