Thursday, March 30, 2017

Teaching Writing Isn't for the Faint of Heart

As I was driving to work today, the thought that a week from tomorrow I go in for my promotion portfolio defense flitted through my mind. A nano second later, that rush of adrenaline that happens when a person feels fear shot through the pit of my stomach. I calmed myself, thinking hopefully my portfolio readers are all reasonable people. Then, almost as soon as I sat down at my desk my phone rang. I answered and found it was one of my promotion portfolio readers. Another rush of adrenaline coursed through my core, speeding up my heart. The reader, someone I've known for many years and have cycled with, tells me a page from my teaching philosophy is missing. The last page. Pages 1, 2, 3, and the works cited were all there. Page 4? Where'd it go? I quickly pulled the document up on my computer to check it. Yes, page 4 was there. Why it wasn't in the portfolio is beyond me. I checked, double checked then triple checked each copy of the portfolio before submitting them, so I know the entire document was there when I dropped the binders off at HR. Thankfully, my reader simply said, "Email me the teaching philosophy. I'll print it out and hole-punch the missing page then put it in your portfolio." At least one of my readers is a reasonable person.

This promotion portfolio is extremely important to me. I've gone through four promotions during my time teaching here, moving from instructor to Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Professor I then to Professor II. Now I'm up for Distinguished Professor. The obstacle I knew I had to hurdle in putting together my portfolio was the perception my readers hold concerning what a writing teacher should be teaching. Over the last 25 years, I've heard on many occasions that we writing teachers aren't doing our job. We're allowing students to move out of our comp classes though they can't put a coherent sentence together. Instead of teaching concepts like voice, audience, and context, we should be focusing on grammar. For many of my colleagues who are outside the writing program, grammar is the end-all to good writing.

This emphasis on grammar came out loud and clear in an email exchange that occurred the week before classes began this semester. Long story short: I am in charge of our Writing Across the College initiative. In my time here, others have tried to get WAC up and running but it always fizzled out. I knew this going into this newest WAC attempt, and as such, I wanted to take a different approach from my predecessors. With assistance from my Chair, I drew up a survey to get a sense for my colleagues' attitudes concerning what made good student writing. That survey revealed pretty much what I figured it would. Correct grammar means good writing. Those who teach "content" courses don't have time to teach writing because there's so much content to cover. It is the responsibility of the writing teachers to prepare students to handle the writing assignments they'll face across the college. While not every person to respond to the survey shared in these beliefs, many did, and after drawing up a response to the survey results and sharing it with all faculty, the proverbial crap hit the fan.

Several very vocal senior faculty members expressed their beliefs that the survey was "rigged" to elicit the responses that it did (never mind that the participant had the option for each question to not answer if he/she didn't wish to). These faculty members went on to suggest that the goal of the writing program is to remove teaching of grammar all the way around and push it off on everyone else (never mind that we created a class specifically to focus on grammar-related issues for incoming students who didn't place directly into English 101). The culmination of this heated, and even vitriolic at times, email exchange came when one individual personally attacked a writing program faculty member. I was simply stunned by what was said in a forum that included all faculty, full time and adjunct (which tells me this person has no idea what voice/audience/context mean and should have to back up and take English 101 and English 102).

With all of this in mind I wrote my promotion portfolio. I may have been snarky at times, referring now and again to "the more traditional-minded instructor," but I build what I believe to be a solid case for teaching writing the way I teach writing. I bring in scholars of the field as well as scholars from the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and sociology. I offer anecdotal evidence from my students over the last five years. And I demonstrate my own involvement in continued professional development through the years. My hope is my portfolio readers see that writing and the teaching of writing is, as someone once said, "Fraught with peril." Peril that involves much more than correct grammar.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Changing The Way I Think

Last evening, I did something I've never done before in my 53 years of living. I showed my feet some love. Yep. I took an hour out of my evening to wash my feet with hot, soapy water then go over them with a pumice. From there I rubbed in some lotion, massaging my feet along the way. As I reveled in the relaxation brought about by the kneading of the muscles in my feet, I wondered what took me so long to realize the neglect I'd been showing two very important parts of my body. I mean, they do so much work each and every day. You'd think I'd have figured this out a long time ago and taken steps to make sure they were given the attention they truly deserve. Now that I've seen the light, I will see to it that my feet are given due care to keep them in working order.

Part of my feet care was me finding other things to do than play Fallout: New Vegas. I wasn't so sure I was going to enjoy this version of Fallout when I first started it, but if the nine hours of playing Saturday afternoon and evening is any indication . . .. So yes, I'm enjoying it tremendously. That nine hours of play showed me something about myself: I have to stop thinking the way I tend to think. I'm usually a very logical, point A to point G kind of thinker. This won't work in the gaming world. Anything is possible in the gaming world. Once I took this to heart, I began having a better time in the game. I still run into obstacles and have to ask for help, but my asking for assistance has brought about some wonderful conversations with Funny Delightful Son and Angel Baby.

Today, I arrived to work and found a gift bag--containing a lovely dark chocolate bar--hanging from my office door handle. I asked several people about the small gift, and I finally found out who left it for me--someone I've called friend ever since I began teaching in this small Illinois town. Such a kind gesture by my friend. When I asked if she left the bag, she replied that yes, it was her and she'd been thinking about me all weekend. I've been giving this "thinking about me" a lot of thought lately, so the fact that someone showed me I was being thought of makes me want to do better at showing others I'm thinking of them. I know I don't tell people as often as I should that I was thinking about them, and I'd like to find ways to let the people I care about know that I am.

After work, after Funny Delightful Son and I went to look at a rental, I had an emotional meltdown. It was all I could do to keep myself together until after I dropped FDS off at his apartment. Once I knew he could no longer see me, I fell apart, driving down the road with tears slipping down my face. Then I sat in my car for several minutes after pulling into the garage, wondering how in the world I'd reached this point in my life. I feel like I just keep making the same mistakes, and part of this happening is because I won't stand up to bad behavior. I'll point it out. I'll say, "That's isn't acceptable." But I won't go any further, at least not until the bad behavior does irreparable damage. Kind of like with the gaming, I need to change the way I think or I'm going to just keep spinning my tires.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Some Dreams Just Stay Dreams

Monday I'm going to look at a house. To rent. In town.

For the last fifteen years, I've been dreaming of finding my house in the country. A small farmhouse with just two or three acres. In my dream, I have a cat or two, a dog or two, a Jersey cow for milk, and maybe a sheep or two so I learn to sheer wool, make yarn. A large garden outside the back door supplies me with veggies to can and freeze. The fruit trees I plant give me cherries, apples, and peaches. The red raspberries stain my face red because I eat more straight from the vine than I save for jams.

But, some dreams just stay dreams.

I know I'm not the only person whose dream won't ever materialize. There are many, many people who move through their days with the hope that maybe, just maybe, one small part of the dream will happen, but know most likely it won't. This is one of the saddest parts of life.

I keep going back to at least I'll have my children with me in whatever house we decide to rent. And we'll play Scrabble (I always win), we'll share our days' stories with each other, and we'll help each other move closer to making our dreams come true.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Getting Back to Teaching Mind

Lovely Beautiful Daughter went back east yesterday. I began missing her before we had even left the house to take her to the bus which would carry her up to O'Hare. The last time we said good-bye at the small airport here in our little city, I watched her wipe tears away as she went through security. Yesterday, I wiped tears away as I walked back to the car. We had such a wonderful time together during the five days she was here. She's a spark of life that makes everyone around her feel happy.

While she was here, I didn't get my students' paper read like I'd hoped to. A few years ago, I would have been agonizing over not finishing the grading as planned, really stressing myself out, but now? Now I shrug it off and send a note to all students, telling them I'm behind and will complete the grading during the next few days.

My position about my job, about teaching writing, these days is so different from just five years ago. I believe having strong writing skills is a valuable asset that can definitely help a person in different areas of life. I also believe, though, that at the end of the day, it's just writing. It's not like the students and I are on the brink of finding a cure for cancer. Which would be very cool if it were the case, and definitely something well worth writing about. But this isn't the case at all. I have a few who are on the brink of really "getting it" in regards to developing a voice the audience wants to listen to, but the majority are where they'll always be in respect to writing: average.

The one bright spot with my f2f class this semester is we are now past midterm and I still have all 22 students who began the semester with me. This is unusual. The typical is losing two or three by this time, and having another two or three with really bad attendance. The 22 in this class are there most class periods, talking, writing, discussing ideas. While I'm not certain, I have to wonder if this might be due to the change I made for starting each class period. I no longer say hello and jump right into a reading or assignment. This semester, I begin each class by checking in with everyone, asking how they are feeling. For ten minutes or more, we talk mind/body connection. I listen as they tell me about illnesses (a severe rash picked up while working out at the gym--doing what is considered good for the body yet becoming ill in the process), family issues (acting as caretaker for an ill grandparent), and being stressed due to car problems (simply not having enough money for gas any given week). The students listen to each other, offer suggestions, and even say, "Text me. I'll drop by and pick you up for class." We too often dismiss how our bodies are feeling and the impact this has on us as we move through out days.

My hope is to move through my days mindfully. I hope this for my students, too.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Ending of Spring Break Brings Hope for a New Beginning

Sometimes, when I'm working on a new written piece, especially a poem, I'll sketch out what I'm seeing in my mind, what I want to take from the swirling that is in my head to paper. Today, as I was working on a poem that has been pulling at me, I had the overwhelming urge to get the sketch pad out and let the pencil go to work. At one point, I felt as if I wasn't even the one sketching. I wasn't thinking about how I wanted the image to look. It just happened. I've never felt this experience before. I thought, too, that I'm not truly worthy of this kind of experience since I'm not an artist. But I quickly checked myself. For some reason "something" was speaking to me and helping me get what was in my head to the sketch pad. I need to honor that and work to make my vision become tangible.
Now, with the image in front of me, I'm finding the words are happening though the writing is slow.

Last night I dreamed I was with a friend from work and another person I didn't know. We were in a place I didn't recognize, so we were trying to figure out where we needed to go that was familiar. We went into a small building, only big enough for the three of us to just step around each other. Along the wall opposite the door were panels of lights and buttons, and to the left side of the panel a blanket hung from the ceiling to the floor. I pulled the blanket aside to see what was behind it and found myself staring at faces contorted in agony. People had been put into what looked like a tube and left there. They appeared to have been trying to get out but couldn't. A similar tube with people in it was behind yet another blanket on the right side of the panel with lights and buttons.

The three of us were quite freaked out over this, so we went to the door to leave. It was locked. I looked around and found a bobby pin (cue Fallout 4 and Fallout: New Vegas!). I've become a pro at using the bobby pin to unlock things in the games, so I quickly worked the bobby pin in the door lock. I could see the little tab I had to connect with inside the lock, and within seconds we were outside the building. At this point, I looked down the road we had walked and saw a car outside another building. The car hadn't been there when we passed it, so I figured it was the person who put all the bodies into the tubes, and I could feel the fear building. Then, a little voice in my head said, "This is a dream." I was like, okay, good to know, nothing to fear here. The three of us headed away from the horror building but I ended up waking up. I figured once that inkling of the whole thing being a dream is put on the table, the game's over.

Sort of like spring break. It's over, and right when we had a beautiful, sunny day after days of snow, wind, and cold. Ado and I enjoyed two nice walks to be sure we took advantage of the warmth. In between the walks, because Lovely, Beautiful Daughter came in to see Angel Baby perform in his last high school jazz concert, the three kids and I had a family discussion. I'm learning my kids are and have been very concerned about me and are very much in favor of me finding a place of my own. We decided that it would be in everyone's best interest to find a place we all could share, splitting rent, utilities, and other costs. I'm really very surprised with how the kids have no reservations about living with me and all of us helping each other out. It's kind of cool.

Now we're all looking for a place we can call home for a year. We agreed to rent for a year then reassess how things are going. I'm trying to focus on work and finishing up the next eight weeks. Just eight weeks! Then? A new beginning.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Listening For Beauty

All of yesterday and all morning today, snow fell. Big, soft flakes much of the time. Every now and then, the wind would gust, pushing the snow sideways. But now the sun is shining. The snow is melting. I imagine by tomorrow evening all of the snow will be gone. The transience of this weather event is a reminder: keep looking ahead, for what seems insurmountable now will reveal itself as just a small inconvenience in the bigger scheme of things. Or as my mom always used to put it: this, too, shall pass.

I'm trying to keep this in mind given the tension my entire being is feeling right now. I know holding onto the anger is unhealthy. I know I need to use the tension and the anger to walk a more creative path. Only I find this so difficult when my husband is in the same space, which is much of the time since he is and has been unemployed for the last year. I find myself intentionally leaving the room when he enters. I stay at work longer than I need to simply to not have to be here with him. I truly do not know if I can move away from the anger this time. It has seeped deeply, settled into my very core.

Some writing is happening, which helps alleviate some of the tightness gripping my heart space. For quite a while I went through a spell of not finding anything revealing itself to me. I've learned not to force something that doesn't want to be. So I simply listen. Last evening the listening brought me a new idea, and I started to flesh it out. This morning, another idea whispered to me as soon as I sat on the couch. Not having any paper beside me, I grabbed the book I'm currently reading and found a page with lots of clean space. I wrote the words that unveiled themselves to me. Now I have two works I hope to breathe life into.

I have to wonder if Ado is sensing my unease. He comes to me often, placing his paws on my lap and snuggling his head against my chest. Just that. For several minutes. Then he returns to his spot on the couch and settles in. The love he offers me is so sweet and gentle. We took a short walk this morning, and after returning, after hanging his leash near the window overlooking the fruit garden, I heard a Cardinal singing. Through the window, I could see the Cardinal in the forsythia across the street.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Quiet Simplicity and Solitude

It is spring break, and we're under a winter weather advisory. Snow. The white fluff is supposed to start later this evening and continue into tomorrow. Several inches, they're saying. Winter's way of shouting, "Hey, hold on a minute. I have eight more days. Then Spring can have her way." I'm secretly hoping Winter stays north of us, smoothing her white blanket over Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Today I finally found the courage to tell my husband I have decided to find a place of my own. I'd been rehearsing the talk in my head for the past few days, but like usual, I went off script fairly quickly. I didn't quite know how he was going to respond. I thought maybe he would get angry as that has been his MO when I offer up how his behavior has harmed our relationship. This time, he remained calm. He suggested he understood how I was feeling. He went on to say he doesn't want me to leave, but he does understand. Later, after Angel Baby and I returned from a run to the store for milk and eggs, I found a card on my keyboard. Inside the card, my husband had written an apology note, saying again he does not want me to leave.

I've realized over the past few years that I crave being alone. When I think about being in a space that is mine, just me and Ado, I feel a longing grip me. I desire nothing more than to create a home free of tension and full of calm. I know I will never get this if I stay here. I read recently how in the Hindu tradition the life of a human being is broken into four 25 year periods. I am in the vanaprastha period, which is, as one writer put it, about "quiet simplicity" and going into a life of solitude after completing the duties associated with maintaining a household. Quiet Simplicity and Solitude pull at me now as if they are puppies yanking on my pant legs.

Today, as Ado and I walked a path next to a drainage ditch, I thought about how embarrassing it is to be that person with yet another marriage not working out. Angel Baby told me recently my failed relationships are because I'm not the marrying type; I'm too independent. Lovely Beautiful Daughter said it's because I don't want to stop taking advantage of the world. I love them both for their take on the situation. Soothes my bruised ego a bit.

For now, with everything out in the open, I'm feeling better. More optimistic. And even if we do get the six inches of snow they're saying we're going to get, I'm won't hide from it. Rather, perhaps I'll actually get that one cross-country skiing expedition in for the season. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Taking Quiet Moments

With no meetings scheduled for tomorrow, I am officially on spring break. I do have papers to grade over break, so I won't have a week of no work-related items to finish up, but since I have no plans whatsoever, I don't mind having papers in need of grading.

This semester has been quite strange for me. I've always taught five or six writing classes each semester for the past 17 years. That's a lot of papers to read and respond to. This semester, because of the release time I have for WAC and the Writing Center, I'm only teaching two writing classes, one of which is online. This puts me in the classroom for one class twice a week. The reduction in assignments to grade has been such that I have not had to spend several hours in the evenings and during the weekends grading. I've been able to do other things. Like read. Take Ado for longer walks. Clean my shop. Sit in my hammock swing on the back deck. Just so many non-work related activities that have been good for my soul.

These soul-refreshing moments are sorely needed. With the emotional turmoil I've been feeling, having time to not have to concentrate helps me think through all the garbage in my head. This evening, after a dinner of salmon and sauteed veggies, I sat in the quiet of the living room, just thinking. I don't think I've ever just sat for several hours, thinking, It felt good.

Yesterday's Sunset

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What Lies Ahead

Sunday was my birthday. I am 53 years old. Now, more than ever before, I think a lot about what lies ahead for me, and what I keep coming back to is: alone.

You'd think this would scare me, but it doesn't. To the contrary, I find the idea of being alone enticing.

Things aren't great in my marriage. To be honest, things aren't even good. The disquiet that hangs over my head has been there for some time now. It didn't just start during the past few months or even during the past few years. Rather, the unsettled feelings have been a part of my life for many years now. I've been searching for ways to make things better, and I have been able to move beyond the anger at different times, but my mind keeps returning to the idea that alone is the only true answer.

More recently, another issue cropped up that is a direct result of my husband. The person who is supposed to be my partner. Only he isn't. The person who is supposed to discuss matters with me and take my opinion into consideration when making big decisions that affect both of us. Only he doesn't. He pretends he is a partner. He pretends he considers my opinion. However, if both of these were true, we wouldn't be facing the issue we currently are. Every fiber in my being was opposed to the decision he made, and he knew this. It wasn't like I was silent about my position. I was, in fact, quite vocal.

This has been the pattern for many years. While I don't want to quit trying to make things better, I also don't want to be the only one trying. That's not a partnership.

So alone seems to be the direction I'm headed. Honestly, I'm okay with this. I realized yesterday, as I was talking with friends and getting their feedback, that the tears have dried up. I no longer become emotional about the loss of the friendship, the closeness, the fun my husband and I used to share. This lack of emotion is incredibly sad to me.

The next few months will be rough, but the one thing I know about myself is that I'm strong. I will be okay.


Friday, March 3, 2017

Removing the Technological Clutter

I took the first step this morning to removing some technological clutter. I closed my LinkedIn account. It's kind of funny how I'm feeling a bit unsettled over actually clicking the Remove Account button. I so rarely even visit my LinkedIn, so I'm not sure why I'm feeling like I've just lost a really good friend. Does technology have that much power over us? Me? This is exactly why I want to declutter. I don't want to feel so attached to spaces online that suck away time. Time is precious. I have come to believe Time should be treated with much more care.

As such, I'm gradually going to close the various social media accounts I have open. Twitter is next. It, like LinkedIn, is a space I rarely visit. I go in every now and then, but for what? I don't truly enjoy scrolling through the tweets, most by people I don't even know. I have a few friends on Twitter, but overall, those who I follow and who follow me are strangers. I want to focus my attention on the actual warm bodies that I call friends.

Facebook will be the more difficult space to remove myself from. I do enjoy seeing what family and friends are up to. However, I know I can find out what they're up to through a phone call, a letter, a text, an email. These seem much more personal and immediate. These focus on the individual rather than putting it out there for them and everybody else. I want to focus my attention on the individual.

Working through my feelings over stepping away from social media, I'm finding I really am okay with doing so. There's too much life happening and to make happen.

Time. Life. These need my focus, not the online world.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Finding Ways to To Make More Peaceful Days

February is over! Dang 2017! Slow down!

I feel like the semester just started and I'm already talking to the students about spring break being less than two weeks away, which is midterm. Then, just a mere eight weeks of the semester will remain. Not that I'm counting the weeks down. Not that my mind is on a summer full of cycling, gardening, and prepping for my Pac coast cycling trip, followed by my Southern Tier cycling trip, both directly connected to my sabbatical project. Nope. I'm not counting down the weeks at all.

With it being March 1st, the days are lengthening, and we're not all that far from spring. I've already seen robins and red-winged black birds, as well as crocuses blooming and daffodils pushing up. Even what usually are the late spring thunderstorms have been moving through. Seems so early for all of these things. Because of the in-between weather, I'm not sure if I should pull my spring clothes out or continue wearing my winter clothes. The struggle is real!

When we were at Purdue for the yoga teacher training class, I realized I really don't like using my phone as an alarm clock. The jarring awake each morning by a loud, repetitious sound just isn't a great way to start the day. So I went online and began researching alarm clocks designed for a more peaceful awakening each morning. I ran across an alarm clock that wakes a person up by light rather than noise, and the more I read, the more I wanted one of those clocks. The idea of waking up to a sunrise each morning sounded perfect. And that's what I get each morning now. I have my own personal sunrise right in my bedroom. The light starts out a deep rosy color. As it brightens, the rosy turns to a pale yellow then to a soft white over the course of a half hour. At the half hour mark, the first chirps of birds begin, gradually getting louder but never getting too loud. The whole process is gradual and gentle. And peaceful.

Given the pressure I've been feeling over the promotion portfolio I've been putting together since January and is due on Friday, I will take all the peaceful moments I can get. Yoga in the evenings helps me destress after all the interaction at work and the writing/rewriting/more rewriting of the portfolio, and now, my new sunrise alarm clock helps me begin my days on a lovely note.