plays well with others – or not

Not a good day.

The work that was going so well yesterday did not do so today.  I don’t know what happened between yesterday and today but today’s session was almost the exact opposite of yesterday’s.  People didn’t agree with the ideas that were proposed yesterday; they were too difficult to enact or they would be met with too much resistance or they weren’t worth burning bridges or they wouldn’t fit into the big picture or they weren’t as interesting or they didn’t come with a pony – whatever the reason, there was always something.

Except for the things that were personal, of course.  Colleague A thinks we should add a course on unicorns – and she just happens to study unicorns.  Colleague B thinks we should add fingerpainting in one of the classes – and she just happens to teach that class.  Colleague C thinks we should increase the chocolate ration to one of the classes – and she just happens to teach that class.

The kicker is that I suggested these things.  I’m in favor of unicorns and fingerpainting and chocolate; they’re all things that would improve our program.  I’ll do the paperwork and go to the meetings and make the arguments to get them approved, and I’ll be doing that in good faith.  I should get to teach the new and improved courses, and the increased chocolate ration would free me from teaching about root vegetables so, really, it’s a win-win.

So, why am I so miserable?  Maybe because the big ideas, the things that would make a marked difference, are the things no one is willing to work toward.  Maybe because people were talking over my ideas today and then exclaiming in delight when someone joined our meeting and suggested the exact same things. Maybe because I feel like I just can’t make a difference here when it comes to the big picture.  Maybe because many of the things we have to do – not the new stuff being proposed but the required stuff that has to happen – will fall to me, either because I’m the chair or because I usually teach the affected course, and that stuff is tedious and difficult and imposed from outside.

It’s like this – and I can’t claim the analogy, this is all Cool Friend: I feel like I’m in a park, picking up trash. It’s a big park, and there’s lots of trash, but there’s some satisfaction in feeling like I’m making some progress.  People walk through the park; they stop and express their pleasure in the work I’m doing – then they thrown their trash on the ground, beside the trash can, and continue on their way.

That.  That’s how I feel.  And here’s a good example.  I’m the chair of the program next year; it’s a rotating position so I rotate off next spring.  That semester, though, I’m on my fellowship, so I’m excluded from service requirements.  I can choose to do them but I don’t have to, so I’d prefer not to; I want to study – the whole point of the fellowship. So, in a discussion today, I mentioned this whole situation and suggested that the person following me could just move up a semester.  And that person actually said they’d need to think about it.

No, that is not what you say.  You say, “Sure, you’ve done a good job for us the last few years so enjoy the fellowship; I have to do it soon enough so one more semester won’t bother me.”  You don’t make a face, and sigh, and remind us that you’ll have to do a big accreditation report while you’re chair – as if that somehow mitigates taking it the semester that doesn’t involve the big report.  Pull your weight for once; put that one extra ounce of effort into the job; acknowledge that you’ve had a pretty easy ride the last nine years because your colleagues have been doing the heavy lifting.  I had f* cancer, for god’s sake, not to mention three back surgeries, and no one had to pick up my slack.  I missed exactly two weeks of work in all that time, and that was only because of an emergency surgery that didn’t allow me to plan accordingly; even then, you didn’t take any of the six classes I missed at the end of the semester.

Yes, I’m being pissy, I realize that.  I’m whining and throwing a temper tantrum and having a meltdown. My colleagues do much more than I realize; they are fundamentally good people who almost always do what’s asked of them; they are generally thoughtful and pleasant and amenable.  I’m the mercurial one, the one that wants to push back and hurry up and question why and say no.  I’m sure they’re at home, telling their spouses what a nut job they have to work with and praying I’ll just stop trying to get my way on things that they have no interest in changing.

Needless to say, I will never go into administration.

back in the saddle again

Good grief, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last wrote.

Classes finished, and then the final papers came in, and I wanted to finish with those so I could leave for Home State so I crammed in grading, submitting final grades and packing into much too short a time frame, but I was on the road before the end of finals week.

And I didn’t realize how much I wanted to get the heck out of dodge until I was on the road.  I could practically feel the weight dropping off my shoulders as I looked in the rearview mirror. It wasn’t a bad semester, by any means, but it was a long one and, evidently, I was over it.  Luckily, I had a nice day to make the (very long) drive, with good tunes playing and the sunroof open, so the 11 hours passed pretty easily.  (Yes, I said 11 hours.)

Being a grown-up, I decided I could, indeed, stay at Cool Friend’s house while I was there: best decision ever. I enjoyed my time with the family so much more; the distance allowed me to physically and metaphorically separate myself from the usual angst.  I spent time with my parents, my sister, my nieces; we celebrated Mother’s Day; we had some meals together – all very nice. I know some feelings were hurt that I wasn’t around more, which makes my resolve rather crumbly, even though I know it was better all round.

Staying with Cool Friend was, as expected, cool.  She has a comfy guest room with a separate bath; I brought all my usual toiletries to leave for future visits; I knew where the spare key was located.  It was nice to wake up when I heard her start the coffeepot and wander into the kitchen for some conversation before starting the day.  Her husband is, thankfully, most welcoming; he understands the situation but we also enjoy each other’s company, so sitting down for a meal or hanging about the kitchen late at night doesn’t feel intrusive.  I did my best to make myself scarce frequently, though, so I didn’t wear out my welcome.

Staying with Cool Friend also gave me easier access to TA.  His schedule is tricky, between work and kids, so we basically steal a few hours here and a few hours there.  It’s not the best arrangement but it’s what we have.  We did manage to spend two nights together, which was lovely – and not just for the expected reason.  It was nice to curl up on the sofa and talk or watch a movie without a ticking clock; those normal interactions are just as welcome as the more physical ones. Well, okay, maybe not “just” but almost equally. :)

Cool Friend and I both celebrated birthdays while I was in Home State, so we had fun, large and small.  The two of us took an overnight trip, which included visiting an historic site, having a great meal with lots of wine, enjoying some scenic views and doing a fair amount of shopping.  We both came away with some new clothes that I can’t wait to wear this summer.  The four of us also went out for a nice dinner – as in, we dressed to the nines, took pictures in the garden and enjoyed a delicious meal with multiple bottles of wine. We looked pretty darn good!  I finally had a chance to wear my silver dress – with black three-inch heels and seriously red lipstick – and even I’ll admit I was smoking.  It was beyond unfortunate that TA had to get back home after dinner to relieve the babysitter!

I stayed for a week, then hit the road to make it back for some meetings, a college event and graduation.  If I hadn’t been involved in the event, I might have begged off everything else, but I’m glad I didn’t; it’s always fun to see the happy graduates and wish them well on their big day.  Then, I slept.  A lot.  Because I was freaking exhausted.

This week, it’s back to a normal working schedule.  We’re having a program “retreat” most of this week to work on some things that required more than an hour here or there during the semester – good work but mentally tiring.  I’m trying to clean out my inbox so I can focus on the things that really need my attention when the program work is done: providing feedback on the chapters for my book, drafting out my two presentations for a conference later this summer, revising a neglected manuscript. The home stuff needs attention, too – some spring cleaning, reorganizing closets, packing up old clothes, cleaning out flowerbeds – but that’s really second priority.  I need to work, work, work.

Because I’m headed back to Home State in a few weeks.  The work will go with me, and I really will need to spend some time with the computer, but the goal is spending more time with TA.  He’ll be out of school, with a relatively flexible schedule, so we’re hoping to surpass two-hour interactions this time.  The kids are still a factor, and that will need to be worked around, but all things are possible with the right incentive!

the verdict: not meet

So, TA and I had a conversation about the whole “meeting the kids” thing on Friday that left me with some food for thought over the weekend.  This was, perhaps, not the best topic on which to focus my limited energy, given my mental state here at the end of the semester, but when has anything ever been presented at an opportune time in my life?

First, a confession.  I like this guy.  Yes, yes, I realize that’s somewhat obvious, given that I’m choosing to spend time with him and we rarely make the effort to spend time with people we don’t like.  But I do like him and that complicates things somewhat.  What started as a completely unexpected and very much casual fling has become a bit more than that, at least when I stop and think about it.  So the key, obviously, is not to think about it. I really do want to keep this casual.  For the most part, I do a pretty good job of that but, every now and then, my mind slips from the path of casualness and starts thinking way too much about it all.

So, I asked TA why he wanted me to meet the kids and the answer was expected: They’re the central focus of his life and he would like me to see that part of him; they also spend time with his close friends and it makes sense for me to be included in that group.  Fair enough.  Then I asked him why he wanted the kids to meet me.  Believe it or not, that flummoxed him.  It isn’t the same question at all, although it seems so at first, so it took him some time to understand what I was really getting at with the question.  From my perspective, introducing your children to the woman you’re sleeping with means there’s more going on between you than a casual romp.

That makes our relationship sound rather cheap, I suppose; we do genuinely enjoy each other’s company but the physical is a big part of it right now.  I’m not opposed to that (so not) but the parameters of the relationship seem to change if we start having more conventional interactions: hanging out with his children, meeting his local friends for dinner, going to the grocery store to fix dinner afterward, picking up a movie for a night in.  Those normal things make for a normal relationship, and that’s not what we have right now.

I didn’t go into all that, I just pointed out that meeting his kids couldn’t help but change our relationship in some way.  He agreed…but that was all; he didn’t have any input on whether that was a good thing, a bad thing, a thing to consider.  Okay.  We parsed that a bit more but I could tell he didn’t quite get what I wasn’t sure I wanted to explain.  From his point of view, the kids would enjoy meeting me over tacos or pizza and they’d get a kick out of talking to one of dad’s friends. I’d probably like that, too, and therein lies the rub.  Or as I put it to him: What if I enjoy meeting your children?

Ah. He got that.  And that was the end of the conversation.  We didn’t talk Saturday, given my dinner party, and when we spoke yesterday, all was back to normal and no mention was made of meeting the kids.  So, we’re back where we started.  And I’m not meeting the kids this time.

Because, yes, kids get attached.  I’m pretty savvy with kids, having been surrounded by them my whole life, not to mention being very involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews.  I’ve been volunteering in a kindergarten classroom once a week this semester and, trust me, even that limited interaction has created some very obvious bonds. They love it when I get there; they proudly tell me how many new words they’ve learned; they point out their missing teeth; they talk about their birthdays and their new clothes and their trip to Grandma’s over the weekend. There’s a good chance his kids would like me and we’d enjoy hanging out and they would ask about me if they didn’t see me for a month or two.

But there’s a good chance I’d get attached, too.  And that’s worse.

a little closer…

Final papers are coming in today and tomorrow!  I shall be grading them in a flurry of industriousness to get my final grades in by tomorrow evening.  Motivation!

The good news is that I don’t have to bother with feedback. I’m certainly reading them with a critical eye but the students aren’t going to collect them afterward so there’s no point in providing my usual extensive commentary.  If only I could get away with that during the semester.  That whole learning thing really does get in the way of my free time sometimes…

Admittedly, I was all about the free time this weekend.  I didn’t even try to act like I was doing anything useful.  The end of the semester is when my physical and mental self just give out; I was one step away from a comatose blob Saturday and Sunday.  That meant reading a new book* cover to cover, staring blankly at too much DVRed television, napping and doing just enough laundry to have clean undies this week.

I did fix dinner for friends on Saturday, however, and we had a lovely evening.  When I make the effort, I’m quite a good cook, and it was pleasant to spend some time in the kitchen focused on the slicing, dicing, chopping, rolling and crimping.  The pork roast practically fell apart; the roast veggies were suitably crisp at the edges; the soup was a little thin but still tasty; the salad was colorful and crisp; the galette was fruity deliciousness.  I couldn’t cook like this on a regular basis but I really should manage to do it more than once a semester.

So! To the office today to collect those papers, finish up the grades for one class, meet with a few students to the accompaniment of Mumford & Sons, the Avett Brothers and Elle King.

* Has anyone read Patrick Ness’ More Than This? I’m not quite sure what to think about it, frankly.  I love Ness, though; he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  The Chaos Walking trilogy is brilliant!

to meet or not to meet 

So, TA and I were talking tonight about my visit next week. — Did I mention? I’m clearing out of here next week, as soon as the grades are in. I have multiple reasons to head back so soon: my birthday, Cool Friend’s birthday, Mother’s Day, end of the semester vacation – and, yes, time with TA.

I’ve already made a few plans – time with my nieces, shopping with my sister, cookout with the family on Mother’s Day (which also happens to be my birthday) – but my best plan is staying with Cool Friend. That’s right: I’m finally old enough to not stay with my parents. She’s my sanity whenever I’m home anyway, so it makes sense to just start sane.

I’ll also spend some time at TA’s, obviously, when he doesn’t have his kids for the evening. I think I’ve mentioned he has children (two) and joint custody with his ex, so they spend half the week with him. TA talks about his children frequently, as any father would, and shares pictures occasionally; I’ve never met them but I feel like I know them a little. 

So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when TA asked me if I’d like to meet them while I was there this time. I’m going to be spending lengths of time in Home State this summer, as opposed to my previous brief weekends, so it would be somewhat odd not to meet them at some point, especially if TA and I want to spend extended time together. It’s certainly possible, it’s just a matter of coming, going and absence. TA wants me to meet them, though. He adores his kids and they’re a big part of his life; he said it would be nice to have me meet them in some capacity while I’m there. 

He did ask me what I thought about the idea and I said we could talk when I’m there. Because I’m not sure what I think. I’m not afraid of kids, and I’m sure I’d actually get a kick out of spending time with them, because I genuinely enjoy children. But it doesn’t seem that simple. 

Is it too soon? When do you meet someone’s kids? Do you need to be in some defined state before you introduce the girl and the kids? We don’t even claim to be dating – because we’re not, given the distance between us and the understanding that we’re free to be with other people if we wish. 

I’m torn. On one hand, I’d like to, because they’re a facet of TA and it seems false not to see that side of him if we’re going to keep spending time together. On the other, it seems like a step and I’m not sure about taking that one. Thoughts are appreciated on this one….

almost there

And the classes are done! I have final papers coming in next week but I’ve made it through the semester. 

I really enjoyed my classes this semester. My last words today in the undergrad class were that I’d had fun this semester – and I meant it. I really enjoyed teaching the class; I picked good readings, I had interesting assignments and I had good students. They were engaged and inquisitive and funny; they also showed some real growth this semester, which was both validating and endearing. 

I may not have enjoyed the grad class as much but I certainly had a good semester there, too. The students didn’t gel as much as a class but they were a pretty good bunch. The readings were great, though – if I may say so – so we had good stuff to discuss.

Just a few more days and I’m free!

it really needs to be over

I have become an irritable woman. Well, perhaps I’m always irritable but I can usually hide it a little better than I am these days. 

I’m just tired. It’s the end of the semester and I’ve run out of steam. This has been a good semester, generally, but I’ve been juggling and running and scrambling for most of it. Which is perfectly normal for a spring semester but doesn’t give me any more energy. 

Here’s hoping everyone else feels the same way and can forgive my temporary lapses of civility.