Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tuesday morning things

Reverting to this format because Monday was long.

* It was the "Faculty Appreciation Afternoon" where we get together to (a) remember those who passed on in the last year, (b) see pictures of new babies belonging to employees, (c) celebrate those who are retiring, and (d) have awards announced.

I was up for a teaching award and anyway it's probably a nice thing to go ANYHOW to support the people who win.

Not surprisingly, I did not win the award. There were 91 people nominated - I think five of them from my department, including me. The person who DID win (from a different department) deserved it well, and deserved it better than I did - she has a longer history of teaching, and she solidly covers a couple difficult subjects, and she is retiring next year, so....yeah. I also have never felt, any of the times I was up for an award, that my not-getting-it was unfair. (I guess some people have complained? Well, sour grapes must fill a dietary need in some)

A couple colleagues of mine DID win other awards (one for service, one for research - in fact, the award I won last year). We also had lots of people nominated for stuff, which tells me that if we're not the BEST department on campus, we're clearly in the top 3.

And they had Coke or root beer floats on the lawn afterward. I guess this is a tradition because years ago, a regional Coca-Cola bottler used to pay for the whole thing (when it was a full-blown dinner, and I admit I like this format better, both because of my dietary restrictions now and because it's nicer not to have to come back at night). Even though I tend to avoid soda as "a lot of sugar for something I don't like THAT well" I did get a root beer float.

* Another thought about these matters, which was emphasized by this article at Inside Higher Ed: Four Funerals and an Ending. In that, the author writes about his frustration with not having more written, with not having made a bigger impact on the world, but that his mind was changed after attending a few funerals for older (retired) former colleagues.

And I fall into that trap: how many times have I wailed about how "after I'm dead and gone no one will remember me" because I haven't written a Big Book or done some kind of groundbreaking research. And sometimes, to be honest, I wonder if my saying "I don't have time to do 'big' research because I'm so busy teaching and soothing people's feelings and helping people and stuff like that, and also I'm at a little cash-strapped school that doesn't have the facilities I would need" are really a displacement behavior and if secretly I'm not CAPABLE of doing big meaningful research, but it's more comfortable to delude myself by going "Oh my paid work keeps me from that" instead of facing up to "I'm not good enough to do that."

And so some days I go on, feeling bad that everything I do feels evanescent, that I teach a class and as good as the class may be, once the students and I walk out of the classroom, it's done and in the past and largely forgotten. Or that if I encourage someone along the way, especially if they later on fail to complete the degree, it's been for nothing. Or that all the volunteer stuff I do needs to be done AGAIN the following week. (I think of the old line from Aunt Jane of Kentucky, where she commented she made quilts because "If I thought of my life being just all the dishes I washed, I'd just lie down and die" and yes that's also party why I knit and make quilts)

But you know? He's right. Yesterday afternoon one thing they did were brief "in memoriams" to faculty and staff (all retired, I think, this year) who had died. And not one of the memorials mentioned books or papers or research or even compositions. Instead, they talked about how someone's door was always open, or how they were good at getting people to see the humor in some situation, or how a particular staff person was always a friendly face to students at a time and a place where they needed a friendly face....and while maybe all that stuff IS fleeting in each individual instance....maybe over a career or a lifetime it does build up and actually means something? I hope.

And anyway: I remember particular kind things people did for me in the past. Like when Dr. Tosney took an hour and a half out of her busy day, even though I was not her student, to talk to me and counsel me when I was upset over being asked to leave the program. And Dr. Anderson and Dr. Whitman, when I went to interview at the place I wound up going to, both being interested to talk to me and suggesting Masters' projects I could come and do (at that point I thought that was all I was capable of). And much more recently, the couple of friends on Twitter who virtually "sat with" me that scary Friday in January a couple years ago when we couldn't find my parents and I was trying to track down where they were, and it turned out my father had been taken to the ER. (It all turned out well in the end and he was fine, but for about 20 minutes I did not know that, and that was about the worst 20 minutes of my adult life ever).

And really, in all the face of some women saying "I'm not gonna do emotional labor for anyone any more" (and yeah, sometimes, I think people don't exactly deserve to have their feelings soothed when they demand it, but whatever), I do think that sometimes, that kind word or that kind act or that willingness to listen to someone makes a difference far beyond what it seems like to the person doing the act...and I can only hope (since I don't know) that a few of the times I've done it it's made a difference for someone.

And anyway. Maybe having people remember you when you're dead and gone is overrated? Maybe it's better to be of service in the here and now. It's not like I'm going to be here to hear what people say about me (if they say anything) after I'm gone. (Another well-taken point in that essay: It is very, very hard to wrap your head around the idea that some day you will be dead. I can imagine and dread the deaths of loved-ones, but outside of the occasional vague fear when I'm in bad traffic or when someone goes nutso angry in class, I don't really THINK about it; my mind actively rebels against the thought)

* One of the pieces that came across Pandora this morning was Mendelssohn's setting of Luther's "Mitten wir im Leben sind mit dem Tod umfangen" (In the middle of life we are in death) and while the text is really more about grace and being saved from sin, I think there's also the realization - sadly brought home to me earlier this spring - that someone can be here today and gone tomorrow, with no warning. And so it probably does pay to be kind. Kind to the people around you so hopefully if you wind up having to have a "last memory" of them it was a positive interaction and so you don't regret that the last thing you said to them was unkind, but also kind so that maybe if you are the one gone suddenly, others will have something happy to remember.

* I did start sewing down the binding on the quilt (the handsewing part) last night but (a) it takes a long time and (b) between doing a little Duolingo and finishing piano practice and washing my hair and cooking dinner after getting home at 5:30, it was late when I started.

* I am currently reading (yet another) vintage British mystery, this time it's Cyril Hare's "An English Murder." It's the locked-room thing again, or rather, the snowed-in manor house. A rather detestable son of a Lord is the victim here: he's a bigot and an anti-Semite and is part of one of those xenophobic groups that seemed to exist around the time of WWII. The Lord himself is slowly dying from one of those chronic conditions that would probably get more treatment nowadays - high blood pressure or some such. And the rest of the house party is his ex-fiancee, the tiresome wife of a tiresome politician who is also apparently a distant relative somehow, the cousin of the dying Lord who is also a politician and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the long-time butler, and the butler's daughter who was knocked up by (and apparently secretly married to) the victim, and finally, a Czech history professor who apparently spent time in a Nazi internment camp.

And there are two individuals I strongly suspect, and I admit I HOPE it's not Dr. Bottwing, as he is my favorite character, but it looks suspicious given some of his actions and the fact that as an immigrant and (based on other things he said I presume) someone of the Jewish faith....he would definitely have motive to want to bump off the odious son. (Though now it also looks like another character could be guilty, and frankly, any of them could).

And yes, it's set at Christmas. In Edwardian and immediate-post-war Britain, it seems like Christmas at a manor house was very dangerous, particularly if you were a dislikable sort of person.

I don't know why I enjoy these kinds of stories so much; real murder is awful and horrible and I don't want to hear about it*, but somehow, I can suspend disbelief when it's the head of "The League of Liberty and Justice" who has treated his fiancee odiously and anyway he isn't a real person....

(Real murder is usually sordid and awful. Literary murder often seems to carry a sort of dramatic justice about it - like the old stereotypical Texan defense, "He needed killin'")

(*I started watching a re-run of Criminal Minds on Ion last night and had to turn it off; sometimes even televised murder that is fake is too much)

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