Did you work this summer?

Back to the college, and that inevitable question, “Did you work this summer?” I’m guilty of asking it, too. What we mean is “Did you teach a class — or two or three — this summer?” What we mean is “Did you do PAID work this summer?”

This summer I took care of my family. I tried to be fully present with my niece’s death. I took my mom to Idaho so she could see her grandson who was home on leave from the Marines. I coordinated stuff for my kids. I coached my 19-year old daughters through emotional turmoil with friends and boyfriends. I tried to be a wiser, quieter mom to my 13-year old. I took my mom to doctor appointments. I helped get the last leg of mom’s move accomplished (interesting that I had forgotten that detail until I began editing this post). I dealt with my husband’s illness and 12 days in the hospital. I took my daughters school shopping for supplies and clothes. I got Emma back to school. I also saw old friends. I went to the Y and walked on the treadmill. I read 24 novels. I watched movies and ate popcorn.

I got up every morning and wrote in my journal. I wrote it all down. I carried my novel manuscript around with me, not working on it nearly enough. I tinkered away with my historylink.org article (and wrote in my journal trying to discover why I don’t simply finish the damn thing). I thought about writing. I may even have done some very useful thinking about writing. I think I deepened my novel. I think I reached a point-of-no-return with the article (I really will finish it in the next few days). Some mornings I wrote a bad poem.

I worked. No one wrote me a check, which is how in this culture we define “work.” But to hell with our definition. It was valuable work. It was the work I needed to do. I am going back to the college — officially — today (though I’m missing the all-employee breakfast because I overslept and I felt it was more important to scribble). I hereby forgive myself for not doing what I didn’t do this summer (finish the novel rewrite, finish the article). I don’t even resolve to do better. I resolve to be kind to myself. I resolve to be kind to my students this year, and to continue being present with all that calls me. To borrow from Theodore Roethke, I resolve to “learn by going where I have to go.”

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