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Archive for the ‘Labour Day’ Category

A meaningless Labour Day is still strange to me. For years, as a student and English instructor, it marked the start of a new school year, or at least of a new semester. Then, when I worked in an office, it marked the end of casual summer wear and a return to seriousness – suddenly, all the promises to do something in the Fall came due. But now, working from home with an unvarying workload, it means very little except some quiet mornings when I go for my morning run. I didn’t even take a full day off, although I worked lightly, and got caught up on a few housekeeping chores such as sending out invoices.

It didn’t use to be like that. When I was growing up, Labour Day always came with a sense of disruption as much as regret. I always felt that I caught a rhythm in the summer holidays, filling my days with par three golf and bicycle riding, and that I was on the verge of some mental breakthrough that would be lost forever when I returned to school.

Later, at university, Labour Day marked the end of my labour. Thanks to my father, I was lucky enough to have a well-paying summer job that, together with scholarships, would keep me funded through two semesters of study. I was grateful, knowing how scarce such jobs were, but the work was unrelievedly boring.

Mostly, it consisted of repetitive jobs, such as assembling roof racks for telephone repair trucks, or drilling half a dozen holes in each of thousands of stakes for some purpose I never learned. One summer, I did enjoy building crates for equipment, which required some independent judgement, but, even that year, I was grateful to flee back to the comfort of university. Although such work told me that I was not the total klutz I had learned to believe, growing up left-handed, it also convinced me that I wasn’t going to do manual labor when I was an adult, no matter how highly paid I might be.

Twelve years of high school followed by five at university is more than enough time for conditioning to set in. Yet, as important as Labour Day was in those years, it became even more important when I started working as a teaching assistant and university instructor. In both positions, I was hired by the semester, and, often, I would only hear about my teaching appointments a few days before I had to step into the class room. Once, I actually only heard on the evening of Labour Day. So, in this period of my life, the Labour Day weekend became for me, not one last chance to get away while the weather was still good, but the point when my immediate financial future was determined, and, if I was lucky, a sleepless frenzy of preparation.

At night on Labour Day, I would fall asleep tense with anticipation, wondering how my lessons would be received and what students might be in my classes. Would any of the students with whom I’d had a rapport in previous semesters be there? Any of the occasional troublemakers? Any mature students, who often did so much to raise the level of class discussion?

Since about half my teaching was composition (and, even at that, I was luckier than the average sessional instructor), I knew that many would be fresh out of high school. I knew, too, that many, including scholarship students, would be overwhelmed by the sudden independence of university and have much to learn before they could write a university essay. Some would be shocked, and probably cry. Some would learn to love the responsibility and blossom. Either way, I would be one of those trying to help them adjust, and I would lie awake wondering if I was up to the challenge.

Labour Day changed yet again when I left academia. In business offices, it was marked by a sudden outbursts of suits for the men and stockings and heels for the women. The same people who hung on my office door talking when I was trying to work would suddenly be full of brisk purpose, striding around with a determination that left me feeling jet-lagged.

Throughout these years, I always thought that Labour Day would make a better New Year’s Day than January 1. Unlike January 1, it was a day when people’s lives really did change. But this morning, running through the rain and noticing the long line ups for the bus and the near gridlock on the roads, the most interest I could mutter was a vague interest in what was occupying other minds. I returned home happily to bathe and sit down to the keyboard, thinking myself well out of the post-Labour Day grind.

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