Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Week In The Life

It's a beautiful Fall Sunday, the kind that makes me want to go outside and do a million things and stay in bed at the same time. Fall is a gorgeous double-edged sword; beautiful weather, but more dust, mold, and allergens to give me a perpetual headache or sniffle. And that's with allergy shots, though I haven't had any in a couple of weeks. Even worse than headaches is the sensation that your head has the density of a bowling ball, and you can barely stand up or keep your eyes open. If it's happened to you, that's also allergies. It's exactly like taking Benadryl without taking Benadryl.

So, I am going to be more optimistic than I have been all week, and get myself outside today. Not that I haven't been out all week--you have not heard from me on this blog because my schedule has been screwed up more times than you can imagine. Here is a brief run-down:

Monday: Worked two jobs--taught my evening class in Religion, where my students seemed slightly more interested in the material than the week before. What irks me about my religion students (and I'm not picking on this group--it's true of EVERY group I've taught) is how uninterested they are in the Campbell/Moyers discussions. I usually show one or two episodes from the nine-part series in class--each episode is only forty-five to fifty minutes. They are absolutely frigging FASCINATING--even if you don't think much about religion, there's just so much to the discussions. My students always have the same reaction: "What do I need to pay attention to for the exam?" To be fair, I'm sure I was like that in some courses as an undergraduate. But it would make me feel vindicated if just one person showed an iota of intellectual curiosity about the subject. I know, I know--I expect too much from a gen-ed course.
But at least they could PRETEND. I'll settle for faking it.

Tuesday: Went to a class on prosody in Manhattan. This is an eight-week course on prosody that I have chosen to take even though I don't primarily write poetry. Believe it or not, I do write some poetry, but I think most of it is not very good, even for free verse. When I read about the poets who write good poetry, even the Moderns, they all had training in the discipline of prosody. I think that writing in meter and making use of literary techniques and devices can improve any kind of writing. The course is taught by David Yezzi, the former director of the Unterberg Poetry Center, who has his own body of published work, and has edited The New Criterion as well as other poetry collections. So far, I like the class, and the assignments are not daunting. We seem to have a mixture of people who are comfortable with disciplined meter writing off the cuff, and those who aren't. David is very good at working with the various skill levels in the class, so I think it will be an enjoyable eight weeks.

Wednesday: After a very productive day at work, I was looking forward to going home and relaxing. However, I came home to find a note from United Parcel Service on my door--they needed to deliver a package that required my signature. Long story short--the vet decided to have my cat's ashes mailed directly to my home rather than to them. I realize the vets are very busy and pressed for time these days, but this upset me. I would rather go there to pick up the remains than get them from the UPS guy. (Would you prefer to have the undertaker mail the remains of your loved one? Think about it). After a fruitless trip to the UPS facility (one used to be able to pick up packages when the trucks returned--no longer), I made arrangements to pick up the box the next day rather than have them deliver it. But it had effectively destroyed my plans for a quiet evening.

Thursday: Was on the run with work and errands (including picking up cat remains) until about 6:30 in the evening. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? No, except that I have to go to bed early during the week--I have to get up by 4:30 am for work each day. And I had to cook when I got home--I'd reached the point where the pantry has gotten low enough that I had to make a mess of dishes and cook something, rather than just throw together something simple. This would not be a problem on the weekend, but when I'm starving after a long day on the road...

Friday: I was really, really tired by Friday, so tired that I felt almost like I was on drugs. You force yourself to be very energetic and up, but it doesn't take much to make you totally crash. On Friday it was announced that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. I intended to blog about this, but it never happened. The war over the Nobel Peace Prize took the rest of the energy that I had for the week--it absolutely raged on Facebook. My friend Chris has pointed out with regard to the debate that "every rose has its prick." I wanted to reply that I'd had enough pricks for the week, but someone would have doubtlessly interpreted my weekly activities differently if I'd said that. So, on that subject, I will say: Good for Obama. Yes, he hasn't done much of anything. Yes, I know the argument that one shouldn't give prizes based on potential accomplishment. Really, I saw the whole thing as a middle finger from Europe to the Bush Administration, but also as a statement to Obama. It's as though they're saying, "Okay, Obama, we're standing behind you and your promises of peace and cooperation. Now make it happen." The Cosmic Variance blog has a posting by Daniel that sums up his take on the prize, and I find that I agree with him. Rather than me restate what thirty thousand other bloggers have already discussed, I'll just point you to his excellent post here.

So, that's a week in my life. A typical week? Not necessarily. Some weeks have more things going on than others, some are more interesting, some are more boring. In the final analysis, I don't think it's what actually transpired that makes any difference, it's how I respond to it. This week has not been a great response week for me, and I tend to be hard on myself if I let things get to me. Which makes the problem worse, now that I think about it. Sounds like I need time out for some serious meditation or something.

Speaking of anxiety, I'll leave you with this interesting New York Times article on the "anxious mind". When I read the description, I realize it fits me and most of the people I know. Welcome to excessive stress hormone production by an overactive amygdala! No wonder we're all so drained.


Richard Kearney said...

Your Monday classroom experience certainly set a bad tone for the week. It's one I've had many times in the classroom and observe almost daily (though less directly) at the reference desk. I doubt grading ever had much value, but today it strikes me as yet another con perpetrated on students to keep them from an education. The excessive - even exclusive - focus on grades among students is symptomatic of the way educational institutions have been corrupted. The subject matter of the curriculum, the stuff which helps us to learn, think critically, and develop perspectives we can apply throughout our lives to foster understanding, creativity and problem-solving, is reduced to nothing but instrumental value or less when placed into the crackpot institutional framework of education as commodity and processing mill for future drones. The grade and the "piece of paper" are the false commodity forms of the educated person. After I read David F. Noble's essay "Giving Up The Grade" [available in ], I did a mental exercise to figure out how many classroom problems would simply disappear if grades were abolished, and the list is amazingly long. It would be a tremendous service to students to abolish grades....and then they might even find it worthwhile to pay attention to the discussion between Campbell and Moyers, not to mention a lot of other things infinitely more important than pleasing their masters.

BTW: Great blog, Brigid. Inspires me to get in the habit of writing on a regular basis.

Brigid N. Burke said...

Hi, Richard--thanks for the comment! I agree--I think the American education system leaves a lot to be desired, especially from high school through undergraduate work. I see a lot of really bright students who are bored by rote assignments and entry level coursework.They're really smart, but their grades are poor. The push to over-educate at very young ages burns kids out much more quickly, and by the time they get to college, they no longer care about academics-they've had their fill. The British tutorial system is better in some ways, but they tend to be rather dogmatic and squash any kind of real creative thought, especially in the humanities. Just read any of their scholarly literature, and you'll see what I mean. As dry as Cheerios without milk, and don't taste nearly as good. I do wonder though, how one assesses progress without grades of some kind. It seems to me that learning styles are quite individual--what works for one student may not work for the next. Hard to know what the right answer is, really.

Glad you enjoy the blog--it keeps me writing too (or at least it should). :)