Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jim is observing the Labor Day weekend. Well, not really -- Labor Day has largely lost it association with the spirit of the 19th century working class that inspired the holiday (safely removed, about as far as you get calendar-wise, from the subversively leftist implications of May Day). What has only recently been lost is a notion of Labor Day as a punctuation mark of summer -- a festive long weekend that marks the end of vacation season. It has always been an unrealized fantasy of Jim's to take a week-long trip that straddled August and September, which has struck him as the height of cool -- or hot, depending on your generation, and the vicissitudes of weather.

But Labor Day simply isn't what it only recently used to be. College students, of course, have long been going back to school in August. But more and more primary and secondary school students are, too. Even those who aren't have sports -- and sports has become a Major Commitment in the lives of adolescents. Long gone are the days of common three-letter athletes and walk-on tryouts. Summer now ends with more of a whimper than a bang, no longer primo real estate in the economy of the season.

For those of us who perform paid labor in schools, Labor Day weekend is a hurry-up-and-wait moment. Seized with a sense that he'll never have a free moment again, Jim is currently trying to get a running start on non-immediate school-year reading, which means trudging through William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, and August Wilson's Fences, three literary works slated to be part of his team-taught interdisciplinary course built around the theme of freedom (these texts are to be part of a unit on freedom vs. equality this winter). Once school starts, it's hard to read books like that. But not as hard, perhaps, as one fears. Sometimes it's a relief just to get back to work.