Saturday, May 8, 2010


The end of the semester has crested in all of its drama once again, and then ceased, and now I'm left in the aftermath...feeling a little anti-climatic. I ponder the sign by our university announcing today's ceremony of "commencement" and wonder why years ago they didn't choose a word that actually means the end instead of the beginning in order to refer to graduation. Yes, typical graduation speeches are full of references to the fact that the new graduatates truly are beginning a new chapter of their lives, but having been through so many end-of-the-semesters as an instructor, and as student now years ago, I prefer to see it for what it is: completion. I see a student passing by and I quickly review in my mind's excel sheet (too bad I've never been as savvy using the real kind) his/her grade. The anxiousness settles in on me instead of the student. What grade did I give her? Will she be upset with me now that grades are posted? Ridiculousness, and you'd never think you'd hear that from your teachers. But that's where I stand at the end. Making it all about me.

I have been really irritable lately and wonder why it seems like there is a physical pull the keeps me away from writing. I've pulled out the microscopic lens to examine all the things that went wrong over the last few months, since they went by so fast that mostly I was just surviving and not reflecting (except in my sub-consciousness and a few cautious remarks here and there to a sympathetic ear). I know I sound pessimistic, but change is unsettling and there has been a lot of it lately. So I let out a weary sigh at the end of another semester because at least it's one thing I can check off my list that is completely finished, closed, nicely and neatly. Most other things can't be wrapped up that orderly. Maybe that's why I had a minor breakdown about the house being a mess to my husband. One more thing to set me off because I can't get a handle on it, can't complete it. (To my orderly readers: this is not just an "oops why can't I keep up with laundry/dusting lament"....No, on the contrary we have lived in disorder for so long that I would laugh if I saw or smelled my house "clean" just one day while walking in the door, without the random pileup of stuff and dust, and sometimes ants and spiders or crumbs and spills that linger...) Why can't I figure this stuff out? And now I mean all of it--not just the physical mess. The inner disarray is more unsettling. The questions I really seem to be getting at now that I have a moment to think...Am I really good at what I'm doing?....Is it time to transition into another direction with work?...Why did I do "x" in "y" situation? Why did that relationship turn out that way? It's too much self, self, self. An overdose of self-consciousness.

So that's when I know (even though something in me fights it so severly) that I need to write, since it's one activity that seems to keep me sane. Why? Because it gets me out of myself. (Weirdly, enough, yes..even when I'm writing about that durn self).

Madeleine L'Engle put words to this truth about getting out of one's self so well in her memoir A Circle of Quiet and I felt privileged to just happen to stumble upon it this afternoon. She says:
"In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself. He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is that he is doing. A child playing a game, building a sand castle, painting a picture, is completely in what he is doing. His self-consciousness is gone; his consciousness is wholly focused outside himself. When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves....A writer may be self-conscious about his work before and after but not during the writing..." (Engle 10)

So even though the forces that may seem to want to keep me away from it, I MUST write. I must get outside of myself and in the process, become free. In the midst of the craziness of these last few months, another activity that has kept me sane is watching my daughter at play (as Madeleine mentions). In my mind's eye I see her soul in the joy expressed when she throws her head back and closes her eyes, begging to go higher as the wind blows throw her hair and the birds chirp all around us and we both laugh...I have felt myself so freed just by the observation of it. Now I get the connection between her moments of complete abandon and my occasional moments when I break through the mental fog and barriers that try to keep me from creativity. I need to be creative in order to become me, and to forget me. Happiness is laughing until you snort and then laughing even more because you snorted--and you don't care about looking stupid to the person who is laughing right along with (and probably also at but who cares) you. Happiness is throwing that negative lens away and saying: "I did the best I could in such a challenging situation. Maybe next time I'll do even better."

And as for "commencement," what's done is done. I'm going to throw out that red pen for the summer and try to delete the mental spreadsheet.