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.”