For teachers, this is the hardest time of year. Papers to be graded create a mountainous white landscape on my desk, but they are a welcome sight compared with the desperate faces that drift in at semester's end, worn by students poorly dressed for the cold reality of failure, who are half-hoping for a miracle, an "It's a Wonderful Life" scenario in reverse: they're hoping to wake up and find the world as it would have been if they had done their work, if they had come to class.
This morning one such student slunk in, through the quiet rows of heads bent to the task of writing their in-class finals. His face was a portrait of exhaustion, anxiety, and confusion, the latter since he hadn't known the final was today. I prepared to speak with him, but he didn't approach the desk. He sat perfectly still, seemingly allowing the quiet of the room to settle back down around him. I went back to grading, reminding myself again that one part of succeeding in school is pursuing facts on your own, even if that fact is that you've flunked.
Eventually I did slip him the assignment sheet for the final, but he clearly didn't want to talk. It pained me to see his struggle: his realization of his failure lay on him like a lead weight, but he couldn't muster the will to make the final step toward my desk. Seeing his face made me want to get away, out of the room, out of the building, off the campus, off the map. No more instructing, no more evaluating, no more failing. I wanted to do my own work, my own writing.
A writer's best vacation is uninterrupted time to write, but most can't afford that luxury. I write in the cracks between work and family, when everyone else is sleeping, when I should be too. When work becomes not only demanding but painful, the call to be alone with my own work is louder than ever. Relief is on the way, though--a monthlong break, which will be as a beach chair on warm white sands after I summit the snowy mountains on my desk.