Monday, September 25, 2006

We Decided to Start Our Family...

by getting a kitten. My family has had fun teasing friends who are anticipating our eventual babies by saying, "Eric and Faith are expecting ... to get a kitten!" Yes, this is cruel, but entertainment is scarce.

We like to give credit (or blame) to New Lawyer Chad who adopted an adorable kitten and sent us a picture. After a weekend visit to the shelter, we found Augustine. [For all of you who don't know the proper pronunciation, put the emphasis on the second syllable so that it will rhyme with the word sin, and not the butchered Americanized version that rhymes with the name Christine.] Our cat happens to be female, but she is well qualified to sport the namesake of a saint. That, and it was with much weeping and gnashing of teeth that we settled on the name in the first place, and we aren't about to go through that anguish again until I'm wearing maternity clothes.

As an aside, the shelter was a depressing experience. The smell of unchanged litterboxes left until closing time filled the air and the dogs kept up a constant racket. It made you feel shallow for choosing a young kitten when there were so many adult cats that would probably know little else than the shelter. Most cats would crowd the front of their cages when you neared, and while we knew we weren't adopting them, we felt obligated to give some affection. Guilt gets us every time. So to alleviate this feeling and to allow me to sleep through the night, go to a shelter and adopt a pet. Or seven.

When I returned from work today, Eric had brought her home and was acclimating Augustine to her surroundings. She loved the space, and we're even limiting her to our finished basement and utility room for now. She entertains us with her convulsions as she tries to attack her tail or anything else that flicks around a little too quickly. I must admit that I'm loving her constant purring. It's pleasant to have a scittering little creature around the house again (any possible mice looking for future tenancy are hereafter excepted).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Difference Between Men and Women

Two likely responses to the question, "How was your day today?"

Female Response
It was nonstop, but I enjoyed it. I photocopied midterms for several classes and graded those that the professors dropped off, creating question analyses for each exam. I updated the department webpage with upcoming seminars and publications. I helped sort mail. Someone wanted to FedEx some fish and another wanted the protocol for sending two gallons of ethanol -- it was too much of a hassle, with all the biohazard fees and special packaging, so they nixed the idea. Phone calls were transferred to the proper people, with only a couple lost when things got tricky. We came up with a better presentation format for the graduate pictures and started incorporating the changes. I billed grants for necessary funds. Then I created a poster for a lecture series next month; I'm especially proud of the background. I also made a call to figure out how to set up my voicemail. Some graduate forms were processed for students who are ready to defend their dissertation or who need to be admitted to candidacy. Then I collected the necessary signatures. When I had a chance, I gathered some information for a report that needed to be processed. Then it was time to head home.

Male Response
My day was fine.

Fortune Cookie

For my birthday last week, we sampled a nearby Chinese restaurant. Eric and I were both amused by our fortune cookies. Since he's written about his, I thought I would share mine as well:

"Faith is the key to finding the answer you're looking for."

It seems appropriate when you consider my job. After two weeks as a graduate administrative assistant, I've already volleyed countless requests.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Notre Dame Football, or A Way of Life

Notre Dame Football.

Honestly, I think it's a cult here in South Bend. People without question buy "The Shirt" for the year and faithfully wear it at gatherings as they gesture in unison. Look around you in the stands at any given moment, and you will see every member gesticulating as one. "They" snare new members as the youngest ones enter the university, even getting them to fork over money with the lure of standing on a narrow bench for hours on end. The weather is questionable during these services, and yet they still manage to woo them with the guise of student-priced season tickets.

Then, at certain moments in the program, the members respond in thanksgiving by lifting up chosen ones from among them and raising them up to the heavens, symbolically elevating and lowering them repeatedly. Those nearby chant numbers to participate in this ceremony. It is not clear to those outside the fold who or what entity is the focus: perhaps the pseudo-deity floating above by some unknown force, known by the moniker Goodyear Blimp. These actions also appear to correspond to the movements of several men cavorting on the grass below as well as the views of men dressed much like their zebra brethren. A deliberate homage?

Then, at the close of this spectacle, all congregate at key sections of the manicured lawn to link arms and sway in unison while a tune with special hold over the members is played, mesmerizing them. Quite an experience. Yours truly may be yet captured in their fold, as my husband already appears to be falling under the spell, and I fear he may break down my spirit.

Friday, September 08, 2006

School Memories: Decisions, Part Two

Yesterday I set up the context for today's reflection from my time spent teaching. If you didn't see Part One, you really ought to read it first.

When I entered that teaching job, I was able to borrow heavily from other colleagues. Since they had established curriculum, I thought that was the best place to start, and I could tweak as necessary. In my course for seniors, the format had them begin by writing an essay entitled, "What I Wish." I gave them little guidance other than to give me an essay fulfilling that topic. Some students chose to be flippant whereas others approached the topic earnestly. Whatever the tone of the essay, I was able to learn more about my students and gauge their writing strengths and weaknesses. From there, we could delve however deeply into the nuances of formal writing.

Once we reached the end of our semester together and began reading Staggerford together, students were able to connect with the text as Hassler included excerpts from the essays as Miles Pruitt graded them.

However, before that point, I had an opportunity to face a similar crisis as I shared in the excerpt yesterday. One student of mine chose as her topic her broken family. Her wish was that her brother would return home and that he would stop his deception; that she could turn back time and save her brother from being faced with parenthood and supporting his pregnant girlfriend when he had no steady employment.

The girl wrote well, so I wasn't faced with the dilemma of correcting her grammar or style, but I sat transfixed, deliberating as to what I should write for comments. The raw emotion in her paper had me riveted, and being the mediator that I am, I wished I could solve the problem. But how could I share with her that I empathized? After all, I barely knew my students, it was the start of the year. What would be appropriate?

I decided to be honest with her. I wrote that I appreciated her frankness, and that while the situations weren't identical, I had gone through a family situation that wasn't altogether different. Our family wrestled with the best way to support my sister in the midst of her decisions, and in the end, she matured so much through the experience and I had a new closeness with her. I wished a similar fate to my student's situation.

After no follow-up from the student, I soon forgot my comment and her what her response to it might have been. Then October came around, and I was conducting conferences with parents in the cafeteria, converted to accomodate meetings between all the teachers and parents. While meeting with this girl's mother, we discussed the routine information, the daughter's grade sheet before us.

Towards the end of the conference, the mother brought up the "What I Wish" essay: "My daughter came home from school the day you returned those essays, and she said, 'Mom, you have to read what my teacher wrote on my paper.' We both were so touched. That meant so much to her. Thank you for doing that. Can I ask you more about your experience?"

We shared the experiences we had in common, both of us blinking back tears. I relived the uncertainty of that time in our family and the eventual transformation in my sister, and her eyes and words betrayed the anguish she was facing daily. She took comfort in the hope that her situation could improve, and that reconciliation could come in time.

As our conference ended and I collected myself for the next one, I was gratified that I had followed through on my instincts. What had my comments actually done? The brother hadn't returned home, the family was still dealing with the brokenness. But in being transparent, I shared my experience and perhaps gave a measure of hope. That I wrote something personal meant something to the student, so much so that this girl showed her essay to her mother, wanting to pass on the hope that though things be hard now, they could change.

That was one of my prouder moments in teaching.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

School Memories: Decisions, Part One

I recognize, for lack of anything better to write about, I have been posting reminiscent stories from my time spent teaching. But as the blog address claims to be a fount of "introvert reflections," I don't feel this is against my purpose.

While teaching a class preparing seniors for the rigorous reading and writing demands of college, I would end the semester with the novel Staggerford, by Jon Hassler. This was a pleasant way to end our time together, but it also allowed us to work in a seminar format with the novel.

Before this particular teaching job, I had previously been unfamiliar with the work (and the author, for that matter), but as I learned quickly in my tenure in Minnesota, we embrace Minnesotan authors.

Opinion was split on the book. I loved it from the beginning. The story chronicles a week in the life of one Miles Pruitt, a disillusioned English teacher. It starts out slow, which caused some seniors to reject it as a poor literary example, but I see it as a deliberate ploy to make the readers experience the same monotony and frustration that Miles has lived. The plot intricately escalates to an unexpected turn of events, but that's all the teaser I will give.

As far as the connection I wanted to share, I must relate that Miles has been grading essays, and he stumbles upon one from Beverly Bingham, another key character. The topic for the essay is "What I Wish," and Beverly ends hers this way:
I will only say this: How would you like to have a mother on your hands who's a little more deranged every day? How would you like to be known as the Bonewoman's daughter? How would you like to live in a dump? So there's a lot of things I wish. I wish my dad had had a normal sort of life and I wish my mother was normal and I wish I knew where my sister was and I wish I lived in a house where the birds didn't fly around upstairs and I wish I knew what was going to happen to me in the future. Please help me, Mr. Pruitt.

And this is where I feel my heart ache. What would I do in such a situation, when a student reaches out and drops her guard and pours out her innermost thoughts, wanting resolution? What do you say? How do you get her the needed help without embarrassing her once she realizes what she wrote in haste?

Miles Pruitt struggles with what he should write in return, as he doesn't want this student-teacher relationship to become any more awkward and familiar than has been occurring. Yet, he wants to help Beverly in this genuine cry of desperation.

Finally he comes to a conclusion:
He must guard against becoming anything more than her English teacher. At the top of her paper he wrote, "This should be more than one paragraph."

Ouch. I get deflated even now, even when I have read this book several times. I wish I could alter his choice and instead encourage him to go with his initial instincts and offer aid, passing on the names and numbers of people to contact.

So how exactly does this tie in to my actual classroom? As this has already turned into a lengthy post, I will save the heart of this reflection until tomorrow, when I will wrap it up with a more direct connection. O the anticipation!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wherein We Learn What Awaits our Heroine: Continued Vacation, or a New Vocation?

I somehow made it through the weekend, filling my time with books and craftiness (craftiness defined as the obsolete meaning dexterous and not the current underhanded).

Keeping distracted was no small feat when you consider a certain husband of mine still had class on Labor Day, so our schedule didn't vary for the holiday. I nevertheless maintained a semblance of routine even though I knew today would force me to a decision: either delightful news of employment or the dreadful task of beginning the search anew with few prospects in sight.

Today arrived and I began willing the phone to ring. Apparently my efforts were misplaced, as my cell phone, previously the receptor of calls, remained silent, but our infrequently used landline brought closure to my job search.

I was kindly offered gainful employment, helping to manage graduate students in a science department. Naturally, I graciously accepted. Yes, as of next Monday, pending the results of my background check and my first "hair sample" drug screening, I will begin working alongside another as she finishes her tenure and I begin mine.

I must say I will anticipate the end to my leisure. I enjoy vacations, but I struggled staying content when I didn't know when the end would come. I'm afraid this issue will haunt me when I am faced with retirement; I will either never retire or be someone extensively involved with volunteering when I do so.

Friday, September 01, 2006


I had three interviews in the span of three business days, all at different community colleges or universities in South Bend.

The first interview was the last one scheduled, and they asked me to come in that same day. Fortunately, I'm flexible, and while I wasn't sure how interested I was in the position, I thought it would at least give me practice answering the typical questions.

The position open was for an adjunct English instructor at a community college. As part of the interview, I was to teach for ten minutes on a topic of my choice. No handouts were necessary. I tossed around different ideas, and decided on a topic from my student-teaching days, Joseph Campbell's Monomyth concept, sometimes called the Hero's Journey. While some are skeptical of the benefit of this theory to literature, it is an interesting way to analyze a dominant character through the course of her changes, and this approach recognizes the formulaic nature of many works.

I felt the interview was mediocre, but I did a respectable job with my teaching portion. I knew as I left that I wasn't interested in the position. It was for an evening composition class (four-hour stints three nights a week), and my employment would be from month to month, as the college accelerates students through one class each month, and they wouldn't always need a composition class available. Nevertheless, they called me this past weekend to offer me the position. I politely declined.

Onward! Another interview was working in the financial aid sphere for a dean of students. I felt that I was on the fence for this one: the tasks were not ones I had much previous experience in, and while two of the four interviewers seemed pleased with me, two seemed aloof. Not the best connection I've had with potential co-workers and employers. I have yet to hear back on this one, but I'm not sure I see myself in that position. I'm of the mindset that I don't want them to offer me the job, as that means I have to be the one to make a decision.

Finally, the last interview was for a position managing graduate students in a science department. This seems to have the most overlap to previous job experience and interest, and I connected with the employers. They were to make a decision by the close of this week, but then I received a call yesterday that they wanted me in for a second interview. During that time, I met an individual who had been absent for my initial visit, and they asked some questions that had been previously overlooked.

They are to contact me Tuesday with their final decision. I'm optimistic, as I was told by one not to accept any other offers before then, but I also recognize they may have other prospectives that are as capable or more suited to the position than I am. So, my employment is still questionable, but I hope to have positive news come Tuesday. Otherwise, the search begins again to find the appropriate fit for me. That, or I start coercing you for donations. Just imagine, I could knit socks in exchange for steady philanthropy.