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.
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.
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.
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.
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?