Work, Of Course.

by Jeff Oaks

Everything is work, of course. It’s February and there are deadlines everywhere. Deadlines of deep personal embarrassment. Where people will stare if I don’t comment intelligently. I have files to read. I have to have opinions to form. I have to have suggestions to make. Otherwise, it looks like I’m not a real colleague. Or worse, not a real academic, someone who doesn’t really belong. It doesn’t help that I’m the only one without a PhD in the groups I’m in.

Most of the reason I’m doing it is simply political frankly. I don’t really care at a deep level. No one’s life is on the line with any of these decisions I need to make. The work is mostly an attempt to curry favor in order to get a better raise next year or to pay off an old debt in some way. Or to avoid a worse duty somewhere else.

I grumble and grunt. In general I never say no to jobs, but I finally said no to a request from some students who asked me to come and talk about “social consciousness” in a TEDX like forum they’ve created. One of the students is a current student of mine I like very much. I laughed nevertheless when I read they wanted me to talk about “social consciousness”. Me, who can’t apparently tell the difference between consciousness and social consciousness, and who absolutely abhors anything set up like a TED talk, with its slippery mix of Ronco sales pitch, Benny Hinn faith healing performance, and Oxford debate back-patting. What if, I wanted to write back to them, I just came over and talked about some poems I love? No technology, no entertainment, no design, just conversation.

But then I thought, it’s February. Outside my husband and the dog, I don’t feel I’m in love with anything this month. I’m on such a low flame. My old lifeboat, poetry, lately seems to be about anything but honesty. I can’t read much beyond a page of prose, maybe three pages if it’s good prose. If I don’t move much, some part of myself reasons, I won’t break the very delicate membrane that’s barely keeping me together. Just keep to the schedules you’ve made, that voice says, and everything will be fine.

As it probably will be. It helps to be fifty and have sailed these unsettled waters before. The work will get done. The meetings will be endured and put behind me. In a month, I’ll say to myself, What was I complaining about?

I think it’s Thomas Moore who says in the Care of the Soul that, instead of feeling bad about our inability to be “positive”, we might think of times like this as a visit from the god Saturn, and that we might think about the gift that this time brings: you’re able to see and feel many things without the usual distractions you might otherwise rely on. You might just consider that you need a change of some kind. You might stop making excuses or saying yes to everything because you’re afraid not to. Maybe it’s a time to throw things out. Maybe it’s fine to do the minimum required, to see what’s vital and nurturing and what’s merely official, what doesn’t require you to give your whole self over?

Yesterday, which was a glorious day of thaw, there was one bird singing. I didn’t look up to see where or what kind. I let that one small song stand for Spring. I let it hold up the world.