Sunday, February 22, 2009

Me and My Monkeys...

One of my students, during an IM session, suggested that I write a blog about my rather obsessive working habits.  I don't think I'm OCD--really, I hate to grade papers--but I don't think I should hold on to student work any longer than I have to.  I set due dates on my assignments, and, frankly, I can't see where being a professor gives me the right to sit on a stack of work until the end of the semester.  Besides, it would nag me to the point that I couldn't sleep.

When I receive student work, I might not be able to get to it right away.  For example, I received two sets of essays Sunday; then, on Monday, I received a set of reading journals.  But I taught on Monday, kept office hours, had a meeting, had a book group meeting Monday night, the Wifi at the bookstore wasn't working, and I was away from home until 9pm. Today, Tuesday, I'm goofing off a bit, trying to work myself into work, but I know that, soon, I'm going to wade into them and dispatch them with a vengeance.  I might not send them back for three or four days, but I'll send them back before the week is out. 

And that prompts me to admit that I'm the world's biggest procrastinator.  I HATE to grade assignments, but, since that's part of a job I love, I do it.  Some mornings, I'll sit at my desk for an hour playing Spider Solitaire, but, when the moment comes to "bite the bullet," I'm on those papers like a bee on a flower, and I don't stop until my eyes fall out--figuratively, of course!

I'm quick to point out to my students that some things are "not my monkeys."  Grading student work is "my monkey."  I think students respect teachers who return their work as quickly as possible.  And, frankly, I just want to "clear the decks."  I can't enjoy myself if I have a stack of work hanging over me.

Which brings me to my absolute abhorrence of late work.  When I sit at my desk for three days, I want to walk away knowing that I've returned everything I needed to.  Late work means more time at my desk, if I choose to grade it (I don't, mostly), and also means that I have to backtrack.  I don't want to backtrack--I want to move forward.

Am I a "Type A"?  Probably.  I'll admit that, when I don't have anything to grade, I'll find something I need or want to do, even if it's just reading a book.  I'm not one for lounging on the sofa, eating bon bons...though I won't pass up chocolate!

I blame my father for this obsessive desire for completion.  He only offered me a few direct bits of advice, and one of them was: "Your boss pays you to do your work in a timely manner.  Period.  If you don't do the work, you don't deserve the money."

Thanks, Dad!


And here's another thing. 

I know "people lie" (my favorite "House-ism"), and I think my BS meter works well.  When someone walks into my office, the BS meter clicks on.  I listen, I watch, and I assess.

I don't automatically assume that students lie to me.  In most cases, if a student takes the time to talk to me, I'm more inclined to think the student wants to come clean about whatever is preventing him/her from doing the coursework.  And I'll listen and try to respond appropriately.

And I do care.  I can't always help, but I try to offer appropriate responses to students who obviously have problems. While I can sympathize, though, sometimes I can't excuse. 

You've heard this before, too--"Everybody has problems."  Yes.  But, amazingly, not everybody can cope with his/her problems well.  After a while, a "problem" begins to sound like an excuse, especially if a student invokes it repeatedly to justify late or nonexistent work. I'll do what I can do, but, eventually, the student must assume responsibility; if he/she doesn't, the result is a failing grade.

I was shocked the other day when a student told me that most professors don't care why students aren't completing their assignments.  I only feel that way when students don't talk to me.  After a while, it's "not my monkey."  But I tell my students that they need to talk to me if they are having problems that interfere with their work.  Sadly, many of them just don't take the time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Bees Knees...

Many, many years ago, I let slip to my family that I wanted to be a beekeeper.  At the time, I was reading Sylvia Plath; her poems are full of bees and beekeeping.  And the bee is a constant symbol for Emily Dickinson, another of my favorite poets.  Somehow, keeping bees (though I don't know how anyone can "keep" a bee) seemed romantic, and, besides, who would pass up all that honey?

That, of course, was before I did my research and discovered how much time and effort beekeeping requires.  Trust me...I have six books on bees and beekeeping, and I know I don't have the time to properly look after them.  But the notion is still one I harbor. I'm thinking about getting Mason bees to satisfy the urge.  These bees don't make honey; they live in paper tube condos instead of hives, require little attention, but are good pollinators for gardens.  And I need them for my gardens.

But, the damage has been done.  My sisters, who love to shop, have been giving me "bee" things--garden ornaments, birdhouses, bird feeders, candleholders.  This week, when I stopped to visit my mom, she gave me a bag from one of my sisters.  I'm now the proud owner of a bee chip-and-dip set!  The only thing I've contributed to this unplanned collection is a bee windsock that hangs in a tree in my backyard. 

Most of my "collections" were unplanned.  I have two shadowboxes of thimbles--my former mother-in-law started that.  I have masks--my aunt started that.  I have China cups and saucers and green teapots--I think I started those.  I bought most of my teapots in the flea market in the French Quarter over several years.  My friends scope out the China cabinet, and then I get these wonderful little gifts to add to my collections.

My biggest collection, as you might guess, consists of books.  I have more books than I can count; I still haven't unpacked all of them.  I don't have the bookcases for them, and, to accommodate them, I need built-in bookcases--floor-to-ceiling--in every room of my house.  Some of them are so old (before acid-free paper) that I'm afraid to open them because they might crumble into bits.  Some of them are irreplaceable--they've been out of print for ages. 

I know--I can find nearly anything in print on the Internet.  But that doesn't quite equate.  I like the leisure of sitting in a comfy chair, reading a book.  The Internet is great for research, but, for pleasure, I'd rather engage in the physical act of turning the pages.

I wonder where this urge to collect comes from.  I don't take my things out of the China cabinet or the shadowboxes and admire them.  Really, I hardly think about these things until I have to pack them to move.  Then I wonder why I keep them at all.  What they  do, though, is evoke memories, so that, when I take them out and look at them, I remember who gave this to me and when.  They are the tangible evidence of my connection to people who are important to me. 

Saturday, February 07, 2009

That Crazy Little Thing Called "Love"...

You know (or maybe you don't), I'm a cynic when it comes to love. Most of the time, I think it's just raging hormones, or some kind of delusional hysteria that seizes people and makes them crazy for a while. Sooner or later, my cynical self thinks, it's going to wear off, and then there will be hell to pay.

But, when it works, it's great. My mom and dad have been married for 60 years. I don't know if that's because they love each other, or because they're stubborn. My dad won't divorce my mom because he doesn't want to split the assets; my mom won't divorce my dad because she wouldn't have anyone to torment. I don't know...They might really love each other. I hope they do. Otherwise, why live under the same roof?

I have many friends who have been married for a coon's age (a little southernism there!), but I also know people who have been divorced just as long. Take me, for example. I've been divorced longer than I was married. I liked being married, but I like being single, too.

My observations about other peoples' relationships put me off. I listen to my friends talk about their relationships--he doesn't put the toilet lid down; she won't let me go out with my buds; he's a tacky dresser; she's too flirtatious. I throw my hands up. Who am I to give relationship advice? But I will say this--anyone who goes into a relationship thinking he/she can change the other person is delusional. Any behaviorist will tell you that a person has to want to change; we can't make that person change. "If you loved me, you'd..." No. It doesn't work that way.

For example, people in the throes of an addiction will not give up that addiction until they are ready. Love has nothing to do with it. Your partner might love you more than you know, but s/he won't give up alcohol for you and that love because s/he can't--until s/he's ready. Likewise, a person who likes to spend more money than his/her significant other makes won't stop, even if the other cuts up the credit cards. A compulsive spender will find a way--until s/he decides to stop.

It's taken me my entire adult life to figure this out. I'm not sure I could apply it within the confines of a relationship. Knowing something intellectually and applying it practically are two different things. I can sit in my nice little house feeling smug, but, to tell the truth, I'm positive I'm no different from anyone else.

Probably the reason I have cats...

For my dear friends who married today, long life and long love to you. I have faith that you'll be two of the lucky ones.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Feast or Famine

Truly, I'm not much of a party person.  I'm happy just to stay at my house, puttering around inside or outside, hanging on the computer,  writing, reading, knitting...fill in the blanks.

I don't mind driving--I like it--but, if I never had to stir out of my house, that would be fine with me.  I have enough people contact through teaching, phone calls, and the Internet.  Periodically, I work at the bookstore and reconnect with my friends there, or spend time at my parents' house, visiting with them and my siblings.  And, of course, I love to go to Austin to visit my kids.  So, I'm not without human contact, but I try not to be overwhelmed by it.

I used to give my Advanced Comp students an assignment at the beginning of the semester--to spend an entire day by themselves.  I cannot tell you the number of stunned looks I got.  "What?  You want me to spend a day by myself?  See a movie by myself?  Eat by myself? Shop by myself?"  I couldn't understand their reactions.  Who wouldn't revel in a day all to him- or herself?

Well, obviously, quite a few people, as it turned out.  I discovered that many people don't like to be alone.  Some of my students couldn't figure out what to do with the time, though I did have a couple of female students, who had small children, who loved it.  They could tell their husbands/boyfriends/parents that it was an assignment for a course--they HAD to do it for an essay they were writing--and that gave them a reason to take a "personal" day.  I had one student who went to the bookstore where I worked, ordered a cup of coffee, and spent about six hours reading, writing, and watching people.  She enjoyed it so much that she told her husband she wanted time off one day of the weekend, every weekend, for herself.  And she got it!

I don't understand the aversion to being alone.  It's thinking time; it's recharging time.  With all of the energy I expend teaching and talking, I need that time to regroup!  I'm getting more of it this semester than any semester in seven years, and I'm so grateful for it.  I know if I have to go back to a four-day week in the fall, I will miss my solitude.