One of the great pleasures of working in my new (since summer) office in the afternoon comes from casual chats with my colleague in the next office.
I have "Prufrock" on my plate tomorrow; I always get a little anxious about teaching "Prufrock" because it's unwieldy in some ways, and complex, and either captures, or pretends to capture, a moment. There's a bit of an illusion to the captivity, the moment, the whole "speaking for the age" sort of thing, but the poem works. And, once we're actually working with the poem in class, I relax and enjoy the experience, and I think I do a pretty good job teaching it.
My colleague's much better with modernist and 20th century poetry than I even dream of being, so I find pleasure in leaning on his door jamb and sharing ideas about teaching the poem, setting up the contexts, talking about imagery.
On and off, this afternoon, we've been chatting about it in that relaxed, almost pointless way that gives me time to think about the poem between points, walking to and from a meeting or whatever. When I come back, my colleague may remind me of the way a line works, or I may have another question or response to an earlier point.
And then my colleague shares an idea about a poem he's teaching, and we float texts and ideas in the air around our offices, sometimes one leaning into the other's office, and sometimes the other doing the leaning.
Sometimes, research or teaching is exciting, heart-racingly thrilling. But I also find a deep, satisfying pleasure in this more casual, almost playful work. It reminds me of the best of hanging out in graduate cubicles, figuring out how to teach something, or pondering some textual question, except that there's a maturity (not an oldness) to my colleague's responses, a depth that probably takes years of thinking closely about things, a lack of anxiety about impressing anyone or being harshly judged for a question, that makes the conversation more like a walk in a redwood forest with the smells of dampness, ferns, redwood bark, other stuff compared to the sharper, more distinct smell of a rose or barbeque?
Lame similes. The lameness of my simile goes far in explaining why I'm not a poet, doesn't it?