Monday, August 27, 2007
thinking in the garden
One of my daughters phoned to chat a bit today and mentioned that altho' she'd seen my latest post, she couldn't find anything to comment on. No worries, she said, it was interesting enough, plus she knew I was writing for a variety of readers (not to mention myself), but, especially without pictures, she didn't find it as engaging. This is something I'm going to be grappling with because sometimes I do want to write just to think something through or to record a response to a book I've read, and at the same time, I can't help
compulsively regularly checking my StatCounter. I notice when I do that there are folks who've stopped by for the first time, and I worry that the top post they see should be more lively. I suspect my daughter's right -- photos and shorter paragraphs work better to engage! So I'm going to intersperse this entry with photos from today's garden -- above is one of my favourite grasses, a fall-flowering Miscanthus sinensis 'gracillimus' (maidenhair grass). This is the season when grasses really come into their own in the garden and they'll get even better over the next few weeks as their foliage reddens up.
Another question raised in my chat with my daughter is how often I should be putting up new posts and whether, once the new one is up, the old one ever gets read. Not that I think any of them are particularly fine pieces of writing, but I guess I do imagine them as part of a dialogue and I feel a little sad that the dialogue should end so quickly. Any bloggers reading this, I'd love to hear if you share my concerns and if you've found any pleasing solutions. Meanwhile, check out this hydrangea aspera. I love its fuzzy leaves and the way it brightens up this shady corner.
I'm glad I have the garden for distraction 'cause I've found it harder to write in the last day or two. That surprises me because up 'til now, the blogging has been so joyful and I've had to select from many possible daily projects rather than try to drum up ideas. Of course as I get back into teaching, the problem will be finding time, rather than motivation, to write, but for now, I'm wondering what's with the switch. I suspect it's all of a piece with the obliterating fatigue I've been feeling over the weekend and today. Partly, this day-long desire to nap is a reasonable consequence of adding mileage to my running -- I remember this from last year when I was training for the half-marathons and I'm sure that once my body adjusts, I'll have more energy again. But again, I got some wisdom from my daughter--she's been tired as well and thinks that we're both foot-dragging against the end of summer. She's starting a new job with bigger responsibilities and I'm heading back to the front of the classroom.
Funny that I titled yesterday's post "Transitions" but really avoided talking about the obvious one -- I talked seasons, but what's really the difficult borderline here is the one from civilian to academic life. I know this is an odd way to put it, but I have to say I'm defensive about leisure pursuits in a way I'm not sure is common to other careers. Indeed, one of my colleagues was once angrily scolded by a former supervisor for wasting her time jewelry-making when she'd shown such promise as a scholar (she and her partner make beautiful jewelry which they sell to raise funds for student scholarships!). Maybe it's just a leftover from the dissertation years -- so many of us survivors will testify to the guilt that pervades any activity other than writing during that stage. Partly it's a personality thing as well, of course. But whatever the root cause, I know that I'm burning up huge amounts of psychic and emotional energy being defiantly unproductive right now while simultaneously worrying about the academic work I could be doing! Not efficient at all. So here's a welcome distraction -- the caryopteris in full bloom.The predecessor to this shrub was a freebie from my mom's garden, but fell victim to Skeena's puppy antics -- she either dug or chewed it into oblivion, so we bought a replacement and fenced it off 'til it grew into this. I love its delicate blue at the end of August.
Back from the garden, I did read the intro to a very interesting book today, Daniel Coleman's White Civility: The Literary Project of English Canada, and I've almost finished the course outlines I have to hand out next week. I've written up the first few assignments and I'll send those off to the printshop tomorrow. When I'm immersed in the reading or the class prep, I'm generally engaged and even excited, but where I balk, I guess, is that none of this really "counts" academically, if I don't write up and publish. And since no one is actually a superman and there are finite hours to our days, and the teaching load at my college is 4 and 4 (4 courses in the fall and 4 in the spring), writing to publish would mean, realistically, giving up many of the activities I really enjoy.
My dilemma isn't so much whether or not to write to build an academic reputation/career. As a late entrant to this field (I finished my B.A. post-40 and my PhD after 50), I'm thrilled to have a position at a small university-college where I teach mainly 1st and 2nd-year courses but with a leavening of 4th-year ones as well. I have no interest in chasing more prestigious positions across the country, preferring to save my energy for relationships with my husband, my four grown children and my friends. But I want to give my best to my students, and I work hard to keep up with the scholarship in my field, to try to keep my course outlines current and interesting. With the emphasis placed in academe on publishing, I wonder, though, if this is enough. Should I, in fairness to my students, be trying to publish as well? So often, though, I read or hear of researchers who are impatient with the teaching they have to do and the time it takes away from their research. I love the teaching and I like to think that my many connections with various aspects of life--through relationships, passions, hobbies, etc.--help motivate and enliven the scholarship I bring to that teaching. Any thoughts? This one last picture is of a clematis tangutica which appears to be as confused about transitions as I am -- see that the new blossoms it's sporting are accompanied by the seeds it has already formed -- is it coming or going? or does it think, like me, that you can do more than one thing at a time?