As a house full of educators and students, normally this week our family is having first first days, second first days, and third first days.
My son’s first day of high school was yesterday. He was off to school, nervous and excited with intense casual ease. My wife was at school to greet all the students in grades 1-12 as yesterday was her first first day, but her second first day is today when the kindergarten kids arrive, and her third first day is tomorrow when the four-year-olds show up, ready to learn their letter of the week. Normally, I would be having first and second first days at each of the campuses here in Charlottetown, making this week a critical time in the Dickieson household.
But this year I will be having no first days on campus. I am an adjunct professor and although I have plenty of teaching in the winter, I won’t be showing up in a classroom near you this autumn. It’s too bad. Besides my sheer love of teaching, I love the first week at a university. It is one of the few times of the year when you see students wandering around the campus in nice clothes rather than yoga pants and a hoodie. Wide-eyed and wondering, the newbies try to calibrate the information on their phones and the confusing campus map in front of them. All the while, the veterans look on with knowing eyes as they mainline coffee into their intellectual veins, or tilt their heads back to the 3D schematics or spreadsheets before them. I love first days and wish I could be there.
Instead, I am here at my desk. It’s a good place to be, generally, but it has its own challenges. One of the challenges is books, which teeter and totter in what were once meaningful piles, but now seem to be simply other places to put coffee cups. Another challenge is the email list. I took Saturday night and Sunday off, and woke up Monday to 170 unread email. About half of those are quickies, but it seems like the emails are unending. Early this summer I accidentally clicked “Mark All Read,” and was horrified to find that my entire queue-of-work list disappeared. After a brief moment of panic came clear, fervent relief.
And then there are the deadlines. Being an independent scholar has challenges like an unpredictable teaching schedule, and I left winter 2018 without having completed all my tasks. This summer has been a mad rush of conferences, project writing, and catching up on my work, all while trying to continue my main path of research on C.S. Lewis’ spiritual theology. I have had a brilliant 12 months of writing, completing about 100,000 words. But there is always, always more to do. Much more.
Despite all the deadlines and distractions, and though I don’t get to try out a new pair of teacher jeans this fall, I am excited to have this autumn pretty well dedicated to research. I am guiding some students in a discussion on spiritual theology, and I am still working on theory with others, but my focal point is research. In particular, I have a thesis due this winter, so I am writing and reading voraciously and incisively this fall. I am spending October in the UK, looking at future things, visiting some friends, and getting some archive time at the Bodleian and some library time in Chester. I am also pleased to say that I am speaking a bit about my research at the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society on 23 October, which is pretty thrilling and not a little intimidating.
So I have a very busy autumn and winter to follow, hoping that this time next year I’ll have some extra initials after my name.
What this means is that I probably have missed an email from you–erased by an accidental (providential?) flick of a key–or maybe even an appointment. I probably owe you a paper, or a response to a paper. Perhaps I have signed a book contract with you and forgotten? Not likely, but there is a distant chance. I do know that I got terribly behind on the great blog comment discussions here this summer. I read every comment on my phone but I couldn’t respond to them all–sometimes because of technology, but often because of time. Thanks for the intelligent and compassionate disagreement to everyone who engaged! I hope my absence wasn’t viewed as rejection.
All this to say that regular readers will no doubt feel my “time” in this upcoming season. I will still be posting weekly, supplemented by some Throwback Thursday posts and perhaps some guest posts. My posts will probably feel random but they will follow the pattern of my research–a thread that will feel invisible to most but is ever present to me. As things appear in my reading and writing I will post them, hoping (as always) that they will encourage you, disturb you, provoke your own thoughts, or just make you happy. I am planning a Planet Narnia series for January-February, which could be fun. I’m also thinking of a “5 Book” series for next spring (with some guests), but will hold off on that for now. I have about thirty posts that are partly written or sketched out, but these will appear organically as they interest me (or encourage, disturb, or provoke me, etc.).
So, for now, thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. I might not always be able to comment on your blog posts, comments, and academic work, but do know that I am paying attention. If you have a guest blog, article response, or book announcement that fits the parameters of this site that you’d like to share, send me an email (junkola[at]gmail[dot]com). Although it has gone on its own journey over the last seven years, A Pilgrim in Narnia remains a faith, fantasy, and fiction blog dedicated to exploring the work of C.S. Lewis, the Inklings, and other imaginative writers as they tell us great, deeply rooted stories. It always pleases me that I’m not the only pilgrim on this journey.
glad to read of your plans and that your thesis is progressing forward, Brenton! I admit… I think a semester off to focus on research and writing is perfect. And it sounds like it’s not really “off”. You still have quite a lot on your plate (though not having to teach is probably a huge time gain)! Good luck in all of it. Looking forward to your archived posts too, since I came a little later to your blog and have a lot to catch up on.
Thanks Dorothea! it really is time, though it isn’t quite “off.” I had a pretty free summer, though.
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Wow, sounds like you’re a very busy guy! England in the fall sounds lovely! Best of luck in all your endeavours and in spite of your busyness, thanks for being so faithful posting on your blog (I wish I could say the same about myself lately!)
Thanks for the note! I do enjoy your blog and had noticed some gaps in posting. I’ll probably be a silent reader for the next few months, in any case.
Research is hard work, too – if only you could get paid for it…
Always look forward to your posts, whether they seem random or not.
Thanks! I may get paid one day.
Research is hard work! I am expecting to submit the final corrections for my thesis this Christmas, and so I too will have extra letters after my name next year 🙂 All the best for the writing-up period of your PhD – it is a stressful period but it’s all worth it.
(Also, I love the Legally Blonde pictures. One of my very favourite films).
And all the best to you! Yes, I didn’t feel like putting any real pics up, so Reese Witherspoon in Boston worked for me.
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Thanks for the photo ‘ID’ – I’d fail a lot of movie quizzes! – and was wondering about where they came from…
Best wishes with you final corrections!
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Best wishes for the ‘home stretch’ – whew! (I hope you’re allowed that 100,000 words or so – editing down is not always the most fun…) And to your son, entering high school! (I was just having various happy memories of high school – for example, first reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (in translation) – earlier today!)
‘First real day’ of grad school (other than me as ‘A.B.D.’!) has transpired around here, but I haven’t heard how it went, yet…
If you’re planning to pop across the North Sea to the Netherlands, while in the UK, let me know, and we can probably manage to meet up…
Meanwhile, have fun at the Lewis Soc and greet anyone who remembers me, if it occurs to you – and apologize for my being out of touch for some years (!)
Thanks for the note! Homestretch is a marathon in this case. I’ll probably have 140,000 or so that I need to cut to 100,000. It’s the nature of my writing.