Saturday, January 05, 2008

Happy New Year!

Hmm, it seems like the last few years I write my first posting of the year on January 5! So, to continue in this tradition, I realized I have to write today!


I've been busy finishing grading. I did get my grades in on time. Also, I did participate in a bit of a grading party of sorts. One of my fall classes I co-taught, and so the two of us graded together one afternoon. At other times, I tried to do some of the grading in cafes and such, to alleviate the sense of isolation, but grading philosophy requires such intense concentration I ended up having to retreat to solitude to get it done.

Grading is an emotional experience. It is thrilling to witness some students rise to the challenge and reach a whole new level. It is heartbreaking to see other students fall apart under the strain. Throughout, you find yourself reckoning with your own ability as a teacher. When 90% of a class completely misunderstands something that you thought you explained very clearly, you have to admit that you were not really as effective as you had wished to be. You don't want to punish your students for your own failures as a teacher, and so you change your grading formula a little, regarding the questions that no one got right, or you agonize over whether to do so if one or two did get it right. You ponder the supposed "objectivity vs. subjectivity" issues involved in grading, as well as the likely psychological effects of the grades upon your students. You develop a massive headache, but must persist nonetheless because the Deadline looms!

And suddenly there reaches a moment when you've typed the last number into your spreadsheet, and input the formula for the final computations, and then you click on the magical "Fill Down" and watch all of the final grades materialize before your very eyes. You look them over and are amazed to see that the grades are, for the most part, what you expected each of the students to receive. You double-check and ponder the anomalies.

Then you take one more deep breath, and enter the final grades in.

Even though you had good intentions to clean up your office and file everything away all nicely when you are finished, instead you quickly shut down your computer and flee. In this electronic age, students can check their grades and find them moments after you have entered them in, and if they are shocked, they often e-mail you right away, displaying the full impact of their own emotional reactions.

It is now several days later, and I have received two responses. One was a happy response -- it is rare but delightful to receive these! The other was a very upset response. I was surprised to find myself not as pained to receive this as I used to be. For one thing, I fully expected this response. For another thing, I know how I wish further to reply, but I need to consult with the person I co-taught this course with. We will work together on our reply. In this, our educational opportunity with this particular student continues, and that is fine.

My Car

In other news: I did finally get my car back, all spiffed up again.

I was without a car the week before Christmas. It was an interesting experience to be completely without a car. Much of what I need to do on a daily basis I can do by walking, but I have to factor in extra time. It was good for me in a lot of ways. The walking is tricky in our icy and cold conditions, but that doesn't daunt me. The bigger issue was the time issue. I became more aware of just how tightly-scheduled my life is. I liked the way that walking forced reflective spaces into my day, but it was hard to let go of filling that time with hurried, nervous worrying about each next thing I was running off to do! Towards the end of the week, I was starting to settle in to my new rhythm of life with less anxiety and more gratitude. But the reduction of anxiety might have had more to do with the semester's actually ending than with any real adjustment on my own part.

Getting my car back has been more fun than I expected. Suddenly, many things in life are easier again, and I savor the appreciation I have for this. Also, my car is cute and fun. Strangers compliment me on this car. One person said, "It is such a happy-looking car!" and I found myself beaming for hours after he said that.

It's very strange for me to have something trendy and new and to receive admiring attention for this sort of thing! It's also strange for me to derive such joy from a material possession (except for my musical instruments)! Yet the joy is a combination of aesthetic appreciation and valuing what this object means for me in my life. My instruments allow me to play music, which is spiritually very important to me. And my car offers me mobility and freedom in a rural area where my life otherwise would be highly constrained. Yet I do have mixed feelings about valuing my car so much, because of my concern about what our car culture is doing to the environment. The truth is, as fun as I find my car, I still would prefer a life of not having to have one -- a life where public transportation is more readily available.

I did try to make use of what little public transportation is available in my area to get to one appointment 10 miles away, but the schedules made this absolutely impossible. I could have gotten there (either 15 minute late, or several hours in advance -- but this would have required canceling one of my final exams!), but then would have been stranded there with no way back, except to walk, in the dark, along a snowy rural road with no sidewalk and scant shoulders. At a 4 mile per hour pace, this would have taken 2 1/2 hours. Instead, I asked a friend for a ride.

The garage that fixed my car just sent me a nice thank you note with before and after pictures! They did a really nice job. You cannot tell anything was ever wrong.


We keep getting a good amount of snow. Two neighbors with snow-blowers now have taken to helping me out when we get big snowstorms. The total snowfall in our area this season so far has been 54.5 inches (but we've had another inch or two since that count). Sometimes that's what we get all season -- and it's early yet. We usually get the bulk of our snow in January, February, and March. The Piles keep getting higher and higher! It's really something.

Other Matters

There has been a lot more going on in my life than I have been able to write about here lately. (You have to wonder, when someone who used to write about spirituality and reflect on wider issues in our world suddenly starts focusing on snow shoveling instead...!) But I have a feeling that this year will bring forth the kind of change that will allow me at last to write about what's really been on my mind lately. I have been on a long and intense spiritual journey that has at times felt almost too much for me, but I have been fortunate enough to find some expert guidance and am hopeful that I'm going to come through this all right.

The start of a new year always makes me feel hopeful!

Happy New Year!


  1. I look forward to journeying through the year with you. I love your blog!

  2. Thanks so much, Johan! That means a lot to me!