Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 9, 2009

Wilting on My “Re-Entry” Days

It’s nice to have a weekend cottage to run away to, but even after several years, I’m still not very good at getting back “down to work” on the Monday or Tuesday when we come home. Today is just such a day. So I watched a long movie –Herzog’s 1981 classic  Fitzcarraldo, … what a cool, wild ride, not unlike Apocalypse Now . Except now that it’s over, I feel like I have to drag myself up a small mountain (like Fitzcarraldo did with his boat), in the general direction of following up the writing and publishing conference I attended last week, or in some other way by making good use of my time.

It does not help when one is up late, full-moon-brooding, then unaccountably wakes up very early. Nor is it fair when phonecalls come to short-circuit one’s attempt at an afternoon nap. And when the phonecall is a reminder of a complex probate/legal matter, still unresolved after several years and various attempts, all hope of calming down and either getting to sleep or to work goes out the window. So I’ve found that the only thing to do when I’m in this kind of mood is to try and write my way out of it. (Not that it’s working so far… maybe some coffee will help.)

Yeah I know, you’re thinking I have nothing to complain about: lake cottage, naps on weekdays, time to write… and you’re right. I’m blessed. But that doesn’t lighten the legitimate burdens that I do carry through my day and my week. Like the question of how and where to go back to work after this big upcoming jaunt to Europe. More blessings, I know: to go to Switzerland and Italy, and to even have some choices in July about what to do next (my wife is the real breadwinner here). But my troubles in my recent teaching position –some personal, some institutional– have strongly suggested that I’m still a fish-out-of-water when it comes to teaching. So again I’m faced with that classic adolescent/young adult/mid-life question: now what?

I honestly don’t know anymore if I’m being thwarted so often in my work because God is steering me in a certain direction, or if it’s because I’m such a mess that I can’t make good on the opportunities He’s already given me.

Remember that old joke about the guy stuck on a roof in a flood? He prays to God for help, and a boat comes, then a helicopter, then something else? (These jokes follow the rule of three, but my increasingly forgetful and atrophied brain can’t remember the third thing.) He refuses this assistance, then he dies and goes to heaven and asks God why he didn’t save him, and God says: What are you, stupid? I sent a boat, a copter, and even a giant eagle like the ones in Lord of the Rings.

Well I just may be that guy.

Not that our merciful God would ever call us stupid to our face. But I always suspect that my guardian angel is off sniggering somewhere behind my back, instead of doing his job.

Now I’m thinking of  a psalm, Psalm 121: “I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip — “

Well if this ain’t a slip of the foot, I don’t know what is?

“the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night…”, continues the psalmist. But it doesn’t say much about actual success. Just protection from harm.

On the other hand, both of our houses’ gardens are in terrific, full bloom now: purple phlox, clematis, columbine, big-bloomed peonies, fragrant lilac, spreading raspberry bushes. I take a bit of pride in that, having planted most of those trees and flowers — and because I need to take pride in something, just so I don’t feel utterly useless. Meanwhile, I’m feeling pretty brown around the edges of my own leaves, the blush has gone off the rose of my life, and the dog days (and shrinking bank account) of the upcoming summer have the potential to make me wilt if I’m not careful.

Okay. Let’s try this again:




  1. My prayers are for you.

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