It happens every summer. I don't notice so much over the winter break, as there are the holidays as a distraction, and the break is so much shorter, but every May, once commencement is over and I have no particular need to go to campus, my mood takes a nose-dive, and all my typical depression behaviors manifest themselves: it's hard for me to summon the energy even to go downstairs to get the mail; I know I'd feel better to get out and take walks, but the sofa has a powerful gravitational pull that seems to keep me inert; my sleep patterns go wonky; I want to eat all sorts of unhealthy but pleasurable foods in vast quantities; I play endless computer games or do jigsaw puzzles or read "popcorn" books.
And I mope.
I've compared it to a sudden decompression, as if I were a diver who rose to the surface too quickly and got the bends. During the term, I know how much pressure I am under (most of it, I grant you, self-imposed), but the sudden release from it is mentally and physically disconcerting--and uncomfortable.
What I don't tend to be aware of, but what I know to be true, is how much of my social life is centered on campus. I don't even mean my time talking with Paul and William and other colleagues. I mean just in terms of human interactions that keep the mind percolating. I get that from every interaction on campus, from my brief chats with Nina, the woman behind the counter at the snack bar where I get tea (on my non-coffee days), to my work with students, to asking the folks in Advisement how to handle a specific situation. I am a profound introvert (which may sound odd from someone who maintains a blog, but it's true), which is part of why I guard my weekends so fiercely during the term. And the introvert in me is in bliss to have long stretches of days when my only interactions are through electronic media (and my conversations with my cat, which are pretty one-sided--or at least her side tends to be pretty repetitive). I like spending days when I don't talk. I like spending days doing bugger-all nothing (to use an Ed phrase). It's the sudden shift from intense busy-ness to nothing that's hard to navigate.
You might think that after as many years as I've been doing this, it would get easier to manage. I will say at least now I know to expect it. But it still throws me, every time.
Shifting gears, I've been responding to a lot of stuff about education that's been flying around Facebook, and in the process, I've had to recognize that although I am on the edge of becoming bitter and jaded--and at times do a damned good impression of being fully in that state--I am still filled with missionary zeal. I have my crises of faith, but when I remember just how important it is to help students learn to just plain fucking think, to have some kind of critical filters and awareness in order to navigate this world that is filled to overflowing with opinionated ignoramuses, I get charged up and ready to get back into the classroom.
But it's the 101s that call to me for that purpose. I don't know what my experience teaching SF will be like this fall, or how things will go teaching the online Nature in Lit plus SF in the spring, but if those experiences are as frustrating as this past semester's Nature in Lit, I may decide to forego teaching electives and just concentrate on the comps. If I do that, I do need to restructure how I handle the essays, or I'll be too overwhelmed with grading to survive with my faculties intact--but I'm done with 102s for the foreseeable future. I can only fight my battles on one front at a time, and the fight to get students to write a coherent argument is as much as I can do; I can't do that and get them to actually read and analyze literature at the same time.
I am aware that--depending on how long I can continue teaching before I really do burn out--I may well change my mind again (and again, and again). But I have a strong sense what I want to do with 101, and I'm not as clear about 102. So, I'll stick with that for a while.
As for the "how long I can continue teaching" part: who knows. I am going to work very hard not to project too far into the future but just to take the moment that's right in front of me--or the next semester at any rate, but not much further. I know the longer I teach, the more comfortable my retirement will be, so... well, we'll see. I know I'll be at NCC for another year at least. (And Paul says the college isn't going to shut down, and I tend to believe he's right: we're unlikely to lose our accreditation, despite all the running around and waving of hands and shouting, so I don't need to worry about losing my job.) And truly, when I say "I know" I'll be there for another year, that makes the assumption we always make: that things will continue along pretty much as they are. I know that is not always the right assumption: the unexpected is always entirely possible. But we can't plan for the unexpected; we just live on faith that life is going to go along pretty much as it is right now.
And on that faith, I will sign off for today. I don't know if I'll get any work done before my usual Friday afternoon life-maintenance tomorrow, but if I do, I'll post again.