Thursday, February 09, 2006
The End of the Trail
There's no better way to cure one's self of nostalgia for academia like adjuncting comp sections. Your students don't want to be there. You don't want to be there. This morning there were two major accidents on the way to work, so I took an alternate route. I might as well have walked. I arrived half an hour late, after calling someone to tell the kids to wait. Wait for what?
I tried to explain what an Evaluation argument was. They looked at me blankly. It wasn't that they didn't understand. They just didn't care. They are tired. Worn out. They don't want to see films. They don't want to read New York Times editorials. They don't want to study logical, ethical, or emotional appeals. They just want it to be over.
This is the composition two class. It is one of only two English classes they have to take on the way to their degree. A Bachelor's degree.
Their faces are drawn. My face feels like a transplant. I talk but it takes effort to make my eyes open, my mouth move. I am talking under water. I am half me, half someone else. I need antirejection drugs.
I answer individual questions. These days, I am best at one-on-one. I rely on the kindness that is my autopilot mode. Can't we get through this together? What do I have to do, besides count down the days?
Last week I went to a friend's class at Prestigious University. As I walked across the gothic quadrangles, I noticed how young everyone looked. How thin. How pretty. They all wore expensive-looking performance clothing. They mountaineered their way from one class to another.
In class, we all settled down for a leisurely afternoon. There was discussion, as we knew there would be. Ideas might come, slide away, reappear again. Faces might flicker and go dark, like an electrical storm. They don't know where they are going, but they know they are climbing somewhere, up, up.
I know what it is like to stay too long on a mountain, to start too late, try to make up time, then get below the treeline just as the sun goes out behind slate hills. You walk down in the dark with your companion if you have one, trying to be cheerful, trying not to quarrel. Someone is at fault for the late start. Someone is disrespectful of something--time, nature, human endurance. You can't talk about it. You can't be afraid of bears or fisher cats. When you hear a twig snap, you say it's a deer, or a chipmunk, or a raccoon. Keep talking to each other. Keep walking in the darkness. You know it will turn out all right if you put one foot in front of the other, carefully, talking calmly, peering ahead, and stopping, every now and then, to marvel at the moon.