The day finds me already overwhelmed and it’s not even dawn. It’s Christmas Eve and I just woke after a short sleep to sit at the dinner table to pore over stacks of student assignments. Final grades were due days ago. This semester I somehow found myself teaching the equivalent of seven classes across two institutions. For me, that’s more college students than names I can recall. I feel foolish. My own words have dried to not even a trickle. My thoughts, unfocused for months without end. Little more than confusion and anger. I’m unsure now what I am capable of outside of the perpetual motion of marking papers. I feel diminished.
I managed though to clear enough static to come up with a useable thought, a plan. Some days before, I had ordered a gift into a store for S., my seven-year old son, and as soon as the store opened I’d take a respite from these thousands of pages to pick it up. After that, I’d return refreshed to grade for several hours, finishing just in time to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I imagine the night as the beginning of a short period of renewal and recharge after the months of anxiety and diminishment. A reclamation of my powers which have atrophied from disuse. I’d spend these few weeks of winter break recharging and preparing to soon be utterly burnt out once again.
With the apartment still and the world quiet there would be no better time than now to get this work of grading done. My wife, nine months pregnant and asleep, off in the next room; the seven-year old, normally an agent of chaos, for now also asleep, the store two hours or so from opening. Just put your head down, I tell myself, and execute the plan.
There’s little I love more than a good plan, even if I don’t excel at creating and following them. I’ve made and remade my life with lists. Throughout this period of overwhelm, I can’t help but remind myself that my predicament is the result of having no plan. Or having a bad plan. Whatever the case, this overload and its anxiety is my fault. But then there is something to be said sometimes for having no plan at all. I think about the beautiful improvisation that resulted in my seven-year old. No plan could have accounted for him. He cares nothing for plans, barreling here and there, carrying chaos with him, guided by little more than his whims…