This week saw my last day on campus for this academic year. Assignments are handed in, marking is well under way, and I found a lovely thank you card from a third year student on my desk. There was an unexpected bonus too. I received a nomination for a teaching award, which felt particularly special because the nominations were made by students. A presentation was held yesterday afternoon at Main House where there was champagne and strawberries, and the top award of Teacher of the Year went to the wonderful Nicola Presley, who was so shocked she did a great impersonation of a teary Hollywood actress. Congratulations Nic!
I always have mixed feelings about the last week. No teaching means I’ll be able to get my own writing done, but I enjoy meeting with my students, talking about writing and books, sometime debating, sometimes struggling alongside them to understand the complexities of what we want to learn as writers. I will miss this community. I always do. So as I left campus yesterday I took a last walk around to absorb that sense of community, my final fix until the autumn. By then the building work will have moved on apace, with new classrooms and offices due for completion this time next year. The landscape of the campus is changing, with the Castle, the Gatehouse and the cows grazing on the hillside just some of the things that will remain constant, the reliable observers.
The landscape of my teaching has changed this year too, with involvement in the Teaching Writing module — yes, that’s teaching about teaching. I’ve found that by going back to look at the theory and practice (essential if I was going to keep up with the students), I’ve had to review the way I approach classes, trying to make seminars more varied and lectures more entertaining (and informative, of course). This is all good. It makes me feel like I know stuff.
And in a few short weeks I’ll be back to my own writing, another changing landscape, with a more focused return to short story writing, maybe even flash fiction too, a website to create, and the whole ebook project waiting in my in-tray like a monster of many guises. Writing this blog has already changed the way I write. The discipline of producing a coherent piece each week seems to have created a rolling thought process, with ideas constantly being sparked, not just for subjects to post about but creative work too. My notebook, and my calendar, have never been so busy.
I’ve talked about my schedule before, how I obsess over deadlines and berate myself if I don’t meet them. I used to think it was the antithesis of creativity to set down week by week, month by month what I wanted to achieve. I mean, I’m a creative person aren’t I?
Shouldn’t I be going with the flow, letting my mind expand beyond the little confining squares of calendar days? Then I started reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries (a dog-eared find at a second-hand book stall), and found she was constantly thinking about her schedule, the weeks she’ll be editing, the weeks set aside for articles and reviews, the self-imposed deadline for finishing that first draft. So this made me relax (if giving yourself a strict schedule can be called relaxing). If it’s good enough for VW it’s good enough for me.
And so the year moves on, with the future holding achievement and failure in varying degrees because that is the stuff of life and without it we’d be lost.
As the great Bob Dylan once sang, ‘…you better start swimmin’ / or you’ll sink like a stone / For the times they are a changin.’