Friendship and guilt

Earlier this month, I found myself in the enviable position of having both a week to myself and the house to myself. My partner participated in a road race series nearby his parents’ home and brought the kids with him to spend a week with their grandparents.

As one of the captains of Team Introvert, I was way more excited than anyone should be about the prospect of a week to myself. Yet I also knew that the last time I had a week to myself, I found myself in a pretty precarious mental state. Plus, after 15 months of pandemic living and with all of my close friends fully vaccinated, I wanted to get out and spend time with friends “in 3-D”. No problem, I thought. I’ll just send out a few texts and rally the troops and get some things on the calendar!

And that’s when I hit an unexpected wall.

The voices in my head clamored, “Why do you think anyone will want to spend time with you? Oh, so NOW you have some free time and you just expect people to drop everything and hang out with you? They’ll probably be pissed off because you haven’t asked them to do anything in a while. You’re just doing this because it’s convenient for you. You’re not a real friend to anyone.”

This unexpected wave of Friend Guilt caught me off guard. Where was this coming from? Did I honestly think my close friends would be pissed off by a request to get together? How much of a weirdo am I?

Serendipitously, this very subject of Friend Guilt came up over lunch with one of my close friends a few days later. Turns out, I am not that much of a weirdo, at least where Friend Guilt is concerned. (Or maybe this close friend and I are alone in our weirdness on this? I doubt it.) Friend Guilt is a thing! Other people feel Friend Guilt!

I’ve spent some time reflecting on the source of my Friend Guilt since then. In my case, I think there are two main mitigating factors.

Organizing fatigue. Like many women, I carry the bulk of the mental load at home, making sure that the house and the family don’t descend into chaos. (This is something my partner and I are actively working on correcting, not least because the stress of many things, including shouldering this mental load, is negatively impacting my health in tangible ways.) My job requires a lot of planning, organizing, and decision-making throughout the day. I’m mentally fried by the end of the day. Texting or (horrors!) calling people to try and set something up, requiring at least several rounds of decision-making, often seems like an insurmountable barrier, the thought of which exhausts me further. So I often don’t send that text, or initiate the plans. This leads to two different sources of guilt: the guilt of “I’m such a free-rider because I rely on others to initiate plans with me”, and the guilt of “if I was a *real* friend, I would make the effort to initiate plans even when I’m exhausted, because that’s what real friends do.”

A “history” of bailing at the last minute. I put “history” in quotes because honestly I think this is something I make a bigger deal out of than anyone else in my life. One of my kiddos, when very young, was very needy, and often unpredictably so. Now that we have some diagnoses, the behavior back then makes much more sense. At the time, though, all I knew is that I could never quite predict when this kiddo would have a major meltdown, or Very Big Feelings That Need To Come Out Right Now. When this happened, 9.5 times out of 10 kiddo could only be consoled by me. So I’d find myself canceling plans at the last minute, and sometimes those plans happened to be with close friends. Now, my friends are not monsters, so of course they understood. But over time, I started to tell myself a story that I was a bad friend because I couldn’t keep to my friend commitments. And since I couldn’t keep my friend commitments, how dare I make plans to see friends when it was “convenient” for me? You can see the vicious cycle this started. It just became easier to not initiate plans, to avoid the guilt and shame of “neglecting” my friends.

When my friend voiced some of the same phrases that regularly swirl in my head, I realized how ridiculous they sounded and how little truth and weight they hold. When a friend texts me to make plans, I never calculate how long it’s been since they initiated plans to get together. I have never once uttered or thought, “geez, who does this person think they are, texting after all this time?” Heck, my inner bullied middle schooler is thrilled that someone wants to hang out with me at all, to be honest! But those damn stories we tell ourselves hold so much power over us, that it’s hard to be rational in the moment. I’m hoping this a-ha moment with my friend will help me start dismantling this particular set of stories and replace them with truer stories about what “good friendship” looks like.

Do you feel friendship guilt? In what ways does it manifest itself in your life?

Emerging

Spring Term wound down this week in its usual haze of academic year exhaustion and frenzied race to the finish. Amidst all the usual chaos — the grading, the last-minute meetings, the grading, the discussions with students and the Dean of Students office about extensions, and did I mention the grading? — there were glimpses of a return to some sort of, well, normal.

Carleton modified some rules around gathering sizes outdoors, which allowed us to have a casual outdoor gathering for our senior majors who are on campus, in and around one of the classroom tents. I didn’t expect the extent to which seeing people “in 3-D” would be a source of joy and relief. I talked and laughed and ate with faculty I haven’t seen since last March! (Some of whom have not been back on campus since then, or have only been back once or twice to pack/unpack last summer when we moved into our new space.) I marveled at how tall students I hadn’t previously met in person are in real life. I caught up with students who used to stop by my office semi-regularly and, again, marveled at how tall they were in real life. (Zoom has really messed with our perceptions of height!) I talked with one of our early graduates from one of my Comps groups who returned for graduation. I realized how much I missed the flow of conversations in a group, a flow that is quite different than on Zoom. It was a bit bittersweet, too, as I realized what we’d missed this year with our classes and interactions with students being completely virtual (save for a few Comps groups who met in “mixed mode” in the fall and winter).

My family developed a “Takeout Tuesday” tradition during the pandemic, a tradition we plan on continuing, where we get takeout from a local restaurant and everyone takes turns selecting the restaurant. Due to unusually busy evening schedules, this week I ended up taking the kids to a Real Live Actual Restaurant Where We Ate Indoors on Wednesday, in lieu of our takeout day. The last time I’d been in a Real Live Actual Restaurant Where You Eat Indoors was March 13, 2020 with the resident 4th grader. Our plan was actually to eat outdoors, but with an hour+ wait the kids decided that indoors was ok, even though one is unvaccinated and the other is halfway vaccinated. It was…fine! A bit weird at first, but fine. Our family rule is that we wear masks when we’re out together since the 4th grader can’t get vaccinated yet, and so we all wore masks when we weren’t eating and drinking. We were the only ones in the restaurant with masks on, but we didn’t get any dirty or strange looks that I could tell. I very much miss eating in restaurants, and the kids do, too, so on many fronts this was a really nice way to dip our toes back into “normal”.

Finally, I got to see the research spaces my group will be using this summer, a surprisingly emotional experience.

To be honest, I’m still a bit giddy thinking about filling the whiteboards with sketches and ideas in a space that’s entirely ours, and remembering how just being in the same room together facilitates the flow of ideas.

What ways have you found yourself emerging out of the pandemic and back to some sense of normalcy?

Breaks are not optional

View of trees and a distant river from a ridge in Whitewater State Park, MN
View from atop a ridge on one of the hikes we did last week, in Whitewater State Park in Minnesota.

This summer has been difficult for many reasons, not least because, unlike most summers, there hasn’t been any sort of let-up in the workload. We rushed right from the end of the academic year into discussions and debates about Fall Term, and from there into preparing for a very complicated Fall Term. Many of us juggled this with mentoring research students and trying to get some semblance of scholarship done. We count on the firehose of work in early June to subside to a more steady gardenhose flow from mid-June through at least the first half of August, but this summer has been one long firehose of work.

Not to mention, of course, the underlying mid- to high-level stress of living through a pandemic.

Taking a true and sometimes extended break from work at some point in the summer is non-negotiable for me. I’ve learned over the years that I need to take at least a week, if not longer, to completely unplug and detach from work (and from social media). Otherwise, I enter the new academic year burned out, and that almost always spells disaster by Spring Term, if not sooner.

This break often entails packing up the car and the family and hitting the road for some quality time with Mother Nature. My family loves camping, and loves national and state parks, and it’s a rare year when our break doesn’t feature some or all of these. We usually take off in August, although last year’s epic romp through Colorado and parts of Utah happened in June, just to mix things up a bit.

We’d just started kicking around ideas for this summer’s adventure when everything shut down. As the spring wore on, we resigned ourselves to the fact that there would be no epic road trip this summer, and likely no getaway at all. I started thinking about what a “break” might look like in a summer with no child care and no place to go.

Fortunately, things are under enough control in Minnesota that in-state camping seemed to be a relatively safe option for a getaway. So we scaled back our epic road trip aspirations, picked a state park we’ve been wanting to visit, and made camping reservations.

My partner and I suffer from Cram-Vacation-Too-Full-Itis, as our kids like to point out. So this year, we worked hard to unschedule our trip. (And yes, I realize how ridiculous that sentence sounds.) Only one park over the 4 days, not several. Only one campsite, no moving around from park to park. We hiked in the (late) morning, once everyone was up and fed; took a long break back at the campsite for lunch, board games, and naps/reading; went swimming/fishing in the late afternoon; and relaxed around the fire in the evening. I started and got through half of a novel that’s been on my reading list for a while (which I’ve since finished) and worked on two small crocheting projects.

Yes, there were a couple of times where I found myself thinking, “should we get out and explore the area some more?” I am, after all, a textbook Type A personality. But for the most part I relaxed into the un-schedule. And I made sure to take the rest of the week off once we got back, instead of diving back into work.

I started this week fresh and able to work on some longer-term vision-y stuff I was blocked on pre-trip. Things still feel hard, but they feel more manageable. And that’s why taking a break is so valuable, and so non-negotiable for me.

Have you been able to take a break this summer? How are you rejuvenating yourself this weird summer?

Small gratitudes, summer edition

Any hopes I had for a bit of a respite between the end of my students’ summer of research and going full steam ahead with planning for fall term evaporated more quickly than you can say “can you make room on your calendar for….”. This week features All Of The Meetings, anti-racism education, two pedagogical webinars/conversations, and a two day virtual workshop. All good stuff, to be sure, but not at all conducive to catching one’s breath. Not to mention the ever-present and very real stress about what the school year will look like for the kiddos — the school district’s decision doesn’t come out until August 14 — and whether we should wait and see what the plan is or just go ahead and enroll them in the district’s online education program.

In the midst of a heavy week in the middle of spring term, I shared some small gratitudes, little things getting me through a difficult time. This week, when life feels overwhelming, I find myself reflecting on the small things that are getting me through the difficult times this summer:

Kayaking. I think in a past life I was a fish. I grew up swimming every day in the summer, and I worked as a lifeguard and swim instructor for half of my teens and 20s. I love everything about the water; it calms and centers me. Bonus for introverts: on a kayak, it’s easy to get far far away from people and close up to birds, muskrats, and turtles.

My blood pressure is dropping just looking at this picture…

Family food traditions. The formerly-7th-grader-now-8th-grader and I continue our Friday morning drive-through coffee tradition, although we have a new rule that she must be up by 9am or it can’t happen. The best weeks are the ones where she plugs in her phone to the car stereo and shares the music she’s listening to with me. I’ve discovered some new music through her! We also started, back in the spring, ordering takeout once a week on Tuesdays to support local restaurants, and we’ve continued it ever since. We take turns, so that everyone gets their favorites once a month.

I still dream about this meal.

Disc golf. The formerly-3rd-grader-now-4th-grader participated in a socially distanced “frisbee camp” one week in July where he learned how to play disc golf and ultimate frisbee. Long story short, we now own 2 sets of discs and we’ve been out a few times on one of the local disc golf courses. Neither of us are particularly good at it, but we have fun and we laugh at each other’s bad throws. And it’s easy enough to get in a quick 9 holes as a mid-afternoon break (well, at least on days that don’t feature wall-to-wall Zoom meetings).

My new home office. Despite the sometimes spotty Wi-Fi (I think we’ve finally pinpointed the cause and have a possible solution), I am loving my new office space. I love that I’m surrounded by my favorite color on the walls all day long. I love the view of the garden on the side of the house from my window. I love being close enough to the kitchen that I can get a quick coffee refill in the middle of a Zoom meeting. (This proximity also makes getting snacks more convenient, which is both a blessing and a curse.) And surprisingly, I love that I’m closer to what’s happening in the rest of the house (and have the option to close myself off from the chaos, too).

Not pictured: the crochet project in progress, which I now also keep in the office to work on during meetings where I’m listening and not taking notes.

What are you grateful for this summer?

Professoring in a time of uncertainty

The end of Winter Term is always tough and often frought. There’s the normal end-of-term stuff, of course: the projects and papers due the last day of classes, the impending final exams and projects, the day-to-day academic work that ratchets up weeks 9 and 10. There’s the unique-to-winter-term stress: seniors finishing up Comps and figuring out what to do post-Carleton, visiting graduate schools or going on interviews or finding out about fellowship applications. Everyone else figuring out how they’ll spend their summers. There’s extra stress on faculty: putting next year’s schedule into place, wrapping up tenure-track hiring, assessing Comps projects, hiring student researchers for the summer, dealing with graders who inexplicably disappear at the worst time. (Thankfully, not something I am dealing with this year, but something I seem to deal with most years.) And of course, everyone’s sick of winter at this point, and that certainly doesn’t help anyone’s mood.

Everyone is tired, frustrated, cranky, and stressed.

Now, add a global pandemic to the mix.

I find myself, like many others, glued to the news cycle. Unable to focus. Worried and uncertain. Largely angry at the nature of the (non) response in the US. Wondering what if. What if what if what if?

Carleton’s in an unusual spot in that our term is ending in the next 5 days, and we head into an almost 2 week spring break before the next term starts. This buys us as an institution some time. Not much, but some. We’re starting fresh anyway on March 30, which, I imagine, makes it slightly easier to pivot to something else. (With “something else” likely some form of online learning.) But for how long?

This morning I’m attending a workshop on online instruction, put on by our learning and teaching center and our academic technologists. I’m looking forward to learning about what we have available at Carleton to facilitate learning and instruction when we’re not face-to-face with our students. And I’m equally looking forward to being in a room with my colleagues, commiserating and sharing coping strategies during this challenging time. I’m also hoping we’ll get some indication as to what’s going to happen for the start of spring term, although I suspect we won’t get a clear answer today. (But maybe at least a hint?)

A couple of weeks ago, I started thinking, during idle moments while walking between meetings and on my commute, about modifications I’d make to my spring course should we move online. What topics could I shuffle? What content could I make into labs? How would I carry out a group project when no one’s in the same room? And, more importantly, how can I keep at least some elements of these once things return to “normal”, because these sorts of modifications likely increase the accessibility of my courses. I’m now grateful that I started pondering these questions when I did, so that I can move forward with planning and not feel quite so overwhelmed.

Beyond that, I’m trying to extend others, and myself, extra grace. Checking in with others. Writing a gentler final exam for my students. Acknowledging the stress we’re all under. Taking time for deeper conversations, and giving others the gift of really listening to them. Connecting. Remembering to eat healthy foods, get to bed (mostly) on time, and exercise. Brainstorming ways I can help out neighbors and friends should they fall ill or should we be under an extended quarantine.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

How are you coping with these uncertain times?

A snapshot of (the quickly ending) Fall Term

It’s Week 9 of our 10 week Fall Term, and I am sitting here wondering just where the hell September and October went. Seriously, wasn’t yesterday the start of the term? (Guess I should take “Goals for Fall Term” out of the blog post idea queue, then….)

It’s been a busy fall term, and it feels like I have a lot more on my plate than usual. I chalk this up to a combination of a number of projects currently on my plate plus continuing recovery from my broken elbow this summer. All of it interesting (for varying definitions of “interesting”). So here’s a look at some of what I’ve been up to the past couple of months.

Teaching: Revisiting an Old Favorite Class

I love teaching Intro. I love guiding students through their first (or one of their first) experiences with programming, algorithm design, and algorithmic thinking. I love the pace of the class, the creativity my students bring to the projects and in-class exercises, the material, and even the wide variety of backgrounds and experiences of my students.

I used to teach Intro all the time. But an influx of young ‘uns and visitors and general scheduling oddities meant that I haven’t taught it since Winter 2015. So I was thrilled to see Intro on my schedule twice this year, Fall and Spring term. But also a bit worried: would this be like a new prep for me, given the long-ish layoff?

Complicating matters is that I switched from a textbook I loved, but for which I could no longer justify the hefty price, to a perfectly fine lower cost textbook. Which meant I’d have to rework my reading assignments, at the very least.

The layoff and the textbook switch led me to approach the class as if I hadn’t taught it before. I revisited and revised all of my learning goals. I did a full backwards design of the class. I mapped topics and projects to learning objectives to make sure they still matched and were still relevant. I added a lab on ethics (which I’ll be blogging about in the coming weeks) and replaced the two exams with 5 quizzes (really mini-exams). I committed to using Slack as a communications medium — with, I’ll be honest, a bit of trepidation.

Luckily, the workload has been manageable. I spend a reasonable amount of time prepping (nowhere close to new prep time, but a bit more than “I recently taught this” time). The majority of my class is first year students, which makes for a really neat class dynamic — and I’m really enjoying the mix of personalities. I truly look forward to teaching every MWF and I’m having a good time in the classroom. The Slack experiment is going better than expected — and has been extremely useful for sharing code with students during and after class. All in all, it’s been a most excellent return to the realm of Intro CS!

Research: Papers, Papers, Papers

Being at an undergraduate-only institution means my research collaborators are undergraduate students. And I’ve lucked out in the student department lately. I have two amazing student researchers, both now junior CS majors, who have worked with me since last spring. They designed and ran their own experiment this summer, and even recruited an interviewee, conducting and then transcribing the interview, too! This fall, we’ve concentrated on analyzing the results from the summer experiment, and are using these results to plan out our next set of experiments.

My stretch goal for my students was to have them submit an extended abstract to the student research competition at SIGCSE, since SIGCSE’s in Minneapolis next year. I’m happy to say they met this goal! I have no idea how reviewers will receive our work, but in any case, it was a good experience for my students — and a good opportunity for me to reflect on where the work is now and where we should go next.

My students are working on one aspect of my larger research project, and my goal this fall was to primarily work on that as well. But, I have a rejected conference paper that I’ve been sitting on since last spring, from the other aspect of my project. And I happened to stumble upon a CFP for a conference that’s a pretty good fit for the paper. And the deadline was a bit uncomfortably close, but not impossibly so. So, I was able to revise that paper and get it back out into the review stream. Bonus: revising that paper helped me think through the next stages of that project, and I’ve moved that project back into the rotation. Our upcoming long break between Fall and Winter terms will be the perfect time to get some sustained work on that project completed, and move me towards my next conference paper.

So, I went from maybe 1 paper-ish thing submitted to 2 paper-ish things submitted! Gold star for me.

Career Planning: What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

I’ve had the idea in the back of my head that someday, maybe, I’d go into academic administration. Within the past year or so, I decided to explore this path more proactively. I did the scary thing of VERBALIZING TO A DEAN that I was contemplating administration. I applied for a few grants (unsuccessfully) that would have funded some leadership-type projects I’ve been considering. (I’m still working on the projects, just without the funding.) I mentioned my goals in conversation with faculty colleagues from other liberal arts schools at Tapia.

Lately, I’ve taken this up a notch or 5.

First, I was accepted to, and am participating in, the HERS Institute at Wellesley this academic year. The homework, and the activities and sessions at the first weekend in October, have been extremely useful so far. And a bit scary, since some (many?) of them drive me outside my comfort zone. My cohort is full of amazing, inspiring, energetic women — my 60 new colleague best friends. 🙂 I’ve figured out so much about myself, my strengths, my weaknesses, my unstated goals, already! I feel like this experience is preparing me very well for whatever comes next in my career — and has helped me thing more broadly and expansively about the possibilities. The next session is coming up next weekend, and I can’t wait!

Second, and scarier: I put my name forth for consideration for an administrative position at my institution. No matter what the outcome, putting myself forth has helped me think through my priorities, and will be a good experience for figuring out how to pursue opportunities in the future.

Life: Recovery Takes Time, and a Boatload of Medical Appointments

My newest hobby is attending multiple occupational therapy appointments each week, as I continue to rehabilitate my broken elbow. The good news is that the breaks are completely healed, and I’ve been cleared to do whatever I want! I’ve worked my way slowly back to running, and on Monday I ran 30 minutes nonstop. Which doesn’t seem like much given I’m a 3-time marathoner, but was a huge milestone after months of “just” walking or walk/running to avoid jostling my elbow too much. I can now fully participate in taekwondo, although I still can’t do a full pushup (not even on my knees). But that will come in time. I’ve also started swimming again, and while I need to make a few adjustments to account for my reduced range of motion, swimming has felt good.

The not as good news is that it’s been a long, slow, uncomfortable slog to regain my range of motion and strength. Apparently, elbows are difficult entities. My therapy exercises are uncomfortable and sometimes painful. My progress stalled out for a while (thanks, scar tissue in the elbow!), but I now seem to be moving forward again, thanks to ultrasound and Graston treatments. There is a chance I might need surgery again to clear out the plethora of scar tissue that’s formed in the elbow, but I hope I can avoid that.

I used to scoff when people said they could “feel the weather changing” in their joints. I don’t scoff any more, because this is now my lived experience. I feel old.


Even with everything on my plate, it’s been a manageable term. Sure, some days require some Herculean logistics, and I’ve had to move around my office hours more than I care to admit to accommodate the less-movable OT appointments, but I’ve managed to keep my weekends mostly work-free and my sanity mostly in check. Here’s hoping the end of the term is as manageable as the rest of the term has been (fingers crossed).

 

Life is an adventure. Sometimes, a really sucky adventure.

My mind was racing a million miles a minute as my daughter and I climbed out of the pool at our gym late afternoon on a hot, sunny day 3 weeks ago. Let’s see, I thought, running through my to-do list: pick up my son from daycamp. Feed daughter and get her to taekwondo. Respond to those emails I blew off earlier in the day. Maybe make some muffins from all that zucchini? Oh, and get the rest of the camping gear into the bins in the garage, to prep for our upcoming 3 week trip —

My legs flew out from under me and for a brief moment I was airborne, out of control. “Oh sh*t,” I thought, milliseconds before I hit the concrete deck, hard, elbow first.

I sat there, stunned, for a couple of minutes, trying to process what just happened. Why is there a candy wrapper stuck to my foot? How did I end up halfway into the coned-off section of the deck (which, as it turns out, was coned off because it was slippery)? I should get up. Just need to put weight on my arms —

I can’t move my right arm.

Uh-oh.

With my daughter’s help, somehow I managed to get up off the deck, dry off somewhat, gather our things, leave the gym, pick up my son, drive all of us home, take a quick shower, and drive myself to urgent care.

X-ray of broken radius and ulna.

Why break just one bone when you can break both your radius and your ulna? #goals

With, as it turns out, 2 broken bones in my elbow.

For those of you keeping score at home, this is my second major injury in a year. Last summer, I tore my plantar fascia, and I’d just finished rehabbing and coming back from that injury. Apparently, I am not as bullet-proof as I’d thought.

The camping trip we’d been planning for months? Out. All the outdoorsy and sporty stuff I do daily? Also out. Crafting? I’m right handed, so nope. Work? Sure, but you’ll have to type with just your left hand….

I took up some new hobbies: near-daily doctors’ visits that first week, surgery the following week, more appointments and occupational therapy this week and continuing on into the forseeable future. I have some sweet new hardware in my arm which I’m sure will make me plenty of new TSA friends when I fly now.

Screws in broken elbow.

The start of my transition to cyborg?

Recovery is going well so far. I’m in a brace now instead of a splint, which gives me a lot more freedom of movement. I can walk, as long as I’m on a stable (paved) surface to reduce my risk of falling. I can now, finally, type with 2 hands. I read like a fiend because that’s about all I can do for fun that doesn’t involve the use of 2 hands and/or my right (dominant) hand.

 

 

 

 

Picture of broken elbow in a brace.

Call me RoboProf.

But lots of things are hard. I can’t do much with my right hand/arm, so everything takes me at least twice as long. Showering. Getting dressed. Cooking. Writing by hand. And I get tired really easily — 2 hours of grocery shopping and errands this past weekend left me exhausted. Sleeping is tricky — I wear my brace at night but still have to pad it with pillows to keep it in an acceptable position. I ask for help, a lot. (The other day, I had to ask the cashier at the bagel shop to open my bag of chips for me. Ugh.)

If all goes well, I should be able to start back at some activities in a month, and by the 6 week post-surgery mark I should be able to run, swim, and bike, according to my doctor. Taekwondo is the big question mark right now — I have no idea what the timeline is for that, and that makes me really sad and anxious. I do know that it will be about 3 months before I can put full weight on my elbow again — before I’m totally “back to my self” again.

My last injury cycle taught me patience and acceptance: acceptance of my limits, patience with the slow and steady pace of recovery, acceptance of listening to my body and following its lead. I’ve been trying to keep all of that in mind this time around. Doing what I can, listening to my body, diligently following my therapy regimen. But it’s hard. I’m impatient with the limits of my body. I don’t want to accept another layoff from running/swimming/biking/kayaking/taekwondo, from all the things that keep me sane and bring me joy. I try my best to keep my sense of humor about the situation, but sometimes, in my quieter moments, the anger and frustration bubble up.

While training for and racing my triathlon, I adopted the mantra “Stay positive, stay steady.” It reminded me to stay in the moment, to keep moving forward, and to remember that every state is temporary and that the sucky moments don’t last forever. Perhaps it’s time I brought that mantra out of retirement — it seems fitting for the situation I’m in right now.

Stay positive. Stay steady. Keep moving forward.

 

An academic summer, part 2: fun

In the first post in this series of what my academic summer looks like, I talked about the research aspects of my summer. In today’s post, I’ll talk about some of what I’m doing for fun this summer.

Races and coming back from injury

You may recall that last summer I injured myself while training for a marathon (after running a marathon and then spending a week walking around Disney World). What I thought was a really stubborn case of plantar fasciitis turned out to be a partially (50%) torn plantar fascia. Which required a PRP injection and almost 3 weeks in a boot, plus more physical therapy and a slooooooow return to running.

Because I know myself, and because I am goal-oriented, I decided that I should have something to train for as I recovered. Something that would keep me motivated to push myself. Something, perhaps, out of my comfort zone.

Why not a sprint triathlon, I thought?

I started training in March. (For those unfamiliar: sprint = half mile swim, 15-20 mile bike, 3-4 mile run, typically.) My goal race was June 16, and I also planned to do an indoor triathlon (10 minute swim, 30 minutes on the spin bike, 20 minute treadmill run) just for fun and for training.

Well. The indoor triathlon (INDOOR TRIATHLON!!) was canceled due to SNOW. And the June 16 race was canceled due to thunderstorms — after the first 5 waves were in the water. (Luckily I was in a later wave and had not started yet. One of the advantages of being a woman of a certain age, I guess!) But the third time was indeed the charm, and last Sunday I finally completed my first sprint triathlon.

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Waiting for my wave to start, with part of my cheer squad.

While the race itself was fun (except for the panic attack I suffered in the water — eek! This coming from a former lifeguard and swim instructor. Luckily I was able to summon enough mental strength to talk myself through the swim and not give up, like I really wanted to at that moment), and while I’m glad I had the experience, I didn’t like it enough to make it a regular thing. So I’m pretty sure I’m one and done with triathlons. Still, it’s something I’ve always wanted to try (tri? ha ha ha), and now I can say I’ve done it. One more thing off the bucket list!

I did find that I really enjoyed the mix of sports that triathlon training required. I’m a more confident and stronger cyclist, and even a stronger swimmer. And my running is improving as a result of all the cross-training, too. So my plan is to continue mixing up my workouts with swims, runs, and bike rides. I want to start trail running again. I want to do some mountain biking (something I was afraid to do while training, in case I injured myself). I want to throw some kayaking in there, too. Basically I just want to play outdoors!

As far as getting back into more serious running? I think I’m at least a year out from training for another marathon, but I’m thinking maybe a 10K is on my near-ish horizon….

Friday funday

Maybe 4 or 5 years ago, I realized that working 5 days a week in the summer was (a) not necessary and (b) not allowing me to recover sufficiently from the academic year. So I started taking Fridays off, or at least mostly off (maybe just working for an hour or two in the morning). Some summers, I kept my kids home most of those Fridays, so that we could have adventures together, or just hang out at the pool or beach. This summer, it was easier to put my son in the school district’s summer program 5 days a week (and the predictability of the schedule is better for his ADHD), and my daughter is mostly home but mostly doing her own thing. So I have my June and July Fridays, with just a couple of exceptions, free to do whatever I want! I’m looking forward to spending my Fridays exploring the area on my bike or kayak, working on crafting projects, and (when my daughter allows it, ha ha) hanging out with my daughter, before she heads off to middle school in the fall.

To be honest, though, so far my Fridays have consisted mostly of running errands. Boo. Time for that to change!

Taking time off

In addition to taking most Fridays off, I take a longer break in August. August is usually when we vacation as a family, and when we do I take a tech break. No email, no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, and no TV. Just time together as family, in nature. I look forward to this tech break so much every year!

We also give the kids a break from summer camps and programs in August — they are home during the day with me. Both kids are now old enough to entertain themselves, which allows me to get a few hours of work in each day and still leaves plenty of time for hanging out and having adventures together.

I may even attempt to take the kiddos camping by myself this year, something I’ve never done but have wanted to try. We’ll camp a few times this summer as a family, and camping is usually the focus of our vacation, but I think camping on my own with the kids would be a fun challenge for all of us!


As a junior faculty member, I was reluctant to prioritize non-work pursuits in the summer. As a senior faculty member, I recognize that taking time off and taking the foot off the accelerator is necessary for my productivity and my mental well-being. For me, taking time off needs to include active pursuits, preferably in nature, and spending as much time as possible outdoors. In that respect, my summer is off to a pretty good start, and I look forward to continuing that positive trend!

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit about my work centering around allyship and mentoring, and my reflections on how I can be more effective at each.

Residential colleges and the politics of snow days

Snowy backyard view

My view as I’m writing this post. It’s hard to tell in this picture, but the snow is still coming down heavily.

As is wont to happen occasionally at this time of year, we are currently in the midst of a pretty significant snowstorm. As I’m writing this, my city’s blanketed under 9+ inches of snow, while the city where I work, a half hour south of where I live, has over a foot of snow. All of which has fallen since about 7am.

Smartly, last night the city where I work called a snow day. Forecasts were calling for a foot of snow, and kids are bussed in from the outlying rural areas, so calling school off was a no-brainer. The city where I live had a scheduled no-school day today anyway, but called a snow day last night (calling off the no-school day programs and all after-school and evening activities) because of the weather forecast. Better to be safe than put kids and parents and staff in peril.

road conditions map

Road conditions right before I left campus this afternoon to head home. Light purple = bad news. Plus, by the time I hit the road, there were more purple “!” diamonds indicating accidents and spin-outs.

My institution is a residential campus. The president of the college lives,
literally, next door to my building. Conventional wisdom is that faculty and staff live within walking distance to campus. The majority of students live on campus, and those that don’t live nearby.

Close for snow? Why would we do that?

Oh sure, I received an email this morning around 7am indicating that “it’s up to faculty members as to whether they want to cancel class”. And letting me know that hey, there’s a way I can conduct class remotely! But, uh, I probably should have tested it out first, and oh yeah, we don’t have enough licenses to support the number of students in my class.

But the culture is that we’re here for our students, always and no matter what. And 10 weeks is an awfully short time anyway, so can we really afford to cancel class? Oh, and faculty really shouldn’t miss too many classes during the term. Well, I’m headed home for a funeral later this week, I’ll be at a conference for almost a week in February, and I’m missing another class day in March due to travel, so that’s 4 class days already I’m missing.

Snow on car

This is what greeted me when I left my office. This much snow fell in just over 4 hours.

So yeah, I drove down to campus this morning, and drove back pretty much right after my class this afternoon. Against my better judgment.

It took me about 45 minutes to drive to school this morning and just under an hour and a half to get home. It usually takes me 25 minutes door to door.

This afternoon, it was White Knuckle Driving the entire way. Zero visibility. Heavy falling snow. Roads that clearly had been plowed at some point, but where the snow drifted back over the road. At times, I wasn’t even sure I was on the road anymore. There was what looked like a really big accident on an interstate off-ramp near my house. A tow truck in the ditch somewhere else. And once I reached my neighborhood, streets that haven’t yet been plowed at all.

Close for snow? Why would we do that?

Whiteout conditions

Where’s the road?

While faculty received some, um, “guidance” on alternatives to holding class, it’s not clear what, if any, guidance staff were given. How many, and which, staff members were told it was ok to not come in? I imagine that the “don’t cancel class” culture that exists for faculty has a counterpart for staff, so I can imagine that the unstated pressure to come in exists on the staff side too. And I imagine that some staff, perhaps hourly staff, may not have had a choice. Or, if a choice exists, it entails burning a sick day or a vacation day, or not getting paid at all. And if you need, or want, to keep those for other reasons, or rely on that paycheck because your financial situation is precarious, maybe that choice is not a choice at all.

And let’s talk about child care. Many school districts were closed today. Are we supposed to bring our kids to campus in this storm? Isn’t that unsafe? And again, what about staff that can’t bring kids in to work (as I heard today) and don’t have an alternative? I have a spouse that could stay home, but I doubt my situation is the norm. Aren’t we putting faculty and staff, again, in a precarious position?

Feet in deep snow.

Glad I chose not to wear my usual teaching outfit of a dress and tights today, so that I could wade through the 12+ inches of snow surrounding my car.

Oh, and the conventional wisdom that faculty and staff live within walking distance of campus? Plenty of faculty and staff do not. We choose not to for many reasons. And even faculty and staff who technically do live within walking distance may choose not to walk in, or perhaps can’t because of physical limitations or other reasons. The city where I work closed down this afternoon. They halted mail delivery and all non-essential operations. Road and sidewalk conditions were plenty precarious in town. My guest speakers for today’s class had difficulties going 2 blocks from their previous meeting to the building where my class is held. So proximity to campus, for our students, staff, and faculty, also in this case does not provide any additional safety.

Close for snow? Why would we do that?

Today’s decision by my institution to remain open during a significant storm was foolish and dangerous. It reflects a view of college personnel’s life circumstances (local, child care at the ready, a degree of financial security) that is outdated and out of touch. And providing choices that for many are false choices, is not really a choice at all. I would love to see us rethink such decisions in the future, and be a bit wiser about faculty, staff, and student safety.

Grateful

It’s the day before the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, and like most people today I’m pretending to work.

Whoops! I meant to say: I’m thinking about all the things I’m grateful for.

I could use this post to talk about all the obvious things I’m grateful for: wonderful friends, supportive colleagues, loving family, etc. But I thought it might be fun to write a post about some less-obvious things on my gratitude list.

So, here, a random list of three less-obvious things for which I am grateful:

  1. Meditation. I mentioned in my last post that I started meditating this summer, and how much it has changed my life, both work-wise and in my personal life. I never imagined that I was the meditating “type”, but now my day does not feel complete until and unless I meditate. 10 minutes each morning is enough to center me for the day, and I honestly think it makes me a better version of myself.
  2. Slack. Slack is a team communication platform. (Kind of like instant messaging on steroids, for those of you old enough to remember IM.) Our students have been using Slack for a bit, but I didn’t really use it until I went on sabbatical. Then, I used it as a way to keep in touch with my superhero lady gang/support group/close friends. This year, I’m using it extensively to keep up with my Comps groups. We’re also using it as a department to replace our normal “hallway conversations”, as a way to keep those of us with offices outside the building and everyone on leave in the loop. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when your office is literally all the way across campus from your colleagues, but Slack has pretty much eliminated that for me. (It’s also changed how we communicate as a department, but I’ll save that for another post.)
  3. Online communities. Some people find it weird to consider people you’ve never met in person as friends. To me, it seems like the most natural thing in the world, thanks to the online communities in which I take part. A group of amazing and powerful women and I trained virtually together for marathons in Fall 2016, and most of us still keep in touch. Turns out, we have much more in common than our love for running crazy long distances, and I’ve found these women to be invaluable sources of inspiration, non-judgmental listeners, and providers of well-timed comic relief. Dealing with my layoff from running has been easier thanks to the injured runners Facebook group I joined — the group provides a safe space to vent and whine and share those small victories and setbacks that happen when you’re coming back from injury. And this year I ponied up for an individual membership to NCFDD, which gives me access to faculty development resources and, best of all, a community of faculty who support and hold each other accountable for writing and generally making forward progress in research.

To all of you celebrating this weekend, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and hope you take some time to focus on the less-obvious things that make you grateful, too.