What sparks a light in you?


I just finished a busy, productive quarter teaching two classes of great students.

And as usual, faced with the dreaded end-of-quarter grading deluge, I decided to forgo mindfulness, gentle self-care, and a reasonable schedule in favor of going full-out Old Testament style in my stress—gnashing of teeth, rending of garments (well, okay, I put my thumb through the side seam of one aging pair of underpants), and offering of burnt sacrifices on the altar of academe (okay, it was one Trader Joe’s frozen scallion pancake burnt beyond recognition in the toaster oven).

Anyway, my grading frenzy sucked, and I had come down with a cold by the end of it. But I made it through, as I have at the end of each term I have taught since I began teaching as an M.A. student 23 years ago.

When at last I cleared away the accumulated Diet Coke cans and looked up from my grading screen (I have long since traded old school piles of papers for the speed grader rubrics in my course management software), I was exhausted. It was then that I happened to rediscover an Internet meme that I had found a while ago and forgotten:

You often feel tired, not because you have done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.

Well, yeah. Grading most definitely does not spark a light in me. It is a necessary evil rather than a satisfying part of my career as a professor.

This naturally led me to thinking about what does spark a light in me.

Cuddling my cats. Spending time with Glenn. Visiting family. Having coffee or lunch with  friends. Cooking with my mom. Making pizza and playing “death match” (Rummikub) with my BFF, niece, and nephew on Friday nights. Reading novels. Being by the ocean in Maine. Good quality chocolate. Cheering for my Red Sox. Purple t-shirts with feisty feminist sayings printed on them.

And a lot of my professional work sparks a light as well—designing course syllabi and lesson plans for a new or revised course. Reading journal articles and scholarly books, particularly those on innovative qualitative methodology (nerd alert!). Writing. Attending conferences. That feeling you have after a class session has gone really well, with students highly engaged and seeming to really grasp challenging concepts.

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, and its odd array of items reflects my particular quirkiness. Your lists would include different things, maybe hiking or football or gardening or computer games or dog walking.

I love knowing that each of my loved ones—and all acquaintances, neighbors, and strangers—have their own unique lists of what sparks a light in each of them. It takes all kinds to make a world, and it takes the tremendous variety of what sparks each of us to make and sustain a good world.

What sparks a light in you? How can we spend more time doing sparky stuff and less time doing things that don’t spark our lights or even extinguish our sparks?

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