Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Fragments

--It's been a good week, but I haven't slept as well as I do some weeks.  My spouse has been watching the Democratic National Convention, which has interrupted the early parts of my sleep, as I would wake to vigorous cheers and such.

--I did not stay awake to watch Hillary Clinton's speech, but I woke up occasionally.  I liked her approach, the we are in this together, and we can be brave, and we will do this.  Well done!

--I had tea with one of my writer colleague friends yesterday.  She asked if I was sending out my memoir to agents or publishers.  We agreed that August isn't the best time to do this.  So I'll wait until after Labor Day.  

--This week, I did come up with a pivotal plot point for the short story I'm writing, one of 3 that I'm carrying in my head.  Hurrah.

--On Wednesday, the head of Culinary brought student-baked biscotti to our meeting.  They were fabulous, with hazelnuts.  Oddly, no one else wanted any, so I had biscotti on Wednesday and biscotti yesterday.  It took me back to the mid 90's, when I was doing a lot with low-fat cooking to try to control my weight.  I would make biscotti because they were so tasty and so low in fat--but what a chore, with the slicing and the extra baking. 

--Still, maybe I'll make some biscotti this week-end, just for old-time's sake.  I wonder if I still have those recipes; there's probably one in the Moosewood cookbook that was dedicated to low-fat cooking.

--I had a great walk to the beach with a neighborhood friend yesterday.  What a treat to walk and talk.

--Our campus pastor from decades ago was in town and dropped by to see my spouse.  It was a great visit for him.  It's amazing to think that those relationships formed long ago are still strong.

--We have set up our various online energy meters.  Yesterday our solar panels generated 26.7 kilowatt hours.  Sadly, we have been averaging a use of 40-45 kwh a day.  We do have room for more panels, but we will wait to see what our non-peak month energy use looks like.

--It's also interesting to see how our energy use has changed now that we have no one living in the backyard cottage.  We still have to run the air, and we've kept the fridge plugged in and running.  But I think that we're saving $40 by having the cottage vacant--no one taking showers or using the computer or cooking.

--I'm guessing that computers use far more electricity than I once thought.  But I know that the big energy hog is the AC.

--I have spent the week reading Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters.  It's a book that envisions an alternate history, one where the Civil War didn't happen, where 4 states (NC and SC are combined into Carolina) still have hard-core slavery--it's a slavery that looks a lot like the lives of 3rd world garment workers in our current history.  It's a great book, and I wish I had time to read it in one fell swoop.  Maybe this week-end . . .

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Job Hunting Process from the Other Side of the Desk

I've been part of many conversations about who gets the job and why.  Having just hired 8 adjunct faculty for our July start, I have some perspective on this subject.

A caveat:  my school doesn't use the kind of computer software that screens applications based on key words.  I get every application--and for this hiring season, I've actually looked at all of them.

But for two positions, I didn't really need applications, although I had them.  I wrote to people who had been in touch with me.  One had applied for a job I thought I would have last year, but then didn't.  She stayed in touch, writing to me every other month or so, just to see if I thought I might have other openings.  She wasn't annoying--she wrote just frequently enough to keep her name fresh in my mind, but not so often that I worried about her mental health.

Similarly, another candidate has been keeping in touch with me, and so when I needed a faculty member at the very last minute, I had his materials on file.

It's also a matter of luck and timing, of course.  I had specific classes that were already full of students--and happily, the people who had been staying in touch had those same openings in their schedules.  In the words of Jane Kenyon, it could have been otherwise.

As we were finishing the hiring process, one of the candidates thanked me for advice I had given him when he first moved down.  He had written to me, by e-mail, and I wrote back to say that while I didn't have any positions, that he should consider other schools, and then I suggested some possibilities.

He said, "You told me to cast my net wide.  I just loved how you said that."

I have no memory of that interchange, although I don't doubt that it happened.  It's what I would want someone to do for me, and so if I get an e-mail written to me directly, I will respond.  And if I get follow-up e-mails through the years, I will keep them in a file marked "Potential New Hires."

And perhaps, years later, an adjunct job will come from that interchange.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Our First Female Presidential Candidate--Democratic Party Edition

Let us mark this moment in history:  we have seen the Democratic party choose Hillary Clinton as their candidate.  She's been the presumptive nominee for some time, but now it's official.

It's been a long time coming.  When I cast my vote for Mondale and Ferraro back in 1984, back then, I thought we'd have a female candidate on the top of the ticket in no time.  I wouldn't have dreamed that it would take over 30 years.

It's been a remarkable time to be alive--casting votes for black presidents, casting votes as I expect to do for a female president, going to state-sanctioned marriages of same-sex couples, and yes, I know how much this list marks me as a liberal.  If wanting everyone to have the same rights and opportunities, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference--well then, yes, I'm a liberal.

But I'm one of those rare liberals, a liberal with conservative relatives and friends, with whom I've had serious conversations.  I understand how quickly these changes have come and how unsettling it is to so many people, especially to people who have not been working towards these changes, people who did not have these changes even on their radar screens.

I know that in times like these, the backlash can be unexpected and ferocious, taking shapes we wouldn't have forecast.  I will hope for the best, while also trying to defuse the potential flashpoints.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Summer Shifts

I have been feeling oddly sad, like summer is over, even though it's only late July.  I had a great 4 day week-end over the 4th of July, and then life got hectic, with Vacation Bible School and the start of Summer quarter and Summer classes at the two schools where I teach online.

Plus we've had tree removal and trimming and cottage repair, and the pool is a mess because of those activities.

I will likely remember this summer as the summer of the back spasms.  I've had back issues of varying degrees for much of the summer.

I am grateful that the pain diminishes throughout the day.  I am grateful that, except for one day's exception, when I reach the wrong way and my back seizes, it lets go fairly quickly.

Still, I have been finding it hard to find a comfortable way to sit at my desk in the morning--this cuts down on my fiction writing time, since it's hard to reach for the keyboard of my laptop.

I've been carrying some stories with me for weeks now, but it's too physically painful to write them.  I hope they're still waiting for me when I have both time and suppleness to reach them.

But all is not sadness and pain; last night reminded me that summer's joys are still with us.  One of our friends returned from a midwestern state with fresh veggies for us.  So, last night we had grilled corn, grilled green beans, and a cucumber tomato salad to go with our steak--and the steak was not the high point of the meal.

Let me be on the lookout for ways to enjoy the bounties of summer--there is still time!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Changes in the Life of a College English Teacher

I teach online at 2 schools; at one of them, we receive the course shell with all the assignments already created.  We have no curriculum creation to do.

If I was 20 years younger, this would be a problem for me.  I would want to create the class from scratch.

Now that I am older, I am grateful for someone else having already done much of the work.  Plus, it's interesting to see what other people create.

Recently the English Composition class was completely revamped.  Now, in addition to traditional papers, students have the option to create a Powerpoint and a shorter essay.  They have a choice of topics, one of which could lead to more creative writing (write a paper from the perspective of an inanimate object).

I have just graded their first papers, and they were much better than the old assignment, which had students argue for a change in a law.  Those papers were perfectly fine, but they were fairly standard.

This new assignment led students to interesting places and interesting insights about the power of objects in our lives.  I realize that they seemed fresh because I haven't spent several years reading about the importance of the cell phone.  In two years, these topics may weary me as much as the old one had begun to.

But for now, it's interesting to see the new course--and to think about how much has changed.  Allow them to do a Powerpoint with a shorter paper?  I remember a time when people would have thought of that as taking short cuts or doing things in the classroom because we didn't want to be strict and enforce the rules.  I have had many colleagues who would have been horrified at the idea of people writing from the perspective of a chair or a cell phone.

And yet, it works.  One thing that many of my colleagues lose sight of:  we are not training future English graduate students.  Most of our students, in most of our colleges, are going to have to do very little traditional writing.

But they will have to think in new ways, ways we can't even formulate yet.  They will have to be creative.

Another marker that life has changed:  the newest MLA guidelines for documentation.  My colleagues at my onground school have been discussing this for the past 6 weeks.  Once, the MLA was firm and strict about the way that documentation must be done.  Now, it's much more friendly.

We've seen significant changes in the 27 years since I began teaching.  What will the next 27 years bring?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday: "Morning in America: 1984"

Yesterday I wrote a post on my theology blog about Tim Kaine's social justice formation in Honduras took me back to my own social justice formation days in college.  After one argument about the USSSR, my father said, "Have you ever read The Communist Manifesto?  You should read it and find out what the Soviets really have in mind."

And so I did.  I bought my very own copy which felt very transgressive and radical.  The content of that book, however, did not seem so very radical.  And it didn't have a blueprint for the Soviet takeover of the world.

In those days, my father and I could not have foreseen the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union.  We also would not have forecast that a later political candidate, Donald Trump, would have so many connections to the current leader of Russia.

Decades later, I wrote a poem about those days.  It first appeared in The Julia Mango and in my chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents:

Morning in America: 1984

I read The Communist Manifesto on the DC Metro,
surrounded by commuters going to their downtown jobs
and tourists in town to see their government in action.

I wear sensible shoes and my hair in a braid.
I work in a tough part of town, that summer
that DC has the nation’s highest murder rate.

That season is also the one when the social
service agency runs out of resources. My summer job:
to answer the phone, to tell the downtrodden there is no money.

Between calls, I return to Marx. I picture
him, prowling the streets of Europe, winding up in the British
Museum, where he could write and stay warm.

I write my own poems. I imagine they will change
the world, that all I must do to rid the planet of injustice
is to point out the inequities, nothing to lose but our chains.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Fear and Loathing at the Republican National Convention

I am no Hunter S. Thompson, nor was meant to be.

I have found myself being increasingly cautious writing about politics, on this blog and on other social media.  In part, it's because I don't want to attract the vitriol that any political post might pull to me.  But in part, it's because I'm not as passionate about politics in general as I used to be.  There are aspects of politics that I am happy to discuss for hours--but I'm not willing to fight with people.

The older I get, the more I see the wisdom of my grandparents' generations who taught us not to talk about politics, religion, or money at the dinner table--or worse, with people you don't really know.

But I also want to record some of the events of history and my reactions to them.  So if you scroll back through this blog, you'll see me react here and there.  Thus, I want to record my reactions to the RNC this past week.

I didn't watch it at all, but I heard clips every morning on NPR.  And driving home on Wednesday night, I listened to some of the speeches--and I felt a growing chill, particularly with the crowd chanting "Lock her up."  I felt a fear for my personal safety, not our collective safety--that mob mentality frightens me.

When I got home, my spouse and I discussed fear and past administrations.  My spouse said that he felt most afraid with Reagan as president.  I felt a fear for the future of civilization with Ronald Reagan--he was much too cavalier about nuclear weapons.

I felt a different kind of fear with the George W. Bush administration.  As I checked out library books or made purchases, I thought about the legislation (primarily the USA Patriot act) that would allow government agencies to know what I was reading and buying.  It seems quaint, now, doesn't it, to worry about privacy in this way?  I am not as worried now, although I imagine that many agencies can get much more information about me.  I assume that anyone who goes searching will be overwhelmed by information.

Or maybe I'm less afraid now because I realize how boring I am.  I check armloads of cookbooks out of the library--and not the Anarchist Cookbook variety.  I am writing about activists much like myself:  once inspired to change the world, now in our 50's, worn out because of these attempts to make lasting social change.

During the Clinton years, when I first began to see glimmers of the new face of terrorism, I didn't feel fear, not the way I feel these days for my personal safety, should Trump be elected or should I ever be foolish enough to go to a Trump rally.  But I did sense the passing of an American age; I remember going to see Apollo 13 and thinking about how we were no longer space pioneers and feeling sad.

But I don't want my political leaders to believe that the U.S. should pull back from its leadership role across the globe.  I don't want my political leaders to believe that we can ignore an attack on a NATO country.  I am deeply uncomfortable with the Trump leadership's Russia connections.

How life cycles around in ironic ways.  My dad and I used to argue about the USSR during the Reagan era.  My dad, who had deeper wisdom, some of it classified, than I did argued that we couldn't trust the USSR.  I admired that Communist ideal of providing for all citizens.  I said, "They may not have freedom of religion but at least they are free from hunger."  There were plenty of hungry citizens in the USSR, but I didn't know that then.

My politics are much more nuanced now.  I am so glad that I don't have a snotty college kid to annoy me the way I must have annoyed the adults in my life when I was at my most idealistic.

I will be interested to see how the Democratic National Convention will proceed next week.  I like that both Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine have done social justice work.  I hope the tone of next week's politics will call us to our better selves.  This week's politics made me want to renew my passport and flee.