01 February 2009

Before and After, Than and Now, After Today and The Surgery

OK. So I'm catching up on work that should've been done already. Like that course I was so worried about teaching. Actually, it's not that I've put the work off so much as I wanted to get it just right. I haven't been satisfied with the outlines and reading lists I devised, and I probably won't be satisfied with the syllabus or the way I teach the course. But everybody I've talked to--from my department chair to Dominick, from Bruce to the department secretary, think it's going to be "just fine." I know them all well enough to know they're not just telling me the sort of stuff you tell the troops when what you should really say is Nous sommes dans le pot de chambre, et nous y serons emmerdes. I think I got the quote right, but I can't remember who said it. All I know is that it wasn't De Gaulle, Napoleon or Charlemagne.

Now there's something they don't teach you in French 101.

So what's making me so anxious about this semester. Well, it is my last before the surgery, and now that I know that this time isn't simply a denouement till that day, I feel somehow that I have to do something, if not extraordinary, at least outstanding.

Sometimes I think this might be one of those "pivotal" times when something significant in my life--which may or may not have to do with the surgery or even my career (such as it is) is hinging on what I do during the next four months. Other times I feel that this may be my last semseter at the college, or even in the academic world, and that I should go out with, if not a bang, at least a very high, clear note.

Those other changes I sense, as I said, may or may not be a result of, or have anything to do with, my surgery.

Is the prospect of the surgery bringing other parts of my life into sharper focus, or simply making me feel them more intensely? Why--apart from peer pressure and the fact that the college is paying for it--did I feel that I should take a class? (For that matter, why did I choose a subject--gender studies--I swore I'd never touch?) Why did the opportunity to volunteer at Carmen's Place present itself?

Some might say that I'm distracting myself from thinking about the surgery. I don't know about that: I still think about it all the time. Any time I see something with a date on it, from a product in a store to a deadline for some application or project, the first thing I think about is whether it's "pre" or "post." That's how I was thinking at the English Department meeting last week: Any time someone talked about courses for the fall semester, or beyond, all I could think was, "After."

I've had a few people--including ones who are sober rationalists who eschew anything even slightly mystical--tell me that because I'm pursuing the right path for me, other things are falling into place: my parents' support, the full-time faculty position, and other opportunities that have come my way. And they all reassure me that everything's going to be fine. Even when I question them about specifics, whether about work, my love life or the surgery itself, they say that I'm going to be just fine.

I believe them. No, it's even better: I sense the truth of what they're saying. But I would love to know a few more details. Why are things going the way they are in my work? Why, suddenly, am I in such demand? And why are people--even complete strangers who know nothing about my impending surgery--being kind and helpful?

Someone--I don't remember who--told me, a long time ago, that if everything's going well and people just start helping you out of the blue, you're near the end of your life. I don't know whether or not that person was serious, but somehow I took it to heart. It makes me think of a Japanese story--by Junichiro Tanizaki, I believe--in which a child grows more and more beautiful the closer he comes to his death. His mother wants to save him; nobody--from her neighbors to any of the doctors--can see that anything is wrong with the child and they all come to believe that she's crazy.

More than one person has told me that I'm giving birth to myself. That's more or less how I see this process, and in that sense, the surgery is the moment of delivery, if you will. But births always involve deaths, or the risk of them. Of course, the person I had been for fifty years will end, at least in some sense, with that surgery. And that person has been dying, or at least receding, as a new life is being born.

Like anyone who's going to give birth, I find that much of the time I am as tired as I am exhiliarated. Yet, it seems, there is always more to do, more than I ever imagined, and there is help that I didn't know existed. That, of course, means that I must live up to it all, for the sake of who's about to be born.

Yes, it's going to be all right. But I want to get it right, then and now, now and for tomorrow. For the coming days, for the days that follow today and the surgery.

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