Wednesday, August 21, 2019


I was going a bit stir crazy in the house. I had completed my morning walk and it was time for my afternoon walk.  My route has been to go around a path in the park adjacent to my house. It is a nice enough park--nothing to ooh and aahh over, but not bad.  But I was tiring of the route. I decided to try my luck walking up to Brandeis.

Yesterday I had considered this as well. But Brandeis sits on a hill, a not insignificant hill. And yesterday it was hotter and sunnier than it is today.  So, when I set off for Brandeis a day ago I got as far as the ballfields which are at the base of the campus and parked myself in the shaded bleachers. Today I figured it was time to try the hill.

I brought my bag.  There is a proscription against picking up anything greater than 10 pounds for 10 weeks.  I found two five pound weights that one can employ when walking. They were purchased with the intent of increasing the rigor of walks.  For the most part they have sat near the cat food in a cabinet in an anteroom to the kitchen.  But today they had a value: to test the weight of my bag.  It was less than the two five pound weights, so off I went to conquer the hill with my bag.

I've done this walk probably 100 times since I moved to the area.  I've occasionally gone around the campus two and sometimes three times.  Today, I got about half way up the hill and I had to sit down on a step.  I'm getting there, but I am not there.  Eventually I got up from the step and made it the rest of the way to the library.

It's pre-week here at Brandeis. Classes will start next week, but there is a buzz on campus and activity that, while not robust like it will be next week, suggests that the fall is upon us.  I found a seat in a section of the library that had easy chairs and ottomans.  Took out my laptop from my less than ten pound bag, negotiated the wifi of the library, and began to check the sites.

It was around 2 pm when I got settled, and I noticed a moving line of folks walking just behind a screen to another section of the library. Someone was tinkering with a microphone beyond a wall.  I saw official looking folks with name tags and plastered on smiles greeting those entering the space I cannot see.

At about ten past the hour I could hear, whether I wanted to or not, a speaker welcoming a group of incoming students and their parents. My best guess given the content of the introduction and the ensuing agenda was that this was an orientation for international students.  Attendees were asked to introduce themselves and say where they were from.

There then was a procession of speakers. Head of advising. Associate dean of this. Associate dean of that. Director of Housing.

I have been working or studying at universities for 51 of the last 52 years.  I have attended or participated in so many orientations where I heard speeches of this ilk.  In the old days we would distribute or receive pounds of literature about this group or that. Now, we may distribute a single sheet with the urls to all information needed.  The goal is to get oriented.

Do we ever get oriented?  No matter how many orientation sessions we attend.  Must we become immersed in anything before we truly get oriented. And can that immersion create a counterproductive orientation; an orientation to something that is unhealthy to become oriented to?

I feel very disoriented these past weeks.  Everything seems surreal.  I should be preparing for classes and my annual jaunt to New York and the USOPEN.  I should be heading to the Cape for the last summer excursion into Minister's Pond and any of the various haunts I like to visit when I go to the Cape.  I might be finishing a writing project or starting another one.  Maybe I would take a drive to visit my buddy in Hyde Park and hang out drinking beer on the Hudson.  Last year, one year ago exactly tomorrow, I sent in the manuscript I had been toiling over all summer long. I remember going down to Quincy Market, treating myself to a cold one, and congratulating myself on getting it done. Felt very oriented.

Instead I am disoriented.  I heard the speech from the surgeon, nurse's, PAs.  I read the documents in the discharge manual.  I know how many walks I am supposed to take a day, what not to eat, and what soap to use, to clean this otherworldly scar that reminds me that I am mortal after all.  I know it will take 10-16 weeks before I am myself (whoever that will be in 10-16 weeks) and I can't drive a car until my surgeon says kosher.  I know this, but I am not oriented to this new reality.

But how oriented was I when I thought I was oriented. And how oriented is anyone when we think we are.  Oriented to what. 

The orientation session near me is in its final moments. Some people have had it with the orienting and are dribbling out. Others who got the time wrong or who are not the most punctual of sorts, are dribbling in.  Are those that are just arriving any less likely to become oriented to the university than those who arrived at the start.  Are those of us who never get oriented to where we are any worse off than those who are oriented to their lives, got their coordinates down pat, know where to go to get the drugs and groceries, and know who to eat dinner with and the designated person to kiss goodnight?

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