Monday, December 31, 2012


I want it to be last week again.

I want to be sitting here in this same spot in space, but in last week's time.

This week, the vacation ends.  Jonathan goes back to school.  I go back to work.

I want it to be last week, when I had a whole week of work-free vacation in front of me.  When I had promised my family and myself that I would not spend time thinking about work responsibilities, but instead I would read novels, play video games, visit with far flung family, and eat chocolate.

Last week, at this same spot in space, the voices in my head wondered where to spend my leisure hours.  This week, the voices remind me that I need a syllabus, a few lectures prepped, an end of year faculty profile, and I should get those two papers submitted that were supposed to be submitted in mid-December, preferably by this time next week, same location in space, unfortunately.

And then when I feel a little melancholy thinking of my upcoming week, in spite of two more vacation days, I wonder if I should be setting some New Year's resolutions to increase my happiness.  Would that help?  Would that make the panicky feeling go away?

Actually, I think the only thing that makes the panicky feeling go away is getting the work done.  And so luckily, the holiday is ending.  We all get the privilege of going back to school and work and checking things off the accomplishment list.  Happiness, here we come!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

On optimism

I still attend church regularly.  That surprises some of the people I know, and occasionally they want to know why.  One reason is it offers me set-aside time for introspection each week.  As a highly imperfect person, in  meetings with other highly imperfect people, I get the chance to think about improving, changing, growing, and exactly what I want to grow into this time.

Last Sunday we discussed what it means to live in troubling times.  For the record, I wonder if the times we have been given are more or less troubling than any other times.  In any case, it is true that the times we are given are often troubling.  We lived through a very troubling Friday, December 14, 2012.  A discussion on troubling times was apropos.

So what did the discussion unearth for me?  The take-home message was one of optimism.  Not only is this the worst of times, but it is also the best of times.  Life is hard, but there are more people trying to do good than there are those trying to tear down the world.

And the message of optimism, it reminded me of my maternal grandfather.

Grandpa was optimistic sometimes to a fault.  When I was a teenager, I often spent time in his kitchen, discussing life and future over homemade bread and yogurt.  To him, the world was a wonderful place, bursting with opportunity.  He was sure that for me, as a young person in that world, there was nothing I couldn't do.  He was ever happy, encouraging, teasing, and proud.  Me, I was more of a realist, but even so, his words helped me see possibilities I had never considered, and from there, to map out a future.

Grandpa was an educator.  He had earned a PhD from Columbia University, funded by the GI bill.  He worked for a time at G.O.D. University, like me, until he couldn't stand the politics there.  He was the first religious liberal I knew, at a time when all my friends and neighbors, and parents, were conservative.  His intelligence, his wit, and his eternal optimism helped me to understand that life is not painted in black and white.  It is painted in color.

Looking back, I wonder how he remained an optimist.  His employment with G.O.D. was a complete disaster.  There were times his family lived through extreme poverty, in places far from friends and family.  He ran for political office multiple times in an extremely conservative state, and was defeated soundly; even the signs he posted were abused and vandalized.  He was acquainted with failure.

I'm acquainted with failure, although not to the extremes he faced.  And then add to that the troubling times, and life becomes heavy.  We carry on, beaten, sometimes only because the alternative is more frightening.  But he carried on laughing.

Looking at my life last Sunday, and where it needed to grow, I realized that I could do worse than to be more optimistic, like Grandpa, for now. There is still so much that is good.  Find that.  Encourage that.  Be that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ending the semester

On Friday, I walked a mile through the streets of Philadelphia and caught a train to New York City.  The train stopped under Manhattan, and I walked through a tunnel full of people to catch a subway running uptown.  After an hour under the city, I finally climbed concrete steps into the rain.  Lunch, and a talk, and then I walked back into the subway and under the city and a train carried me out and away into the dark.

Three hours later, exiting another metro station and lugging my laptop to a gray hotel, I glimpsed the Washington monument stretching into the fog of a winter evening, lit like a torch.

These are things that people come to see, said the lights.  Except to you, it is only a little architecture against the skyline to remind you which talk comes next.

This morning, the common final exam began at 7 am.  I left my house just after 5:45 am, and made my way through the dark to my office.  In my building, I hurried around the cleaning staff to and from the printer, to and from the computer.  Why hasn't that TA picked up his exam box yet?  Can I move the proctor in your room to the basement of the Martin classroom building?  Someone found a printing error on form B; please announce it to your students.  We are out of scantrons in the chemistry building.  There isn't enough light in the business auditorium.  My student is ill.  When is the alternate?  And meanwhile, 1500 students sat with pencils in hand and tried to remember, for three hours.

This is how semesters end, in a blaze of light and motion and anxiety, with faculty and students hurtling past the major monuments, the lit torches pointing up into the winter fog.

Monday, December 3, 2012


... is already starting out well.

Jonathan's cast was removed.

Tim's mustache, grown for a good cause in November, was also removed.

Things are looking better and better around here.

Somewhat problematic:  big crunch time until finals.  Two more classes to teach, then I fly out to visit three cities and give two talks before I return home to give two finals.  But then things ease up a little tiny bit.  Maybe.

Maybe I'll start writing again.