Monthly Archives: April 2019

Monday Motivator: Be Someone’s Hero

I love the band Snow Patrol. It is one of the things that you will have to deal with if we become friends. I will play their songs. I will quote their songs. If you don’t like them, you can still be my friend, but be aware that I will never stop trying to make you understand the wonder that is Snow Patrol.

After seven years, they finally have a new album and a tour that included Nashville. I called my English department (and concert) buddy Michele, and we agreed to get tickets first thing. It’s important to know that the tickets went on sale last semester for the concert in April.

And that’s when the trouble started. Michele has taught Thursday nights for the last several semesters. But as luck would have it, this semester, her class was on a Tuesday night. And the concert was not just on any Tuesday night, it was the Tuesday night before final exams. The class just couldn’t be canceled. And everyone in the English department who had the skill to be a good substitute was buried under end-of-semester papers and projects. Michele decided she couldn’t go.

I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. I even considered selling the tickets.

But then our friend Laura came into Michele’s office. “I’m taking your class that night. You’re going to the concert.”

That is nice enough on its own. But Laura is also an English professor who has a million papers to grade the week before finals. She’s also the mother of a toddler, so giving up a night of cuddles to teach a group of freshman comp students is a pretty big thing. And no one asked her. She could have totally ignored our plight. But that’s not who Laura is.

So I saw Snow Patrol and enjoyed every minute of it. I bought Laura’s daughter a Ryman t-shirt. (Snow Patrol apparently doesn’t have toddler ts. Something to think about, lads.)

But as much as I loved the concert, it wasn’t the best part of the week. It was gratitude to know someone as nice as Laura. And now I’m on a mission of my own: to be an everyday hero to someone else.

Monday Motivator: Find Everyday Joy

For most of us here at the college, we are about to hit crunch time. There are two weeks before final exams and graduation. That would be stressful enough if everything stopped except final lessons and exams. But of course that never happens. This week, I have a two-day meeting that I will have to attend by phone because interviews have been scheduled as well. I am also involved in another set of interviews which will take up most of Friday. And that doesn’t count more interviews that have yet to be scheduled, but have to happen before faculty leave campus after graduation.

I don’t write this to garner your sympathy. Most of you have as much or more going on. It’s stressful for everyone. And because it’s stressful, it’s even more important than usual to take a few moments every now and then to just enjoy what’s going on around you.

It doesn’t have to be much. Here are just a few things that give me a moment of joy throughout the day:

  • I love stopping for a few seconds each morning as I walk toward the building to enjoy the lovely irises that are now blooming in the library garden.
  • I enjoy my walk to Target at lunch time to buy my Diet Coke and talk to the folks behind the counter who now know me (or to Chipotle, which has become my own version of Cheers).
  • Since the playoffs are going on, I like moving our stuffed animal catfish into a posture of celebration or sadness, depending on the outcome of the Predators’ match the day before.
  • If I find myself getting ‘stabby’ (a math dean coinage) in the afternoons, I take a quick walk around the quad. Just saying hi to a few students or colleagues is usually enough to restore my equilibrium.
  • I try to have to have something to look forward to doing. It could be a dinner with friends or a concert. But sometimes, it’s something as simple as knowing that a good book is waiting for me at home.

And the nice thing about working at a college is that, no matter how tension-filled the next few weeks are, a lot of the stress simply ends with graduation. It’s the nature of our business.


Monday Motivator: It’s Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been

Today’s title is a quotation attributed to George Eliot. The only thing is that she probably never said it. In fact, one writer searched both her published works and personal correspondence in a fruitless search to find the sentence. Eliot aficionados would like for their favorite author to have this sunny, optimistic side. But, apparently, it’s not to be.

Still, I like the quote. And it does have a slight Eliot tinge to it. It doesn’t say we can be anything we want, but we can still be what we could have been in the first place. So it was never in the cards for me to be a famous musician, having been born with a tin ear, total lack of rhythm, and a singing voice that no one has ever asked to hear twice. But it is still possible for me to develop some talents that have been lying fallow for years.

Today, as I was walking on the track at the Y, I noticed that all the guys lifting weights had stopped and were gazing the television. I glanced over and saw that they were watching Tiger Woods on the golf course. It was only later that I learned that Woods had won the Masters, fourteen years after winning his last one. Those years had been filled with injuries, multiple surgeries, and rehabilitation. Yet he kept going because he felt that he was still a champion.

I know next to nothing about golf. I don’t play or watch it. I know about Tiger Woods because everyone knows about him. But there is something amazing and inspiring about someone willing to put in the work he did to make a comeback.

Of course, Woods couldn’t have done it if he hadn’t already been a great player. But sometimes it’s not because we’re good, but because we’ve failed that makes us want to be what we might have been. A famous writer was known as being the nicest man around. But someone told me that while his niceness was genuine, it came from a dark place. He had been an alcoholic, and many close to him had suffered. When he became sober, he determined that he would make up for it to the best of his ability. And the story was that he went out of his way not to cause pain or embarrassment to anyone.

Maybe this week, it’s time to look at the things we wanted to be and see if they are still options. I have a strong feeling that at least one or two are out there waiting for us to remember them and start anew.

Monday Motivator: Choose Another Good Thing

My sister’s cat (the friendly one) was on the prowl late Saturday afternoon. As far as she was concerned, it was time to eat. This is not a cat that you can leave for the weekend by putting out some food and water, knowing all will be well. She would have the food eaten before you even got in your car to leave. We blame her neverending need to eat on her hard-luck life as a tiny kitten, abandoned and left alone. She had to eat as much as she could when she could, not knowing when the chance would come again.

When it comes to food, she is tenacious. She will stick her paw under the pantry door, hoping that her ten-pound body will somehow get it open. She’ll nose around the treat bag, knocking it off the counter, hoping it will burst open as it hits the ground.

But this Saturday, she was out of luck. It was an hour before feeding time; she’d already had a treat or two for the afternoon. She was going to have to wait. After pacing around the room and giving every human a pitiful look and heart-wrenching meow, she jumped on the window sill and settled down to take a nap. It was almost as she was saying that if her number one thing (eating) wasn’t happening, she wouldn’t waste any more time on it and would go to her number two favorite thing: napping.

This seems quite wise to me. When something doesn’t work out, too many people spend way too much time complaining about their bad luck and misfortune. And that’s human nature. But after a time, the best thing to do is look around and see what other good things there are to do in this life and go do one of them.


Monday Motivator: Keep Your Office (or Cubicle in Retirement Order)

A couple of years ago, a book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, became popular. Not as popular as Marie Kondo’s idea of keeping only those items that spark joy, but arguably more practical since we’re all going to die. Or in the cases I’ve been dealing with recently, retire.

I think there may be something about the academic world that attracts packrats. I have had many colleagues who had stacks of paper and books all over their offices. One colleague actually had to take your hand and help you over the stacks if you needed to come to his office and look at his computer. A student once thought the poor man’s office had been ransacked by vandals and was stunned to find it was always in that order.

I had moved from the English department before he retired, so I have no idea how long it took him to clean out his office. I’m sure he did because he was emotionally attached to his belongings. In some case, though, faculty have simply looked at their stacks and walked out the door never to return.

It is not an easy thing to clean out someone else’s office. I have done three, and, luckily, all have been because of retirement, not death, which would have added an emotional component that I’m not sure I could deal with.

Going through someone else’s things (even work things) forces decisions every few minutes. Does the person really want every mug that was stored in a file cabinet for the past thirty years? How about thank-you notes from various supervisors? Or recipes from various bean bashes and chili cook-offs over the years? (In this case, I’m assuming all could be found online.)

In the library, some of my colleagues (who practice packratting as if it were an extreme sport) think I’m being too harsh and throwing too much away. I actually think I’m saving too much, and those boxes will just sit in a house for months or years (if they are indeed ever picked up). But in any case, we’ve all learned one lesson. There is no way to know for certain what other people will value or want to keep.

So this week, do yourself (and the people who come after you) a favor. Go through your cubicle or office. Look at your stuff. Throw something away. Give something away. If an item has sentimental value, take it home.

Your future self will thank you.