This, That, and the Other Thing

Winter break. Christmas break. Holiday break. Whatever y’all call it. It’s coming. Like winter. A Game of Thrones reference. Clever.

I never watched Game of Thrones. I read the first three books. The fourth book lost me. George R.R. started with a compelling story. Snow monsters and the unexpected death of likable characters. Cool. And then, a few hundred pages in, he started telling different stories. This kingdom and that kingdom. These dragons and those ships. By the fourth book, there was too much to keep track of. And George R.R. didn’t do the work of making the stories speak to each other. It was lazy writing. I know this because I’m often a lazy writer. Figuring out how to make ideas fit with each other seems the hard work of writing. For my money, George R.R. didn’t get that work right in Game of Thrones. God bless him. I’m told the HBO series fixed this problem. Because you’d have to in order to make tv. But, unlike George R.R., I’m super poor. HBO hasn’t picked my books up yet. So I don’t have HBO, and never watched Game of Thrones.

Anyway. I’m writing about Winter break. And already this blog is drifting into this, that, and the other thing. That’s fair. That’s how I feel about the impending winter break. My mind is scattered.

Five years ago, I imagined that being a college professor meant luxurious, restful winter breaks. A month of reprieve from work. Video games. Sleeping in. Not shaving for days on end. My deepest, introverted fantasies fulfilled! Oh, how naive I was, dear reader. Innocent, even. I’m not innocent anymore, friends. And I’ve got a doozy of a task list to work through this break. Teeming with this, that, and the other thing. And the other thing, too. My task list probably looks like George R.R.’s note for Game of Thrones. Incoherent.

I won’t bore you with the academic details. The creative ones, either. But I’ll admit to a frothy pool of anxiety in my stomach. I open my laptop and there’s so many things I to do. And don’t get me started on my calendar. This meeting, that meeting, and the other meeting. Thanks, adulthood.

I’m sure I’ve written this in a blog before, but my mentor Tim at the University of Minnesota told me something that has stayed with me.

“Being a college professor, Sam,” he said, “is like being a college student. But you never catch up on your work. And then you die.”

Woof.

Five years has taught me, as with many other things he told me, Tim was right. So many assignments. You finish one and two more pop up. And then you blink and there’s three more emails with four more asks. All the while you, if you are a professor like me, worry about paying bills, being present with your family, and attending to your introverted urge to close the door and play video games until your can’t see straight.

What a dilemma.

***

I kvetch.

You should be so lucky to have work worth doing. And I am so lucky. Even if my stomach feels frothy and my mind is disorganized. And my task list is a White Walker.

Katie wrapped the boys’ presents last week. All sorts of little gifts that will fill them with excitement. Perhaps that’s the reason we are on the edge of poverty. Purchasing Christmas presents. Thanks, Capitalism. Oh well. We’ll make it through. We always do. I hope. Providence.

Solomon and Samson wake up early these days. Because the boys always wake up early. On a good morning, they’re out in the living room by 5:30 or 6:00 AM drawing or playing with cars. On a bad morning they’ve climbed into our bed and are screaming at each other about who has enough room. It’s the holiday season, now. So they race into the sunroom to plug in our Christmas lights. Turn the tree on. Bask in the festive glow.

I won’t pretend that Christmas decorations don’t comfort me. Capitalism be damned, Christmas has a peaceful effect on me. We work with the traditions we have, I suppose.

And, early morning screaming be damned, I’m looking forward to the boys’ vacation from school. Some time together. It’ll likely be contentious. And loud. But time with my family is time with my family. And I want to challenge myself to look away from my task list enough to notice time with my family. Contention be damned. Demands of adulthood be damned, too. I’m surprised by how many times I wrote the phrase “be damned” above. My mind must be a little disorganized right now. Downright cantankerous.

Well, I’ll be damned. No, scratch that. Blessed. I’d rather be blessed.

***

I’ll make it through my task list. I always do. I work hard. I’m up early every morning, too. But I don’t play with cars. Or scream at my family members. No, I open my laptop and start to make my way through. An essay. A research proposal. Revisions. Poetry, email, fiction, and even these blogs. Keep writing. That’s a huge part of the work I do these days. There’s other things, too.

I led an improv workshop about anti-racism at Penn State last week. Worked with Residential Affairs to discuss race in ways that don’t reproduce America’s endless race-war. Improv can promote peace. I like peace. And then I taught improv to some high school students from Lebanon, Pennsylvania. They drove in to State College to take a four-hour class with Happy Valley Improv. That was work, but it was fun work. And good work. Again, improv can promote peace. And creativity. Cool.

And I performed in a couple of shows over the last few weeks. Even entertained a group of engineers in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania at their annual Christmas party. That was funny. Improv in a classy banquet hall. Okay.

And I played Mario Kart with Solomon and Samson, attended a meeting about my research on anti-racism with State College School Board, and discussed helping a local Christian high school produce their annual play.

Some of this work mentioned above is about trying to pay the bills. Keep my head (and the heads of my family) above the water. Very adult. And some of this work is about moving forward with my ideological commitments as a teacher and thinker. Some of the work is about trying to honor my creative urges and keep my soul alive. My childish soul that likes to laugh, imagine, and build things.

I wrote about building things in Playing with Sharp Objects. And I tell a story about building things to every class I teach. I guess I do this because I’m a builder of things. And I keep building. I’m convinced by my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut: Your soul grows when you build something. Even if that something is lazy writing. So take what I said about George R.R. with a couple grains of salt.

I’ll keep working hard. Making stuff. Try to make my soul grow. Even if I’m a little discombobulated as I head into winter break.

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