Yes, I know that this should be three posts. But I want to write about all of these things, and they are all sort of connected in my head, and also given the way the frequency of my posts here has gone down in recent months, I figure if I don’t just blurt out all the things while I’m feeling in the mood in one post that I’d never get around to writing the two posts that I would postpone if I were to sensibly separate out the three topics. So, what you all are going to get is a Big Giant Post Filled with All the Things.
The Past Week, or The Week Before the Official Start of the Academic Year
I used to think that the first week of classes in the fall semester was the most intense week, but I was wrong. I believe it’s the week before the first week that really kicks my ass most thoroughly. In part, this just because of the sheer volume of people with whom one has to interact. Now, I’ve had a very social summer, and I haven’t once felt isolated – you know, where you start planning daily errands so that you at least talk to somebody at the grocery store and you don’t become the crazy weirdo who doesn’t interact with other humans – even though I’ve spent the summer writing. But it’s one thing to have a very busy social calendar with people whom one really enjoys, as opposed to have a very busy slate of meetings with people who are not of one’s choosing and who actually need you to respond to certain things that you haven’t necessarily been thinking about for four months. Now, the last week was actually pretty ok, in spite of my fears and anxieties about it in the week or two leading up to it. Indeed, parts of it were even quite pleasant. But, all in all, it was exhausting. So what was the week before the first week like for me this year?
Monday – A day-long teaching conference in which every possible bad teaching technique was modeled. Lack of preparation? Check. Lecturing to the point that everybody in the room is checking her phone or iPad? YES. But that was the bad part. The good part was seeing people from around the university that I wouldn’t otherwise have seen, particularly since I am FREE AT LAST from my Major University-Wide Service Obligation that hung like a lead weight around my neck for three long years. And one of the thing that was nice was that all of my colleagues from around campus made a point of complimenting me on all of what I’d accomplished in that time and congratulating me for getting out before I lost my mind totally. Appreciation plus understanding? That made it worth sitting through a long day of not terribly useful presentations.
Tuesday – The annual department “retreat,” which is basically a very irritating day-long meeting in a room with no windows. I’d been especially concerned about how this would go, but I was pleasantly surprised at the low level of pain that it caused in me and others. Now, to be fair: part of the reason it wasn’t terribly painful was that I was not on the defensive. I brought my knitting with me, and I kept my mouth shut about a lot of things that I would have flown off the handle about in the spring. I participated, but I wasn’t chomping at the bit. Because the knitting, it is relaxing. Soothing, even. And at least the colleagues who said something to me about it – including some folks who normally would be kind of mean – were just interested in finding out how long I’d been doing it, asking about what I was making, talking about how pretty the yarn I was using was…. Frankly, I think that they were happy that I had something to occupy my mind other than thinking of come-backs to idiotic comments. And you know what? The world did not come to an end when I didn’t explain all the reasons why people were wrong. First, sometimes other people did that job for me, which was delightful. Second, it meant that when I did speak I wasn’t that crazy loud-mouth know-it-all that people hated. I will note that the two things that actually got accomplished at that meeting? Yeah, both of those were totally my ideas. Ideas I’d suggested before. In multiple venues. But somehow this time around I made it seem like they were not my ideas, and so now they will actually happen. I won’t lie: this is still one of the things that I find most frustrating about my current job situation: that basically it takes at least 3-5 lengthy discussions that go round in circles, and people (sometimes me, but lots of other people, too) doing work that ultimately goes nowhere, so that then people will see the wisdom in the originally proposed idea. How is that efficient? Or reasonable? Or anything other than irritating? But you know, knitting. Knitting makes all of this easier to take. Also, as a bonus: because I behaved myself at the retreat, CF bought me a LOVELY bottle of wine! Which just goes to show how much it was important that I behave myself, and how awesome CF is :)
Wednesday – My awesome birthday! But more on that in the Birthday section of this post.
Thursday – I launched from bed with purpose. “Today I shall complete my four syllabi!” I announced, to kitties who could not care less about my plans. I quickly showered and dressed, grabbed the netflix video I’d had for two weeks, went to the post office, and then, as an incentive for my day of work, I went to the New Local Awesome Coffee Shop that just opened to see what I’d think, because I’d MUCH rather go to an independent place than to $bucks, but until this moment, $bucks was the closest coffee option. Best. Latte. Ever. No, I mean really. It was delicious. And then I went to the office, and I finalized not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different syllabi, revised my course policies, and emailed my class that meets Monday nights with a request for Monday. The request: print out this article and bring it with you. But if everybody reads it ahead of time, there will be something nice in it for you. Well, in the email that I sent, the link was broken. ASTONISHINGLY, like five students emailed me nearly immediately to tell me about the problem. Bad student that I was, if such a thing had happened to me as an undergraduate I would have just figured, “oh well, not my fault, I shall ignore my professor’s request.” But NOT MY STUDENTS! So then I wrote a follow up email with a non-broken link. Since that time, THREE STUDENTS HAVE WRITTEN TO ME to express their thoughts about the article, which, let’s note, they were not required to read BEFORE THE SEMESTER HAS EVEN STARTED. I mean, sure, I asked them to read it, for extra credit or so that we could leave class early Monday night or something, but I didn’t ask them to COMPOSE A WRITTEN RESPONSE! This either bodes TREMENDOUSLY well, or it means that I have a bunch of brown-nosing jerks who are going to try to dominate discussion all semester. Whatever, it’s still kinda awesome.
Friday - Convocation day; I skipped the morning stuff, but I went to my college lunch/convocation, which was three long hours of pain. But I am a good department and college citizen, goddammit, and let nobody say otherwise. Then I had a tough decision to make: do I go to the wine store or do I go to the grocery store? Where I live there is no wine at the grocery store. I chose the wine store. Then I came home, and I looked at the filth, and I decided that as long as I got clean sheets on the guest bed, all would be well. Because friend from when I lived in Boston (with whom I didn’t go to grad school) was coming over, and our mutual friend, my Best Friend From Grad School, aka Dr. Medusa (for longtime readers know her, too) was going to arrive in a stop-over on her journey from the Northeast to her family in the Deep South, accompanied by one tiny and adorable chihuahua named Bugsy! So FFB (friend from Boston, who is close to local) got here, but then we learned that Medusa was running late, so FFB and I had a glass of wine, and then we went and got some dinner. We then checked in with Medusa, who had just received a speeding ticket but who was almost here. Medusa arrived, FFB only got to see her for five minutes, but then Medusa and I had a lovely evening with wine and a puppy and the entertainment of seeing how my cats responded to the puppy (which I would characterize as “This being, it is so small. Is it a kitten? No, it smells wrong and it barks sometimes. Is it a rat? Perhaps we should try to use some techniques that we’ve learned from Big Cat Diary about cornering this tiny animal. Except we don’t understand how the puppy just ran past us. We did not plan for this. Why was the puppy not intimidated? This animal seems sort of ok, except something is clearly wrong. Why does he want to play with us? Has he no dignity, with his wagging tail and his squeaking in excitement? But I suppose he’s fine, as we both outweigh him by at least 7-8 pounds.”)
Today – After Medusa and tiny, sweet, energetic Bugsy left, the kitties and I had some breakfast and then took a tiny four-hour nap. The rest of the day has been spent cleaning litter boxes, doing laundry, making lists, and lamenting the end of summer.
Well, my birthday, in spite of the fact that it was on a Wednesday, was excellent. CF and CC took me out to a “ladies lunch” (something that we all enjoy, and we’re always looking for an excuse to do) at a lovely Italian restaurant, where I might have had a bit too much wine for lunchtime (as I was not driving). CC then dropped me at home, and I took a lovely long nap, and then I made myself a little dinner (which I probably didn’t need, but it was nice) and then I discovered that Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth was playing in marathon on cable, which was like a Birthday Present from Cable, and then my friend J. called me and we talked for hours about all of the things.
Let me just say, that I woke up very, very happy on my 38th birthday, and I am feeling very, very positive about the year that is to come. I think that 38 is an auspicious year. No idea why, but this is my feeling. Basically, I’m feeling very centered and productive and happy. For the first time in I don’t know how long I’m really excited about the return to teaching, and I’m also feeling very proud of myself about the way that I’m managing my professional responsibilities. Further, I’m feeling very positive about the non-professional parts of my life – like everything is for the first time since I started this job falling into place in all areas. And I’m excited to continue feeling this way, and I’m committed to doing what it takes to continue feeling this way.
The Academic Year to Come
The year is going to get off to a very hectic start, personally, professionally, and socially. What’s going on between now and October 1:
- Two grant applications to complete.
- One report to write on my summer activities to justify my internal summer fellowship.
- Recommitting to WW, as I am about 10 lbs. heavier than I was at this time last year, and I need to get back to working out and eating more mindfully.
- Finish up two chapters that are nearly complete that I did this summer.
- Stuff related to other grant that I was awarded this summer.
- Reread Ulysses, while teaching it (which will actually not be done by Oct. 1, but it’s a commitment I have between now and Oct. 1, whatever the case.)
- Teach my four classes.
- Give a talk at a public library.
- Go to Hometown for two weekends, one for a Bachelorette thingie and one for an actual wedding.
- Go to Chicago for a weekend in between, which will, although I am an old lady, rock.
- Throw a dinner party, because I haven’t done that in a while.
And after October 1, things don’t actually slow down all that much. At some point my kitchen is going to be renovated (actually, this might happen in September…but that’s a long story that I’ll tell when it happens), I have two to three more body chapters of my book to complete, as well as an introduction and conclusion, and I have all the usual committee stuff and whatever. Oh, and I might have another article to submit for a friend’s edited collection.
How will I do it all? You know, I’m not actually that worried about that. As far as the book goes, I feel ok if I end up working on it into the spring if that’s necessary. I don’t want to, but it’s ok if that’s where I am with things. But this is going to be a big year for me with a lot of things. I want for it to be a big year for me with a lot of things. And I like that all of the things that I’m doing are things that I’m choosing. Now, part of my motivation right now is totally that I intend to go up for full professor in Fall 2013, and so I do sort of need to make it a “big year” in order for that to be a reasonable thing to do. But really all this stuff isn’t externally motivated by that larger goal – it’s really internally motivated by my excitement and enthusiasm. And this is a new feeling for me. So much of what I’ve done in my life to this point has been about doing things that are about jumping through hoops, or doing things that other people want or need. For the first time, I really do feel like I’m in charge.
But so what can you all expect over this year? Probably some excitement, tempered by exhaustion, and spiced with a fair amount of stress. But I’m into it. I hope you will be, too.