Archive for the ‘work and life’ Category

The clock struck one

Much better overall, and mentally, doing a fairly good job of taming the school-starts-again-soon panic* that begins as soon as I wake up.  I think it’s worse because I’ve been staying up, and therefore waking up, much later than usual. I’m planning to go to bed at close to my normal school-year time the next three nights and, on Saturday and Sunday (and, of course, Monday), wake up closer to my normal school-year time (5:30 or 5:45, but I’ll probably aim for something like 7 on Saturday).

My Seinfeld chains are ten days long, and that feels great.

*Why panic? It’s not totally clear to me, honestly.  I like my job, and I’m not particularly behind in anything.  I think it might be a byproduct of the fantasy that two weeks of winter break is long enough to get ahead in everything–for example, this item on my list: “Create rough drafts of first-semester exams for the juniors and seniors.”  It’s a great idea, but it’s not going to get done this break, and it really doesn’t matter: I can do it when we’re back, and in fact it is a good task to do after school this week, when I have my room to myself and few interruptions.

I do wish we had exams before winter break.  I don’t really think this schedule serves anyone.  I suspect we are due for a reexamination of the high-school schedule sometime in the next couple of years anyway, so this might be on the table.  We’d probably have to start a week or two earlier in August, but that would put us more in line with the public schools and some of our independent peers, so it probably doesn’t matter much.  And we’d finish earlier in June.



Well, I’ve definitely gotten the Alec/Alex thing down now, yes sirree.  It’s just everything else that has gone to hell.

Okay, it’s not that bad.  Just that I have too many different kinds of things to do and I don’t seem to be able to do them all well on the same day or the same week.

I’m actually getting just a little bit ahead on the prepping, I am basically current with grading, and the teaching in general is going well.  This week it is the department chair stuff that feels like it’s sliding.  I have had a lot of interaction with Orlando, because he is in the faculty workroom at some of the same times, and some with Olivia, who doesn’t have a homeroom and so I see her in the workroom every morning during homeroom.  But I haven’t seen Miranda, the new sixth-grade teacher, last week or this week.  I know she has support over there in the middle school with her grade-level partner and Dorothea, but I did have some suggestions for her after I watched her teach and I should go back into her class and see how things are going for her.  I think I can do it once before the end of the week, if I’m organized.

I also have a big monster email I need to write the whole department about plans for back-to-school night, the annual evaluation cycle, upcoming meetings, funding requests, and two or three other things.  Writing that email is the zombie task that keeps walking from daily list to daily list.

I had a hugely helpful writing-group session on my manuscript last week, and I just haven’t been able to carve out the time to sit with the notes.  I have conference stuff that’s piling up, and various personal emails to write.

Bed, I think. I am not getting anywhere tonight.  If I can get up well rested, I can blow through a lot of this stuff in the morning and schedule the rest for later Thursday and for Friday.  I may not know much, but at this point in my life, I think I know when I’m out of steam.


One article I’m glad I read, one nice conversation, and one slap-myself-upside-the-head thing:

1. “Setting Creative Goals for the New Year?  Let Fear Be Your Guide” from Gwarlingo:  you never know if someone’s inspirational Facebook link will be just what you needed to hear or a load of happy horseshit, as Stubb would say.  In this case it was the former.  The reminder that we don’t, in fact, have unlimited time is the kind of thing that sounds authentic to a worrywart like me.  And I liked the affirmation that daily practice (i.e. the Morning Pages) makes a place for good things to happen.

2. The Mandarin teacher at school–let’s call her Teacher Z, since that’s what the kids call her (well, Z Lao Shi, that is)–is about ten years older than I am.  She was a teenager at the end of the Cultural Revolution and took the university entrance exams along with the rest of the ten-year backlog of students who didn’t get to apply to university.  (She got in, one of less than 5% of all applicants.  So did her older sister.)  She eventually emigrated to the U.S., married an American, and had two daughters.  The older one taught for a year at SA before entering dental school nearby, and the younger one is about to graduate from our flagship state university and go to an engineering job in another state with a major multinational company.  I know the older one slightly as a colleague and I taught the younger one in my first AP Lang class at SA–a delightful, hardworking, lucid writer.  Teacher Z has told me that the employer was very impressed by Younger Daughter’s excellent writing when she worked for them in a summer internship–she politely gives me credit for this, although I doubt I deserve much, if any.

Teacher Z and I have gotten friendly since the move to the new building–her room is right across from the one I shared with Romola–and this year she is teaching the Snork Maiden (there’s a different teacher for middle school).  One recurring topic is the impending departure of her younger daughter–Teacher Z is grappling with the idea that Younger Daughter won’t be moving home after college and might, in fact, not return to our region at all, or not for a while.  We’ve noted that a typical American response is “Great!  She’ll have a terrific job and get to see other parts of the country!” while a typical Chinese response is “The job is great, but she should get a job near her parents!”  Today she was asking me about our winter break travels, and I was saying how much easier and fun it is traveling with a young teen (as opposed to a baby–Lucinda, who has been back for about two and a half months from maternity leave, had just left the room).  Teacher Z remarked that this age is about when she stopped leading her daughters through the airport and found herself scrambling after them instead.

And then she said, wistfully, “You are at the best time, right now.”  And I totally got it.

3. I got an email from a student whose thesis I supervised a couple of years ago.  He is in Austin, working on yet another master’s degree.  He thinks he might like to teach.  Could I write him a recommendation?  ACK.  It never ends.  (I meant to upload those other college recs today, but didn’t get around to it.  Had quite a productive day, though–graded a batch of AP papers, commented on a manuscript, and prepped a lecture-style class.  Productive enough, in fact, that I don’t think I need to force myself to stay at this desk and knock any more things off my list.  I’ll probably wake up too early anyway.  Yawn.)



Horseradish: bitter truths you can’t avoid

Wow, this post took kind of a grim turn, didn’t it?  I wonder why the way in which I can most immediately perceive that I will continue to change is my response to sad things?  Maybe it’s because I look at my parents and in-laws and older friends and I see more and more losses in their lives, even though of course good things continue to happen, too, and the joy they take in ordinary pleasures and grandchild stuff is also different from the joys they experienced when they were young.  My housebound relative has some dementia, but even before that set in, I was struck by her considerable ability to be fairly contented within a pretty circumscribed and limited life. On the way to see her, I stopped at Trader Joe’s for some snacks to leave with her, and as always, she was able to enjoy the treats and to urge me to take some of the chocolate-covered almonds with me when I went.  She used to read a lot, and I always thought of that as a big part of her ability to be contented, but now she really can’t read and she doesn’t seem to mind too much, most of the time. I can’t conceive of a time when I won’t be able to read and won’t mind–but if it can happen to this lady, it can probably happen to me.

Well.  That wasn’t exactly a turn away from the grim!

What I was going to set out to write was about the ways in which I would like to change in the next ten years, as proposed by Shawn Smith in the link in that post.  I am avoiding it a little bit because I feel as though I’m always using this space to talk about what I’d like to do and then not doing it, most especially in terms of writing.  I keep saying I want to push writing more toward the center of my life, and I keep making efforts in that direction, and then the centripetal force of life keeps pushing it out, out, and away…

I gave NaNoWriMo a go this year, and my school-year and school-break and summervacation posts are often about how to find more time for writing and not to let it get crowded out by the rest of life.  And when I look back over the last few years, I think that maybe I haven’t done so badly in terms of keeping writing somewhere in the mix of my life.  I did finish my second book manuscript, started a third, continued to publish (at a trickle, yes, but in some excellent venues).  It’s disappointing that 2013 was not, in fact, the year that my second manuscript got accepted, but in striving after that goal, a lot got done.  It was a finalist for a contest and garnered a couple of very encouraging notes from editors.  So I suppose I ought to reframe my comment about how I use the space: maybe I use it to coach and cajole and remind myself so that I do keep pushing writing back to the center.

Anyway, in ten years I will be more of the writer I’m becoming, whatever that means; as my life unfolds, my writing will keep unfolding along with it.  I will write seriously, as I have for the last twenty-five years.  I will have continued to publish.  I will develop new obsessions as a writer, and I’ll find new work in the old obsessions, too.

And I’ll keep trying new practices to help me find my way to the time and imaginative space I need, whether that’s trying NaNoWriMo, or writing my goals here, or joining an online group (the one at Dame Eleanor‘s helped me find my way toward the smallest useful unit of time for me, which seems to be 12 minutes) or working with a friend; time goals or word goals; going away or staying at home.  And I won’t be embarrassed when any of these is less than a total success!  (The success being doing one’s work, of course.)

The first thing I’m trying this year is something I’ve heard about from others: the practice of writing Morning Pages, from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.  The link explains it pretty well, although 21 minutes, rather than 15, seems to be what it takes me to do.


Not a good day for a routine-oriented person like me.  I went in late, since the Snork Maiden was staying home and I didn’t have class until after 10, and wasn’t really on my game for any of my three classes.  They all felt like treading water.  AP was okay, and my first World Lit class worked on their magical realism-influenced stories, but the second class had had a quiz while I was out, and grading them made it clear that many of them hadn’t done the reading.

The good news about tomorrow is that I only have one class at the end of the day, so lots of time to plan and get organized.  And the Snork Maiden will go to school and so it should be a fairly normal day.  I do have to stay into the evening for an admissions event that will probably be tiring but basically fine.  It’s just…I had had a picture in my head of the last three weeks before winter break as being a really competent three weeks in which I’d guide my classes through the last text of the course and a final paper while also completing the classroom observations part of the teacher evaluation process, and it feels like I haven’t accomplished anything this week and there are only Thursday and Friday left.  It’s really just a perception problem, but it’s bothering me.

The quality of life report

Report from the Department of Health: The Snork Maiden’s condition has improved.  I stayed home with her today to supervise rehydration and rest.  She’s just starting to eat toast.  I think I will go in to work tomorrow and leave her here to finish recuperating.

Report from the Department of Human Resources: I appreciate having sick days and getting to use them without undue drama, whether for my own illness or my child’s.  (I also took a sick day last year when my mother was briefly in the hospital and received nothing but support and offers of help.)

Report from the Department of Labor: It hasn’t been a particularly productive day.  I had a broken night of sleep because of the Snork Maiden’s illness and then woke up at about 3:30 feeling alert and worried about making sub plans, so I finished all that and stayed up through the morning to email back and forth with Dorothea, one of the librarians, and Dr. Tea about getting some materials brought over to my first class.  Around 11, with the Snork Maiden awake and feeling better, I went back to bed and slept for a few hours.  I didn’t shower or do much of anything except read and take a walk to the store.  I also didn’t bring much home with me to prep, since I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be going to school today, so it’s a good thing that I have a couple of free periods first thing tomorrow.

Still here

It seems like it’s almost Thanksgiving already, which would be great, except for the MFA class.  All I can say about that is Argh.  It’s a smaller Argh than it was a few weeks ago, but still.  Argh.

Still loving teaching three classes instead of five, though!  I have started scheduling observations, and found time for chats with two of the middle school teachers last week.  I should be able to visit everyone once before winter break, and the new guys twice–I just have to plan carefully.  And not get sick!

Spent a precious hour of prep time in the morning coming home to fetch something the Snork Maiden had left behind–her prompt-book for rehearsal–but was glad to be able to do her that favor.

Got to 20,000 words on NaNoWriMo.  Friday is the halfway mark, so I should be at–or near–25,000 by then.

Several seniors have been accepted to college already.  What?  It’s not even mid-November!

Now that I’m not teaching Lucinda’s juniors anymore, I have only seniors until January.  Then I drop two of those classes and pick up two junior classes, keeping only my AP Lit group all year.  One of my half-year senior groups is very sweet.  The other is significantly less sweet.  The AP group is good.  I need to understand more about the whole senior experience, though.  It is a funny mishmash of maturity and regression and intellectual curiosity and general silliness.


Mr. Rabbit and the lovely present

While, as predicted, my life is significantly calmer now, I’m still fully capable of getting really, really excited about the prospect of a three-day weekend!

Let’s be upfront about this: The house is pretty much a mess.  Actually, there are really just a few centers of mess: the kitchen table, which is where I’ve been piling all of the mail; my desk, which is a shipwreck of papers; and the living room/TV area, which is pretty much the Snork Maiden’s domain, and which she will tidy up when asked.  Other surfaces are cluttered and I would have to do some pretty serious decluttering in order to, say, have anyone over, but I can live with them for a while.

So I think I’m going to make the executive decision that tidying up is not on the docket for this weekend.  This might have the paradoxical effect of getting me to actually do some tidying up, but the main effect, I hope, is that I will be focused on more important things.

And what are these more important things?

Writing: I’m about 2,000 words behind in NaNo, which isn’t bad, considering.  I should be at 18,337 by the end of Monday, which means 6,665 over the next three days, or 2,222 a day–I can do that!  Still having fun.  It helps so much that my focus is on just doing it.  I’m also making some edits to my second ms. and getting it back into contest circulation.

Family time: Celebrating my sister’s birthday, and spending some time with the Snork Maiden.  Planning–I hope–the Snork Maiden’s belated birthday party, which is going to be an excursion to see the new Hobbit movie.  Oh, and taking my six-year-old niece to the middle school play at SA.

Schoolwork:  I could actually get ahead this weekend.  It wouldn’t be the end of the world if all I did was write one Hamlet quiz for Tuesday, but I have to take the Snork Maiden to the SA area twice this weekend–today for her volunteer tutoring, and Monday for five hours of rehearsal on the campus itself–so it’s very convenient to drop in there and do some work.  I can also write there.  As part of this, I do need to put in about two hours on my MFA class.  Feeling better about that right now, though.

Exercise: Ack, I have dropped the ball on this the last two weeks.  But I did finally buy a new pair of running shoes, because my old ones were so broken that I let the Snork Maiden take them on her class retreat and get them all filthy and even more broken.  So I think I will take a gentle run tomorrow, and do my simple workout today and Sunday.


Substitute groundhog

Well, it’s been about a week since my teaching workload ratcheted down, and I am here to tell you that it feels good.  Lucinda seems to be managing really well; I already knew she was a highly organized person and a good time manager, and I’m really impressed by her attitude about coming back to work.  It does suck, honestly, that she has to leave her five-month-old baby in day care even though she doesn’t want to.  But I can’t do anything practical about that except help to smooth her path at work.

Both she and Viola came in a little late today so that they could deal with different child-related things, so I covered Lucinda’s homeroom and the first twenty minutes of one of Viola’s junior classes, both of which were a pleasure to do because I am now teaching only three classes and I still had time to write an assignment sheet, prepare to meet with Sebastian, eat breakfast, meet with Sebastian, teach two classes, and have a meeting with one of the Middle School teachers in advance of observing his class next week, all without feeling hysterically pressed (although I did make the mistake of not going to the bathroom between one of the meetings and the class, and had to scoot out to pee while the students were watching the “Get thee to a nunnery” scene in Hamlet).

I’m keeping up with NaNoWriMo and still enjoying the process greatly, although more and more I feel that no one can ever read this, ever.

And I heard that my second-book manuscript was a finalist for a contest, which was a cheerful thing to hear.  I had forgotten about this contest, or at least decided that I probably didn’t win it (and I just looked at my records and I submitted the ms. in March, so of course I assumed I didn’t win it).  That reminded me to saddle up and get the thing out to a couple more competitions this month.

And I did some work for my online MFA students and wrote a long email about the difficulties I’ve been having with the online course to the dean and program head, and they responded in a very supportive way, so I’m feeling like less of a terrible loser about all that, and I’m planning to get out another set of work to the students tomorrow.  Still, though, I don’t think this course is a good use of my time.  I’m giving the students high-quality feedback, but the pay is low, and the pull it exerts on my attention is too strong.

There are so many things I’d like to blog about, including but not limited to the observation process, teaching seniors, and reading the comments on the Snork Maiden’s report card, but those things will have to wait.  I have about an hour and a half before bed, and the remaining 900 words on today’s NaNo goal aren’t going to write themselves (nor will this sinkful of dishes wash itself, but that can wait until tomorrow without too severe an effect on my sense of momentum).


I get it now: my online MFA class is rather like an obstruction in the pipeline of my workflow.  If I’m worried about it, or have something I think I need to do about it, the whole pipeline jams up and I have trouble settling down to work seriously on my SA stuff.  And, of course, the longer the obstruction sits there, the bigger it gets.  If I keep doing small things for the class, it doesn’t build up so much, and my workflow can go around it.

Why it’s this thing that gets everything else stuck, I don’t quite know.  It’s a tiny part of my income and barely relevant to the rest of my life.  But it’s there.

Fortunately, I got it flowing again, and will try to keep it moving.

But I didn’t meet my Monday goals.  And I’m teaching five classes today.