Saturday, February 28, 2015

Balancing Act

I finished my 2013/2014 semester exhausted. I had months of summer ahead of me, and I had imagined spending them reading, writing, traveling. By the end of the summer of 2014, little reading and writing occurred. When I set my work goals at the start of the fall 2014 semester, I had only one that really mattered--finding a better balance between work and life.

Adopting a "Just Say No" attitude seemed a necessity. Word spread and people knew not to ask me to join any more committees, take part in task forces, or help with a new initiative. When staff emails flooded my inbox with requests to serve on this or that, I would open them, quickly read, and delete, feeling a bit of power at reclaiming back my time I had so willingly given over. Initially I felt a bit of guilt, unaccustomed to saying no when asked to do something additional at work. Over time, though, I found my schedule opening up and no longer was clocking a 60-70 hour work week every week.

During the fall semester, I took two writing workshops, carving enough time to attend to that which truly mattered. Reading happened, my own reading rather than just student compositions and prep for classes--8 books that were not required for any courses taught. Eventually, I found that I had stopped complaining about being overworked.

This semester, I've stopped instantly deleting work requests. I read through them and ponder whether they're something I truly value, something worthy of my time. Most often, I say no. What has changed though, is I am starting to occasionally say yes. Not to too much. Not because I feel I have to. But because I have the space. The time. A bit of balance.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Where the end of the year muses

Language. Lately, I constantly find myself thinking about words. Like what does a year in review mean?

I'm listening to NPR's All Songs Considered podcast and pondering rationale for their list of 2014 music. Sun Kil Moon's Benji's album lands because it's "quite possibly the most depressing record...ever heard in my life." Beck's Morning Phase is "surprisingly wonderful," Chris Staples' "Dark Side of the Moon" has "been a close companion," and Alvvay's "Archie, Marry Me," is essentially a great pop song and "there can never be enough of those."

And so I forget for a moment about words and think about marriage as I rock to Alvvay. For my year in review would be incomplete without a mention of marriage, my marriage, the year Nan and I tied the knot, got hitched, I do'd. Almost midway, a day shy of the center of the year, Nan and I became Spouse A and B, legally wed our style at the Marriage Bureau in NYC. We didn't know it would be this year--we can't plan the vagaries of politics. But the timing was right. Our stars aligned. Like Rent's "Seasons of Love," sometimes you can measure the year in love.

And travel. Lots of travel. Most years include new places, revisited places, chances to move away from myself a bit and see anew. Stop. It's often a forced stop since I am away from distractions, technology, that which distances me from being mindful. And 2014 was all of that, beginning at dawn, a literal daybreak of the year awaiting the Taj Mahal. Breathless through many moments of India. I don't call it a trip of a lifetime, as some might. Not because it wasn't remarkable, unlike anywhere I've been, but because I am lucky to venture many places that amaze.

I don't want to make lists, try to be comprehensive, capture it all in a single sliver of reminiscence. Digression. A shooting star of mind. Scattering.

I wrote in 2014. That matters. Lots. New material. Unfinished. Almost finished.

Honestly, I don't want to assess my 2014. I assess all the time. It is my profession. It is my mind. It is my natural lens to the world.

At year's end, I am grateful.  Fortunate. Thankful for the day, today, when the snow forces a quiet and I choose the time to reflect.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Almost Done

Done is not until actually done, but tonight, for the first time in months, I can feel the end, the moment of deep breath. Each semester, I swear I'm going to videotape myself musing on the art of exhaustion, insisting that I've never felt this tired, never felt like I wanted to crawl under the covers and sleep for hours without any hint of technological memory, student chatter. Nothingness.

Tonight, though, I'm reminded of the end of semester joys, the pure pleasure when I get to sit back and roam through my students' learning. I've spent the last day or so reading research based multigenre/multimodal projects, and for the most part, when they rock, they soar beyond the ordinary. I read a student reflection on how her original position regarding GMOs in Africa changed during the course of research, moving away from a simple stance of GMOs are bad no matter what to arguing for the use of GMOs in Africa to help deal with starvation. Another student discussed the nuance of audience and why putting her project about a generation of hope in North Korea on tumblr made the most sense. And yet another student demonstrated how her project argued that wearing a motorcycle helmet should be a personal imperative rather than a legal one, discussing ways she employed both ethos and pathos throughout her project. I'm blown away and happy. And of course they don't all sparkle, but they all show a level of engagement with their research and presentation that goes beyond simply accomplishing the task for a grade. Note to self--future research project looking at student engagement with multimodal composing (get that IRB started now).

My last week was spent reading lengthy fiction portfolios, falling into students' stories, seeing their experimentation and willingness to trust the process of drafting and drafting and revising and not feeling done. I watched literature students perform rewritten plays, seeing the creative snaps of adaptation, happy to sit back and applaud.

So yeah, I try to remember not to rush through it all, not to sprint to done, because then I might miss the view. And the view is kinda nice after all.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Long Overdue Reflection

Pema Chodron asks, "What are you going to do with what you have already--your body, your speech, your mind." I'm beginning to think that there is power in the universe, some type of synchronicity that brings what you need. I'm taking a second writing class during the semester (my rule is usually only one and sometimes one a year), because writing had leapt to the not so distant outskirts, away from a consistent center that grounds and stills me.

I began this semester in a less than grateful mode. I lagged from the summer, a summer spent chasing travel and fun, a summer with little writing and reading. Ask me if I'd do it differently, and the honest answer is no--in many ways it was perfect like every summer, like every moment that I surrender to without judging.

When the first 1/3 of the semester ended, and I again began to feel like work weeks usually topped 50 hours and sometimes soared above 60 hours, I decided to keep score. Every hour I was on campus (regardless of whether I spent the time chatting with colleagues or surfing the web, I counted as work), every hour I spent at home (even if distracted and surfing the Facebook in between) counted. My calculations weren't to predict how efficient I was and whether I could be more efficient, but to get a realistic sense of hours worked, even if sometimes in a distracting way. The first week, I hit 40 hours by Friday afternoon (starting with Monday). At that point, I decided to stop working until the clock reset Monday.

While my decision proved a wee bit amusing to me, its effects weren't worthy of laughter. On Monday, anxiety set in, and I realized the enormity of the current grading pile and the looming grading pile. For that week, I worked over 60 hours (and stopped when I hit that number). Boom. Predictions somewhat correct. But when I told Nan of my supposed success, she asked me whether knowing that felt good. She reminded me of what I have--enormous flexibility in my job, and encouraged me to start keeping track of that. Keep track of those rare four day weekends when I can accomplish lots at home and have time to do my thing. Keep track of a lack of an alarm on many days. Keep track of engaged students and the ability to approach the classroom however I'd like.

And so I did. And continue to do most days. Sometimes I falter, but lately I stay grateful, remembering all that I have. And to answer Pema, it's to remember to be, to find ways to stay more present. And the way that always brings me there is to write. Always.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Road Trip

I don't like to drive. It's different though, when you're behind the wheel without a need to get from home to work, from home to an errand, from home to somewhere that your schedule dictates in a set amount of time.

3,650 miles in 16 nights through seven states. I'm on the road with Nan. We have a loose sense of going from here to there.

It's that loose sense that makes it more than driving. I am behind the wheel, and I don't mind it. As a matter of fact, I find myself liking it, watching the road, counting the states.

Even when there's monotony, I make up stories. The salt flats become my voyage across the desert, speeding across the landscape, noting emptiness, thinking that this must be what it's like when the apocalypse comes. A rest stop becomes
 a shot in a film.

This must be what it's like when there is nobody.

I am not alone, though, and that makes the road trip more than my head, more than my eyes, more than my sense of where I'm going and where I've been. Nan snaps photos, Nan bags miles behind the wheel, Nan laughs when I decide that the salt flats hold a mirage of water.

Road trips hold surprises. A place becomes more than a name on a map, an exit. I spend an hour avoiding the local history museum, preferring to walk, counting the steps on my Fitbit, noticing windows and signs in small town Meeker, Colorado. People wave to me from their cars, smile when they walk past me. But there is no conversation. They don't know me. I pretend to be invisible. I always look, watch, notice what I don't expect to see. Hippies hang in the park in Craig, CO.

We get used to checking in, even though we carry camping gear and never use it, frightened by signs of bears, swatting of bugs, preferring the mystery bed over the hardened ground. It's an adventure

a literary wander

Crater Lake
and simply beauty,
day after day
Bandon Beach

and still.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I Love The Oscars

Every year, I have the same sensation. I expect to be a bit bored, easily distracted, feeling like it could be the last time, just like last year.

Damn I love this show. 

It's the mix of the macabre, Glenn Close in a black gothic looking pointy boobs kinda outfit destined to rock the tweetosphere, an exaggeration of life introducing the annual montage of the Hollywood dead. James Gandolfini. Roger Ebert. Esther Williams. Harold Ramis. The list is endless.

Philip Seymour Hoffman.

And then it turns Hollywood, because it is. Shmaltz. Bette Midler. She's a show stopper, a bit Esther Williams, a tear jerker.

Damn I love this show.

There are those who demand reverence, command the stage, and surprise, in a rant that praises God, family, wholesome values out of the mouth of Matthew McConaughey, an edgy outlaw facing down AIDS on the big screen. I don't expect this. Cate Blanchett gracing praises on the other nominees, taking a slight dig into those who skew judgments against Woody Allen, reminding them of his brilliance, his place in Hollywood.

Pink is hot. She's a show stopper like Esther Williams. But she's no Judy Garland. She doesn't show vulnerable, not like Judy. Rufus Wainwright does Judy better than anyone else. Liza Minnelli would have been a tear jerker.

Damn I love this show.

It's got to end great, not just good. A tear jerker.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When the symphony rocks

It's been many years since I've attended a Colorado Symphony concert. Whether it was because our symphony friends moved away or Marin Alsop moved on, I can't say. Despite the years away, everything felt familiar, at least when I initially entered Boettcher Concert Hall last night. Walking the hallway that led to the seats behind the stage brought back memories of choosing seats to watch Alsop's bravado conducting, her energetic wide sweep of arms, her bobbed head moving parallel to the music's intensity. The concert hall sat hushed during musical movements, abashed when a clap would break the reverence before the piece had actually ended.

I grew up on Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. A dressed up classical music neophyte, I sat rapt as Bernstein commanded the podium, delighted to watch when he would jump a bit, swept into the music by his passion. Symphony concerts were proper affairs where you dressed in fine clothes (an unpleasant dress thing would be forced upon my young self, along with white gloves) and sat quietly, not making a fuss. And sometimes, I did make a fuss (a bit bored by a music I felt was the province of adults, the old ones), ending up for a brief period sitting on a bench outside the concert hall, watching the television version of inside.

Last night, all notions of the familiar symphony were shattered when Ozomatli took the stage with the Colorado Symphony. After I settled into a seat a bit high up overlooking the stage, the symphony members slowly took their seats, tuning up, awaiting the first violin. After he warmed up the orchestra, the evening's conductor Scott O'Neil took the stage. This felt like an evening at the symphony. But when he told the audience that he did not expect quiet and more importantly, expected people out in the aisles, dancing crazy at the symphony, I didn't know what to think. The minute Ozomatli plugged in and rhythmically pulsed the house, the place began to resemble more of a rock club. An odd dissonance as I sat watching the crowd below, dancing where silence usually sat. An odd dissonance as I listened to the couple next to me who knew all the lyrics, proud singers in a place where voice typically only echoed from the stage.

My feet started to tap, my body sway in my seat. I couldn't help it. I could not be the silent proper symphony attendee. After intermission, I moved down to the orchestra level, wanting to feel a bit more of the action. For most of the second half, I did a standing type of dance to the music at my seat, watching crowds in front swaying, waving arms, bobbing heads as they jumped up and down. There was chaos in the house, but one with a beat. At one point, O'Neil pulled different women from in front up on stage with him to dance, participating in the spirit of the evening.

Most of the instrumentalists sat in contrast, their black outfits a solemn accompaniment to their stillness. They were the evening's backup to the stars, a mere notice in the audience's attention. At the start of the evening, O'Neil asked the audience to applaud if they were here to see Ozomatli. He noted that the evening promised that loudness and energy.

And he was right. Last night, the symphony rocked. You could smell pot, watch someone's arm shoot up into the air pulsing the beat with gestures used to scratch a hip-hop beat, and fear that the person in front of you might spill their beer backwards toward you due to too much drink and exaggerated movements. Instead of the flickers of lighters showing their satisfaction, arms waved smart phones of light. And while I'm a purist at heart, wanting the symphony to remain a sacred space, I am now a believer in that space where the new meets the classic. I refuse to succumb to the old ones.