Staying awake

It’s Fall Faculty Meeting day already, that annual kickoff event just  before classes begin when we all are supposed to crowd into the stuffy dramatic arts auditorium for a pep talk – last year more a scolding – from the top, a roll-call of new colleagues, and a sentimental farewell from one of our retiring number. We don’t all go, there are boycotters among us, but I wouldn’t miss it. Or the free lunch to follow. It’s good to begin the year with a sense of the campus zeitgeist and the policy imperatives our administrative controllers intend to execute. As William Stafford’s poem says, “it is important that awake people be awake… the darkness around us is deep.” WA

It’s the birthday of late novelist Robert Stone (1937), who said “Writing is lonely… most of the time you are in a room by yourself. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa.” Staying awake is today’s theme, it seems. Not everybody manages that well, at the fall faculty meeting.

I’ve given myself one last summer read, or re-read, just finishing again the masterful Wallace Stegner’s All the Little Live Things. What a depth of insight into the crotchety and complicated relations between the generations, and into the contradictory ways nature and life are both beautiful and cruel. From beginning (“How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”)  to end (“I shall be richer all my life for this sorrow”) Stegner kept me both awake and dreaming in the surrounding darkness, the way only really great literature can. What a magnificent writer. He’s one I’ll mention the next time a student tells me she doesn’t read fiction because it’s not “true.” Wake up, kids, and dream.

And now my summer’s dream ends. It’s back onto the highway for the long commute to school. I have an event-appropriate audiobook cued up for the ride: William Deresewiecz’s Excellent Sheep. His recent postscript in Harper’s is worth every educator’s time, and it’ll be much on my mind in Tucker Auditorium this morning. “How college sold its soul,” indeed. Thank goodness for the honest refuge of fiction.

5:25 am/6:12, 61/83

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