A Return of Humanity

Semesters at Westminster have long conclusions. Classes end, then papers are due, and then exams descend on the unfortunate. I don’t have finals and postgraduate papers are due a week after graduate papers are due, giving me a clean week after classes end. Is it that the deadlines are determined by the institution? I never had the sense at Central that the administration set the deadlines or flogged the faculty the way one sometimes gathers it happens at Westminster. Anyway, whatever the cause, the effect is that the end is not the end. And if one goes with the sense of things, the way I do, stressing out about May deadlines in February, it seems like those last deadlines come dawdling at the end.

If one turns papers in early, one suspects, the teacher will think one a slacker. I actually don’t think the great man will think this of me, but I am haunted by the ghost of Milliman who did not take kindly to my turning in an exam before the absolute last moment, or hints of any effort less than prostrating. The great man does not care if I’m sweating or not, which is what is so cool about him.

It has been a long one, however, since the January class immersed me and kept me under when the spring semester started. As a result, I did not have as humane a semester as I would have liked. I had to give up on the theory of learning German, and for a while all my reading was entirely subsumed in academic concerns. The great man advised me against that too—everlasting be his happy memory—and I did recover somewhat from that abandonment. Pepys was read, Lewis and poetry, and murder mysteries were duly watched. One does not want to become an academic.

But it was on the whole a semester not characterized by the requisite humanity. I’m thinking about it now, as I come to Target to make myself go through the essays I’ve compounded one more time. I watch the people and I note the faces. There was a very determined kid with a very interesting face in here just now. There’s a group of very old ladies, very small and old ladies, who having done a bit of shopping are waiting for the ride back. I wonder what they think of the world. I’m awfully curious about them, and I attribute that to a return to humanity.

These transitional weeks are difficult. I’m in free-fall because the structure of the semester is dissolving, but figuring out the productive configuration for the summer takes a while and some effort. How to make the time count is the great question. I’m reviving varied reading, I’m looking at my story (bleh), starting a weird new one, I’m thinking about poetry, I’m going to learn to play Libertango on my accordion, I have places to walk, pizza to try, painting to attempt, Latin to improve, and German to enter into. These need a good configuration in order to achieve the kind of satisfaction of accomplishment that will allow me to knock off sometime in the evening and do otherwise enjoyable things.

One of the things happening to me right now is in Spanish. Because we do this mostly weekly podcast, a friend and I, I’ve been preparing for it. What usually happens to me whenever I’m preparing to teach or speak on anything is that I begin to rehearse it in imagination. So as I walked around the park this morning reading Frend on martyrdom I began explaining what I was understanding, mentally and in Spanish talking to myself. It is just how I do things; and it seems to be kicking in more now that I’ve finished classes. It makes the hour and a half or two I spend a week speaking in Spanish stretch out, so that there’s a lot more Spanish in my life as a consequence of my talking to myself in Spanish. I do it when I teach in English too, of course, and I find I end up preparing according to the language I teach in, so I’m grateful this is in Spanish. Part of it is searching for correct expressions and the right terms, and one’s concern not to be caught in the moment trying to figure out how the emperor Trajan’s name is pronounced in Spanish (he was, after all, from near Seville; Trajano, it turns out, not unlike what you’d expect, the j being a velar fricative, as it usually is).

So that’s humane.

Politics, in the meantime, gives life its doom and fun, reminding me that all is not cheerful green grass and poetry, and that the expectations of the foolish are soon crushed. You know, I have never read so many insightful things as this season has brought down on us. One of the things I observe is this: the sensible and moderate reaction to everything going on is not what is usually making the news. One thing all this sense of imminent collapse makes people do is figure out how to preserve what is threatened. And what could be more conservative than that? One thousand years from now, what will they make of us and of our age? They’ll speak with awe of Roger Scruton if they have managed to raise up any worthwhile civilization, that’s what.


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