The End of June: some notes on disappearing time
by Jeff Oaks
Since Summer starts for me in May, it’s 2/3rds gone already. By August, it’ll be gone in the rush of schedules, administrative work; orientation for new students, colleagues, staff; last minute changes to or revelations about reading lists, syllabi, assignments, workloads; and a furious attempt to do all the house-related cleanings or reorganization so promised to do in May.
I don’t think I’ve read even one book all the way through since May. Which is to say I haven’t disappeared into a story for a while.
Where has the time gone? I’m supervising a couple of things this summer at Pitt, but that workload has been pretty small. I’m not teaching at all. Well, honestly, some of the time has gone into naps, into sitting at the coffeehouse doing sudoku, into a little bit of journaling, which I am glad to have gotten back into. I thought I’d be spending much more time with the dog, but I don’t think I have really. I thought I’d work out more. Uh, no.
Creatively, I’m been obsessed with writing a craft lecture about description. Half of my time I’ve spent being terrified that there was nothing to say about it and half I’ve been overwhelmed by all that there is to say about it. What I decided on finally is that I’m interested in thinking about poems that use description and/or descriptiveness as a way of thinking, as a “form of consciousness” as Mark Doty says.
I’ve read a number of textbooks by now and found out that no textbook writer yet has successfully disentangled description from detail, image, or metaphor, even some fantastically smart writers whose use of description I’ve pointed to for decades now. Some of them use the terms interchangeably, with the implication that description by detail, by metaphor, by image are all equally the same thing.
I’ve asked myself a thousand times why I’m so interested in description, and what I actually mean by it, if not metaphor or image exactly. Detail is probably closer to what I’m after. Literal detail might be closer to what I’m after. The ability to write down what is there in a scene, in a setting, on a tabletop. The ability to see and represent the complicated world one finds one’s self in. The ability to be able to see what kind of world one is in.
Until I had a mound of notes and paragraphs and quotations and citations and poems I thought made good examples.
Now, I’m disappearing into the work of arranging all that thinking, noticing, asking questions, cutting out what I can’t take on in a single lecture. Making something that will make sense, spark interest, and not insult the intelligence of my educated audience. I can manage about two hours of this a day. Some days I go home immediately after and just sleep.