Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Has Sprung: The Last Six Weeks of School

Right about now we all wander the halls saying to each other, "April is the cruelest month," as if no one has ever heard that before. But I wonder if that is just history departments, and whether in English they just start throwing things at you if you say something that dumb? Those of us who went to Oligarch back in the day sneak up on each other and whisper, "Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote..." and crack up. They probably don't do this in English departments either, even Oligarch alums, but for historians and other social science types it's a funny memory of the Path Unchosen on the way to the Ph.D. Oh, the English Lit. degree that might have been.

Anyway, to use another corny metaphor, this is when the chickens come home to roost, guys. Pre-registration for next year; recommendations for study abroad (hint to new profs: everyone who gets the application in on time gets in, and all they want to know is that the student isn't bonkers); applying for visitors for next year; applying to fill lines next year; getting your NEH grant in; helping students finish honors theses (to line edit or not to line edit -- that is the question); evaluating finished honors theses; two more assignments to grade; helping students figure out how to finish the class in a respectable way when the first two assignments didn't go so well; student demonstration (hint to new administrators: if it gets warm early, there will be student activism); meeting about things we forgot to meet about all year; getting courses into the curriculum for the people we just hired....and so on.

And meanwhile, there is still the garden to get in. One of the most dramatic ways my life has changed in the last fifteen years, as I progressed from probationary newbie to full professor/Drag King of the World has been less and less time available,not just for gardening, but for talking about gardening. For the first five or six years after I came to Zenith, there was a group of us who tracked each other's gardens with great care. We swapped seeds, we discussed mulch and cold frames, we talked about whether it really made sense to plant the peas on St. Patrick's day, given how wet our springs are in Zenith. We left overgrown surplus tomato seedlings on each other's doorsteps. We commiserated with each other the years that we did plant the peas on St. Patrick's day, and it worked, and then a late April windstorm destroyed the trellises and the vines that were on them.

Screw common intellectual life: it was a really nice way to know people that seems to have disappeared along with those dinner parties where we sat up half the night drinking and dishing, and still came in the next day and taught, goddammit. Mary McCarthy coulda written about it.

Now of course, we live hither and yon: some of us have summer places, so planting a New England garden no longer makes sense; all of us have more work every spring than we can hope to know what to do with. And some of us have children who are old enough to go to college next year. But you know, every time there are complaints about how Zenith has frayed as a community, or how we have to do some kind of structured activity so that we can cohere as a community, or what have you, what I really want to say is, "Look. We have too much work. Way too much work. Maybe we need fifty more faculty lines; maybe we just need to spread out the work more fairly among the people who work here already. But you know what? We used to plant gardens in the spring...."


Anonymous said...

To pick up on the most insignificant aspect of this post:

Line edit!!

... Please.

I see the argument against; I see the value of your sanity. There is only so much you can do. However: the most valuable concrete skill I took away from my thesising experience was how to transform one kind of sentence into another without thinking about it. When I look at a draft now, I see not only that my original sentences have improved, but also exactly how to reshape those originals. I could not have learned this without having had heaps and heaps of advisorly handwriting scored onto my brain, especially in that final stretch. (Then, I was a good girl and got all my drafts in on time with plenty of wiggle room.)

Then again, you only have so many years to consume as much bourbon as you can get your hands on. So.

Bardiac said...

I'm still lucky to have a few gardening folks who've helped me learn my way around. I think it's part of the hard geographical adjustment lots of us make, learning to garden in hugely different environments.

But you KNOW the administration would add a gardening before tenure requirement if they could, and then the tenured people would also have the additional task of doing a garden visit... don't give them any ideas!

History Mistress said...

Gardening. That would be fun. Every year I say that I will plant some flowers out in front, but then the end of the semester hits before I realize it and I'm too fried to contemplate what type of flower to plant. Some day I'll have some respite in April to plant. Until then, I will dream of having a garden one day.

Rainswolf said...

Yeah, in English we do the "April is the cruelest month" thing. At least in blogs. At least those of us still under 30 who think that sort of thing is funny.