Monday, December 25, 2006

a gift i should've given when i had the chance

I never asked him directly but I could tell from an early age, Christmas was my father's favorite time of the year. I, on the other hand, can't remember the last time I loved Christmas. I'm maudlin that way.

No. I was conditioned that way. For the most part. I don't know why receiving gifts always pained me. I remember, however, the felling of failure every time a recipient opened my gift. I was always a terrible gift-giver. I'm worse than your Great-Aunt Irene. But not for lack of trying.

I wouldn't mis-gift you in such a way that conveyed an utter lack of knowing you. But I am the sort of person, however, who would be slightly off the mark--to varying degrees. For example, I might buy you an Underworld CD when all you listen to is Carrie Underwood. "U" names can be confusing, eh?

So I fail. And I can tell by that dead look in your eyes. That tone of your voice. That stiffness of you hug. And I hate the occasion. The mandatory ritual of Christians and their non-practicing siblings. And I do as I've done for every Christmas I can remember. I cry just a little bit over my failure to live up to the blessed happiness my father always expected of my brother and me on this joyful day.

(My brother performed his inexplicable pain a bit differently that I. The last time I spent Christmas at my parents' house, my brother caused four accidents in three different cars in one day. And he overdosed. And he shooed away the paramedics and the sheriff who answered my mother's call. It's just his way of dealing.)

Today was my first Christmas without my father. Oh, I've spent Christmas away from him before. But today is the first Christmas he hasn't lived to experience. I did my best, Dad. I went to our friends' house and celebrated the day with friends and the families of friends. I applauded a four-year-old girl who sang and danced to Christmas carols. I made funny faces for a two-year-old who looked through binoculars the 'wrong' way. I taught a three-year-old how to pedal a bike.

I think I did everything that you always hoped to see. I helped create moments of bliss for the little ones in my life. I took part in a day that is designated for happiness. A happiness that neither you nor I could ever achieve--but you always had faith in and anticipated with such childlike fervor.

I promise to try and love my days the way you loved those moments around the tree. And I'll try to forgive my brother and me the trouble we caused when we thought we'd never be what you wanted us to be. I'm pretty sure this will be the best gift I've ever given you. Maybe even the best gift I'll ever give.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

be still the buzz; batter my heart

Every session I teach, I fool myself into thinking that the constant demands of my students, my colleagues, and my superiors causes me stress. But like a recurring nightmare, I remember at the end of every session that it is the silence that shoves me toward the Terrible Place--the place of panic and depression. Ironically, the quiet, the stillness, accelerates my heart. Beat-starts my heart. Cruelly quickens my breath. My thoughts. And I hurt. Every bit of it hurts.

Wrongly, I long for the school breaks. I think, "I'll really get work done then." But the breaks break me, like crushes crush. The desirable attained is the final destination of the death drive. I fucking hate Freud.

If all I want is to get a couple more things published, and be awarded a prestigious grant that I think I have a shot at, if that's what I want, and I get it, what pain awaits me? How will my heart hurt then? What pain will threaten to consume me?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

sometimes they come back

Unfortunately, some of my colleagues haven't learned that lesson yet.

And I, I haven't learned how best to deal with the return.

Since I've been at my institution, I have been on far too many Master's committees for students who had no business being in graduate school, let alone earning a graduate degree. They obtained a spot in the program via the Grad Director's adherence to the logic of "If we don't fill all these spots this year, we'll lose spots next year." No matter the crap GPAs, disturbing GRE scores, and three-sentenced "recommendation" letters. We need buns in chairs! So we accept them. But not with funding, of course.

And they take classes. And despite their embarrassing performance in these classes, professors reward them with grades that rarely fall below a "B+"--because, hey, "we" accepted them into "our" program, so we can't be too critical of them! And, really, a "B+" is pretty bad for graduate school. Like, who doesn't get a 4.0 in grad school?

And they finish their first year without falling into the Land of Academic Probation. And they've heard from everyone they know that, even if one isn't awarded funding upon acceptance, one merely needs to ask for funding after their first year and funding they shall be given. So, in my 5.5 years at this institution, I can't think of a single case in which one of these special students was denied some form of funding after their first year. (One particularly special student--who announced in a seminar I taught, "I don't know what a fucking 'thesis statement' is. I went to X College!"--was hired by the English Department to teach composition.)

And they finish their coursework without losing eligibility. Because professors continue to give them better grades than they deserve. And our department has "no mechanism to remove them from the program" (unlike the institutions I'm familiar with that have 2nd semester reviews for Master's students which result in a verdict of "Right-o! Carry on!" or "Let's not waste anymore of our time or your money, shall we?"). Then they take their comprehensive exams. And their committee reads them. And they're terrible. Then we meet for the defense.

And the committee chair says, "I know. These are terrible. Let's just ask for some clarification on these few points. Then I say, forget it. Let's just give a Pass. There's nothing more we can do. Besides, what harm will come from giving this person an MA?" Then the committee--including myself in my early years here--says, "Ehh, nothin'. You're right. I wouldn't want to deal with this student anymore anyway." So the special student is bestowed an MA.

And the faculty is relieved to be rid of said student. And a few months pass. Then the committee members get an email. It's from the now-former student and it is a request. "I'm applying for a teaching position at Soandso Community College. Would you please write me a recommendation letter?" Or, a year passes, and the committee gets a different email. "I'm applying for PhD programs [including our own]. Would you please write me letters of recommendation?" And these professors, these evaluators, these judges, these arbiters of higher education are confronted with the fact that THEY are responsible for these special students' self-misperceptions. And they must, simply MUST, fulfill their obligation to these students.

The question is, how?

Monday, December 4, 2006

let's pretend

Let's pretend that I haven't been gone for a month. And . . .

  • That I don't have terrible circumstances I must endure at work.
  • That I don't have to go up for tenure in 9 months.
  • That I didn't ruin my chances for tenure by spending too much time ensuring the publication of others and standing up to department bullies who happen to be full professors.
  • That I don't think I should get out of this place.
  • That I don't think I may have made a mistake by not applying for a job for which I was asked to apply.
  • That I wasn't majorly betrayed by my closest senior department advocate.
  • That I haven't lost 4 departmental allies in the last 4 years and that I'm not about to lose 3 more.
Let's just pretend, 'kay?