Intermission.

The days have grown cooler finally, and the leaves are slowly beginning their colorful descent to a still-sodden ground. It’s been a relatively tame autumn this year. Hillsides that often burst with shades of orange, red, yellow, green, and even purple are now blanketed only with muted hues of yellow and green, an occasional spot of red, and some pockets of no color at all where leaves have already fallen. It’s a faded glory to be sure, but when bright, delicate morning light streams through the trees, it’s beautiful enough that one must take pause.

Touchstone #1: I am dissatisfied with calling him A., so from now on, he's Buzz (my brother's nickname for him.) He makes me laugh and understands me in a way that no one else does. When I forget who I am, he reminds me. And we totally look like Feds in this picture, no?

It’s the point of the fall semester for both teachers and students when the novelty has worn off and time has ground to a halt. A pause, indeed! My first five weeks of teaching felt like a blip. I would wake up on Monday morning and let out a little sigh, imagining the long work hours ahead. But then I would blink a few times, rub the sleep from my eyes, and suddenly it was Thursday afternoon and I was walking out of my last class of the week.

These were the good ole days of yore. Of course, ‘yore’ was just a couple of weeks ago. Like clockwork, a switch flips sometime during Week Six. We enter a time warp. Now, upon waking on Monday morning, I breathe a heavier sigh, and think of the long day ahead of me. Then I blink a few times and rub my eyes, waiting for the magic to happen. Instead, I open my eyes to find that it’s still Monday and I’m only halfway through my commute.

I try again when I arrive on campus. I get out of the car, click my heels three times and expect to be transported, but when the last syllable of “There’s no place like Thursday afternoon” fades away, it’s still Monday and time for lunch.

Touchstone #2: Every day, this old key on my key ring reminds me that I'm stronger than I give myself credit for. I got it in a junk shop in Istanbul over 10 years ago. It represents all the times I wanted to give up and crawl home with my tail between my legs. But instead, I stayed and fought.

In a last-ditch effort, I spin around a few times in a phone booth or janitor’s closet, hoping to emerge as a superhero who has the power to propel herself to Thursday afternoon. Instead, I land hard on the concrete sidewalk as I am making my way towards Monday afternoon’s Freshman Comp class.

It’s true that this time warp has its advantages. I’m in a groove and can have periods of great productivity. Last Thursday after (finally!) leaving my last class, I drove home, talked to my sister for a little while, and then made some tea and settled into a zone. I burned through 18 journals and 10 essays before dinner. After I ate, I graded 40 summaries and planned 6 hours of lessons for next week. Not all days go this well, but I know to take advantage of the tunnel vision concentration when it hits, and it does so more often in these middle weeks.

Touchstone #3: You didn't really think you'd get away without seeing Zelda and Mrs.Parker, did you??

Still, I can’t help but wonder if tomorrow will be the day that I just speed past my normal exit and keep driving until I run out of gas. Or perhaps I’ll ‘pull a Salinger’ and become a recluse on a farm in Vermont, simply so I don’t have to explain one more time what an essay’s word limit is, or tell a student to put a cell phone away, or hear bad music streaming out from a person’s earphones as he or she sings along, badly out of tune. Though if I am going to emulate a writer who ‘went native’, I’d probably follow in E. B. White’s shoes and hide myself on the Maine coast. I do love me an ocean.

Ah, but this too shall pass, albeit slowly – and sometimes painfully so. In the meantime, I have my touchstones. An actual touchstone is a flint-like black stone that reacts to contact with real gold and silver, and was often used to test the purity of these metals. It has also been used metaphorically to represent something quintessential about a substance, or to test if an elemental feature is present in an object or idea.

Touchstone #4: I would be aimless and lost without my passion for language and reading, for my desire to know and understand more. And without writing, my mind would be chaotic, a morass of wasted thoughts and ideas.

My own personal associations with the word start with the image of running towards a big, rough, striated rock as though I am playing Tag, or Hide and Seek. The rock is Home Base and represents a brief respite of safety, time for renewal before going once more into the breach.

My touchstones, then, my totems, my anchors: these are the things or people that remind me of who I am, what I can do, and what I believe in. They bring me back to places or times when I’ve forged the principles by which I live, and of which I need to be reminded in busy or trying times. They represent the quintessential parts of who I am, and this knowledge carries me forward.

Touchstone #5: Laughter. It makes everything better.

What are your touchstones?

19 thoughts on “Intermission.

    • Age has got to have something to do with that, right? Remember how agonizingly slow time passed in the buildup to Christmas when you were a kid? It seems liek the whole first 20 years of my life went slow, but the second 20 years have passed by in a second! :)

  1. Two face to face classes a week on MW allow me to leave campus on Wednesday afternoons and marvel that still another week, week 9 rolls by. However, this online class needs my daily attention so I can review work daily. Oral audio presentations are next week…say a prayer that all those giant files don’t bring down the system and I don’t get pleas of “more time” due to technical difficulties. Sigh!

    • The teachers who think that online courses are easier have no idea, do they? I just started teasing my students about all their ‘technical difficulties’. I told them how I don’t understand how they can brag about all the things they can do on their laptops and smart phones, but they can’t figure out how to attach their essay properly? I don’t buy it for a second! ;)

      Good luck with presentations!

  2. Oh, Leonore this is so beautiful that I dub it Freshly Pressed. I know I don’t have the authority to do so, but let’s pretend I do!! Touchstone is such a lovely word! Mine would be: my husband, children, cats, books, and definitely laughter!

    I can so identify with the school year taking off with great momentum and then entering a slow, painful period where it feels like the days will never end. Luckily, my slow period would hit around the end of January when spring break seemed eons away!

    • Thanks Sprinkles! Hear that, WordPress? Wink wink nudge nudge ;)

      The year did take on the same pattern but just with different time frames when I taught the same students all year long. That only happened for a total of 3 out of 18 teaching years, though, so most of my life has been measured in semesters.

      Thanks for sharing your touchstones!

  3. First, yes – the two of you look like Feds. Second – this was a great read. Touchstones, totems and anchors. I look around and wonder what I consider as my touchstones, totems and/or anchors. Interesting.
    The slow passing of the day reminded me of a traffic/carpool commercial. The scene is a man sitting in his car, visibly irked. Frustrated he grabs his steering wheel and says, “20 minutes later,” Pause “And, I’m two inches closer to work!”

  4. I’m here late — because I, too, was grading! But what a beautiful piece that truly captures the rhythms of the semester! I agree with everyone that this one should have been FP’d under education!

    I tried to email you recently to remind you that your TWITS piece is set to run this Wednesday! I hope you are ready to do some linky-love and don’t have anything else planned.

    You know, besides the million other things you have to do with your students.

    Check that email address you gave me way back when! I sent you all the info and my button, which you can get from my blog anyway. ;-)

    My touchstone. Hmmm. I’m not sure I have one. Except maybe the necklace that my son bought for me at a craft show many moons ago. I receive compliments on it near daily and I often touch it absently. I hope I never lose it; it is very special to me.

    • Isn’t amazing that we can all have such similar experiences during a school semester or year, despite such disparate ages, grades, subjects, methods…? You can just feel the energy on campus and know that everyone is going through the same rhythms.

      The necklace definitely sounds like a touchstone, and a lovely one at that! :)

      (PS – I’m all set and quite excited for the TWITS piece! Even had a dream about it last night and then remembered that it’s not until tomorrow! ;)

  5. Yeah, what’s up with these comp students–they keep writing all these papers! Even the ones who are stuck write emails about being stuck, and by Week 6, all of my efforts at encouragement have come home to roost on my desk. The chickens, God bless them, have hatched. They are an adorable mess–squawking loudly and admirably, but with no sense of MLA style. I’m thinking of a new curriculum focused on the idea of virtual writing: it would save so much time, trouble, and anxiety. (And truth be told, the most important progress that’s made in my classes is what goes on with a student’s attitude and confidence level.) I don’t think that would fly with my department, though–and I also have to admit that the confidence/attitude thing is only locked in when they have actually written something on paper, and gotten it back with encouragement and without judgment.

    So during the weeks when papers pile up, my touchstones are:
    1. The college Time Entry Form on which I now allow myself to claim a sick day, sometimes even before I actually get sick
    2. My students’ photos staring at me hopefully on Day 1 (I have learned to take photos so that I can connect a face with the paper I’m reading), and their amazed gratitude when they get those papers back with stars and hearts on them (yes I do this even in college, since my students are all Women in Transition, most of whom are used to abuse and humiliation when they have risked authenticity)
    3. A pair of ceramic hearts on my desk, given to me by two different editing clients who were grateful for the hours/days/months/years I spent midwifing their work, even when I was telling them it needed another rewrite
    4. The Pony Express Delivery Service, which brings anything I want for dinner for a $5 delivery charge–SO worth it when I have more papers than food in the house, and
    5. A statue of Artemis that reminds me what my impulses were that set me on this path, and what I might look like if I managed my time better and therefore relied less on Touchstone #4.

    :-)

    • Awesome touchstones! I love the statue of Artemis. I actually have a small one that I picked up a while back.

      It astounds me how long they take to cordon onto MLA. It’s not difficult: “Here’s a style sheet. Plug in the information for the essay you have in your hand. Write it exactly like this!” And the response, “What, what do I need to write?” They can perform alchemy on their cell phones or video game consoles, but they can’t manage to figure out that the author’s last name is listed first in the Works Cited?? The most discouraging part about this middle part of the semester is that we profs can already peg the students who are talking out of their butts when they say, “Oh it will never happen again” or “I was very sick/at a funeral/babysitting my brother/tending to my dying 5th cousin 4x removed…” You’ve already pegged who you can’t reach. And the ones who can be reached still need so much work and it’s overwhelming to think of what still needs to be done.

      Having a sick day is good (we are entitled to one sick day per class per semester, with no rollover) but we need an adjunct mental health day each semester!

  6. Pingback: Damage Done: Guest Post by Leonore Rodrigues « Lessons From Teachers and Twits
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