Monthly Archives: December 2011

Honoring my Inner Weasel (Procrastination, Part I)

Other than wetting my pants when I was three (because I never wanted to stop playing to go inside to pee) or having my father threaten to throw away every single toy on the floor (because I never wanted to stop doing anything to clean my room), the first time I remember getting in trouble for procrastinating was in the third grade.

I was bored in math class. This would become a recurring issue for me in school—I was bored in _________ class. It’s not that I’m a genius or anything, but I was always bright and quick in school-matters and I still bore easily. Fortunately, I have also always been able to compensate for my tendency toward boredom with a vast capability to amuse myself.

To make math more fun, I would wait to start a math worksheet until the teacher started collecting worksheets from other kids. This was very dramatic! I was probably doing a play-by-play in my head as I did it—“only one row left to collect! I have three problems left to do! Will I finish in time?” No. I did not finish in time. Ever. So the teacher called my parents, got invited to dinner, and I was told that we were going to have a conversation about how I was doing in school.

The teacher was a genius in this case. I don’t know if she knew exactly what I was up to, but she knew I could do the math and that I wanted to please my parents. Nancy Germann, even after a lot of other teachers in high school, then college and two rounds of grad school, is so firmly planted in my mind as a great teacher, maybe the best I ever had.

Leading up to the dinner, I completely panicked and scrambled for a way to show them all I wasn’t stupid (though of course no one had suggested I was). I ended up making a book out of construction paper with poems that were highly plagiarized versions of Beatles songs and Hallmark cards. I still have it somewhere because she gave it back, knowing we’d want to keep it. I remember Mrs. Germann coming for dinner, but I don’t actually remember ever talking about my performance in school. The problem with the unfinished worksheets went away. I don’t remember ever getting in trouble again with that particular teacher. This did NOT turn me into a diligent student who always followed directions, however. It simply turned me into a savvy student who never got caught not following directions promptly.

Three years later in the sixth grade, someone noticed my reading skills were advanced and set up a program where I could read at my own pace through some eighth grade readers. It might have worked if they’d let me pick my own books from the library—I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and David Copperfield just for fun about that time. But in that reader (from the 1960s somewhere, with two-color illustrations), I made very slow progress. I think I read three of the stories the whole year.

I think that’s always been part of the appeal of procrastination for me. It’s sort of like disobedience, but not glaringly obvious—the directions get followed eventually. It’s a handy way to combine my basic contrary nature with my strong urge to be a good Baptist girl (when I’m 90, there’ll still be a part of me trying to be a good Baptist girl and fucking it up. Oh, please—I’m 90. I can swear if I want.).

But one of the main reasons I procrastinate is just constitutional—it’s part of who I am. I don’t know if this part can change, the response that is so automatic it’s nearly primal. My mother had two weeks of false labor before I was born, for example. Upon setting a goal or being given a task, my first thought is always “How long can I wait to do that?”

I have gotten better over the years at estimating how long something will take me, and I’m relatively good at meeting firm deadlines because I work backwards from the deadline, using my time estimate. Very recently I’ve begun the brilliant practice of giving myself a cushion of time in addition to how long I think something will take, in case something goes wrong. Brilliant.

If deadlines are mushy at all, though, I still really struggle with not procrastinating.

I define procrastination as doing things in the wrong order such that undone things cause anxiety and other diminished results for myself or other people. I want to clarify that sometimes we call something procrastination when it’s simply a matter of time management. We can’t do every task we need to do immediately upon learning of the task—it’s not possible. For me, it’s procrastination when there’s something I could do, and should do, but don’t.

Returning student work promptly is something I’ve struggled with my entire professional life. When spring semester 2012 begins, I’ll be beginning my 25th year teaching college students. Somehow early on, I got it in my head that as long as students got papers back within two weeks, that was o.k. It’s not o.k.—it’s much too long. But the thing is, there’s never been a clear-cut penalty for me for taking that long or even longer to return student work. Because I did other things well in the classroom and put helpful comments on papers, and never asked students to turn in a new assignment before they’d gotten the previous one back, I almost never got negative comments on my student evaluations about taking too long to return work. Students learn less when too much time has elapsed between the effort of the assignment and the feedback, but that’s hard to measure, and since my students always seemed to be learning A LOT, it was something that made me feel kind of bad, but feeling kind of bad wasn’t much of a motivator to procrastinate less. This hearkens back to my third grade adventure—becoming savvy enough to not get caught following directions promptly.

I thus honor my inner weasel.

I’ve told students for years that I’m a recovering procrastinator, but until recently, there was precious little evidence that I was in recovery at all.

I’m happy to report, however, that Fall 11 was the third full semester in a row that I’ve been able to return student work faster than I ever have in my professional life—my overall average is under a week.

Tomorrow (or maybe the next day, depending) I’ll report on those exact numbers and describe how I got to this point in my recovery. But right now I want to watch a Rom-Com, and maybe take a nap.

There is something graceful and flirty and coy about procrastination—a way of dancing with time, coming in close, and backing away. The inner weasel frolicking in the deadline woods. Two lovers teasing each other by delaying the inevitable. Right. Well, anyway. Until tomorrow.

Small Comfort

During one of those “oops we’re having an existential conversation” moments, Mom asked me once, “But you do think people are more important than animals, right?” I don’t remember what prompted the question, but I remember saying, “Some people.”

I’m not quite as bad as one of David Sedaris’s sisters, who, according to him, when she sees a car wreck says, “I just hope there wasn’t a dog in there.”

But if I’m honest, I’ll admit that the deaths of animals I’ve loved, in general, hit me harder than people deaths.

I wrote the following last night and this morning. I don’t think in sonnets, but I do process the world in sonnets a fair bit of the time.


Jack Baptist though I am, I hold out hope
For Heaven. Please don’t tell me if you don’t,
Not right now, not when my Buddy Cat is gone,
And by the time he went, a bag of bones.
Don’t tell me that in all the universe
This dusty planet’s all there is for us.
I live as if there’s nothing more than this.
Or do I mean I live as if there is.
I want my cat restored, purring and fat
With all the other cats and dogs I’ve lost,
And all the people, too. If I can’t have that,
A holy mountain where life is joyful and just,
I’ll settle for love, work for justice, etcetera,
The everbearing blessing of now. Small comfort.

This blog with pictures from dueling-banjo church signs is comforting, though–I particularly love the tone and the end.  Of course,  even as a Jack Baptist (my version of Jack Mormon) , I immediately began hunting for verses that hint at animals in heaven. My faves: Isaiah 11 where the lion and lamb hang out on the holy mountain, and God’s covenant post-flood, which was with Noah & his Mrs. AND all the animals.

This isn’t the stuff of argument for me, though. It’s in the realm of faith & hope  & quantum physics & the changing nature of matter on the nano scale. It’s hard to see what’s there and hard to understand what we do see. Meanwhile, the everbearing blessing of now, however small that comfort is.

NO ONE CAN STOP US (a rock anthem call and response)

I’ve read the following (poem? secular liturgy? homage to Springsteen?) in public two different times–once at a gathering of arts educators in Stevens Point, and once at the final Wisconsin Teaching Fellows and Scholars event attended by the UW Colleges shining star in the constellation of the Scholarship of Teaching and learning (we’re all hoping she’ll shine so brightly at Vanderbilt we’ll still be able to poach her light).

It will be the final piece in a chapbook of poems called Each Other’s Anodyne. Since my husband and I are self-publishing it, I can only say that it may well come out in 2012. In that chapbook, I’m trying to represent the full spectrum of what it’s like to teach–the good, the bad, the horribly ugly and the merely pitiful. I have lots of experience with the full range of emotional and spiritual responses to slogging away for 20 years with a four-four teaching load, and I am NOT happy about the current relationship between government and public education. But I wanted to end the collection on a hopeful note because honestly, if I can’t approach this profession hopefully, I think it’s time to move on.

I recommend reading this out loud in a group of teachers.  It feels  really, really good. Maybe especially on a Monday, and definitely as we enter that final push of trying to get a semester delivered.

NO ONE CAN STOP US (a rock anthem call and response)

When the quiet student
In the back row asks a question,
And it’s a good question,
A really good one,
And another student answers
With evidence and insight,
String that bead on your rosary.
Add transcendence to your resume.

We need to learn to treasure
How we live our lives as teachers,
How we succeed, and it’s mostly
Moment by moment.

Moment by moment,
Student by student,
This is what matters.
Teaching’s important.
No one can stop us.

The non-trad who stayed up all night
With a sick kid and a laptop.
The five-year-old cutie with red hair
And freckles, and more issues than freckles.
The hormone-driven, pimple-ridden,
Horny jerk who somehow found the nerve to say
“I loved that essay question.”
Shot by shot, our movie of the week,
In which we’re the inspiring teachers,
Shows our focus, our composition,
The structure of our concern, proceed
Student by student.

Moment by moment,
Student by student,
This is what matters.
Teaching’s important.
No one can stop us.

We have to feed our families.
We hope to retire before death.
We wonder if Canada would be better.
(If Canada would even let us in.)
But that moment when the soft white
Compact fluorescent light bulb comes on,
When someone learns something,
We know, as surely as we know how hard we work,
This is what matters.

Moment by moment,
Student by student,
This is what matters.
Teaching’s important.
No one can stop us.

Firefighters risk their lives
And lead parades with bagpipes.
Some activists lie down in front of tanks.
My cousin Rob stared down,
Survived, unspeakable things in Iraq.
All around us are dramatic
Examples of heroism and sacrifice.

Have you ever seen a statue
Of a teacher? Me neither.
But we know, we all know
Teaching’s important.

Moment by moment,
Student by student,
This is what matters.
Teaching’s important.
No one can stop us.

No government,
No governor,
No budget cut,
No bad idea
Can keep a really determined teacher
From jumping right into the mosh pit,
From coming on down to the altar,
From pulling up her own bootstraps,
From cutting down on the average
Number of disconnects
Between what he knows in his head
And what he does with his time.
No one can stop us from teaching.
No one can stop us from loving what we do.
No one can touch what we know in our hearts—
However much they meddle and undermine
And underfund and criticize, we know,
If they don’t, that no one can stop us.

Moment by moment,
Student by student,
This is what matters.
Teaching’s important.
No one can stop us.

(repeat as needed)

I’m making this public in hopes that it will spread some hope. Share it however you like, even set it to music if you want, but please keep my name attached to it, and don’t revise it without checking with me. And if it starts raking in the cash, of course I want my share. At that point I could retire from teaching and become the next Parker Palmer (whom I adore), spreading wisdom about teaching without having to teach to feed my family.

[NOTE: because I am in Wisconsin in a trouble time, I want to point out that this poem was composed last summer when I was not on contract, and I am posting this from my car, poaching Wi-Fi from a local eatery.]


As I write this right now I’m sitting in the sun. It’s true. 6:11 a.m. in Wisconsin in December, and I’m drinking my coffee, soaking up the rays. Ah….

I am allowed eight more minutes in the sun, at which point I have to turn off the light box on my kitchen table and get on with my day.

We bought the light because in this house the grownups have S.A.D. issues. Though neither of us has the official diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s clear the issues we have with depression grow worse when the nights grow longer.

There’s an episode of Northern Exposure in which the characters discover these crazy light caps and they want to wear them all the time. I get it now—I have not yet wanted to turn the light off when it’s time. It is intoxicating.

So yes, I’m self-medicating, but this seems more productive than my standard self-meds—caffeine, alcohol, and salty-fatty-sweet-food-of-nearly-any-variety.

[Oops—there. Time’s up. Two minutes over, actually.]

I really identify with (we’re talking seriously resonate with) this quote from Pam Houston, in an essay called “ Breaking the Ice “:
“On September 21 I feel nothing but flat-out panic that we are about to enter the long slide into darkness that feels like an annual survival test. People think June 21 should be a seasonal-affected person’s happiest day, but it’s really joy mixed with trepidation. June 21 may be the beginning of summer, but each day will get a little shorter from then on. March 21 is the only truly joyful day: twelve hours of daylight and nothing but clear sailing ahead.”

But for me, this winter is better already. There may well be a bit of placebo effect going on when I turn on the light, but I don’t care. Even the first day I realized I didn’t feel the need for that second cup of coffee with breakfast (let alone the third or fourth at work), and with less caffeine in my system, I’m sleeping better. My doctor friend Betsy pointed out to me once that caffeine stays in your system 24 hours.

The third day of the light box, I wrote an ode to it:


What Goethe said he wanted, we now have,
My husband emailed me. Not officially
A medical device, and yet I love
It more than Xanax. As if a little box of Italy
Beams up from our table. Just once a day
I sit in front of it, in the morning, first thing.
I never want to turn it off. I want to stay
On the piazza in the sun, emboldening
Myself for normal days of normal strife
And pleasure, days I find so difficult
Sometimes. I’m simply not equipped for life
In winter. Summer makes me gloriously hot
And happy to be alive. When he was about to die,
“More light” is what the poet said. “More light.”

There’s a parallel universe (the one from which Narnia springs) in which I’m a freelance Christian evangelist and author and the title piece of my latest book is Let There Be Light and Less Caffeine. In it I talk about the light box being helpful but my morning devotion ultimately being more helpful. If you live in that parallel universe, please buy that book, because as a freelance evangelist, I depend on the grace of God and the influx of cash from my brothers and sisters in Christ. And buy it from a local bookstore, if you would.

I’m not in that universe, but, even in my current unchurched mode, when I say “light,” I think God. In the Cruden’s Complete Concordance I stole from my Dad years ago (hey—maybe I should buy him a replacement for Christmas—I wonder if they make it for the Kindle….) there are almost 200 references for “light.” When I read the reference

“is a lamp, and the law is l.             Pr 6:23,”

I hear a praise chorus—not sure if it’s something we sang at camp or if it’s from an album—the  Christian pop band Second Chapter of Acts, maybe?

(And here I say a heartfelt thank you Jesus for the blessings of the internets—by the time I figured out that the lead singer for Second Chapter of Acts,  Matthew Ward, looked alarmingly like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wasn’t in touch with anyone who would get both references. There aren’t that many people on the planet who would get both references.)

And of course I think of light when I think of Christmas. Wendell and I will be lighting advent candles on Sunday and talking about Jesus and light. We’ve got our tree up, and lights on  our porch. (A student said, “I saw your lights. They look like they’re falling down.” “That’s how we roll,” I told her.)

Speaking of the second chapter of Acts, it is the second chapter of Luke that we usually use for our Christmas story. It’s what Linus quotes from, for example. But it’s the first chapter of John that I need the most, not just at Christmastime, but year-round. (And not just because one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems begins “The Word made Flesh is seldom, but tremblingly partook.”)

I cling to John 1: 5 this time of year, and somehow the King James Version sounds better than any,  “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” The darkness either didn’t understand the light or couldn’t overcome it, depending on your translation. In the winter up north, either way, that’s good news.

GRIEF FOR THE UNCOUSINLY CHASM, Part 2 (my inner Cadfael)

What books do we reread? Sharing that information shares a lot.

One of the reasons I’m more o.k. this fall (in the turmoil of an effort to Recall Walker–please see note #1 below ) than I was last spring (in the anxious haze of protesting against Walker)—more able to hold onto my equanimity, less likely to feel whipped around by second-hand adrenaline, can be found in a couple of books I reread most years.

The Virgin in the Ice is the sixth book in the Brother Cadfael series. (The BBC made some fetching adaptations of some of the books, but I prefer the books themselves, although Derek Jacobi is firmly planted in my mind as the meddling monk.)

Edith Pargeter took the pen name Ellis Peters and wrote 21 of these books. I love them for several reasons (cf. note #2). Brother Cadfael is the monastery’s herbalist, so there are terrific passages about gardens and herbs and healing. Peters loved the changing seasons, and I love her passages about them.

In her last book, Brother Cadfael’s Penance, published just after she died, Peters muses on the beauty of November (which our early December still resembled until today, when it just seems COLD):

“Most of the leaves were fallen, the stems dark and clenched like fleshless fingers holding fast to the remnant of the summer, all the fragrances gathered into one scent of age and decline, still sweet, but with the damp, rotting sweetness of harvest over and decay setting in. It was not yet very cold, the mild melancholy of November still hand lingering gold in it, in falling leaves and slanting amber light.”

Peters doesn’t have the lush, swampy poetry of another mystery writer I love, James Lee Burke, but I appreciate her imagery, the occasional dab of a trope, and the perspective—a little surprising. A little twist on how we might normally see things. That’s what makes her books worth rereading for me—the gentle prodding to see the world differently.

She goes on to say that Brother Cadfael, now in his late sixties, “had never before been quite so acutely aware of the particular quality and function of November, its ripeness and its hushed sadness. The year proceeds not in a straight line, through the seasons, but in a circle that brings the world and man back to the dimness and mystery in which both began, and out of which a new seed-time and a new generation are about to begin.”

I’ve been appreciating the yin yang symbol lately, and this passage reminds me of that—the sense of circularity, the sense that the green on green on green of my favorite month, June, can’t happen without the gray on brown on white of late autumn.

Brother Cadfael, of course, is musing on his own mortality and concludes he should “go contentedly into the earth with the moist, gentle, skeletal leaves, worn to cobweb fragility, like the skins of very old men, that bruise and stain at the mere brushing of the breeze, and flower into brown blotches as the leaves into rotting gold. The colours of late autumn are the colours of the sunset: the farewell of the year and the farewell of the day. And of the life of man? Well, if it ends in a flourish of gold, that is no bad ending.”

Cadfael’s friend Sheriff Hugh Beringar (see harrumph in note #3 below) comes upon him at this point and says “God bless the work…if any’s been done here this afternoon. I thought you had taken root.”

The other Brother Cadfael book I reread yearly, The Virgin in the Ice, takes place several years earlier in the series, but also at the end of November and throughout December. It’s that point where things are gray and cold and it feels as though it could snow at any moment. Sort of like today. You can tell by the title things get cold and stay cold.

And this book comes to mind especially this year, the year of “the troubles” in Wisconsin, as one of my many clever colleagues put it. Brother Cadfael’s books take place in England in the 12th century, during what is sometimes called “the Anarchy,” when the Empress Maud and King Stephen fought for the throne and divided the country.

I’ve been in Wisconsin for twenty years now, and in the election cycle we’re often called a battleground state. Of course our battles don’t result in deaths, so calling our current conflicts “the troubles” is an exaggeration (see note #4 below). We have not suffered the violence they suffered in Northern Ireland and I hope we don’t come any closer to it than we already have, although things sometimes feel very powder-keggery and tinder-boxy.

And of course we’re not in a civil war in Wisconsin, although we are surely divided. Polls have shown that almost no one here is in the “undecided” category.

One of the things I love about Brother Cadfael is that he doesn’t choose sides with Maud or Stephen. In fact, he makes the point to numerous characters over the whole series that although he understands fighting for a side with all your heart—before he was a monk, he was a foot soldier in the Crusades—this is not his fight.

I am not Brother Cadfael—I have chosen sides and I’m not sorry for that. I am partisan. I have a dog in this fight, as my father would say.


At one point during a battle in Brother Cadfael’s Penance, he is told,

“You’ve done enough brother…in a quarrel that’s been none of your making.”
“None of us,” said Cadfael ruefully, clambering dazedly to his feet, “has ever done enough—or never in the right direction.”

And although I’ve chosen sides and am working in my pitiful way to help Recall Walker, I do rue the quarrel. I do feel dazed. I do wonder how we’ll emerge from this hard time, if we’ll ever be other than a battleground state. I wonder if we’re doing enough, or too much, or always in the wrong direction. All of us, I mean—the side I’m on and the side I’m not on.

So I have summoned my inner Cadfael. There is a part of me I’m holding apart, a neutral monk, as it were, someone who can see the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. It helps. And in that mode, I was able to send a friend request to someone I’d unfriended on Facebook when he made a perfectly civil comment last spring in support of Scott Walker. It’s a tiny gesture toward common ground, but it was sincerely meant. Last spring I felt so unhinged I couldn’t bear to see even his civil disagreement as anything but but a devastating blow. Things feel very different now.

He accepted my friend request and I felt deep gratitude, perhaps out of proportion to the act. But I am grateful for grace, wherever it appears.

I’m still partisan. If a woman ends up being the Democratic candidate for governor, I will absolutely get a bumper sticker that says MY CASTLE STANDS WITH THE EMPRESS MAUD.

But as I look across this particular chasm, I want to at least make eye contact with people I care about on the other side. Obviously we’re very far apart politically, and in some cases the chasm runs deeper than politics. I’m just hoping that what connects us runs even deeper.




#1Once again, let me assure readers I have worked on this blog off-campus, using my own computer.
#2There are words I find in these books I don’t find anywhere else and I long to use them in a Lexulous game: tocsin, hauberk, and seisin among them.
#3This is one of my problems with the BBC series—Sean Pertwee was Sheriff Beringar in just a few episodes, but he was the first one I saw, and perfect, I thought, and then I was sorely disappointed every time he wasn’t in there, nearly aggrieved, really. Since the friendship between Cadfael and Beringar is a huge part of the stories, the disappointment appeared frequently.
#4Perhaps akin to the hyperbole of Sylvia Plath identifying with Holocaust victims because her emotional life was HARD.

GRIEF FOR THE UNCOUSINLY CHASM, Part 1 (La condition humaine)

“England was already frozen into a winter years long…. King Stephen was crowned, and held, however slackly, most of England. The Empress Maud, his rival for the throne, held the west, and came with a claim the equal of Stephen’s. Cousins, most uncousinly, they tore each other and tore England between them, and yet life must go on, faith must go on, the stubborn defiance of fortune must go on in the husbandry of the year, season after season, plough and harrow and seed, tillage and harvest.”     Ellis Peters, The Virgin in the Ice

I have pledged to sing at karaoke at the Shed next time around IF my friend Melinda is there and IF Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender”  is playing. I’m terrified to sing in public—it has to do with a childhood trauma in which I taped myself while singing along to a favorite record, after which, at some point, the tape was stolen and played in front of others, and I was assured by the thief that everyone laughed and thought I was a horrible singer—but Melinda makes me brave, and Springsteen makes me brave, and Lake Louie’s Warped Speed Scotch Ale also makes me brave.

Melinda is one of the main organizers of Spring Green’s Recall Walker effort (see note #1 below) and I am helping a little, though the number of signatures I’ve gathered is pretty pitiful.

It’s not a perfect analogy, just sort of loosely, vaguely analogous, but if we time-traveled to England about 850 years ago, Melinda might be a chatelaine whose castle declared for the Empress. Or an abbess whose nuns sheltered the right kind of knights. Or a merchant who acted as a courier for secret messages. Whatever she would have been, I’d have been the third kitchen helper or the clumsiest nun or the woman buying gloves, standing there acting as though I didn’t know exactly what was going on. In short, I would do pretty much whatever she needed me to (pitifully, probably, cf. above).

And I think, if we were standing there some 850 years ago, as the late autumn hardened into early winter, we would say we understood why others fought for the king.

We agreed recently it must be hard for Walker’s supporters, who were happy when he won, and who now wish people would just leave him alone to do his job. We agreed we felt the same way about Obama. We had this conversation standing across from a church gathering Recall Walker signatures, just after an older gentleman had called us “damn fools.”

This tendency to disagree, whether or not blood is shed, makes me think of Robert Penn Warren in his poem “Folly on Royal Street.” Our grand captiousness is, pretty simply,

“La conditione humaine,
which was sure God what we were.”
Empathizing with people I disagree with doesn’t stop me from disagreeing, however—not this time.

Of all the things I’m angry at Scott Walker about, the devastating blow to educator morale is high on the list, and one colleague springs to mind more than almost any other. This is a young man well on his way to earning tenure, admired by his colleagues, loved by students. He’s one of those people with a large personality and an energy level to match. But when I saw him this fall, he looked utterly bedraggled. It was late on a Friday afternoon, but he’s someone I would typically expect to see bopping around even at that point, annoying the rest of us who experience dips in our energy levels from time to time.

He said he was depressed and I would say he is also burned out. He works a lot of hours, more than I do, and isn’t sure how long he can sustain the pace. I know times are hard, so this isn’t the place to argue about salaries—most of the people I know who teach in the UW System do understand how lucky we are to have jobs, how lucky we are to have relative job security, to be able to provide for our families with our salaries. But our salaries were stagnant before 2008, and beyond that, the divisiveness in Wisconsin has made it acceptable for some people to say right to our faces that they think we’re overpaid and underworked. Let me assure you—this young man I speak of has never underworked a day in his life. As for overpaid, well, he’s not sure he’ll be able to keep up his mortgage. If another college in a state that’s supporting higher education even slightly more than Wisconsin comes calling, he might listen. Or we might lose him to a private college, the way the UW Colleges is losing our premiere researcher in the field of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning to Vanderbilt, beginning in January. Or we might keep him, but not really him at his highest potential, not him, not really, not if he stays depressed and burned out. Everyone loses if someone like him isn’t routinely thrilled to be doing the job he does.

When I saw him in early November, we talked briefly about the Recall Walker campaign, about ten days before it kicked off. He said he wasn’t going to participate, that he just couldn’t. And we agreed that last spring had been very hard emotionally.

Yes, I protested at the Capitol. Three times. One of those times I got to touch a hero of mine, Susan Sarandon. I hadn’t realized she was there, but I was moving one way in a mass of people and she was moving the other, and I recognized her, reached over to touch her arm, said, “Thank-you,” and she looked up at my ridiculous blaze-orange-ear-flap cap, on which I’d written “Public Employee”” and said to me, “Thank-you.” That’s one of my top-ten life moments. I won’t apologize for it.

But it was an adrenaline roller coaster last spring. I think the collective weight of the citizens of Wisconsin stayed the same, but only because the pounds gained by those of us eating emotionally (one friend began putting bacon on her veggie burgers) were balanced out by the pounds lost by those too tense to eat.

My young colleague said he couldn’t help with the Recall because he couldn’t go through that again. I said I understood, but said I felt calmer now. “How?” he asked. “How?”

I’ve been articulating my answer, and it’s taken me a month. Here’s how.

I am currently in the process of healing from burnout. I think I’ve been on the edge of burnout most of my life. I remember it most clearly beginning in high school, so it may be correlated with hormones. I come by this naturally, the tendency to push to extremes and then collapse. My mother does it (though less as she ages, so maybe it really is related to hormones), her sisters do it, her mother did it…. I’d like to stop doing it. There’s a terrific book called Tired of Being Tired that has helped a lot.

So that’s part of the answer to my colleague—healing from burnout. Because, as Ellis Peters says, “life must go on, faith must go on, the stubborn defiance of fortune must go on in the husbandry of the year, season after season, plough and harrow and seed, tillage and harvest.” Our professorly version of that would be semester after semester, grading and prepping and conferencing, teaching and turning in grades. We go on because we have to, and there are still so many moments we love what we do, which is part of why so many of us are working on the Recall.

Or as the Boss would say, “No retreat, Baby, no surrender.”

#1 Because this particular blog has political content, I have been careful not to work on it while on campus, and I am using my own laptop to compose it.