Friday, August 19, 2016

The calm before the semester

"We have entered the season of fog," says the resident prognosticator, and he's right. In the morning sunflower blossoms rise like beacons above the fog-shrouded meadow, and I sit in the car at the end of our road waiting to turn left onto the highway, wondering what will come barrelling out of the fogbank ahead of me: a school bus, a tanker carrying fracking waste, or maybe nothing at all. 

Yesterday five deer, three does and two little spotted fawns, crossed the road in front of my car, calm as could be. Maybe the fog makes my car look less threatening, or maybe they know they don't have to worry about hunters for a few months yet. In the fog we coexist, quietly, briefly, and then they're gone, disappearing into the woods.

I strive to break through the fog and find sharp outlines, to know clearly where I'm going. A firm schedule calms me, even one that requires teaching at 8 a.m. and having a two-hour late-afternoon meeting every Thursday, my least favorite day of the week. Syllabi and assignment sheets printed neatly and stacked ready for distribution suggest that everything is under control, that the semester will unroll calmly, predictably. A clean desk and a to-do list that keeps shrinking, an inbox containing just a few straggling loose ends, a clear path forward--that's what makes the fall semester so inviting.

It can't last, of course. Things fall apart--the center cannot hold. The to-do list will grow, the desk get piled with papers and books, the inbox overflow with serious issues and petty demands. (And spam. Always spam.) Even syllabi are not inviolate: those reading schedules and policies that seem to clear and sharp right now will be overtaken by events and slowly morph into something less crisp, more chaotic.

But not today. Today everything sits clear and sharp and beautifully organized, denying the very existence of fog. How can confusion enter a room where the syllabi are stacked so neatly?

(If you're quiet, you can hear it creeping in on little cat feet.)

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