Thursday, March 31, 2016

Seeking a still spot in the maelstrom

Some years ago (2003, I think it was) I attended a conference on the Poetics of Exile, where a discussion of what exile means led someone (a poet, I think) to state that exile means experiencing your mother's death via long-distance phone call. 

I'm not in exile and my mother is not quite on the point of death, but she's dealing with a pretty serious diagnosis and difficult treatments so I'm spending a lot of time on the phone trying to figure out how she's doing and what I ought to do and when would be the best time to travel to Florida and how I'll get there (my mechanic just told me this morning, "You've gotten about every possible bit of use out of these brakes"), so it's not surprising that suddenly my blood pressure is higher than it's been for the past decade and my doctor wants to schedule a round of time-consuming tests while I'm in the middle of working ahead on my class preps so that if I have to leave suddenly, I'll leave behind a reasonable plan for getting my students through the rest of the semester.

Trust me: none of this is particularly fun. I feel helpless a dozen times every day. I've been gratified by my colleagues' offers to cover my classes and I'm pretty confident that at some point a clear path forward will reveal itself, but meanwhile, I'm trying to just do my job in the midst of the maelstrom. Some days it works well; others not so much.

I want to follow Wendell Berry into "The Peace of Wild Things," the woodland beasts "who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief." I want to find rest by still water.

But I have meetings all afternoon and drafts to read and a plagiarism case to investigate and at some point I'll need to get some groceries and clean the bathrooms and retrieve my car (with new brakes!) and wrap a gift and I don't know what else. 

So tomorrow I'm giving myself the afternoon off. My 1:00 class isn't meeting, so I intend to walk away from whatever work remains and find a place near woods and water where no one can find me and turn off my phone and be still. One afternoon of voluntary exile may not fix anything, but if it helps me endure these difficult weeks, then it's worth every minute.


Rebecca said...

Yes. There is a reason the airlines instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before assisting anyone else.

Thinking of you at this difficult time.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes quiet contemplation is the best antidote to any series of problems. Enjoy the peacefulness.

Bev said...

So true! As soon as I'm done teaching this morning, I'll be putting on my oxygen mask and finding that still spot.