The Geek Embassy
Regina is a teacher, a poet, and an academic in the Pacific Northwest.
One Word. Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you? If you did Reverb10 then bonus points for also re-posting your 2011 word from last year along with how you feel about that in retrospect.
I am ashamed to admit that I couldn’t remember my word from last year. So I went back into my archive and read my first Reverb post. TIME, apparently, was on my mind last year and my hope for this year was to fill it with joy.
Well what is it they say about the best laid plans? Although there were great moments of joy this year, namely finishing my Ph.D. in May and the weeks of celebration that followed, experiencing the joy of that event was more difficult than I anticipated.
Finishing the dissertation left me in a pretty deep depression. It wasn’t what I expected at all – I thought that moment of triumph would carry me for a long, long time. But along with the relief I felt at finishing I also had a great deal of animosity about being done. I missed working on my dissertation and having something that consumed most of my waking thoughts. It was weird to wake up in the morning with my usual, “OMG what do I have to finish today?” and answer it with, “Nothing. It is done.”
I suppose the finality of that was something I should have anticipated, just as I should have anticipated how much looking for a new job would suck the life out of me. But burning deep inside of me is the bright light of an optimist, ever hoping for the best. I felt like something would break on the job front as I put out an endless stream of application letters for both full and part time jobs.
And slowly things did begin to break and opportunities I didn’t expect showed up and I ended up teaching an overload of classes for this semester (four schools, six classes, approximately 155 students). For most of the semester I felt like I was moving backwards, patch-working an adjunct schedule together like I did before I got into the Ph.D. program.
And then one new job showed up, one where I get to teach master’s students and my whole outlook changed. Finally, something new, exciting, different and permanent (for the most part) showed up in my life. I didn’t realize how stressful part time work would be this time, being older and in greater debt than I was when I first started teaching. That never knowing or only finding out a few weeks before the semester begins IF you have work the next term…. it’s painful. Some day I will write a scathing critique of higher education and how screwed up the adjunct system is. This is not that day.
So when I look back at this year the one word that comes to mind is transformation. This was a year filled with change, emotionally and physically (see posts on exercise for more about that). It is fitting, I think, for the months after finishing a big project to transform my life into something new and different. My plan for the spring is coming together in my head as well, with more time spent writing again. My fingers have been itching to write, a desire that was smothered by the depression around completing the dissertation. So I have high hopes for loosely keeping up with Reverb11 (no promises with such an overload of final papers to read in the next two weeks) and hoping this transformation brings me to a 2012 filled with joy. I worked on that this year, seems fitting to continue to work on it again until I can manage to manifest it for real.
A couple of weeks ago, I made a short post about exercise. It was nothing profound or even interesting – it was one of the few times I’ve posted simply because I just had to get that thought out of my head. I was tired, worn out, and feeling like the road to better health would be paved with lots of frustration and time spent literally running in circles.
But a delightful thing happened recently. I’ve been able to feel the change in my body, building up a fair amount of stamina from the 40 minute rounds I’ve spent on the recumbent bike (easy on my knee injury) and some of the moderate strength training I’ve been doing (pull-ups and dips, and some squats and leg lifts). I’m seeing some muscle tone in my arms (who knew?) and when I need to do tasks around the house like vacuuming, I zoom through them.
On top of that, I find myself craving cardio workouts. My friend, Kathleen, and I have been going to a local park that has an epic set of stairs – over 100 I think although in the trip up I never have the wherewithal to actually count them. Last time we went, I went up and down three times, totally exhausting myself. I’ve only been a handful of times but I find myself craving those stairs now, since the stair machines at the gym just aren’t the same.
I’ve never been in particularly “bad” shape – I’ve generally incorporated some kind of workout into my regular routine and have always favored mind body exercise like yoga. But this is the first time I’ve applied myself to more strenuous workouts, one that leave me sweaty and exhausted and calm. I sleep better, I crave healthy foods, and I’m drinking lots of water.
I’ve also been keeping track of what I’m eating, knowing that just that simple act makes you eat less. I’m using an app on my iPod Touch and it’s got a huge database that hasn’t left me hanging yet.
So when my trial, three month membership to the gym expired today, I had that decision to make. Do I commit to a regular membership? It’s not an inexpensive proposition and I could very well do the same cardio workouts at the exercise room provided by my complex, so this took some thought.
But I realized one of the things that keeps me going back to the rec center (not a traditional gym since I’ve had too many bad experiences in such places) is the fact that I am surrounded by people in the same mindset as me. There is a sign on the door as you leave that says, “Smile – You just did something good for your body!” with a cheese eating grin on the face of a very cute guy.
And I smile. Automatically.
So rather than disrupt my groove, I’m keeping the membership and cutting down on some other expenses (likely my weekly nights out with my girlfriends). We’ll just have to start making cocktails at home instead…. I am pretty sure they’ll be fine with that.
Another suggestion from the same post is to ask my dear readers what they’d like to see me write about…. So, Dear Reader, any topics you’d like me to discuss here?
I am working on some projects today that I will likely reflect on later this week. Attempting to push myself out of my comfort zone and do some things that scare me a little. I am sure they will ignite a fair amount of reflection.
It’s no secret that I’ve been looking for a full time teaching gig of some sort since I finished my Ph.D. To date, I have applied to five different full time positions in my area. Recently, I applied to a local community college and I had a really good feeling about the application. In my mind, I was a good fit for what they were looking for and I have the experience and the degrees to make me an attractive candidate.
Or so I thought, at least.
This morning, I checked the HR website. Days after I submitted my application materials my application “status” went from “Under HR Review” to “Sent to Committee for Review” which essentially means they looked over my materials and determined that I had the base requirements for the job. (In the case of a teaching job like this that I essentially had the right degrees.) When I checked today, my status changed to, “HR determined not selected for interview.”
As of this posting, I’ve received no notice from the college about this decision. I only know because my own curiosity kept me checking the site on a near daily basis.
Of the five full time jobs that I’ve applied for this year, I’ve heard back from only one other. For the colleges where I can check the status of my application, most say something vague along the lines of “In progress” or “Sent to committee.” One college, that I applied to in November of last year, sent me an email to confirm they received my materials but no other communication after that initial response.
All of this makes me wonder about manners in this technological age. Plenty of people discuss the tendency for people to troll forums and such, being assholes because the anonymity of the internet allows them to do so. Penny Arcade even has a comic about it:
It seems some of this has rubbed off into the job search as well. It’s not harassment going on here, and I am not dealing with creeps that think they can say whatever they want to me as I am going through this job search, but the “non-response response” that apparently has become an acceptable form of job application feedback disturbs me.
I could easily whine about how much time I spent on my application materials, especially since almost every full time teaching job requires “supplemental” application materials which often end up being several pages of writing. It’s not that I feel the time and effort I put in the application materials should at least warrant a nicely worded email response that says, “We looked over your materials and appreciate your application.”
What am I saying? That is exactly how this should go. There should be some other means of notification other than me checking the HR portal to figure out if I am still in consideration for a position, especially when I submitted some of these applications months ago.
I am not 100% sure when my status changed for this most recent application, so there is still the chance that I will get that, “Thanks but no thanks” email at some point. I suppose since things on the internet move at lightening speed, I would be more fair of me to wait a day or two to post this, just in case that email does indeed find its way to my inbox. But since they didn’t send an email to me *before* changing my status on the website, I feel fine in posting this mini-rant now.
So much for professional decorum.
Most of my life revolves around words. I have been fixated with words for years. I spend time researching word origins for fun, I write my own words, and I teach other people how to use words. It’s a good life – one that I enjoy most of the time.
I remember my first semester teaching. I had a student make an appointment to talk with me about her paper and the grade she got. I was apprehensive – I wasn’t sure what to expect really being my first class and everything. I knew she was a good student and I also knew her writing was falling short in some ways. She was assuming that the reader knew what she was trying to say.
So we sat under an old oak tree and she told me the classic line somewhere along the lines of why did I get this grade and I should have gotten an A. I gave her the chance to vent, to get out her frustrations which I suspected weren’t all from my class. And then I tired to tame the words in my head into a shape she would understand.
Basically, I said, you need to actually say what you’re thinking. You just told me you were thinking that Elisa Allen (from John Steinbeck’s The Chrysanthemums) felt trapped by the hills, the fog, and the fence that contain her flowers. In the paper, you just list those as parts of the setting of the story but don’t discuss how they relate back to her character. You need to put the words behind your thoughts and not assume your audience knows what you’re getting at.
I wasn’t sure in that moment if she understood what I was saying but she decided to rewrite and turn it back in. When she did, I saw marked improvement in her writing – she made her points clearly and I could understand what she was getting and and why. Her papers for the rest of the semester were all fleshed out like this and I could see where she was making the effort to put my words to work.
Variations of this conversation, in class and in one-on-one situations, colored the rest of my teaching. Only recently have I realized exactly how important that idea is not just in writing but every other aspect of life as well. Your partner, your mom, or your siblings, anyone else in your life that you love… none of them know what you’re thinking. Sometimes you just have to buck up and say it, as difficult as it might be to put words to the feelings. Don’t ever take for granted that the people around you know without you telling them.
And even so, when you are talking to each other, take the time to suss out what you’re actually saying as opposed to what you assume is being said. In the class I taught this spring, one of the concepts we constantly came back to is how we, as readers, impact what we read. You might think words are universal and indisputable but part of the power of words is the fact that meanings are often maleable, moving and shifting like the sun that breaks through the leaves on a summer’s day.
After my mom got sick, my brother and I started talking on the phone more often. I suppose this shouldn’t be news but since we didn’t grow up together we were never really close. He started telling me “Love ya, Sis” every time we ended a conversation. It’s amazing the impact those words can have. Yes, I have assumed that my brother loves me for most of my life, but finally hearing him say the words in such a blatant, honest display is more than a little overwhelming and it’s left me with more kindness in my heart than ever existed before.
Words take work. And risk. And it’s worth it in the end.
I never realized how many musically inclined friends I had until I bought Rock Band. I knew we were a creative group of people, and I knew many of us had theater backgrounds but I didn’t know that most of my friends are musicians of one sort or another.
So Rock Band was more of a draw for my group of friends than I had expected it to be. One of the interesting observations I’d heard from many of my musician friends was that it was often difficult to reconcile what the game was asking them to do and what was happening musically. Like when they were asked to play a note at one point, it wasn’t always where they thought it should be in terms of the song being played.
This was an entirely new concept to me. Whenever I played the guitar, bass, or drums, the actions for the game were completely abstract as far as I was concerned. The red, blue, yellow, green and orange “keys” I was hitting? Just buttons to push at whatever given time. Knowing the song we were playing only mattered if I was singing because let me tell you, you don’t know the words to any songs you sing. ANY.
But I digress.
I finally had this experience my friends talked about but only after I bought Rock Band 3 and the keyboard controller. Suddenly my fingers where moving in time to the music and my familiarity with the song was a help, my lack of knowledge a hinderance. It’s completely changed the game for me.
You might already know where I am headed with this, dear reader, but in case you don’t here is the *big insight*: I know how to play the piano. I took seven or eight years worth of lessons when I was a kid and although if you sat me down at a piano I would have a hard time recalling Fur Elise or Moonlight Sonata, I can run most of the major scales and know most of the major and minor cords. This knowledge allows me to play the keyboard on HARD, a difficultly level I would never approach with the other instruments.
My previous knowledge of how to play piano mapped over into the game and has completely changed my experience of it. I have always enjoyed Rock Band – it’s one of the few games that pretty much everyone can enjoy, even the people not playing it can watch the videos or the rapt attention being paid to the screen by the performers. And it is a performance. That is part of the “play” of the game – acting the part – and part of the fun.
Part of what I discuss in my dissertation is how game experience maps into other areas of life, that the confidence and problem solving gamers experience gets translated into work or life situations. Well, apparently it works both ways – life experience maps back into the game as well. It’s not a surprise that these experiences interact with each other this way – it is this give and take between what we know and what we are learning that is the foundation of identity formation and gaming is, for many of us, a significant component of that formation.
It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to write some words for this space… I’ve been going kind of crazy keeping up with life even though it should have slowed down for me over the summer. Funny how things sometimes just work out differently than expected…..
But I’ve been thinking about this post for the last few days and my fingers wouldn’t stop itching this morning from the desire to write. And since it’s my birthday, I am giving myself permission to write and reflect.
As I look back over my life, I can pinpoint places where I made major changes, the crossroads where I picked the branches that have grown into my life. Some were BIG crossroads like moving to New York or leaving my ex-husband. Those are easy to see and observe the changes that have branched off from those moments. More powerfully still, I stand at a similar crossroads now… a BIG one and I know it. I am painfully aware that this decision will impact my life in a very powerful way and I’m slowly growing more comfortable with my thoughts about it.
I left the Bay Area in 1998, expecting that I would live in New York for a year, maybe two, and then head back home. I enjoyed my time there, made some of the best friends of my life (one I know, thankfully, reads this blog), but it was never home. I never settled. The mindset was too conservative, the winters had too much white stuff on the ground and I just never really felt at ease there.
From New York, I moved to my first hellmouth in the far reaches of Northern CA. I thought I was heading home then, when I left the east coast and headed to my home state. Little did I know that the milage of CA can bring you some very different, er, populations of people and ideas and, frankly, closed mindedness. I still wasn’t home.
Next was eastern WA and a classic college town. I was excited, knowing that college towns are famous independently owned restaurants and bookstores. And there were a couple but there were far more cheap pizza places and nasty beer on tap. Hellmouth #2 still wasn’t home.
The first time I called a place other than the Bay Area home was when I moved here, living in the suburbs of Portland, OR. The word tumbled out of my mouth without any real consideration. “I am headed home,” I said to a friend on the phone. He asked, “Oh to see your mom?” And that was when I knew something had changed. I experienced the same sensation a couple of weeks ago when I saw the lights of downtown Portland from I-5, returning home from a trip to see my mom. My heart swelled at that sight, and any thought I’d been having of a nation wide job search next year vaninished.
There is a predetermined path people who finish Ph.D.s are on, a set of “rules” so to speak about what you are supposed to do and when and where and why. It goes something like this….
You pour your heart and soul into a project that is judged by a group of people as to wether it is worthy enough to bestow the title of “doctor of philosophy” to you. While you are working on that project, you also need to be applying to jobs in your field, tenure track professorships anywhere in the country. It is expected that the first job you take will move you to some remote, land-grant university a hair removed from BFE and you will be thankful for said job.
I am pretty sure I’d do well on the job market. My dissertation is good material for an academic book, I have TONS of teaching experience, and great recommendations from the people I work with. If I put myself out there, I think something good would come along.
But I am unwilling to move to BFE. I don’t want to give up the life I’ve made for myself here.
Somehow, that makes me feel like a failure. Like I’m looking down that road and unwilling to force my foot to take the first step. And I realize that sounds kinda crazy, but when you’ve been in a situation where success is limited to one very specific, very limited outcome, well…. it’s difficult not to feel like I’m failing in some way.
So I decided, I needed to redefine success to something that makes sense for me. And that brings me back here to this blog, where I do writing that I enjoy and that makes me happy. I am happy here; I’d be happy, I think in a mosaic career that is part teaching and perhaps part time consulting and writing. Something where I can piece together all the components of life that I enjoy. It won’t be easy – not by any stretch of the imagination – but I think I’m up to it, especially since my recent health crisis has motivated me into a much more healthy and active lifestyle.
My only fear, one that dissipates whenever I think about my reaction to seeing the Portland skyline, is that I’ll still feel like I’ve missed out on something making this choice but then I remind myself that perception might dictate that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but things are looking pretty green from right here.