Or, A Labor Day Post Quite Different from Last Year’s
The summer of 2014 has been long and strange for me and horrifying for much of the world. I’m not sorry to see it end. Within a 17-day period in July, I started a new job, lost a beloved and relatively young (six and a half years old) dog, and lost my mother, who was not young and hadn’t been in good health for a long time, but still. And when I say that I lost them, I don’t mean I misplaced them. I mean that my dog and my mother died, within eight days of one another — while I was still trying to sort out the best places to park and pee in my new job. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, it did suck.
I don’t want to blog about the dying, though. I hope you won’t mind. I’ve done plenty of sharing on Facebook, and maybe some day I’ll find a way to blog about the powerful ways in which these two deaths, so proximate to one another in time, are linked in my heart-mind. For now, I’d like to blog about the happy part of my long, strange summer, the part that went beautifully when so much else was so achingly out of joint — the start of the aforementioned new job.
Classes begin tomorrow at Queer the Turtle U, but I’ve just gone through one of the busiest weeks of the year in my new position as executive director of an academic residential community that is home to close to 2,000 academically talented freshmen and sophomores. This past Wednesday, we welcomed our new cohort of 977 freshmen to campus with a convocation ceremony that featured some first-rate a cappella singing, the university president, and yours truly in the role of inspirational speaker, though I have a hunch our young scholars will forever remember me as the Lady in the Awesome Red Jacket Who Inadvertently Made Them All Think About Sex at the Same Time. (Long story. Brief occupational lesson: Never forget that eighteen-year-olds are always this close to thinking about sex. Speak with caution. And laugh along with them when you push them over the edge.) On Thursday, we sent them all out at ten minutes past the butt crack of dawn to do service projects at thirty sites throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C., a logistical operation on par with the invasion of Normandy as far as I am concerned. On Friday, we worked quietly in our offices while caffeinating heavily and patting ourselves on the backs that not a single teenager had been maimed or killed on Service Day. Some of us stayed late to hang out at a burrito slam (is that a thing now?) being hosted by four of our programs. On Saturday, I pulled my sleeping bag out of mothballs, gave a quick kiss to the Person to Whom I Am Legally Married, and headed off to a 4-H camp (see photo above) in the part of Maryland that is really West Virginia to spend the weekend with students and faculty in another of our programs who prefer to do their getting acquainted in the company of snakes, mice, and salamanders. In this instance, tacos were slammed. (Long story. Brief occupational lesson: The new job involves lots of social eating. Someone is headed back to her Lifestyle Adjustment Program soon for a quick refresher course before the buttons on that red jacket start popping off.) I drove home this morning, exhausted, stiff as a board from two nights on a flimsy mattress in a rustic cabin, grinning like a fool. Labor Day? I chuckled to myself. In this case, I think we should call it Labor of Love Day.
Go ahead. Roll your eyes. Feel cynical or superior. Or click back to that Word document of the syllabus you’ve been working at in a desultory way for the better part of the weekend. Or stick around for a minute or two and listen to an academic talk about something other than fear and loathing of everything currently happening in higher education. Don’t worry. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that there is plenty to fear and loathe. That’s just not my focus here.
I’m an academic, and I am having fun at work. There. I said it. I know I’m still in the honeymoon phase of this new gig and that one day I’ll wake up and there will be reports to write instead of inspirational speeches and meetings that will make me wish I had food poisoning to get out of attending. I am also acutely aware of how fortunate I am to be in a big honking R-1 school chockablock with cool programs that need people to run them. Still, I don’t think my situation is all that unusual. Most schools have similar opportunities for mid-career course adjustments that can ease the dread so many faculty members feel this time of year. My advice to those for whom the dread is starting to feel unbearable? Look around you. Keep your ears open for opportunities. Put out feelers. Be open to possibilities that might seem unusual. Unusual could easily turn out to be just right. That’s what happened in my case. I’d never been involved in a living-learning program. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to apply for my current position if I hadn’t been actively exploring what I might do once I stepped down from twelve years of running a small academic program. I was prepared to head back “home” to the English department full time and focus on getting promoted, but when this opportunity came up something told me I ought to pursue it. I was surprised by what my gut was telling me to do, but my gut has never steered me wrong. I listened to it. I’m glad I did. I love the energy and excitement of my new office as well as the commitment to working together to make great things happen for undergraduate students in their first two years.
I’m an academic, and I am having fun at work. Are you? If you aren’t, look around you. Maybe the best job you’ll ever have is right there on your own campus. Don’t just stand on the dock feeling surly or sad. Dive in — Summer may be over, but the water is still fine!
This post is dedicated to my dear pal Lisa, who lives on the water, recently became a dean, and is also in mad love with her new job. Lisa, my friend, you make me regret every No Dean Left Behind joke I ever made. If higher ed is in your capable hands, we might avoid the apocalypse after all.