Saturday, January 19, 2013

A good start

After a crazy fall semester and end to 2012, the New Year has definitely started on the right foot. In terms of teaching, I have 24 students in two classes, both of them ones that I have taught several times before, which compares to the 47 students I had last semester in three classes, one of which was a brand new preparation every week. What a difference this makes!

I find myself with actual unscripted time, which is precious and unfamiliar. I have time to read a biography of Olaudah Equiano that I have been meaning to read for years and never had the time, and to read Cloud Atlas as my bedtime reading, and to watch DVDs of series and films I missed last year, and to go see "Flight" and to go today to see "Life of Pi." Maybe I'll be able to watch most of the Oscar-nominated films, something I used to do back in college. I know it's the beginning of the year and we only just started but certainly last semester didn't feel in any way shape or form near this manageable, or enjoyable, at the get go. I actually don't remember when time felt this unclaimed.

Not having a new class prep or a looming scholarly project that needs daily attention definitely makes a huge difference, and it's something for me to remember. I like how this feels, and I will  continue to cultivate this feeling rather than being overwhelmed and spread too thinly. There is a culture in academia that promotes that feeling that there is always a lot more that you could be doing and a lot more that's not getting done or done well. The irony may be in that one has to work hard to avoid that feeling. In doing so, the goal is not to work less or be satisfied with lesser standards. It's all about balance. About knowing when to say "enough." About being grateful and appreciative, rather than disgruntled and discontented. To have that option is a privilege that should not go unappreciated.

At home, after a little over a year of being back in our old house in the tiny city, we have settled into nice routines and I am continually thankful that I have this distance from work, even with the commute. I love my walks with Lizzy in the morning, even the freezing ones, and I love watching our furry children as they wile away their days in warmth and comfort. It is good to remember and to be thankful that we are so blessed, indeed.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Víspera de Reyes

I've told the story in these pages before of how, when I was a child, on Víspera de Reyes, in the evening, we'd visit my parental grandparents at their one-story casa terrera with the large tiled front porch.

My abuelo would take my hand and lead me outside, and he'd point to the three bright stars on an indigo sky.

"Do you see those three stars near the horizon? Those are the Three Wise Men, on their way here," he'd tell me, while pointing to what I found out years later was simply Orion's Belt.

With an empty shoe box in the other hand, my abuelo would lead me to the empty lot with overgrown grass across the street, a pastizal. He'd help me cut a few blades of the green grass and we'd stuff it into the box, which we then took back into their house to be placed carefully on the floor of their small living room.

I had so many questions no one ever answered: Did the horses come into the house or were they kept outside, grazing? Did the Three Kings make a huge clatter when they arrived (as I felt they must because of the tiled floor? How could they carry all the toys on horseback?

The next morning, my siblings and I would wake up inordinately early and already overly excited and, after ooing and awwing over the gifts (mostly books and school clothes), which the Three Kings had left at our house, we drove to my grandparents' house to find our treasure trove there.

There were no horseshoe marks on the tiles but the grass was gone and the living room was filled with presents for all of my grandparents' eleven grandchildren. I don't remember any particular toy that I was more enchanted with in all the years we did this, but I will never forget the care my abuelos and parents put into our believing in the magical and generous Three Kings.

In Puerto Rico, the story of the Three Wise Men who came to greet the new born Savior was transformed so that the Magi had horses, not camels, and in the santos tradition of carved religious figures, one of them is always black, symbolizing the mix of races on our island.

Those innocent childhood days are long gone, but the magic of Three Kings Day, especially of the eve, lives with me now and forever. ¡Feliz Día de los Reyes!