Monday, September 30, 2019

Peeking Over the Ramparts

I warned you.

I warned you in November, after the Democrats took the House of Representatives and der Sturmtrumper could no longer hide behind a solid GOP wall that would gladly overlook his crimes, his corruption, and his dictatorial urges as long as they got their judges and their tax breaks.  I warned you that it would get ugly, that it would get worse, that the future of the republic was in jeopardy, that the hard part had just begun.

And all those things have come true.

Der Sturmtrumper has been twisting feverishly in the wind for the last week, spitting bile and random accusations in all directions, ever since the impeachment inquiry became real.  He’s raged.  He’s thrown half his administration under the bus.  He’s held the most bizarrely pathetic open-air pity party in federal history.  He has, in violation of federal law, demanded the identity of the whistle-blower whose complaints he has explicitly confirmed as accurate, and his minions have set up a $50,000 bounty on the whistleblower’s head because nothing about that screams dictatorship or nutjobs at all.  He’s called for civil war.

Imagine – a sitting US president calling for civil war because the US Congress is starting to exercise its Constitutionally mandated oversight.  Who’da thought it?  Well, besides anyone who has paid attention to this sorry and lawless excuse for an administration since before it was inaugurated, I mean.  Who?

The Founding Fathers, that’s who.  Der Sturmtrumper is the sum total of everything they feared when they set up the republic in 1787.  The demagogue and would-be tyrant.  The guy riling up the mob and tearing down the Constitution.  The thing they fought the Revolution to create, built the Constitution to thwart, and created the Electoral College to avoid when the mob got out of hand.  They knew it was coming.  They just didn't know when.

Bearing in mind that my success rate as a fortune teller is pretty much zero, this is how I'm going to guess it will go.

There will be an investigation – a lengthy and excruciatingly public investigation, one hopes, though in the last 48 hours there have been new revelations of impeachable offenses roughly every 45 minutes or so, so perhaps that won’t be necessary.

There will be a vote on impeachment.  Given that our Criminal In Chief has already confessed and seems proud of it, there is only one way for that to go.

There will probably be a trial.  Let me clarify – the Constitution mandates that there be a trial, but then the Constitution also mandates that a sitting president shall get a vote on his nominee for the Supreme Court, and Moscow Mitch – the single most corrupt man in Washington DC, up to and including der Sturmtrumper – didn’t care about that either.  It’s entirely possible he will just refuse and then it will be up to the GOP Senators to decide if they care about the country more than their party.

I know where my money is.

But let’s just say that, perhaps by mistake, Moscow Mitch lets a trial happen.  Der Sturmtrumper will either be convicted, as the evidence and confessions demand, or his party will declare the republic to be at an end and all hail our absolute GOP overlords.

It's rather late in the game either way.

Der Sturmtrumper has already done incalculable damage to the standing of the US in the world.  He has already – perhaps fatally – undermined American political institutions and social norms.  He has shaped and encouraged a large body of Americans who think that Fascism is perfectly fine as long as they’re the ones doing the marching and the killing.  He has run roughshod over laws, morals, Constitutional restraints, human decency, and any claim this country ever had to have actual values.  It will take decades for the US to recover from this administration even if everyone involved in it slinks away quietly in chains.

There is nothing so dangerous as a cornered rat, however.  The odds of anything happening quietly with this administration or its supporters are effectively nil.  They're just a hairsbreadth away from a coup and you can see the idea gaining traction with them.  They're cornered, their ship is sinking, and they're ready to blow the whole thing up rather than see justice being served.

Hold onto your hats, folks.  We could end up miles from here.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Game Night

Now that Kim is working in Madison she rubs shoulders with a different strata of Wisconsin society than we usually see here in Our Little Town.  Specifically, the strata that has Green Bay Packers season tickets, which are highly prized in Wisconsin.  If you want one you should get on the list right now and perhaps your grandchildren will get them.  The wait is several decades long.

Not every season ticket holder can make every game, of course, and sometimes they’ll sell you individual game tickets.  And if those tickets are for a game against my hometown team, the Philadelphia Eagles, well, really, how often does that kind of opportunity come up?  It was a Thursday night game, which did give me pause as it meant we’d be leaving Our Little Town sometime in mid-afternoon in order to get up to Green Bay in time and we’d likely be back home in the wee hours of the morning.  But even when I get deep into my “why am I leaving my house exactly?” mode I can still recognize that yes, indeed, I should leave my house for this, and Kim really wanted to go, so we went.

The only other time I have ever been to an NFL game in person was 1972.  Tom Dempsey was kicking for the Eagles, Richard Nixon was president, Veterans Stadium was about a year old or so, and my dad and my grandfather took me to a preseason game against what were then the St. Louis Cardinals.  I don’t remember much about the game, to be honest.  I’m sure they lost – they lost pretty much every game that year and for most of my childhood – but I remember it as a good time.

Like most older stadiums, Lambeau Field sits in the middle of a city neighborhood rather than being marooned on an island of asphalt on the outskirts of town.  It’s actually a bit surprising how quickly it comes up when you get into Green Bay – you get off the highway and head up Oneida Street and – BOOM! – there it is.  All of the businesses along that street close on game days, apparently – even the gas stations stop pumping gas, though they do stay open to sell you snacks – and they sell parking.  We found a spot without any difficulties, paid the fee, and started walking.

And here I discovered that it really was going to be a good night.

I wore my Eagles jersey and hat, of course.  As someone who has lived in Wisconsin for nearly a quarter of a century now I’ll cheer for the Packers against any team except the Eagles.  When the Eagles are involved there is only one team to cheer for. 

Fly, Eagles, Fly!

And while I did get grief for this from Packers fans, it was a good-spirited sort of grief – the kind of grief that comes from people who understand that this is a game, that we’re all here to have fun, and everyone should just relax and enjoy it.  I saw a lot of Packers and Eagles fans hanging out together and doing each other favors (taking pictures, and such), and a lot of people in Aaron Rodgers jerseys came up to me and asked if this was my first time at Lambeau and how I was doing.  We talked as fans of our teams and as fans in general, and it was really nice.  Several people – both Eagles fans and Packers fans – noted my jersey and Kim’s Packers sweatshirt and had fun asking how we worked things out, and we had fun answering back.  The entire time I was in Green Bay – from the moment I got out of the car through the entire game and back to the car – I never had any trouble.

You have to love that.

It’s hard not to be impressed by Lambeau Field, as a sports fan.  It’s one of the iconic stadiums in this country, and those get more and more uncommon as time goes by.  We walked up and found a line.

They funnel you through a long line of metal detectors and then through another chokepoint at the gate where you show them your tickets, so we had plenty of time to mingle with other fans.  There were a lot of Eagles fans – it seemed to me that maybe 20-30% of the crowd had Eagles jerseys or other gear on, while most of the rest had Packers stuff.  There was the occasional Bears fan, but nobody discussed that.  While we waited to go through the metal detectors and ticket takers there were more than a few rounds of dueling cheers (“Go Pack Go!” followed by “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!” in a sort of beer-fueled round – a lot of the people in line with us had been tailgating since lunchtime, after all) and then we were in.

We found our seats pretty quickly.  We were on the 15-yard line, on the visitor’s side, on the end of the stadium that has Green Bay painted in the end zone rather than Packers.  It’s all bench seating in Lambeau – aluminum benches with numbers painted on them to let you know where you’re supposed to sit.  They might as well have been made of spun glass and razor blades for all that most people actually sat down during the game. 

The first thing you notice when you see the teams out there warming up is that the field is actually fairly small.  This makes sense when you think about it.  It’s 120 yards long and 53 yards wide and that’s it.  It looks much bigger on television.

The second thing you notice is that sweet dancing monkeys on a stick but those guys are huge.  Carson Wentz is nine feet tall, and the guys on the line of scrimmage each weigh half a ton.  Aaron Rodgers is only eight and a half feet tall but he has the mustache to make up for it.  The only exception is Darren Sproles, the Eagles running back, who can stand up comfortably between Wentz’ knees. 

We watched them warm up for a bit, and I went out to the concessions to find dinner.  It was surprisingly tasty, all things considered – don’t ask for nutrition and try not to think about the prices, but if I wanted either of those things I’d have stayed home.

And then the game began.

We were in a section that had a lot of Eagles fans in it – in the rows surrounding us it seemed pretty even, actually – and there was a great deal of cheering to be done whenever anything happened because no matter what happened somebody thought it was worth cheering about.  Most of the action happened at the other end of the field, regardless of who was defending that end, but enough came our way to make it interesting.  It took the Eagles most of the first quarter to remember how to play the game, and then after that it got pretty evenly matched.

The Eagles took a one-point lead into halftime.

The second half went much like the first.  I’m not sure why the coaches made some of the decisions they made (Seriously, Pederson – a 2-point conversion in the 3rd quarter?  And LeFleur, 1st and goal from the 1-yard line and not a single running play?) but I will admit that it kept things lively. 

If you’re planning to go to Lambeau for a night game, though, be warned: when the Packers score, they turn off most of the bright lights and shoot off fireworks.  There is about a 3-second gap between those two things, which means that there is a short time where you’re starting to look for the exits because what just happened?  And then the fireworks go off and you think, “Oh, okay.”

Thursday night NFL games are not always good games, but this one actually was – if you were a neutral fan just looking for an entertaining game, you’d have been happy with it.  And as an Eagles fan, I was very happy.  The Packers had the ball with less than a minute to play, about 7 yards from the Eagles’ end zone.  I asked Kim, “Are we going to stay for overtime?” and she said “Hell yes we’re staying for overtime!” and then the Eagles intercepted the ball in the end zone and the game was over.

It was a long ride home and a long day the next day, but it was worth it.

Fly, Eagles, Fly!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

A Fast-Moving News Day

So let’s see – where are we today?

1. Der Sturmtrumper’s White House released a thoroughly incriminating “transcription” of his phone call with the leader of Ukraine, one that essentially confessed that he used tax dollars to try to strong-arm a sovereign nation into supporting his petty partisan re-election campaign.  Seriously – it’s right there on the document, which (as of this writing) you can download directly from the White House web site.  The real shocker of this not that he’s basically admitted everything the Democrats have accused him of this week, but rather that he felt that this document would somehow help his case.  Not only do we have Corrupt, we have Stupid Corrupt.

2. The White House has admitted that this transcript (which is not really a transcript but was in fact put together by the Trump Administration) is not even a complete not-really-a-transcript and that there was more there.  Which of course begs the question: what could they have possibly left out that was worse than what they put in?

3. Der Sturmtrumper, not content to implicate himself, has also implicated Vice President Toady.  “I think you should ask for VP Pence’s conversations because he had a couple of conversations also.”  Seriously – why bother with an investigation when he’s happy to tell you all about it himself?

4. The White House took its talking points on how to respond to this scandal and emailed them directly to the House Democrats, because why not?  They then sent out a “recall email” notice asking for them back, just in case you thought these goobers really lived anywhere in or adjacent to the real world.

5. Der Sturmtrumper also went on CNN and announced in front of the world and on video that “Nancy Pelosi is no longer Speaker of the House.”  Uh, what now?  Did I miss an election?  Has Congress ceded the power to name its leaders to the Executive?  Or is this just more evidence of the mental instability that has defined this president since before he was elected?  Hard to say anymore.

6. In a series of tweets (and when, dear God, did Twitter become an acceptable form of communication for a political leader?  Seriously – this shit has gone on too long) der Sturmtrumper also demanded that Congress investigate Joe Biden’s son if they’re going to investigate him.  You know, someone should tell him that this isn’t his call either.

7. Aides to the Ukrainian president have publicly confirmed that it was well understood that their investigation of Biden was a necessary precondition to any dealings with Trump, just in case you’re wondering about the whole quid pro quo angle.

8. Der Sturmtrumper, when asked if he thinks Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 deleted emails are in Ukraine, said, “I think they could be.”  I don’t know, maybe he’s trying to beat the rap on an insanity plea?

9. On top of everything else, Rudy “Madman” Giuliani may well have violated the Logan Act, which is a rare treat in the world of international politics. 

10. Any movement among the GOP to recognize the corruption they’ve been propping up for the last three years?  Minimal at best, it seems.  Mostly loud defense and nonsense, as far as I have been able to see.  We’ll see where it goes from here.

May you live in interesting times.  May we all survive them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Busy Day in Politics

So here we are.

Item one:

A sixteen year old girl just went to both Congress and the UN and blistered their damnfool ears with righteous indignation about the future of the world.  For her trouble she has become the target of every doughy rightwing incel who can still find his keyboard amid the piles of Mountain Dew cans on his desk and was personally mocked by the most corrupt president this country has had in over a century, both of which she should wear as badges of honor.  She should win a Nobel Prize just for this week, let alone the years she has already put into this cause.  She should win it because she is right and they are wrong.  She should win it because she has the courage to say it to their faces.  She should win it because outrage at the slavering buffoons who think it’s perfectly okay to roast the planet and slaughter my children so they can buy a second yacht is the only correct response to those buffoons. 

Greta Thunberg is exactly the hero the times call for now, and those who can’t see that will be forgotten on the ash heap of history if they are lucky and cursed by whatever descendants survive if they are not.

Also, old white men should not get into trolling wars with teenagers.  Der Sturmtrumper may be the most visible example of what happens when unmedicated assholery intersects modern technology on the shitter at 3am, but teenagers grew up with this technology and they will destroy you if you tangle with them.  And good for them. 

Item two:

It has begun.  After nearly three years of national disgrace and international embarrassment, three years of watching the Dunning-Krueger poster child for corruption, petit-fascism, and authoritarian arrogance strut upon the American stage as if he were fit so much as to pick up the rolling turds of the Founding Fathers with his bare hands, three years of demonstrated criminal activity and immoral actions, three years of sabotaging the national security, world standing, economic future, and social fabric of the United States, three years of braying minions who see nothing wrong with this, it has begun.

A deeply flawed and bitterly incompetent president is finally, formally, going to be the subject of an impeachment inquiry, and where that goes will be anyone's guess.

He’s guilty, of course.  He’s admitted it himself, numerous times, most recently yesterday.  His only defense all along has been “so what?” and maybe, just maybe, there is enough patriotism and respect for the law and for the Constitution and for morality in this country that “so what?” isn’t going to be enough anymore.  Maybe.  I don’t doubt that the GOP will fight tooth and nail for this guy, will defend with every scrap of their power their grip on absolute authority and minority rule in this country, and let them.  They will either lose and be destroyed for a generation, or win and declare once and for all that the American experiment in freedom and self-government has come to an end.

The Founding Fathers never thought the republic would last as long as it has.  Republics require virtue - the ability of leaders and citizens to place the common good above their petty private interests and to work for justice and morality - after all.

And now, we wait.

Item three:

In all of British history I am not sure that there has ever been a verdict by the British supreme court that a sitting Prime Minister had so misled the Crown that the proroguing of Parliament was “unlawful, void, and of no effect.”

From a distance, the saga of Brexit has been a sad spectacle of a once proud nation destroying itself with right-wing idiocy – something that, as an American, I have no real standing to criticize another country for, given the last three years, but which I find disturbing anyway.  I have friends there.  I've been there.  It's one of the places on the planet that I enjoy and find absolutely fascinating and it's been painful watching this process unfold.

I am glad that there is some resistance to the fundamentally unsound and anti-democratic maneuverings of Boris Johnson and his minions, and I can only hope to see that kind of resistance succeed in my own country for our own issues as soon as possible.

It’s been a busy day.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Rattle Rattle

I have had pretty much the same cough since the Johnson Adminstration.

My mother burned out any number of those old black and turquoise vaporizers when I was a kid.  Vick’s Vapo-Rub was the scent of my childhood.  It goes away for long stretches, but every time I get any kind of cold it comes back and lingers long after the cold disappears.  Face it, if the next great pandemic is respiratory just say goodbye to me now.

I’m in the middle of one of these at the moment, and it’s kind of annoying to be honest.  Not just the coughing, which is annoying enough as it is, but also the things that the coughing makes you do.  Such as sleep elsewhere until you finally find some kind of medicine that will allow your wife to get a good night’s rest.  Such as taking this medicine for a week before you read on the box that it is supposed to be orange flavored, because you never in a million years would have guessed that from the available evidence.  Such as trying to teach a class without sounding like a tuberculosis ward.

Eventually I started to wonder if perhaps I should get this checked out.  I am one of the lucky ones in this country who actually has health insurance, after all, and it would seem churlish not to put it to good use.  Not everyone can do that.

On Thursday I called over to the doctor’s office and asked if perhaps I ought to come in for a visit.  I spoke with one of the nurses for a while, describing my general state, and after a while she said that they’d had a cancellation that afternoon and perhaps I should take it.

So I went.

The doctor was over an hour late in actually seeing me, which I suppose I should not have been surprised by since he, like everyone else in late-capitalist America, is governed by bean counters who believe he can accomplish far more than any realistic estimate of what a doctor can accomplish per unit time and who get persnickety when that illusion is dispelled. 

He went through much the same process as the nurse had, though in person this time.  There was also a certain amount of requested hyperventilating while he listened to my lungs.

Eventually he told me that I had some kind of condition which, as near as I could figure, translated as “You have a cough, and it is causing you to cough more.  If you can stop coughing, you won’t need to cough.”

It sounded more official when he said it.

So now I have a short term prescription for much higher power medication, in the fond hopes that it will be able to do what generations of black and turquoise vaporizers could not.  “Let me know if it works,” he said, which implies that he’s about as optimistic as I am but we agreed it couldn’t hurt.

In the meantime, I feel fine even if I do sound like a Harley in bad need of a tune up.  It makes me feel more like a Wisconsinite, anyway.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

News and Updates

1. I’m guessing that I didn’t actually break my toe last Sunday – I just bashed it all to hell.  It is mostly not purple anymore.  I’ve been able to wear normal shoes since Tuesday and go up and down stairs without too much fuss (always my standard gauge for measuring foot injuries).  And it’s pretty much stopped hurting.  The bruising did spread a bit but in a fairly bottle-shaped pattern so I’m feeling confident that won’t be a larger issue.  So three cheers for me – I didn’t damage myself as much as I thought.  Rah.

2. Somehow I have become the local guru for our new classroom management software down at Home Campus, which is a tremendous irony since I have been loudly vocal about the fact that this software program sucks stagnant swamp water and everyone involved in its development, marketing, and purchase should be publicly flogged.  Seriously – how do you build an educational software platform that can’t do submodules, can’t move items in bulk, can’t (without intervention from several layers of IT professionals) handle giving one grade to a lesson where students choose between multiple discussion forums to answer, doesn’t allow you to look over discussion posts without instantly marking them as read, doesn’t let you give subject lines for discussion posts in a forum, and can’t keep discussion forums in the order you want them without rearranging them every time someone makes a post?  But since I’ve been beating my head against this particular wall longer than most people on my campus, I am now one of the people they come to for advice.  I try not to cackle when responding, but this program needs to come with gift cards for your local liquor store and a 2x4 to beat against your skull to dull the pain when the liquor is not enough.

3. In all seriousness, I am fairly convinced that I now have minor nerve damage in my right hand from having to move 3000+ quiz questions by dragging and dropping them individually in that program last month.  I should file a claim.

4. When der Sturmtrumper is finally driven from office, there will be a reckoning.  It will not be pretty.

5. I stumbled upon a trove of old mini-DVD discs from a movie camera we had when the girls were little, and surprisingly enough they can still be played on my computer.  I’ve been having fun watching and remembering, and I’m copying them over to the computer in the fond hopes that I can update the format to something more accessible. 

6. It’s been seriously rainy here the last week or so – severe thunderstorms most nights, flood watches and warnings, the whole nine yards.  The cats are mildewed and the house feels like it just ran a mile.  The lawn is now approaching wild prairie status and we’ve forgotten what color the sky is when there aren’t any clouds.  Other than the lawn and the humidity, I’m pretty okay with this.  It beats August.

7. My brain has been playing some weird things on the mental jukebox of late.  I spent all day yesterday humming “I Don’t Want to Get Over You” by The Magnetic Fields, which is a strange one even for me.

8. I haven’t had to adjust my car seat in weeks, and it still doesn’t feel right just getting in and driving off.

9. On the other hand, I now have a repaired back tire and a new windshield, which combined are probably worth more than rest of the car at this point.  But my goal is to nurse this car for another five years, until Lauren graduates from college, since I’m enjoying not having a car payment at the moment and would like that trend to continue in these more expensive than usual years.

10. I put together a list of projects for myself and actually managed to get one of them done this weekend, much to my surprise.  I’m not sure what use this is, given that it is something of an archival project that literally nobody but me cares about, but it does feel good to have completed something.  Doesn’t happen very often, really.  Might as well enjoy it.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Climb Mt. Paperwork!

One of the things that you will find in any job that doesn’t involve heavy lifting while outside in the rain (and a surprising number of jobs that do, actually) is paperwork.

Everything must be documented, noted, filed, pulled, analyzed, refiled, and then lost to posterity until some raffish archeologist in a snazzy hat rediscovers it and is about to bring it to wider attention when it gets crated up by blandly reassuring civil servants and left in some dusty archive for another millennium, after which nobody cares.

I have this vision of some future historian looking through my notes and saying, “Should that really be FA or should it have been noted as FL?”  Not sure I could answer that myself most of the time, to be honest.

But those are the hoops that are set up, so those are the hoops you jump through.

Mostly at work I take care of that sort of thing right away because otherwise I have no memory of what happened at all and would just end up putting down random stuff, and the thing about doing paperwork for professionals is that they’re good at telling when you’re doing that and they tend to frown on that sort of thing.  It’s just easier for everyone to get it done quickly.

Unless it’s the beginning of the semester.

As an advisor I try to have all of my new students come in during the first ten days or so – while there is still time to add new classes if some of the others need to be dropped, and before the first payment is due so I might either resolve financial aid issues or at least warn the student that they need to throw some bucks at the university so they can get onto a payment plan and then we’ll have another month to resolve those issues.  This means that my calendar – another thing I am required to maintain – gets very, very full.

And the paperwork gets very, very behind.

The add deadline passed this week and my calendar opened up a bit, which means that the eight-inch-high pile of folders on my desk could now be addressed, preferably airmail to Mozambique, but failing that I could take each one and do the required paperwork for them.  And really, Mozambique is an expensive and inconvenient place to mail things so the paperwork is actually easier.

It took me three days to reduce that pile to zero, in between other commitments (teaching, random meetings, and so on), further student appointments (adding to the pile rather than subtracting from it) and responding to the inevitable flood of emails that engulfs academics even in the best of times.  I still have a few things to take care of before I can get the full Caught Up With Paperwork feeling, but those of necessity will wait until Monday.

Now I can start to chip away at some of the other things I’m trying to stay caught up with. 

Like sleep.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Them's the Breaks, Kid

So I may have broken one of my toes last night.

It wasn’t even a great heroic story.  There were no burglars, no daring leaps from speeding vehicles, not even a long field goal to win in overtime. 

No, the sad truth is that I dropped a bottle of wine on it from about three feet off the ground.  I wasn’t even going to drink any of that wine, though in retrospect I probably should have, at least afterward.  It might have made up for things.

I was looking for a light bulb in the hall closet.  Unfortunately that’s where we keep all the alcohol in the house and since we generally regard the prospect of drinking as being much more pleasant than the actual act of drinking we do end up with a fairly large collection of bottles in that closet.  One of them was in the way of the bin of light bulbs – the other thing we keep in that closet; I’m not sure how we settled on that particular combination of things for that space but there it is – and when I went to reach past it the bottle fell over.

Now my toe is wine-colored, which makes a certain amount of sense. 

Saved the wine, though.

The thing about broken toes is that, like broken ribs, there isn’t much point to going to the doctor about them.  What are they going to tell you?  

“Yep, it’s broken.” 
“What do we do now?” 
“Oh, it will heal eventually.  Try not to tap dance for a while and you’ll be fine.” 
“Don’t mention it.  That will be $4,500 plus the title to your back yard.”

It didn’t actually hurt all that much, to be honest.  Once the initial thud wore off I kind of forgot about it until I went to bed, whereupon it shoved its way back into my memory pretty hard.  But as I am in the middle of my annual Fall Cough and I was, for the first night in a week, actually getting some rest, I forged ahead and aggressively slept through it.  So there.

This morning was kind of a drag and I ended up going to work rocking the Dad Combo of socks and sandals rather than attempting to shove my foot into an actual shoe, but after a day of teaching it seems to have calmed down, mostly.  My teaching style has been described as “duck in a shooting gallery” so I suppose the exercise did me good.

Assuming I am right in my diagnosis I figure I can look forward to a few weeks of general annoyance at the state of my foot followed by many years of sitting around a pot-bellied stove predicting the weather to anyone who walks by.  I’m kind of looking forward to that part.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Early Report From the Home Front

It’s been a couple of weeks now, this whole Empty Nester thing that is my life now, and you know what?  Not really my thing.

I knew that going in, to be honest.   

In some ways you could argue it’s not all that different from last year.  Tabitha had already left for college – she comes back for breaks, but she’s long been her own person and content to hang out on her own so we’d often go most of the day without seeing her even when she was here.  Lauren spent the year doing everything in her power to make good on her promise that as soon as she got her driver’s license we would never see her again.  She has a good group of friends and they would get together at pretty much every opportunity, and really how can you complain about that, even if it means she’s right about us not seeing her.  Kim and I were both working full time, and for most of the year it was actually more than full time.  We’d all go long stretches of the day without seeing each other anyway.

But it’s different now.

It’s hard to put a finger on just how.  But it is.

It hits home mostly at dinner time.  However busy we were over the last two decades, however many other plans we had, we almost always had dinner together as a family.  Breakfast was pretty catch-as-can.  Lunches were all over the place.  But dinners were where we gathered around a table, if only for half an hour sometimes, and caught up with each other.  Not every night, of course, but most of them.  I think that matters, sharing food and conversation that way.  I got the impression that we were the weird ones in this regard these days, but so be it.

It’s just me and Kim now.  And the cats, of course, who always want their cut of whatever we’re having.  But their conversation is pretty limited and mostly to do with snacks and hairballs and the best places to sleep, and so is rather forgettable.  Mostly it’s just us.

I think the key for it all was Kim’s comment that we used to be more than enough, just the two of us.  We filled each other’s hearts and worlds, and that was all we needed.  But when you have kids your heart expands to take in these new people, and it never shrinks back, not even when they leave.  We still have what we had before, what once filled our world – that hasn’t changed – but that world has gotten larger. 

Your heart shouldn’t shrink back, though.  It’s not meant to.

Whatever your personal religious views, there is some wisdom to be found in the Bible.  I never really understood “take not this burden from me” until I had kids.  There are burdens that make your life complete, that you wouldn’t trade for any so-called freedom, and you miss them when they’re gone.  That’s how it works.

The thing is, though, they’re not gone.  They’re not here.  But they’re not gone.

They’re right where they’re supposed to be – off in the world, doing the things they want to do, becoming who they will be, which will in some ways be very different from who they were back when.  As I’ve said before in this space, a lot of parenting is just making yourself progressively less necessary so that they’ll come back when they want to rather than when they need to.  This is how it’s supposed to work.

It’s not a bad thing, even if it does take some getting used to.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Back At It

And so it begins anew.

The first day of the fall semester is always a madhouse, because on top of the usual rush of things to get done there are a lot of people running around who really don’t know where things are yet or how they work, and that combination is enough to keep you busy from one end of the day to another regardless of how many other things need to get done.

Also, if there is anything that universities produce in abundance more than information it’s paperwork.  I now have forms to fill out that I never did before, forms that I should have been filling out but were just alerted to, and forms that I've always known about and usually get done one way or another, and all that too needs to be slotted into the day somehow.

And tires, this year.  My car has been riding around on the donut since Saturday because apparently the actual tire did not like running over a nail.  Who knew?  Add that to the list.

So we’ll see how this all goes.

The stress level for professors is actually pretty low for the first two weeks or so of the semester, in my experience.  We’re still doing introductory stuff.  There aren’t any major assignments to grade yet.  The whole point of the first two weeks is to get people acclimated to the subject, the standards you plan to hold them to, and the general flow of things.  Unless you’ve got a new prep or two and you're scrambling to write lectures and organize things so that what you tell them now will come back around and be relevant then, "then" being defined as some indeterminate point around the three-quarter mark of the semester when you can build on it all for the next exam, the opening weeks are pretty straightforward.

For advisors, however, the first two weeks are a zoo.  Students – many of them rather bewildered – show up in your office and you run through the litany with them.  Do you need to switch classes?  How’s your financial aid?  Really?  That screwed up?  Let’s see.  You want to do what?  Okay, we have a form for that.  Yes, you should have your textbooks by now.  No, I will not talk to your professors about that – you’re an adult now.  Down the hall, to the left, the room with the big whiteboard.  This is … wow … let me call someone and ask.  Huh.  And then you hit the Census Date when the bill comes due and the schedules are pretty much set a couple of weeks in and things quiet down for a bit.

At that point things heat up for the professors, who are now heading into the first big assignments or unit breaks.  Basically you’ve got two offset sine waves of stress, which would be pretty on a graph but can be rather less so when you’re living through it.

Of course, the really fun part is when half your job is advising and the other half is teaching.  Then it’s pretty much all stress, all the time.  But at least you get variety, so there’s that.

I actually do like the start of the school year, which is how you know I’ve found the right career.  I like when the students come back to campus because it makes the place more interesting.  I like when I get to teach, because history is just telling stories in a certain way and that’s what I love to do.  I like it when students come by for advising, because it matters to them and therefore it matters to me.  They’re working hard to make their lives better, they’ve almost always got things to say, and that’s an energy you can’t help but love.

It does mean that other projects and such will fall by the wayside, but so it goes.  If I’ve learned anything about projects it is that they will still be there when I get back to them. 

So three cheers for the new semester, in all its stressful glory.