Friday, August 12, 2016

Slow Week the Last: Conclusion: Collaboration and Thinking Together

For our final week of discussion, in the Conclusion, the authors reflect on their own collaboration in writing the book, which they describe as putting Slow principles into practice, as well as the various merits of "thinking together." Fundamentally, inspired discussion and supportive collaboration builds and is built on trust. 

Since the co-authors had known each other for a long time, "we were more patient with each other and more compassionate when life events or work pressure intervened in a deadline. Recognizing that the understanding and care that we extended to each other brought out the best in us has made us more compassionate towards our students" (88).  They sandwich in that sentence the idea that this support, rather than some kind of organizational cure-all or fire-rimmed deadlines, brings out the best in themselves and each other.  (Something in me instinctively bristles at this, as if "the best in us" is made by more exacting standards rather than loving support -- and I'm not sure I like what I'm discovering about myself.)

This is the conclusion, after all, and so there's only time for one more definitional clarification: "Slow philosophy overall should not be interpreted, Petrini reminds us, as "the contrast . . . between slowness and speed -- slow versus fast -- but rather between attention and distraction; slowness, in fact, is not so much a question of duration as of an ability to distinguish and evaluate, with the propensity to cultivate pleasure, knowledge, and quality" . . . Slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of the corporatization of higher education" (89-90).

So in the face of the fast currents coming at him or her, the Slow Professor aims to not get caught up in it and instead think deeply and purposefully.

This is our last week and so is a great time for summing up.  What have you gotten out of this reading and discussion?  Can you imagine going about your professorial life differently -- with a more conscious consideration of Slow principles?  How can you make time for timeless time?  What ideas do you have for teaching more Slow-ly?  How can a consideration of Slow principles help to nurture your research and scholarship?  How can you engage in building the kind of trust in your department or academic circle that will nurture your intellect and emotions?  How can you work to champion work-life balance for you and your colleagues? 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Slow Week 6: Collegiality and Community

While the last two chapters focused on teaching and then research, this week's chapter focuses not on service, but on collegiality.  Berg and Seeber begin the chapter by focusing on the necessity for academics, as professionals in one of the helping professions (to be jarred by this distinction is, I think, a feminist issue), to see "psychological wellness" as a "ethical imperative."  One kind of self-care is social support and this means that there is an ethical imperative to have positive emotions in the workplace in order to do our work well.  By contrast, in the corporate university social support is not there because people are too busy and people instead have negative emotions because of loneliness and isolation.  (Yes, Yes, Yes!!!)

They go on then to describe how isolating and rude a space the corporate university can be with people texting at meetings and instead explain that we need to be able to vent, understanding that venting isn't whining (especially with colleagues, I've found, since they can come up with interesting ideas), and that we really need emotional connection and support.  

And so if you really identified with all that, and you're hanging on by your fingernails trying to figure out what on earth you can do, Berg and Seeber tell you that the conventional advice about making more opportunities for community through creating series and events is wrong. These kinds of events can just be an additional onerous obligation when the point is to create more positive emotions and community. 

I'm skipping some pages in this synopsis because I felt a little bit that Berg and Seeber were long on explanation and short on help, resistance, or solace.  For example -- and I am not claiming here to be a representative reader -- I am super-sensitive and anxiety-ridden -- but the knowledge that social support has a powerful effect on health just gives me another thing that I can't control to worry about, another stressor, another reason to be frustrated at my job, further harming my health.  I don't think the Slow way is to leave us all depressed about the state of things.  Slow Food is premised on countering the dehumanizing and homogenizing qualities of Fast Food by embracing, savoring, and anticipating flavor!  I wanted Berg and Seeber to come up with some resistance, something we can embrace with gusto here, so I was disappointed to learn that Berg and Seeber weren't going to include practical advice in this chapter because an individual is not in charge of his/her community and because useful advice to promote community is hard to give.  Isn't there something we can embrace here? 

Luckily, the "themes for reflection" are actually really good.  One took me right back to my grad program and this wonderful, alas unbloggable, aspect of my grad school life that allowed me to really feel part of things in a weird way and to have different connections to people.  I had tons of pleasurable emotions from that.  I miss it terribly.  Definitely ask yourself what you miss.  That brought up other things, like intellectual engagement, which is why I usually think a speaker's series is a good idea.  I can see why it could be a nightmare and feel mandatory by the tenure-track.  Maybe I want a reading group -- where we're all just reading something that none of us has written and discussing ideas (hopefully without trying to one-up each other, as sometimes happens).

One thing that I've been trying to do is champion people's work-life balance and telling them not to apologize when they have family obligations or plans in the summer.  But the discussion of collegiality and community is weird right now because my department is now in major upheaval.  We're trying to figure out what to do and move forward, considering the changes that are happening.  We need to come together.  But at the same time I personally really need to be away.  And I feel bad about that. 

What were your thoughts about this chapter?  Do you have a safe space and supportive community to vent (rather than whine)?  What do you miss?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Slow Week 5: Research and Understanding

This week's reading hits me where I work, because I work at a very corporate university where other values -- slow values, academic values -- are eclipsed.  So the best thing I can do for myself is put in a very visible place as a constant reminder the following:  "Slowing down is a matter of ethical import" (58).

I need to put this to make an everyday mantra because I know I've said, in an admiring way, "s/he's a machine."  (Probably not often, but enough times for me to know I don't want to say that anymore, that none of us should be machines, and if someone feels so driven that they have to produce in a machine-like manner, we should probably find out what's wrong.  None of us should aspire to be as productive as a machine. To me, this really shows us an everyday example of what societal values actually are.)

And to support us, this chapter offers us the following:

Slow opens up ways of thinking about research that challenge the corporate ethos. Using the language of Slow connects us to a larger political and social movement.. . .Knowing that there is a global movement for slowing down can fuel us, and this is important because challenging the dominant model of research is quite difficult; going against the grain usually is not easy.  Slowing down is about asserting the importance of contemplation, connectedness, fruition, and complexity. . .(57)

There is more to this chapter -- a discussion of the ethics of time for self and other, the concern that the instrumentalist approach deflects critical inquiry into its own process as well as feminism, a focus on language, and specifics suggestions for us to try.  I have to admit I had a long day and not enough time to read and think about this chapter, so I'm going to leave it here and come back later.

What do you think of this chapter and its points?  What kind of language do you use to describe someone's accomplishments?  Are there ways you could advocate for a Slow-er take on research? 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Slow Week 4: Pedagogy and Pleasure

This chapter champions pleasure as important to teaching and learning.

It seems obvious that when one teaches well, one enjoys it, but perhaps the reverse is actually more accurate:  that when one enjoys teaching, one does it well . . . it may be the case that pleasure -- experienced by the instructor and the students -- is the most important predictor of "learning outcomes." (34)

Pleasure here is discussed as a positive and embodied emotion that affects our thinking in important ways, arguing against online coursework on the ground that it is not as effective as face-to-face interaction where emotions are infectiousThe authors here quote Picard et al: 

"a slight positive mood does not just make you feel a little better but also induces a different kind of thinking, characterised by a tendency toward greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving, as well as more efficiency and thoroughness in decision making." (37)

Who doesn't want to gain greater creativity and flexibility in problem solving?  Who doesn't want students engaging in more creative and flexible thinking in the classroom?  The answer is to "work at having positive emotions" in order to counteract the brain's instinctive negativity bias with several suggestions, the most succinct of which is probably we need to "stop abusing ourselves with overwork" (40).  The other suggestions were varied:  remember to make a transition to class; "hold the space" in silence before beginning class; remember to breathe; don't be afraid to laugh and make students laugh; listen and pay attention to students; giving students specific boundaries in the syllabus or course guidelines about social media (one lesson I took from the "intercepting" section); "'reduc[e] one's attention to time may therefore be an important, yet previously overlooked, means of promoting flow'" (as quoted from Conti, 50), (the other lesson I took from the "intercepting" section; prepare classes in brief enjoyable sessions; think about preparing one's class as a story as well as use stories to make the lessons more engaging; prepare assignments that are "useful and enjoyable for the students themselves" (50).

What is the most difficult part of teaching for you?  How could you make teaching, preparing for teaching, and/or grading more pleasurable?  Are there boundaries you could set that would help make teaching more pleasurable?  What concrete steps could we take to "stop abusing ourselves with overwork"?  What gets in the way of really listening and attending to students?  Is there a way to introduce "timeless time" into the classroom without getting hopelessly behind?  What does thinking about your course as a story do for you?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Slow Week 3: Time Management and Timelessness

I love the movement of this chapter.  It starts with the startling assertions that more faculty report the feeling that they can't get everything done no matter how hard they work than CEOs.  More faculty feel physically or emotionally exhausted at the end of the day than CEOs.

A key quote to me (among many -- I have 4-1/2 pages of notes, mostly quotes I wanted to spend more time with):

The fact that we need to give ourselves permission to eat, bathe, and pay bills reflects our loss of balance in the current university climate. The time crunch is not just a personal issue. It is detrimental to intellectual work, interfering with our ability to think critically and creatively. (17)

Berg and Seeber do a great job of going through some representative academic self-help literature and calling out some of the key assumptions behind their time management advice.  (One that I had read was Donald Hall's Academic Self, but though I had admired the way he called for academics to have credos or purpose statements, his time management never worked for me.)  Berg and Seeber ask "Is academic time really as 'subdividable, regular, and predictable' as Hall posits?" (24) (to which I want to scream no way.  Not only is academic time not regular and predictable, but I am not regular or predictable!  And these relentless time management systems seem to assume people are not moody or emotional or that their days are more regular than mine at least are.  If the point of the time management systems is to get intellectual work done, my moods and emotions are going to be relevant.  But I can't turn on a dime because it's 11:30 and a month ago I thought it would be a good idea if I'd work on my scholarship now.  Go!  But that's not Berg and Seeber's point here.)

It turns out that "[r]esearch show that periods of escape from time are actually essential to deep thought, creativity, and problem solving" (26).  We need timeless time or timelessness; this "flow" or "engrossment" not only makes us more effective at our intellectual work, it makes us happier.  "The major obstacle to creative and original thinking . . . is the stress of having too much to do" (28).  (Oh how well I know this.)

The following quote I'm pretty sure I need to see in front of my face on a regular basis:

We need, then, to protect a time and a place for timeless time, and to remind ourselves continually that this is not self-indulgent but rather crucial to intellectual work.  If we don't find timeless time, there is evidence that not only our work but our brains will suffer. (28)

I may put that one on my office door.  The rest of the chapter offers some concrete suggestions about how we can champion timeless time:

1. Get offline.
2. Do less.
3. Create/schedule (?) regular sessions of timeless time. (Berg and Seeber have five components here that are worth exploring.  Anyone?)
4. Give self regular timeouts.  (Kindness to self with radiate out to others.)
5. Change the way we talk about time all the time.

So what were your reactions to this chapters and its assertions about time management versus timelessness or timeless time?  Am I the only one who sees a relationship between timelessness and mindfulness and maybe even the current craze for meditation?  If you are, as I am, hooked already by Berg and Seeber's arguments, then how do people at your institution talk about or regard time and how could you resist that by proposing a counter-example?  How could you be a slow-er professor? What would each of Berg and Seeber's suggestions look like for you?  Is it worth it to try one suggestion out this week even?

What do you think, y'all?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Slow Week 2: the Introduction

The introduction to The Slow Professor argues that stress in academia exceeds stress in the general population (finally, some empirical studies to show what we live every day!) and that this stress has a lot to do with busyness, time pressure, and lack of work-life balance promoted by the corporatization of the university.  With corporatization and increasing managerialism (of particular relevance to me right now because academics at my institution are being restructured) comes the language of efficiency and crisis. 

While much of this may be familiar territory to those who've been paying attention to the many critical studies of the university (or just living in academia), what surprises me (but shouldn't) are assertions like these:  "individual professors' well-being has far-reaching effects.. . .It goes without saying that stress is bad for the individual and has direct consequences for society.  The harmful effects of stress our our well-being, health, and communities are widely documented and now generally acknowledged.  What is less evident is that addressing individual professors' stress has political and educational ramifications" (4) and "faculty stress directly affects student learning" (6).  Instead of asking "what is wrong with us?" that we seem to be struggling as academics within our institutional contexts, the authors ask, "what is wrong with the academic system?" that it creates conditions that we know are actually detrimental to our being effective as academics.  That these issues of stress and time crunch can be directly connected to some of our most significant work -- teaching -- is really important.  I know that I've felt very compromised as a teacher lately because last quarter as we were reading about how we need more time to deeply think about our actions and responsibilities, I was also completely behind in their grading and everything else, unable to role-model what I was talking about.  If I can't actually do what my class argues for in the context of my visible work life, how can I expect my students to take seriously what I'm advocating?  (What's more, at my institution, which is deeply entangled with the corporate model, I may be able to more effectively argue for better conditions by talking about the way it makes me an ineffective teacher and role model than by arguing for traditional academic values.  This is just an oddity of my institution, though.  It may be that others can do more with that argument.)

I love that Berg and Seeber assert that in response to "crisis!" and calls for efficiency, "Slow Professors act with purpose, taking the time for deliberation, reflection, and dialogue, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience, able, as Collini puts it, to hold our nerve" (11).  In the face of all the calls to rush to a decision (and I know I'm NOT the person I'm capable of being when I'm rushed, as suggested in the Rettig quote in the Preface), asking for time to consider something has seemed weak or ineffectual or just plain not possible.  My chair and I spoke about exactly this once, where zie affirmed that it was okay to say that I needed more time to make a decision.  But it still seemed weak in the face of my highly-corporatized institution and institutional culture (where even some of my best colleagues would rather just throw something together, put in place, and then improve it later, which drives me nuts because a bad decision can definitely be worse -- and more damaging -- than none at all); Berg and Seeber help me see this differently -- that asserting that I need more time to consider a decision can be seen as resistance.  What's more, I can also think of it as role-modeling to others that we should be taking more time to think deeply about our decisions.

While Berg and Seeber are both humanities scholars, they also assert that "[The humanities] are paradigmatic of the non-instrumental intellectual enquiry which we need to protect across disciplines. It is precisely this critical thinking that is at the heart of the university as a public good" (13).  This reminds me of the movie, Contact, and the pulling of funding for all pure research in favor of applied research.  So I can see the connection to the STEM disciplines here.  Though my strange context has made me wonder about the notion of a critical citizenry as a public good.  Obviously, while some critical thinking can be deployed to solve corporate problems, it doesn't necessarily seem helpful to corporate interests to have an informed and critical citizenry.  So the corporate university does not support the notion of critical citizenry as a public good.  (In fact, what I'm learning about neoliberalism is that it does not support notions of the public or common good.)  So I'm wondering whether the notion of a critical citizenry as a public good now sounds like a liberal (as in liberal versus conservative) notion.  I know that it's very difficult to argue, in my context, for these broad values; both students and faculty in other disciplines at my institution believe implicitly in the instrumentality of the education we provide and academic knowledge more broadly.  (Another, perhaps too harsh, way to say this is that my institution doesn't really believe in academic values.)

What are your thoughts about the introduction?  What does the culture of busyness, overwork, and efficiency look like at your institution?  (Perhaps sharing these will help us all to recognize the signs -- and opportunities for resistance -- at our own institutions.)  And I've been thinking a lot about this one:  how can we decolonize our own heads of this thinking (that what's wrong is us rather than this efficiency and overwork culture) so that we can change our own habits, self-talk, and interactions with others so we can be people and academics we're capable of being?

Please don't feel constrained by my questions or opinions!  Take the comments in any direction you like.  I look forward to it!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Discussing the Slow Professor: Week 1: Introductions and Preface

Welcome!  I am delighted to host a discussion of Maggie Berg and Barbara K. Seeber's The Slow Professor:  Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy.  Please join us for a thoughtful discussion about its principles and how we can apply them to our own academic and other work lives.  In keeping with the book title and focus (and to keep me from swallowing the book whole), we're deliberately reading slowly in order to savor each morsel and really digest its lessons, so we'll read one chapter per week and discuss it (which should allow even those who are on challenging reading schedules to weigh in). 

Here's the breakdown by week:

Week 1 7/1-7/7:  Introduce ourselves and read/comment on the Preface.

Week 2 7/8-7/14:  Discuss Introduction (pp.1-15)

Week 3 7/15-7/21:  Discuss Ch. 1:  Time Management and Timelessness (pp.16-32)

Week 4 7/22-7/28:  Discuss Ch. 2:  Pedagogy and Pleasure (pp. 33-51)

Week 5 7/29-8/4:  Discuss Ch. 3:  Research and Understanding (pp.52-70)

Week 6 8/5-8/11:  Discuss Ch. 4:  Collegiality and Community (pp. 71-84)

Week 7 8/12-8/18:  Discuss Conclusion:  Collaboration and Thinking Together (pp. 85-89)

At the beginning of each of our weeks, I will put together a (hopefully) thoughtful prompt about what we read and then we'll use the comments to discuss the text (whether your comment follows my prompt or not). 

I would ask that everyone play nicely and engage in collegial, productive discussion.  Most of us probably have strong feelings about academic life as well as the culture of crisis and efficiency that is encroaching on, or come to dominate, our work lives (for good or ill); we just need to remember to keep from turning our strong emotions on each other.  If you hate the book or someone one's comments, please just critique thoughtfully.

For this first week, please introduce yourself, your institutional background (if you wish), and what you're hoping to get from this discussion.  Once you've read the Preface, please feel free to comment on that as well.  (Also, if you're like many people with busy summer plans that have you busier some weeks than others, please feel free to join the discussion even if you can't be here each week.  I realize that in starting today many US citizens are just about to start long weekends, which may or may not be perfect for getting some reading done.  No worries:  join us when you can!)


Friday, June 24, 2016

Coming Soon: Discussion of The Slow Professor

(Ohmigod, ohmigod ohmigod.  I am done!  Let the summer begin!  It's about time!!!)

Coming soon to this blogspot is a discussion of The Slow Professor.  We'll be taking it slowly, reading a chapter a week and mulling it over, discussing it.  I'm excited because I must figure out a different way to approach my job for everyone's health and sanity, and I long to discuss it with others!  Here's a piece from NPR about the book that explains why you should join the discussion!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Telegrams from Land of Overworked Overwhelm

Have gotten to impossible part of quarter.  STOP.  All research goals on hiatus for duration. STOP.  So much grading.  Please make it STOP.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Anyone Want to Discuss The Slow Professor?

So TLQ is back, so I'm doing that work over there.  But probably many of you have seen this report on NPR about the new book, The Slow Professor.  It not only critiques the corporate university's emphasis on speed and efficiency, but uses Slow Food principles to advocate another way.  With my love of slow food principles, I just had to get the book.  I savored the first chapter and am reading the second.  But I can already see how wonderful it would be to discuss the book with others.  Anyone want to discuss this in a sort of book group way?  I could host here or we could develop a new blogspace so everyone interested could have blogging privileges.  I've also asked if people on TLQ are interested as well.  Leave a comment here or email me at if you're interested.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Weekly and Secondary Field Check-In

So Top Left Quadrant is starting up again next week.  Thank goodness.  (I hate the quarter system.)  It'll go from next week until August.  I'll have to create session goals, as usual, which will be weird because the first five or so weeks will be during teaching and craziness, then starting in July, I'll have some time off.  Woohooo!  I can't wait!  I really want to get some serious work done on Secondary Field Project!  So let me think of that for a few minutes.

Secondary Field Project

So what's become clear since I made my ambitious goals is that some of them are easier to meet than others. Writing 3x a week is going okay.  Some very busy weeks it does not get done, but mostly I can squish it between this and that, either in the morning or on the weekends.  What I haven't been able to do is to make sure that the freewriting is actually leading to the monthly goal of 2Y.  This actually has always been a problem.  Freewriting is great.  I can do that all day long.  (I wish I could do that all day long.)  But then when it comes to pulling that writing out of my notebook and seeing which pieces really have potential to be further thought about and developed -- I'm not getting that done.  I actually think I have to wait until Summer for that, which helps me think about those Summer goals.  In Summer, I want to continue the writing, but also go back and review what freewriting has potential.  So each work day, I will need to start off by writing and then go back into my older writing and see what has potential and can be revised.  I'd like to have a big chunk of Y by the end of the Summer.  One TLQ-er mentioned figuring out what's worth doing this Summer by imagining sitting down with tea on the first day of Fall and feeling satisfied with one's Summer work.  Now, what would cause that satisfied feeling?  I think what I want is that by the end of Summer, I have the writing -- the Y writing and the writing with promise that can be worked on -- printed out and all together in a folder.  I've been working on this project for so long and in so many places -- my journal, on my computer in various separate folders, in special notebooks of notes -- that printing it out and seeing it would really help my morale.  So by the end of Summer, print out what I have. (Anne Lamott says you have to do this -- print everything out so you can see your progress.  I remember it really helped while I was working on my diss as well.)

It's funny but a friend of mine in Secondary Field tells me that she does her new writing during Summer and then uses the year to revise that.  I can understand the wisdom of this, since Summer time allows one to be much more exploratory while during the schoolyear one is more critical, a perfect attitude for revision.  But somehow I'm backwards from that.  I can write in a somewhat exploratory way, but going back into my work and engaging in revision is beyond me.  Maybe I need the writing as an outlet during the year.  Maybe I just need more time for revision.

In the "need more time" column, I worked on my sabbatical application again last night.  I must get that done before the end of the quarter.  Really.

Last Week's Goals

1.  Research:  Try to get back to 3x.  Try to engage with or address one big source I've ILLd that must be returned very soon.  Touch Sabbatical application at least once?

I think I did manage 3x this week, though that's complicated by the fact that I ran out of pages in my journal and must get a new one.  I addressed the big source that I ILL'd and returned it.  I worked on my sabbatical application last night and discovered that I'd overthought it, that I was trying to argue things I didn't have to argue.  Still it feels like such a long shot.

2. Health:  Supplements, good food, be kind to self.  Sleep is good, and so is morale.

Well, I managed the supplements, good food, and being kind to self, mostly, but sleep is where I really failed because of the sleep versus morale problem where I stay up too late because I've had to work so much and if I don't get some me time I really will just freak out with grumpiness.  

3. Family:  Therapy exercises!  Keep evenings for family time.

Yes, I'm keeping on top of the therapy exercises as best I can.  I'm doing my best at keeping evenings for family time.  Spirited needs a new spring jacket and some other things and so I think I need to take him clothes shopping as well.

4. Gardening:  Try to get the tomato seeds planted.  Water.

It's been raining so I haven't had to do this.  I haven't gotten the tomato seeds planted yet.  Must get it done this week!

5.  Work:  So I need to commit to a good grading clip, keep up with seminar students, post something on our LMS, get that report revised and send it out for comments, and generally work with a good clip and commitment.  I think I have to allow myself extra coffee as a reward/enticement.

I got the big report revised, sent it out for comments, revised it, and then distributed it to all stakeholders last week!  I'm done with that nightmare!  (Of course, the very minute that I got that done and was having the two-seconds of celebration, my department chair reminded me of other work on that front. Sigh.  That's in progress too.)  I got a stack of detailed grading done by Friday.  Now I have a much bigger stack of much-easier grading I must get through.  On Monday, I have another stack of detailed grading coming in, so it would be great if I could get the big stack done asap.  Oy!

Interestingly, while I'm focused on Secondary Field, I got two pieces of good news this week (actually in the same day) about Primary Field work.  A collection I submitted a piece for now has a contract with a publisher (huzzah!) and I was invited to do something related to that work.  I love being invited to things, of course, and find it hard to say no because I suck at establishing and following my own priorities.  No, that's not quite it.  I have so many different interests that it's hard for me to say no to one because I have a commitment to another.  Really, doing this thing doesn't mean stealing time from Secondary Field Project though after I said yes, I thought to myself:  what are you doing?   The truth is I need to keep one foot in each field, and this helps me to do that.  

Upcoming Week Goals

1.  Research:  3x.  Work on sabbatical app.  Get new journal, stat!

2.  Health:  supplements, food, sleep, baths.  Do not drive myself nuts.

3. Family:  therapy exercises and evening family time.  Take Spirited shopping.

4. Gardening:  tomato seeds in flat.  Do it.  Get it done.  Water regularly.

5. Work:  Okay.  While I'd love to get the Easy Stacks done today and tomorrow, I'm also not going to have a crummy day with my family today and avoid doing all the other things I want to do (plant seeds, get new journal, maybe go get Spirited clothes?) in order to be a working machine because I also have work that is more urgent even than Easy Stacks!  So I need to get to some reading and responding first, then see if I can get something done on Easy Stacks.  Easy Stacks can be turned back later in the week, if necessary.  Later in the week, I'll get a bunch more from those classes, so I do need to get on the stick, but I'm not driving myself nuts.  (See Health.)

Happy May Day everyone!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekly Check In: Grumpy Spring Edition

With Top Left Quadrant on hiatus (only for another week or two, though), it's time for check-in.

Last Week's Goals

1.  Research:  3x on Secondary Field Project.  1 task other research.

I did not manage 3x.  I think it was more like 1x.  Not good.  Didn't do other task either.  Hard week.

2. Health:  Eating well, taking my supplements, and moderating emotions.

I did eat well mostly, though I also had a donut when they were there.  Mostly great about taking my supplements.  I've managed to get back into a nightly Ben and Jerry's habit that is less than ideal.  I was pretty grumpy this week as well.  Considering how grumpy I was, I did pretty well moderating emotions.

3. Family:  Therapy, family time, and Passover.

I mostly kept up with pushing Spirited's therapy exercises, though last week was cancelled and the therapist didn't tell us, so since we were doing a second week of the same exercises, I wasn't as on top of it.  Since our last appointment, we haven't done the exercises but that's because of Passover, which I think is completely reasonable.  (People around here are very Christian and lack knowledge about Passover, so I feel like any time I educate people on Passover, I'm doing a good thing.  Explaining that Passover is so important that we didn't do the exercises comes under that heading to me.  This is a place where you go to workers in national grocery chains and they've never heard of matzah.  Really.)  I have to get back on top of it today because we have more exercises than we've had in the past.  Oy.  We had a lovely Passover, and Spirited tried nibbles of most of the traditional foods.  We also watched The Peanuts Movie for a family movie night, so I'm feeling pretty good about family time, which is good because I need to start grading today, which usually means disengaging from the family, closing the door, and working instead of hanging out.  So I'm glad we had some special moments.  If I'm organized and not stupid today, I may be able to make matzah brei.  I also managed to get something wonderful and ongoing organized for Spirited, which we're both enjoying a lot.
4. Gardening:  Water the outside plants.  I hope to start some tomato seeds indoors as well.  I really just need to get out there every day because it's so calming.  And we're finally having some decent weather!

Errgh.  Mostly I'm asking Husband to water.  I remember now how hard it is to get that done when I'm trying to leave for work.  I did not get the tomato seeds started, but I realized that it was a multi-stage job (because I had to clean the flats first because, yes, I am the most unclean person in the universe and did not clean them last year).  So I cleaned the flats and now it's just a matter of actually planting the seeds downstairs, which doesn't take long but can be hard to get to.

5. Work: get ahead in my reading, catch up on some email and spreadsheet work, and revise a big report before the onslaught of grading comes in on Friday.

I did get ahead in my reading, though that is an ongoing challenge.  I did catch up on the email and spreadsheet work.  I did NOT revise the big report.  In fact, I've made little progress on it because I was so busy and grumpy.  Now I've got to face the grading as well as the other stuff I have to do AND the report.  Why don't I learn from these situations?

So overall it was a hard week in that I had student conferences filling up every spare on-campus moment.  In addition to that, there was lots of student email conversation, which is normal for the seminars I'm teaching, but was more intense than usual.  And I was pretty grumpy.  I also found out that one thing I worked on a lot last term is now pretty much falling apart (not my fault at all, but disappointing nonetheless) and then I heard about a possible retirement that makes me want to run screaming for the hills.  A group I'm leading is currently entertaining options for our task that make no sense to me, and a non-member of the group is constantly asking me about it and giving me things to read.  A piece of service I used to really value with other leadership is now, under questionable leadership, the most annoying part of my week, and I'm sure I'm looking daggers at everyone because I'm so annoyed at the spectacularly bad leadership.

This upcoming week should be better because the student conferences are over and so I'm not so overscheduled.  I do have some annoying challenging (trying to moderate emotions here) meetings coming up but they should be okay.   Breathe deeply.  Move like water.  I swear that place should buy me weekly massages because the stress of not choking the living shit out of some asshole who desperately needs it is sometimes very acute, leaving my body, especially my shoulders, so tense it's ridiculous. 

Upcoming Week's Goals

1.  Research:  Try to get back to 3x.  Try to engage with or address one big source I've ILLd that must be returned very soon.  Touch Sabbatical application at least once?

2. Health:  Supplements, good food, be kind to self.  Sleep is good, and so is morale.

3. Family:  Therapy exercises!  Keep evenings for family time.

4. Gardening:  Try to get the tomato seeds planted.  Water.

5.  Work:  So I need to commit to a good grading clip, keep up with seminar students, post something on our LMS, get that report revised and send it out for comments, and generally work with a good clip and commitment.  I think I have to allow myself extra coffee as a reward/enticement.

About my attitude:  I've been pretty grumpy.  Why?  Part of it is just the time of year.  I see all my academic friends talking about sprinting to the finish line of their semesters with the imminent reward of summer spread out before them, but my quarter is really just beginning.  It's spring finally, and I want to be outside.  I think I always get grumpy at this point in the year actually.  Then there are things going on on campus that are grumpy-making:  that task I worked on last term falling apart and, though it's not ended yet, it seems all the possible endings are bad; a colleague I like is leaving; possible retirement = GAH and perversely makes me want to work on my sabbatical application; a project I'm leading is not going well and people are bugging me about it while part of me just wants to exit; I still haven't finished that damn report.  And then there's the fact that I really want to be working on my research, specifically Secondary Field Project.  While I recognize that I just have a busy teaching schedule and a lot of service, I am irked by the fact that I can't get any work done.  My overall morale is low because I feel like I can't get to work on this project that feels very urgent and important to me.  What's more, I feel called on to work on this project, like that's what I should be doing with my life right now.  I work at a place that systematically devalues what I do and what I think is important so that feeling of being out of place increases my sense of being angry at the institution.  (Though I know it sounds ridiculous to be mad at an institution for the way I allocate my time, there is a known problem at my place with high workload.  It's one of those thorny issues where everyone knows we need to reduce our workload, but we don't have the money to address it properly.  At the same time, we're now adding a whole new layer of administration, so there'll be less money to address the problem with!  So we just stay overworked on a teaching basis, so people want to do less with service, which is understandable, but in many ways totally irresponsible.  So some of us do a lot of service too.  It's not a surprise to be in this situation.)  What really surprises me out of the whole thing is actually how much I want to work on this project, not the high teaching or service load.   But I want desperately to work on this project.  I can't wait until summer, which is a very bad thing to think when you're not even at midterm yet.

So everyone, move like water, float like mist, and grade like tortoise!  Have a great week!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

TLQ-Style Goals for the Upcoming Week

So Top Left Quadrant is at the end of a session.  Many academics are in their last month or even weeks of the semester.  They can see the finish line and are sprinting toward it.  I envy all of you.  I hate being on the quarter system.  I have a couple more months to go.  MONTHS, I tell you.  (And miles to go before I sleep.)

Top Left Quadrant, for those of you not familiar, is a weekly accountability check-in for session and weekly goals.  I love it.  I look forward to checking in on the weekends.  It really helps keep me focused on MY goals (for research, health, all those things that are so easy to forget about in the heat of teaching).  So, with my apologies to readers who find this deadly dull, I'm going to be TLQing here on my blog until I can convince other TLQers to start up a new session!

Last week was just terrible terrible because almost every moment of each day was scheduled with a meeting, either with students or colleagues.  (The meetings with colleagues are definitely more challenging than the meetings with students, but for me being so overscheduled is very stressful.  Some days, I had to be "on" for 7 hours straight.  It's a wonder I didn't run screaming for the hills.  Scratch that -- I still might.)  Most days this week should be better because I have fewer meetings with colleagues, though a still crazy number of meetings with students.  Cross your fingers.  And toes.  And eyes.

Research has been going okay.  I manage to do 3x a week on my Secondary Field Project, though it's less clear that it leads to the monthly goal of 2y because I don't have any time to look through the 3x work to make sure it's leading to 2y.  Addressing that means making the time for that, but I'm not sure that's a good idea because I'm not sure I really have any more extra time that I can use without stressing myself out from lack of "me" time.  (I love my project, but it actually is challenging at an emotional level, so I don't think of it as "me" time.  "Me" time is watching Poirot or movies I've seen a million times or reading fun books.  I need that time too.)  Perhaps it's better to just wait for the summer and then go back.  (My big lesson from the last TLQ session was that I need to have goals that are reasonable during teaching time.  For example, I've bought several books on managing stress and anxiety, but I do need to commit to engaging in those exercises just like I'd commit to an exercise plan.  Those kinds of commitments to create new habits take a ton of my energy; I've noticed in the past that when I commit to working out, it takes a lot of my daily energy to make sure that I get that done.  I can't just slip it into my regular schedule.  Those big changes are best worked on during non-teaching time.  Perhaps getting the 3x in each week for my Secondary Field Project is just as much as I can do.  And that's okay.  My hope is that setting more reasonable goals for change will reduce my stress as well.)

This Week's Goals

1.  Research:  3x on Secondary Field Project.  There are a bunch of other research things I want to do (scary stuff associated with Forsythia, a little project; sabbatical application; other supportive activities on Secondary Field Project), but this week is likely to be difficult so how about just one task associated with any of the other research-related areas?

2. Health:  Eating well (which means remembering to eat in the face of all those damn appointments and making sure I consume healthy fare instead of lattes and donuts), taking my supplements, and moderating emotions are ever my goals.  I also need to take care of an injury I'm trying to recover from.  If I don't make some considerable effort here, I'm bitchy to all.  Moderating emotions and moving like water are very important here to keeping some lines between work and family as well.

3. Family:  I've learned to really focus here.  While there are tons of things I'd like to do on the family front, I can't.  It's SO hard on me to have to come home and drive some home project forward immediately.  I know because I do it everyday.  My big goal here is to keep on top of Spirited's therapy exercises.  It used to not be my responsibility to keep on top of this, but family morale on this got very low and so I took over.  It's a giant pain in the ass, honestly.  Part of me resents this a bit but I have to admit that for a long time, I mostly checked out of the therapy stuff because I wasn't the one taking Spirited to his regular appointment.  Now, for the good of all (i.e., so Absurdist Husband gets some time off from Spirited and I get some focused time with Spirited), I take Spirited to his regular appointment.  It does make sense for the person who knows most about them to lead the exercises.  Absurdist Husband does a lot, so I can't fault him.  It's just a bad situation.  I've pretty much held off on adding anything else to our family plate (like continuing music lessons or swimming or Cub Scouts for Spirited) until this therapy is done.  So keep on top of therapy is the main goal here.  Making sure to have some nice family time is another goal.  Passover's coming, so that's another big thing that will be happening later in the week.

4. Gardening:  Water the outside plants.  I hope to start some tomato seeds indoors as well.  I really just need to get out there every day because it's so calming.  And we're finally having some decent weather!

5. Work:  Now TLQ is not really for work but supposed to be about all those other things we lose track of because of work.  But I include work because projecting the week's work and dealing with it well is fundamental to my other goals, including health and family.  There are many ways to get work done.  I can be grumpy about it, wait to the last minute, and then torture my family with my need to get it all done right this very second.  Or I can think about it ahead of time, figure out what I'm going to need to do, and schedule and do it with the least amount of stress possible to myself and the family.  In short, I'm a reforming procrastinator who used to use stress to get stuff done.  This approach works a lot better for people with lots more energy than I have or fewer responsibilities overall.  I have been so much better about planning out reasonable amounts and approaches but it takes constant vigilance.  On Friday, I'll be collecting grading from all classes.  I'll need to turn around the smaller, but more intense, stack by the following Wednesday, which means working on that next Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday.  The other two stacks would be great to turn around by the following Friday, though I don't know if that's realistic.  But none of that is this week.  This week, I need to get ahead in my reading, catch up on some email and spreadsheet work, and revise a big report before the onslaught of grading comes in on Friday.

So I hope everyone has a lovely week.  I may blog the insanity throughout the week since I'm trying not to torture Absurdist Husband with tales of work woe and stupidity.  And there's always plenty of that around.  Complaining about it is necessary as we all know.

Move like water, all!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Secondary Field Project New Schedule Report

So after two weeks since I wrote my Ambitious Goal Schedule, I've found that I work the 3x I set for myself.  Whether that leads to the 2y goal in a month, I'm not sure yet, but so far I'm pretty hopeful.  Rather than working the mornings I imagined I would, I end up crowding the weekend with this work, but that's fine.  I seem to be getting it done anyway.

Strangely, in the last few days, I've also found myself thinking about Primary Field as well and two immediate projects:  1) a small project that would take a ton of research that I scoped out after my last article; 2) a huge monograph project that I've long thought I would do but don't want to do until Secondary Field Project is done.  That's been surprising because I haven't thought seriously about those projects in quite a while.  I think that's a good sign.

So I'm sick today -- I woke up with a terrible piercing headache and went back to sleep without finishing my coffee (unheard of).  I got up several hours later, but am still clearly sick and gross.  I have so much grading!  And I want to go back to sleep.  I'm clearly in the Yuck.  I shouldn't try to blog like this.  I'll just be a downer.  I'm reading a book that is all about controlling your headspace in order to control your stress (yes, I tried the CBT books, but I couldn't move forward with them much).  And sometimes, I'm learning, that means seeing the rabbithole of YUCK and making the choice not to go down it.  I'm sure I should go do something else.  Distraction would be good.  Hope you're all feeling well today.  It looks like a beautiful day from here.

10:38pm Addendum

Amazingly, I graded a whole set of projects today.  It was the easiest kind of grading of all the projects I have still in my stacks.  But since I'm sick and grumpy with an upset stomach (damn Tylenol on an empty stomach -- why oh why???), getting a whole set of grading done is pretty amazing.  I am very proud of myself.  And now I'm going to go and watch a Poirot. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Secondary Field Project: Now with Deadlines

So with all the service I've been involved in, I've been taking it easy on Secondary Field Project, pouring more of my efforts into a sabbatical application.  (I bet my chair has had my sabbatical hopes in hir's I-hope-Earnest-forgets-about-this list.)  But now I realize that the timelines for Important Service and Dreamy Sabbatical conflict, dragging the Secondary Field Project out into a timeline that is really difficult for me to get excited about.

So with all the annual review and post-tenure review processes that exist at my institution, I've been wondering whether I should have a back-up Primary Field Project in order to continue to show good scholarly progress.  (I'm fine for this year and next year, I'm pretty sure, with what I've currently got in the pipeline.  But I worry about the year after that.  Furthermore, Secondary Field Project is in a field notoriously difficult to publish in and even when things do get published, they take for frigging ever; I've been warned that this project may be difficult to place.  Plus Secondary Field is really not as preferred as Primary Field, though I could argue against this because the department documents do explicitly include Secondary Field.)  Then I thought about this more;  shouldn't I be able to argue the worth of my Secondary Field Project by talking about how it serves Primary Field as well as my teaching in my annual review just as well as a sabbatical application?  (Logistically, a sabbatical application is longer and devoted to the project; annual review is much shorter and more inclined to lists than long explanations, but it can be done.)  So I should be able to argue that working on Secondary Field Project is just as important and scholarly as working on articles in Primary Field, though I'd prefer to have enough scholarly effort (read: publications) each year to get a raise. 

So last night I went back into my sabbatical application and really looked at what there is of the project and what still needs to be done.  Last night I put together a project planning document, which I can't believe I hadn't done.  (I think this is because of my own history with Primary Field versus Secondary Field.  I've always had trouble estimating output in Secondary Field.  But I've always been pretty good about planning for work in Primary Field, which doesn't mean my estimates are any more correct, but the nature of Primary Field scholarship sort of forces me to be more organized.)   Having a project planning document makes the whole project feel more real.  (I think I've always resisted treating Secondary Field like Primary Field, but I now think that my maintenance of these differences have led to my feeling that Secondary Field is not as important as Primary Field.  The first person I need to convince with arguments is myself.)

I've made all sorts of different plans in the past with Secondary Field Project, but they got real when I was thinking about a sabbatical.  I have kept plodding, but not at at any steady pace.  The reasonable deadlines I've set in the past just are not meaningful or urgent or exciting enough to really motivate me on a daily and weekly basis.   But it's clear having hazy ideas of when this project is going to get done only works if one can really imagine that a sabbatical is in the offing.  Lackadaisical and "reasonable" goals haven't worked and giving myself space and time hasn't worked.  Spreading out the work in a reasonable way leaves me looking at a multi-year timeline that just makes me depressed.  So I'm trying something different.

Instead, I'm trying ambitious goals.  The purpose of these ambitious goals is to keep up my enthusiasm and sense of urgency to keep me working on a weekly and every-other-day basis.  So now I have a goal of 2y per month.  In order to manage 2y per month (which might be an unreasonable goal, but let's wait and see), I have to work at least 3 times a week.  If I manage this and my summer goals, I'll have the whole thing drafted by the end of the year.  Now, there's a ton of work after that, but a draft!  Done by the end of 2016!  That's a very exciting goal to me.   Even if I don't manage 2y per month and the draft done by the end of the year, I bet I'll still be better off than if I continue with the non-inspiring but reasonable goal.  It could also be that by the end of the year I realize that project is bigger than I think it is, and I won't be done with a first draft for another six months.  Still.

So this week, I'm intending to work Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Or at least 3 out of 4. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Grass *Is* Greener: Counting My Blessings

I've been reading my own blog in small sips.  I know that's pretty self-involved, but from yesterday's reading -- so totally worth it.  I picked a 2010 post at random and ohmygoodness!  I was really pretty miserable!  The entire Absurdist Family was pretty miserable -- okay, mostly Absurdist Partner (we've gotten married since then) and me.  And so many of those issues have been resolved!  Now, I don't like this about myself but I am too often a glass-is-half-empty person.  I am great at noticing the things that, if they could only be fixed, would make things perfect.  Now this is not always such a terrible trait, but on a day by day basis, it can be pretty terrible to always focus on the bit marring the perfect picture, always focusing on "if only."  In fact, I really dislike this trait in others and have a big problem when others are wet blankets, but mostly because I am such a wet blanket myself.  (In fact, I have lost friends and even been pretty awful at times because of my inability to deal with others being wet blankets or depressed.  Lots of regret there, though I'm trying to stop investing so much time in the regret column of my life.  Maybe I should send cards to two people I feel I wronged.  Maybe I should just send them good thoughts a la Eat Pray Love when I think about them and move on.)  But reading that post of misery highlighted how wonderful things are now.  Yes, Spirited is a handful.  Yes, I'd love to be able to take a weekend day and just read.  Yes, I got the new Poets and Writers and wish I could go to a colony or a retreat for a month to write.  But so many things are pretty damn wonderful compared to where we were that I just want to focus on that right now.


We saved and scrimped and lived in an apartment for years with all our boxes in our so-called dining room, but we managed and now we own our own house.  No one can tell us when to take down our snowflakes from our windows.  I can put a big old political sign on my property if I want to.  We plant things and in a few months, once we figure out what to do about a fence, will likely get chickens.  Our dreams on this front have come true!  We've come a long way.

Absurdist Husband's Job

Absurdist Husband no longer works at a job he hates.  No more being on call or anything.  Instead, he's got his hands full with Spirited.  That's not an easy job by any means, but it's better than being caught in the crosshairs of stupid corporate contradictions and being called in the middle of the night.

My Job:  Tenured vs. the Tenure Track
My job.  Ohmigod!  The post I read was complaining about how I didn't get enough electives to teach.  Now, there were some problems there.  It was unfair.  And the person who did get the electives to teach that year did teach from my syllabus and then critique it to my face.  I actually really like that person.  But what bothers me about reading that post was I was perfectly happy to complain about it and be so miserable that lovely blogreaders were advising that I go on the market but I didn't think about what I could do to change the situation.  As it happened, I should've gone to my mentor about it and asked hir to intervene on my behalf.  In fact, I think that did happen at my annual review.  Life on the tenure-track can be very scary and disempowering, not knowing what you can address and what you better leave alone.  And I have to say:  having tenure is SO MUCH BETTER.  Now, I know I'm privileged.  And I know that many people lucky enough to get tenure enter a post-tenure slump, but I haven't because for me not being tenured was like having a muzzle over my mouth.  How could I enter a slump when I finally had the freedom to say what I thought and do what I want to do?  For me tenure meant putting my money where my muzzled mouth had been.

Now I understand that being tenured with its increased service demands can be hard for people.  But for me it means finally being able to do something about the problems I see!  And I am such a nicer person when I can fight the good fight rather than watching things I hate and not feeling like I can risk doing anything about them or coming out in a specific way about X or Y.  When I feel disempowered (which doesn't depend on being tenure-track -- if administration came down and slammed the things I want to do, I'd feel pretty disempowered), I get angry and bitter and fail to recognize the power I do have.  I don't feel that way anymore.  Later on, years after I wrote that miserable post, I discovered there were some great people willing to speak for me at various times when I felt like I couldn't, and they were happy to protect me because I wasn't yet tenured.  Now it's my job to protect the untenured.  That's not always a pleasant job because I have to risk saying hard things to others, but I'm happy to do it, especially because there are people in my department who think that tenure-track people should not be protected.   (I've recently learned that staff, too, need to be protected.  So while I've been tenured for only a year, in some situations I'm the only tenured person so I have to speak up and risk pissing people off.  It's difficult, but it's the way things should be so I'm glad to do it, happy to get to do it.)   I do a lot of service, but I believe in it, which is great.  Sometimes I pick up things for others not because I think that person particularly deserves help (in fact, there is a case where I picked up the pieces for someone who I think really doesn't do hir job at times) but I do it because I want to live in the kind of world where people do that for one another.

While my job is not ideal, and my core courses are focused in such a way that is not what I'd prefer, I am doing good work, and I get to teach other courses that I value amazingly and am just grateful to get to teach, courses that I'd be hard-pressed to get a crack at if I made a move.  In short, I like and value my job.  I know I can make a difference there.

Family of Origin

I still get mad at my parents for not being as loving and supportive (that is, loving and supportive at all -- they really show very little interest in me or my life -- they're not trying to be mean or anything -- they are just very self-involved -- hmmm, I wonder where I got that from) as I'd like.  (For example, my father is the kind of person who fills up the air with stories usually about his job, often telling the same stories twice or three times, though sometimes about other things, but never asks questions of any one else -- like, how is your job? -- and never listens to others' stories.  In short, he's just inconsiderate.  My mother is different -- she tries to be considerate when it suits her, but often gets it wrong.  The problem with her is that sometimes it suits her to be mean and bitchy, especially if there is something she wants.  She's lied and stolen money in recent years.)  I still invest too much time in the minus column of my life.  I know that I'm supposed to "accept and appreciate my parents as they are," but I can accept and appreciate them best from a distance.  I love them, but they are not good for me.  I've spent too much of my life already seeing things from their point of view and hearing about their troubles and ignoring myself in favor of them.  (That was my childhood but also many different parts of my adulthood as well as my experience of them whenever I see or talk to them.)  The most important thing is that I don't want to be like them.  I can't even imagine not being very interested in Spirited's life when he's an adult.  Instead I'll probably call him all the time until he avoids my calls.  My grandmother was like that -- maybe my parents just don't want to be like her.   It could also be that they don't like me very much (or feel guilty, which is what Absurdist Husband thinks, and they do have things to feel guilty about -- as in things I should've been taken away by Child Protective Services for) and so are not interested in me.  Whatever.  So we don't enjoy each other.  We don't talk much.  It's hard for me to "honor" them as a good Jew should, but there are mitigating circumstances, and I should just resolve to stop feeling guilty about that, stop feeling that I'm doing something wrong by not liking them much or feeling disappointed by them.  I wish I had loving supportive parents, but I'm lucky to have lovely supportive friends and should cultivate those relationships more.  I've built my own family who I love infinitely.  So things are not as I wish they were.  Grow up!  Enough already.

BUT I'm infinitely grateful for my sister, who is my favorite part of my family, and especially the lovely blogreaders who told me NOT to talk with her about presents I didn't like that she sent to Spirited.  (Those toys?  I did give them to Spirited when he was young, and they were always an issue.  He liked them too much.  Then I would hide them and many months later he'd ask where they are.  We keep saying we're going to remove them for good.  I have a good idea who to give them to now.)  Oh!  You all were so right!  Thank you for preventing me from being a total jerk to the person I adore most in my FOO (family of origin)!  I'd have hated damaging that relationship just because I don't feel seen for who I am in my FOO.  This is really an issue between my parents and me.  My sister and her family are lovely.  THANK YOU!

So my life is so much better than it was!  Even with getting older and having health problems and not getting enough sleep or time alone or time with Husband or time writing.  I love this life.

It scares me to click Publish here because I feel like saying my life is good will attract some kind of awfulness to slap me around with.  New mantra:  gratitude is not hubris.  Gratitude is not hubris. See what a mess I am?  Thank you, blogreaders.  My blogfriends past and present have really helped me through some hard times.  I appreciate you amazingly and hope I show it (even if my wordpress problems prevent me from commenting on your blogs -- you know who you are).  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Winter Reset

We're having a snow day today.  Oh how I love snow days!  I actually drove to campus and back this morning already, partly before the snow started, partly in it, but it was early so it wasn't so bad.  This is great actually because I've become such a scaredy-cat.  In a health book I'm reading on peri-menopause, the author asserts that being really startled and more anxious than usual could be the result of a magnesium deficiency, which could explain why I turned into a super fraidy-cat this winter.  Which is not to say I haven't been really anxious about driving in the snow before, but this winter it's really over the top, which doesn't make sense because so far (knock on wood), the winter's actually been not that bad.  Armed with the idea that maybe it's just my anxiety (and a problem I can approach via my body rather than my head -- yay!), I've been buying supplements and so far, I feel better, which is a huge relief because with all my health problems, I really thought I was falling apart.  (Apparently the feeling that you're going to die soon or die on the roads is a very common symptom of anxiety disorder.  Finding this out is such a relief.)

This snow day is all the more lovely because things have been absolutely crazy.  Absolutely frigging crazy actually.  I'm currently leading a search, on my second year as head of Cool Service Project, and doing all I can for another Totally Worthwhile and Huge Service Project, which I think I will call Important Service from now on (because TWHSP is ridiculous).  Yes, this is a lot of service -- probably too much service -- but I really believe in all these things and am just one of those people who like to be involved and help.  Inevitably, I've also gotten sick with colds and a resurgence of an old medical problem.  And now I have a couple days at home!  I can catch up on grading without driving everyone crazy!  I can help Absurdist Husband catch a break here as well, so the entire family will be less stressed.  Snow days are like the world (or Storm, for the super-nerdy) saying that we need a break to recharge and reset.  Thank you, Storm and World!  I so need this.  

Look, everyone!  I actually wrote a post of gratitude!  (But don't tell anyone:  I wouldn't one anyone to think I've lost my sardonic edge.) ;)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Epic Fails of Crap Mom

And now for a wonderful new feature. . .

The amazing adventures of our latest superhero, Crap Mom!

So Spirited's last piano class was today.  He's missed a couple piano classes already because I, Crap Mom, signed him up for a class in September that is practically impossible:  Saturday at 10am.  I realize normal people don't have a problem getting to a 10am class even when they live 35 minutes away, but I do.  Partly, this is because I teach all day Fridays and am tired and want to sleep in.  Since I want to sleep in anyway, if it looks like snow, which makes me nervous anyway since I'm anxiety-ridden about driving (though getting better), I just don't take him.  See?  Crap Mom.

Well, every normal person realizes that the last class is a recital, right?  Not our Crap Mom.  Because she didn't bother to call even though she is supposed to when missing a class.  So we turned up thinking we were early, but it turned out they were practicing for the recital beginning at 10:30.  Who knows what time they were supposed to get there?  (Not our Crap Mom!)

So he went with his class and I went to the recital hall and sat, sending Husband updates about the whole thing.  (We try to make sure neither of us misses a recital, but I wasn't going to tell him to jump in the car.)  I was a bit weepy when I saw the dancers and the choir (both things I had done for at least three years as a kid -- and that Spirited shows zero interest in).  Then the piano class was up.  Where's Spirited?  Am I not able to recognize my own kid?  Usually I can pick him out of any crowd in an instant.  Where's Spirited?  Is that the entire piano class?  Aren't there two that should be performing?  Maybe they're doing two groups of piano.  Where's my kid?  Is there another group coming out?  No, Strings is up next.  Where's Spirited?  Did he have a meltdown backstage?  While I've never known him to melt down in public (he saves his most dramatic emoting for home, where he can stomp and scream and slam and throw his toys), isn't finding out that you're supposed to be performing and not knowing what you're doing a recurring nightmare for many?  Maybe he freaked out.  Where is he?   

Too worried about what happened to Spirited to care too much that I was being incredibly rude by not watching the rest of the recital, I got up with all my stuff (including the grading that I couldn't get to because I was watching the recital rather than waiting outside his class) and went in search of him.  He was fine, running around in a big room where the kids hung out before they went on stage.  He got playing with a friend of his from another class that he knew from his Montessori school and just didn't pay attention to when he was supposed to be performing.  He was upset and wanted to cry but didn't.  He told me later that this was the worst Saturday of his whole life.  We went to Starbucks for a coffee (for Crap Mom) and pumpkin bread (for Spirited).

Sigh.  Lesson learned:  always call when Spirited misses a class.  It may be fine for me to be lackadaisical about classes I take, but:  Don't fuck up where your kid is concerned.

Stay tuned for further adventures of. . .Crap Mom!


Tuesday, January 12, 2016


So it's winter, David Bowie died (I'm so upset about this it's embarrassing), and I'm having a hard time keeping chipper with the new quarter starting and snow and all.  So let's talk about Absurdist Child.

So you know how everyone wants to have gifted, quirky kids?  Yeah, forget that.  Absurdist Child, who I'm renaming Spirited! until he earns a new name, is completely tempermental and OCD.  Absurdist Husband mentioned that since his eggs were hot, maybe he'd like to eat his sausage first.   (Sacrilege!) While I was shaking my head and then holding it in my hands out of Spirited's view, Spirited explained that there was no way he could eat his sausage because he always likes to eat his egg first and that is just what he does.  (He loves to say that "people are different, and I'm X")  He also said "come look -- my egg is in the shape of South America!  Last week, he ate his egg in the shape of the United States, marking out California and Florida each time.  That is super cute.  This is the same kid who does his 30-minutes of PBSKids games and gets really mad at himself when he does not nearly do as well as a time before.  He gets really mad.  And he told me the other day to not bother saying that it's not about how well you do, but whether you're enjoying it and trying.  He said he's just not like that.  (See how my hardwon wisdom falls on the deaf ears?  Dude, it took me 40 YEARS to figure that out.  This is gold.  Yeah, not so much.)

Could someone please tell me how my seven-year old turned into a teenager?

He was completely tempermental with a very low frustration tolerance all of the Fall from Hell, which is what last fall was, though I dare not call it that at the time. (I was trying to cultivate a "good attitude," and trying to get through it without gritting my teeth about it.  I pretty much suck at all that -- I'm not a natural-born grin-and-bear-it person.  I admire it, but I cannot be it.) 

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but in the last weeks since I've been home (though I was working a lot) his reading has absolutely bloomed.  While we had read Magic Treehouse before and he'd read it on his own but wasn't very into it, he suddenly got very into it and is now gobbling them up, especially, naturally, at book time.  But other times too.  Now, a part of this is that I've taken him to the library religiously (really -- I don't go to synagogue or church -- going to the library is the closest to religion I have!) and supported him in his Magic Treehouse acquisitions, but he's doing the reading.  We've gone to the library for ages, though it fell off during the Fall from Hell.  An important facet of his love of Magic Treehouse, I think, is that they have numbers.  He's into anything with numbers, so now he wants to read all of them.  (He's also driven to acquire whole collections, like his racecars.  My goodness, what does this mean?)  He has a list.  He fills in the number when he's acquired the book.  (He's a nutter!)

This morning he told me that it's so sad that half of the rain forests are gone.  (I agreed with that one.  I tried to tell him that this is why it's so important that we know about it, so that we can try to stop the destruction, but do I know what to do about it?)  This evening he came in every few minutes telling me about some horrible fact about tornados and 20 tornadoes a week in Tornado Alley during tornado season.

These gifted kids!  You know, I'd love some help with him.  What do I know about math and number-love, after all?  I love words.  I shrug at numbers.  Wasn't particularly good with math.  Thank goodness for the reading -- I know something about that -- and he reads the Research Guides, so he's learning stuff all the time, which is good because we haven't had official homeschooling since before the holidays. He finished the Life of Fred primary series and is now somewhat into the intermediate series.   What to do with him?  For him?  I'd love for him to do an academic talent search because they give you info on what your child needs, but he gets so frustrated!  The book I have on math giftedness suggests that a kid with a low frustration tolerance should probably wait until 4th grade to do it.  Spirited is in 2nd grade!  What to do with him until then?  He'll be in calculus before I can get my bearings (or learn calculus).  We've also got to get him out into some kind of activity or club, so he can hang out with other kids, preferably likeminded, though as academic as he is, he's not a kid to sit in the corner doing math or reading a book unless he's alone.  

What should we do for MLK Day?  MLK is the only historical figure he really knows and who has been held up as a hero or moral leader.  (Okay, so we've done some things very very right.  He also doesn't watch any violent TV.  I've recently been reading Dr. Spock for the first time and felt great when Dr. Spock warned against violent TV and its dangers.)  We should do something, but what?

Any ideas what to do with these math kids?  These low-frustration tolerance kids?  It's so hard, just like it's hard for me to help him go to sleep, because I have those same challenges!  Absurd!

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's Starting Again

A new quarter. I'm not ready.  I do love my job -- or at least significant aspects of it -- but, my word, I'm not ready. (Syllabi have been revised and everything. I just mean psychologically.)  Even though I love my job, it's so easy for me to look on another quarter with dread.  Too easy. I have a bad attitude, I know.  I also got only a couple days of break when I wasn't grading or writing syllabi or getting some training on important tasks.  The lack of time off is significant.  And how that affects my family is also very significant too.

It's also winter, and something in me looks outside and sees all that snow and is absolutely convinced that the snow is a blanket to snuggle under.  Wake me when the daffodils are up.

I'm already dealing with recalcitrant colleagues not doing their jobs and grumpy-making confrontations-to-come and students who call me "Mrs." and past students who ask me to email them back immediately.  How can I learn to leave it all at work?  How can I learn to leave it all at work when I often work at home as well?  Especially in the winter.  I wonder if blogging or journaling at the end of the work day would be helpful so I can more consciously regroup.

Any advice?