Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Y is for Yuck

 It's been a long week.

And it's only Tuesday.

Yesterday morning, I was on it. I got up and worked through the short list of tasks I wanted to accomplish before class, checking off more than I'd expected. Then, as I was about to complete my final task, correcting an error on a document I needed to post, I reached for something.

And promptly spilled half a glass of iced tea onto my laptop.

I was pretty sure it was a goner before I even left for work. The screen was unresponsive and when I restarted the machine, the promising Apple icon was quickly replaced by a circle with a line through it.

It might as well have been a tombstone.

A trip to the Apple Store that evening confirmed my fears, and fanned the fire of the one upside of this whole fiasco.

A new MacBook. 

This was not in the plan, but it's definitely turned into a sorry/not sorry situation. I'm sorry I knocked the iced tea over, sorry I made a mess, sorry I fried my laptop (hard drives apparently don't appreciate being marinated in iced tea).

But I'm not sorry I have a new MacBook.

As someone who only recently traded in the car she drove for 17 years,  I'm not easily tempted when it comes to bells and whistles, especially those of the electronic variety. I am, in fact, the poster child for keeping things for as long as they keep running. I may find it hard to let go of sentimental stuff but, when it comes to the expensive stuff, I get my money's worth.

The upside to this is that when I do upgrade, I'm rarely disappointed. I am ridiculously excited by the fact that my new laptop has been unplugged for 12 hours and its battery is still 66% charged. I spent several minutes this morning enthralled by the crispness of the images on its screen. Perhaps I am easily amused, but I prefer to think of myself as appreciative.

Some days, we go about our business, checking items off our lists, mired in the mundane, and missing the little things that make life shimmer.

Other days, we upend a half-empty glass of liquid onto an expensive piece of equipment.

Amazingly enough, even that can sometimes be a glass half-full situation.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Keep in Touch

  I get to see my daughter this week! In between visits, we still communicate now much as we did when I wrote this post in 2019.

I was a college student in the days where we had telephones in our rooms. Excuse me -- ONE telephone, attached to the wall above someone's desk, for the use of all who shared the room (and sometimes neighbors whose roommates were using their phones). Freshman year, I lived in a triple. Sophomore year, junior year and the first half of senior year, I lived in a double, then finally, during my last semester, in a single.

First time in my life I ever had my own phone.

The phone attached to the dorm-room wall was an upgrade, mind you. Prior to this, phones were in the hallway (I think we might have had one of those, too) for the use of the whole floor.

The presence of this phone (what we'd now call "a landline") in the room should not be confused with 24-hour long-distance service. The service was there but, unless there was some sort of emergency, we rarely called home unless it was on the weekend or after 11 p.m. on a weeknight because that's when the rates were lowest. Quasi-emergencies warranted calls between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. but daytime calls were as rare as a single in one's freshman year. In between phone calls, we wrote letters. Actual letters, on paper, sent through the mail, which was not yet called snail mail because it was the only mail available.

Can you imagine?

As a 21st century parent, I'm grateful for the technology that makes contacts this infrequent a quaint, nostalgic story. I like my daughter's cell phone almost as much as she does, especially this semester when she's an ocean away. It isn't that we're in constant contact; it's that we can be if we want to be, and in so many formats. Sure, the phone on the wall promised that same luxury, but phone calls after midnight to anyone off-campus were reserved for serious emergencies and hometown boyfriends.

I'm not a helicopter parent, but I like the reassurance of knowing that I can check in on (not up on) my daughter "just because" and in real time. If I have something fun to share or if a news report hits too close to home, I can send out a quick text. Three quick exchanges and I've shared the news and we've connected, even if for just a few minutes.

It's interesting to discuss technology -- especially cell phones -- with my students, who are close to my daughter's age. The other day, in a class discussion, one student postulated that this is all so new that they're laying the groundwork for future generations. It was an interesting perspective, fascinating to contemplate. Will this cohort be more or less permissive with cell phones? Will the pendulum swing back?

Although I'm certain we'll never go back to the now oh-so-quaint rotary phone mounted to the wall, it's interesting to consider how we'll communicate in the future. The days of waiting until after 11PM are gone, much to the relief of exhausted parents everywhere, but what will take their place?

As for me, I'm grateful to have a young adult who's a college student in the cell phone generation. I frequently think that I don't know how my parents did it -- sending two girls off to college with communication that was so limited by today's standards -- but I guess, at the time, those after-11PM and free weekends long-distance rates were as much the rage as cell phones are now.

I wonder how my daughter's (future) children will communicate with her, and how quaint today's cell phones will look by their standards. Just as we (or I, anyway) couldn't begin to imagine the changes that would take place between my college years and my daughter's, I'm sure that the changes to come are beyond any I can predict.

But, as long as mothers and daughters are still talking to one another, I suspect the method will be immaterial.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Cloudy Day

johnhain via Pixabay

 Did you ever have one of those days? One where you're just grumpy for no apparent reason? One where every little noise gets on your nerves, every question sets your teeth on edge, everything you have to do just seems like too much trouble?

Just me?

I had absolutely no reason to be a grouch today. I didn't have to work, so I could begin my day curled up with a good book in my sunroom, enjoying the view of leaves heavy with snow that would disappear within a few hours. 

And I did just that. 

I could be productive, tossing in laundry, grading quizzes, and (finally) writing a blog post.

And I was. 

Yet I couldn't shake the grouchies. All day long, they followed me around, They didn't even have the decency to linger above me like the toxic cloud they were. Instead, they took up residence somewhere just behind my eyes, coaxing a scowl I had to work hard to erase.

I am, by nature, a pretty upbeat person and so when a day like this hits, it feels like a double whammy. Not only do I feel cranky, but that crankiness feels so out of character that it upsets me even more. I analyze and obsess and tie myself in knots trying to get to the root of the problem, usually to no avail.

It's a waste of energy, really, because sometimes, there's no good reason -- or none that's immediately discernible, anyway -- for an out of sorts sort of day. This time next week, when this day is a decent distance behind me, it might make sense.

Or it might not.

Either way, overdoing the analysis is only making things worse and so I need to stop fighting the crabbiness, and just coexist with it for a few more hours, after which I will go to bed. When I wake up tomorrow, whatever this was will likely have passed, and it might even leave me in peace sooner if I stop paying so much attention to it.

Some days are sunshine, others are clouds. And I wish you many more of the former than the latter.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Stick to the Schedule?

 Yesterday, I wrote about my routine conundrum. Apparently it's not a new development, given that the post below is from several years ago.

I think I first came to appreciate routines when I was a new mom. Routines allowed me to feel in control when, in fact, I was at the mercy of a hungry little person who might or might not deign to nap on any given afternoon. Getting into a routine soothed us both, its structure giving predictability to days that sometimes stretched on endlessly.

But, as Gretchen Rubin says in her book, The Happiness Project, the days are long, but the years are short. Those sometimes challenging, sometimes fulfilling days of infancy and toddlerhood gave way all too soon to elementary school, then middle school, then high school, each bringing new routines and new time schedules by which to abide.

Now an empty nester, I've established routines of my own and, when they are disrupted, I get cranky. Somewhere along the way, I stopped being the free-flowing flexible person I thought I was and turned into someone who loves the control and sense of calmness and expectation that routines provide. While a day off is always welcome, a day knocked off kilter is less so.

These days, I have to remind myself of the flip side of routines -- that too much routine can become boring and rob my days of the joy that the unexpected can sometimes bring. That routine day after routine day can kill spontaneity and wash away the potential for new experiences -- the ones that spark a sense of wonder and awe, or perhaps simply rejuvenate us and spark new ideas and a fresh perspective.

The trick -- the sweet spot, I think -- is to break routines on our own terms. To declare a day off in the middle of a week or to schedule a vacation whose very nature is to leave routine behind and immerse ourselves in the kind of come-what-may, do-as-I-wish days that remind us that, while routines have their benefits, so too does the free flow pursuit of life outside of the box.

Today, for example, this post started off as a list article -- the kind I've been having fun writing for several weeks now -- but, along the way, it turned into something different. I could have tried to whip it into shape and insist upon its submission to my structure, but that would have been silly. If it works better this way (and it does) forcing it into the format I initially planned would have been a waste of time and energy.

And yet, that's exactly my first reaction when my routine falls apart. I try to pick up the pieces and put them back together like some sort of wayward jigsaw puzzle instead of remembering that, sometimes, routines are meant to be wriggled out of. Exploded, even.

The older I get, the more I believe that exploding routines aren't all bad and a that we are where we are meant to be. On days when I remember this, I can take a deep breath, laugh at the detritus of my routine and look for new opportunities that pop up as a result of a routine gone awry.

Definitely beats my cranky toddler impression.

X is for Excited (Sort of, Anyway)

  I wrote this post yesterday afternoon, then promptly posted it in the wrong place, a mistake I discovered late last night.


Apparently it wasn’t just my to-do list that didn’t go according to plan :-j

I'm one week into the semester and I'm already breaking promises to myself. 

Tuesdays were supposed to be a "light" day with respect to schoolwork. While today hasn't exactly been a super busy day, I blew right by my time guideline early in the day, and I'm not finished yet.

It's not that the workload is overwhelming. It's that I have lots of ideas and I actually have time to look into them. Maybe even implement a few.

For a change.

Writing was on today's calendar and, with the exception of this blog post, that's probably not going to happen. I could switch gears and switch tasks, but I kinda want to follow these new ideas for my classes and see where they lead. 

Undisciplined? Maybe. But, the truth is, I work better when I follow my heart. Enthusiasm is a catalyst that augments my energy and that's a resource I don't want to lose. 

So, it's off to my web search. Today, I'll be applying my creative energy to my classroom work and, as for my writing, tomorrow is another day.

I promise.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024


 This semester promises to be interesting. I'm teaching only two classes, rather than my usual three. The challenge, as I know from years past, is to make sure they stay in their respective lanes.

It's all too easy for anything we're invested in to take up more than its fair share of our time. Knowing this, I sat down last week and brainstormed what an ideal week would look like this semester, keeping a few things in mind.

I want to carve out time for the usual class prep and responsibilities, as well as a little extra for making some changes to existing assignments, things here and there, something I don't usually have enough time for when I'm on campus every day. 

I want to make sure that I use my days off-campus intentionally. This might mean writing, or organizing, or something else entirely, but I don't want them to evaporate or drift away on a sea of meaningless tasks.

I want to make sure that I include down time in the mix, taking time to rejuvenate so I have energy for all the things I have planned. 

This week, my first full week of the semester, will put this ideal schedule to the test. I've set parameters for the amount of time I devote to school responsibilities on non-teaching days, which means making sure my teaching to-do lists are duly checked off on the days I'm in the classroom. I've set guidelines for out-of-class meeting times, and created wish lists for those productive off-campus days.

Ideal or realistic? That remains to be seen. Right now, with three days in, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Many Benefits of Arguing Characters

 If you're a person who dislikes confrontation, arguments are most likely not your thing. While most people don't really like to argue (attorneys notwithstanding), arguments can serve a useful purpose. They can clear the air, alleviate a misunderstanding, settle a difference of opinion, or perhaps allow us to agree to disagree.

For writers, our characters' arguments can be especially useful. Sure, they can do all of the above, but they can serve other purposes as well.

Arguments can show a character's true colors. Just like us, characters can say things in the heat of the moment they wouldn't say any other time. Since the only way readers can get to know a character is by what's shown on the page, arguments give readers insight into how a character handles conflict, show what happens when she gets angry or flustered and drop some not-so-subtle hints about what pushes her buttons.

Arguments can illustrate a relationship between two characters. While this is true for any kind of dialogue, it's especially true when emotions are running high. Two co-workers who get along just fine when they can retreat to their individual cubicles might interact completely differently when thrown together in a high-stakes meeting. Whether it's a mother and daughter, brother and sister or husband and wife doing the arguing, listening in can give a reader a lot of information about the state of the relationship.

Arguments can advance the plot. Just as in real life, what happens during an argument influences what happens after the argument. Do the characters kiss and make up? Does one character storm out? Stay in the room, but return only stony silence? Does someone say something that lingers in the air long after the argument has ended? Cross a line? All these things influence what will happen the next time the characters see one another, along with many other conversations that take place with characters who were not a part of the argument. One well-written argument can influence pages and pages of interactions (or entire seasons of a television show).

Arguments can nudge a character to grow. Arguments rarely arise out of thin air. If what happens before the argument is a preface, what follows is a sort of epilogue. Tidy resolutions lead to little change in characters or their interactions, but a simple misunderstanding, left uncorrected, can lead to soul-searching, avoidance, or any number of actions on the part of both the offended character and the one who offended her. And a big blow up? That can lead a character to rethink everything he or she thought to be true, creating the kind of internal conflict that drives story.

Whether confrontational or non-confrontational by nature themselves, writers of fiction need to make peace with confrontation on the page in order to give both their readers and their characters the kind of story they deserve. As a Jersey girl trained as a counselor, I'm very much a clear-the-air kind of girl, which might just give me a head start. But, truth be told, my characters are usually running the show.