19 October 2009

An October Sunset: Brick by Brick, Stone by Stone

So we had a dreary, chilly weekend. And what did we get on Monday? A beautiful, if chilly fall day that ended in one of those perfect October sunsets that blazes with the colors of the changing leaves and the glow of bricks.

Sometimes it feels as if the end of every satisfying day, or of anything truly satisfying, was built brick by brick, stone by stone. And therein lies the glow of a sunset like the one I saw today.

I'm reminded of that Donovan's "San Damiano" song:

If you want your dream to be,
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends:
Heartfelt work grows purely.

If you want to live life free,
Take your time, go slowly.
Do few things but do them well.
Simple joys are holy.

Day by day, stone by stone,
Build your secret slowly.
Day by day, you'll grow, too:
You'll know heaven's glory.

All I know is that I'm building my life as Justine, as the one I am, and doing whatever work I know I need to do toward that end. I get the sense sometimes that even if I don't know what the edifice will look like in the end, I can envision it at least somewhat. All I can do is lay each brick, lay each stone and set every tile and pane of glass.

This is actually a very nice feeling. It's liberating. I haven't had to do a lot, even though at times it feels that way, if only because I'm still recovering from my surgery. But whatever I've had to do, I've had--and wanted--to do well. Writing and teaching and, to the degree that I can, be present for those who need me. And to be present for myself, in my own life. Many other people have, and have had, to do much more that was more taxing and less rewarding.

I just have to do all of those things well. Although I think about the future, I have almost no idea of what will come next. That's actually a good thing, I believe, because this has been--I'll risk sounding cheesy, if I haven't already--a voyage of discovery.

Wallace Stevens always denied that he was a surrealist because, he said, surrealism was about invention, whereas he was interested in discovery. In a similar vein, I'm learning that if my goal is learning rather than accomplishment, the latter will follow. They may not be the sorts of accomplishments one can hang on a wall or take to the bank--not at the moment, anyway. But they are more necessary than what is framed and hung, or what shows up as a number on a balance sheet.

Yesterday I wrote a post that came completely from my heart as well as my head. I wasn't trying to dazzle anyone with my rhetorical skills or my overall brilliance, such as it is. Heck, I didn't even edit it. Yet I have received a few overwhelmingly positive responses to it; "Gunnar" has posted it on his blog.

I wrote it because it mattered to me. And now I'm finding out that it matters to other people, too. What more can I ask? And I can say the same for my teaching. I know it's working when the students are learning and I don't have to wonder whether or not it has anything to do with my teaching. In a way, it really doesn't matter whether or not it does: If I did the best work I could, and they did, too, there really can't be any other outcome but that they and I will learn.

And we end up trusting each other. I realized this today when two other students came to me to discuss their papers but talked about confidential matters with me. I used to wonder why anyone would tell me about themselves, and I even denied that I am the sort of person in whom they should confide. My old coda could have been something I saw on a T-shirt on the Lower East Side: "Do I look like a fucking people person to you?"

Today my answer to that is, "Fuckin' A, I am!" I don't know how or why. But it's part of the work I've been given: one (or maybe a set) of the bricks, if you will. One that reflects the sunset of this October day.

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