As I was switching gears from doing the scut work of setting up conference grids (both sign up sheets for the students and the appointment times in the scheduling software) to blogging, I passed through my work e-mail--and saw a subject line "The Wall." Having just slammed head first into mine, for a minute I thought someone was responding to me or one of my posts. No: it's political outrage about spending federal monies to actually build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
I have more than hit the wall in terms of politics: politically speaking, I would like to hide under a rug for four years (and pray to god it isn't for eight). Professionally speaking, I've only hit the wall for today.
That said, however, I did tell Paul earlier that my intention for today's post was to confess that I continually think to myself, "OK, say I retire at the end of the academic year in which I turn 62. That means I have five more semesters--counting this one--to get through. Can I do it? Will I be able to last that long, or will I have to find an exit strategy earlier--and if so, what might that be?"
Part of that ongoing measuring of my ability to keep on keeping on is, of course, all the political shit going on on campus. I can't hide under the sofa about all that, not only because there is the potential for sudden and potentially drastic immediate impact on my own little life but also because I'm on P&B and Strategic Planning (assuming it continues to exist)--and because I share an office with Paul, who is even deeper in the ugly, rank underbelly of what's going on here.
But part of my concern is simply personal: whatever it takes to continue to do what I do seems harder to locate in my body and psyche with every passing semester, month, week, day....
Right at the moment I'm in a pinch in terms of work/life balance. Tomorrow morning I have an appointment to take my ailing cat to the vet--but, looking at everything I need to do, part of me thinks I should cancel that appointment so I can get to work early and fling myself into all these tasks that are mounding up on my desk in increasingly unstable piles. I am going to take care of my cat; he actually does matter more to me than the job does, right at this red hot moment. But I do so carrying with me quite a bolus of anxiety about the work. When will I read promotion applications? When will I mark student assignments? When will I get all the photocopies made?
I was going to try to join the last portion of a norming session for faculty readers of "borderline" placement essays tomorrow after my 1:00 class--but I just wrote the new placement coordinator and told him I'd have to bail: I am going to need every second of the time between my classes to work as expeditiously as possible.
I'm very concerned about one of the people I'm mentoring for promotion. He has been very ill for months, as I'm sure I've mentioned, and I did look at his folder today--and there are a lot of problems. I know he'll do all he can to get it pulled together, but he's also on sabbatical, which means he's not on campus every day to do things like get signatures and sit down to talk with me. And he definitely deserves the promotion. I've tried several times to persuade him to wait until next year, when he finally has his health problems resolved, but someone mentioned that he may be concerned about getting his promotion in while we're still under the current contract. Assuming we do not sign a new contract in August (and I'd be utterly astounded if we do), he won't get any pay raise accompanying the promotion until we get a new contract--but he would at least have the title, which carries a little cachet. But it would be so much easier on him if he'd just let go of it for now.
Cathy is a bit in the same boat--but she practically lives here on campus anyway, so it's easier for me to check in on her to see how she's doing.
OK, shifting gears to more pleasant avenues of thought.
I did get a few of the copies made that are most pressing; I did them before class this morning. And I had a very pleasant meeting with a student from 281. I glancingly mentioned him earlier: he told me he writes essays--and when I saw what he was considering for his self-evaluation, I plotzed. It was incomprehensible. He did confess today that he writes "poetry" (OK, it may be excellent poetry; I don't know)--but it was interesting to talk with him about the poetic tendency versus the need, in academic writing, to sacrifice artistry for clarity. I showed him the sample "solid B" essay that I give students (on the advice of my Modern American Poetry students from last spring), and he immediately got the difference and what's required. Whether he can do it or not remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how strong his sentence skills are when he's writing for informational clarity (my hunch is that there are relatively significant problems he may not be aware of). But he's charming--and is "from" Utah (meaning he lived there for the last nine years), so it was fun to talk with him about the Rocky Mountain west a little (and what it's like to actually be in a territory also occupied by bears). I've encouraged him to come see me frequently about his writing. I may come to regret that, but for now, I'm completely content with the idea of working with him on the rigors of academic essays.
And part of what got me going on the whole seminar hours scheduling silliness is that I have my first mentor/mentee appointment next week, with a student who has now withdrawn from a 102 of mine twice--I don't know if I came up with a moniker for her, but she's another of those students whose intellectual acumen is apparent almost instantaneously. I hope someday I actually do have her in one of my classes, but meanwhile, it's neat just to have this mentoring relationship with her.
I was pleased with most of the student contributions to class today, too. The first two readings are difficult--and students haven't quite latched on to what they're supposed to look at (and are jumping to conclusions based on contemporary assumptions, instead of considering how views of the nonhuman world might have been radically different; John Smith, for instance, was not respectfully "appreciating" nature but rather pointing out how it could be plundered). But I had one of those lovely moments when a student I initially pegged as being disengaged and maybe not tremendously capable turns out to be smart and articulate and very interested in what's going on. That's always manna.
And now it's time to turn my attention not to manna but to manana. It's late. I'm tired. I'm anxious about that vet appointment tomorrow. I have to make at least a brief stop at the store for necessary supplies--so I can suck it up tomorrow to do it all, all over again. Yippie-ti-o, y'all.