blank'/> Mirth, Melancholy, and the Mundane: September 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bright out of Dark...

I almost stopped being a writer a few years back.

Through a series of accidents and incidents, I lost a great deal of what I'd written due to, of all things, hardware failure and a healthy dose of human error.  It's the story I tell my students about why they should back up everything.  I should have known better, of course, but what it really boiled down to is a heartbreaking incident that nearly made me set aside my metaphorical pen for good.  The very thought of trying to refill the annals of my work (whether or not it was good work is largely beside the point) made my heart ache.  A keen sense of loss that is hard to explain.  But, this is not the story of that heartache...just the unintended positives that I never would have expected.

I'll use an incident or two to explain....

My dissertation was one of the things that was lost -- not that I don't have numerous hard copies, but the very thought of trying to turn that back into digital format made my fingers hurt.  Over 200 pages.  I felt exultation when I completed it and defended it, but that did not mean I wanted to have to recreate the whole thing so I could archive it digitally.  I would never be  able to transcribe my 30-year-old writing without my 37-year-old self editing and changing it.  So, I had to make do with the drafts and cobbled together chapters that I had saved, for some reason, somewhere else.  Fast forward a few years to a September afternoon of helping my brother move and I happened to mention that I wished I knew what had happened to the mini-disks I had with my dissertation on them (those, too, had vanished).  Imagine my joy when my brother casually mentioned that he had one of them.  There it was...a tiny silver disk with the culmination of 12 and a half years of college and countless late nights and desperate moments in neat, compact, preservable form.  It was like trying on a favorite sweater and finding it still fit.  Or pulling up the couch cushions and seeing that missing earring.  Joy.

More recently, over dinner, I was telling my parents about the "Bones in the Dirt" story I posted a few blogs ago and how my sister-in-law told me I needed to write more of it because she was hooked.  As I was talking about how I wasn't sure where I was going with the story next, my husband said something that reawakened the pangs of loss again.  He reminded me of a story that I have never truly forgotten since when I wrote it and then read to him early on in our relationship.  It was a good story, which is not something I am often comfortable saying (I dislike most of what I write most of the time).  Though, at this point, I'm honestly not sure if I think what I wrote is good (I remember little of it) or I simply like where the story came from.  It was inspired by a barn over in Pittsford.  Every time they put a "For Sale" sign on it, someone would spray paint 'Leave it Alone' on it.  My imagination took that and ran with it -- loving the mystery of it all.  Eventually it did sell and was put on the register of historic places and thus, I'm sure, the vandal was appeased.  The story I wrote started with the sale and the vandal and went from there.  Like "Bones in the Dirt," however, it was unfinished.

When I read it to my husband years ago, I seem to recall him actually getting frustrated because the story was incomplete and he wanted to know what happened.  He reiterated this at dinner the other night and I found myself amazed that he had remembered it and harbored that frustration over so many years.  I began wondering if, somehow, I still had the story somewhere.  I dared hope.  That level of emotional investment from an outside was worth exploring, I thought.  So, the next evening we looked and looked, but to no avail -- this was before Gmail, before the cloud, before I backed things up.  As far as I could tell, the story was gone. 

And I missed it.  I wasn't sure if I could recreate it.

Then, on a whim, I emailed a friend to whom I had been in the habit of sending things I had written.  His first reply was disheartening.  It doesn't sound familiar.  My heart sank and I sighed that deep sigh of resignation.  It was that moment when the heart knows that all hope is gone.  I wondered if I could recreate it.  I wondered....and then I got a second email....

"It wasn't a building that had aged well, standing stately and tall as the years wrapped it in coats of age.  It was merely a barn with barely the strength to stand and it looked out over one of the busiest roads in Glenville..."

That was the first line.  He found the hard copy and typed in just that first line.  At this moment I'm waiting for it to arrive in the mail.  My old friend.  That line of email was like getting a phone call from someone whom I thought had died.  It is such a powerful feeling and one that has been repeated from time to time over the years as things I had stowed away somewhere made their presence known again.  As the lost was found.  I may never find it all, but I love those moments when something is rediscovered.  If I could go back and save it all, I would in a heartbeat, but since I cannot, I will take these moments of joy with gratitude and joy.  And, perhaps more importantly, I will keep picking up that metaphorical pen and welcoming the Muse when she comes.

This writer has more to say, and will not let the lost words silence those not yet spoken...


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two Days in the Life

Two Days in the Life of Me...

Today I woke up ten minutes before my alarm went off because my cat can’t seem to get into his furry head that I will get up in time for whatever it is he feels I need to be up to do.  So, I shut my alarm off so I wouldn’t be reminded that I wasn’t getting quite the amount of sleep I wanted, and got ready.  Half an hour later, I was heading out to my car and putting all my stuff in it, meanwhile trying to get the dog to realize it was me and stop barking.  He barks in spurts.  Once…then a pause long enough to make you relax and think he won’t bark again.  And then, bark.  Repeat.

On the way to work, I stopped at Tim Horton’s, with the entire rest of the waking population of the town.  I parked in the closed pharmacy parking lot so I didn’t have to wait in the drive thru line of taking your life in your hands, and went inside.  Much shorter line.  I was tired, so I got a large diet coke and got back on the road towards work.  Twenty minutes later, I was there.  It was now 1 hour after I got up in the first place, and three and a half hours before my first and only class.

I spent those hours making copies, planning activities, designing projects, fleshing out the brainstorm I had about class the previous night, answering email, recording attendance for the last class, checking in on my online courses, poking around Facebook, IM’ing with a friend, scheduling classes for the next three weeks, doing follow up on the two meetings I’ve had this week, assigning groups, answering more email, giving a student feedback on a draft, planning a meeting or two, cross-referencing meeting times to rule out any conflict, thinking about spring semester and potential courses, and generally doing approximately 42,000 different things.  I also had a snack.

When class-time came, I headed downstairs, booted up the technology, promptly confused my students by making my directions too convoluted, got them into groups and clarified, worked with them as they worked together, checked email so I wouldn’t over-satellite, and then listened as they held a fascinating discussion on various concepts relating to social networking:  accountability, responsibility, privacy, security, personal awareness.

I then answered a few straggler questions, headed out to my car and went to a friend’s house to grab some lunch.  After lunch, we went for a brisk 31 minute walk around his neighborhood where I saw no less than four squirrels and one yapper-type dog.  After the impromptu walking exercise, I got back in the car and headed to main campus for my 2:00 office hour that no students would go to.  Instead of talking to students who were not there, I checked my schedule and made sure the meetings I have this week don’t conflict, I found the books I’m supposed to be reading for the Steering Committee I’m on, answered more email, graded some student journals, peeked at the news, made babysitting arrangements with my sister, chatted a bit online, checked some Facebook, made sure I knew what I was doing in class tomorrow so I could later forget to bring home the materials, and added to/updated my to do list for the week.

Then, I left to put gas in my car, pick up the pizza, and head to my sister’s to babysit.  I spend a fun couple of hours playing with the youngest and trying to get him to say hi - which he finally did into a cell phone he was holding upside down and backwards.  My brother and his wife were there, too, so it was more like a family gathering than babysitting.  We watched Unnatural History with the Hero Who Randomly Does Flips.  We also play with around 65,000 toys that all make noise at the same time.  I arrive home at 8:30 or so and spend the next few hours relaxing, dabbling in my online class and in the online components of my face to face classes and finally retire about 11:00.  I try, for the 8th night, to get through the 'J' portion of a word game I play wherein I think of 10 words of 5 letters that start with each letter of the alphabet.  I have to do this or I won't stop thinking.  I think of 8 and fall asleep.

The next day I get up at 6:15 and go to work, stopping at Tim Horton’s to get some oatmeal and am not accompanied by the entire town, so I’m in my office and working on my 8:00 class work by 7:05.  I teach a class, grab a quick drink, teach another class, leave in the middle of both to make copies and have a random meeting in the hallway.  Then I go back to my office and work for awhile, being somewhat surprised that a student arrives at my office hours.  I help her and then am somewhat shocked when another student comes in.  I spend a few moments in a strange sort of haze as I talk one on one with this second student who wants to do better in my class,.  After this moment of Unnatural Office Hours, I head down to get lunch at noon.  I have a working lunch with a friend and head back to my office, grab a few things, then go to a meeting.  And realize as I get there that I was mistaken on when it started.  I attempt grace.  After the meeting, I run to class across the street, and arrive with moments to spare.  Class is interesting but mostly taught by the co-instructor so I feel a tad inadequate.  I attempt grace.

After class, I chat for a few moments and then head out to the mall to pick up my contacts and few other things.  Me time.  I get home about 7:15, spend time chatting with my husband and a friend of his who is visiting, and by 8:00 I’m in my home office playing a game and finishing this blog before grading an assignment submitted by a student who was granted an extension in a graduate course I taught last month, check in on the graduate class I’m teaching, and also my online courses.  I suspect I’ll be in bed around 11:00, but we shall see.  Tomorrow I’ll get up at the same time though I don’t teach and I’ll work in my office until the 2:00 meeting. 

Then, the weekend....which I will find time to rest in between working so that my head stays nicely above water where it should be.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things I Don't Do Well...

I am not perfect.

No, really, it's true.  I'm flawed and full of shortcomings.  I don't think I necessarily have any more than anyone else, but I do have my share.  Sometimes they are annoying, and sometimes they serve me weirdly well.  I tend to consider the word 'flaws' to be a largely one-sided, black and white way of looking at it.  I'm not sure there are any traits that I possess that are always negative, all the time.  I'm over sensitive, for instance -- but that feeds my empathy.  I'm insecure about a lot of things -- but that keeps me humble.  It's a system of checks and balances.  Which doesn't mean there aren't things I would like to change.  Sometimes the balance is a little tippy in the wrong direction....and while I don't mean my weight, I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds, either.

So, what am I not good at?

Saying no.  This has shown up here and there in my life lately as a character trait possessed by a friend, and in her laughing at herself about it, I realized that I have the same problem.  I like to be helpful.  I like being busy.  I like to be useful.  I like accomplishing things and feeling like I'm making a difference.  But that ends up translating to having a LOT of things going on at once and occasionally panicking that I can't do it all.  The list at work alone is exhaustiv-e(-ng).  I teach an overload every semester.  I'm on a few planning boards and advisory committees.  I teach for another college and am in talks to teach for another.  I'm piloting programs, traveling between campuses, planning conferences, presenting at conferences, submitting proposals to conferences, writing mission and vision statements, co-chairing committees for things about which I only have a vague sense.  The list goes on.  This isn't always a bad thing.  If I get bored with something, there's always something else that needs my attention.  It got me promoted right out of the tenure starting gate and fresh off probation.  It teaches me about things that I wouldn't otherwise encounter.  It puts me in a good place to find the means and ways to do the things I want to do (I still want that computer science degree).  It gathers around me a supportive crew of people who know of what I am capable and are grateful I helped when I was needed.

But, my goodness, do I get tired.

The other thing I don't do very well is somewhat more troubling and that is friendship.  I have a very small circle of people I count as true friends and while I count them as blessings in every way possible, I sometimes wonder that there are not more.  Somewhat greedy, I suspect.  The only reason I'm thinking about this now is that I've found friends within the last 8 months and I was not even looking for them.  I'm not even sure why or how it happened -- just, I got invited to join a cadre of three for dinner and the three became four.  I am the fourth (a designation I adore for whatever reason).  But it is strange.  It is hard for me to break out of what I'm comfortable doing -- but the friends I have seem generally content to let me be who I am.  They know I'm busy and I spread myself too thin now and then.  They know I rarely sit still except in the evenings, and then I don't want to move at all.  They know I never stop thinking.  Ever.  They know my quirks and generally accept them.  Oh, there are attempts now and then to shake me out of whatever it is I need shaking out of -- but I do the same to them.  I told one of my dearest friends once, when our friendship was just learning that the soil was perfect for laying down roots, that I was high maintenance.  I remind him of that now and again and he just laughs.  He knows.  He's been putting up with me, as I like to say, for awhile now.

I could, incidentally, throw my family into this list as well -- since I count them as friends.  But, no matter how closely the roles of 'family' and 'friend' may mingle, there will always be a little something different about my siblings, for instance.  A lifetime of memories and shared experiences can't help but impact the definition of friend.  Perhaps one of these days I'll embarrass them by dedicating a blog to each.  Hmm...birthdays are coming.  But, that is a blog for another is one about my wonderful husband.  This is the blog for inadequate as that word may be.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, other than to acknowledge that I have wonderful friends, and sometimes I feel like I'm not living up to what I should be living up to because I don't always want to go somewhere at night, I cannot always be easily found, and sometimes, despite that they are my dear friends, I don't want to come out of my shell, my internal world where I'm thinking and dreaming and living.  I can't be found even when I'm right there because wherever it is I go is a place wholly separate from the world around me, regardless of where I might be at the time.  I have good people and part of me sometimes worries they will wander off (as many have).  Or that we will just wander off and not realize the other one isn't there until it is too late.  And sometimes I have this weird fear that I see more than is there.  Or that I will, somehow, mess it up.  I do that sometimes.  See blog title.

But, then there's that part of me that knows better despite that it should know better.  It reminds me gently of who I'm dealing with here.

There's a few out there whom I never or rarely met.  We talk a lot and then we rarely talk, and yet whenever we pick up the threads, there we are.  The longevity with which my life has been graced by a certain former Marine never ceases to amaze me, especially when taking into account that we occasionally drive each other quite bonkers (detail oriented person with bad memory meets sometimes off the cuff person who doesn't like being pinned down).  Then the uncanny speed with which The Three have found their way into my life and made me need them is both terrifying and exhilarating.   I feel very blessed to have them in my life and to be able to see and hear them laugh.  Stick around if you would.  It is crucial to do some things well, even if history suggests you won't.

"Do you want to lose these friends" is one thing that I can say 'No' to.  Without hesitation.