Wednesday, December 19, 2012

calling out well

I'm one of those weird ones who shows up; I can't remember calling out sick in sixteen years of teaching, and the only unplanned absence I can recall is one involving a delayed flight from another country.

Although I try to be, I'm not invariably punctual, and I remember early mornings in my adjunct days, with courses on two campuses and then evening tutoring ahead of me, when I'd arrive past civilization's ten-minute mark for occasional 8:00 a.m. and 8:40 a.m. sections, but I also remember teaching full days after the worst of a stomach virus came and went in the middle of the night along with other days when mere papergrading or insomnia was what limited my sleeping the night before.

One winter day in January or so of 2005, in freezing temperatures on my walk to a first 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. section from my 21st and Race "junior" one-bedroom, my anxiety and fatigue combined with anticipation of a full day of teaching and then evening tutoring to a more significant degree than usual. After making good progress for the first three-quarters of my walk to work, at the busy intersection of 30th and Market, I began to have the sensation that I could barely step forward, that I better find a newspaper box or sturdy pole and lean against it. The feeling was intense enough that I had to stop at the 30th Street Station U.S. Post Office, so I could warm up and try to overcome a dizziness and disorientation that would not abate. I was only the equivalent of a few city blocks from my classroom, but I felt desperate enough then to hail a taxi for the remaining distance.

I think that winter was when I first recognized that I better do anything in my power to reduce my teaching and tutoring load although I think the fact that I "escaped" that situation for my current one is due more to varying degrees of good and bad luck than anything else. I don't feel that it was necessarily any extra personal resolve that lifted me into the "lecturing" class, but I've tried to make the most of the current predicament (which really just means more lit and less comp, and some time for walking, reading, parenting, and writing). Alas, at other times, I miss my adjunct days in Philly, being in the city I belong to, and having one stimulating day after another full of unusual people in public spaces. I've noticed this before, though, that I have nostalgia for times in my life that were not necessarily or invariably the best of times for me.

Since driving down south, nothing so significant or severe has interfered with my ability to get to a classroom and teach once there, but for a fifty-minute class a few years ago, I taught with my daughter standing with me at the front of the room, because, as best I can recall, some kind of emergency had shut down the daycare, and that happened quickly in the middle of the day, and there didn't appear to be any other option. Around two years old, she stood and was quiet the whole time. It seemed like that class went okay.

But this post from The Professor Is In, is about more than the occasional miss or unusual circumstance. She is reminding us that's it's okay to quit academia outright, that it doesn't work out for everyone and even the seemingly successful among us are not necessarily the happiest of campers.

Leaving adjunct work seems to fit Migrant Intellectual well, and I hope he and his family can continue to make his new ventures work. He is writing and making music and raising children; maybe this is the variegated and full life we all deserve, and I only hope he can sustain it. I'm so thankful for his including me in his "Dodging a Seventy-Five Cent Toll" blog that I wanted to honor the spirit of the post and share with you some of the feeling from that winter almost eight years ago when I had six classes and tutoring and was a little unsure if I'd be able to survive it all, despite the fact that such a workload had become my routine for the five previous teaching seasons. Somehow, I made it through the doubt and jelly legs and by spring quarter had pretty much shaken it off. Now I'm just grateful that I'm no longer teaching six classes while also tutoring so many evenings each week.

The post also reminded me of my father's thoughts about taking days off. He'd say that more people should be calling out well, not sick, as in realizing it's those of us who can't stay away that have the more significant illness.

In his Great Drives cameo, where he's introduced by Maria Conchita Alonso as the poet Jay Roberts, he notes that "staying in those offices all day" could be what drives folks crazy. In the video, alongside Florida's northern section of the old coastal highway A1A, he appears happy and at peace, and a viewer would never know he was living paycheck to paycheck and working 30 hours a week in a convenience store of a gas station to support himself at this stage of life. But he was writing poetry and walking on the beach and appreciating what he saw as provided for him by a higher power above. At the same time, his lack of health coverage then was a contributing factor to what brought him to an early ending, so I apologize if it sounds like I'm romanticizing the impoverished cashier-poet's life.

But nonetheless, J. Roberts of sunny Ponte Vedra had a strong sense that there was some other world out there that too many of us were missing in our chase after steady bucks and plastic toys and shiny electronics and American lifestyles and all that is most famously Faulknerly of the glands, and not the heart. I suppose Jay Jay Bob, aka Joseph Robert Kudera, thought much like Dr. Robert Baum, whose words I'll once more quote in closing:

Once we heal, we can create the conditions for abundance not austerity.
Once we listen to each other, we can think like educators, not legislators.
From abundance, we will meet our student-centered missions.
From community, we will grow as life-learners.
From renewal, we will solve this problem and look back saying, I wish we’d arrived here sooner.
This feels right.
This applies the best of what we do.
This is the best of who we are.

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