Friday, May 22, 2015

Literally no tomorrow (figuratively speaking)

"There's no tomorrow," says a deep, calm, trustworthy voice on the radio. "We end at 9:00, so there's literally no tomorrow."

That's not the kind of news I like to hear when I turn on my favorite NPR station to hear the morning news--and why does he sound so calm if this really is the end of the world?

But wait--it's not the end of the world; it's just the end of the fund drive. What a relief! 

Oops, better pledge quickly so I can get one of those crank-up radios designed to keep me connected in the event of apocalypse. That way, I'll be able to keep listening to my favorite radio newscasters when there really is no tomorrow--literally.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fruitful conversations across disciplines

We've reached my favorite part of the daily schedule at Writing Boot Camp: colleagues reading each others' drafts and offering comments. I love to eavesdrop as colleagues from different departments discover commonalities, such as the two who got into a passionate discussion of the joys of actuarial science. (We don't have an actuarial science program, but where two or more get excited about a potential program, you never know what might happen.) Yesterday an expert on Buddhism gave me some great insights on an essay I'm writing that deals with a Buddhist nun, and right now an expert on the economics of oil and gas markets is conferring with an expert on petroleum geology. We're rocking and rolling!

Best of all, this week we've experienced the benefits of working as part of a community of scholars, encouraging each other to refine ideas and reach writing goals. I've challenged my Boot Campers to form writing partnerships over the summer, linking up with another colleague to offer regular encouragement, offer updates on progress toward goals, and meet periodically to read and respond to drafts. We'll see how it works, but first we need to wrap up this week and wander over to the all-campus picnic before it's over.

They're still talking. I don't want to make them stop. Why can't we keep this conversation going all summer long?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Getting a boost at boot camp

I was in a meeting all morning so I had no idea that the weather had turned from wretched to wonderful. I stepped out of the library expecting dark clouds and oppressive heat and humidity, but I found instead blue sky and a dry breeze. This is the nicest weather we've seen for weeks. It ought to be illegal to sit inside on a day like today.

However, I'm delighted that I had the chance to attend my meeting today, along with similar meetings tomorrow and Thursday. Today I led the inaugural session of our faculty writing boot camp, beginning with goal-setting and writing sprints, then an hour and a half of intensive writing time, then feedback from colleagues, then lunch. We had a small group (seven including me), but I'm pleased that anyone signed up at all considering that we are two weeks into summer break and there are no stipends or other rewards for participation.

Well, there are intangible rewards: distraction-free writing time, feedback from fellow scholars, encouraging discussions during breaks--and let's not forget the free lunch. Most of the participants are untenured and eager to boost their scholarly productivity, and this three-day workshop is designed to get the momentum going so they can ride it all summer long.

I'll be riding that wave too. I managed to write 1000 words on a conference paper draft this morning, and then I got some good advice about how to shift around two paragraphs to clarify the argument. I've hit a bit of a snag at the start of the next section, but I'm not worried. I'm counting on tomorrow's writing boot camp to hoist me over the obstacle and propel me down the course.

Our boot camp slogan? "Drop and give me 50! (Words)." So far, it's working.   

Monday, May 18, 2015

Breaking into summer

This is the rhythm of summer break: 

First c0mes the scramble to finish tasks--submitting grades, attending final meetings, assembling assessment reports--while the interlibrary loan books pile up unread amid the flurry of activity.

Then a week of fitful sleep and grumpiness as body and mind adjust to the new, loose schedule and sudden absence of pressing deadlines. I plant some flowers, do some mowing, grab a book but can't seem to focus on any one task for more than a few minutes.

Then one day I find myself so immersed in a book that I forget to eat supper, my mind bubbling with ways to incorporate these new ideas into my research and writing, and when I put the book down I can finally see the long summer break stretching before me, offering both obligations and recreation but also a chance to follow a network of ideas through a variety of texts and spend long hours writing it all down for my next big project.

It takes some time and a little stress to work through the transition, but now that I've shifted my focus from what has just passed to what lies ahead, I'm definitely liking what I see. It's time to let the good times roll.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Crowded out by nature's mysteries

I want to sit on the back deck and read a book in the sunshine but I can't because of the carcass, once a roly-poly groundhog but now a rotting slab of flesh sitting in the grass just a few feet from the deck, probably deposited there by the dog. We've had some hot days so the odor is ripe and the flies abundant--in fact, a glance at the carcass reveals an area so thick with flies that it sparkles like an iridescent carpet. I suppose I could move the rotting carcass to a more distant location, maybe dump it over the cliff at the back of the yard, but that would require first finding the shovel and then getting close to the stench and the flies.

So I go to the bench in the front yard, which isn't nearly so comfortable as my nice chaise longue on the deck but has the advantage of not being surrounded by the buzzing flies and the stench of dead groundhog, but there I confront yet another mystery of nature: wasps scouring the worn parts of the wood, perhaps scraping up bits of building materials for their nests. I am generally unfazed by wasps fluttering nearby, but I draw the line at moving over so they can chomp at the bit of bench I happen to be occupying.

A carcass covered with flies, a bench being devoured by wasps--what sort of world do I inhabit? Close encounters with nature drew me to my little house in the not-so-big woods, but I do have boundaries. I don't mind snakes living under the front door, but the snakeskin we found above the ceiling tiles downstairs gave me the heebie-jeebies--and those gigantic spiders? Outdoors I'm happy to live and let live, but the minute they cross the threshold and come inside, I'm putting on my stomping shoes.

The back deck and front porch are liminal spaces, bits of indoors projecting into the exterior world. My chaise longue, my bench, my space--only the wasps can't seem to stop themselves from building nests in the plastic recesses beneath the lawn chairs, and the dog likes to drag her kills close to home where she can keep track of them. 

Here's a plan: drag the chaise longue up by the herb gardens, where I can relax far from the stench, flies, and wasps and also get a good angle on the hummingbird feeder. It's a temporary solution but far better than spending such a gorgeous day indoors. At some point someone will have to address the dead groundhog situation, but who says that someone has to be me? Let he who misplaced the shovel wield it wisely.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ramping up the despicability quotient

On the one hand, we have cheery notes from students grateful for the great experiences they've had in my classes; on the other hand, we have a bitter complaint that causes me to wonder who in that class might be familiar with the spelling of "despicable."

Yes, it's the time of year when an entire semester's back-breaking labor gets reduced to a handful of numbers and incompatible comments on course evaluations: the student who wants to banish all poetry from the survey class or the one who wants me to require no papers in a writing proficiency class, with "best class ever" nuzzling right up next to "worst class ever." I get variations on these every semester, but I pay more attention to the real oddball comments, like the one that called me "a despicable person." What did I do? I don't recall ramping up the despicability quotient in any of my classes.

Hey, maybe that student is a fan of Despicable Me, which could be good news if the role comes with minions. Even one minion would be enough to offset the disadvantages of despicability. So sign me up!   

Monday, May 11, 2015

A miobile Mother's Day

Only a small portion of my Mother's Day was devoted to cleaning vomit off a car-seat (because that's what mothers do), which is a good thing because it wasn't exactly the high point of my day. What was the high point? It's hard to say:

Sitting in the front pew at my brother's church along with my parents, my children and grandchild, both of my brothers and a sister-in-law, a cousin, and a pair of nephews, who had all gathered in North Carolina for a fun family weekend involving a pile of old family photo albums, finger-licking barbecue, and lots of stories.

Waking in my motel room to the sound of my adorable granddaughter singing to her stuffed animals--and, later, sitting on a bench at the Wal-Mart where we stopped during our long drive home and hearing her sing "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" to me as we waited for our traveling companions.

Following I-77 through a long dark tunnel under a mountain in Virginia and then, as soon as hit the other side, hearing my granddaughter say, "Do it again!" (But there are only so many tunnels on the interstate....)

Sitting in the passenger's seat secure in the knowledge that the driving was in the capable hands of my son, who maneuvered us around an interminable line of stopped cars on I-77 by detouring around the blockage on a twisty country road. (The episode of carsickness caused only a small delay compared to the time we would have wasted and the nerves we would have frayed lurching through stop-and-go traffic in the afternoon sun.)
Sharing a crackers-and-snap-peas supper with my family during that long drive home, which, despite interruptions, went smoothly enough to get us to bed by 10, exhausted but thankful.

So forget the vomit and the traffic congestion--my Mother's Day put me in the presence of four generations of my family and took me through tunnels and over mountains accompanied by crackers and snap peas and silly children's songs, and what greater gift could I want?