Mann Understood

I have twenty-four essays to grade.

I have twenty students for whom I need to total grades and write comments.

I have a Good Portion of my Master’s thesis proposal written; I need to finish it and mail it to my professor tomorrow; I need to meet with him and my program director on Tuesday.

I have 9th grade curriculum to refine.

I have 10th grade curriculum to finish (and refine).

I have to pack up the contents of my classroom, my desk, my bookcases.

I have to pack clothes, shoes, toiletries and other sundries for our trip to Africa (Africa!) one week from Friday.

I have two days of school left.

I have three faculty-work-days left.

I have to research (and write) my Master’s thesis.

And I am (once upon a time, a long, long time ago) writing a novel.

A great work is set aside for the sake of a smaller one, whose demands could not be anticipated and which itself then devours years. One is forced to set it aside as well in response to the many demands of the day; one gives oneself over to secondary tasks, some of which require not weeks, but months and, wouldn’t you know, one is then required to insert still other smaller improvisations, without ever losing sight of one’s larger and still larger concerns. But the result is that bit by bit one comes to bear on one’s shoulders and in one’s mind the entire burden, the weight of every task and concurrent task. Patience is all– an equanimity that, should a man not possess it by nature, must be wrested from a nervous constitution given to despair. Endurance, stamina, perseverance is all, and every hope bears the name “time.” “Give me time” is one’s prayer to the eternal gods “and it will all be done.”

Thomas Mann, “Sixteen Years,” his introduction to the American edition of Joseph and His Brothers

4 thoughts on “Mann Understood

  1. I was totally rapt at that very paragraph that you quoted from Mann. (yes, I even read the introduction!!) Yes, we could be burdened with all that there is to do. But in fact one can really only do one thing at a time. And one thing at a time – one step after another – is the only way to progress. You will manage it all, Rebecca!


  2. <>Ballad of the Scholar’s Lament<>When I have struggled through three hundred yearsof Roman history, and hastened o’erSome French play-(though I have my private fearsOf flunking sorely when I take the floorIn class),-when I have steeped my soul in goreAnd Greek, and figured over half a reamWith Algebra, which I do (not) adore,How shall I manage to compose a theme? It’s well enough to talk of poor and peers,And munch the golden apples’ shiny core,And lay a lot of heroes on their biers;-While the great Alec, knocking down a score,Takes out his handkerchief, boohoo-ing, “More!”-But harshly I awaken from my dream,To find a new,-er,-privilege,-in store:How shall I manage to compose a theme? After I’ve swallowed prophecies of seers,And trailed Aeneas from the Trojan shore,Learned how Achilles, after many jeers,On piggy Agamemnon got to sore,And heard how Hercules, Esq., toreAround, and swept and dusted with a stream,There’s one last duty,-let’s not call it bore,-How shall I manage to compose a theme?EnvoiOf what avail is all my mighty lore?I beat my breast, I tear my hair, I scream:“Behold, I have a Herculean chore.How shall I manage to compose a theme?” ee cummings


  3. The problem is thinking about what needs to be done instead of just doing… I am totally kidding you. You, the multi tasker who is only satisfied if she is a minimum of three things at once. I think you will find the time to get everything done.


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