Category Archives: Work Life

Monday Morning Nonetheless

“And all my senses rise against this coming back to you”  Leonard Cohen

Almost an ampersand of fog
against the bare trees on the bluff.
The wind must have swirled it around,
or maybe it’s smoke. It’s cold enough
someone could have had a fire last night.

Such beauty and such mystery right there
on a Monday morning, nonetheless,
I have to drive beyond it to where
light industrial meets water treatment
and everything is ordinary, planned, and organized,
and on the other side of that, my job.fullsizerender

Totally on top of things! Oh, except for

I’ve done something today that I have almost never done in almost 30 years of teaching. I finished grading a set of skill check assignments for my Creativity & Problem-Solving class, and the moment I finished them–BAM!  I am 100% caught up with grading.  There is nothing for me to grade, not even if I wanted to (which I almost never do, which is why this almost never happens).

Here’s how the rest of the day was supposed to go–I’d finish grading, work on my to do list for next week and do a Sunday meeting a day early, take a hot bath (it’s a nice, chilly October day here in Wisco), and then eat some supper and head to American Players Theatre to see Beckett’s Endgame, with some of my absolute favorite APT actors.

Except, when I bothered to actually look at my calendar, and then the actual ticket–it was a matinee. And of course the matinee had already begun.  I suppose I could’ve rushed out & gotten seated, but wow did I not want to do that in the very small, very intimate Touchstone Theater.

So, oh well.   The nice thing is that I got results yesterday from the battery of cognitive tests I took in September to get a baseline of my functioning.  My dad has Alzheimer’s, so I wanted to know what my baseline was, but I was also curious about various brain-farts and space-outs I had over the last couple of years.  The doctor I talked to yesterday said all of those could be attributed to being a middle-aged working mother who has a stressful job. He further said that almost all my test results were superior. Only one where I was on the low end of average.

Here’s the test I didn’t ace. It’s called Trail Making, and you have to draw a line from number to number, in order.  I remember not liking the test.  I remember feeling kind of dumb.  And bored. The visual part of it is part of what makes it make sense to me I was slower–I just don’t process things visually that well. But here’s a weird twist–the next test is harder because you have to do letters and numbers in order: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, etc., and I did better on that one, apparently. It doesn’t surprise me, really–more challenging = more interesting to me.

And yes, now that I’ve found it online, I want to try it again and see if I get a better score.

Still, overall–very glad of the timing of the consult with the psychiatrist yesterday, so  I can, with confidence, attribute today’s space-out to just spacing out. It’s not a sign of any kind of decline. It’s only the second time in all my years of going to APT that I forgot I had matinee tix.

So no reason to freak out. And also, I’m really, really blissed out about being caught up with my grading. This bliss will last until Monday when I get two sets of essays and another skill check assignment.

Good news and bad news.  Like the rose below.  I dug it up when they redid the  street in front of my house and I really thought I had totally killed it, but n0–there’s a scraggly bit of rose that’s alive. The bad news is how sad my garage looks.  And yet–I’m caught up with grading.

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Foreground: mostly dead rose. One skinny living bit. And a sad garage.

Is there efficiencies? Cheese is cheese and sports is sports and college is college.

Earlier this week it was reported that Wisconsin legislators had begun quietly and unofficially discussing” a possible merger between the UW Colleges, a system of 13 2-year campuses that award liberal arts associate degrees, and the Wisconsin Technical Colleges, a system of 16 campuses that award a variety of certificates and primarily technical associate degrees.

Now that the discussions have been widely reported, the quietness has come into question, and since it is an actual committee with a committee chair, the inquiries seem relatively official.

In considering the UW Colleges and the Wisconsin Technical Colleges, it is important to note that their funding systems, missions, and organizational structures are very different but the current UW System President, Ray Cross, presided over a similar merger in Minnesota, so some interested parties wonder if the merger is inevitable. Given that this is the same legislature that recently dispensed tenure and shared governance with lightning-fast dispatch during the budget process, some interested parties wonder how quickly this will come about, rather than whether it will come about.

Reporting on these discussions has drawn attention away from some much more interesting discussions happening in the legislature. Note: these are all quiet and unofficial and no legislators would go on record confirming these reports. Still, Wisconsin citizens should be concerned.

There are some now discussing a possible merger between the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Bucks.

We’re just asking questions at this point, really,” said one Assembly rep who asked not to be named but agreed to be called Bucky during the interview. “Are there efficiencies to be gained from beer sales, for example? Are there unnecessary duplications of athletic trainers? I mean–how many ways are there to tape an ankle?”

All that money we just provided for a new stadium—boy, if we could get the Bucks and Brewers to cooperate a little more, we might be able to redirect some of that money to some sorely needed areas.”

Like education? “No, I don’t mean education. They’ve admitted to how much bloat they have–they are cutting people right and left and assuring us that students’ experience won’t be affected, and I’m sure that’s true.  No, what I mean is loans to businesses and whatnot.”

A legislative aid was quoted as saying “a basketball court would totally fit on a baseball field. Just do the math.” He later added, “It almost seems like it was meant to be—I mean, Miller Park already has a roof.”

Even more controversial are discussions related to the merging of cheddar and swiss. “I don’t think that one’s going to happen,” said one long-time capitol observer. “Cheddar and American, maybe, but never Swiss.”

The uneasy alliance of cheddar and Swiss.

The uneasy alliance of cheddar and Swiss.

One state official lived up to her reputation for being “colorful” and “quirky” when she jumped into the conversation and said “I don’t know why your knickers are so twisted. Those cheeseheads are the color of cheddar but they got holes like swiss so we’re already doing it.”

Representative Bucky repeatedly emphasized that no one was considering monkeying with the Packers or State Fair cream puffs. “Some things are pretty much holy in Wisconsin,” he said.

He then added as an afterthought, almost a dreamy reverie really,”But I do wonder if people could get some kind of academic credit for taking part in a fantasy football league. I mean—I do a ton of research for mine. And grading would be easy-peasy. You end up with a winning record? You get an A. Not that I want to tell professors how to do their jobs or anything.”

No calls were returned from the offices of the UW Colleges or System President Ray Cross.

Probably because I made all of this up and no phone calls were made in the first place.

Actually the part about merging the UW Colleges and the Wisconsin Technical Colleges is not made up, I’m sorry to say.

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Update:  a highly respected but very anonymous faculty member has commented that  “there could be promising efficiencies but I’d like to have a fully and completely partisan group analyze whether holes in swiss could be stuffed with cheddar.”

NOT THE EASIEST WEEK AT WORK? YEAH, ME NEITHER

“I was in the house when the house burned down”
Warren Zevon

The gears are grinding hard today, the sound
of conflict, disruption, and general unrest
is metallic, shearing, unpleasant at best.
The eruption of what used to be safe underground
is nothing like a garden coming up in spring
and also nothing like a shy girl speaking up.
It’s not a birth and also not a blossoming.
It is something like taking a painful dump.
And yet it’s very nearly exhilarating
to watch someone say “Enough. No more.
I’m done. Just stop .” Even for those who think
they could endure.

It really does and doesn’t matter.

You’re just trying to enjoy your sandwich, to appreciate
the privilege of being alive on this crazy day.

______

Because Letterman ended last night, I’ve been thinking again about Warren Zevon. We told our son at breakfast this morning that we considered “Zevon” as a first name for him, as well as “Warren.” We went with Wendell instead, but we’re guessing by the time he’s in college, he’ll have met at least a couple of Zevon’s.

Crazy week at work. So crazy, I probably can’t even talk about it. But wow.

Anyway, this Rolling Stone compilation is nice, of some serious moments from Mr. Letterman, and in the Zevon one, he says his famous line, “Enjoy every sandwich.”

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Even broken glass can be pretty.

Even broken glass can be pretty.

(image by Duke Lenoir photo from Creative Commons–attribution license.)

Here’s What It’s Like: UW System Cuts

Here’s what it’s like. You thought he was raising his hand to say “stop” but he hit you instead.

Here’s what it’s like to be a tenured UW System faculty member right now. You’re in a lifeboat. Other people are drowning. You can close your eyes. You can cover your ears. But they’re still drowning.

Here’s what it’s like. You get off the train holding your children’s hands. You’re forced to choose which one lives and which one dies.

Here’s what it’s like. A serial killer makes you choose which pound of flesh you will cut out of yourself.

It’s not really like that, of course. No one’s dying. There’s not physical violence.

Moreover, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child or be left alive when someone else drowns (though I read Ordinary People about six hundred times when I was 13).   I do know what it’s like to be hit–one time I thought a man was raising his hand to motion “shush,” but he punched me instead (Carbondale, Halloween). I have no experience with serial killers.  So–sorry if I’m seeming melodramatic.

But the proposed cuts to the UW System?  And my institution’s range of possible responses?

It feels awful.

Here’s what it’s really like.

The street in front of my house is torn up right now because the village is putting in storm drains and widening the street a bit. Trees were cut down last fall. It’s ugly right now, and it will never again be as pretty as it was, with the canopy of mature sugar maples making the entrance to downtown Spring Green the very picture of “small-town tree-lined street.” If that’s part of what you loved about the Spring Green Art Fair—sorry. No more. At least not on my end of the street. I’m skeptical whether all the trees really needed to come down, because the people in charge of projects like this don’t seem to have the same feelings and beliefs I do when I comes to trees. Nonetheless, we’ve been told the replacement trees will be native (smallish—not full-sized sugar maples, but still native—and especially NOT suburban-looking ornamental pseudo-trees). Overall, I’m o.k. with what’s going on. Storm drains will be FANTASTIC. No more navigating lakes and frozen lakes and partially frozen lakes to get the mail or get in and out of a car at the curb.

But what if I found out all the destruction, all the tree demolition, was for no good reason? What if the trees were needed only because someone had a jones to show off their wood chipper? What if I found out that there’s no longer a plan to re-pave it all?  Or there’s a plan to pave it lightly, right on top, with no foundation below? What if the whole street were getting demolished simply to provide dirt for a big hole somewhere else?

I would feel like I feel right now about the UW System.

Angry. Distraught. Relatively hopeless and helpless.

The UW Colleges is facing cuts that I think we cannot survive.

Here’s the worst part at the moment—our institution is going implement massive changes soon because we can’t afford not to, just in case the cuts are as bad as Governor Walker’s budget requested. Or, even if they’re not THAT bad, even if they’re half as bad. We’re still implementing cuts.

The specifics of it are not firm yet, but it will be ugly and awful and bad no matter what.

And once you’ve cut those trees down, well–it will never be the same.

I have a lot of respect for local legislators. Howard Marklein and Ed Brooks came to my campus and listened to us, and I know they’re trying to do what they can.  I was impressed with both of them.

There’s talk of holding the UW Colleges harmless in the cuts, and while that might mean we actually live to fight another day, it also feels awful. (I mean—we kind of all know that Jan died, too. And this feels so much like Scott Walker’s tried-and-true method of divide and conquer—we’re like rats in a tub fighting over baubles and moldered scraps.)

I just don't want to be the very last rat on the sinking ship.

I just don’t want to be the very last rat on the sinking ship.

But however much respect I have for my local legislators–that budget hole they’re filling? Their party created it. They’re fine with tax breaks the state couldn’t afford. They’re fine with refusing to take federal money for Medicaid. They won’t do what Minnesota has done.

Here’s what it’s like. Have you ever had a nightmare where someone bad is chasing you and you’re so freaked out you just fall down and think “just kill me. Kill me now.”

It’s not like that, not really. I’m awake, for one thing. But part of me wants to fall down and say “Just do it. Close my campus now.”

We’re supposed to feel good, apparently, about the fact that closing a campus isn’t on the table or in the plans.

But if you were to cut down trees and tear up a street and dig giant holes and abandon any pretense of putting in pipes or repaving it at some point—who would want to drive there? Who would want to live there? Who would hold an art fair there, if there were any other street available?

And if you cut my campus so much that it’s just a shell, who would want to go to school there? Who would want to work there?
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For an ongoingly good voice about all this, check out Chuck Rybak’s blog.

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Posting this while I eat lunch, btw. It’s a really good lunch.

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Maybe I’m wrong about how awful it’ll be.

I don't want to look.

I don’t want to look.

Leaving the French Quarter

New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,
I love your blackened bologna, your powdered sugar kiss,
but this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

I’ve rubbed fat blisters on both my feet
rambling the Vieux Carre. Such sweet excess,
New Orleans! You’re a sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

redirecting traffic so the music doesn’t stop.
I love every one of your Marsalises.
This is not my life. I’m glad it’s not,

but watching a finger of fog pointing at the top
of the St. Louis Cathedral, I know I will miss
New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

whose sweaty kiss gives my hair ringlet-
driven waves and curls, which I love, but this—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

There’s music everywhere. Even the drinks
sound like songs. Contessa. Sazerac. O absinthe!
O New Orleans, sexy too muchness, already hot—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

 

_____

This was my first time at the conference for the Popular Culture Association–it was pretty great. I heard a lot of really good poetry & was so happy to meet new poets and talk poetry.  Went to good panels–I have such smart colleagues in the UW Colleges!  And of course I enjoyed the food and beverage and music aspect.

 

Let me say a little more about the Blackened Bologna.  It was a house special at Evangeline, and I would recommend the restaurant and the dish, invented by an old friend of mine, Jim O’Shea.  We hung out in Carbondale about a million years ago (well, 30+) and haven’t seen each other since, but thanks to Facebook, I knew he was a chef in NOLA, so I made a point of going to Evangeline & I’m glad I did. I talked all my UW Colleges peeps and some new friends into coming along, and everyone’s food was good.  I could NOT resist ordering the Blackened Bologna–too hilarious.  But it actually tasted really good, and if you’re having nostalgic thoughts of friend balonie curling up in the pan, forget that–this is a serious hunk o’ meat.

 

But, even though I had an awesome time, I am happy, happy, happy to be going home to my family and to Wisco, even though there are budget cuts looming like a thunderhead, and even though everything is still early-spring cold and raw and brown and gray.

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these.  Rookie mistake!

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these. Rookie mistake!

The Contessa from the French 75--now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

The Contessa from the French 75–now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet--phenomenal!

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet–phenomenal!

Best use of flamingos award.

Best use of flamingos award.

The river this morning.

The river this morning.

Fog coming in off the river.

Fog coming in off the river.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Not-Hate Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day, Part 1: I Have Issues

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep
with them that weep” has been so hard for me
on Mother’s Day, just starting with myself
because I always felt both the yin and yang
of the day—deep gratitude for my amazing son
and mother and grandmother and so many others,
but not that by itself, because I also felt
trace elements of the grief from all the years
we were trying to get pregnant and could not.
Then so much hurt for the motherless, the ones
who never got pregnant who wanted to, the ones
who had mothers who hurt them or children who died.
And this word: miscarriage. Or this one: miscarriages.
And then so many who are childless by choice are told
so many times that choice is the one invalid one
of all our choices. And so I hated Mother’s Day
the first few years I was one and I still
would just as soon ignore it but I won’t.
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On Hating Mother’s Day (and other days)

I posted, on Facebook, for two or three years running, this diatribe against Mother’s Day by Anne Lamott. It always got such a strong response, positive and negative. The positive is relatively easy for me to understand and explain—there are a lot of us for whom Mother’s Day is not all sunshine brunch and flowers, for a lot of different reasons, and until Lamott’s piece, I don’t remember someone writing about “I hate Mother’s Day.”

In that, Mother’s Day is different from other holidays people tend to hate. Someone ambivalent about Christmas? Or angry about it? We might not agree, but we’ve seen repeated complaints about the commercialism of it, they way people who practice other faiths feel excluded, the way the war-on-Christmas-craziness asks us to pretend “happy holidays” is bad (when wishing someone a holy-day is pretty religious actually).

If someone were to write about being the adult child of an alcoholic and how Christmas was always tense when they were a child because maybe Dad would be drunk and abusive or maybe he’d just be gone, and either way, it was a relief when the day was over, we’d be sympathetic.

I think most of us are open to complaints about Christmas, even as we put up our tree and fa la la through the season.

Same with Valentine’s. If your romantic life is anything other than where you want it to be, this is probably not a great day, and we all get that.

Here are some holidays it would be harder to complain about and get general sympathy:

I imagine that if you’re a certain sort of conservative Christian who thinks demons are real, Halloween pretty much sucks. I also imagine that if you’re a pacifist, Veteran’s Day is difficult. Thanksgiving is all football and family and feasting, right? Unless you are a Native American. Or even if you’re just thinking about the way Native Americans might view the first Thanksgiving and what came pretty soon after.

In my experience Mother’s Day is more in this second group—just not something people are terribly open to hearing complaints about (especially from someone like me, with a living mother I adore, and a 9-year-old son who’s just awesome).

So that explains the positive responses—people who have ISSUES with Mother’s Day but have antipathy that dare not speak its name (a small version of saying “Voldemort” out loud).

And it explains some of the negative responses—people who just can’t imagine why someone could possibly hate such a lovely day that honors women who’ve blah blah blah.

The other negative responses have to do with the fact that Lamott is being pretty crabby and diatribey and not terribly logical (which she mostly never is, not terribly). My friend Jenny explains that well in her latest post.

She says Lamott’s  “vitriol is off-putting, and I disagree passionately with parts. By the end, I feel like I’ve been served what might have been a lovely soup were it not peppered with flies.”

Rejoicing With Them That Do Rejoice Or Not

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Ambivalent as I am about the man, I have to admit he just nailed it sometimes (am I remembering right that someone theorized he was short and ugly or did I just imagine that? I picture him that way, regardless).

Here’s why that verse is hard:

Times I’ve been unhappy with whatever portion of my life, I haven’t always done well rejoicing with those who were getting what I wanted but didn’t have.

And, I have to say, those who have so much aren’t always awesome about being sensitive to those who have less.

It’s not just a matter of holidays, either—it can be any random status update, or even that terrific practice of expressing gratitude regularly (some do it daily)—if someone’s expressing gratitude for something terrific, and I have something less than terrific, it’s hard not to snark inside my own head “well of course you’re grateful. I would be, too.”

I’m guilty of both sides of that—I don’t rejoice sometimes for those who are rejoicing.

And then sometimes when I’m rejoicing, I forget (entirely, utterly, blithely) to weep with those who weep. Or even that there are people weeping.

It’s something I’m trying to get better at, and I guess I’m writing this only to ask that we all remember both sides of Mother’s Day—that it’s wonderful and awful both.

Let’s weep with those who weep.

But also rejoice with those who rejoice.

(How can we do that all at once, every moment? I haven’t got a clue—for me it’s just the awareness and the attempt.)

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On Hating Mother’s Day Less

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that part of my own ISSUE with Mother’s Day stemmed from a long list of “shoulds.”

  • Since I struggled to get pregnant, but finally did, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my mother’s alive and wonderful, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my husband does laundry and dishes all the time, I should feel nothing but grateful on Mother’s Day.
  • Since my son routinely makes me laugh and smile, I should feel nothing but lucky on Mother’s Day.

Never mind that early May is always exhausting—the end of a semester, the end of an academic year.

Never mind that every role I love (mother, daughter, wife, sibling, aunt, cousin, gardener, professor, friend, writer, colleague, community member) is a role that also conflicts at least once every freaking day with every other role I love. Sometimes I feel like the guy in Too Many Hats when the monkeys start giving him shit.

I actually enjoyed Mother’s Day last year. As I remember, it was because I told people ahead of time precisely how I wanted to spend the day, and they let me do it the way I wanted, and I went into it with very low expectations—the first few years I think I wanted the day to look like a commercial put out by Hallmark if they sold both cards AND coffee—perky and happy and everyone smiling WHICH IS NOT EVER HOW THE DAY TURNED OUT.

(When my son was still in diapers, for example, he almost never wet through—I think we had to change sheets maybe twice his whole diaper-hood from a leaky diaper. But one of those times was EARLY Mother’s Day morning.)

So my plan is again to tell people precisely how I want to spend the day, and spend it that way, and acknowledge that I will likely feel lucky and grateful and exhausted and conflicted in varying measures and times through the day, the way I do most every day.

And I will be trying, on Mother’s Day and other days, to rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.

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Mother’s Day, Part 2: What I Want

To sleep a little later than I usually do.
To sit and watch my mother’s freckled hands
as they tremor just a little holding a cup
of coffee we’ve gone out for, just us two.
To snuggle with my son and watch TV.
To have someone else decide what we’re going to eat.
And then fix it or bring it or take me somewhere.
And then I want to go to bed and read.
And then I want the day to end. Amen.
 

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