Snowy Night: I Should Be Sleeping

It’s thirteen minutes past eleven p.m., and I could sleep, but I’m too stubborn. Because there’s still a capacity for wakefulness in this winter-weary body.* Winter-weary–yeah, right, says the New Englander or the Michigander. How is a Tennessean winter-weary? Because for three nights out of the past five, I have slept in a hotel in my own town, away from my wife, away from my kids, all because there’s a possibility that sideroads may be treacherous and impassable. This is life when it snows or, more accurately, ice-storms in Nashville. Trucks brine the interstate; people with buckets scatter blue salt over concrete stairs and isolated parking lots; and the administration at the laboratory where I process cancerous tissue five days a week takes the initiative to ensure its workforce’s safety and its capacity to perform its important job by generously providing hotel rooms for those of us able to stay. Every specimen is a patient. I never forget the human at the other end of the tissue that I’m processing, because I know that we are all grasping for our lives and for the lives of those we love. We cling to this vapor of earthly existence, no matter what we believe about the hereafter. If we humans unite behind anything, it is this: we’re all trying to stay alive. This is our impulse. Perhaps it’s the purest instinct. And we don’t let go of it until there are no other options; until it’s wrested from our slack hands.

How does one not think of Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” in a post like this? So I cling to consciousness,  because it’s my impulse, even though I should be sleeping. I didn’t inherit that napping gene that brings so much joy to others (neither did my oldest son). I stay awake until I no longer can. It will take its toll later in the week, when I can’t keep my eyes open past 8:30 on Friday night. But for now I soldier on, writing this blog post, thinking about how rarely we have a good snow in middle Tennessee, about how people lose their minds when the temperature drops below freezing, and about how we’re all together (even though we don’t always like each other) in this endeavor of life.





*Winter-weariness is not altogether bad. I’ve written elsewhere that I often feel more alive in winter. Weariness can coexist with contentment, it seems.

Rapid Blog, No. 3

Do you feel there is a scent in your environs? A whiff of setting–however subtle, however breathed–that informs the eras of your life? And it may be no scent at all, but a texture of the air–a psychological scent, recognizable by the baseline “I” of your consciousness, the one that is privy even to your sleepdark dreams, nestled unfathomably inside the case of your body (that is dying daily). I speak of the smell of a life chapter, so to speak–the intangible thing that, when you achieve a later maturity, will temper entire decades.


Maybe it’s not a smell but a color, diaphanous, tinting the light which surrounds you. Like fall is orange, but even less definable–a thing understood but not defined. Like November’s shroud of misted gray and the brown of bare branches somehow made richer by that very same gray.


So what is the color and scent of adolescence? Of childhood? Of those first few years of marriage? when you can’t figure a thirty-year anniversary and adult children; it simply escapes your powers of projection. What is the color and scent of those two earlier years in which you struggled, failed, and survived–simultaneously the best and worst of times? Of those other two years, earlier still, when you were so certain, yet you failed anyway? What is the aura of each of these gilded and tarnished eras? And all along, your most consistent boon has been experience–bitter, ecstatic, human experience.

Back to School, Fifteen Years Later

On campus.
On campus.

It has been fifteen years since I strolled across the stage in Union University’s chapel, shook Dr. Dockery’s hand, and officially ended my college career.  Then began fifteen years of life experience–some of it hard, some of it triumphant, some self-inflicted, and some not.  For fifteen years I have been figuring things out.  And while many riddles remain unsolved, there is one thing that I knew it was time to do:  go back to school.  The time was ripe for pursuing that master’s degree that I had long claimed to want.


Returning to school was an adjustment in some unexpected ways.  Having always enjoyed that setting, I thought that I would slide back into it with ease.  But here is the thing–I am not who I was fifteen years ago.  No one is.  We are ever changing–tastes, styles, likes, dislikes, views, routines, relationships, underwear–and often imperceptibly.  Age, alone, brings about changes.  It was naive to think that I would transition so easily.  In our late teens and early twenties, we are kids who think that we are adults.  In my late thirties, I have no such illusions–the kid years are long gone.  By the way, college kids have not changed.  They still wear ridiculous hats and pajamas to class; they still stay up all night “studying”; they still sneak around and smoke cigarettes (they have to sneak at Belmont, as the campus is smoke-free).  The smell of identity-searching fills the air.  Conversely, my dress is fairly conservative, I have a wife and a two-year-old, I go to bed by ten, and I gave up smoking years ago.  Every night on campus (graduate classes are mostly all at night), I am aware that my peers and I are in the minority.  There is much less leisure for us.  Whereas the undergraduate may spend the hours between classes hanging out in the dorm or the student center or at Bongo Java across the street, having animated, idealistic discussions about the subjects on which they are now experts, I am navigating a toddler drop-off with my wife on the other side of town in rush hour traffic or arranging to be late for work so I can turn in a paper in hard copy, which my teachers unscrupulously demand, despite the age of email in which we live.  These are not complaints, however.  Let me emphasize that.  These are merely illustrations showing how the rules of the game have changed on this second go-around.  I am thrilled to be back in school, but the logistics of making it happen have become much more of a balancing act.  That said, semester’s end brings an elation like I never felt as an undergrad.  There is more reading and writing in one graduate English class than in a full course load at the undergraduate level (at least it feels that way).  A completed semester feels like an enormous accomplishment.


There was a point near the end of the most recent semester when I finally felt like a part of the school, integrated into the body of learners, professors, and buildings.  Walking to class from the parking garage, passing between two lines of fiery red maples, it finally hit me.  It had taken two semesters to sink in, but I now felt like a student.  Of course, I had known I was a student since summer–my student account attests to that–but I did not feel like one.  For much of those first two semesters, it felt like I was pretending to be a student, reading and writing a lot in the early morning hours and showing up once a week on campus with a backpack.  It was like a very aware dream.  So much time had been spent in frustration over a job that had grown tedious that the thought of pursuing something different seemed forever out of reach.  But it was, and is, happening.


Speaking of that job, it has taught me something very valuable.  It has taught me how to work when I do not feel like working.  After an inspiration-sapping shift, when the easy chair calls most vehemently, an inner voice reminds me that the schoolwork has to get done.  It just has to!  Thankfully, it is a rewarding endeavor.  Never have I regretted sitting down to my assignments.  As discipline triumphs over lethargy–a battle fought often–the academic effort becomes increasingly satisfying.  And there is something else that will be satisfying:  commencement.  The day will come when I will stroll across a different stage and shake a different hand.  That will be its own kind of elation.