I hated April when I was a faculty member. Whenever I tried to sit down to write, I’d think about how far behind I was, and I’d get that tight feeling in my chest that made thinking nearly impossible. It seemed, at that moment, like the end of the year was lurking just around the corner. But then, when I thought about classes? Somehow the end of the year felt maddeningly far away.
I was reminded of this when my writing buddy and I got our wires crossed, and had to reschedule our meeting. “It’s a shit show,” she said, when I asked how things were going. “Between teaching, hosting speakers, conducting an accelerated job search and trying to write a book…I am done.” When I asked if there was anything I could do to help, her answer was clear. “No,” she said, shortly. “Not unless you can make the semester end now.”
Photo by Slideshowmom at Morguefile.com
Saturday mornings from my childhood is on the other side of the bedroom door. It wafts in on the braided scent of coffee and bacon, makes muted clanking sounds as skillets hit the burners. I can hear my parents’ footsteps on the other side of the door and the faint “shhhh” that means they’re saying my name. I’m pretty sure that if I check my phone there’ll be a text from one of them. But precisely because I know this, I’ve put the phone on mute. I’ve laid it face down on the nightstand so I can’t see the screen light up. Then for extra measure, I get up, move it to the bathroom counter, and close the door.
Photo Credit: M. Boyd
One of the things I loved most about faculty life was the fact that New Year’s Day came three times a year. First, there’s the Academic New Year: the start of fall semester, which somehow manages to feel hopeful, despite our recognition of how buried we’ll eventually be by an excess of obligations. Of course, there’s the last New Year, undoubtedly the favorite, when summer begins. This one is a slow unwinding, a long-awaited loosening of a grip we hadn’t realized we’d been holding so tightly.
Finally, there’s January's New Year, which nonacademics celebrate along with us, and which feels like a brisk wind whipping through our lives, sweeping aside what’s stale and making way for things unseen. This New Year provokes a degree of reflection that isn’t always part of the other two New Year’s Days, where we sift through what came before to try to figure out what the semester and year ahead will look like.
So a few weeks ago, I’m having dinner with a poet friend of mine, and she’s telling me about her new book. Her editor had been ignoring her emails for months, she said, then all of the sudden, just that day, she’d gotten a response saying the book was in production. Was she ready, the editor wanted to know? Was she prepared for her first book event in September? O how nice, I thought to myself, such a nice way to start the fall. While I was thinking that, she said “That’s just six weeks away.”
I heard a rumor last week that summer was over. The person who mentioned it didn’t actually refer to summer’s death. It was more like she announced its funeral. “July is ending,” wrote my friend Amalia, in her no nonsense way, “which means one thing: the syllabus must happen.”
At the time I snorted, filled with the starchy hauteur of a woman in denial. It’s the middle of July, I thought, as I rolled my eyes. That’s a little excessive, isn’t it? Even those of us wrapped in the cocoon of a forthcoming leave feel a muted sense of alarm when August comes around—so I blew off her comment. Then a few days later, I was trying to think through what I wanted to get done the next week, and I saw that “next week” and “August” were the same thing. Damn, I thought. Summer’s over.
I don't know about you, but I come from a people who believe deeply in follow through. When The Boyd Family says we're leaving at 6:45 for a 7:30 movie, we are all assembled at the door at 6:43. Shoes tied, coats on, keys in hand. At 6:44 we are climbing into the car. At 6:45 we are rumbling down the driveway. When my laid-back, unsuspecting husband strolls down the stairs in his socks at ten to seven and says "oh is it time to go?" my parents just give him the side-eye. But if one of the Original Boyds is late...watch out. Accusations are made. Aspersions are cast upon one's character. It doesn't matter if you can't find your glasses or just got a call from your best friend in London. If you aren't serious about getting to the movies on time, then why'd you say you wanted to go?
With standards like these, you can imagine how pained I am when I do not meet my deadlines. And if you're a regular reader of this baby blog, you might realize that that pain applies to this very blog post, which I am three weeks late in publishing. Think back (it might be hard, it was so long ago) to two posts before this one, in which I boldly suggested that I'd write every day, at least for a week or so--then winnow my posts down to one a week.
"I think I've just done something rash," I say to my husband. I'm standing in the bathroom doorway while he finishes washing his face. As if standing just outside the room will somehow mean that I'm not breaking his ban against talking during the hour after he's woken up.
"What's that?" he asks, slowly, reaching for the towel. He doesn't realize it, but he backs away just a little bit as I hand it to him. This kind of thing is exactly why he doesn't want discussion in the morning.
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Michelle Boyd. Writer, Scholar, Coach