Spring 2006

About "Do"


“So,” my father said, looking me straight in the eye, “what are you going to do?”

When I was a boy, he had never asked me that; at least I don’t remember him asking me that. Not wanting to do medicine, or do law, or fight fires, or arrest criminals, or even pump a little gas, I guess I’m glad he didn’t. It wasn’t until late adolescence that the question came up, and then I joined the Army, so that took care of it for a while.

But when I finished my enlistment, and sat down with my father, it came around again. I was a registered X-ray technician by then, something I was absolutely and irrefutably bored with. 

“I thought I would go up to the college,” I said. “Learn how to write stories,” which in itself, I guess, demonstrated the need for some semesters of thought.

His response was clear. He’d had the area hospitals in mind. “Well,” he said, mouth turning ever downward, “What-the-hell-you-gonna-do-with-THAT!”

Good question.

After almost 40 years of dealing with it in one way or another at WSU, I never have figured out a good answer.

Now, at the end of those years, it’s come around again. Last semester I typed the brief letter informing Margaret Dawe, my chairperson, that at the stop of the spring semester, I would be gone — finished — shuffling off — calling it quits — outta here. It was sort of a shock, writing that. Frightening, almost, but I managed.

Colleagues got the word. People began to smile. 

“So, what are you going to do? Go somewhere? Take up golf? Start a worm farm, heh-heh?”

I never was much on going somewhere, except when I could go somewhere and not come back. That doesn’t happen all that often. Golf? Following a misguided little white ball over acres of phenomenally unnatural turf doesn’t attract me (though I’ve heard that it can be enjoyable, as long as alcohol is involved). Worm farm? Well, maybe.

Then I was struck by remembering that I’d asked the question quite a few times myself. Probably every time one or another of my colleagues decided to make a run for it. I tried to remember what they said, but I couldn’t. Not a single one.

Maybe I should think of something dramatic, I thought, something everyone would remember. “Well, I plan on buying a 60-foot ketch, and spending a couple years on the Pacific.”

Stunned silence. Then, “Nah, you’re kidding. What are you REALLY going to do?”Maybe something less dramatic, but memorable.

“I’m going to build ivory-billed woodpecker houses. They’ve just been re-discovered, you know.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. Do they live around here?”

Maybe I just better stick to the traditional.

“Well, you know, those things I’ve been wanting to do that I haven’t had a chance to do. Kat wants me to re-do the bathroom.” (Come to think of it, I never did it in the first place.)

“Yeah, you’re lucky you can do that kind of thing. Keeps you active.”

Active? Keeps me active? For more years than I can remember, I’ve been driving to campus, walking 50 yards or so to a building, riding an elevator (well, I started climbing the stairs last year, just to see if I still knew how) to my office, riding it back down to a classroom, teaching a class, riding the elevator back up to hold office hours, sitting, reading mail and e-mail, sitting, going over various student forms and records, sitting, advising students, riding the elevator back down, walking to my car, sitting, driving home. Active? My treadmill keeps me active; maybe I’ll say I’m going to do that. I guess not.

How about think? Dare I? “I’m going to do some thinking.”

“About what?”

Well — there’s always that risk. 

That, and the fact that when you’re thinking, it’s difficult for others to differentiate between what you’re doing and the act of sleeping; and, of course, there are expectations regarding the results of thought, as in “getting one’s thoughts down.”

Nah, been doing that for too long already.

Finally, I suppose I could just say, “I’m going to retire.”

As in withdraw, go away to a private, sheltered, secluded place (although I guess that convents are out of the question), retreat from danger, action, or battle (department meetings), move back and away, or seeming to, from active service or public life, especially because of advanced age (Oh, Mr. Schneider, you remind me of my grandfather!), disappear, depart gradually (as does memory), or go to bed.

I like that last one, but Kat says that I have to do the bathroom first.