Archive for the ‘summer’ Category

The roundabout papers

Seven weeks later.  It’s been a good-but-odd summer so far.  I still tend to regard summers as experiments in how to make summer work best for me, but then I suppose that’s my attitude about a lot of what might be described as normal life.

Good, because I have had some fun, seen some friends, done some writing, and gotten some other work done.  Odd, because this is the summer that ends in the Snork Maiden’s departure for college.  So there’s a strong sense of an era ending or perhaps having just ended.  There’s also a fair amount to think about and take care of–from tuition payments to strategizing with her about what she will take, ship, leave behind.

One of the best parts has been a solo trip on which I got to stay with PymFan and Mr. PymFan and also to spend some good thinking and writing time by myself.  This began about ten days after school ended, and I love the timing of that–even better might be about a week after the last meeting, with a few work days in which to tie up some loose ends and then peace out.  The trip was a little more shadowed than I’d have liked with a possible emergency-hire situation, and I also had to do parts of an online training while I was away, but it was still pretty great.

The Snork Maiden’s transition to being a college student who doesn’t live at home most of the time is also making me think a lot about what I want my life to be like when I’m someone who doesn’t have a child living at home most of the time.  One thing I want is to be more intentional about seeing friends, both nearby and far away.  All of those “someday” trips and visits–I definitely have the sense that the “someday” window is getting smaller.  Recent illnesses and injuries of friends, and a death in the family last year, have also reminded me that no one knows how much time she has.

With the book coming out, I am actively planning travel that will take me near people I want to see.  I’m also looking at planning farther  in advance–which seems a bit easier now that the Snork Maiden is more in charge of her own life.

Anyway, that’s been this summer so far.

The beautiful changes

It’s kind of amazing that Richard Wilbur is 96 years old. (A collection of his poems furnishes me with this post’s title.) Just before the AP, my students and I read his 1949 poem “Juggler,” which was the subject of last year’s AP Lit exam’s poetry analysis essay.  I don’t have anything to say about it except that we were all struck by how weary it sounds for having been written by a 28-year-old man.  (Not that a 28-year-old man can’t or shouldn’t feel weary, in 1949 or at any other time.)

I’m creeping back to the blog today because I feel the need of it, need to get my mind around this time of year again. I was out of town for some of the holiday weekend, returned Sunday night, haven’t done much today, Memorial Day, except some grocery shopping and putting in an appearance at a cousin’s graduation party.  There’s a lot to do, schoolwise and lifewise, but there’s also a sense of loosening–the regular schedules are dissolving, with a couple of special days for review before exams begin, and then exams, and the last rushed day of farewells, one strange weekday without any school, and then graduation. A final day of meetings, and then we’re launched into summer, except for the long tail of the school year.

Maybe now is the time for one of those summer charts?  I have been feeling a bit stuck on what I need to do now, but maybe some looking forward will help me unstick?


…more days of classes.  Two of those will be days with no seniors, so one day I’ll have two tenth-grade classes; the next, just one tenth-grade class.

It’s good that a lot of things are tapering off, because there’s also an upswing in end-of-year tasks.  I have to write a new final for the tenth-graders–there might be a few things I can borrow from other people, but not much.  There are a couple of end-of-year report things and the finalizing of placements and teacher deployments.  A slow drip of students (not mine) who want to talk with me about their courses for next year.  A few disappearing seniors who have to be chased down for final pieces of work.

Twenty-one days into May, I’ve written on fifteen of them, missed six.  Starting on the Tuesday after graduation, I’ll be away for a week with the Snork Maiden while she does a brief summer internship about two and a half hours away.  She’ll be busy, I’ll be letting the school year out of my system, and that will be the start of my writing summer–which, in the very best-case scenario, might be about thirty solid work days (taking account of visitors, professional commitments, etc., and if there are no family health emergencies or other disasters–last summer had plenty, thanks.  Unfortunately there are ongoing family health issues, and I’m actually figuring those in as best I can–not that you can plan for sudden hospitalizations and so on, but I’m mentally setting aside seven to ten days for the usual disruptions of life to happen in, and hoping it won’t be quite that many).




That’s about how many more days until we start exams.  The school year will be over in roughly a month.  We’ve chosen the valedictorian and the recipients of year-end awards.  Some plans for next year have been made.

I applied for four summer writing residencies and didn’t get any of them.  Not a huge surprise, since competition is stiff, but I’m still disappointed.  So I’m making my own plans for a couple of different summer writing retreats–solitary, unhip and cheap, but I think I can give myself much of what I need.

Meanwhile, I’m endeavoring to touch work every day in May so that I can launch myself into a productive summer.

The sense of an ending

I was thinking about how I get stressed by the approach of the end of the school year, and I was suddenly reminded of a half-remembered quotation from somewhere: “If I liked this, what about it would I like?”  (I think it’s the New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl, but with just a brief search I can’t find the exact quotation and a proper attribution, only other people who seem to half-remember it the same way I do.) It’s a great question for art, and perhaps even better for life situations.  So, if I liked the last six weeks or so of the school year:

  • I would like the feeling of really having come to know the students pretty well, of having seven or eight months of shared experiences and struggles and jokes.
  • I would like seeing my new colleagues settling in and getting comfortable, looking forward to next year, finding a sense of ownership about their courses and their ways of doing things.
  • I would like coming to accept what’s not under my control, of realizing that some of the year’s goals won’t be met, that nothing was perfect, that a lot of things went right anyway.
  • I would like getting ready to bid farewell to colleagues who are leaving: some because they are going on to new adventures and I’m happy for them, and perhaps just one or two that I’ll be relieved not to have to deal with anymore.


  • Got an actual letter informing me I didn’t get the thing I didn’t get, with a handwritten note thanking me for applying and letting me know I had been a finalist.  That was nice.
  • Put in another application for a summer thing.
  • Got the hiring process underway.  One person coming Friday, one Tuesday.
  • Had good conversations in my AP Lit classes on this Rebecca Mead article about “relatability.”
  • Oh my gosh the awesomeness of the creative projects on Paradise Lost.  Poems, paintings, a sculpture of a human brain cradled in two hands.  A scene in Lego.  Oh my gosh.


The first day back after winter break was a bit of a shock to the system–one forgets how much energy it takes to be among so many people!  Lucinda wryly observed, “This is harder than sitting in my living room in sweatpants, playing with my two-year-old.”  Yeah, this was harder than lying around reading and occasionally going to a yoga class, writing poems, doing a bit of housework, and all the other things I did during the break.  But we’re up and running now.

The first summer application is nearly ready to go–it’s the paragraph about the current project that I’m not happy with, but I’ll get there.  I might have finished this evening except that I spent forty-five minutes on the phone talking down a worried relative who is a parent of a high-school senior who is freaking out over college stuff despite already having a couple of great acceptances to schools that are hard to get into.  Really feeling frustrated about the way that kids and parents get caught up in the college admissions frenzy.  Realistically, kids at this student’s school, like kids at SA, get good preparation and good advice, and they all get into multiple schools and have good choices–they are very fortunate by any measure.  But some of them–some of the very strongest students–define success as this or that Name School and in their minds everything rides on that.  This student could be happy with her acceptance to a school that rejects over 85% of its applicants, but she is in anguish over the possibility of not getting into a school that rejects over 90%.

It just seems like such a waste of emotion. But of course I am not 17.  I am much older and I have applied to so, so many things.  I’ll send this one off and I’ll dream about it a bit, but mostly I will focus on other things.  If I get it, I’ll be thrilled (and panicked about logistics).  If I don’t get it, I will sulk for a day and be done.

And I know that teachers at places like SA are somewhat complicit in the whole dynamic–but truly, I believe that kids should go where they will thrive, and I define college admissions success as finding the right fit that you can afford.  I try to hit the exact same notes of congratulation and excitement with the kids who tell me they got into Podunk College as with the kids who tell me they got into Fancypants U.  And in fact it comes naturally–I can see certain kids will blossom at PC who would be lost at FPU.

I hope that I look at this post in a year, when the Snork Maiden will be in the thick of it all, and feel the same…

The getaway

My niece (who is 8, born the summer I started this blog) is spending the night tonight and going to a family yoga class with me in the morning.  Stubb and the Snork Maiden are away.  Niece is asleep and I’m scrolling through Facebook and seeing, among the political posts and the funny ones, quite a few pictures of people’s late-summer vacations and last-chance weekends away.  I’m finding myself suddenly sharply envious of the ones who are spending a week settled down somewhere with relatively little to do–a cabin in the woods, a condo at the beach, even an over-the-top luxury resort (there are two in my feed right now–one in Hawaii and one somewhere in southern California).

And, embarrassingly but undeniably, I’m feeling petulant about not going anywhere for something vacationlike this summer.  I was away for my usual conference, and there are many pleasures associated with that, but unscheduled downtime is not one of them.  I had planned a trip in July to stay in a rustic little AirBnB cabin for almost a week, having solo time to write but also visiting with a friend teaching at a nearby low-residency and another friend in a city two hours away.  But I ended up cancelling it because of issues with my mom’s and Stubb’s dad’s health.  That was the right decision, but because of the way I’d planned the summer, there wasn’t another chunk of time to devote to something similar–and the residency week was over, so it would have had to have been somewhere else.  (I also lost the AirBnB money–the place had a fairly strict cancellation policy, which makes me a little more wary of AirBnB in the future. Got the plane fare back, though, because I bought trip insurance, which I rarely do.) Also, I’m not sure even now that I’d feel really okay about going anywhere, since Stubb is away for work, and while my mom is fine now, his parents are still having a somewhat rocky time.

I really am excited about going back to school, but at the same time, I really wish I had had a bona fide vacation trip.  (I have also recently read several articles about the importance of taking vacations and recharging in general.  Maybe I should just get off the New York Times and Facebook.)  I just spent a little time looking at the possibility of a weekend away, either right before school starts, or on one of the first weekends of September.  I remember enjoying a quick getaway with the Snork Maiden in 2009 and feeling refreshed by it even though it was quite short.

I feel a little sheepish complaining about this–I know I get more trips than a lot of people–but what is this blog space for, if I can’t complain about stuff that bugs me?  Also, the subject of how to take care of myself is not a trivial one. I work hard and I show up for other people–Stubb, the Snork Maiden, relatives and friends–when they need me.

There have been good parts to this summer: lots of reading.  A decent amount of writing–and a very supportive and enthusiastic response from my writing group to the section I gave them in July. Leisurely time with friends. Even some nice close moments during the various health crises–it’s good to be able to be there for people when they need you.  Some lovely Snork Maiden time (not much with Stubb, though–he’s been away a lot).  Continuing to develop a yoga practice.  So I know I’ve benefitted from the time away from school and will come back at least somewhat restored.  Planning a little break will probably give me an additional boost–and in the meantime, staying off Facebook is not a bad idea.

Twenty-one stories

Oh, that last post was so many library books ago.  I’ve read the fourth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle, put the novel  Hausfrau aside after growing impatient with it, read some of the new Lydia Davis collection (her work is so concentrated, I can only read one or a few pieces at a time), a Sarah Manguso book, some of Ken Jennings’ Maphead, some of Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Can We Talk about Race?–a What Now? recommendation.  Still several very desirable books on my holds list–who knows how many of them I’ll get to (the reissue of Oreo by Fran Ross, the Oliver Sacks memoir, a different Sarah Manguso book, the Pierpont novel mentioned in the last post, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout).  Still need to get to those school readings, too.

Twenty-one days left of summer.  Or, rather, until the first day of school–of course there will be a rising babble of school-related noise over the next three weeks.  Murmurs begin tomorrow, as I meet with our new associate head of school, the man who’s taken the GGE’s position.  Most of it, that is; having been at SA so long, the GGE had become the person to whom one brought nearly everything, and it’s surely not possible (or desirable) for the new AHS to be that person right out of the gate.  Even in the waning months of the school year, I thought I was seeing greater autonomy from Ivanhoe and other senior administrators; they seemed to be making decisions that would previously have had to go up the line to the GGE or the then-Head of School.  A good development, too, I thought; the place has gotten too big to be overseen so closely by two people. I asked for this meeting to go over a few immediate questions about our department before the school year begins; it may be that some of these items are not things he can decide on, but he seems like the right place to start.

I’m anticipating a lot of much-needed growth and change in our organization and our processes, with a certain amount of accompanying confusion and uncertainty.  In some ways, I reflect, having two new bosses (for that’s what it is, really) is like starting a new job–one can’t count on being a known quantity.  I’m not nervous, but I am curious and excited.

So I’m preparing more carefully for this meeting than I otherwise might.  And yet I’m also aware that an important part of this meeting–arguably the most important part–is simply getting to know the new AHS and letting him get to know me.

Meanwhile, I’m plotting once again how to use this chunk of time, these three weeks, as school overtakes more of my time and energy, but before we’re well and truly immersed in the new school year.

Among the ten thousand things

Isn’t that a cool title?  I’ve placed a hold on the novel at the library.  Unfortunately, at the moment I’m #43 in the queue, but winter break will be a good time to read it.  I have 22 books out and 7 holds right now, so it’s not as if I’m lacking reading material.  (I do still buy books, or have them bought for me, but I use the library as much as possible.)

Of the books in my previous library post, I did read Dear Committee Members–a quick read, a sourball of a book–it was enjoyable while it lasted, but it dissolved and I have not given it another thought since.  I also read The Buried Giant, probably too fast.  I wish I had someone to discuss it with–I have questions.  It turned out that I could, in fact, renew The Noonday Demon, so I did.  And now I have to return another bunch of books, including:

  • Perri Klass’s first collection, I Am Having an Adventure.  I keep mentioning the story “Nineteen Lists” to students as an example of an unusual way to construct a narrative (in lists!) and wanted to have a copy of it for myself.  The Snork Maiden picked this up while it was in the house and read it, too.
  • Anne Enright, The Green Road (which I started and I love Anne Enright but there is a long queue of people waiting for it and oh well, another time, I guess)
  • Peter Hedges, The Heights  (Normally I really enjoy books about hipster parents in Brooklyn but this was way too arch after The Buried Giant)
  • A yoga book that was kind of outdated (that is, very Seventies-inflected and full of bad eating advice) but still informative
  • Three of Lauren Winner’s books (I got a yen to reread Girl Meets God and I enjoy her writing)
  • James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of Jane Austen (can no longer remember what prompted me to pick this up, didn’t get very far)

I should turn my attention to some of the things I have to read, including Paradise Lost, to which I have barely given a thought since my junior year of college; Creative Confidence, which is a faculty/staff summer read; and 1984.  I didn’t assign myself the tenth-grade classes until after the tenth-grade teachers had finalized the book list for next year, so I wasn’t part of those discussions.  I’m thinking the book list could use an overhaul, actually.  The course makes a stab at being a British literature survey, but there are probably better ways to do it, and it’s probably worth questioning whether we need to do it at all.  I suppose I wouldn’t have proposed the overhaul for this year anyway, since there are several other people who teach it and they should all be involved.  One of them is Lucinda, who may well be leaving us after this year to move to a different part of the country after her husband retires from the military–and there may, as always, be other staffing changes as well.  When it’s clearer who the decision-makers will be, we can start making the decisions.