Caution: The Moving Walkway Is Ending

Early one morning a little over a week ago, the DC Metro deposited me at Reagan National Airport, where I would depart for an intensive fiction workshop in San Francisco. Only a few months had passed since my last flight from Reagan, but I had already forgotten the familiar robo-female voice that met me at the airport entrance before I reached the moving sidewalk, repeated its message ad infinitum, and followed me around for days afterwards: “Caution! The moving walkway is ending!”

If a message repeats itself that many times, it functions something like an advertising jingle or a mantra. It snakes into ordinary thoughts and insinuates itself into travel destinations. Eventually, new, unintended meanings stick to it like burrs on a tube sock.

In my case, the prickly tube sock has morphed into a metaphorical statement about the second week of May, the last of this academic year. The moving walkway – something like a tunnel, on which I’d stepped last August, accelerated in a predetermined direction, and then landed in the precise spot the engineers intended – was ending. For months, I’d sped through most days, hopscotched through classes, workshops, conferences, committee meetings, planning, mentoring, and grading, constantly sprinting toward the next point on the calendar.

After all the uproar about workload at Montgomery College, I am not going to mount a defense of summer, which for me will include teaching an online class, serving on a couple of time-intensive committees, co-facilitating a workshop, helping in academic advising, writing an article or two, and, it now seems, helping to compile a handbook for faculty teaching transfer composition. In other words, I will be working this summer. But what I won’t have, at least most of the days, is the moving walkway of obligation to appear in person, dressed presentably, at a specific time and place.

Yes, three months of modified entropy is a luxury. And yes, I will be getting paid for most of the work. However, I learned more about fiction in my four days in San Francisco than I probably have in all my years of writing, and more than anything else I am grateful for the opportunity to be a writer for a couple of months. Among the things I love about teaching is the chance to counterbalance the self-absorption required for writing with work that has a direct and immediate benefit to others. In other words, one of the advantages of a moving walkway is that I have a destination, a clearly marked path, and an arrival time: everything my writing is (usually) not.

It’s time I embraced potential uselessness, fruitlessness, pointlessness, and aimlessness, at least for a little while. It’s true I may get lost, but it’s also true I may end up somewhere the moving walkway can never take me no matter how fast I run.

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