Dean Dad’s recent blog post about lunch on the lam struck a chord for me. I may not the need to get away for lunch every day, as he does, but I do recognize the need for a mid-day break. There was a time when I used to lunch with colleagues most days I was on campus. We went off campus, shared stories about our teaching or our families, then headed back in for a productive afternoon of work. Then we all got busier (was it just as the internet took off?) — and money got tighter, at least for me — and we started brown-bagging it and eating at our desks. It is sad to eat at your desk, though. It’s also not such a great practice if, like me, you keep your laptop open on the desk most of the time. While I have yet to do great damage to a laptop with crumbs or spilled drinks, I have certainly come close. Whenever I do I vow — again — to do something different at lunch time, to take a walk or eat with colleagues or just to find a different spot. Alas, I usually fall right back into my old patterns within just a few days.
This summer, though, I won’t have that problem. I’m teaching — for the second time — in a summer program in Oxford, and a big part of the program is the community we build by eating together. Since I travel with my family I don’t live in the college with most of my colleagues, so I’m not there for breakfast or for every dinner, but I do eat lunch in the college every teaching day, as well as joining my colleagues for several formal dinners each week. Lunch is not necessarily a highly social time, but I do welcome the chance to check in with my colleagues over a salad or sandwich. Sharing even a quick conversation — and, again, a break from the computer or the classroom — gives us all a chance to recharge, to face the afternoon refreshed.
When I’m in Oxford I remember Virginia Woolf’s dictum that “one cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” While in her day the women students suffered through bad meals and inferior accommodations, things are pretty pleasant for our mixed group. Meals range from good to very good, and the conversation occupies the same high ground. We seem to manage a nice balance — I’m an introvert, and too many communal meals can wear me out, but just when I’m feeling I need a break, the program magically arranges one and I get a day off. I never eat over my computer while I’m here.
I can’t quite imagine importing the Oxford experience back to the states. We don’t live with our students, so we dine with them only rarely — and certainly never formally or with wine. We rush through our lunches or sometimes simply teach through them — this coming fall, for example, I’ve got a teaching schedule that will require me to lunch at either 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. Still, the brief summer experience feels civilizing; I’m hoping at least some of it stays with me on my return.