Big Changes

I resigned my faculty position at the end of May. Today, I finished cleaning out my office. Walking out of the building today, I got a little verklempt and teared up. I’ve joked that this is the end of an era, but it really is. My senior year of high school we were asked to write down where we saw ourselves in ten years. I wrote (which I rediscovered at my 10-year reunion) that I would have a PhD in political science and be teaching at a university. At that point, (my ten year reunion) I had just started my MA program. Four years later (took me three to finish the MA while working full-time, and then I took a year to apply to PhD programs) I started my PhD. I finished that and started teaching full-time in 2000. I went through two visiting positions before I landed the tenure-track position. Got tenure, and now I’ve resigned. Twenty years of teaching, 17 at the same place. All told, this job was my goal for 40 years!

It really is the end of an era and it’s the end of what I thought was my dream career. I love teaching, I really do. So, I know that will be a big loss, but one I am prepared for. I like research, but I found that I don’t like being pressured to do research on someone else’s time line. I also don’t like having to “stay in my lane” research-wise. Meaning, I like branching out and wandering through different areas. But, that is not the academic way. Small loss. Generally, I despise committee work (the “service” part of the trifecta of research, teaching, service requirements), so no loss there.

Two years ago, I had a sabbatical in the spring semester. I started out going full-bore into a new research project that looked really interesting (I still think it is, and I think there’s something to my thesis), but after a strong start, I basically lost interest in pursuing the necessary background research. I started reading lots and lots of fiction…urban fantasy, swords and sorcery. All the things I have always loved reading since I was a little kid (starting with the color fairy tale books…Red Books of Fairy Tales, Yellow Book…) And, I started wondering if I could write a story myself. So, I started. That first draft was horrific. Really bad. But, I was hooked. I read “how-to” books, how to describe, how to create characters and character arcs, how to reveal necessary background information and on and on. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote.

I finally had a version that I felt confident sending out to beta readers. I got positive feedback, incorporated the suggested changes…and voila! I uploaded it to Amazon the other day. I was so excited I was vibrating. I’m still jittery. I’ve published non-fiction in academic journals, and that was pretty cool. But this is different. This is a part of me out there. It’s very exposing, but a hell of a lot of fun! As I said in the previous post, there are a number of people I owe a huge debt of gratitude to. Both for the writing advice and the encouragement to just write. The outpouring of support from my friends when I announced that the book was live on Amazon has been amazing as well.

My author page on Amazon says that I consider myself to be a “recovering faculty member” and that is true. I quit a job I couldn’t get fired from and I feel like I broke out of prison. It’s crazy. Scary, too. I’ve jumped…this has to work! And, I have every confidence it will.

Today is our wedding anniversary, so I took the day off. Plus I’ve been told (and experienced in the academic side of things) that it’s a very good idea to reward oneself for a job completed. Monday, I will get back to plotting the next book in the series.

So, here’s to changes big and small. Go out and make those changes that appeal to you. Have a great weekend!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

And so it begins…

The Spring 2020 semester starts tomorrow. I just got back yesterday from 11 days in Belgium and Netherlands with my students. I have finished two out of three syllabi. And, those two are for the same class (2 sections). The third one, my class on Russian politics, is not in the online learning management system yet. The last time I taught it was before we got this new system. So, that will take some time to input all the modules and info for them. Fun.

On the “I’m grateful for…” side of things, I’m grateful I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays so I have tomorrow to work on getting everything uploaded and semi-functioning. I can spend the day working on that so that on Tuesday it’s all ready and looks like I’m totally organized. Ha!

On the WTF?! side of things, we have our first big meeting of the semester tomorrow as well. Oh, joy. I started seeing the emails for several meetings last week, but since I was busy doing pedagogically sound activities with students I was able to totally ignore most of them.

Continued: Monday Jan. 13.

The semester started today. I’m grateful that my schedule is Tuesday/Thursday this semester. We did have a meeting this afternoon, but at least I didn’t have to teach today. Tomorrow is three classes back-to-back. Oh, joy. More and more I think that work puts a real crimp in the work I really want to do.

You might have noticed that I’m doing a weekly writing prompt exercise over at More Odds Than Ends. I’ve posted them here. Last week’s was “Old Keys.” I had fun writing it and I’m very much looking forward to continuing this exercise in the foreseeable future. Waiting to see what the next one will be. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate your reading them and I’ve love to read any comments you might have.

OK. I’m off to bed. Long day tomorrow. Here’s to a good, and less stressful Spring 2020 semester.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Lions, tigers, and bears all seem to appear at this time of year. The metaphors, at least. Work and its associated stresses, time sinks, and general all-around malaise (nothing screams malaise quite like students and faculty at the end of the semester. Everybody just wants it to END NOW!) make for a large pride of lions; each on stalking you and creating at best worry, at worst fear. The general stresses of the holiday season, combined with less than mild world news (looking at Hong Kong) become that tiger stalking in the jungle; you never know when something is going to jump out from its hiding place and attack. Finally, not writing enough for my own satisfaction, never mind keeping up with NaNoWriMo, is the hibernating bear (my muse and brain cells are apparently on extended holiday); can’t quite seem to wake up and not sure you want to.

I am REALLY looking forward to the end of the semester, even though there are a whole host of other things waiting for me at the end. But, those things/plans/events are things that I want to deal with and work on. Even the trip to Europe with my students. We have plane tickets and a place to stay for the first 2/3 of the trip. The rest is easily taken care of, so I can simply look forward to watching my students explore and experience the simulation, catch up with well-respected and liked colleagues, and enjoy good beer and food.

Writing? Well, yesterday I read a whole new book. Which is OK, because it’s in the urban fantasy genre and it’s a renewal of a series I really like. Got some interesting ideas and learned more about pacing, scene writing, and character arcs. So, that does count as work. Today, we tackle yard work (leaves from the neighbor’s tree are finally all down), and some other pre-Thanksgiving chores and then it’s supposed to rain. That’s when I will go back to the writing. I owe a short-story by mid-February and I have to keep going on book #2 in my series. I also have to gently poke my beta readers for book #1 so that I can get that out.

Also in the line of work, I’m figuring out how to license images and covers, the ins and outs of converting to a Kindle Unlimited format and all those details. I’ve created covers for all three books already since that makes me feel like the books exist and I just have to fill in the space in between the front and back covers. I’ve found that this is similar to my process of writing academic articles. There, I just blast in and write out the whole thing, dumping in notes for citations, place holders for data tables etc. For me, even if I end up dumping 10 of 25 pages and writing an additional 15 pages, that’s OK because it’s editing, not original writing. Psychologically, there’s a world of difference between writing and editing. Writing is facing a blank page and trying to organize your thoughts and ideas into something comprehensible and (in the case of fiction) entertaining. Editing is looking at a finished product and tweaking things so it smooths out. Yes, it’s more complex than that, but that imagery is what I use and it works to keep me moving forward.

I did mean to write yesterday. I had all intentions of doing so. But, I think the meeting I had on campus at 8:00 a.m. kind of ripped it all out of me. Not really an excuse, but an explanation (OK, so I feel better telling myself that). But, I did read and did make note of interesting structural bits in the book. Like I said, that does count and I’m not just saying that for an excuse. If you don’t read, you can’t know what makes one story work and another one bomb.

So, I’m off to rake leaves, run errands, and then write. The cat will really enjoy the writing bits as I tend to sit on the couch and he sleeps beside me, keeping an eye on my work and whereabouts.

Enjoy the weekend!

Image by Michael Siebert from Pixabay

One down, 14 to go

I’ve been neglecting the blog, but I have a reason. The first week of the semester is done. Only 14 more to go. The week before classes start and the first week of the semester are always hectic in the fall. Freshmen trying to figure everything out, colleagues trying to get and stay organized (it’s always optimistic the first week), returning students finding friends and professors, everybody generally running around. There’s lots of laughing and hugs as well.

There have been some changes and some things staying the same (sadly). I have been reminded every day this week that I am indeed making the right decision by leaving academia at the end of this year. As I’ve said many times before, it’s going to be scary, probably difficult, but exciting and fun. I am very much looking forward to the new directions for both of us.

I have vowed to myself that I will find the time to do my own non-research and non-course related writing every day. I have finally (!) finished editing my first book and I’m going to be sending it out to my beta readers this weekend. I’m going to outline the series that popped into my head last week and see where that takes me. I’m also going to write up a couple of short stories that have been floating around in my brain for a while now.

So, we’re off and running. Hopefully things will calm down. It’s bad, but I don’t want to focus on teaching and committees, I want to focus on my own writing. Included in that is keeping up with the blog. I know that I ramble a lot, but writing down those thoughts and ideas helps to clarify things and gives me some idea of what to write about.

In the meantime, it’s a long weekend. Go out and enjoy!

Image by Ken Shelton from Pixabay

Reading Breadth

I just read a post at Mad Genius Club discussing reading and cultural heritage. This post was based on an article at Intellectual Takeout analyzing 7th and 8th grade reading lists in Minnesota public schools in 1908 vs. 2019. Both of these posts got me thinking about what I read, and how much I read (or don’t sometimes). The post on cultural heritage struck a chord. Many people home school these days because they don’t feel that their kids are getting a good enough education in the public school system. (Right now, I can hear teacher friends and friend who have teachers as friends screaming that I’m blaming the teachers…No. I’m not.) The teachers are teaching the curriculum that was ginned up by the politicians in their various states. Believe it or not, the federal government and Betsy deVoss have very little to do with what a state does or does not do in terms of education curriculum. Like many things the federal government decrees, it gets states to fall in line via the simple expedient of blackmail. The feds threaten the subsidies to states if states fail to do what the feds want. The states have become so dependent on the feds for budgets for education and other areas that they fall in line like good little boys and girls (Go look up the history of setting the legal drinking age to 21. Blackmail via highway funds.)

It’s become very fashionable to distance oneself from our Western, European, Judeo-Christian cultural heritage. All the “best” minds will explain (at dreary length) how that culture is corrupt and led to all sorts of evils like slavery and colonialism and racism and…and…whatever else they can think of that they don’t like. But slavery existed (and still does in many parts of the world) long before Western civilization was a twinkle in any one’s eyes. Racism is the normal course of human interaction. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s a normal human reaction. Just go to any fully integrated high school cafeteria at lunch time. Kids self-segregate. Doesn’t mean they don’t like kids of other races, just means they’re more comfortable with those who look like them. Also doesn’t mean they don’t hang out with kids of other races, just not all the time. Do you hang out with the same exact set of friends all the time? Or do you mix it up. If you read, you understand that while aspects of civilization created and even encouraged those ills, other aspects worked to end them and make them the anathema they are today.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Reading and cultural history. It’s important to understand history. How can you say where a society, country, organization went wrong or right if you don’t know and understand the history of it? How can you understand and know the history if you don’t read? And, it’s not just history books of all stripes we need to be reading (and our kids too), it’s all kinds of books from fiction to fantasy to fairy tales to poetry to essays on life, the universe and everything, to opinion pieces on the outrage topic du jour. All of these give insights into culture, history, and social mores. Reading should be done in such as way as to give you a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience such that you are able to take in many factors and understand the outcomes and consequences (both intended and unintended).

Groups and individuals will always interpret the same book/article/essay in different manners. That’s what reasoned, analytical discussions are for. To figure out where those interpretations are based and why they appear. Sometimes reading different analyses on the same book or essay reminds of this meme I saw on Facebook a while back:

25+ Best Memes About the English Teacher | the English ...

You don’t have to explain why, but it bears remembering that when you read an analysis or interpretation of a work you are reading the author’s analysis/interpretation of another author. It’s fine to agree, as long as you’ve read the same original piece. Thus, basing your own analysis/interpretation on your own reading and not trusting somebody else to read it and interpret it the same way you do.

All of this is a long way of saying that reading everything, even things you find disturbing, angering, whatever, is the best way to develop your own critical thinking skills and pick up some knowledge and maybe even appreciation for your own history and that of the culture in which you were raised.

Try it. Read something and see what happens to your brain.

Reaching the finish line

Grading is DONE! Let the whinging begin! Well, I haven’t submitted final grades yet, and I won’t until about 24 hours before they’re due. It cuts down on the whinging. That’s when I also put on the “out of office” auto-reply on my email.

I’ve already had one request for an improved grade with the addition of post-semester extra credit. Really? After the semester is over you’re asking for extra credit? If you’re so worried about your scholarship, perhaps that should have been a consideration…oh, I don’t know…at the beginning of the semester? Maybe? Then I had one question as to whether the grade included the legit extra credit. Then I had one request for permission for late submission of a reflection paper. That one, if I had to guess, is fear of losing the ROTC scholarship. All of that is prior to final grades getting posted. We use Canvas, a so-called “learning management system” for classes. It allows for electronic submission, embedding videos, etc. It also shows grades and it calculates the current grade for students. So, when I posted the results for their last exam, they all figured that what Canvas calculated was their final grade. This, even though they know that is not the final grade. It may be close, but that’s not it.

Oh, well. It’s done. I’ll go back intermittently to do some spring cleaning of my office. I’ve been doing it on an off for the last week or so and finding absolute relics of stuff! 20-year old overheads! Overheads! Grad school papers, and today, draft copies of my dissertation. Oh, joy. It’s all getting recycled. Next week I tackle the filing cabinet! Pray for me!

So, for the rest of the week, I’m writing, editing, and reading. My own stuff, not freshman writing. My stress levels are already considerably lower. The prospect of another beer garden outing on Saturday makes it all even better!

Go do things that make you happy!

Pivoting

So, I’ve been slacking on writing this blog for about a month. It’s been an interesting and enlightening month. After our trip to Punta Cana, both of us have been doing a lot of introspection and discussion as to what we want to do and where we want to be. Things at work have become more poisonous (if possible). I’ve discovered things about people that I would have been happier not knowing. Although, if I didn’t know, I’d probably get caught in the crossfire. Along with the national issues within higher education, the local poison has driven me away from academia. Hubby is looking for another job somewhere closer to northern California where both of our families live. However, we will go wherever he finds a job that he wants.

Along those lines, I’ve been reading a lot about vocations, jobs, living your best life and all that. When I started writing I had the idea that I would pivot to writing full time and then eventually create a non-profit for teaching literacy to adults. I still want to do something like that. But, now I’m thinking I’ll start by volunteering for a literacy program first (baby steps, ya know). But, then I read about just going for it. Fear be damned. It’s already scary thinking about going with only one salary. But, we’ve done it before when I first started teaching. Lots of pivots in this journey.

Pivots are what it’s all about. I just finished reading “The Art of Work” by Jeff Goins (I don’t know him and I’m not paid by him or his publishing company, I just read his book). He uses the term pivot (from basketball), and I like it. It describes perfectly what you do when you are or feel you are, pinned in one place. You can always pivot and face a different direction which opens up different options for you.

People will tell me I’m crazy to give up a tenured position. Who in their right mind gives up a job you can’t get fired from? Only lunatics, right? Well, no. I now understand what my father meant when he asked me if I really wanted to have a tenured job. He was worried. I laughed. I could quit any time, I told him. Tenure worked totally in my favor. What he was worried about is what I realized in the last year or so. Tenure is a two-way trap. Yes, I can leave, but that means giving up a guaranteed job. THAT is a very scary proposition. But staying means playing by rules that are bent, broken, and completely manipulated by those who would control others. Tenure means feeling trapped and thus becoming willing or resigned to, sucking up all kinds of abuse and futile gestures. That becomes not only demoralizing, but soul-killing.

So, unable to keep moving forward in the current direction, I will pivot. It’s scary, fun, exciting, unknown. Let’s do this!

Image: Pixabay

The Last Week…of break

A week from today classes start. I will be back in the rhythm of the semester by the end of next week. This is a very familiar place to be. I am working on prepping my classes, because I put that task off until now. I am also trying to write and do research. More personal, but still research. As always, I head into the spring semester with a mixture of hope and dread. Hope, because it’s a new semester and that always brings a sense of optimism. Also, the spring semester is followed by summer! Yay!

Dread, because I’m afraid that the freshmen will not have learned anything from their mistakes last semester (years of teaching supports this hypothesis). and because, administratively we’re entering another period of uncertainty and that means faculty never really know if their ideas, programs, trips, etc. will be approved as before, cut, or ignored. Regardless of whatever else the semester brings, it will bring change. And, change is a scary, exciting thing.

I am a creature of habit; got it from my parents who definitely were creatures of habit (when the bartender pours your beers as he sees you through the window, you’re a creature of habit). But, I think that the majority of humans are creatures of habit. So are other animals. We have the ability to recognize long-ingrained habits and to persuade ourselves to ditch those habits. Hence, the plethora of books, blogs, articles, etc. that urge us to get out of our comfort zones, push the edges of the envelope, change our world, etc. etc. etc. While exciting to contemplate, such change is often scary to implement.

So, where am I going with this rambling? Well, in the words of Mal Reynolds, captain of the spaceboat Firefly, “no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.” I am embracing change, some of it pretty radical, and I am going to enjoy the hell out of the roller-coaster I’m currently building. I promise to post updates.

(picture is personal photo)