Thursday, April 19, 2018

Deer, deer

On Tuesday I took a photo of a ding in my windshield and assumed I was done with misery for the week, but no: this morning I took a photo of deer fur caught in my smashed headlight, in case my insurance company needs confirmation of the nature of this morning's little interruption.

Could that deer possibly have picked a worse time to run straight into my car? I mean, the big campus event I've been planning all year happens tomorrow, so I started the day with a full schedule that did not include filing an insurance claim, getting my disabled car to the garage for an estimate, or figuring out how to squeeze in and out of my car when the driver's-side door wouldn't open all the way.

And then there were those little added annoyances caused by the fact that we live in Appalachia: I hit the deer on a country road with no safe place to pull off and no cell-phone service; I couldn't get a rental car (even though my insurance policy covers rentals) because apparently there isn't a single rental car available in the entire county until Monday; and the insurance claims adjuster I spoke to over the phone is located in a big city and so can not imagine that either of the two facts I've just mentioned could possibly be true.

But the good news is that I'm fine. Well, fine enough. I must have tensed up when that great big deer ran right straight into my car because now every muscle in my body hurts. And, hurrah for this, we have really good car insurance (although I predict a rate increase in my future). And my car is still drivable, since the guys at the garage twisted a few things around so the door opens and the tire no longer rubs on whatever it was rubbing on. And some time next week it will all be fixed.

But my car! That's the first car I ever bought entirely to please myself, and I have loved that car more than I've ever loved any other vehicle. But now it just looks sad, with a smashed headlight and dents in the hood and all down the driver's side, plus little tufts of deer fur stuck to twisted metal. My hero-blue Camry now looks like a wreck--but I'll bet it looks better than the deer that hit me.

Poor deer. Poor car. Poor sad suffering world. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Not quite down for the count

How many times does the universe have to punch you in the face before you decide to sit out a round? I'm working from home today to avoid yet another punch while trying to recover from a series of blows that may seem insignificant separately but succeeded in knocking me off my feet.

It started with a virus, some sort of stomach bug that's been going around campus, and I'm not going to share the details but it kept me up half the night and left me feeling woozy and slow. (I started feeling icky during the faculty meeting yesterday, so if I unintentionally passed this virus on to any of my colleagues, um, sorry!) 

I could have stayed home this morning since I don't teach on Tuesdays but I'd left a pile of work on my desk that really needed to be done, so I bundled up against the weather (snow and sleet and cold cold cold in the third week of April) and drove to town to collect my laptop, papers, and books. I hadn't gone five miles down the highway before a truck passing the other way tossed something against my windshield, making a BOOM so loud I involuntarily closed my eyes, which is not the optimal method for driving on slippery roads.

But I survived, and when I surveyed the situation I saw only a minor ding on my windshield. I've seen such dings develop over time into networks of cracks obstructing vision, so I took a photo in preparation for that inevitable moment when my insurance guy asks me exactly when and where the damage occurred. Yes, I've been down this road before.

I posted a note on my office door and came back home, so I was not there when a certain person stopped by my office to reveal that a major detail for All Scholars Day (Friday!) had suddenly gone all cattywampus through no fault of my own. I'm glad I got to deal with this problem via e-mail, which gave me time to compose myself before responding, but ouch--that smarts.

And now I'm sitting here bundled up on the sofa prepping classes and grading presentations and wondering why my hands are so cold, and the answer is: because the temperature in the house has been falling steadily all morning. Why? Because the pump that runs the hot water from the wood-burner to heat the house has stopped limping its sorry way through the winter and ceased functioning entirely.

And at this point I could just give up, but hey, I've survived worse than this. Toss a virus at my body, a rock at my windshield, a snafu into my best-laid plans, and a monkey-wrench into my heating system and somehow I'll roll with the punches and keep standing.

(Make that sitting. Under a pile of blankets. When I'm not running to the bathroom.) 

It's much more impressive if you hear the boom.


Monday, April 16, 2018

What we have here is a failure to commiserate

Since owning up to failure is an important part of adulthood, I am willing to admit that I failed badly when I reached into the sock drawer this morning. I did not realize that the elastic on these knee-highs was just too tired to function on a dreary gray Monday, and hence I've spent half the morning pulling up my socks. (Note to self: at the end of the day, these knee-highs go straight into the trash.)

And I am willing to accept responsibility for agreeing to pay a vendor a certain amount of money for services related to All Scholars Day without first going through the proper College channels, but I quickly admitted my error, asked for help, and fixed the problem--and now I'll know how to do it next time I end up in this kind of situation.

But at the moment, that's as far as I'm going. Complain about the weather all you want; I refuse to accept responsibility for it. Whine about why you should get a special exemption from a deadline, but remember that your failure to meet the deadline is not the deadline's fault. Gripe about bad academic advising from now until next Tuesday, and I'll just point out that an advisee's refusal to take her advisor's good advice is not so much "failure of advising" as "failure of studenting."

I'll carry my quota of failure with as much dignity as I can muster, but that doesn't mean I'm willing to carry yours. So let's buck up and carry our failures forward side by side. (Wait a minute while I pull up my socks.)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Our day in the sun

Funny, but this semester none of my students have been begging to have class outside. I blame the weather. Apparently we flunked January, so we've had to repeat it over and over until we got it right.

Today, though, conditions converged harmonically: Sunshine! Warmth! Pleasant breezes! Classes that didn't require the use of technology! Best of all, both of my morning classes were reading kind of gloomy material, and if we must read about death and despair, we may as well do it where the weather can counteract the gloom.

So out we went at 9:00, and out came a college photographer to snap pictures of my students sitting next to the library and talking about Sylvia Plath. I hadn't planned on having a photographer present, but he wasn't terribly distracting. And then out we went again at 11:00, and out came--well, everybody. We had class in the midst of students tossing Frisbees, petting dogs, eating hot dogs, playing music, and doing all kinds of joyfully distracting things. I have to hand it to my students for remaining attentive through all that, but I'm not sure it was the most productive use of our time.

On the other hand, it felt great. I'm sure I'm not the only one who emerged from our time in the sun feeling cheerful and energized. After 13 weeks of flunking January after January, we welcome Spring.  

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mud makes a grand entrance

As I trudged up the hill in the darkening evening, I envisioned bursting into the house and standing there dripping wet and muddy and loudly announcing, "Next time I say I'm perfectly capable of walking down that hill without assistance, lock me in the closet until I come to my senses." But my grand entrance was ruined: no one was there to hear my announcement, and I had to take my shoes off before I got in the door and then strip down out of my muddy pants and head straight toward the laundry room. I suppose it would be possible to make a dramatic announcement while standing barefoot in your underwear while carrying a bundle of wet, muddy clothes, but it wouldn't be terribly dignified.

On the plus side, all I suffered from my unexpected adventure was a little dampness, a little fear, a little bruise to my ego. On the minus side, the photos I was hunting for were pretty blurry (not that I was shaking or anything), and I don't know if I'll ever be able to wear those shoes again.

But here's the thing: I shouldn't have been wearing those shoes to begin with. If I'd planned to go to the hillside across the road, where the flood waters only recently receded, I would have put on boots or proper mudding shoes; however, I thought I'd just take a quick walk up the hill behind our house and see whether I could find any trilliums or bloodroot or trout lilies, and since the flood never got that high (and never will unless the entire state is under water), I wore ordinary walking shoes.

I found what I expected and more: bloodroot and hepatica and spring beauties in bloom, trilliums and trout lilies just emerging from the soil. But I also found a lot more mud than I'd expected, and eventually I found myself stranded halfway down a steep, muddy slope with no safe way to get back up the hill. I paused for a while to examine my options, wondering how long I would have to stand there clutching desperately to a dinky tree before someone sent a search party, and I finally realized that the only thing to do was to keep going down the hill.

So down I went, sometimes on my feet and sometimes not, until I reached the creek, where recent flooding left the banks muddy and crowded with debris. Even worse, the creek narrows and deepens to make a turn just downstream, swallowing up the bank entirely and leaving nothing but steep, muddy bluffs on my side.

So there was nothing to do but to find a shallow spot and wade across to the other side and then scramble up a low bank to the neighbor's hay-meadow and walk all the way around to our bridge. This long walk home gave me a chance to imagine a number of different scenarios, but a grand entrance requires an audience and mine was missing. So I just cleaned myself up and resolved never to attempt that particular slope without a helping hand--or, at the very least, a clear exit strategy.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Just a little singed around the edges

Why does every major project lead inexorably to a Meltdown Moment? Or is it just me? Maybe everyone else manages to successfully plan massive events without ever reaching that day when everything goes to pieces all at once, and if so, I'd like to know their secret.

For me that day was yesterday. All day long I alternated between putting out fires in some parts of campus while lighting fires under others, just to meet all the important deadlines for planning next week's All Scholars Day. And in between all that firefighting, I was trying to put the finishing touches on the program so I could get it to the printer today, but the computer program I needed to use kept alternately crashing or messing up the formatting, and at one point it decided that every page should be numbered 11. 

I left here last night at the end of my rope, hoping to get some rest and come back ready to fix the problem, but then my overactive mind wouldn't let it go, gnawing incessantly on the same annoying computer glitches past 2:30 a.m. Then my brain woke me up at 4:30 with the solution to the problem and sent me off to campus around 6 so I could execute the cure, which was great but how am I supposed to teach three classes on two hours' sleep? (You do the math. I keep coming up with zeros.)

After I sent the file off to the print shop, I had to shut my office door, turn off the light, and lie down on the floor for a while, and then at lunch I went over to visit a colleague who always gives me a big dose of perspective and makes me laugh. I came back feeling refreshed, ready to tackle whatever arises, and what did I find in my inbox but a message stating that the print shop had a sample copy of the program for my approval--and it is just lovely.

It's kind of amazing that something so wonderful could come out of all those fires, like a phoenix rising from the ashes--and if I still feel a little scorched, I'm sure it'll pass. The good news is that I have now fulfilled my quota of Meltdown Moments for the semester so from this point on, I'm exempt.


Monday, April 09, 2018

The unexpected expert

I don't mind when my colleagues seek my assistance on some sticky aspect of grammar--I mean, I definitely struggled through all those years of grad school just so I could become an expert on the use of the semicolon--but once in a while it's nice to be consulted as an expert on a topic totally outside my field. Yesterday it happened twice, concerning very different topics on which I'm not really much of an expert, which suggests that all you have to do to be considered an expert is to know a little more than the person asking the questions.

It all started when I went across the Ohio River into West Virginia to visit a wetland where a great egret has been hanging out for the past week. It's a highly accessible wetland surrounded by a very nice boardwalk, so naturally lots of folks have been stopping to take a look, and sure enough there it was, and I even got a (blurry) photo of the egret with a fish in its mouth before it flew off across the road to the less accessible part of the wetland. But I didn't leave right away because, as an added bonus, I'd found a little flock of yellow-rumped warblers flitting about catching insects and perching on the cat-tails. My first warbler of the season! And they're just as cute as can be so I took a lot of photos.

Then while I was heading back to my car, I encountered a couple carrying very nice cameras. They asked me whether I'd been taking pictures of "that big white crane" in the lagoon, and I gently pointed out that it's a great egret and that it had already flown the coop, "but there's a very nice group of yellow-rumped warblers posing on the cat-tails." I didn't explain why I was so excited about this harbinger of the spring warbler migration because I didn't want to be an annoying know-it-all--and besides, they were clearly disappointed by the absence of the great egret. "It may come back eventually," I said and moved on.

Then I went to the college baseball game, where one of my Chinese students kept asking me to explain certain finer points of the game: "Wasn't that guy just catching? Why is he hitting now? What's a designated hitter? What's an error? Why was that called a strike when the batter didn't swing at it?"

Baseball is the only sport on which I can reliably provide answers to these kinds of questions, so I was happy to help, and when I occasionally dropped the ball, people sitting nearby were willing to pinch-hit. The student had a lot of trouble comprehending why a batter can keep hitting foul balls all day long without being called out (unless the ball gets caught), but by the end of the game she had a better idea of how baseball works, and I'd learned something too: how silly some of the rules of the game sound when explained to a neophyte.

Not so long ago I was the neophyte, learning about baseball from my husband and about birds from my birding-and-botanizing colleague, so being consulted as a sort of expert feels really good. No one ever asks me to explain Derrida or enjambment or even semicolons out in public, so it's nice to know that a certain portion of my hard-earned knowledge is not going to waste.