Circuses or teacups

Jews,  parents with school-age kids, and academics share September as a new year. I am not religious, but September as the New Year has always made sense to me. My mother used to point to the red flowers that are called British soldiers and that grew next to our walk, and say, “Once these come up, your father knows he has to write his syllabus.” And so the academic calendar was written in the seasonal changes around us.

There are changes in my grown-up house. DP has a book of short stories coming out. This weekend has been a whirlwind of copyediting, cursing, and arguing about editorial changes. I am teaching a real live class. Each of us are doing something new in our careers.

With change comes anxiety. DP is anxious about the book. I am anxious about teaching. Each of us thinks the other one is going to be fine.

One of my superpowers is to make connections between any two things. My father was the same way. I used to ask him ridiculous questions for my own amusement. “Could you really lecture about anything?” I asked him when I was 12 or so.

“Probably,” Paternal Clause said mildly.

“What about—” and I’d throw him the most random topic I could think of. Let’s say circuses, or teacups.

“I would just talk around the topic until it lead to something I knew more about.”

And then, because I was a demanding child, I probably made him show me how he would do it.

I make connections quickly, and anyone who reads my writing (in particular this blog!) knows that I sometimes don’t explain them in enough detail. I worry I’m not making my connections clear enough for the kids. I’m worried they’re bored.

And it makes me think of what Lesley Wheeler said, “Poems, too—a lot of contemporary poetry is frustrating because the author hasn’t done the work of thinking through her fragmented inspirations.”

Because I don’t trust myself to just talk extemporaneously or to make explicit the connections the students might need, I take copious notes. It takes me an ungodly number of hours to assemble a lecture. But as I say in class, [My Last Name’s] first law of research writing is know thyself. In order to write you have to know your weaknesses, know your strengths, and know realistically how you work. And so I know that if I don’t write out all these notes, I will lose track. I will stutter. I will let them go 30 minutes early. They will think I’m a blithering idiot. And I am trying hard to hide that fact for now.

And maybe when I’m old as Paternal Clause was when I pestered him about this sort of business, I’ll be able to lecture without notes at all.

What are you hiding?


8 responses to “Circuses or teacups

  1. I didn’t know that thing about British Soldiers. Nor did I know that dad could lecture about anything. But, I guess one can do that. I did not so long ago. I was asked to be a respondent to a bunch of speakers in a conference on responsibility. I don’t know anything about responsibility (shush Indy. don’t say what you were thinking). So I talked about sex, and advertising, and disease (I know about those) until it all came together. It did.

    My rules about research writing? Start with what you know, and not with what you don’t…

  2. I’ve always considered spring to be a better time to consider a new year beginning. And now that I have Moslem family members, and they consider spring the new year, I’m going with it.

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