Sunday, October 25, 2015

General Lost Freshness

(Picture taken in 1979)
Years of 1978
Youth is an army ... on a considerably reluctant march into the
enemy's country, the country of the general lost freshness.

                                                                —HENRY JAMES

In that mysterious country, time ran backward—
or we ran forward and everything lay in our slipstream.
The only swamps were rice paddies far south.
The year heavy-footed it across fallow fields
toward peacocks that screamed all night.
Your great-grandfather had gone to the plains
from some hellhole in Europe, life savings
stitched to his pocket when he boarded the cars west.
Falling asleep east of Chicago, he woke penniless.
What we lost, we lost by increments—
not beauty, perhaps, just being young.
What might almost have been innocence.

William Logan
Tin House, Volume 17, Number 1 Fall 2015
from Poetry Daily

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Lost Summer

 The morning after this summer's surgery to rearrange my clockworks, a tray was brought for breakfast with an enormous domed lid, which when lifted, revealed a solitary 2" pancake and a container of syrup.  It was actually perfect, even though it looks rather pitiful on the plate.

Contrast that with this sandwich two days later on cranberry walnut bread, topped with a ripe tomato from our garden, two lean slices of ham.  This was perfect, and I had it every day for lunch for a week.

The stay in the hospital was confusing, painful after the spinal block wore off, and incredibly noisy, thanks to the woman in the next bed who always had 17 of her closet relatives visiting her at any one time.  Okay, maybe it was only five, but in a room really built to hold one bed comfortably, it was a squeeze.  I was in Surgery Limbo/Bonzo Brain Land, a haze that persisted for weeks even after arriving home. 

For the first week home, I coughed (pain pain pain) when I talked for more than five minutes.  I couldn't pull up the blanket in the middle of the night.  I ate applesauce at 3 a.m. in the bathroom so I could take my meds in the middle of the night.  I slept more than I was awake, or at least it felt that way.  I watched more TV than I normally do.  I missed my quilting.  I felt isolated, amazed/surprised at "friends" who never sent notes, or even called, to see how I was doing.  I was intensely grateful for those who called nearly every day for quick conversations,  just to gauge by my voice how I was doing.  My husband kept everything going, including too many doctor appointments when I developed some complications.

This week is the fifth week post-op, and I have reclaimed much of my life.  I can get in and out of bed, clothes, the car, and most chairs although I still avoid our squishy sofa.  I can put a meal on the table, but am infinitely glad when my saintly husband does the dishes.  I can do most of the laundry after the basket is brought down to the laundry toom, but when the bending over gets to be too much, he takes over.  I can now read a book, a concentrated task unimaginable even two weeks ago.  I have driven the car -- twice -- and am down to one short nap a day.  My husband takes me out once a day just so the storms of tears and boredom don't overwhelm our calm existence.

But it's a lost summer, to me.  The run-up was emotionally draining (worry worry worry).  We're incredibly glad they didn't find any cancer, although I still have another scan for the spots in the lung, the little bits of anomaly which led to this whole experience.  I knew it was to be a major surgery, but was probably unprepared for how large a space this would carve in my life. 

While I'm still not seeing complete popsicles in my way (still a few more weeks of recovery), a lot of the obstacles have been dealt with.  After a lost summer, I'm hoping that fall will bring a re-engagement with my life.

Monday, July 06, 2015

More Summer Visitors

Matthew and his family stopped by, and we loved having them visit.  We were able to squeeze in a visit to Chad and his family, where Chad and Kristen hosted us at a pool party at their home, Peter and Megan came up from their home, and Dave got a nice Father's Day gift from Peter and Chad: a tune-up on his bike.  Here are the photos:

(I tried to get Brooke to give me her mermaid, but she took it home.)
Come again, everyone!!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Visitors from Arizona

We had some visitors this past weekend, from their new home in Arizona.  They stayed overnight en route to a little family vacation in Southern California.
 Maddy enjoyed picking flowers from our yard.
 Just before they hopped in the car, they all paused for a photo.
Have fun in Disneyland!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Last Call for the Wrong Mailbox

On my last day of teaching, I received this email:

I have received mail with your name on it and our record shows you don’t have a mailbox here at CHC. You are able to pick up your mail from me; I’m available Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm in LADM 167 Facilities Use Office. If you are unable to pick up your mail and would like it mailed to you, please pervert a mail address.

I received this after I'd given my final, met with each student and gave them back their final research paper (worth 25% of their grade and even at that hefty percentage only one student failed completely), when I was sitting in my car trying to decide how to feel about the end of this semester.

Unfortunately, I couldn't "pervert" her a mail address right then because the office was closed, but called this morning and we straightened things out (seems they given my mailbox to another person, ignoring the fact of the original assignment and the label with my name on it, or that an actual person already HAD that mailbox).

 Before that, I stood at the top of what is known at the Aztec Stairs, a long flight of stairs that leads to the Admin Building, where I teach.  The VP of Students, who I have met several times, was coming up the stairs; I waited to say good-bye and we chatted.  Even though I had introduced myself to him yet again as recently as two weeks ago, I realized he had no idea who I was, nor did he ask once.  I decided not to make excuses for him this time.

Before that, when I was addressing my class, I thanked them for their work and in our chit-chatting, asked if there was anything that they could point to as a take-away from this class.  They fell silent.  I know they were trying to think of something, but they were in Finals Week, they were tired, it was the last day, blah blah blah, but still.  Silence.

And before all that,  I'd written to my sister that morning, in response to an article she sent me an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, where an adjunct professor detailed the reasons why he was leaving off teaching in a classroom (he's still doing online teaching).  I'm thinking about not coming back myself, and although this decision feels a bit squishy at this point, I enumerated the reasons to her for leaving, acknowledging first that the incredibly low rate of pay can be a factor:

"But for me, it was also the complete "invisibility" to Admin, to my chair (although he's always very nice when I do see him), and the constant reminder of my non-person status given the number of "staff" luncheons, raffles, potlucks given each year at my institution, for which I have been asked to bring food, contribute to prizes, etc.  A token event was held at the beginning of the year on a Wednesday night at 6:30 for free pizza for the Adjuncts at a local place, a complete turn-off since most adjuncts commute in and leave as soon as they finish on campus.  I think I would have preferred the Chronicle writer's gift of a duffle bag from his chair, instead.

"In addition to the pay and the invisibility, it is the students.  Adjuncts typically teach the lower and lower-than-low division classes as the faculty retain the better classes for themselves (I don't blame them in the least).  And since we get those students right out of high school who typically are working at a 10th grade level, it becomes extremely challenging to maintain morale when the expectations are for "entertainment" like they received in high school.  I joked to my colleague last week that if the pretend percentages are that the students bring 100% and I bring 100%, I felt this semester as if I were bringing 150% to their 50%, yet they probably aren't aware of that ratio.
 "I have had one amazing upper-division English class in my ten years here.  The students were engaged, interesting, generally well-prepared and our class discussions were interesting, thoughtful and fruitful.  I think after teaching that class, I realized what I had been asked to do generally, denigrates my ability and my contribution to the teaching profession.  I've had other bad classes, and that's no reason to throw in the towel, I realize.  But after that great class, something shifted in me and I just didn't want to go through the hoops anymore.  And the fact that only once in ten years have I had a good class is telling. 

"I also firmly believe that until full-time faculty won't put up with the hiring of adjuncts and make their voices heard on this issue, nothing will change.  And I don't foresee that happening.  Ever."
 Since I'm not published (you can call that one of my failures if you want) or in a full-time position (add that to the failure list, although I have tried), I can't expect any more of Higher Ed, right?  It's easy to delegate adjuncts to a position of the great unwashed of the Big U, greedily grabbing those courses thrown to us by kind and well-meaning Admins.  We are not invited to faculty meetings, asked for our opinions.  When they announced the "Part-Timer of the Year," no mention was made of why they were chosen.  Just a name, an invisible person, delivered in a deluge of end-of-year emails.

Perhaps this "perverted" mailbox was a sign, in a weird sort of way.  Perhaps, after too many strange conversations, too many unprepared students, as well as all the other inconsequential stings and cuts, the message from on high was that it is probably time to go invisible for good.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Intrinsic Value

from *here*
Not too long ago I was confronted with a new challenge, a good challenge, one that would make me grow and stretch and punch out in new directions--that kind of goal.  But I didn't want it. It was time-consuming.  No, time-destroying.  Many of the easy habits of our empty-nest life would be overrun by this challenge, such as losing the time we've carved out for our early-morning walks.

Someone might look at my life and say, "Well.  You do have the time."  But this is where I confront the slippery core of my dilemma: how do I value my time?  As an adjunct professor, I receive very low pay.  In fact, most of my students make more than I do when I factor in the time spent in grading and prepping. I also receive no money for things I do in the rest of my life either--no income streams anywhere.  So how then, does a person value their life?  Value their time?  Decide how to "spend" time, that one thing that no one can get more of than another?  Do some tasks carry more "weight" than others, for example, preparing a meal versus cleaning it up? Cleaning out the garage, vs. cutting out a new quilt?  Maintaining friendships vs. time on the internet?

Enough of these stupid questions, as I always advise students that a good declarative sentence is worth a paragraph of queries.  But I have no easy declarative sentence to end with.  Maybe I think a task might be valued by what intrinsic value it carries.  And this "assigning a value" is something I have spent a lifetime trying to understand, especially when there is no outside determinant of what it is worth (i.e., a monetary valuation).  

When I was four years old, my clock was as big as the sky, reaching in all directions, limited only by naps and my bedtime.  When I was a teenager, the timepiece was a bit smaller, perhaps room-sized, filled with time to do things like figure out how to cut my hair like the models in Seventeen magazine. Motherhood shrunk that clock again, as did grad school.  Too little time for too many outside tasks.

But now I feel like my timepiece is one of those Dali clocks, limpid and wobbly, not keeping time the way it should.  Sometimes my clock size is appropriate, crisp and ticking, lots getting done.  But other days it languidly drapes itself over the sofa, a bag of chips in one hand while balancing the computer on its lap and says something to the effect of "good luck in getting anything done at all."  And when I shake it, trying to get some minutes out of its uncooperative self, I realize my clock is too small to get my hands on, shrunk not only from outside time demands but also from the shrinking horizon of my older life, my ability to power through.

So I am careful with those requests.  Too many phone calls?  Ignore the ring.  Too many IMs?  Leave the mobile in the purse downstairs where I can't hear it.  No, I won't conduct a cooking class for teens at the local youth conference.  No, I won't be cleaning out the garage, either.  I am choosing what I do in a place in my life where soon I'll be carrying around my ever-shrinking clock in a pill bottle, retrieving it with tweezers to see how minutes are left.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

I Could Watch These Kids Dance All Day Long

This video was "shot in a single take by a camera on a drone flying above the Los Angeles River bed." Be sure to watch the credits until the end.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

See Saw, Teachery Style

This about sums up my last few weeks.  Only I can't say I was as radiantly happy as this young woman was on the down stroke, nor was I as exuberant on the up stroke, knowing that the see-sawing over whether or not I'd be teaching this next semester would continue.  Tomorrow schools starts.  Today I found out that (as my Dean put it) "Your Class Is A Go" in the subject header of the first email, with nothing else in it.  The second email was a touch more verbose, with the advice to "get your stuff prepared."  He is the man who hired me lo, these many years ago, and since I know him pretty well I laughed when I read the email.  It's nice to get off the see-saw.

But I'm pretty much in denial that my lovely (unpaid) sabbatical is over.  I have a list of projects as long as my arm in the quilty arena, plus there's those housekeeping chores that need to be done as I have company coming for the next two weeks.  Things are popping, but I have to turn some attention to my class now.  I did prep up for the first day and have my copies, the stuff up on the web, but who knows if I'll have any AV equipment in a class which is in the South 40?  I've already decided I'm wearing tennis shoes the first day, since there will be a lot of hiking around campus.

All of this happened because of budget numbers, those figures that we in middle-education (past K-12, but not as high as a 4-year school) live and die by.  Just before Christmas the numbers were in the tank; now, post New Year's, we can float my half-filled class (having only 12 students in my class has got to be a record).  I chose online ebooks, as I knew the books wouldn't be here in time and the style manual from the class that was cancelled just before Christmas can be transferred over to this class. 

I'm just so relieved to know what I'll be doing.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

We typically celebrate New Year's Eve at East Coast Time, that is, when it is 9:00 p.m. here in California.  This year, a little after 8:00 p.m., I suggested we celebrate it "Halifax" time, four hours earlier.  If this keeps up, by the time we hit that old nursing home, we may toast each other with our glasses of Metimucil at noon, muttering that somewhere in the world (Australia maybe?) it's time to celebrate the advent of the new year.

Celebrating in the future in a rest home, er--Assisted Living Center, is a definite possibility, given what I feel like as I approach a birthday that brings me, as everyone knows, one year closer to death...and the inevitable Assisted Living Center (ALC).  If I were forty years old this idea would seem morbidly uncomfortable, but this year I'm thinking that I'd just better get used to the idea because there are some upsides (I'll find them yet, as I'm a Pollyana if there ever was one) to this sort of arrangement of having your social life at the big table in the dining room with many other infirmed, but not necessarily feeble-minded, and may well prove as attractive the idea of not having to cook the three squares every day.  

My husband's parents wondered why they waited so long to move to their ALC, and after she died (another inevitable component of this stage of life) he found his second wife there.  I'm not saying that I'm going to kick off after I turn my birthday and leave my husband hunting down a suitable widow to move in with, but all I'm saying is that the view (and the array of choices) from this decade is substantially different than the view from 30, or 40.  Surprisingly different.

Perhaps that's why this cartoon caught my eye.  Certainly Dan Piraro (above), a man of my vintage, doesn't look like he has one foot in the grave.  If you looked around my studio with various creative projects scattered every which way, you know I plan to be around for a while.  I'm guess I'm just trying to be practical about how the ensuing decades might unfold, like I have some say in the matter.  At my age, it's the calamaties, the unforseen health problems, the fall, the traveling blood clot that will derail the best laid plans for the future.  So it's a happy sappy birthday to me, as I'm working to adjust my expectations to more closely match my long-range realities, whatever they are.  And trying not to rush Halifax-New-Year's style into what lies beyond.