Category Archives: Work Life

I Choose to Be Here

It’s the middle of Finals Week. Other semesters, I’d be thick in the muck of a grading backlog, trying to get caught up so I could start grading finals. This time, I came soooooo close to having the backlog done before finals started coming in.   Didn’t quite make it, but I’m still in a good place, on track to have grades turned in on December 23.  Which is before Christmas. Which is fantastic.  (I hear from my family I’m not very pleasant when I’m still grading over Christmas.)

Because I am a master procrastinator, and because over the years I’ve been slower than I’d like to in terms of returning graded work to students, I have a spreadsheet going back more than ten years with precise records–when students turned things in & when I returned them.  This semester wasn’t my best ever, but it’s the best in a while.

Why? Was it because it was a lovely, unencumbered semester in which my family life was smooth as pudding and my work life was also smooth and lovely? NO.  We’ve found 7th grade challenging in my house. We’ve been virus magnets this fall. And at work? Well , my campus administrator is moving on. In a couple weeks. And there’s work to be done.

And, oh, what else? Let’s see. My campus is in the process of merging (though we’re not supposed to say “merging” any more, I don’t know why) with a larger campus. All over Wisconsin, fine, little campuses are merging (not-merging) with fine, larger campuses. This has resulted in many, many more meetings and phone calls and emails. None of which are my favorite things about my job.

And yet.  And yet.  I’m feeling as genuinely copacetic as I have felt in a very long time.

Here’s one reason. In September, I listened to Episode 057 ,”How to Stop Fighting Against Your Life & Fall in Love With It Instead,” of the Courage and Clarity podcast. It’s a great podcast–each interview has two episodes. One is the “courage” episode, in which a woman entrepreneur explains how she broke away from her regular life and had the courage to do something risky.  The “clarity” episode explains some specific process or task.

On Episode 057, Steph Crowder (the host, and part of the triumvirate at Fizzle.co, which I love, seriously, ♥, and which I’m sure I’ll write about more at some point) interviewed Catherine Rains, the Hotel Artist.  I was hooked early on, because they were talking about “resistance toward the day job.”

Even before the merger-not-merger was announced, I was finding my job challenging. Maybe everyone does?  But I’m working with Fizzle because I’m trying to develop a side hustle in creativity consulting, and part of the motive for that is being able to retire from my day job, which I’ve been doing since 1991. So even though I wouldn’t say I was miserable in September, was I loving my job? Happy to be there every day? Giving it my best? Prolly not.

A lot of this episode resonated with me, but this especially:

Catherine says that at some point she was in an academic job that wasn’t thrilling her, but she was captivated by a phrase she thought of, “What you resist persists.”  So she started doing what she called a game, of saying, “This moment is my destiny” any time she was in an unpleasant moment at work.  She also said, “I have lived my entire life to be sitting here at this moment doing this thing.” She said these things “over and over again for three months, and at the end of three months, I realized I had fallen in love with my job.” Catherine also talks about:

  • “learning new ways to surrender to what’s in front of me, as opposed to resisting it.  Because resisting it is what keeps you stuck where you are.”
  • “I think that what makes people think that they haven’t gotten far enough is because they’re resisting where they already are.”
  • “When I stopped trying to get somewhere else, and fully sunk into where I was, that’s when the next step revealed itself, without me doing anything.”

There was just level after level of resonating for me. Somehow I decided to go for it.  I tried saying “This moment is my destiny” and that phrasing just didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it felt too whoo-whoo. But then I tried, “I choose to be here” instead, and snap!  Every moment when things at work seemed tense, when I was feeling tired of any particular task, when I just wasn’t feeling the love for what I was doing, I said to myself, “I choose to be here.”

It wasn’t as if everything was suddenly rainbows and sunshine, but there was a subtle transformation. Work just felt good. Within a week or two (which seemed sudden), I wasn’t working on my side-hustle to escape my job. I was working on my side-hustle because it was an important thing I wanted to develop to spend some time on now and more time on later.

Work just felt good.

So then when the seismic announcement of the merger-not-merger happened (about which I have many thoughts and feelings), my response wasn’t doom and gloom or terror. My gut-level response was positive. And still is.  And as we move through the muck of making a massive transition for this merger-not-merger (about which I have multiple thoughts and feelings), I’m still saying “I choose to be here.” It makes a huge difference.

It’s a huge part of why I’m feeling so mellow during finals week, looking forward to a full day of grading tomorrow, a Solstice bonfire tomorrow night, more grading on Friday, then an email to students asking them to check my data entry one more time, and then turning in grades on Saturday. Then celebrating Christmas starting on Christmas Eve. And actually taking a week between Christmas and New Years where I don’t check work email. At all.

So right now, at the end of a tumultuous semester, I’m sitting in front of my Christmas tree feeling copacetic even before I take a single sip of the brandy I’ve poured myself. This whole method isn’t just for tense moments at work. It’s also for moments like this. I choose to be here.

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Brushy Creek Runs Through It

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The beautiful Brushy Creek on the campus of UW-Richland.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Norman MacLean A River Runs Through It

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free”  Elizabeth Bishop “At the Fishhouses” 

Running water changes everything
and nothing. You can stand on the banks and count
the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

just like you’ve done for half a century
or more, fishing or just thinking how
running water changes everything.

I like to pause there and pretend every morning
that some of my stress is floating away and down.
The number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

does vary, depending. I confess I’ve never seen
a single one, but that doesn’t make me doubt.
Running water changes everything

about a place. It gives our landscape meaning.
It shows us how to shift some things without
running the risk of harming the trout in Brushy Creek,

without giving up the goal of learning
who we are and what our genius loci’s all about.
Running water changes everything
except the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek.

 

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Post script:  apparently it’s BRUSH CREEK, not BRUSHY CREEK.  I think maybe I knew that at some point.  Or maybe not.  There’s not a sign anywhere, and I am very texty….  And I don’t hear well… But really, no excuse. I’ve been here since 1992.  I really ought to know better.  But I ain’t changing the poem because Brushy Creek scans better than Brush Creek.  Honestly, I think it should be Brushy Creek.  I might keep calling it that and see if it catches on.

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.

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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.