This is one of those weird, musing posts.
My favorite Norwegian blogger (well, the only Norwegian blogger I read, but nonetheless, she’s good) is a big fan of Advent and she posted this year about keeping Christmas at bay until, well, it’s actually there. Having grown up in a (relatively, though not extremely) counter-cultural household that practiced intense observance of Advent, I have mixed feelings. I love Advent, but I also don’t see the point in standing in the way of things that can’t be stopped, and I feel like Christmas creep, as much as it annoys me, is one of those things. Capitalism and the culturally American Christmas experience are both a lot bigger than me. I just try to tune them out.
Advent is another story and I still listen to a lot of Advent music. But then, I think, why do I still like Advent so much? and aside from all of the memories I associate with it, it’s that Advent is the part of Christianity most like Judaism. Waiting for the Messiah to come. In the case of Judaism, waiting a long time …
and, I think, in the process of becoming that whole time. Nothing’s decided yet, about the characteristics of the future. I said yesterday in my RL FB feed that the only questions that have any point in being asked are the hard ones, or perhaps the ones we never manage to answer.
There are questions I want to keep asking, points of decision I don’t want to reach. I know more than I have but I feel like to keep on this path, to keep honing on this radio signal, I have to be open to still hearing the signal. The story can’t be over yet. And, I think, to be creative, it has not to be over, period. It has to be open to still becoming something. There always have to be more doors of the calendar to keep opening — which means I have to keep building the doors somehow. To overstrain the metaphor.
I had one fantastic class this term, one very strong one, and one that I was mystified by. The last group just didn’t ever develop any trust in me as an instructor or manifest any interest at all in what I was saying until something like week nine, by which point many of the teachable moments had already passed. Oddly, it looks like their performances will turn out to be ahead of the general curve for this class over the history of my teaching it here, but they were emphatically not interested in showing any curiosity about the material at all. Class time was a huge energy suck. It wasn’t just me; the TA said the discussion sections were exactly the same, fifty minutes of pulling teeth. This doesn’t happen to me often as an instructor, but it’s happened more often lately. They are changing, the students, I guess. Or I am changing.
Who is becoming what?
I have these questions I want them to consider, historical questions that have bedeviled humanity for centuries. I put them in their terms, but I concede that they are old questions. When they won’t answer old questions, which happens some terms, then I ask them what questions bug them? What keeps them up, late at night, worrying? What won’t leave them alone? And I figure out how to convert the questions to something we could use.
This class would not even answer questions like, how are you today?
Anyway, one afternoon a few weeks ago I was trudging over to their classroom (a twenty-minute walk from my office) and gritting my teeth, awaiting the inevitable failure to engage them at all, and thinking, to myself, how did I end up here?
I mean, I picked this career so that I wouldn’t ever be going through the motions. I never wanted to be married and have children and I picked this job which is more difficult and less secure and more labor intensive than so many others precisely because I loved it and I thought it would always be fulfilling. I wasn’t going to be my mother, struggling with roles she didn’t want to fulfill, and if the only way to work was to work extremely hard, it was going to be something I wanted, and I wasn’t going to have to wait until I was fifty to figure out what I really wanted.
I had it all figured it out. I worked hard to get where I got. And yet. Here I am. Forty-four going on forty-five. Trudging across campus to do something I’d really not rather do with people who show me every minute that they don’t want to be there. What did I do wrong?
There’s something about this age, I guess? Like two-year-olds being oppositional and fourteen being the worst age for a teenage girl and twenty-five being the age where you think you’ve got it all figured out and start to enjoy things. Should we be talking about the frustrated forties?
I wanted an eternal Advent, I said I liked that the questions are never really answered. I said I’d be willing to keep talking about these questions forever. But maybe not, or at least maybe I don’t want this one that I got. Or rather, I don’t know exactly how to deal with this kind of always becoming, where the thing I became was wrong and now I have to put the pieces together to build something else except that I am so often clueless about what that might be.
I’ve been trying to avoid listening to seasonal music that I associate with my mother, but it’s hard. This afternoon, my iTunes got a mind of its own, however, and played carols from Kings College, Cambridge. I didn’t turn it off because most of the associations I make with those songs relate to when I sang them, in high or college choir, as opposed to in Sunday School, where we didn’t prioritize the English carols and their melodies all that much. So, this “Away in the Manger” ran across the headphones:
And I thought of mom, who would have said, this is the only melody for “Away in a Manger”:
And on the same album was “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” in this version:
And I thought of mom, who would have said, this is the only melody for “O Little Town of Bethlehem”:
And then I thought of the night before her hysterectomy, when we were singing all the Christmas songs we could sing of. And that we both knew all the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
Oh, mom, there was always a right way and a wrong way, and a rationale for explaining why, you always knew all the words and exactly how everything should be sung. So when I tried to figure out how to sing my own song, I always had to phrase it in terms of my melody being the right one and yours being the wrong one. It couldn’t ever just be the right one for me, it had to be the right one, period. All the power struggles over what was right.
And now, I think, it’s not just finding the right one for me, even though that would be more helpful than ultimately right, if I could have done that back then — it’s that lately I feel like there is no one right song.There are many songs. That I have to be singing at the same time …
Today I’m reminded of all the songs I’ve abandoned. But really, I need to tell myself, advent is always becoming. That was what I wanted when I abandoned the rightness of the one melody for every song. That was what I committed to as a scholar, and really, it’s the struggle of the human. Frustrated forties? There’s no melody I’ll be singing my whole life. I know that in a becoming world, there will always be new songs, I just have to figure out how to hear them, how to to tune in.