Be There Now (Day of Higher Ed)

What if my life never changed for the better?

That’s what I thought about driving to work this morning.

I’m a worst-case-scenario kinda gal, so I won’t usually take the time to imagine what if my life never changed for the worse–I spend lots of time imagining variations on bad things & I think a great deal of my happiness in life is attributable to being pleasantly surprised that the worst thing doesn’t always happen.

So this morning’s commute was kind of a a more-upbeat variant on a worst-case-scenario–a status quo scenario. What if things stay pretty much the same instead of all the improvements I’m constantly longing for? What if, instead of healing from my shoulder and foot injuries, I’m just kind of in pain? What if I don’t get in better shape/eat better/lose weight? What if we don’t add a room to the house or build a garage? What if I never figure out how to be a tidy homemaker? What if I continue to teach four sections a semester until I retire? What if I’m not able to retire for a very long time? What if I never publish a book?

Some days, of course, that would have been a formula for depressing myself (some days most formulas accomplish that).  But today, it felt so good, I decided I’m doing it for at least this week, at least when I’m driving. What if?

I actually don’t think my shoulder and foot pain are permanent, but if they were, they’re manageable. If I don’t get any healthier, I’ll be courting cardiac problems in my 60s (or sooner), or diabetes in my 50s (almost there)–those two just based on my genetic history. Whatever role good cardiac health plays in staving off mild cognitive impairment, if I don’t have good cardiac health, it might mean losing access to my best mind sooner, again, given my genetic heritage. And whatever other health problems I end up with, if I don’t start out healthy, I’ll be less likely to heal well.

This is a pretty close transcript to what I was thinking this morning in the car. You know what’s great about it? Absolutely nothing in that paragraph about being fat or losing weight. Same thing in the car–at some point I thought, “Oh, and I guess I’d weigh less if I did get healthier….” This is pretty huge for me (pun not initially intended but then what the hell). I’m lucky–my husband loves me & finds me attractive no matter what size I am. I’m pretty confident in my ability to work a crowd, no matter what size I am. Not to say I don’t care at all–I am an American woman after all. But it turns out not to be very high on the list, which felt great.

I did spend some time thinking about my son. If I’m not active, I’m not teaching him to be active. If I’m not eating right, he’s not learning to eat right. If I’m self-medicating with food, he’ll learn to do that, too. Same with keeping my house a little neater–he’s not learning to pick up after himself if I’m not showing him. So some of the things I’d like to change have to do with parenting well.

Then what about the job thang? I’ve been teaching at UW-Richland for 20 years now, and I am wondering how much longer I want to do that, but in some ways, I don’t see a path away from what I’m doing, which makes me feel trapped (which, according to Martha Beck, is why I eat when I’m not hungry).  But what if this is it?  That’s my task this week–what’s great about this life I’m in? What’s great about this job I have?

Obviously, part of what I’m trying to do is focus on my blessings, and I absolutely understand I have a lot to be thankful for. Sure, I wish I got paid more to do my job (or actually, I’d like to get paid more to do slightly less), but I know I’m lucky to have a job. And here are the parts I love about this job:

I really love students. All kinds. I just love taking them seriously and pushing them gently and watching them learn.

Here’s a brief conversation I had this morning with a student who’d signed up for a one-on-one conference with me later in the week, to go over her rough draft.

Me:  So did you find a source yet?”

Her: No–I’m going to look tonight, but I haven’t found one yet.

Me: Why don’t you send me an email sometime this afternoon & tell me what search terms you’re using, and I can give you some feedback on that first, so when you do sit down to look, it’ll be more productive.

Her: O.k., I’ll do that.

Just a basic pretty boring conversation, but she seemed really pleased at the end, and helping students learn to figure out the right search terms is actually one of my favorite things to do. I talk to them about doing searches in online databases and “going fishing,” where we’re first just trying to figure out what the Library of Congress subject headings would be for any given subject (which I’m now able to explain to students by saying “They’re like hashtags!” This is how I figured out hashtags, btw–“They’re like Library of Congress subject headings!). I confess to students that I can often figure this out by imagining how old white guys in suits would describe something.

Even when they frustrate me, I tend to enjoy students. I love watching them really get into a lecture. I love watching them try to stay awake when the lecture’s not quite doing it for them (if there are more than one or two of those any given lecture, I figure it’s the lecture’s fault).

I love trying to analyze what’s working and what’s not and trying to improve.

I love having a flexible schedule. For example, in honor of Day of Higher Ed, (which responded to an op-ed in The Washington Post that essentially said professors are overpaid and underworked–read Aeron Haynie’s response & others & you’ll know my response) here’s what today looks like:

5:00 out of bed

5:15 reading Walter Isaacson’s bio of Steve Jobs (tons of connections to my creativity research), having coffee, then getting ready for work

7:15 hit the road (a little later than I’m comfortable with!)

7:50 at UW-Richland, heading for class.

10:00 a.m. Approx. 10-15 min. Facebook break (I didn’t keep exact track this morning, although I usually do–I’ll count it as a 20 min break, just to be sure).

10:20 Heading back to class

11:30 Lunch at the Roadrunner Cafe!

12:00 Multi-tasking–a little bit of Facebook, but mostly “Inside Higher Ed” blogs and then writing this blog.

3:20 Back to class

I’ll be working until 5:30 or so, with maybe another 10-20 minute Facebook break in there. (I’ll subtract 30 minutes total as “Facebook Break,” just to make sure, even though some of my time on f.b. is work-related). I don’t count those breaks as work hours, so I’ll end up clocking in at 8:20 (I keep track although no one else does). If I’d worked through lunch and not taken any Facebook breaks, I’d have worked 9 hours and 20 minutes, or thereabouts.

Today’s a very heavy class-time day–225 minutes in class–all four sections–but outside of class, here’s what I’m doing: writing, developing a rubric to use online, on our “course delivery platform,” planning my schedule for the week, answering emails, sending an agenda for a meeting on Wednesday, setting up a blog for the committee that’s meeting on Wednesday, class prep for this afternoon’s class and Wednesday’s classes, posting an online grade update for students in my composition classes and sending an email reminding them the drop deadline is Friday (I’ll do that for my other classes later today or tomorrow), checking email and responding (including emailing my dean and chair about using letters of recommendation they wrote for a sabbatical proposal in my fundraising letter to support my own sabbatical), grading an essay that got turned in two weeks late, meeting with a student to go over his rough draft, and…I’m not sure what else.  I’ll post an update.

I don’t teach at all on Tuesdays or Thursdays, so I use those days for checking email and responding, grading, class prep, writing, reading, committee work, etc. I also volunteer at my son’s school on Tuesday mornings–I figure since I’m not commuting, I have an extra hour and ten minutes, but volunteering counts as discipline-related community service, in any case.  I don’t always get 8 hours of work in on Tuesdays, but I still average at least 40 hours a week during my 9-month pay period (though I might need  to count the hours of the week right before and the week right after to hit the numbers exactly–I don’t necessarily work 40 hour weeks every week of the nine months–I’m keeping track of these hours on Excel this semester for the  first time, so I’ll have LOADS of great stats soon). A lot of Mondays and Wednesdays I clock 9 or 10 hour days, and I regularly work at least four hours Saturdays or Sundays (sometimes both).

Back to the question of what if nothing ever changed–I’m feeling o.k. about where I am in my career right now, not just because I get a good enough salary  (these things are all relative) for working hard on average 40-45 hours a week for 9 months of the year (I’ll post about summers some other time, but let me just say that I don’t get paid in the summer, so as far as I’m concerned, all my hours then are pro bono.)

If nothing ever changes with my job and I’m teaching four sections a semester until I retire or die–it’s a pretty good gig. Everything I spent time on today is fulfilling to me in one way or another.  And then during lunch, a former student told me that she was answering security questions online for some thing or other and the question came up: Favorite teacher? And she said my name is what came to mind.  I told her how cool it was to hear that, given my status-quo-scenario musing.

So in addition to having students I enjoy, I get to eat lunch with a former student who still appreciates what I was able to do a very long time ago, when I wasn’t nearly as good at what I do as I am now. Pretty cool.

UPDATE: Talked to an advisee about whether or not she should drop a class and what she needed to bring on Thursday for her advising appointment to talk about fall classes. Will also be grading a second essay that was turned in two weeks late (they lose 5% per business day it’s late, and two weeks is the absolute cut-off, but some points are better than none).


Found & forwarded an old power point lecture & list of sources for a colleague who’s working on a workshop related to civility in the classroom.

LATER UPDATE: The student didn’t email me her search terms. I was actually disappointed.

7 responses to “Be There Now (Day of Higher Ed)

  1. Nice thoughts Marnie!

  2. What a brilliant insight.
    So we all live, making plans and projects, but not counting on them. What freedom. If you have al life that you can love, what the hell!

  3. Mrs. D.,
    We were clearly twins separated at birth!!! I have had the same thoughts myself on all of the points you addressed. My house will never be featured in an issue of Better Homes and Gardens. Much to my doctor’s chagrin, I have been attempting to lose the same 25 pounds for at least 4 years. My life has been a steady stream of twists and turns that never cease to amaze me ever since I was old enough to worry about things I could not control.
    My paternal grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer when I was three years old. Most of my early childhood memories involve being babysat by the oncology nurses at The Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston during the weekends. My father would take me down there to see my grandfather and grandmother and I spent a lot of time being made aware that life is precious and not guaranteed to anyone. My grandfather passed away before my ninth birthday.
    My paternal grandmother and father both had Alzheimer’s. I am constantly wondering if I will be the next in line to develop the disease? My father lived with me for 16 years after he and my mother separated and divorced. The last year of his life I could no longer take care of him and he died at a local nursing home. I wish I had written down some of the things he said and did the last year before he moved to the nursing home. I never knew what situation I would find him or my house in when I came home from the college where I was taking classes.The hardest decision I ever made was placing him out at the nursing home.
    My mother died from lung cancer when she was 57. I was solely responsible for her care during her last three months. I watched her age a decade a week the last three weeks of her life. She looked like she was about 90 years old when she passed away. The hardest part was watching her drift away a little bit more each day and knowing there was nothing I could do to save her or take away her pain. Thank God I have never smoked and begged her for over 25 years to stop, but she couldn’t.
    Know what you mean about your son also! My only son is 30 years old and currently going through a divorce. He is living and working in Louisiana, about 14 hours away from me. He saw me on Facebook this morning and called before I went to work. You never realize how empty a house can be until you are the only one home…
    I am so sorry about the novel! Please know that you are not alone by a longshot. We are all in this rat race together and only have 24 hours a day to complete everything we need to do. Some days I feel as if I was the person Camus wrote about in The Stranger, Sysphus (sp?) steadily moving that rock up the hill only to have it bean me squarely on the head as it slides back down…LOL…

  4. Marnie, you’re awesome.

    I feel like I’m rising to the surface of something–feeling less choked with rage, some-crazy-how–and reading your blog is actually incredibly reassuring, that if someone as cool and smart as you are is having the same sorts of doubts that I am, I might come out OK on the other side.

    I’m glad you’re writing. In whatever format.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s