Friday, January 06, 2017

Building two things

I was thinking about this on the train coming home. Originally it started as "these are two things 2016 took from me" (I think we can mostly agree 2016 was generally a pretty bad year, with the exception of the Cubs winning the World Series). But I need to reframe it more positively.

The two things I need to build back up are:

1. My resilience


2. My trust that if I am honest, earnest, hard-working, and generally treat others well, that I will succeed. That what happens in life isn't totally out of my hands, I am not just being buffeted about by the Fates.

I think #1 is pretty self-explanatory. I used to bounce back better from misfortune but this year, it just seemed like thing after thing in my personal world - reverses in health to my parents and others I care about, the realization that my own health can get pretty fragile (though, knock wood, I haven't had any major GI issues other than things that could be attributable to the depredations of peri (or actual) menopause since mid-May). All of the budget woes at work, culminating with seeing someone who had been here longer than I had, and who was generally recognized to be an excellent and effective teacher, losing her position due to "financial exigencies." And the whole rigamarole of "furlough days" with the cognitive-dissonance inducing "You have fewer hours you will be paid for and therefore fewer hours you are 'permitted' to work, but all the work you do still needs to get done." (Joseph Heller, white courtesy phone, please). And little stupid stuff like my doctor leaving her practice - things that felt almost like an unnecessary "piling on" at that time. And yes, I know it's wrong to imagine 2016 as some conscious, malign force trying to make all our lives harder, but some days it sure FELT that way.

#2 is related to #1. Especially as regards the budgetary stuff - yes, I am technically protected by tenure but still extreme exigencies could lead to me being "RIFfed" (RIF = Reduction In Force) for a semester or even forever....and, I don't know. Maybe it's not so much trusting that I have more control over my life than last year seemed to demonstrate, but better learning how to just roll with the fact that stuff (or another, harsher, word beginning with s) happens, and you can't do much about it, and you just have to DEAL with it.

I am very bad, and have always been very bad, about dealing with stuff out of my control. A deadline I have to write something by? I'm there, and the thing is usually written well before the deadline. A skill I need to learn? I'll work on it until my fingers cramp up. But stuff that I can't influence the outcome of by being good or smart or canny or kind? It drives me crazy. And that's what a lot of the state-budget stuff is, and that's what a lot of the changes-coming-in-higher-ed  (e.g., the push to go all "virtual" for things) are.

And I admit: I do tend to worry excessively over things I cannot influence - everything from my nearly-15-year-old refrigerator dying suddenly while I'm gone, and I return home with a trunkload of groceries and no fridge or freezer to put them in to things like "what if the university totally loses funding and has to close?" And I admit, I spend a considerable amount of mental energy in making contingency plans. (My dad likens it to "paying interest on money you may never owe" but I think of it as "contingency plans, so you kind of know what you could do if the worst happens). With the fridge: I'd run over to campus, bung what needed refrigeration in the breakroom fridge with a huge sign saying "ERICA'S STUFF: EAT THIS AND DIE" and tell the secretary I'd remove it as soon as I could fix things, then run to the local home-appliances store and pick out a new one and beg the guys to deliver it ASAP....with the losing-my-job, I have a couple plans (one of which is, in fact. moving back home with my parents and finding whatever job I can, and hoping and praying that when they're gone they leave me the house.....) Of course neither of those things may ever happen (I will probably have some warning when the fridge starts failing....) but I feel more secure having thought through what I can do. (I have always been that way).

I don't know, though. The budget stuff of last year really did throw me because up 'til then, I felt like keeping my gig was 100% on me - I had to teach well and have scholarly productivity and not be a jerk about service and all that, but if I did those things, I was fine, but the budget cuts have now raised the spectre of "you have to be BETTER than your past best" - which is why I've done things like gone to different groups that don't normally fund research and see if I can get funding from them, and volunteering to teach a class slightly out of my area of expertise.

I don't know if I'll ever totally get back that security that says "being good is good enough." I hope I do.

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