Saturday, March 07, 2009

Time for More Updates

Hello faithful readers! Time flies, and I realize I haven't posted in a while. Turns out that this semester is very busy for me -- approaching again the level of busyness two years ago that then led to my burnout. I must be careful. But my spirits have been pretty good, and I'm managing the load pretty well overall.

One of the reasons I am so busy again is that I took on a bit of a teaching overload this semester, but I only let myself do so because it buys me an extra course release next year. So, next year (my LAST year of being chair of my department), I'll have a 2-2 teaching load, which means two courses per semester. The normal load for those who are not chairs at my college is 3-3, but each of our courses is "heavier" than normal 3-credit courses, because we meet a full three hours per week, instead of three 50-minute sessions as at most colleges and universities. My normal load as chair is 3-2. That means I have one too-busy semester, and one manageable semester per year. To have a 2-2 load will give me a manageable load for the entire year! Nice!

This semester, I have three classes, three independent study students, am chairing my department, and coordinating our new Peace Studies minor. I also co-chair a university committee, and through that committee am bringing a guest speaker to campus. And I am playing in a new community contra dance band. We had our debut performance (guest-playing two dances) at a contra dance a couple of weeks ago. I am also running a faculty/staff reading group. And for some reason, I have recently had a lot of students requesting letters of recommendation.

A new class I am teaching this semester is Symbolic Logic (an advanced and optional course). I have a great group of students. I am finding this a lot of fun. The simple clear truth of the subject material is a welcome contrast to most of the teaching I do. I know that my postmodern friends are gasping in horror to hear me say that (the "t" word, "truth"!), but I actually do think that the basic principles of logic are true. How far this kind of truth can go is, of course, another question. But logic itself points out its own limitations -- and I find that fascinating too! I would be the first to admit that logic alone cannot solve our most important problems, but we do need its help. Anything that violates good logic really is flawed. But just according with logic is not enough: we need more.

I have also gotten distracted lately with technology. I had another scare with my electronic organizer (PDA), and managed to fix the problem with drastic action. Once I realized that the problem happened two days after the 90-day warranty expired (the device would not turn on!), instead of sending it in for a $145 repair, I took drastic action, following advice I found on the web, and took the thing apart to unplug and plug back in the battery. That worked! It was a bit tricky to do, but at a crucial moment of hesitation, I was cheered on by my tea-bag tag saying, "Fortune smiles on those who are brave."

But I also looked into alternative ways to keep my life organized so that I'm not so vulnerable the next time my PDA blinks out on me. I like having a PDA, because it's a way to carry a lot of information around in a very small device. Since I spend a lot of time in meetings, it's handy to have my calendar and crucial notes with me in a compact format. But I'm going to be a lot more careful to keep things well backed-up in a way that is easy for me to access both from home and from work.

Meanwhile, my trendy friends tell me that PDAs are now passe, and smartphones are the future. They point out that I've been having so many problems because no one is really supporting PDAs any longer. Companies have not been motivated to improve them or even ensure their reliability. They would like us to get fed up and shift over to something more expensive. And my Luddite friends tell me pen and paper are good enough -- why even bother with fickle, ever-changing and expensive technology?

Meanwhile, I've also been worrying about the state of the world, especially global climate change and the financial crisis. Given the magnitude of these problems and the dramatic effects of these problems on many people, my own problems (most of them, anyway), seem trivial in comparison.

Yet my recent preoccupation with keeping my life well-organized is a response to how busy I've been, and how much I would like to handle everything well. Meanwhile, I've been amazed to learn that my efforts have not gone unnoticed. Our new Peace Studies program has been getting some really good attention, in a variety of ways. People are noticing that what we are doing is really important. Former and current students keep telling me how much my courses have meant to them. This means a lot to me.

A person gets used to never quite being sure how one's efforts are playing out into the world. You keep trying because you believe in what you do. You stop worrying about the fact that you are never really sure of your effect on others -- you do your best to respond well to what feedback you do receive, but the rest is a matter of faith.

I had accepted this and honestly never expected it to change. "This just is how it is, and I'm fine with it," I realized.

So, to start to get significant positive response is requiring a new adjustment. It's good, and I'm grateful, but it also heightens my already-overdeveloped sense of responsibility!

But, strangely enough, I am okay with this too. A slightly earlier version of me would have found the increased sense of pressure stressful, but this actual present version of me is taking it in stride, for the most part.

I think my musical performance experience is helping me, in this. That experience has taught me how to transition from my perfectionism in practice to a performance setting in which people are actually listening to me and expecting me not to make (too many) mistakes. It's a jarring and dramatic difference, because no amount of personal, private practicing can ever prepare you for the profound psychological and physiological effects of nervousness! That's a new experience you have to integrate into your love of the music and your desire to be faithful to it in your playing. It calls forth tremendous powers of concentration to keep yourself centered and focused. Over time, if you keep trying, you figure out how to do this.

Having learned to deal with this transition musically, finding a similar transition arise for me in my teaching life is not so traumatic. It takes me by surprise, but it's not an unfamiliar problem. I can transfer what I have learned, and step up to this new level of responsibility I feel developing in my life.

And I remember especially to keep aware of God-with-me.


  1. Hello, dear Scholar, thanks for writing again. I loved everything about this entry from the profound to the PDA-mundane. I especially enjoyed reading about how you're enjoying your Symbolic Logic class. Somehow I can picture you enjoying that course,

    I've taken to keeping my calendar in google calendar and having it send me SMS text reminders to my cell phone. (It works even with my Russian cell phone service.) I'm embarrassed to admit that getting the SMS message on my cell phone is sometimes the only thing that has reminded me of an obligation I SHOULD have remembered easily. My teaching schedule changes every week, so I really need these reminders.

  2. Thanks, Johan!

    I realized that I was eligible for a cell phone upgrade, and could get a free smartphone. It combines my cell phone with a PDA, and also allows me to check e-mail and look at websites. All of this amazes me. I think it actually helps simplify things, but we shall see...