Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April is the Cruelest Month

No one in academics should have to apologize for acts that occur in the fourth month. We should have little blue ‘April Awareness’ ribbons that get us to the front of the line at the store, and we should have a celebrity line of vodka called Gradut. On the stroke of midnight as March expires, a candlelight vigil should coincide with a parade of wailers to warn of the cruelty about to commence. Because April, you see, is when everything happens.

Summer is a slumber that falls into the soft comfort of a new academic year, full of hope and optimism, and the ideals of the academy flourish in these nourishing illusions. The first bone-chill of January portends reality, just like when that first cup of coffee wears off, causing the stacks of paperwork on your desk to double in size. As the new year leafs, with January’s renewal fluttering down, then the sudden passing of Febru-, there grows a realization that life to this point has been a hologram, a circumscription of a frightful fact: nothing in academia really takes place until April. There is the fantasy that students sitting in class to watch writing being done on rectangles, that dripping things into test tubes or taking the spotlight in a performance, are real things. These shadows on the cave wall fool us only until March. Specifically, March 30th at midnight, giving us exactly one day to revise our whole epistemology.

If March recedes like a lamb, it is a cousin of the herd held by Polyphemus: in other words a disguise for an vexations we can never quite identify a cause of. We arrive on the doorstep of April crying “who did this to me?” As the Cyclops was blinded to the external world, so are we finally relieved of the fantastic constructions we have believed for nearly a whole academic year (which, if you don’t know is the 14-month period from August to May), and must confront the inner truth, as awful as it is: all of the activity before April has no meaning unless it is turned into reality in that very month. April is looking at a pile of goo and a sausage machine and thinking there’s no way this is going to happen. The standard gallows humor for April Fool’s day in the academy is “Everything’s great!” or “Well, my work is done for the year!”

April is the cruelest month because it doesn’t end when it is supposed to. Even the hope that the calendar provides, the relief in checking off the boxes of that dreadful month, like Dostoevsky’s prison fence posts in House of the Dead, is a lie. Because April doesn’t end at the end of April (read that line again imagining a movie-trailer voice of doom: In a world…where April lasts FORTY-FIVE DAYS!). No, what actually happens is that as the lambs march out, Nobody begins picking at the threads of reality by which a university knows itself. Things go missing or forgotten, graduation speakers develop Tourette’s Syndrome the day before, candidates for degrees get mixed up with the suspension list, and the colossal combinatoric of university bureaucracy grinds out every possible instance of Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong will go wrong in April. Then, just when relief is in sight, Contract Day approaches. This is the ordained day when all professors become ethereal non-corpulent beings, unable to communicate with mortals, e.g. for the purpose of providing senior grade reports or annual assessments of student learning. It’s a fact that in college towns, psychic readers do most of their business during April 35-April 45.

There should be more study done on this problem. Maybe the NSF would be interested in a study on “Temporal Compression Induced by Massive Semantic Fields.” At the very least, we should recognize the problem for the whole month, and not just on that mournful day when we all solemnly gather, dressed head to foot in black.

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