Burnout 2: Electric Boogaloo

A couple weeks ago I promised a cartoon featuring actual quotes from students: here you go. Enough to make me want to fail the students based on that one question alone. 

Of course, I feel like the failure: what kind of teacher am I when the students really have no clue about the nature of the subject at the end of the semester? (I knowing that there are a number of people who think I'm a "born teacher" and several students who have said that I'm the best professor they ever had.)

In any case, I'm done for now.


Memorial Day

I'm doing much today, but also not particularly inspired to write. Yesterday's sermon didn't progress much - if anything, it may turn into some kind of academic-ish essay on the relation between Ecclesiastes and Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics (i.e., what kind of life is suitable for a human being). They seemed to like it, although one woman pointed out that "there wasn't much religion" in my sermon.

I've attached yet another poor-quality picture, this of my most recent painting. A friend pointed out last week that I hadn't posted it: this gives you a sense of it. I haven't started my next painting - even though the panel is primed and ready to go, and I have a clear idea of what it's going to look like - because I have other projects I need to be working on. Actually, I should probably be working on one of them right now, since I said it would be done tomorrow afternoon.


Meet You at the Moon

I'm preaching on Sunday, and I'm just not coming up with anything. Ecclesiastes usually inspires me, but I don't have much at the moment other than, "wisdom can't save you but it beats foolishness, pleasure is fleeting but enjoy the days you have." It seems to me at odds with Matthew 6:25-34, even though it reminds me of that passage: strive first for the kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that they don't quite match up - that I can't quite make Jesus say, enjoy what you have while you can. They both certainly say, it's not worth worrying about too much.
Anyhow: I might enjoy parsing the passage in Matthew and comparing it to Ecclesiastes, but I don't know that it would be a good sermon. I'm tired and I don't want to do my homework. At the same time, I'm still doing quite a bit of personal writing, but don't have anything to share on the blog at the moment. I joked a few weeks ago about writing a new novel - or seriously revising one of the drafts I have - and I wonder if that's where my current writing is headed.
The "blue doodle" is something that I started while proctoring my final final exam, and there will be more iterations of it in the future.


Busy week? Sort of.

Tomorrow is "graduation" which I thought was going to be simple and straightforward (which is always my preference, and why I am drawn to Soto Zen as well as unprogrammed Quakers) but at the very least there's going to be a printed program and perhaps a speaker that we haven't met before (or maybe we have, whatever).  

So today you just get some more old paintings, one of which I've previously posted. I promise there will be new cartoons later in the week. 


New (kinda?) "Cartoons"

I don't know how to describe these: I did the figures while in either New York or in Roanoke, so they're possibly almost four years old (but I never posted them). I ran across them yesterday, and fiddled with them (instead of doing the work that I'm supposed to be doing). Once again, poor photos: deal with it.



When I was in my third year of graduate school – for the PhD – I taught my first class. I remember the anxiety about the upcoming semester, but not because of the material the class would cover: the anxiety was about finding adequate childcare for my nine-month-old daughter. The class was logic, and (after an intense bit of work when I was an undergraduate) it comes natural to me. I taught, oh, maybe three or four courses in New Orleans. I have my stories: about Junior and her bell, and the day she came to class with a pierced tongue, or the day I failed to wear shoes to class and was put on the spot about it by a young woman wearing pajamas.  And there was “Failure Boy.” Who could forget Failure Boy. Overall, I enjoyed teaching.

I moved to Roanoke, Virginia in the summer of… damn, I’m old. Anyhow, I was contacted by a (relatively) local community college, and was happy to gain the additional teaching experience. I asked a lot of the students, and got a lot back. I have a few good memories from teaching there, although a few not-so-good ones, including an absolutely scathing student evaluation from the best student I had that semester, who apparently was unaware that is was a community college and most of the students were barely keeping up with my (to her, plodding) lectures.

I had mixed feelings about the spring of 1999: I had hoped to knock out a large chunk of my dissertation, and instead got additional offers to teach. I thought, how could I turn these down? (In retrospect, “No thank you,” comes to mind.) I was frustrated by the students at the college where I taught the most classes that semester, who really didn’t understand what I was trying to get at with the whole “philosophy” thing. (Also, I used a textbook that I ended up really not liking, and never used again. And I started doing shots of Irish whiskey before my 8AM class, which probably didn’t help.) That semester did not end well.

However, once I got through the summer, I managed to find a balance of teaching and writing that worked: I enjoyed teaching on the days I taught, and spent the rest of my time (more or less) researching and writing and editing like a fiend. I was (again, more or less) supporting myself with something that I grew to enjoy: I say that because I was surprised to enjoy teaching at all. I assumed that it would be the necessarily chore in order to make researching and writing possible (as it is for some professors) – but I liked the interaction with the students, liked watching the light bulbs go on in their heads.

At the same time, I sent out dozens of CVs, applied for every job I thought was reasonable. Two years in a row. At the end of the two years (first while ABD, about to finish, the second right after I’d finished) I got approximately zero interviews. (No, make that “exactly.”) That was discouraging. The advice from the graduate student coordinator seemed sound – publish an article! – but didn’t work in practice: I did what research I could, wrote several things up and submitted them, but nothing quite worked. Perhaps I was too ambitious in my topics, or… hell, I don’t know. I just know that I got back a number of rejection letters, and never have published an article in a peer-reviewed journal, and that, in a nutshell, is why I don’t have a full-time job.

I still enjoyed teaching, though. One of the other adjuncts at Large State University survived just on his modest adjunct salary, and seemed happy. I couldn’t quite swing it, though, and there came a point (just after Easter, 2001) where the schedule for teaching didn’t work for me (there’s a much larger story there that I’ve either told before, or will have to wait for another time). At that point, for the first time, I confronted the possibility of not teaching again: just over one year after getting my PhD, and it felt like I was done.

Of course I wasn’t. I got one course for the fall, and then two for the following spring.  At that point – the end of classes in May of 2002 – I did not have a grieving period over the “end” of my teaching career, but it would have been appropriate in some respects: it was without a doubt the best semester I’ve ever had, and I didn’t teach again for another three years. I would have been a good note to go out on.

There’s another job in there, but we skip forward to seminary in a town with few jobs – but a college that needs philosophy courses taught. I was there on-and-off for four years, and I started my blog while I was there (so I know I’ve written at least a bit about that). As my book approached publication, I assumed that I would get a full-time teaching position, and I would have a new life. That didn’t happen (obviously) but it didn’t occur to me quite yet that I wouldn’t teach again. And of course, I did: I got a class in the spring that was relatively uneventful, and a summer class that was okay except for all the cheating at the end which left an extraordinarily bad taste in my mouth – and that’s when I thought, for the first time in seven years, “now I’m really done.”

A few moves later, and I was teaching again. I mostly enjoyed it, although the commute was brutal and the classes were too large; then more teaching opportunities, with mixed results. ("You need to read past page 26 of the book!") Again, more seriously, thought I was done, and even turned down additional classes at all three colleges I was teaching at in the spring of 2011, on the assumption that “something better” would come along. Nothing did, but once again the impossible happened: “can you teach world religions? The class starts in three days.” It wasn’t nearly enough money, but I liked the students and they seemed to learn something; then I left the state, and once more turned down additional classes hoping for something better (or maybe just going back to teaching where I had taught before, even though the bad taste hadn’t left my mouth). But nothing: or at least nothing I was willing to do. Maybe I wouldn’t teach?

Then a friend was going on sabbatical, and needed his intro class covered. I’ve taught this before, should be easy, and after all, I enjoy teaching even if the money isn’t that good. Well: I liked about four of my students, the ones who seemed to read and be willing to ask reasonable questions. The other twenty five just wanted me to give them the right answer, which became increasingly frustrating. At least this time, I really do have something better lined up, something that’s not teaching, and (at least potentially) has a real future. Twelve years after I first contemplated the possibility of not teaching, I’m finally there: not teaching. 

I’m mostly okay with it, because I don’t enjoy it anymore; maybe I would if I could give more time and energy to it (a pay raise would have helped – I was getting the same amount this past semester as I had fifteen years ago!). Accompanying this post was supposed to be a cartoon featuring actual quotes from students, but that will have to wait. 


Suitable for Framing

In some respects, a lot is going on right now; in others, not much at all. 

Mostly I'm thinking about August, and moving away from the little town where I'm currently living. When I moved here, I anticipated putting down some roots  and staying a while; of course that was true in Syracuse as well. This is a nice place, but there aren't a lot of jobs around here, and even before I got here I worried about how I would fit into the community. Despite myself I've managed to make some friends, and I realize now that I seem to have a small network of people that I like, and can turn to for support. At the same time, the semester is over but I still don't have any better place to be than the college; I technically have another job, but I am "underutilized" there (which has been a chronic problem). I'm sad to be leaving a place that seemed to hold promise, but I never really did fit in very well.

And even as I get caught in a qualified nostalgia, I'm excited about the future: I can't wait for August, even though it's also scary. I have a sense of purpose moving forward, a fairly clear idea of what I'm moving towards. That said, I can't even begin to imagine what things will look like a year from now, and it seems to me that it would be foolish to guess. [I've just deleted a longish section where I walk backwards, year by year, where I was and what I thought the future would hold - and how most of those assumptions were way off.] Maybe next year I'll be moving to Japan.

I've always had a bad habit of looking to the future rather than living in the present, and it always seems justified for one reason or other, but I also miss out on what's happening around me. So that's my challenge to myself for the summer: enjoy the fleeting and fragile present.

Huh. I should probably be painting cherry blossoms instead of cranes.



Good morning!

Gandalf might ask, "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?"

And I would reply, with Bilbo, "All of them at once."

Now, if someone would just grade these exams for me....


Once upon a time…

You’d think I’d come up with a better opening line than that, but I’m not really a writer. Or maybe, I just like to play around with conventions: what are your expectations now that I’ve said that? Will there be a “happily ever after” somewhere, or just a curse that spans decades? Or maybe it’s just that my writing tends to be academic. Yeah, I’ve published a book, but not a literary kinda book, and all the novels I’ve started take place in South Carolina and end up going nowhere.

South Carolina holds a special place in my imagination, and I’m not entirely sure I could explain why without finishing one of those novels (or, more seriously, writing a different one entirely). Once upon a time, I was accepted into graduate school and got my own apartment, and started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, in little ways and big ways. After a week of spaghetti and hamburgers, I wondered what kind of food I wanted to cook, and decided on Indian food (I’m not sure why that seemed like a good idea, having little experience with Indian food, but here I am still cooking lentils and rice most days). I really liked riding my bike: Columbia turned out to be a good place to do that, even though I never noticed many other bicyclists. I watched a lot of television, until I got tired of it (solely attributable to Sarah Gilbert's speech on why everyone should be a vegetarian, at least for the talk shows. I still watched a lot of afternoon cartoons).

I remember reading Hegel in German up in the graduate student office, for about a half hour, the same two pages over and over again, until I realized that I wasn’t reading the translation. I remember watching H.R. Pufnstuf and the Monkey’s movie, Head, with some friends (well, one friend and some guy I never did like). I remember painting in oils, the one and only time. I started painting more in acrylics, though, and was irritated that what I thought was a pretty good portrait of Amanda was mistaken as a poor portrait of Erin (Amanda having lent me the oil paints). And I remember watching the beginning of what was- to-be the First Gulf War, and being appalled at the people running through the streets waving the American flag, as if attacking Iraq was some great thing.

When I arrived, I hadn’t had anything to drink in over a year, and didn’t drink anything during that first year. That was probably a good decision on various levels: I made Dean’s List my senior year of college after a dismal freshman year, which I attribute to finally buckling down and concentrating on my work rather than socializing (and even as I write that I wonder, did I drink to be social or to avoid having to socialize?). Not drinking was probably a good idea when I was first living by myself in a strange city where I didn’t know many people. By the second year there I felt more comfortable with the people I’d already met, and also started meeting new people. In October of that second year, if I remember correctly (and I probably don’t remember that correctly, for obvious reasons) I started drinking again for complex (and in retrospect admittedly bad – if subconscious) reasons.  And I can say confidently that it was social (at least until it turned anti-social a few years later).

That’s where I’m at right now (and by “now” I mean the past couple weeks) – and I don’t think I’m going to write much more about it. But watch for the painting!


Monday of Finals Week

Roy forgot what he was going to say.
Perhaps I'll have a better post tomorrow.


A Better Plan than Robbing Banks

Do you have one? Because I don't.

On an unrelated note: don't think I've stopped my obsessive tearing apart of the past, just because I haven't posted anything overly revealing recently. Some things clicked a few weeks ago, and I'm painting again - or at least thinking about painting.

But what I really need to be doing is drawing: I started illustrating a F/friend's project back in the fall, and got stuck halfway through.

Also, I need to reread Plato's Apology, because unlike the illustrations that actually needs to be done tomorrow. Bleh.



I don't usually explain my cartoons, but here's a link. Let me know in the comments how long you make it - I had to stop it at 4:31.

And that's all for today.