Over My Head, At My Back
“This project is mostly an intellectual exercise for a newly-retired writing teacher and her anxiously-unemployed librarian daughter, both of whom are in need of something to keep them occupied during a transitional time.” (About This Project)
Topic 216 is a “throw back,” returned to the basket when I pulled it months ago, thinking it required more research than I wanted to do. It still does, but I can’t throw it back again because I now can see the bottom of a basket that once was completely filled with strips of paper. Two-hundred and sixteen essays behind us, and most of the remaining topics are “throw-backs.”
Megan and I now have worked on this project for over twelve months, a little experiment to fill our time, present a mental challenge, and provide some structure to our day. For me, much of the fun was in figuring out how to approach the “throw back” kinds of subject matter, the head-scratchers, and the yawners. I always told my students that their job was to find a way to take an assignment and “make it their own,” so I have had lots of opportunities to practice that principle.
I usually have a direction in mind by the time I head out on the morning walk. Not today.I sat down for coffee with wings and circles pushed to the back of my mind. Our neighbor’s patio is inviting, and the temperature perfect for slow sipping and chitchat. Suddenly, Marc pointed up at the sky to a bird in flight. He is always doing that, pointing out birds on bushes, in the trees or flying overhead. But, this time when I looked up, I didn’t need the birders in the group to identify the long legs and wings of a Great Blue Heron.
As I looked back down at the patio table, my eye caught our host’s coffee cup. On the side of the cup was an emblem, a winged circle. The logo was from the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics, whose emblem is the “Great Seal of the State of Arkansas: with white bird wings added. Interesting coincidence.
Wings and circles eventually led to literature. Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is pretty well standard for any high school English textbook, and it introduces the notion of carpe diem—in tandem with sexual seduction—right at the point where adolescent hormones are kicking into action. Seize the day, a perfect bridge between the elegant language of the 17th century and the imagined seductions of teen-age boys: “Let us roll all our strength and all our sweetness up into one ball, and tear our pleasures with rough strife…” ( Marvell).
The other half of “carpe diem” fails to penetrate most young minds. Why are we urged to
“seize the day”? Because aging and death are inevitable, because the world changes and
missed opportunities cannot be retrieved.
“But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.”
I really feel those wings of change at my back this morning. After 12 months and 216 essays, Megan and I have come to another “transitional time.” I am no longer newly-retired, and she is no longer unemployed. I have plenty of fun research and writing projects to keep me occupied. And, Megan has her own exciting work and writing projects. I am about to lose my favorite cartoonist and writing partner, co-conspirator in movie getaways and book-buying frenzies.
Thirty-six topics left in the basket.
The Ciiiiirrrrcle of Life
I really wish we hadn’t kept throwing back the hard topics. After two weeks of vacation and illness, I could really do with one like “On the Dog.” Except I don’t think “On the Dog” was a real topic from the book– I think we just chose it as our first essay because it would be an easy way to start the project.
As my mother mentioned earlier this week, it’s been just over a year since we began writing on The Daily Theme. When we started,I had a concern, which I revisited several times over the year – that when we finished the project, an entire year would have passed and I would have nothing to show for it but this website. And in my mind, my father is telling me that’s not very “In the Moment” thinking and my cynical side is chiming in to suggest that Nowhere is exactly where a year of living “In the Moment” gets you.
Of course, a lot has changed – or rather, a lot has happened. I’ve reconnected with my childhood friends. I’ve spent more time with family than I have in the past 10 years combined. I experienced professional disappointment for the first time ever – getting turned down for job after job. I’ve changed my diet (although, just as I wrote that, I took a bite of a very non vegan chocolate chip muffin), and taken classes.
I got a puppy, and regretted it, and then stopped regretting it. And if I were writing “On the Dog” today, it would have been a very different essay. Mom just shouted down to me that Bella dragged her purse into the loft, opened it up and ate her toothbrush all in the time it took to write the essay. But if that’s all the damage she caused, then we are having a good morning.
When we decided to try writing every day on the same topic, I estimated it would take just about a year to get through the 250 topics. I hadn’t factored in vacations and illness and days when we just weren’t in the mood. And job interviews.
I couldn’t have known that one year to the day of starting this project, I would be offered a job (I thought it would happen sooner). And now, I’m not sure what that’s going to mean for this website. I know I’m not going to be able to write every day. I want to be able to finish the 250 topics, but it feels more “Circle of Life” to just end it now. Except that a circle never ends.