Sunday, May 23, 2010

It’s Finally Summer

Maybe not by the calendar, but by school: the semester is over, the grades are in, and all that’s left are the complaints. This year, there are two that stand out: the student who earned an A- and is complaining (to the dean’s office, no less) that while he understands there have to be grading standards, he thought this class would be a guaranteed A and besides that, he didn’t like the “hours upon hours” listening to speakers and other presentations. The other is from a student who agrees he didn’t follow the directions (“Analysis using course concepts is encouraged and will earn the most points”), but is quite happy with his answers and shocked by his final grade.

It took a few days to decompress and catch up on my sleep. All told, the life-work balance is looking much better, and the recalibration to a lower-stress steady state is well under way. It’s grand to discover that it’s possible to work hard, still, because that’s always been my one constant: I know how to and like to work. A lot else about me has changed, and not that. Through this patch, it’s been essential to manage the energy levels and pare out all manner of stuff, but at least it has been possible still to do the work. And, to put it as Michael’s mother always used to: “think of it this way.” When the girls were little and something bad happened, like milk spilling, it would be hilarious to hear Michael’s mother’s words coming out of their mouths: “think of it this way,” they would say: “after this, we’ll clean the sponges and they’ll all be nice and clean for tomorrow!” She could always find the silver lining. So, think of it this way: the money saved by not having time or energy to be out and about and buy anything can be put to use doing something really fun this summer. Or invested. Or something.

Yesterday, for the first day in weeks and weeks, I didn’t do a lick of work. It was nice. Read all the newspapers, got a haircut, took a nap, did some clutter abatement, some web-surfing, some coloring with the Mother’s Day pencils on the cool patterns, and watched a movie. I even managed to read a little fiction for a while. That was grand. I learned from a Cook’s Illustrated in a pile of detritus I was clearing that fruit flies are improperly named: they’re really vinegar flies, attracted to the odor of fermenting fruit, along with a tip for effective ways of catching them. Since we keep a lot of fruit around and often get vinegar flies, it was a useful outcome of desultory page flipping. All around, a great day.

Today, though, the conference planning needs some attention, the grant proposal requires some rewriting/polishing, and several people are waiting for information from me before they can move ahead. Oh yes, and belated thank you notes must be written to the speakers who gave “hours upon hours” of their professional lives to talk with students about their careers and real-world ethical dilemmas. Actually, outside the one complaint (why do we all have this negativity bias so the bad stick so prominently in our memories outweighing all the positive feedback, anyway?), a huge proportion of the final exams and papers thoughtfully incorporated comments made by the speakers as students grappled with issues. So there are great quotes to use in the letters, which I hope will help balance how late they are.

Now, it is time to think about going back and getting the biopsy (not on my head) recommended after my recent physical. Whether the accumulated stress has triggered things again or it’s just a normal progression, my body seems to be indicating that it would be a good idea to check things out further. Jumping ahead to the worst case (which seems totally unjustified, by the way, it’s just hard to avoid at least thinking it through, like dwelling on the negative comments over the positive ones), we anticipate scheduling challenges if surgery is indicated. I don’t want to mess up our planned vacation or any of the trips before that (big conference in California, annual teaching in Boston), so the time windows are narrow. We’ll call tomorrow morning and see about the biopsy, which is the first step, and take it from there. And think of it this way: all that worst-case anticipation will make anything less look positive.

This semester has helped to clarify my thinking so I’m hopeful that the book manuscript that’s been mouldering so long will come together this summer when I am able to get back to it. It’s a scary task, as I still cannot quite figure out who might want to buy the thing, and it helps to have an audience in mind while writing. At the same time, it’s a stretch and look at it this way: it provides a serious growth opportunity. Knowing it’s there waiting for me sort of counterbalances the sense of stepping off the end of the world with the date fast approaching for my last day of full-time employment with the university. I’ve worked there the whole of my adult life and it’s a big part of my identity.

Though I’m not particularly good at change, I believe through and through that it can bring good: doors close, doors open. By nature, I’d rather know their address and destination in advance, but mostly I manage to accept that’s not a choice we get. Wherever those doors go, though, I do know that Michael and I together will find a way to look at it “this way” and see what it offers. It will be be an adventure. Adventures, by definition can be scary and challenging and one undertakes them because the goal is worthwhile--or there isn’t a choice. Hence, knowing what to look for is important. We’ll be looking at it “this way.” Hope you’ll be along for the ride.

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