Hello on a late Friday night,
It has been a bit of a crazy week, or more likely a crazy month. Our new academic year begins on Monday, in about 60 hours or so. A month ago I was trying to get my flexible schedule for the fall semester approved. It did not seem to matter that I had procured a doctor’s letter almost three months before; it did not matter that my doctor, in an attempt to abide by HIPPA regulations noted I had multiple chronic issues that would be severely complicated should I contract COVID; somehow a chancellor and the system’s interpretation of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines trumped (and I use this word intentionally) medical right to privacy. There are other issues in all of this, but suffice it to say, I made it possible for my doctor to list the specific things that would provide me a safe teaching schedule for the fall. However, I still had no schedule. This not only meant I was not sure what my specific classes, duration of said classes, or number of sections or preps were, but with no schedule, I could not be added to our Course Management System (CMS) because I had no classes, but neither could I actually order books through the bookstore because I had not idea what to order. Finally, with about 2 1/2 weeks to go, and a couple more phone calls, I got a schedule. It is a bit brutal as I will have 100 writing students in writing intensive sections, but technically there are only two preps and nothing new. However, as I am inclined to do, I try to change my first year writing classes up to some degree. Teaching them completely online is certainly one change for the fall, but I also decided to develop an entirely new theme. Fortunately, I had decided some of that early summer, so I have been developing a number of things since June. At this point between developing a new syllabus, with significant policy changes because of the remote delivery as well as working on the CMS, I have almost 70 hours in the last 10 days. Fortunately, the second prep, technical writing, has been taught as a fourteen week remote class already, so there is not a great deal of change. I had syllabi out to students a week ago, so that took some pressure off. However, it will still be a crazy weekend.
I have decided to focus on what it means for an individual create or understand their identity they have at this point in their life. One of the things I regularly tell my students is my classes (and this goes for all of them) are a cultural rhetoric class. When that is connected to a first year writing class, it means I want them to understand the world in which they live and be able to think about it critically and then be able to write about it, and write about it in a scholarly and educated manner. One of the reasons I believe identity is so important in this present time, particularly for freshmen, is quite simple. Leaving for college is a life changing time. In spite of the accusations of a college classmate, who has decided to troll me hardcore, I do not indoctrinate my students. I try to do exactly what our professors at Dana College did. I want them to learn to think and analyze; I want them to question, but I want them to come to their own conclusions and then be able both to articulate and support their positions and understandings or arguments about their world. Identity in this world is a bit fragile because our world is such a drama show at the present moment. Their senior year did not turn out as they planned; most had no high school graduation, or certainly not one like they expected. As the come to college, the universities are struggling to figure out how to open in a manner that is both true to what the college experience is and simultaneously safe in our pandemic world. These two things are incongruent for a fundamental reason. College is about gathering, speaking, interacting, listening and living in new situations. It is about finding one’s self in the midst of the academic rigor of classes as well as living, eating, and socializing in an entirely new community of people. COVID has turned all of this upside down. If I remember the figures even close to accurately, 52% of Bloomsburg’s classes are remote; another 23% or so are being taught in a hybrid delivery plan and the remaining 25% are going to be done face-to-face, but that is not anywhere near normal even if they are in a classroom. Creating a 36 sq. ft. space around each student in a room creates a profound change in classrooms. In addition, there is no walking up to a student and violating their 36 ft space. There is no turning around in classes; there is no handing things in or back. And everyone is required to wear masks. This is not teaching, at least for me. I think I can do a much better job remotely. Welcome to life at most universities or colleges this fall. All of this is being honest, and it is simultaneously showing how fragile the academy is in this pandemic.
As I noted above, a college classmate has been kicking me for some time. In his latest post on my timeline, he used words like rogue, pawn, fool, an idiot in jester’s clothing followed by saying no disrespect meant. Kind of difficult to not feel disrespected, but then noted I was a socialist. This is in addition to past assertions that I do not have any bosses, that I do not work hard because I am not required to do so, and that I do little more than indoctrinate students with my liberal garbage (garbage is my word). I did just see that he has offered some sense of an apology on my timeline now. I will have to go back and see what he says . . . now he is trying to merely see if I have somehow so drank the blue Democrat kool-aid that he finds as nothing more than socialism. I will have to ponder what I might respond, but that is for later. It is interesting that so many believe that somehow caring for the other must be socialism. What stumps me perhaps more than anything is how many professing Christian people seemed to so have hardened their hearts about the plight of the other. I am more than merely fortunate and blessed to be where I am. I have accomplished more than I could have ever dreamt, but it was not all handed to me, I had to work for it. And I do not provide this as a hope for pats on the back, but in the time I have been here, I have loaned out more money that I will never see back than most might ever imagine. Over the past 5 months I have made dinner for over 120 people or families and delivered the great majority of them. Why? Because I am a nice guy? No, because I have a pretty simple philosophy in life: if I make other people’s lives better, I make my own life better. That is not altruistic because I do get something back. I feel better, but it is something I believe is worth doing. I would not be where I am if people did not help me along the way. That is reality. Very few of us have not gotten help from others at various times in our life. To give back is not socialism; it is being the person I believe my faith calls me to be. So, there is another attempt of my being honest, but sharing all of that also opens me up to perhaps another critique and that scares me. Hence again, my fragility.
One of the things I wish is that I would, or could, have been more honest with so many as I grew up, and perhaps simultaneously more honest with myself. And yet, my seminary professor’s words come hearkening back, “Honesty without love is brutality.” It seems too often this is the route of honesty we manage or, perhaps, prefer. If we disagree or believe someone wrong, particularly when their attack or their difference is directed at us personally, our fragility informs our attempt at honesty. The consequence is an honestly angry response, but in a way that is anything but honest. This is particularly the case when we have been hurt, or if the person is in a position of power over us, be it a parent, an older sibling, a scarier person, a boss, or even someone more popular. Their words, especially if they are hurtful, regardless the accuracy of them, damages our psyche or our ego. There are so many times I listen to conversations between parents and children when I am in a grocery store, walking, or even when it is a random encounter and what I hear stuns me. Sometimes it hurts me and I am not even the person at whom the words were directed. The important question in these instances is who is demonstrating fragility? One of the things I learned from Anton last year was to listen more carefully and speak more consciously. I am still realizing, beyond words, how incredible he is (and was while he was here). He questioned regularly, but always with some sense of fairness and decency informing his question. He was an honest (and is yet) person with a sense of truthfulness I have seldom witnessed in anyone, and he was 16 when he arrived on the acre. He was a thinker about things much larger and more significant than you might believe a high school person could be. Because of the honesty I believe we both practiced or exhibited with the other, there was little fragility needed or felt. What he taught me is still resonating and I am still coming to terms with how much he influenced who I have become. Not bad when you consider he was 16/17 and I am at retirement age. He certainly did teach the proverbial old dog some new things, and for that, I am beyond grateful. As the Labor Day weekend is coming, I will realize more poignantly how much I still miss him. Again, the love I have for him and his family is strong. I was supposed to be there this past week as he left for his first day of school in Denmark and I am so sad that could not happen.
Being honest and caring will always leave us fragile and open to being hurt. My father, the sage he was, again once said to me as I was reeling from a divorce, “The people you love the most are capable of hurting you the worst.” He was not implying that they want to or should, but that is the consequence of being vulnerable. I remember falling head over heels with someone during the spring of my freshman year at Dana College. She was an exceptionally intelligent, extraordinarily attractive, and a stunningly alluring person. She was personable in spite of being rather introverted, and had a wit and humor that could draw you in. I did not know what to do because I had not found someone so amazing for some time. What was more astounding is she was also interested in me. That is not usually the way things go. The remainder of that semester was like walking on clouds for me, and yet as she was leaving for the summer and headed to the Southwest to visit her father (her parents were divorced), she noted we should take the summer off. She was kind and actually thoughtful about our situation and during that summer their was little communication. When she returned in the fall, we did not pick up exactly where we had left off, but it was a sort of shadow dance with each other. There were difficulties because Dana was a small campus and we had some classes together. Then there was the dilemma that I was a friend with her freshman roommate also. Sophomore year, she had a Danish exchange student as a roommate, one who also became a friend. Somehow, perhaps because of our own honesty, perceived honesty, or incredible disillusionment we were dating again. That fall semester was a crazy time because I had 23 credits, not that I signed up for, but that I was taking or sitting in on. Somehow, we managed to be together again. While we were perhaps never officially together, we were also not officially apart. So much for honesty, but the increased level of fragility was more than palpable. We would study together, eat together, walk around together, but at the same time act as if we were not together. Emotionally, what I remember is I was a mess. She was the first person I ever imagined being married to, but I had no idea why. Again so much for honesty. Needless to say, we did not last, but to this day I still wonder about her and believe she was one of the more talented and beautiful people I ever met. I am sure she is an incredible mother and teacher in her life now.
It is hard to believe that in slightly less than a month I will turn 65. It is hard for me to believe that is possible, and the reasons to be astounded that I have lived this long are legion. Yet, here I am. I have lived longer than my grandmother, my hero. That fact really sort of kicks me each time I think of it. Often times, I find myself questioning how I have survived so many things. Many times, I still try to figure out who I have become. More than the terms hurled at me like some biblical stoning by my former classmate, I know a great deal more about me than many might believe. I am honest with myself to a greater degree than perhaps ever before. That is why I am not as apt to be quiet about some things. It is because I know why I believe as I do, and most of my positions on almost anything are based on a sense of decency. Scripture does not tell us to be kind only to those who are kind to us. Scripture, in fact, explicitly tells us to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. I find it harder and harder to judge people, even when I disagree with them. I am not smarter because I have more degrees or education; I am not better because I have a house or things that others do not have; I am not more talented or capable than anyone else because I can speak multiple languages or play multiple instruments; and I am not more astute because I have been able to travel and make friends or acquaintances across this country or even the world. None of those things gives me any privilege; what those things do is give me a greater responsibility to care for others who have not had those opportunities and try to provide the same for them. That is probably why I ended up being a professor. Caring about and creating opportunities for my students is what I am called to do; it is my responsibility. That is what I believe I am honestly required to do, but it is an obligation I see as a blessing. My fragility shows when a system meant to offer that cannot or does not. My fragility shows when I see students who foundationally do not have the same background and they must struggle more to merely get across the threshold. My fragility shows when I know I could have done better, but have somehow failed a student because I could not reach them adequately.
For those in Denmark, som det har været typisk for nylig, har min skrøbelighed været på fuld vis, da jeg har gået eleverne på McKinley High School i Glee forsøger at navigere gennem at komme gennem gymnasiet. I slutningen af deres første år vises ærligheden og skrøbeligheden af både dem og Mr. Shuster i denne sang. Jeg kan huske, at jeg så filmen som barn. Det var et kulturelt markant show (As has been typical lately, my fragility has been on full display as I have walked again with the students of McKinley High School in Glee try to navigate getting through high school. At the end of their first year, the honesty and fragility of both the Glee Club and Mr. Shuster are on display in this song. I remember watching the actual movie, with Sidney Poitier as a child. It was a culturally significant show.).
Thanks for reading as always.