Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My Reality Check Just Bounced

Being back in Tallahassee is a rude awakening on so many levels. Utah was wonderful. Really. More than ever, believe it or not. And more than ever, I’m aching to get back there and just settle in. I’m tired of aspiring for something wholly other. I’m sick of the journey, quite honestly. I want the destination at this point. And I’m happy to grow and develop in my own way once I’m at my destination, but I’m tired of life being all about getting somewhere else. Somehow, even before heading to Utah, my mind started opening up and it’s like I started seeing things more clearly and honestly than I have in a while. I’ve been wanting to blog about all my thoughts and feelings, but I feel like I don’t have time, and I know from experience that I’ll get lost as I try to articulate things and end up not saying half of the most important stuff I want to say. Bottom line: I just want to be comfortable and in my place. And right now, I’m not. Being in grad school is a means to an end. And I’m growing tired of it. The best analogy I can think of is when you spend all day long in the same room, and after hours upon hours, you just want to get out and have some new stimulation and take a deep breath of fresh air. I feel like that’s what I’m aching to do. And I’ve only recently become honest enough with myself to say, without assuming I’m somehow mistaken or an idiot or otherwise in the wrong, that my graduate program just isn’t that wonderful or rewarding. Yes, there are extremely smart people who teach here. But I don’t feel like I’ve been inspired or wowed as a student. I thought a Ph.D. program was meant to be incredibly exciting, to take you to new levels, and to groom you to be a professional. I, on the other hand, feel much like I could disappear and nobody would even realize it. I know I’m not the most proactive student in the world, but I thought part of the point of a Ph.D. program was that they took you under their wings and made sure you were ready for the next phase of your life. That’s not happening here. I quite literally think I’ve gotten little more out of this program than I would have gotten out of reading books and articles on my own. That just doesn’t seem right to me.

More immediately, I’m stressed and admittedly rather upset about how my fall semester is shaping up. I’m set to teach an ethics course that currently has 138 enrolled students. When I was a TA for a class that size, I was one of three TA’s. But, due to various constraints that I suppose ultimately tie back to the less-than-stellar economy, I’m being given one TA to help me out with this course. One. To make matters worse, this class is supposed to be “writing intensive” so as to satisfy certain university requirements. That means that I am required to require the students to write a certain amount over the course of the semester and to give them feedback on that writing. With only one TA, this seems virtually impossible. I’ve TA’d for this very same course a few times now, and at my busiest, I was responsible for grading 61 students. At that time, I felt like I was constantly grading. It was a lot to do. So, how in the world am I supposed to make my one TA grade all 138 students that are enrolled in my class? Short answer: I don’t think I really can! But where does that leave me? Do I try to grade half of them myself? That’s not going to work! I’m going to be plenty busy just preparing for the class and, heaven forbid, working on my dissertation. So what am I supposed to do? I figure that even if I spread the writing requirement out over 10 assignments, there will be 138 (rather short) essays to grade almost every single week. And that’s just impractical for one person to grade, or even for two people to grade when one of them also has to teach the course. Being in this situation is irksome. I feel like this is a rather common thing in life, for the requirements to be impossible to satisfy if one tries literally to do so in the proper way. It seems like most jobs tell you that you have to (a), (b), and (c), and yet those things in some sense contradict each other. For example, when I worked at a call center, I was told I couldn’t work any overtime without prior approval, and yet I was basically always required to stay longer than my actual shift (the requiring of which was not to be construed as permission to work overtime). I think that’s pretty much par for the course at most places, and yet it’s agitating. I think most people get away with things by bending the rules, but for those of us who want to follow the rules, it doesn’t work out. And then we look like the incompetent ones because, hey, why can’t we do it when everybody else can?

That’s my rant for today. It’s a shame I feel like ranting because I was actually feeling quite inspired while I was in Utah. My motivation has now been disemboweled by reality, but I guess I should try to muster up some enthusiasm, thinking of it as a ticket out of this place eventually. That was my game plan, and then I was told I’d get one TA. I’m finding it hard to recover from that.

Monday, August 08, 2011

My First Ever Airport Post

I’m sitting here at Tallahassee Regional Airport. My flight was supposed to leave here 40 minutes ago. Now I’m told I won’t be leaving for at least another 90 minutes. I hope that’s the extent of the delay. I’ve been quite fortunate with air travel in the past. I’ve never run into serious delays or problems. The one problem I face now is that my current flight doesn’t leave Tallahassee until 11 minutes before my connecting flight departs Atlanta. Don’t think I’ll make that one. Supposedly I can make the 8:45pm flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, but that’s only if my flight isn’t delayed again. And who can say if that’s going to happen? Nobody, least of all the airline.

There are a few things that I’m grateful for at this moment. One, modern technology. Being stranded at an airport isn’t so horrible when you’ve got a laptop and a free wireless connection. I’ve been known to waste an hour or two online at home. Surely, I can do it here. Two, I’m grateful that I’m traveling alone today. As much as I love and miss my family, it would be horrible to be with them right now. Or at least, it would be extremely trying if I had three little kids with me, even if my wonderful wife were here too. Kids can’t handle just sitting around in airport for hours on end. So I’m glad they’re not. I pray we won’t be delayed when we fly out of Utah next week.

Oh crap, I’m tracking things online and I think there may be another delay. They haven’t announced it yet, but it’s not making sense that we can leave at the optimistic current projected time of 7:04pm, given that the airplane we are supposed to be on isn’t leaving Atlanta to come here until 7:14pm. What I hate about this situation is that you get a lot of runaround. They try to keep you calm by bumping the time up just a little bit at a time, but probably somebody somewhere has a sneaking suspicion that it’s really going to be delayed several more hours. They just don’t tell us that. Here’s the thing—I don’t want to fly to Atlanta tonight, just to spend the night in the Atlanta airport and not be able to continue on to SLC until tomorrow morning or something. I don’t even want them to put me up in a hotel in Atlanta. If that’s what’s going to happen, just let me go back to my apartment and start over from Tallahassee tomorrow. If they give me the constant runaround, in my situation at least, it might just drag things out for me unnecessarily.

Well, how about that. They just announced that they’re doing a “plane swap” in Atlanta, and that a plane should be on its way here from Atlanta shortly – and that we should therefore be able to leave here around 7pm, as previously announced. That sounds promising. I’m hopeful. But being hopeful has proven a really stupid thing to be, I’ve learned. At least for things like this. We’ll see. We’ll see.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Book Review: Bossypants

Bossypants is consistently amusing and always interesting, but it is rarely hilarious and/or fascinating. The book is at its best when Fey gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Saturday Night Live or Chicago's famous improvisational troupe, The Second City, where Tina Fey honed her comedic chops before becoming a household name. Unfortunately, Fey's book focuses less on her ascension to the throne of televised comedy and instead favors the dispensing of modestly funny anecdotes that happened along the way, stories comprised of equal parts self-deprecation and self-congratulation. Even for fairly enthusiastic Tina Fey fans, this proves a bit disappointing. Still, despite being less illuminating than one might wish, Bossypants is a light and fun read, not unworthy of your time.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Excerpts from an Unpublished Manuscript, #2

Once again, the motion was brought before the committee. The tension in the room was palpable. Seven times the motion had been presented, and seven times it had failed to pass. This despite the fact that, with the exception of one solitary holdout, the entire committee desired the proposed change. Unfortunately, the bylaws were such that any amendment to the charter’s constitution required a unanimous vote on the part of the council. Other regulations further restricted the council from voting on the same proposal more than once within a 30-day period, and so the committee’s frustration had been dragged out for the better part of a year. The monthly vote always ended in defeat, and yet the overwhelming majority always felt crushed, their hope proving most substantial whenever it was about to be dashed to pieces.

“And finally,” the chair of the committee spoke into the microphone, “we have proposal #31. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the proposal. If it’s fine with everybody else, I think I’ll pass on reading it for an eighth time. Any objections?”

Heads shook as grunts of approval rose into the air.

“Very well then,” the chair continued. “We shall now vote on proposal #31.” He held the official document describing proposal #31 high above his head. “All those in favor of proposal #31 say ‘aye.’”

“Aye,” came the enthusiastic response, a great many of the committee members nodding as they spoke and looking around in exaggerated seriousness, as if to dissuade any dissenters.

“And all those opposed to proposal #31, say ‘nay.’”

And surely enough, from the back corner, came the lone opposing vote. The rest of the committee sighed in recognition of their defeat, some of them groaning while others were too crestfallen to do even that. The chair of the committee stared down at the podium and began folding up the piece of paper he was holding. “Proposal #31 has been rejected, according to the bylaws of this charter’s constitution,” he mumbled into the microphone, his eyes never again lifting to meet his audience. “The committee may now be dismissed. The council will reassemble 30 days hence.”

As the council drifted from the room, the chair of the committee sank into a nearby chair. Somebody had to put an end to this. Something had to be done to allow proposal #31 to pass. But what? He had thought about this many times before, but it was clear that no legitimate means of adopting the proposal were available to the committee. Extreme measures had to be taken. After all, didn’t the committee members have an obligation to look out for each other? And didn’t he, as the chair of the committee, hold that obligation more solemnly than anyone else? Indeed, he did. And that’s when the chair of the committee made his decision. His mind had voted, and the vote was unanimous. He would bring an end to the proposal’s defeat. He would ensure that proposal #31 passed the next time it was brought before the council. And how would he do that? By disposing of the one committee member who relentlessly and unapologetically thwarted the rest of the committee’s plans, by getting rid of that one committee member who seemed physically incapable of voting anything other than ‘nay.’ And so it was settled. The chair of the committee would murder Hattie the Horse.