Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Something I've been thinking about

In one of the responsive readings on Sunday, there was a passage included - I don't know if the minister wrote it, or it came from some published source, or whatever, but it said something like,

"You provided us with an Eden, and we chose to wander in a desert of our own making."

That struck me, and kept me thinking about it. Because I believe it does pretty well sum up one human weakness (one I know I have sometimes) - the inability to see the good, to see the 'garden,' but instead to see the desert, and to complain about it. To walk through it, wailing about "why me, what did I do to deserve this?"

I can't remember where I read it, but I remember reading some allegory or other about people who talked about how horrible the place they were in was - how it was burning hot, with relentless sun, and no water to be found. And the "sojourners" who were observing these blighted souls could not understand - it was a pleasant spring day, to their observation. (Come to think of it - I may have read something like that in Lewis' "The Great Divorce").

As I said, one of the things I'm consciously trying to do is avoid the whole spiral of complaints: yes, the budgets suck right now. Yes, there are lots of problems in higher ed right now. There's not a lot that one prof can do about much of it.

(And another thing I keep thinking of these days, the good old Serenity prayer - having the serenity to accept the things I can do nothing about, the courage to try to fix the things I can, and to be discerning enough to separate the two).

I'm happier and more content, and I don't find myself falling prey as much to the "siege mentality" that some people seem to have. Because that's just not FUN.

And anyway, things could be worse. As thin a consolation as that is, they could.

I've said before that gratitude - for whatever it is - tends to drive out an entitlement mentality. When you are grateful for something, it's almost as if it's the opposite of "expecting" it or feeling you "deserve" it. And I think it makes room for the thought of, "It could be other than it is. And I am glad that it is not."

I think also gratitude tends to make you see the "Eden" more than the "desert." Oh, maybe some days you are wandering in the desert - you get off the path. Or you live in a world that's inbetween - some desert and some Eden. But you can at least, by stopping and looking at things, and being able to muster up a "this is good" (no matter how small or weak it may be), it keeps you from being all the way in the desert.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cancer can FTFO.

I knew that two of my family friends were fighting it. One is scheduled for a bone-marrow transplant (leukemia.)

I didn't know how bad off the second person was. His cancer has spread to the bones and he's undergoing some kind of semi-experimental treatment involving harvesting and altering white blood cells.

My parents tell me he has a good attitude about it and is doing well, but I'm still kind of sad - this is someone who just retired recently from a demanding career, and was looking forward to doing some service work in retirement. I've been praying for both him and for the other person off and on, at different points during the days.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why a house?

One of the big "adult" things I've done in my life is purchase a house. It was something I eventually wanted to do (and actually did sooner than I might have otherwise, for various reasons.)

I've actually heard of some investment counselor types advising AGAINST home-buying, as a "bad investment" and such. Well, if you're someone who wants to move somewhere different every five years, I can see that. But not if you're someone like me who plans and hopes to stay put. But still, you hear the "property is a bad investment" from some people.

That's the kind of statement where I respond "But how much money you can make in life doesn't necessarily determine the quality of your life." Maybe I would have been ahead continuing to live in an apartment and to invest the money I spent on my house (though maybe not: I got my house for a comparative bargain, mainly because it needed work, a large part of which I could do myself).

Megan McArdle addresses some of the issues here, briefly. (the comments, I mostly tl:drd, but they may say other things, though they do discuss the mortgage issue, which is sort of a side topic...in my parents' day, you saved up money for a generous down payment, THEN got a mortgage and bought a house you could afford. And most mortgages were fixed-rate.).

I can tell you though, when I bought my house, I didn't look at it and go, "wow, in seven years I can sell this and make a bundle!" I looked at it and went, "wow, this is a cute house! And it has hardwood floors like I wanted! And it has lots of windows to let in natural light! And it even has a room I can use as a sewing room. I want to live in this house."

I didn't have tenure at the time I bought the house, so if things had gone badly, I could have had to sell it. Luckily things did not go badly and I still live in that house, nearly ten years later.

I can add a few reasons for owning a house, over and above being able to alter the space. In many parts of the U.S. apartments are, how would you say it, much more the property of the landlord than they seem to be in New York and other large cities - I know I never lived in an apartment where I was permitted to paint the walls the color I wanted. In some, I wasn't even permitted to put up picture hangers - all things hung on the wall had to be hung with blu-tack.

And while I've never exactly had an apartment 'sold from under me' (or go condo, and then I'm scrabbling for a down payment), I have had cases where the landlord changed managing companies from a very laid back one, to a very picky one.

I was told - and this was the precipitating reason to make me buy a house when I did - that I had to move some of the books out of my apartment. Because I had "too many" and apparently it bothered the manager and the HUD person who came in to view it. (I did not receive a rent break under HUD, but some of the apartments did, and mine was an easy one to inspect because it was close to the office). They told me to rent a storage unit from them and put some of my books and bookcases in it. (Before you envision a "Hoarders" kind of situation - I had three, seven-foot-tall bookcases, and two five-foot tall ones. No bookcase was over 2 1/2 feet wide, and there were no books on the floor save for the two next to my bed that I was reading at the time. I also had a few books on a shelf in a closet; they were ones that I was gathering to take to the library's used-book sale).

I was sufficiently offended by that comment - and lacking the energy to do whatever it might take to fight it (surely a landlord cannot so closely micromanage as to determine the legal number of books a tenant may have?), that I decided to go and do a search for a house. (And I was lucky - I found a good one, that I could afford, within a month of searching).

The fact that I always paid my rent before it was due, I never had an insect infestation, and I was a quiet tenant didn't seem to matter - the books were a problem. So whatever. My decision was, if they don't appreciate the tenant they have in me, then let them deal with whoever comes next.

There are other reasons to own a house, though, over and above the whole "no manager breathing down your neck to tell you how you may live" thing.

I never had terrible upstairs neighbors, but I did have a set who figured it was OK to occasionally play first-person shooter games, late into the night, with the volume turned way up. It was rare enough that I decided it wasn't worth the ill-will generated by my clumping up the stairs and pounding on their door, but I will say there were a few nights I didn't sleep as well as I would have liked. And I've heard of real nightmare neighbors, who were loud or rude or left garbage in the common hallway or other problems. People, I've found, just aren't always very good at living in community these days; there's often someone who thinks that everyone's standards are as low as their own, and since they're not offended by a trashbag full of fishbones and sour milk out in the hall, no one else should be. Or that if they think it's fine to get up at 5 am and do jumping jacks to Nickelback turned up to a high volume - that all their neighbors should just tolerate that.

(Granted, people living in close-proximity houses can have that problem too. I had one summer of renters next door to me who partied loud and hard and late into the night before they were evicted. And they trashed their yard. But at least with a house...it's a little easier to get away from the noise).

Also, most of the apartments I've lived in...the appliance situation has been not so great. No washers and dryers, so I get to truck down to the laundrymat and use a machine that God Himself only knows what was in there before. (And yes, I'm germophobic enough that that makes a difference. And no, I can't use bleach in most of the loads). And the last apartment refrigerator I had was harvest gold in color, and was missing one of the internal shelves.

Granted, with apartments, you have Maintenance. Something craps out, you call the office (if it's not the weekend...) and they come and fix it. With a house, you're left trying to find someone capable and trustworthy. (Thank goodness, I finally have found a plumber and HVAC company I can trust, and an electrician who's pretty good. That covers most of the issues as the plumbers are also licensed to work with gas...)

But for me, the main issue is I OWN the place. I can go home at the end of the day and lock the door behind me and I don't have to admit anyone (well, perhaps save for the police, but I don't live my life in such a way that the police come by my house). It's the being-able-to-get-away-from-people thing, which is worth a lot to me.

It's also, in a way, kind of like books. Say you want to read some old novel by Trollope. You can buy a fancy, pricey hardcover edition of it, maybe even with nice illustrations, and spend maybe $40 (I think I got a few old Folio press editions of some of his works for about $20 each). Or you can spend $12 and get a good serviceable Penguin paperback. Or you can hunt around and probably find it for free, either via Project Gutenberg or through a loan from a library, or something.

But the thing is - yes, the fancier editions cost more. But there's more pleasure to be taken from them, IMHO, and if you can afford it, what's wrong with doing something pleasurable once in a while, just for the sake of it? I think that's something that's really turned the heads of certain people I've talked with in this economic downturn, where they've gone super-frugal and almost compulsive about spending as little as possible... Sometimes, for example, taking a hot shower is a real pleasure in life. YES it costs more to heat the water than taking a lukewarm shower would, and yes, taking a long shower costs more in water than turning on the tap, jumping in and getting wet, turning the tap off, lathering up, and turning the tap back on just long enough to wash the soap off.

And while that's great while you're camping, or if there's a major water emergency, or something...in ordinary times, frankly, I would find it a pretty miserable way to live. (YMMV, and I'm not saying against anyone who chooses to shower that way - I just prefer leaving the water on, and taking a little time to stand under the warm water and let it relax my always-too-tight shoulders, for example). But I think a lot of the "frugality" experts you hear now, sometimes it seems like they are pushing what are kind of miserable ways to live...when there are probably other areas where you can sufficiently save money and just be okay.

I don't know. But this is one of those "one size fits all" solutions (saying houses are a bad deal for homeowners) that bugs me, because usually the person making the statement hasn't considered all the different possibilities of life.

I also suspect that by and large, apartments are far nicer - and tenants are given a freer hand with them - in upscale areas of New York and Chicago and L.A. and maybe even places like Seattle and Denver...but for a lot of us living in the little college towns, most of the apartment complexes are really 'transitional' housing, where they're not nice enough for someone to want to stay for very long. At least that's my experience...all the times from the age of 18 to 32 or so that I was living in an apartment, my main thought was, "eventually I'll be done with this gig and will be earning some real money, and I'll be able to afford a nicer place," with the thought that eventually I'd buy a house.

Because that's what I wanted.

And I didn't think anyone could call me foolish for that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And this is why...

I have to say, first off: we are not a highly competitive school to get into. I am fine with that; I have made my peace with it and accept that sometimes we get students who are, perhaps, less-prepared for college than they might be.

(In some cases that's knowledge-base wise, in others it's time-management wise, and in still others, it may be an emotional or immaturity issue).

You learn to adapt. And to value the students who ARE prepared and are high achievers. And to celebrate the improvements - even if they seem small by other campus' standards - of the students who have struggled.

And you try not to bitch publicly about the students when they frustrate you. (Or, I try to bitch about BEHAVIORS rather than individuals - because really, I have some students who are nice people but certainly have vexing behaviors, like not wanting to put a level of effort into their work that I think they are easily capable of).

Anyway. The other day, a certain individual on campus was very publicly complaining about how "unprepared" the students were, and how "lazy" they were and how "I would have higher expectations for a HIGH SCHOOL than what I'm allowed to have here."

Um, that might be partly why you are now forced to look for a new job?

As I said, you adapt. I am sometimes frustrated by the discomfort with/lack of experience with math that some of our students have, but I've just learned, you take a couple steps backward, you show steps you might not otherwise expect to show, you open your door for people who are freaked out and sit them down and make reassuring sounds and tell them, "You can get this eventually, it will just take some work" and you help them and sometimes, if it's true, you say things like, "I was confused by this the first time I ever saw it, let me try to help you."

Our student body isn't perfect. But after having TAed rich kids from the Chicago 'burbs when I was a grad student, I will take a guy who needs more help with math but who says "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" to me, and who thanks me when I help him, over someone who EXPECTS I help them and takes it as their due - and who seems to see college as four more years of partying before they have to join Daddy's firm and sort-of work for a living.

The thing is, the "unprepared and lazy" students in my department? When they do graduate (sometimes they take five, rather than four years to do this), they get jobs. Jobs in their field. We seem to be pretty highly thought-of by some of the state agencies. So I take that as evidence that our student body is actually pretty OK, and that we must be doing some good to prepare them.

I've been making a conscious decision to avoid the bitch sessions that some people have here lately; I find I'm happier and that may reflect in my teaching. It's easier to be contented and grateful for what you have if you don't hear other people talking about how "awful" it is.

Because really, truly, it ISN'T "awful." Having had other family members in academia, I've heard about "awful" departments and "awful" campuses, and compared to what goes on at some of them, this place is a paradise.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why I will eventually stop going out in public...

Yeah, I'm back. Break was too short, too little time with family. But I'm also reminded of why I often act a bit as a hermit. I saw an awful lot of "me me me, I'm special!" behavior from my fellow citizens while I was out and about.

ALLLLL kinds of stuff.

And it makes me wonder, in a strange way, if the fact that people are getting bent out of shape over petty things, is really not something, in an odd way, to be grateful for.

I mean - if you have the time and energy to devote to complaining that the organic coffee a store sells is not also free-trade, that's evidence that you have enough to eat.

And the sheer fact that we all can, and do, complain about politics, and we do so publicly - that means we have enough freedom that jackbooted thugs are not going to come and frogmarch us off for saying we disagree with the President's policy on something. (Or even, if we think the president is immature and was unprepared for such a serious office. Or even saying worse things)

If you are holding up a line at a Cracker Barrel restaurant while you complain to the checkout-peon that it's not "fair" you are charged a dollar extra for requesting an extra egg in your carry-out order, it means you have enough money to consider GETTING food via carry-out. (And I would observe...a buck would buy quite a few raw eggs, even the fancy cage-free kind I choose to buy).

I tried...and need to start trying again...to do for Lent this thing, to not let myself get irritated by people being people. Because that's something that's all too easy for me. To stand there and fume silently at the person ahead of me in line who takes twice as long to complete their transaction because they're unprepared, or they have to complain about something that has little import or that the person helping them has no power to fix.

Or to get p.o.'d at the person who's driving foolishly, instead of merely watching out for them, and maybe trying to take an alternate route to avoid them.

People do stupid stuff. I can't change them. I can't influence them. And it's not good for me to get upset about it.

But it's hard for me to do. It's actually a harder thing - and I've failed worse at it this Lent - than a lot of other things I've done in the past: giving up chocolate, giving up non-essential spending, limiting Internet time, making myself spend a half-hour a day in reading spiritual stuff and contemplation. (I ALMOST went with that this year. ALMOST. Then I realized that it was comparatively easy for me to do that - as someone said, it's easy to be a saint when you're a hermit isolated from people. What I find much harder is to take a deep breath and let it go when, as I said, "people are people." Actually, it makes me wonder how some of the monastics manage...living that closely with maybe a dozen to twenty other people, none of whom you are actually related to, all of whom have annoying habits...even simple things like the person with a deviated septum who BREATHES. SO. LOUD. (and yes, I know and work with someone like that. I know he can't control it but I have to work not to let it bug me))

So, while on the one hand I'd love to stop going out in public...or allow myself free rein to grumble and chastise people for being "stupid"...I can't. So I'm trying to work on letting it go. Letting people be people, telling myself that it's not my job to correct them or even get frustrated at them.

(Of course, if they wind up getting their comeuppance...I wouldn't be averse to that. But then, that's what makes me human and not a saint, I guess).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wee little break

I know my posting frequency has bounced up and down (as I am busy, or as I don't have as much to say).

This coming week I'll be traveling on a short break...so no panicking. (I know one time when I left for Christmas some reader or other was concerned).

I'm happy to be on break, but my prayers are still with those in Japan...and anyone who was affected by a tsunami (I've been in class all morning so I've not seen if there are any reports of damage anywhere but Japan). Reminds us of how small we are in comparison to the powers of geology.

have to get this off my chest

I know, I know: this is one of those totally "not the time, not the place" things. There are maybe 88,000 people dead in Japan because of the quake.

But I saw someone online blaming the tsunami on global climate change.

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO. Unless you can blame the DAMN EARTHQUAKE on climate change, the tsunami is CAUSED by the feckin' earthquake.

I'm sorry. I will now remain praying for those missing in Japan.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Nice little moment

I do my "big" grocery shopping early Saturday mornings when I can, because fewer of the sorts of people who make me lose my religion are out that early.

So, I was walking across the lot of the store, and I heard a guy call out "It's Dr. ricki! Out bright and early!"

I looked around, and saw one of my students. He was so far away I barely recognized him (I'm pretty short-sighted, even with glasses) but I guessed who it was from the tone of his voice. I waved at him and he waved back.

I like stuff like that. He didn't have to greet me - honestly, I would not have seen him or noticed him, because of the angle he was at relative to how I was walking - but it made me happy that he did.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Wow, how beautiful.

I know I've spoken on here before about my fascination with tiny houses...I regularly visit the "Tiny House Blog" as a sort of relaxation-moment during the day.

While, with my books and piano and quilting supplies I could probably never live in a TRULY tiny house, I love looking at them and fantasizing about them...a tiny house where everything is planned and just-right, everything is within reach.

the one featured today is really lovely. The idea behind it...it was a woman who wanted to spend more time with her husband doing what "mattered" to them...a big part of that being conversation and writing. So they went and did it.

They live without electricity - they use candles at night, and in the winter, heat the place with a hearth. They do have a septic system (and, I assume, a well). I think if I were giving something up, it would not be indoor plumbing...if I lived in a climate where it wasn't deadly hot in the summers without air conditioning, I would be more willing to consider going non-electric. (Or doing something like having solar panels - which are really only enough to power a few lamps and maybe a radio).

But I'd need a place for my piano, if I were going to live full-time in a Tiny House. And a place for my books.

I admit, though, sometimes when I am trying to fall asleep at night, I try to imagine floor plans for a tiny house, somewhere up in the mountains, just for me. I'd have a sort of "root cellar" under the kitchen floor (parts of the floor would be hinged to lift up) so I could have a pantry. And I'd have to have a library/music room. And a sleeping loft, up under a sloping ceiling...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

bunco night

This is one of those women things. Or maybe one of those southern-women things. I don't know.

My women's group is having its annual Bunco night. (We don't do the money "betting" thing, where you put together a kitty - so everyone but the winner "loses" $2 or $5 or whatever. We do prizes instead. But I had to buy one of the prizes because I'm an officer in the group. And I'm also a hostess [at least it's not at my house; I'm just a food-bringing hostess]. This is an expensive bunco night for me).

The thing is...and this is where I look around nervously to make sure no one yanks my southern-woman card (which I think I have finally EARNED after 12 years living here), but I really don't enjoy bunco.

I suck it up and go, because I'm an officer, and because it's only once a year.

But I really don't enjoy it. I can play happily for (maybe) fifteen minutes, and after that, I'm all, "Okay, I'm ready to go home now." Part of it is the chaos - you're surrounded by women shaking dice and yelling out numbers and periodically someone will jump up and yell BUNCO! and because I'm an anxious type to begin with, I find it kind of unpleasant.

I'd rather...I don't know, I'd rather play a game like Apples to Apples or something that involves words. And that is more a game of cleverness than a game of dumb luck. (Because that's what bunco really is; you're rolling dice). Bunco gets tedious for me after about fifteen minutes. (And the games really do go on for like three hours. It'll be nine o'clock, we won't be done yet, and I'll be all, "Guys, I have an 8:00 class tomorrow" and they are all "Ohhhh, just ONE MORE ROUND." What I really should say is "Guys, I get up at five freaking a.m. to work out, and I got up at five freaking a.m. this morning. I AM WORN OUT." The problem is that most everyone else is retired and they sometimes forget about the concept of having to be somewhere - and be on your A game - the next day.)

The thing is, women get REALLY into this game, and are like "I wish we could do this EVERY meeting."

Bunco: I don't get it. Of course, I also don't like slot machines or bingo, so it's probably just a trend with me.

I'd really rather spend the evening knitting or reading, but as I said, I'm an officer, so I sort of have to suck it up and go.

The worse thing? The week of the month it is for me. I caught myself three different times today interpreting (in my mind; I didn't say anything) some neutral comment another person made as a slap or insult aimed at me. Of course, intellectually I knew it was a neutral comment, but emotionally I felt it. So not really up for an evening around other women.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cartoon as social commentary?

Sometimes I wonder if people writing kids' cartoons can get away with saying stuff that more grown-up shows wouldn't touch.

There's a show on Cartoon Network called Johnny Test. I'm not a big fan of it but have occasionally watched an episode while waiting for something else to come on. It's essentially the adventures of a pre-teen boy, his talking dog. And his two super-genius inventor sisters.

Anyway, in this episode, the girls gave Johnny and Dukey (the dog) super powers. Because they asked for them. But then they found out that having super powers kind of stunk, because the citizens of the city were CONSTANTLY demanding to be saved from stuff...they started doing dumb stuff because they knew that Johnny and Dukey would swoop in and save them. And eventually, they began demanding help for stuff like opening peanut butter jars.

And Johnny and Dukey got really sick of it - they couldn't play video games, or sleep, or even go to the bathroom without being interrupted by someone needing something from them.

So they approached the sisters. The girls explained that they needed to be "destroyed," because otherwise the people in the town would never stop being stupid and demanding more stuff from them.

Hm. If you have someone who swoops in and saves you from every idiocy you commit, you begin to commit more. And you come to depend on that entity to swoop in.


At any rate, in the end, to fix things, the girls had to dress up as intergalactic super villains and threaten to destroy the town...unless the people stopped doing stupid things and started depending on their own selves to do stuff.

I don't know, I may be seeing that all through my own "lens," but that struck me as an interesting parable...almost like The Boy Who Cried Wolf kind of turned inside out in a way.

(And yeah, I do think a lot of people have gotten to the point where they expect the government or some agency or something to come in and "save" them, when they really just need to take care of themselves and be responsible).

FWIW, the show is produced in Canada, so my "don't expect the government to save you, kids" message may not actually be there. Or, then again, it might. I don't know. It just struck me funny.

talking with people

One of my colleagues was talking about how he didn't like dealing with 'townies,' that they 'always' said stuff that annoyed him and even implied some of them were attacking him because of what he taught.

Whatever. I think "small talk" is a skill, and maybe this guy doesn't have it quite down.

I took my car in for an oil and filter change this morning (yes, I CAN do it myself, but I really prefer to pay the $25 or whatever to have someone do it for me). The waiting room has a tv in it. I was the first appointment of the day (I have no early morning classes today) so as I was coming in, the owner of the place was getting set up.

He switched on the tv, but then saw me pulling out a stack of grading.

He asked: "Oh, will having the news on bother you?"

I said, "No, as long as it's not Charlie Sheen."

And he laughed.

Later on, he came back and looked at the tv for a few minutes. He said to me, "It's not talking about Charlie Sheen, is it?"

And I said, "No, now it's talking about Christina Aguillera."

And he laughed. And you know, I enjoy little interactions like that. It's nothing deep, nothing involved, nothing earth-shaking. But there's a connection there. Sort of a sense of "I see you, I recognize you as a fellow human."

I'm not big on arguing stuff with relative strangers; in fact, I find political discussions with people I don't know well and understand well pretty nerve-wracking. I'm always surprised when someone in public, surrounded by strangers (like in the dining car of the train) feels comfortable popping out some political opinion that other people might not necessarily share.

I mean, if the shop owner had made some remark about how Charlie Sheen was being railroaded or mistreated or something, I probably would have smiled nervously, and nodded, and gone right back to grading. I don't have the emotional energy to deal with people who want to make everything an argument; that's not how I operate.

And I admit, this is where I'm kind of a wuss...I don't step up and defend/explain/whatever when someone is presenting a slanted view, or when they say something I know patently is not true. Because I've seen that you can't convince people about stuff if the opinions are what I would call "emotionally held."

(There are some things, for example, legalization of drugs (coupled with very tight regulation and taxation), where I can see and understand the arguments for it, but something very deep in me says, "NO. I do not want to see the country going there." And I recognize that some of my opinions are emotionally held. But the difference, I think, sometimes, is that I know that, and I can also see the other side of the story).

The thing is, I've found some people - I had a very bad experience once in public with someone who called themselves a "recovering Christian" - they can talk a big smacky game, but when you gently challenge them - I said to him, "I respect your religious stance [he claimed to be a Buddhist but his beliefs and attitudes were not like any of the other Buddhists I've met] and am happy to let you be at peace with it. But would you please stop saying nasty things about my faith in front of me? I know there are Christians who get it very wrong but I try hard not to; we're not all like the people that you seem to have been hurt by in your past."

That shut him up. For a while. (There was another woman that I knew to be Catholic within earshot, but she didn't engage...)

And believe me, I wanted to throw up even after saying those few sentences. But I felt like I had to. It was that, or take my dinner plate (we were in the dining car on a train), get up, and ask the dining car steward if I could have a different seat. And I didn't want to put the dining car guy through that. (I will say he kept shooting sympathetic glances my way throughout the guy's loud ranting).

I don't like dealing with extremes in public. I can happily talk about the weather, or ask someone about their life's work and what they like about it, or what their hobbies are. I can even (sometimes) talk a little sports. But I don't like talking politics or religion, not without knowing whether the person is someone who can be reasonable or someone who hops the bus to crazy-town at the first mention of something they disagree with.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Some thoughts on gratitude and jealousy

I've been watching the Charlie Sheen crash-and-burn with some dismay. I never cared much about his show; it seemed that (the few times I watched some of it), it was one giant joke about erections and that kind of humor is really not to my liking. And from what I knew of the guy's politics and opinions, he seemed like kind of a twit.

But anyway. I see this going one of four ways, I sincerely hope the first is how it comes out:

1. Sheen realizes he's hit bottom, he goes in for both rehab and psychiatric treatment, he gets clean, maybe he retires, maybe he continues to work, but he gets clean.

2. He goes to rehab but doesn't keep up with it, winds up dying from his addictions.

3. He winds up dying from his addictions without doing rehab

4. He winds up in some kind of bizarre-horrible situation that involves guns and a SWAT team.

But some of his rantings - even discounting whatever is messed up in his brain - strike me as the comments of someone who's deeply dissatisfied and is ungrateful for whatever he has. Because in my experience, stopping to be grateful for the good things you have - even if they may be small compared to what some others have - kind of short-circuits tendencies to jealousy.

As you know, I work on a college campus. I HEAR a lot of jealousy every day: "The coaches make more than we do." "The administrators make more and work less" "Some of the students have better cars than the faculty," so on and so forth.

I've been trying to make a conscious effort to avoid those conversations, or to either try to redirect or decide I suddenly have something pressing that I must do when a conversation I'm in takes that turn. Because it just does make me unhappy to hear people talk about what they DON'T have.

I have two friends - a "real life" friend that I've known for years, and a friend through an Internet message board I frequent - who work as adjuncts. You want to talk about underpaid and unappreciated? Tenured faculty are pashas compared to what adjuncts get and do. So whenever I hear people with tenure on this campus complaining about how they get shafted, I think about K. and V. and what they're trying to do to keep body and soul together. (At least K. is married, and her husband makes somewhat of a living. But not enough for both of them to live comfortably on, not in the high-tax state where they live).

I have tenure. In fact, I'm on track for the "biggest" promotion (to Professor), which will carry a small raise with it. I make enough money to be comfortable on, and enough to put a decent sized chunk away each month in investments, which hopefully will grow enough that when I can't or don't want to work any more, I can retire and live in reasonable comfort.

And I have a roof over my head - a roof that I own, where I don't have to worry about some crazy adjustable mortgage "resetting" to a higher interest rate. And I have enough money to pay my utility bills, and the property taxes, and to provide the food I need, and even some left over for fun stuff.

And despite the occasional worries or frustrations of my career, I have a job. I have a paycheck. I have (enough) benefits. Most of the people I work with are enjoyable (most of the time, when they're not griping about how much more the coaches make).

I guess part of my frustration with the people bitching about stuff like coach salaries....it's not going to DO anything. I mean, if I see some kind of injustice, like a student getting bounced around between offices that are SUPPOSED to help them because the person in the office is confused or lazy, and I can call the office and say, "Hey, this is what the student needs, and I'm a faculty member, and I'm asking you to do this," that's one way of using your unhappiness with a situation to fix it. But things like perceived unfairness in salaries...short of joining the Faculty Senate (which is, in itself, a giant time-suck), there's not a lot you can do.

And I don't like spending excessive amounts of time rehashing things that I can't do anything about; it just makes me feel worse. (Also, in some cases, I wonder if some of the political things people around here complain about, if there isn't more to the story than what they're talking about).

But whatever. If I stick to my own little circle of control, where I can control my own behavior, where I can focus on my own teaching and research and helping the students and doing things where I can make a difference (however small) in the world...then I'm happy. And then I can see the things I have to be grateful for, instead of seeing the things I don't have.