Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Various Updates

Hi. I'm back. Sorry it's been so quiet here lately. The fall semester gets intense in the middle. We go a long time without a substantial break until Thanksgiving -- so now I'm on break and have a chance to take a breath.

My classes have continued to go very well. My students in both classes have been just wonderful. They are tuned in and interested, and they are working with the material at a very high level. There is consistently a wonderful spirit in the classroom. This has been such a gift for me, and I am very grateful. I've always loved teaching, but this semester has been extraordinary.

But still, there have been other stresses. A colleague in my department has come up for tenure this year. I had to guide her case through. This kind of thing is hard on me, because I do not approve of this way that we intensely evaluate each other. Still, I could accept my role in this by conceptualizing it as being supportive of my colleague, and thankfully, things have gone well so far. The process is not finished, but the scariest stage is behind us, and so the prognosis is very good.

Almost a week after this important stage was behind us, I then suddenly got a bad case of strep throat. This took me very much by surprise. I don't get sick very often -- and if I do come down with something, I usually get over it in a day or two. This hung on until I finally went to the doctor and the doctor put me on antibiotics.

When I at last emerged from my fevered fog and could think again, I wondered, "now, why did I come down with that?" and the answer was clear: the strep throat coincided with the one-year anniversary of my own tenure case. To go through my own case, and then, one year later, to have to play such a responsible role on behalf of someone else's case -- all of this has been very hard on me. My colleague's case forced me to re-live my own experience. And so it is no wonder that after it is all over, I should just collapse for a bit. My body was forcing me into a profound rest that I would not otherwise have taken. The fever even turned my mind off of all the existential questions that re-living the process had raised for me.

I now feel a bit like a phoenix, emerging bedraggled but new from the ashes.

There is much I could say about both last year for me, and about what this year, my first year as a tenured professor, has been like so far. But for now I will just say that the phoenix image is a good one. And I am still bedraggled.

Yes, my story had a happy ending, and it looks like my colleague's case is turning out well too. But sometimes friends of mine have not made it through. And so I've experienced survivor's guilt. And the process is so invasively intense that even making it through "successfully" turns out to be rather traumatic. It's hard to describe. Those who are not in the academic world have been very happy for me, and admiring of the job security I now have. And I reply with graciousness, because they are right that that is a real privilege; and they are right that it takes a lot to make it through this harrowing experience. Yet, in the end, it is not, somehow, what it seems to be. What do I mean? I'm not even sure myself. I have a feeling that I will be processing this experience for a long time.

I've been thinking a lot about how much we judge each other in our culture. I cannot shake the thought that we judge each other way too much. It seems suspiciously tied to attempting to control each other too much. My concern with these questions is why I've recently been writing about justice and respect and what we owe each other. Rather than spending so much time trying to control each other's behavior, shouldn't we be putting our energies into living our own lives as well as we can? Shouldn't we be learning how to appreciate each other better, and learning how to work effectively together on addressing the significant problems that the world faces? Human energy is so precious--instead of expending that energy on evaluating each others' worthiness, why can't we take everyone's worthiness as a given and focus our attention instead on channeling that human energy to good purposes?

After Thanksgiving break, we have two more weeks of classes and then final exams. And then I will be on sabbatical! I am very happy about this. I have been really eager to move more deeply into my research. It will be nice to have the time at last to do that.

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