I twisted my ankle yesterday morning, so I'm laid-up today. I can barely walk. If I don't feel better by tomorrow, I'll head to the doctor. In the meantime, I can't do any of my chores or errands (darn!). I'm pretty much forced to sit here with my feet up and write this thing. As you can see, it's been a while since I wrote--life got in the way again--so it's probably a good thing thing to be forced to get back to it.
Thinking about being forced to do things, I'm reminded of what Charlie said about everybody needing a boogyman. I almost said "what Charlie always said," when in fact he only said it once in my hearing, but the principle was so much a part of our work together. He "made" me work so hard, harder than I would have ever worked on my own initiative--and of course, I could have quit any time I liked. That he made me do things was a fiction the two of us maintained, and a useful one. It's weird, I'd always thought that once I grew up and didn't have to listen to my parents anymore, I'd be free to do whatever I wanted, but somehow I needed Charlie to tell me to do things I wanted to do, or else I couldn't have done them. It's still like that; I write paid articles because my editor makes me, or because my wife needs me to make my share of the rent. Then I quit writing at the end of the day because my wife makes me socialize. Now you, my readers, are making me write this, or the others who wear the green ring are making me do this, maybe even Charlie is making me write this. I sound like such a total wimp.
And yet, if no one cared what I did...an oak tree grows tall because of the shade and constraint of surrounding trees. Its stature is a reaction to gravity and to its hunger for the sun. The tree's strength is in reaction to the challenge of wind, and its biochemical personality is a fight against caterpillars and galls. Things take on shape and identity because context pushes them to do it, a pushing that is at once constraining and receiving. I never thought about this when I was a novice, as we called the undergraduates (the few graduate students were "candidates"). I was nineteen, and as much as I thought of myself as an independent adult, I was still used to obeying teachers and parents. There is a lot I didn't think to question that I need to think about now.
Speaking of being made to do things, I think it was around this time of year that I finally got all the trees on campus labeled. I went to tell Charlie, but he complained that about thirty trees were not labeled. I could have sworn I'd done them, but I went ahead and did them again. Then another group of trees turned up unlabeled. The third time it happened, I grew suspicious, and accused Charlie of removing the labels. I expected him to either get offended by the accusation or laugh at me for catching him, but instead he treated me like a schoolboy making excuses.
"I don't care why the trees got unlabeled," he growled, "you've got to get them labeled and keep them that way! When I inspect them in the evening, I want to see every tree labeled!" I was about to object that I couldn't possibly make sure they were all labeled if he was unlabeling them during the inspection, when I remembered that Charlie usually looked over the campus in the early morning. That he'd said he'd inspect in the evening was odd. Charlie rarely talked, and when he did talk he was usually very deliberate about what he said. I realized that he was unlabeling the trees in the morning and inspecting in the evening, meaning that I now had to check every tree on campus for its label every day. I would be done when and if Charlie decided to stop unlabeling more trees than I could label in one day. Before walking away, Charlie told me that when I relabeled a tree, I should not just replace the label but go over in my mind the identifying features of the tree. He suggested I greet each tree by name.
Yes, I was angry with him. I think I complained loudly behind his back. I never complained to Charlie; he was doing what I'd asked him to do. By the time he let me finally stop in mid-September, I knew every single tree on campus individually. There were hundreds of them. I knew them better than I knew my fellow students.