Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Secret to a Long Life

Yesterday was my last Monday at my old job.  Today will be my last Tuesday.  In short, this is my last week at the workplace where I've gone each week since 2002.  It's a strange feeling.  I've only ever left a job this way once, and that was to move to a different state, several states away.

When I left that job, back in 1998, there wasn't as much prep work--I was in charge of my own English classes, and I left at the end of a semester, so I didn't need to worry about those classes.  I didn't have my own work computer, so there weren't computer files to clean up.  I packed my books and other possessions, and I was done.

This week, and the several before it, I have been sorting through both computer files and paper files.  The paper files are easiest, in many ways.  Will the next person in my office need the instructions for how to make the phones work?  My handwritten notes on each RIF?  Old assessment materials which eventually are transformed into Institutional Effectiveness reports?

The computer files are harder.  I inherited the hard drive of my predecessor.  At first, I thought that every file should be saved, but then as I looked through them, I realized that they wouldn't be important.  For most of the files, I couldn't even tell you why they were kept, what initiative they addressed.

I do have syllabi for most General Education classes going back to 1999.  I saved them.  I rarely consult them, but they're good to have.

Even my own files, from a far more recent time, hardly seem worth keeping.  Will we need the ACICS files?  Will that accrediting agency even exist in the U.S. after their appeal is decided?

I am also writing up some of the processes I follow:  how to report the Math grades (don't even ask--it truly is complicated), how to analyze transfer credits from other schools, and so on.  I've thought of the times I have asked my students to write a process essay, the hardest kind to write, I think.

I'm remembering the easiest $50 I ever made, back in grad school days.  I sat in front of a computer to test the user's manual.  I was to follow the directions exactly.  I couldn't proceed because the directions didn't tell me to turn on the computer.  One minute of my time, $50 in my pocket.

I'm doing other things too.  I changed our dentist appointments to happen this week, when I'm sure of our dental insurance.  I plan to vote early tomorrow, just to be sure.  I prefer to vote on the actual election day, but I will be in my second week at my new job, and I don't want to risk it--some years, we've had to wait in quite a line to vote. 

I'm also trying to enjoy a laid-back pace this week.  At my new job, we are gearing up for an accreditation visit from what we hope will be the new accrediting agency--my new school is not waiting for the results of the ACICS debacle to be final.  At my new school, the process is fast-tracked, which means I will hit the ground running.

It's a strange, bittersweet time.  It's easier to make a job move when one is leaving the state.  I'm not moving, but I do know how much more difficult it is to keep in touch when one is no longer in the workplace.

Still, it's time to go.  There's a Michelle Shocked song, "The Secret to a Long Life is Knowing When It's Time to Go," off of her wonderful Arkansas Traveler CD.  That's been playing in my head--and now it's time for my Tuesday walk with a friend to the beach. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Death of a Generational Icon

Tom Hayden has died.  Some part of me says, "Wait, he was only 23 years old, right?"

Hayden was one of those 60's activists frozen in time, at least for me.  When I was in college and a student activist, he was one of the names always held up to us.  Even now, in a conversation I had less than  year ago, one of my colleagues wondered why today's activists couldn't be more like Hayden and his compatriots.

In an undergrad Sociology class, we read The Port Huron Statement.  I remember being underwhelmed, but I can't remember why.  In my Sociology classes we looked very carefully at who accomplished what.  I remember being annoyed with white activists who wanted to claim all the successes of the Civil Rights Movement for themselves.  No doubt, they helped.  Nothing like white, suburban kids getting beaten up and killed to change some hearts and minds.  But there was a lack of discussion about the contributions of a hundred years of black activism that came before.

Now I wonder if some of it was not the fault of Hayden's compatriots.  We don't do a great job of teaching the history of social change in this country.

As I looked up information on Hayden's death, I came across the fact that he wrote 19 books, numerous articles/lectures/blog posts, and over 100 pieces of legislation in his post-student activist life.  But he admits, his image is always frozen back in those 60's days.

He talked about having contentment in his later years but that he would always miss the 60's.  I know some aging student activists who would agree.

But I would argue that it's better now.  The 60's might have been a great time to be a white male who took up activism, but others didn't fare as well.  I've met too many feminists who remember being silenced by those 60's student activist groups to see those 60's student movements as uncertain glory days.

I wouldn't want to go back to the 70's, the glory days of feminism either.  The world was much less safe then too.

We have many social changes yet to make, and I'm grateful to those, like Tom Hayden, who propelled us to the more egalitarian time we have now.  But I wouldn't want to go back.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mindfulness and the Chores

A tiny front has moved through, and now the weather is cooler.  Inside the house, it's 73 degrees, slightly cooler outside.

Several decades ago, I was a runner in South Carolina.  In the summer, I'd take a quick look at the morning weather stats, and I'd think twice about going for a run if the temp was higher than 73 degrees--happily, that was only a few summer mornings.

And now, both here and I suspect further north, our morning temps are rarely below 82 degrees throughout summer.

We're back to enjoying the front porch.  Last night, after I got back from the memorial service for our colleague who died in a diving accident, we took our wine and cheese to the front porch.  As the light darkened, we lit some candles.

It was a good way to unwind.  I've been surprised by how many people have been touched by my colleague's life and death.  One of my South Carolina friends wrote to me:  "I imagine if he'd been born in another century, he'd have been an explorer: sailed the world with Magellan, searched for spice routes to the East for one European crown or another.  Amazing to have someone so daring and intrepid right there in your midst." 

The main part of the memorial service consisted of a running slide show of pictures from various parts of our colleague's life--lots and lots of dive pictures.

A passion for diving does make for a better slide show that many lives would offer.  I picture my slide show:  here's Kristin at her computer wrestling with the last sentence of a short story.  Here she is with a purple legal pad--that's how we know she's working on poetry.

We've all been talking about living our best lives and about always being mindful that each day could be our last.  And yet, in many ways, we can't be mindful like that, minute by minute.  I think we can't always live in that moment of awareness that we need to be making the best of every hour on this earth--it's too intense, and then we'd do things like never clean the bathroom or load the dishwasher because who wants to be doing that, if any minute could be our last.

I'd like to read more self-help/mindfulness books that tell us what to do about our daily chores.  I know that there are books out there, some based on that classic Zen teaching:  "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."

Part of me thinks, I should write that book!  But I have plenty of other books to write. 

At some point in the last two weeks, I had been thinking about the idea of pastoral care, and the way that so many people seem to think that only pastors do pastoral care.  I thought, I should write a book that explores the idea of being a pastoral care person who works outside the church for those of us with different job titles that seem to have nothing to do with pastoral care--but it's the main focus of our days.

So many books to write, so little time remaining--let that be my bell that beckons me to mindfulness!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Snapshots from the Saddest Week

--Even as I type that title, I think about all the ways it could be sadder.  I wish I came from the kind of tradition that had some sort of ritual to ward away possible evil futures.

--And as I type that title, I think about the word snapshots and wonder how long it will be before no one understands what that word even means.

--Yesterday my dean told me that I should go down to see the shrine to our faculty member who died suddenly in a diving accident on Saturday.  There were indeed some amazing pictures.  But I was more overwhelmed by all the messages that students had written.  They've taped them to the huge glass wall at one end of the building.

--I stood before those messages and thought, yes, our lives do matter, even if we're teaching a subject, like Ancient and Medieval Civilizations, that may seem remote to students.

--I've had good conversations with friends all week.  I like to think I'd be doing this anyway, but the diving death has certainly reminded me of the fleeting nature of it all.

--The death of our colleague is not the only loss at our school this week.  We've also had another Reduction in Force.  And our new student number was even worse than we were expecting, so the outlook is not rosy.

--On Oct. 31, I will be starting a new job at a different school (more details to come).   I am excited about the new opportunities and challenges, but sad to leave too.  I've been at my current school since 2002, first as an English faculty member and then as an administrator.  I will miss many people.

--I also miss many people who are no longer there.  It's fascinating to think about how many changes I've seen.  When I started, I could dream up an idea for a writing class in one month and be teaching it the next quarter; those days are no longer.

--Today I will go to the memorial service for our colleague--a fitting end to a sad week.  It will be good to mourn our loss together, and to celebrate a life well lived.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Transgressive Transylvania

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show was being released as a full-length feature film in movie theatres.  Last night, I felt a thrill when I realized it was on TV, and I hadn't missed it yet. 

At first, it felt like being with old friends--but then I found myself missing the original.  But why?  I wasn't one of those suburban kids who spent every Saturday night acting out the film in a suburban movie theatre.  I only saw the movie a few times in college, and then again in my early 40's in an arty movie theatre.

Still, I missed the original versions of the music.  Laverne Cox's voice grated on my last nerve, and I wondered if she always talked like that, or if it was part of how she was playing the character.  Given the recent consciousness raising masquerading as a political campaign around sexual assault, I found some of the sexual stuff troubling:  the outsiders stripped to their underwear and later seduced/assaulted in their beds.  Did I not notice these elements when I was younger?  I did, but no one else seemed bothered, so I thought it was just me, being freaked out by what everyone else saw as OK.

Or more likely, we didn't talk about it back when I was in college--the transgressive elements would have been what we focused on:  men dressing in women's clothes!  Men in make-up!  Who's dancing with who and why do we care so much?

Now those elements don't seem quite as transgressive.

Last night, in one early scene, a tombstone was Mary Shelley's, and I saw the storyline in a different light last night.  Now it was less about sex, transgressive and otherwise, and more about how we care for others--the family-like structures we create, the strangers who appear at the door, the outsiders who don't fit in, the life we create.

Let me hasten to add that I'm not saying that this movie shows us the correct way to care for each other.  The characters fail miserably at that.  Last night, as I watched most of the characters being horribly mean to the newly created Rocky, as I watched Brad and Janet handled in all sorts of inhospitable ways, as one character was turned into dinner--that's what left me cold.

How much more transgressive this Transylvania would have been if any of these characters had truly cared about each other.  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Buddhist Pumpkins

It has been an exhausting week.  Last night I couldn't do much more after work than sit and stare at the TV.

Luckily, there was something to watch:  It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  The wonderful colors of this show made me want to sketch with my own colored markers, but I was too tired to do even that.

Charlie Brown's treatment made me sad.  Why does he get rock after rock?  Why did Lucy have to tell him that he was on the do-not-invite list for the Halloween party?

This week has reminded me that life is not fair.  Some days, you get a bag full of candy.  Other days, you get rock after rock.  I tried to focus on the fact that Charlie Brown does get to go trick-or-treating, and he does go to the party.

Of course, he might have preferred to be left out, given his treatment.  He might have preferred to keep Linus company in the pumpkin patch.  Maybe it would have been better to go to bed early.

Last night, as I locked up my office, I looked at the Halloween decorations, decorations that others have put out.  I had this despairing thought:  I've missed a lot of one of my favorite months.  We're closing in on the end of October, and I have yet to make any pumpkin bread.  I have some decorating that I haven't done, and likely won't.

But at the end, Linus reminded me that Halloween will come again.  Maybe next year the Great Pumpkin will visit us.

Events of this week--the awful diving death of my colleague who was only 53--remind me that we may not have next year.  Thus, my determination to return home to enjoy one of the delights of the season, with this TV show.

I am still trying to be mindful each and every hour, to savor my life in that way.  So far, I'm not doing a great job.  But I am good at tuning in periodically throughout the day.

Clearly I will never be a Zen Buddhist.  And the theology of Linus and the pumpkin patch worries me too:   I don't like the idea that the pumpkin patch must prove itself before the Great Pumpkin (God?) will arrive.  I don't like that Linus will spend the next year preparing to be even better, in hopes that the Great Pumpkin will grace us with his presence.

Is the Great Pumpkin male?  I can't remember.

The show does not give us a Lutheran pumpkin patch, where grace rules the day, where a Great Pumpkin would love us even before we've done a single thing to prove ourselves.

Let me focus on the kindnesses of the show:  Lucy puts Linus, worn out from his night of waiting, into bed.  She has collected some candy for him.  Even though various Peanuts kids aren't always understood or accepted, they aren't completely cast out.  Charlie Brown and Linus have a friendship that will help them survive being the outsiders of their groups.

Let me remember that I haven't missed the whole of the season.  I always say that my favorite corridor is the one from Oct. 1 to Christmas.  There's still time:  time to bake pumpkin bread, time to enjoy the decorating efforts of others, time to think about buying some candy for trick-or-treaters.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Most Wrenching Week

This week has been one of the most wrenching of my working life--and it's only Wednesday morning.  I haven't wanted to blog about it before word got out--but now the various news agencies are covering the story, so I'll talk about it too.

An adjunct faculty member in our department died in a diving accident on Saturday.  He was a skilled diver, with multiple certifications and advanced equipment, and he and his dive buddy were exploring an underwater cave, over 200 feet below the surface of the water.  He died doing what he loved, but the thought of that kind of death has kept me from advanced SCUBA certifications.

A side note:  when I first started blogging, I tried to protect identities.  In the above paragraph, I notice I am still doing that.  My colleague's name:  Patrick Peacock.

On Sunday, I talked to his spouse who also teaches in our department.  It was the most heartbreaking conversation that I ever expect to have as an administrator (although the minute I utter such words, I worry about tempting the gods).

Yesterday, I covered the two classes that both would have taught.  Some of the students wept; several of them have started a shrine.  Many of our students have strong artistic sensibilities, and it will be interesting to see what they create.

I returned home last night, exhausted to my very bones.  Part of it was teaching two classes in a day; it's been a long time since I did that in an on-ground setting.  But the larger part of it, of course, was the sadness surrounding the day.

In addition, we have had some job shifts--more on that development later--it doesn't feel right to blog about that now, until that news becomes more widely known.

In the last few days, my brain has returned to the very first time I ever met Patrick Peacock, during his job interview.  He talked about the dissertation he planned to write, a fascinating exploration of a subject that I can no longer remember, but I think it was about slavery as experienced during the Spanish conquest of North and South America.  He did a 15 minute teaching demonstration, and I knew that he would be a wonderful addition to our department.

I was right.  We have lost a wonderful teacher and colleague.