For the Weary

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My last summer in Toledo, when I was staying in a friend’s guest room, may have been the last time in my life when I had an extended chance to get some rest. As I prepared for my move to Colorado later that year, I was dealing with so much emotional baggage that even on days when I didn’t have work, I still felt overwhelmed by the enormity of what I was about to do. Once I got to Colorado, of course, I set about trying to get work there, and when it seemed clear that I was only going to be able to piece together part-time teaching work like I had in Toledo, I reached out to other states for the possibility of full-time teaching positions. I wound up getting one here in Wisconsin before I even began teaching in Colorado, so my stop there wound up lasting just a little over eight months, most of which was spent writing and looking for work. I barely got to see anything while I was out there (and Colorado’s a state with a lot of natural beauty to see), and I’m not sure that I ever really got over my uneasiness at being so far away from my birthplace that afflicted me as soon as I touched down in Denver.

Once I got here to Wisconsin, of course, I only had eleven days to get ready for the start of the semester, and all the while I was adjusting to yet another big move. As if the teaching and resituating myself I was doing wasn’t enough to keep me occupied, I was also editing a friend’s novel, work that took me through the following summer (where I also helped the campus place incoming students in English classes). I didn’t have any summer work for others last year, but I devoured as many books as I could for research into my next book, and even if I hadn’t done that, I don’t think that I could have relaxed that much as the early months of the pandemic — to say nothing of all the political stuff going on in a presidential election year — cast the darkest of clouds over everything we were all trying to do.

Even as the dark cloud of the pandemic starts to lift a little for me, I find myself completely exhausted by all the things I’ve been trying to handle here. Some exhaustion is normal at the end of an academic year, but the emotional labour of helping my students deal with the outside-the-classroom issues they’ve endured this last year was unlike anything I’ve ever faced in my teaching career. Normally I have enough time between the last day of class and the day my final grades are due to be able to regain my bearings, but I’m still fighting fatigue as I do my best to get through my students’ final papers and portfolios here. It doesn’t help that even though those final grades are due on Wednesday, I actually start teaching again tomorrow, since I picked up a summer class that starts super-early here. (I’m still learning just how differently they handle schedules and such here in Wisconsin.)

I’ve also agreed to help another instructor this summer with a workshop she runs to help high school students in the area write their college application essays, but that doesn’t start until August. Between that and the end of my summer course, I should have a good five or six weeks to myself. I’d been hoping to use this summer like I did the last one, to race as far ahead with research on my next book (details of which, as always, you can read about by subscribing to my Patreon), but the way things have been going for me here, I’m feeling like I may need an extended period of time to just let my brain go, forget about campus stuff and my research and all of that, and just give myself an opportunity to relax unlike anything I’ve done for several years. That’s not an easy thing for me to think about, but with the way my energy and focus just haven’t been coming back to me over the past couple of weeks, I may not have much of a choice if I want to be at my best for all the work I have to do in August, leading up to my return to in-person teaching the following month. That is sure to produce challenges unlike anything I’ve ever faced before as a teacher, so I’d better do what I can to prepare for them, even if that preparation means taking an actual vacation here in July.

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