I woke up this morning feeling a bit frazzled and stressed. So much left to teach in my class! So much left to write on my book! I'm going to be away next weekend from Thursday to Sunday for dizzyingly wonderful opportunities to reconnect with many dear friends, but can I really afford four days of pure play? And in between now and then I have class, student meetings, a Tuesday outing with a beloved friend who teaches children's literature at Virginia Tech in nearby Blacksburg, talks by author Candace Fleming and author/scholar Lisa Rowe Fraustino, and more, more, more!
Plus, I weighed an additional half pound this morning, despite walking for almost two hours every single day.
My walking partners and I have designated Sunday as do-your-own-walk (or not) day; we don't make plans to head out together precisely at 6:15 a.m., on the theory that an unscheduled day of rest is all to the good.
I didn't feel like walking. Why walk, if I'm gaining weight, anyway?
I didn't feel like writing. Why write, if I can't get everything done, anyway?
Why not stay in bed a little longer itemizing in my head all the things I feel stressed about?
But I got up and threw on my walking clothes and headed out the door at 6:30, the fifteen-minutes-later-start, my concession to the day.
As I walked alone, grumpy, crabby, and mopey, I saw a student from my chapter book class out running, who had slowed to a walk. We fell into step together and started talking.
She's not only earning an M.F.A. degree in writing during summers at Hollins, she's also earning a Ph.D. in media/communication during the academic year. In fact, she was one of the presenters at my Ethics and Children's Literature conference at DePauw two years ago.
We started talking about her dissertation, which is focused on children and consumer culture, with a chapter on American Girl dolls. I told her about my doll Kirsten, and how my grad students took my hint that they might chip in to buy her for me in celebration of my receiving tenure. I told her about the paper I had heard about the American Girl doll books at ChLA this year, on whether the earlier books had been more "radical" than more recent ones, if "radical" and "American Girl dolls" can be used together in the same sentence. She told me about the ethnographic study she had done of the customers at an American Girl doll store in St. Louis.
Then we turned to her chapter book-in-progress, as we reached the crest of the hill and looked out at the farmlands stretching before us. She had switched ideas from the synopsis she had shared last week and has a whole new project. We brainstormed some structural features about it as we walked on. I offered an excellent idea for what the inciting incident for her character's story could be. She thought it was an excellent idea, too. And if not, at least I raised some suggestive possibilities that might stir something productive in her own thinking.
It was one of those conversations that left me thinking, "THIS is what teaching is. THIS is why I want to leave my sweet life in Boulder for six whole weeks on the other side of the country. Just for THIS: to talk deeply and richly about what I love best with someone else who loves it best, too."
And when I got back to my little apartment, my (admittedly unreliable) scale weighed me half a pound lighter. So there!