by Jeff Oaks
Today I’m in the grip of one of those “moods” I don’t really know what to do with. It probably has something to do with the fact that I have a number of meetings today, meetings that are necessary but will likely not give me much pleasure. Then I have to put together a proposal for a class we should have had on the books a long time ago, but we’ve for some reason never had; again, it’s necessary work and will help a friend of mine teach a class that’s cross listed between Writing and Studio Arts, a thing I hope we’ll do more of. I’ve gotten fairly good at writing these proposals, but it doesn’t give me a whole lot of joy. Then there’s meetings about how to improve this in the program and how to schedule that for the program. I’ve been meeting lately with grad students about teaching, recent graduates about job hunting, and friends about our middle-age anxieties. Each person is lovely and nervous, and I think we all need to be helping each other to not feel so isolated. Mostly, they just want someone to talk to about their options. Then there’s my house, which I’m pulling apart, finding places to integrate my mother’s things as I unpack them, cleaning out spaces I haven’t touched for a while (and wow was there some impressive dust in some places!), thinking about the next spate of house repairs that needs to happen, making lists of insurances to look into, retirement assets to reconsider, a will to draw up, and a couple trips to plan for.
It’s all adult stuff, none of it individually awful, but it suddenly feels like I opened a closet door instead of the front door, and decades of stuff has buried me in an avalanche. I feel frozen, waiting to hear which direction is up so I can dig myself out. Or looking around to see where the most significant knot is in my Gordian responsibilities.
And then there’s the news that just seems to pile up horrible things. The Patriot Act, it turns out, has worked more or less like they said it would, and only now is the Many feeling like it’s too much. Corporations are exerting control over the government so that seeds and water and the air are becoming owned things, rather than the commonwealth of all. Unions and teachers and the poor somehow have ended up as the bad guys in the economy instead of the obscene profiteering corporations whose profits go through the roof, made on selling weapons, made from poisoning the water and air, made from stealing human beings’ labor and lives and genetic codes. I hear on the radio today a politician saying how much we need to invest in businesses, who are doing well, and nothing about investing in schools, which are failing badly, and I want to drive over a cliff in frustration. What kind of people want to give the well-off more money and needy nothing?
And what am I doing myself, since I’m now an investor in the stock market, and I find myself completely unsure of where to put any of my money? Aren’t I part of the problem? And shouldn’t I be examining my own compassion’s footprint? At what point, while I sign petitions and share on Facebook, should I DO something?
I sit in the present. To make a list is not to change anything more than trying to establish a place in the world to move, to clear out some room. It eases the mood a little, if nothing else. Even the small things I can move every day will help, I hope. My aesthetic is not revolutionary or avant-garde, but vegetal. Push a white root tip out in several directions. See where a crack develops. Root for the sun and air. That it’s there somewhere. Breathe until the feeling of being buried brings the need to break open. Sharpen your tools. Get ready to lift what stuff you’re handed.