Monday, October 5, 2009

Or To Begin Again

Amid some counting that I couldn't escape doing last week (counting is like listing; I avoid it when possible), I realized that I have been teaching writing to first-year college students for over a quarter of a century. By some standards, that's a career--and I'm not talking about the cushy kind where one gets sabbaticals and health benefits and conference funding. I'm thinking maybe it's about time to put away my Don Quixote pen.

I read a poem recently that reinforces that feeling; it's the title poem from Ann Lauterbach's volume Or To Begin Again. The poem has sixteen stanzas, and each one except the first and the last begins with "or to begin again." To me, it's like all these falls, meeting new groups of students who are new to college, and trying to teach them the same (new to them) concepts and practices. Here are two stanzas that speak to me the most:

Or to begin again
some got lucky, came rushing
toward the giant appeasement of the given.
Singing along with the anthem
they distributed coupons to the rest
to redeem, solace for those who do not
begin but stay back in the infrastructure
of the singular: what you said, what I said, before
the fact. Were we to be among those to be counted
one by one, like days? Greeted by our host?
In which language? And what were we meant to
carry away, down the road a bit, into the rest?
Light strays across the dry grasses.
The arm lifts, the head turns.
A gathering, an image, a dispersal
in whichever order. The end.

Or to begin again: lavish permission,
ribbons placed back in their bag,
pulled through the sleeves
of the prisoner's coat, the suicide's
gun. The Arab men
are playing backgammon in the courtyard.
The preacher's voice fills the chapel
with iconographies of faith.
Our tears turn to ice
and the mourners stop along the path,
informal now, unrestrained, makeshift.
So that with nothing held back we sigh,
beyond time, for that green pasture where time
stands still. Does not. Does. Go back
before the beginning, before
a promise was made. The end.

I keep trying to tell myself that the feeling of fall as a new beginning that I had before one of my friends unexpectedly lost his job at the end of August can be recaptured. That what I'm feeling is just a momentary lapse in my enthusiasm for doing what turned out to life's work?

Are you also in the business of beginning again? Got any thoughts about persistence and the point at which it turns into foolishness?


kittiesx3 said...

Did you fall into this as your life’s work, or did you do this deliberately?

I’m in the unemployment reinvention cycle. Part of this situation is self inflicted because I chose to strike out on my own and then I chose to move to Boston with my husband, far from my professional network. A lot of it is clearly out of my control thanks to the recession.

I’m long past those angsty teen years so working through the “who am I?” question seems a little retarded. But that’s what I’m doing. If I’m not whatever my job title was, then what exactly am I? And what’s my value without a paycheck?

As far as persistence . . . well I was underemployed (love that word by the way) in 2008, and flat out unemployed for all of this year. I keep sending out resumes to suitable job openings, so I supposed I’m persistent. Sometimes I’m positive I’m also foolish for continuing to try.

So as to dispel any notion of doom and gloom in Boston, I will say I would far rather be here in Boston with Kent than in Kansas City alone. I never knew marriage could be so fun. I’m just a little greedy and would also like my career back.

FreshHell said...

I responded on my blog today.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, I fell into it. Right now I have two part-time jobs that add up to full-time, which is what I thought I wanted, but the whole question you raise of what you choose and what's really in your control has gotten a bit less black and white for me lately. To effectively set out on yet another quixotic quest (e.g. working year to year rather than ever being tenured) requires more greed and less confusion.

Jeanne said...

Freshhell, I'm so with you about missing summer!

Anonymous said...

I am a serial job-switcher...although throughout everything I've done to make money (banker, researcher, ad salesperson), I have also been a writer - I think the scariest jump I made was a few years ago when I decided to make writing my primary income source. (I do and don't recommend it, btw)

Fall is usually a rejuvenating time for me but it's also the time of year when my wanderlust kicks in, job and life-wise.

My general rule in life is do what you want to do, what makes you happy. If you feel like you need a change, the right thing will find you.

Jeanne said...

Lass, that's reassuring.

Harriet said...

I'd have to say that I agree with Lass' philosophy overall, but as someone in the process of trying to create a new career at midlife after being out of the workforce for a number of years, I'm finding it much more difficult than it used to be. Or maybe it's just that I'm more difficult than it used to be, and less tolerant of insecurity. I think persistence is, by definition, foolish and also brave and therefore difficult. But we do what we must. If it matters, I am sure it will happen one way or another.

Jeanne said...

Harriet, looking for work makes you less tolerant of insecurity? You mean the kind where someone isn't sure what he/she wants and so sounds hesitant, and you're impatient because you could do what's required practically in your sleep?

Care said...

Do I have any thoughts about persistence and the point at which it turns into foolishness?
no, none. Sorry!
However - this is interesting because I really want to go meet kittiesx3 now since I moved to Boston area from Kansas City - coincidence? Gotta at least go say hello.
and I like was lass says...

Jeanne said...

Care, it's nice to hear there are others in the same boat, isn't it? Elizabeth from kittiesx3 is from my hometown in southern Missouri; she went to high school with me. We rediscovered each other on Facebook recently.

kittiesx3 said...

Care, I just now saw your comment here. I thought you were someone else on my silly little blog. I looked at your blog briefly but couldn't find a way to contact you. I'm in the South End, where are you?

Care said...

hi Jeanne AND kittiex3, I used to live in Jeff City and got to travel thru a lot of SOMO when I worked for DESE in Vocational Ed (DESE=dept of elem & sec ed... fyi) but now I live near Plymouth Mass.

Jodie said...

Jeanne work takes up so much of your time it seems like the best idea to do what you really want to be doing (although I can't exactly talk as I took the first job that would have me but then I apparently had 'no employable skills'). I can't imagine wanting to stay in a job for more than a few years, so while I envy you having found something that didn't make you want to run away there's always time for a change of direction.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I can sort of relate; each time I come back to school from vacation it's like a beginning again. And each summer when I intern, I feel like I have to start the process of getting to know people and an organization and a culture all over again. It's sort of draining after awhile, it'd be nice to get settled into something I think.