Occasionally – and by “occasionally,” I mean “all the danged time” – Blackboard is given to experiencing what it tells me are “unexpected internal errors”. Sometimes – and by “sometimes,” I mean “often. Quite often.” – this happens during finals week / end-of-semester grades. And sometimes – and by “sometimes,” I mean “this time” – this means that what would have been thirty minutes of concerted, impassioned grading becomes thirty minutes of blogging. Or thereabouts.
Today is the first day of summer, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. It’s acting more like a smack-dab-in-the-middle-of-March kind of day: gray, anonymous, without particularities like “hot” or “cold” or “sunny” or “rainy”. A day of mere subsistence. And it’s been a day of grading for me, of reflecting upon the past semester and all the coulda/shoulda/woulda/’s that go with such reflection. Emails composed to my students became, in the middle of that reflection, suddenly careful; “Here’s your paper. Have a nice summer.” turned into “Thanks so much for being a part of this course, and for your thoughtful contributions to our discussions. I’m truly pleased with the effort I saw in your final paper, and I hope you are likewise proud of what you accomplished this semester.” Things like that. I suddenly wished I could give them all A’s, because I suddenly saw so many things – albeit, every time, different things – which I wanted to acknowledge with some kind of reward. But that’s not the way this system works, and sometimes it’s all you can do to add an extra minute to the email that seals the deal and effectively voids your formal intrusion into their life. Fair enough.
In the middle of grading, an email from a former student brought me back to my senses, and to my blogging. I think I started this blog on a day like today, and even though I’ve been under-committed and over-neglectful, I’m glad it’s here, like the bit of greenish-brownish space between The Cut and this morose slab of cement called my building, the space that this university tries to gussy up as a “Wildlife Refuge”. Wild it is not, but a refuge, yes, perhaps. There are birds there, and daisies, and dandelions, and things that are usually, on a college campus, ushered out, or else summarily handled with a bottle of toxic chemicals.
“Late one afternoon in the early spring he sat alone in his office. A pile of freshman themes lay on his desk; he held one of the papers in his hand, but he was not looking at it. As he had been doing frequently of late, he gazed out the window upon that part of campus he could see from his office. The day was bright, and the shadow cast by Jesse Hall had crept, while he watched, nearly up to the base of the five columns that stood in powerful, isolate grace in the center of the rectangular quad … the marble columns were brilliantly white; soon the shadow would creep upon them, Stoner thought, and the bases darken, and the darkness would creep up, slowly and then more rapidly, until …” (John Edward Williams, Stoner, 182).
It’s not that I’ve been reading Williams’ 1965 novel Stoner again, but when I first did (years ago, in a course which poetically called itself “The Rise and Fall of the American University”), I remember being sympathetically unnerved by the image of the aging professor and the stack of papers before him(her). This cliché, it seemed, would be my story. And even though I, at times, approach a stack of essays with a similarly dour expression, I have dismissed more histrionic terms for this feeling (“abhor,” “loathe,” “repugnant”) from my vocabulary. Maybe that’s the product of, this past semester, getting to teach my first upper-level lit. class. Maybe it’s the product of feeling that I managed to turn a whole class of undergraduate humanities-types on to Tess Slesinger’s beautiful, odd, and wholly under-appreciated 1934 novel, The Unpossessed.
Take that, Steinbeck! In your face, Hemingway! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Trilling – both Trillings! Yeah!
Let the summer commence.