The return of Sycorax Pine

Oh... so many apologies for the unannounced 15 month absence. I am thoroughly, thoroughly, filled to the brim with shame. If it makes any difference, I will say this: they were the hardest 15 months of my life. That's right - harder than the previous 15 months, in which I finished a dissertation and received a doctorate. But I have been longing, of late, for a return to my blogging ways and friends... so here I am.

So, in brief, a summary of what has happened in the last year or so:

* * *

I moved to a new house at the beginning of August 2008 with my long-time friends and roommates.

This went, well, badly.

And thus began a year of firsts for me: it was the first time I have ever been treated really shamefully by friends of mine, the first time in my adult life in which I felt so mistreated by a friend that I had to force a confrontation, and, ultimately, the first time I ever broke up with a friend and never wanted to lay eyes on him or her again. I take friendship extremely seriously, so this was rather a shock to my system. In fact, it has taken me about five months to write this post, because it is so difficult to express how shattered this conflict made me feel, and I have only now (more than a year later) come to terms with the fact that "friends" could behave this way.

Then, with the aid of my supportive (and incensed - my mother had witnessed some of the roommates' egregious behavior in person) parents, I went about getting a new place.

Amazingly, I loved the very first one I looked at. I stepped into the hallway, saw built-in bookshelves, and said "I'll take it." And then I found out that the owner is a Carolina graduate (the house itself is Tar Heel blue - you know the saying, those of you who are Tar Heels, "How do we know God is a Tar Heel? Well, he made the sky Carolina blue."), and had been a drama major there, no less, I knew that the apartment gods were smiling upon me.

And that's when I learned what a friend really is. A friend is someone who come and picks you up when you call in tears, saying "I can't bear to be in this house with these people one more minute," takes you back to his house, and gives you a hammer and a
n old piece of lumber to pull nails out of, cathartically, for the rest of the afternoon. A friend is someone who comes in from out of town to help you move all of your furniture and thousands of books twice in a single month. A friend is someone who is incredibly stressed out and yet drops everything to talk to you when you are upset. But most importantly, a friend is someone who knows that you are acting in good faith with them, someone who knows that even when you act badly it isn't out of a lack of good will or caring, but just out of misunderstanding. And, praise Philotes, I have an abundance of these sorts of friends. I can only hope I prove as good a friend to them when they need me. Life's too short to have bad faith friends.

* * *

Shortly after my second move, I started in on the academic year. I had two jobs this year, teaching a total of three classes each semester. This may sound light to those of you who aren't academics, but it tripled my teaching load from last year, and it was brutal. Especially since each semester I taught a course that required students to submit a 3-5 page paper every week (and thus requires the instructor to grade and return a whole class's papers weekly).

It takes me an average of an hour to grade a single paper (sometimes - especially if the student is a clear and skillful writer - I can get this down to about 45 minutes, but more frequently it is about 75 minutes). I tallied it up a couple of weeks ago, and I found that by the time the semester is over I will have graded 460 essays this academic year. In other words, if I devoted every single waking moment to grading, it would still take me an entire month to complete the amount of grading I accomplished this year. And that doesn't even begin to address the exam prep and grading, the reading and lesson-plan preparing, the meeting with students, etc.

There were a lot of pedagogical challenges (teaching courses I hadn't taught before, addressing student questions and attitudes I hadn't encountered before) and there wasn't a lot of sleep. There wasn't
at all a lot of sleep. Or eating. At one point my friend Ch. came to visit and, seeing a moutain of recycling waiting in the front hallway (I had been too exhausted to take it to the curb the week before), exclaimed "Oh my god! You've been to the grocery store!!" in unconcealed joy. It's true, I didn't go once to the grocery store in my first three or four months in this apartment. There simply wasn't time. I woke up at 5 or 6 a.m., started working, went to the office, taught, came home, got back to grading, and worked straight through till midnight. When I couldn't work any more, I fell asleep watching bad tv on Hulu. Because I had terrible anxious insomnia all year, and the only cure was mind-numbingly formulaic television. Praise the media gods for Hulu. I miss it now that (spoiler alert) I am an emigrée.

And did I mention that, in the midst of all this, I acquired both a car and a driver's license for the first time? I never got a license at what might be thought of as the proper age, so when my second job required me to commute, I had to spend almost the entirety of the salary from that job acquiring the means of getting there. And that (given the
sleek efficiency of Connecticut's DMV bureacracy) was a nightmare in its own right. They sent me away so many times without even allowing me to schedule or attempt my driver's test (which I finally passed on the first try - phew), that I began to fear I would become known as "that woman who shows up at the DMV every few weeks and cries."

In fact, when they turned me away from my driver's test because I was registered in MD (where I bought the car, and thus where it had to be temporarily registered) but insured in DC (where my family lives), it got a little misty in the DMV as I pondered how on earth I was going to get to work for the four weeks until the next appointment I had been able to make for the test. I had already begged rides for several weeks while wading through other DMV-related complications, and I felt that I had come to the end of the favors I had to call in. I got into line next to a fully bewimpled Catholic sister and thought, "I mustn't cry, I MUSTN'T cry. It might upset the nun."

* * *

But, I have decided, none of this is what I am going to remember this year for. This won't be the year in which my teaching schedule taught me that there is a limit to the amount of work I can physically accomplish, or the year in which I learned what friendship really is, the hard way.

No, this will be the year in which three things happened:

  1. I helped elect Barack Obama.
  2. I helped (with my extensive and superstitiously rigorous fan voodoo) the North Carolina Tar Heels win a National Championship. THis voodoo included, but was not limited to,talking my students' ears off about the progress of the basketball season (even on one occasion, reciting a lengthy portion of Charles Kuralt's famous bicentennial speech in Chapel Hill - in which he asked, "What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming. [...] No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the people" - and then wiping irrepressible tears from my eyes.) My students endured all this, in part because I gave them a paper extension in honor of the Championship victory. I did demand that they refer to it as "the Tar Heels are National Champions Memorial Paper Extension," however.
  3. I got a job. A bona fide, 100% tenure track job. In Nova Scotia.
And that's where I will pick up my story in a post to come....

4 Responses so far.

  1. Wendy says:

    OMG, Ariel!!! What a story. I have to admit, I was getting really worried about you not having heard from you for months (and that is the downside of blogging friends...if they disappear we never know what happens!). So my first thought when I saw your post was "Thank God she is okay!" I am so sorry you had such a horrible year...but I am incredibly glad you helped elect Obama :) Definitely a highlight! *BIG hugs* to you...and glad to see you back. Looking forward to reading about your new job :)

  2. Thanks for the welcome (blog)home, Wendy! I have missed my blog alter ego (and her online social life) immensely over the last year and a half, and I feel considerably relief that I finally bit the bullet and started up again. Now I need to get caught up on my Google Reader backlog of a 15 months!

  3. bloglily says:

    OH I AM SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU BACK!! Yes, it's true, it took me a while to figure that out, but I haven't been too much of a poster and blog reader myself in the last few months. I love the look of your house and I am just thrilled about your new job, and your survival of what surely should get an award for the most impressive struggle to stay upright against what sound like gale force winds. xoxoxo

  4. Thanks, bloglily! I am now in yet another lovely house, filled to the brim with books. One of the major delights of my new home is that it has enough space that I can actually have a room I call "The Library." This has always been a dream of mine.

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