Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When abundance is a burden

My heart sings when I get home from campus and see a cooler full of ears of corn in the foyer, but then it sinks because I know the two of us can't eat 60 ears of corn before it goes bad and therefore someone is going to have to shuck and process all that corn for the freezer, and it looks like that someone is me.

This is the season of abundance. We took tomatoes to church and campus this week but today my kitchen counter is covered with more, and the fridge is full of broccoli, beans, radishes, peppers, squash, swiss chard, and I don't know what else. Downstairs bunches of basil hang from the ceiling to dry, and the potato bin is brimming with spuds.

I can't complain because I love to eat fresh veggies, but I do complain because I don't always love to process them. And now I'm busy with another kind of abundance on campus--meetings, paperwork, class preps, and then more meetings. I need to hire some part-time help to process the vegetables so I can focus on classes, or vice versa. 

Good thing I'm not in this alone. I came home full of energy yesterday and processed the corn, but tonight I'm dragging so my sweet hubby is taking care of the beans. First, though, it's time to dig into a little bit of heaven: the first cantaloup of the season. You won't hear any complaints about that kind of abundance!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Please don't kick the colleagues

I need to stop admitting out loud that my syllabi are done or one of my colleagues is going to kick me. Sorry! I can't help it that I'm totally neurotic about deadlines! And I don't know what came over me when I agreed to attend 13 different meetings and events this week, some of which require me to actually present information! With all that going on, there's no way writing syllabi would fit into this ridiculous week.

This morning I've been making progress on all those petty little details that must be completed before classes begin, but I keep running into dead ends. Speaking of wanting to kick a colleague, did you know that all it takes to derail a powerful committee is to refuse to respond to e-mail? It doesn't matter that all the rest of the committee members have dutifully sent me their scheduling information--the one holdout will prevent the committee from taking a single step this semester. Applying for tenure or promotion this year? Sorry, folks! The committee can't schedule any meetings until that one guy reads his e-mail! No tenure for anyone!

Rumor has it that people are having trouble sending files to the department photocopier this morning. Good thing I got all my photocopying done before the trouble started! Oh, and by the way, I used up all the pretty yellow paper! I'll just sit here and watch my colleagues struggle--but I'd better look busy or someone's bound to kick me.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wind, waves, weeds, beauty

Around noon yesterday we grounded our canoe on a mud flat and ate sloppy sandwiches while watching wind ripple through the tall grass alongside the lake. The grasses and reeds swayed in waves, softly rustling. The only other sound was the occasional blue heron squawk and, somewhere in the distance, a muted beep-beep from a big truck backing up.

Ask me what we saw on our canoe outing yesterday and I'll tell you "Not much": wind, water, swaying reeds, a few herons and kingfishers and a pair of eagles. And beauty so stunning I can't begin to express it.

This morning I read an article in the Atlantic exploring "The Beauty-Happiness Connection"  (read it here). Scientists who study the sources of happiness (and who wouldn't want that job?) conclude that being in the presence of beauty--even ordinary, everyday beauty--is closely correlated with feelings of happiness, perhaps because beauty "is able to conjure the feelings we tend to associate with happiness: calmness, a connection to history or the divine, wealth, time for reflection and appreciation, and, perhaps surprisingly, hope."

What's hope got to do with it? According to the article's author, Cody D. Delistrati, "the beauty around us--the sky-high nave of the Westminster Cathedral, the ability to appreciate a simple lunch--offers hope that life can inch closer to perfection."

The search for perfection, of course, is a double-edged sword: seeking the ideal leads the perfectionist to live in a constant state of disappointment. Which is why it's so wonderful when beauty crops up serendipitously in the midst of an imperfect world, such as wind blowing soft ripples across a sea of water and grass. I couldn't recreate that beauty in word or picture without leaving out the most important part: being there, imperfectly. 

But we couldn't stay there. We didn't have enough sandwiches to last forever and there are no porta-potties in the lake, so finally we turned around and paddled directly into the wind. The same wind that had contributed so much beauty and peace was suddenly a force to be reckoned with, pushing us around the lake and making us pour every ounce of energy into paddling just to make slow progress back to the boat ramp. It was exhausting and exhilarating and occasionally a little frightening.

So when I recall yesterday's canoe trip I may think of the calm moments of beauty with our backs to the wind or the strenuous effort of paddling with our faces to the wind. Add them both together and the result is happiness.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer sweetness

The reward for all that weeding: sweet corn fresh from the garden! The solar electric fence is doing a great job keeping the raccoons and deer away from the corn, but if you take your harvest out on the back porch to shuck it, you'd better be willing to share with Hopeful!

In other news, I have somehow promised to do various important things for various important people and groups at 11 different times next week, plus possibly a twelfth on Monday. Up until today, I had Monday free, but NOOOO. It's nice to be needed, but this is ridiculous. What have I done to myself?

Ah, but that's next week. I still have a smidgen of this week to enjoy, and that means sweet corn today and getting the canoe out on a nice quiet lake tomorrow. I intend to squeeze the last bit of sweetness out of summer in hopes that it will carry me through the deluge.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A syllabus I can live with

Constructing a syllabus is an exercise in chopping: start with a long list of wonderful readings and then trim to fit the time available. Sometimes this can be quite painful, but lately I've been taking the long view: No room for Henry James this time? I'll teach him next time. No room for Sara Orne Jewett in American Lit Survey? I'll move her to Concepts of Nature.

This represents a profound shift from my early years of teaching literature, when I felt compelled to teach every student everything I knew in every class. The Firehose Approach to teaching--be sure to bring an umbrella!

I'm still packing an outrageous amount of reading and writing into every syllabus, but you wouldn't believe the things I've been cutting out. For example, the new Norton Anthology of African American Literature grew so huge that they broke it into two volumes, which is a good thing because the one-volume version served as a personal weight-training regimen. Each of the two volumes includes over 1400 pages. That's nearly 3000 pages of small print that I could assign in my African-American Lit class, which is too much even for an upper-level class.

And so I'm chopping. Ruthlessly. Sometimes it hurts, but let's not forget the payoffs: trim a little in the slave-narrative part of the syllabus and suddenly I have room for Nella Larsen. Shove a couple of modern poets out the window so Suzan-Lori Parks can walk through the door. Trim a little here, chop a little there, and before you know it I have a syllabus I can live with.

For now. But just wait until next time!   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Not Shibbolethless

In the midst of a busy morning of typing and clicking and clicking and typing, I encountered this:

I've been authenticated before, but never in quite these terms. My laptop computer pronounced Shibboleth correctly and was allowed to cross the Jordan! Makes me feel so special.

Some Googling reveals that Shibboleth has evolved beyond its biblical roots, as I am apparently the last person on the planet to learn. Shibboleth can still refer to words or customs (particularly "outmoded" belief, according to some definitions) that identify a particular group, but Shibboleth is also "among the world's most widely deployed federated identity solutions, connecting users to applications both within and between organizations."

(Federated Identity Solutions: institutional jargon or great name for a rock band?)

Whatever it is, I'm delighted that my laptop passed the Shibboleth test because at the moment this computer is connection to the wider world. We're accustomed to having no cell-phone coverage out here in the woods, but for the past month our landline has been in decline. First it was infected with a bad case of loud static, but after we filed a complaint with Frontier, the static went away--but so did the service. We now have a dead line, total silence, not even a dial tone, and Frontier is not responding to my e-mails.

On the plus side, we're not answering a dozen robo-calls every day. On the other hand, we need a phone. If my house decided to burn down right now, I would have no way to dial 911--and what if I were suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to hear my adorable granddaughter giggle? Dead phone = it's not happening.

But our internet connection, amazingly enough, is stronger than ever. Gone are the days of ultra-slow dial-up or unreliable wireless access; my genius son-in-law installed an antenna that boosts our signal so that I can do just about anything online except view video. In fact, I've even used my laptop to make voice calls over Skype, which worked well enough to make me wonder whether we ought to cancel the land-line entirely. Would my tech-resistant spouse be willing to master a new technology? Or would that be a Shibboleth too far?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

So that's where dance crazes come from!

A little while ago when I walked straight into a spider web at mouth level, I didn't fuss or squawk but simply accepted it as my due, cosmic payback for my unsympathetic response to the little dance my husband performed this morning after we got home from church. He's normally not a dancing person thanks to severe congenital rhythm impairment, but when a bee started buzzing around inside the pants of his most dignified preaching suit, he started busting out some pretty impressive moves.

He did get stung--on the leg--but fortunately, he's not allergic. He will live to dance another day. Maybe he'll inspire a new dance craze! If hordes of young people all over the planet suddenly start jerking spastically to the Bees-In-My-Pants Dance, you'll know who started it.

I won't be doing the dance (I hope!) but I found three black swallowtail butterflies dancing around the butterfly weed in our upper meadow. That's more butterflies than I've seen in one place all summer long, and they were definitely worth a face full of spider web. 

I didn't see the spider. Absent or hiding? And what would the Spider-In-My-Pants Dance look like?