Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: End of the Semester Reflections

OK, 1.5 weeks of detox isn't too bad, especially considering how exhausted and shit-mooded I was on December 13, my last contract day of the fall semester. But now, with a lot of naps and a bit of distance between me and the end of the semester, I can sit back a bit and reflect, with the help of Ennio Morricone. It's a perfect classification system, and without fail, it can be applied to almost any situation; this past semester is a perfect illustration.

The Good
Setting: The classroom, gatherings of students, gatherings of colleagues
  • Classes, classes, always classes are the high point of any semester. Once again, all my classes energized me in various ways. Below is a brief capsule of final impressions.
    • ENG121/Composition I--I get better and better with using visual rhetorical seamlessly in the class. Students, at the end of the semester, totally get how to apply rhetorical strategies/analysis across all notions of text (written, visual, audio). As part of a unit on sustainability, students have to create a photo essay as a group. This semester, the class really got the photo essay concept, and even hit on notions of sustainability much more precisely than the previous semester. It's not quite the perfect assignment yet, but it's reaching a better state of being.
    • LIT115/Introduction to Literature--From the first day of class, this class possessed a crazy good enthusiastic energy, eager to dissect literature, to dig deep and tease out meaning. Fortunately, this energy only built, eventually creating a really cool community of literary fans, culminating in a group of wonderful dramatic projects (remixed plays written and performed), some incorporating technologically produced backdrops to serve as scene setting.
    • ENG131/Technical Writing--When I start this class each fall semester, it seems like I have walked into a club where I don't quite understand the rules and patterns of communication; it's a guy's club--the class usually averages about 75-85% male. Yet, that awkwardness eventually fades and where I read some of the silence before as aloof, the silence has given way to a comfortable voice of engagement. 
    • ENG122/Composition II with research--I teach this class online, so I always wonder if my random samples and instructional material posted on the web will help guide students through a multigenre/multimodal approach to research writing. Sometimes it takes the whole semester for me to see that students did really grasp the benefits and skills in genre composition, aided by their research. This semester also had a number of topics I had never seen tackled in my classes, so that made for better reading on my end: the role of gratitude, the state of the wolf re-introduction in Wyoming, and the world of hoarders.
  • Starting off the semester in my new role of Faculty Senate President, I got faculty two work days knocked off their contract (so we get off one day earlier each semester) and a leniency application of the 4 day/25 hour rule of being on campus.
  • Every time I went to a Queers & Allies meeting, I came away energized, amazed at the sense of community and the numbers that kept showing up each meeting.
  • Staffing the GLBT Resource Center with three fabulous queer students, helped create a truly student-centered safe space on campus.
  • Bonding with several colleagues to help get through a rough situation. Knowing that a group of us always had each other's backs, despite what the word on the hall was, simply provided saving breaths when needed.
The Bad
  • Having to feel like I had to fight and fight and fight and fight to simply get something fully heard and done by the administration. I tried going solo, talking one on one with an administrator, and often left wondering what would happen to all the notes taken. It took continually fighting, not letting my voice be silent, bringing both administrators to the table, to finally get some needed action at the end of the semester. This in itself simply exhausted me.
  • The situation. What began as a simple act of a couple of colleagues fighting a particular injustice in the working conditions, blew into a huge debacle that took up too much time, too much energy, and led to oodles of misinformed gossip on campus. 

The Ugly
  • Realizing that someone I had considered a friend for awhile was indeed spending lots of energy trying to poison others against me by making ridiculous statements about supposed actions I had orchestrated. I always want to think the best of people (my close friends refer to me as Pollyanna for always wanting to see the positive in someone), so each time something would happen with said person, I thought oh can't be serious, really. But as things continued, with the final one just happening a week ago, I declare enough. It's very ugly to gossip ugliness about others, especially when it's untrue and unfounded.
And so, fortunately The Good triumphs.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Action

Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step?

To listen to my body and let things heal. I've been running with little rest, pushing the edges of my stress, not listening to what my body needs. The action I need to take is to listen and allow time. Since the diagnosis of bicipital tendonitis, I seriously need to heed this warning and be still, since that's all I truly can do with my right arm. And so, in my best zen grasshopper state, I will do what I am told to heal, even if it moves at a pace that works against what I want. Om.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Body Integration

Body integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

During the summer was when I felt most integrated with my body. Coming off of the spring semester, I had done yoga once a week and my body had strengthened through that practice. When summer hit, I felt energized and ready to be on my bicycle regularly, walking the golf course regulary, and roaming the neighborhood with Sasha. It's during some of those moments of exercise that I am totally integrated, into a type of zen with my body.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

11 Things

What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

  • political bullshit at work
  • wasting time with stupid television shows
  • excuses for not writing
  • excuses for not exercising
  • work stress
  • people who talk shit about me behind my back
And for now, this is all I can come up, which frankly is fine. For the most part, my life is a wonderful happy place where I don't want to eliminate much. When I start to look at the list above, the things I want to eliminate all are somewhat related to my job. Yeah, exercise I simply need to keep the routine. I do great over the summer when I have plenty of time and when the weather calls me out of doors; however, once the semester gets going, I let excuses interfere and end up putting exercise aside for other types of busyness. Paying more attention to this and prioritizing the exercise, regardless, is important. I used to have it better figured out with a weekly yoga class at school that I love. This semester, though, things got scheduled over that and I gave those things priority. If I make that time sacred, then that remains a priority.

In terms of the political bullshit at work and the work stress, I simply need to back up a bit and not swallow all the shit I feel I end up swallowing when working with administrative issues that I cannot move forward with. I contemplated giving up my role as Faculty Senate President since that has brought on high levels of stress this semester; however, I need to also focus on the good I've done and the way faculty see me as a champion/voice for their concern. That matters.

And so, with the year coming to an end, I will use the break between semesters to rejuvenate, reclaim myself and energy, and begin anew.

Friday, December 10, 2010

WIsdom

Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? 

Unlike some of the other writing prompts, two jump to mind immediately. The first is a decision that Nan and I came up with together, mostly to temper my impetuous self that jumps in without thinking--usually this brings a fine time but on occasion, it can bring a slice of regret. We decided to invoke a 24 hour rule when receiving an invitation to something. Usually, when we get an invitation or have an idea that involves inviting a group of people over, I immediately think way cool. Sometimes, when the time arrives, way cool is replaced by holy shit, why oh why did we think this was a good move. So now, when we have an idea that is out of our norm or we receive an invitation, we wait 24 hours to respond, making sure that how we felt when we received the invitation matches how we feel with a renewed day.

Another wise decision revolves around our Thanksgiving visit to Eureka Springs. Since we normally have Thanksgiving with my family, this year presented opportunity since due to schedules and locale, we were not going to have Thanksgiving with them. Thus, in a moment of what I now feel is sheer inspiration, I suggested Eureka Springs to Nan, which she thought was a fabulous idea, and off we went into the unknown.

Party

Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Parties are an irregularity in my life these days; so when I think of that term with those words, my mind again stops, stalls, and wonders. So it is not the one that perhaps "rocked [my] socks off" but the one that brought lots of laughter and joy. In the winter, Nan and I were invited to go up to the mountains with two other couples and one child to spend a couple of days hanging out, snowshoeing, eating, sharing stories, and laughing laughing laughing. It's a small group of friends that we've continued to get to know better over time, a small community that gathers maybe a couple of times a year due to schedules and one couple having a toddler, a group that genuinely enjoys being silly with a slice of smartness.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Difference

Prompt Day 8: Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. 

Even though I can be somewhat self-absorbed at times (the curse of my mother, the curse of the first-born), when faced with this prompt, I am a bit silenced, but as always, will try to write my way through this to some type of truth.

One of the things that makes me different is my openness to lots of people and experiences. At times I can have preconceived notions, like all Ar-kansans strum banjos in their overalls; however, in truth, I welcome any new adventure. When I found myself online dating, one of the things I put in my profile was that I am at home in both a pool hall and an opera house. This ability to be comfortable in a variety of environments, whether it be peanuts on the floor of a cheap pub or a glass of $200 wine courtesy of lame guys flirting, makes me able to find home wherever I land in the moment.

This same openness to environments also helps me bring light to people. I have a strong intuition and rarely am wrong about what I'm sensing, even when I don't fully know the person or the situation. This ability to connect helps bring comfort, for I'm willing to put myself and my emotions out there, listening when needed, playing when silliness is the antidote.

Does this make me all that different? Not necessarily, but these are things that distinguish me from the ordinary street sign.

Community

A day late again on the prompt, but still, here goes:
Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? 

Over the last year, I have discovered new pockets of community at work. No surprise, in a way, since the vast majority of my time seems to be spent at work. Over the summer, I took a golf class with a few colleagues, and even though I have known some of them via hallway conversations, it was only this summer that we bonded in a new way. Perhaps it was the shared struggles when Tim, our teacher, would tell us to hold it this way and we found the golf ball only going slightly forward, but still forward. When we would go out on the course together, we would be one big cheerleading squad for each other, always congratulating each other's shots, even if they were mere dribbles ("look it went straight"). The comraderie helped make a leisurely stroll along the golf course an afternoon of smiles and friendship.

Another pocket of community also gave rise at work, though this time it was born out of necessity due to a rotten work situation. Yes, it's that situation again that cannot be named but that took all the life out of an otherwise wonderful semester with students. When a couple of colleagues ran into an issue with a supervisor and filed a grievance in Human Resources, a support group arose. Through all the disappointments, mixed messages, and sheer amazement at the levels of bullshit that exist, four of us stood together, constantly supporting each other, listening when others didn't really listen, hugging when only a hug could soften the frustration and emotional toil the day had wrought. I have my newfound sistahs.

As for the coming year, I'm hoping to find a community to surround my writing. Since I am registered for a writing class right after the new year, I'm anticipating finding other like-minded writers looking for inspiration to write, looking for encouragement to write, and looking for others to support a journey into writing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let Go/Make--two Reverb10 prompts

Seeing that yesterday elapsed without writing a response to the #reverb10 prompt, I figured that despite the stuffy head and droopy eyes, I would plunge into both prompts tonight, even if briefly.

Prompt Day 5: Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?
In all honesty, when I look at this prompt, I can only consider a messy work situation that basically emotionally commandoed my entire fall semester. As the fall semester draws to a close, I am slowly letting go of the anger I carry regarding the situation. Following my basic tenet of examining difficult situations by answering the question of "can I walk in my own shoes" if I do X, I can proudly say hellz yeah, I did the right thing over and over with this situation. Even when I know others perceive me as somehow having instigated something, hearing my words wrong, I can still stand firm in my belief, and still slowly let go of anger. It is not a perfect letting go, but I am slightly loosening the wrap, knowing that with more time, I can indeed let it go.


Prompt Day 6: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?
Latkes. Latkes. And more latkes. They are never perfect latkes, since something always differs in the process. There is no careful measuring, just a watchful eye noting the proportions of potato, onion, salt, matzoh meal, and egg. Sometimes the pan differs, depending on my mood, but the oil is always hot and the house always smells of fry. This year the latkes had more crumbles (blamed on a not thorough enough process of squeezing liquid out, something that has been noted in the notes for next year's latke making or perhaps a distraction due to the backed up garbage disposal), but the same delicious flavor, a perfect mix of holiday.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wonder

I am not a sports fanatic, nor am I an athletic wonder. Yet, when I make space to be active, I find myself happiest outdoors with the sun warming my skin, the huge vistas from atop mountains stilling my restlessness, and the steady pace of the bicycle keeping my spaciness in check. When I first read today's prompt (How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?), I thought holy crap, here comes another Hallmark moment. But when I got over my snarky self, I realized that it is being outdoors in nature (yes, as trite and Hallmarky John Denver as that sounds) that cultivates a sense of wonder.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Finding the moment

Today's task: Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

Once again, a bit of a stump with the prompt. I'm not sure if the problem is trying to single out one moment, since when I ponder this, nothing in particular jumps to mind or if the difficulty is with the language of "felt most alive this year." I cannot quite quantify the sense of feeling most alive.

And so as I try to write my way through to some meaning, I remember spending three days deeply immersed in my creative process of composing a digital story. And it's here where I land, smack still in the sensations of the experience. It's the anticipation of the creation that brings on an initial state of fear, wondering if my piece will be good enough, wondering how others will react, essentially fearful of putting my creativity out for others to see. But after getting started, all the internal cacophony of my doubt faded into quiet, and I worked hard at getting my voice right, finding the right words to convey my experience, excited to get feedback from those around me.

After working all day on the story, I would go home energized, spending the night looking for visuals and audio that I wanted to incorporate. I'd unbury boxes of the past, and breathe in the old papers and photos, looking for the perfect moment. And three days after the initial start, I sat around a room with my fellow group of storytellers, and watched my piece have its moment of celebration, big on a screen, a triumphant reclaiming of my story.

Placing my creativity back in a public realm, perhaps is that moment.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Writing

What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it? When faced with today's prompt, I got all bristly. What do you mean having me identify something that doesn't contribute to my writing; clearly everything contributes, right? When I wander spacily through the house in search of my misplaced coffee cup, doesn't that somehow contribute since it helps some unintentional idea wander into my head simply because I'm not thinking. When I spend hours surfing around facebook, reading friends' walls and links to articles, I sometimes end up writing, whether it be a status update or some type of blog inspired note based on the article. Does watching a weekly dose of The Simpsons contribute to my writing? Perhaps not, but I'm not sure I can eliminate it since that daily dose is a descent into pop cultured giggles that my being yearns for when exhausted.

Yeah, I know where the question is going. What is it that keeps me from writing, and it's not a particular activity that takes up my time, because truth be told, if there's something I want to do, I find time to do it. What keeps me from writing is a lack of habit and so many interests that constantly challenge for center stage.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One Word

Camp carries the energy of 2010.  This was the first summer that I can recall where I simply had little responsibility and no work. Due to a conflict, I didn't grade the AP exams and work for 9 grueling days; I finished my term as department chair, so didn't have any administrative responsibilities; and the work on the textbook wasn't very intense; there was plenty of time to have what became known as the summer of Camp Amy. Days would begin slowly, with me creating the daily schedule, ranging from physical activities such as golf, dog walking, biking, hiking; oftentimes a movie and nap were a part of the day's schedule. I was simply free and giddy each day because of the ultimate sense of freedom that camp brings.

Finished. When this time draws near one year from now, I hope that Sourceplay is well into production and about to be published for use. I also hope to have several pieces of writing finished and perhaps even entertaining sending some things out for publication (of course after they're finished). I'd like to see some of the ideas that populate a folder on my computer find their way into forms that fit the mood. I've set the constellation in motion to help spur these ideas (and new inspirations) toward a finished form: I signed up for an 8 week personal essay writing class that starts in early January, I intend to write several poems along with my class this spring, and several trips are planned with time and inspiration to write (Costa Rica and Ireland). Oh yeah, and of course finishing a simple month of daily blogging as part of #reverb10.