Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bye-Bye Summer

Here it is. The last evening of summer.

This was not the bloggiest of seasons for me. Like many of the friendly blogs in my world, YesterdayLooksGood got very little attention. Her sister blog, Breaking the Code, got even less.

I meant to record more of my happenings -- they are fun to look back at, a way to solidify memories, etc. -- but many posts were never started and of those that were, I abandoned more posts than I actually published.

Using my calendar and a scroll through the drafts-never-published here are the highlights of Summer 2008:

In May, we went to Traditional Arts Weekend at Wheatland. Just like always, and nicely so.

In June I went to Minneapolis/St. Paul for a conference and research (probably the highlight of my summer in terms of work).

In June, E finished 4th grade (which she loved) and O finished Kindergarten (which he tolerated). They understood that they were supposed to be happy about summer, but they didn't quite know what to do with themselves with day after day of unstructured time. Apparently, they didn't feel the chores I assigned them was the kind of structure they were looking for, however. They did a week of low-quality day camp that convinced us they were better off rattling around the house bored and beating on each other than in that environment.

In late June/early July, we went to my folks' cottage. This is a trip I have done for years, but this particular trip came with some twists. I went without my dog, for one. It was her favorite place in the world. She was dune colored and loved to romp there. [sniff]

In July, I became a stay-at-home mom. I struggled with this for awhile. I finally had to accept that my sabbatical was over and stop trying to parent and write at the same time. Things got much easier after that. I scheduled playdates so I could launch a new article and get ready for classes, but I also took other people's kids on adventures with us, rode bikes with my pups, went blueberry picking, hit the pool and the waterpark, danced to the bands at Crossroads, became a regular at the Tuesday farmers' market, and visited many area parks. The kids and I even rode our bikes in the Heritage Festival parade (which I think we all found pretty boring).

In July, E went off for a week at sleep-away camp. I loved camp as a kid and went for multiple weeks (regular, horseback riding, competitive swimming, and, my favorite, sailing) so I was rather excited for her. She did great there but was incredibly tired when I retrieved her. The promised "vegetarian option at every meal" also turned out to be salad and peanut butter sandwiches, so she was mighty happy to have a plate of pasta plopped down in front of her. I had hoped that a week apart would get the kids out of the negative patterns of taunting they had developed. It didn't. Almost as soon as I had fetched her I heard from the backseat, "mom, he's looking at meeeeeeee!"

July also meant beerfest and I had a lovely time with my dad, brother, and many buddies. I didn't pick a "best beer" this year, but I enjoyed several ryes... and I really enjoyed that there were several ryes to enjoy. Worst beer: Jolly Pumpkin's Perseguido. It almost doesn't seem fair, since I don't like their beers/sour beers in general, but EVERYONE in my universe that day agreed that this one particularly sucked.

In August, we went to Dunegrass, the music festival in Empire, MI. Year #2 for us and it held up well, which is not surprising because the kids are now old enough to be fairly sturdy on such outings, we took the camper and therefore had cushy digs, and there is a beautiful beach with great dunes just down the way. moe. wins for best band, I think. Particle was the same as always, only I was too tired to get into the groove this year.

Also in August, S finally got me to play water polo. Okay, yes, it is fun. Water polo easily slid into the hole left by us quitting clogging (E lost her interest and I wasn't going to force it). The kids could swim in the shallows while mommy dunked the college boys... then we would all go home mellow and tired. E wormed her way into one game and played well. I'll coach a tweener team next year if the pool folks will let me! Most of my other exercise came from the bike. I think my fitness level peaked somewhere in late August. If I had to pick a day, I'd say it was when I rode (read: held on for) the local shop ride: 32 miles in about an hour and half. Otherwise I rode with Bike Ypsi many Sundays and took to early morning roll outs so that I could do 20-30 miles and be back in time for W to leave for work. (Tom's right: it's a great time because there is no wind!) My favorite ride became the Saline-Milan route (40 miles), though it was hard to squeeze in on weekday mornings.

The last bit of August contained my birthday weekend. I celebrated Bike Ypsi's first birthday, helped break in Andre and Stephanie's new house at their first party there, closed the pool for the season, and celebrated my many revolutions around the sun with my extended family.

September saw me not only enter my forties but also take on my first big administrative job: department chair. The kids went back to school. We celebrated surviving that momentous week with a bonfire at the party barn, including a birthday king and queen, and chocolate cake with a milk fountain built in.

But the signs of fall have started to arrive. E started soccer, the rain pushed the last Crossroads act (Black Jake and the Carnies) inside, and it was time to make pesto. I rode 50 miles last Saturday to help make 35 pounds of pesto at Jeff's house out in Chelsea. It poured for much of the ride, but it was warm and I loved it except for my fogging glasses. On Sunday, I rolled out in the ran again to ride Tom's Taco Tour. Five taco stops over 19 miles and we ended -- very wet -- at the Corner.

What this summary, focused on specific events and dominant trends, glosses over is the emotional terrain of my summer. It is hard to characterize, but I think I have spent much of the last three months trying to get my head in the game -- whatever the game may be. I've been sad, I've been unfocused, I've raised indecision to a near art form, and somehow I became a procrastinator. I've decided I'm angrier (in general, or maybe it is that I am easier to anger) than I realized. This is not to say that I was not happy this summer. I was, at times, but these other things had me pulled off in too many directions to focus on the things that made me happy. So this is the problem I am tackling this fall: how to be in the right place... or at least how to be in the place I am. How old-school hippie-ish, eh? Yeah, well, I seem to need to go back to that school. To frame it positively (and find a way out of this post!), my goal for the fall is to be good with where I am and what I am doing in that moment and not overthink where else I might be. I'll be in that other place soon enough.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Week 2 of my life as a department chair and I find one of my senior colleagues trying to bully me into dropping an initiative that would greatly benefit my discipline. The specifics of the situation don't really matter (and it would be impolitic of me to lay them out here) but I realize just how negatively I am reacting to his approach. Rather than seeing his communications as his best attempt to give me a realistic assessment of my chances of seeing this project through, I'm feeling bullied and that makes me ornery. I am deeply troubled by the inflexibility of his thinking. His objections were crafted long ago and that he won't really even look at the current situation bugs me enormously. And his telling me that I should just walk away from it -- that I will never, ever be able to apply enough creative thinking and good politicking to make it work for him -- just pisses me off. I can feel my jaws locking down on this one...

So I wrote that first paragraph of this post this morning after composing a careful, cautious, yet firm e-mail response to my colleague. This afternoon I wandered over to Historiann's site wanting some good feminist perspective on the recent Palin interview so I that I could feel less alone in the world, only to find that she has been posting quite a bit lately on the topic of academic bullying. One of her posts even got picked up for a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reading her blog/comments and the article was unnerving. So familiar. My normal cynicism gives way to naivete, perhaps, but I am just baffled at people who use the privilege of tenure and academic freedom to act like manipulative asses.

Now I'm flashing back to the thrashing I used to regularly get from the chair at my first tenure track job. He'd yell at me, belittle me because I was young (and most certainly made him feel old), and, most frustratingly, conflate my actions with those of other female faculty in the department. When I or others challenged him on his inability or unwillingness to tell the women apart (7 out of 25 faculty), he would blow up and claim that it was impossible for him to act in any sort of sexist way because he had been a part of 'the movement' in the 1960s.

A part of this trend in higher education has got to be that faculty are world-class grudge holders. What I can't figure out is why so many of them are so damn grumpy. We have lovely jobs, as the world of work goes. We get paid to pursue our own intellectual interests (within limits). No one tells me what to research, where to publish, what books to use in class, what time to come to work, or what time to go home. That freedom, however, may also contribute to the problem. No one tells the senior people -- people who sometimes feel like they have earned the right to treat others with little respect since that was the way they were treated when they were junior -- to sit down, shut up, let it go, and behave like civil human beings.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Some Chair on Chair Action

Last week and then again today, in carrying out my duties as department chair, I got to spend some time trying to round up chairs. Not other department chairs or the chairs of any committees, but actual furniture.

My department complained about classrooms being short of seats. Facilities people told us there should be plenty of chairs. We explained there weren't. They threatened to take our conference room chairs. Our admin assistant stood them down on Thursday morning. Other chairs were found to fill out the classroom by Thursday afternoon. But then, over the weekend, said chairs magically disappeared from our conference room.

So today I got to write terse e-mails to high level administrators about missing chairs. There has never been a finer use of my skills.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back in the Saddle

After fifteen, er... maybe closer to sixteen, months of not teaching, I gathered up my books and papers and headed into a classroom today. My voice is certainly not in condition, especially for a three hour class, and I only made it through 45 minutes before the scratching at the back of my throat began. Other than that, I seemed to remember what I was doing. I learned a few names (that I will forget again before next week), got them to talk, made a few laugh, and none of them (yet) took me to task for the outrageous cost of the books I asked them to buy.

I'm thinking that my six hours in the classroom each week this term may very well become my refuge from being department chair. Here's why...

Tally from the first two days in the big corner office:

memos with incorrect information distributed: 1 out of 1
poorly worded e-mails: 2 out of 5
icky political situations I'll need to dodge: 2
complaints about my colleagues that I need to deal with: 3