February 25, 2012 Dear Elizabeth Anne, Hello, my love! Today…
I teach four high school Advanced Placement courses in two different disciplines, in addition to two other college prep English classes. Starting January I will also teach one undergrad college course on Monday nights, and in February I will teach a Masters’ Degree class on Wednesday evenings. (This is after my day job.) Around that time I will also be giving my final exams to my daytime classes and have to have them graded by the end of the next week.
I have a whole slew of regular essays to grade, in addition to 57 research papers to read and assess which average about 25 pages each. I have to review my notes, plan my lessons, and deliver lectures as well as I can. I still have 14 more college letters of recommendation to write for former students. There are deadlines that if missed will not hurt some company’s profit margin but will hurt real human beings I care deeply about – and I cannot pass any of this work to anyone else. I would rather cut my own arm off than give my AP students less than my very best every day.
I maintain a myriad of sometimes very complex relationships with my students. If deeply rewarding, it is deeply exhausting. If there are many of them, there is only one of me. Give, give, give, give. There is no end to what I could give and still not have it done perfectly.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
It seems I have gotten progressively busier over the past few years. Little by little it has accumulated; and as I have been capable of more work through greater expertise and professional experience, I have acquired more work. It is like the frog that will jump out a boiling caldron if submerged all at once, yet will allow itself to be boiled alive if the temperature rises only gradually. And the years they pass each one more quickly until one can hardly believe it. The past classes begin to mix together. “Was Julia in the high school class that are currently sophomores or freshman in college?” “If I taught Eryn in 1998 and she was in middle school at the time, would she almost be graduating from college now? [picture me counting on my fingers..!]”
I remember turning 16 or 21 was a big deal. I sometimes have to check in with my wife about exactly how old I am nowadays. Perhaps it is just that the in the late thirties birthdays are particularly pointless. Who cares? Nothing much changes. And am I really in my twelfth year of teaching already? Or thirteenth? It is all getting a bit blurry… I sometimes see even my very best friends only once or twice a year, if that. How sad! My wondeful wife sometimes complains that all we do is work. A part of me wants to tell her that is what grown up adults do. A part of me is sympathetic.
But one thing seems crystal clear: as I have gotten older, I live less and less for myself and more and more for others. Perhaps that is normal and even the way it should be, but it is so hard to find balance between one’s obligations to others and one’s obligations to oneself. It seems clear that to work oneself to death is easier than it appears. (It all gets a bit beyond one’s control, seemingly.) One tries to juggle more and more as one gets better at juggling. But no one gets more hands with which to juggle, and nobody gets more time in the day to get it all done.
The time it leaves and is lost forever. Sometimes I look back at the year 1978 and it seems so long ago. Other times it seems like just yesterday! Sometimes I look at all the painful moments from middle school until middle age and it has been a very long road. Other times 17 years appears to have passed in a snap of the fingers! Have I spent my time well? Have I squandered it? One realizes life is short, not long. Am I essentially the same person I was then? Or am I a completely different person with maturity? How about when I turn 60?
I remember clearly in 1978 (in seventh grade at the time) that the year 2000 seemed forever in the future. I would be 32 years old! But the celebrations revolving around the milennium and the hubub over the Y2K computer-bug crisis are already in a past epoch of my life. I no longer think 38 years of age is very old, relatively speaking. Seventy years olds speak of a man of fifty having died as a terrible tragedy: “So young!” Yet neither is 38 very young.
So it goes with the World Wide Web, too. Unlike when my personal webpage first debuted nine years ago, the Internet is no longer so young. But have I made the most of my online presence?
A NEW ERA BEGINS
My personal webpage now has a new and vastly superior hosting service. My old webhosting company was obscenely expensive and provided horrible service, but (alas!) I was too busy to do much about it – and the years passed by. No longer. In addition, the scourge of Spam e-mail killed any joy I might have gotten out of contact with strangers over the Web: I received hundreds of messages per day with only a very light sprinkling of real e-mail. My “inbox” was overwhelmed. Checking my personal e-mail became unpleasurable and I did it less and less. Checking my e-mail was one long stream of hitting the “delete” key over and over again, and only God knows how much legitimate e-mail got lost in the mix. Yet I checked my work e-mail every hour on the hour. My work webpage took on proportions much larger than my personal one ever did. (How symbolic is that!)
But I have extravagant, complex new anti-Spam strategies that have stopped that plague dead in its tracks! I have this blog installed and up and running. Re-working and updating everything, little by little. Loading files to servers little by little. Navigation bars and CSS sheets where appropriate. Many small steps add up over time. I have some things to say to the world.
Baby steps. Baby steps.
But, by God!, I will get some stuff published onto my re-vamped personal website over these next few weeks! I will make some time for myself – something I have not done in years. “Doctor, heal thyself!”
Just you wait and see.
So let it begin in earnest.