Monday, September 27, 2021

What Did She Say?


geralt via Pixabay

Often, before class starts, I can't help but overhear snippets of my students' conversations. There are plenty of private discussions that are quieter, or texted in silence, but there are always a few, usually involving a group of students, where they feel no need for discretion.

Before class today, a reply from one of my girls to another, more discreet than the group chat taking place in front of me, floated through the air, out of context. "College is a crazy place, y'know," she said. 

The comment, plus the light tone in which it was delivered made me smile and it left a lot to the imagination, so I started brainstorming potential lead-ins. What made college so crazy? What was Girl #2 responding to? 

  • Girl #1: "I have something due every day this week." 
  • Girl #1: "I just saw three people with purple hair."
  • Girl #1: "There are suds in the fountain." (There really were!)
  • Girl #1: "They're serving cotton candy in the quad." (They weren't)
  • Girl #1: "There's a goat yoga class tonight at sunset."
  • Girl #1: "Three guys walked into my psych class, dressed in drag."
  • Girl #1: "My history professor is going to be on 'America's Got Talent.'"
  • Girl #1: "My RA's gonna to be a contestant on 'The Bachelor'."
  • Girl #1: "My next door neighbors were playing loud music until 2AM."
  • Girl #1: "Professor Hess promised to serenade us today." (She did not)
I have no idea what their conversation was about (nor is it any of my business), but it can be fun to imagine what's going through my students' minds, especially the freshmen. Someday soon, they'll no longer be first semester students, and the moments before class will be quieter, with discretion being the hallmark of most conversations, whether softly spoken or conducted through the underground of texts and social media. But for now, my freshmen wear their hearts on their sleeves and their emotions echo through the room in the moments before we begin.

Not a bad way to begin a day.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Friday Feature: The Other Side of the Story


On my way home today, I heard a fascinating panel about vaccine hesitancy among the BIPOC population. I just happened to be in the car when it came on; if I hadn't, I would have missed it completely.

So much of what it said made so much sense and yet, I'm embarrassed to say that some of what should have been obvious wasn't. While a portion of the vaccine hesitant population is misinformed, that's not the whole story. Again, hardly breaking news, but the very real obstacles that were discussed gave me pause.

If all of the information that was available about vaccines was in another language -- one I didn't speak or understand, would I have gotten vaccinated?

If the vaccine site was located far from my home, would I have gotten vaccinated?

If I had to take off work and lose a portion of a day's pay, would I have gotten vaccinated?

If I didn't have a trusting relationship with at least one medical professional who could answer my questions (personally, I consulted at least two), would I have gotten vaccinated?

If I'd had a terrible experience with a medical professional or in a medical setting, would I have gotten vaccinated?

If my ancestors had been unwitting guinea pigs for unscrupulous researchers, would I have gotten vaccinated?

If I didn't have a computer and access to broadband to make my vaccine appointment, would I have gotten vaccinated?

These were some of the issues discussed (civilly and in a non-judgmental way) in this afternoon's panel. Some I'd considered; others I hadn't even thought of.

Fortunately, there are plenty of advocates out there closing the gap and answering questions, bringing the vaccine to communities instead of forcing the community to come to the vaccine. Some minds will be changed; others will not. 

Fear is a very hard thing to assuage, and distrust is difficult to overcome and, unfortunately, there's plenty of both on both sides of the vaccine wars. But maybe, if we take a moment to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, so to speak, we might be able to slow down and listen long enough to have a conversation like the one I overheard today.

I'm glad that today was a day I was in the right place at the right time. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Way Back Wednesday: Key Chain Clues


This post first ran in 2018. Last week, the Miraculous Medal fell off my keychain, but everything else is still there.

In novels, dialogue and actions reveal character. By paying careful attention to what characters say and do, a reader can pick up a lot of clues about what makes characters tick and what's important to them.

Possessions can be revealing, too, both in novels and in real life. This afternoon, as I was waiting in my car for a family member to return, I took a good look at this item I pick up at least twice a day. Some of its contents aren't mysterious at all. Keys to the important places in my world -- my house, my car, my shared office at work. A "Leah" charm with a pigtailed little girl on it, and another imprinted with Bucknell University, both of which have been on my key ring for so long I forgot they were there.

Others go beyond face value. The bright pink "Jersey Girl" ribbon that comes in so handy for plucking my keys out of the depths of whatever bag I'm using isn't just about being able to take the girl out of Jersey, but not taking the Jersey out of the girl. I bought it on one of our first trips to take my daughter to college in Connecticut, and every time I see it, it reminds me of that trip and, by extension, my daughter.

The pale, nubby starfish hanging from my key ring brings back memories of another trip -- the one and only cruise we took. I no longer remember which Del Sol, or even which Caribbean island, for that matter, I bought it in, but every time the sunlight hits it and it turns purple, I remember not only the trip, but also the tough days in which that magically purple piece of plastic made me smile and, for just a moment, picture being back on a Caribbean island.

Finally, there's the Miraculous Medal that I added to my key ring when my mom was sick. I was driving back and forth between Pennsylvania and New Jersey pretty often, and I got in the habit of tucking a Miraculous Medal into my pocket when I traveled. For a while, my mom wore one around her neck as well and, when this one showed up in the mail, I wasted no time adding it to my key ring collection. It brought me hope and comfort in a time where both were in short supply; perhaps that's why it has lingered on my key ring.

One thing's for sure: my key ring would be lighter and less bulky without all these extras. Then again, it would have a lot less character.

Which of your possessions tells a little too much about you?

Monday, September 20, 2021

Middle Ground


We're now nearly a month into fall semester, and last week was the week "stuff got real." I know this because, after feeling on top of things for several weeks (and congratulating myself about that), I suddenly  felt that familiar "too much to do/too little time" feeling begin to follow me around. In addition, my to-do list items were lingering, adding to the pile and disabusing me of any notion that I was actually keeping all the plates spinning. Judging from my inbox, my students were in the same boat. Requests for extensions began popping up like weeds and tired resignation replaced enthusiastic participation.

While there's a multiplicity of possible reactions to this, the two extremes tend to tug at us: dig in and work harder, eschewing down time and fun or curl up in a ball, take a nap and hope it will all go away. I've learned that small doses of the latter can be helpful in restoring balance, but a full-on ostrich act only makes things worse. And, although digging in and working harder seems a logical response, it's a terrible long-term plan. I spent all of last summer trying to recuperate from several semesters spent doing just that.

So, what did I do? I fought the urge to give in to more work, longer hours, less fun and opted to try to preserve the balance I'd spent all summer restoring. I picked up the pace a bit, because it was necessary to do so, but tried to avoid the all-work-and-no-play solution that the little voice in the back of my head kept pushing.

Oddly enough, it was more difficult than it sounds. That little voice may be quiet but it's persistent. I'd sit down to read a book and it would start in, running through the list of school tasks I "should" be doing instead. I'd set aside my laptop to watch something on television with my family, and the little voice's panicked cousin would tell me that I needed to keep the momentum going or I wouldn't get back to work-- something that was, unfortunately, often true.

But was it really the end of the world if I chilled out at 9 pm? And if it was okay at 9 pm, how early was too early?

The bottom line is, there will always be something on my to-do list that travels from one day to the next. There will always be things to grade, the list will always be longer than I want it to be, and someone will always be unhappy that they didn't get an assignment back sooner than they'd have liked. But exhausted, stressed and sick of the material are not qualities that lend themselves well to a good instructor, family member, or human being.

So, here I am. Stuck in the middle with to-do's.

But the middle isn't so bad. It allows for time to read a book, time to tackle the school list, the home list, the writing list, and any other list that comes my way. And it keeps me from working 16-hour days and curling up in a ball, hoping it will all go away. Not surprisingly, after a summer spent seeking balance, stuck in the middle is a solution I highly recommend.

Even if it doesn't come the least bit naturally.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Friday Feature: New Life for Old Plastic

 I rarely use a local story for my Friday Feature because, truth be told, I rarely read the local paper. But yesterday, I picked up our newspaper and the above-the-fold headline caught my eye.

Production plant that converts hard-to-recycle plastic waste to open in York.

This was news.

Over time I, like so many others, have watched the list of things we can truly recycle get smaller and smaller. First, we lost our office paper avenue. Then it was hard-to-recycle plastics (think food containers) until finally the motto became, "When in doubt, throw it out."

Definitely moving in the wrong direction.

I watched Plastic Wars on PBS and wanted to cry. I decreased my personal paper and plastic usage, bought a reusable water bottle I actually like (thank you, Starbucks, of all places) and thought more carefully than ever about whether or not I really wanted to buy things wrapped in plastic. Still, when pandemic isolation made ordering food and housewares more the norm than the exception, I had little control over the packaging that was used. I saved as much as I could to reuse and took note of the companies that used brown paper inside their boxes (I saved that and reused it as well). 

Still, there was "when in doubt, throw it out" which, while easier, gave me a little stab of guilt every time.

So, you can imagine my joy when I discovered that much of what had been ending up in my trash can might soon end up back in my recycling bin. This time, it won't be destined for China or our oceans, but for a plant that can turn it into something useful.

I have no intention of changing my reusing and recycling habits any time soon. But now I look forward to the day when I can go back to recycling things had become end-of-the-line waste, destined to clog landfills and bodies of water. 

Funny how one local headline can carry so much hope for a less polluted future.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Take Back Tuesdays

nidan via Pixabay

I don't know what day it is. Well, I kind of do because Mondays are hard to miss but, for most of last week and some of the week before, I was confused.

The first week of school started on a Tuesday, so we led off with a four-day week, something that was greatly appreciated by those of us who'd been operating in zero-day work weeks for a month or so.

Week two was a five-day week, except that Hurricane Ida had other ideas, which led to two days of Zoom classes bookended by one and two days of face-to-face classes, respectively.

Week three was a four-day week. By then, all I knew of which day it was was that it was a day ending in "y."

This What-day-itis is a common summertime affliction, but can be dangerous when the semester starts and my MWF schedule is different from my TTh schedule. Add to that the fact that it takes me at least three weeks to get into any semblance of a routine and that brings me back to my current situation.

Today, I am secure in the knowledge that it is Monday and that we will have five-day work weeks until fall break in October, weather events notwithstanding. I am now optimistic that I can get into a routine of sorts, and the thing I am most looking forward to is Take Back Tuesdays.

Over the summer, I made a conscious effort to reset and restore the balance I'd lost when pandemic teaching became a 24/7 endeavor. Now, come fall, I’m trying to avoid falling back into old habits and, instead, protect the time I carved out for leisure time, family time and down time in general.

Toward that end, I have declared Tuesdays "Take back Tuesday." Why Tuesday? Because I teach only one class on Tuesdays, so I get home early. Everyone else works on Tuesdays (not from home, at least not usually) so, when I get home, the house is quiet. And, since it's early enough in the week that I don't feel the need to succumb to a nap, I can take time for the things that usually get pushed aside.

Last Tuesday was my first inaugural Take Back Tuesday. When I got home from work, I read, worked on a jigsaw puzzle, wrote, crafted a few blog posts -- all before tackling any school responsibilities. Later, I took care of some planning and grading but, on Tuesdays, they come second not first.

Take Back Tuesdays were inspired by my frustration over not making my writing a priority. The main goal on Tuesday afternoons is to write, but I also make space for activities that restore and inspire because they make the writing easier.

I'm quite pleased to announce that tomorrow is Tuesday. I have a feeling that, moving forward, I won't get my Tuesdays confused with any other day ending in "y."

At least as long as I stick to the plan.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday Feature: Ear Candy

After last week's missed post, you may be wondering if I’ve forgotten about Friday Features. I have not. I am, however, still 
trying to get into a fall semester routine and, by Friday, I sometimes run out of steam before I get a post written, despite the fact that I'm actually doing more pleasure reading than I've done in a long time.

Some of that "reading" has been in the form of audiobooks. Listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming on Audible unlocked my audiobook sweet spot: memoirs read by the author. 

I am currently listening to three of them: Barack Obama's A Promised Land, Trevor Noah's Born a Crime and Michael J. Fox's No Time Like the Future. Billy Crystal’s Still Foolin' 'Em was another of my favorites along with Matthew McConaughey's Greenlights, and I have a fairly substantial TBLT (to be listened to) list just waiting for me to hit play. 

It’s like story time by grownups for grownups. 

Sometimes, I learn about things, like apartheid in South Africa, spinal cord surgery and behind-the-scenes political maneuvering. Always, I learn about the people telling the stories, and the things that make them -- and their stories -- worth listening to. 

It's a pretty nice way to spend a drive. Especially on a Friday.