Wednesday, May 11, 2016

This thing called tenure...

Coping with anxiety: A week in the life of an assistant professor up for tenure this week.

Day 1: exercise. Completely exhausted myself and slept like a rock for 13 hours.
Day 2: eating all the sweet things in a 1 mile radius, feeling queasy.
Day 3: SHOPPING. I can't stop loading up Amazon carts. Not buying most of them, but just anxiously hunter-gather hoarding.
Anxiety is strange.

I meet with the dean on Friday.  I have no idea what to expect from that.  If it's a yes, I have a job for life, a pay-raise, a promotion...more benefits than any one job should ever rightfully offer you.  I win the freaking lottery.  But if it's a no I have no job at all.  It's all or nothing.

My case?  In short it's mixed.  The application process was required by my contract this year.  My probationary period was over and I either applied for tenure or left without it anyhow.  There was no more stalling and just being an assistant.  So, I spent much of last July and August putting together a beautifully rich packet of materials explaining my research (including current working projects as well as already published work and how they all tie together to make this intelligent little corner of the academic world in which I live). I also included dozens of folders of my teaching evaluations, course materials, notes from students extolling my virtures as a teacher, nominations for teaching awards, and more.  And, finally, a few documents showing all I do for the university and field: conference organizing, reviewing journals, judging competitions, providing media quotes, committee work, and more. 

This packet was distilled down to a 1" binder and 7 copies of that binder went out to professors at "peer or higher" universities around the world. Colleagues at top universities read my research and wrote letters of recommendation (or not) for me during the fall semester. 

These letters were added to my giant packet and given to the members of my department.  During January they reviewed all of my material and the outside letters and made their own evaulations.  These were compiled into a department statement.  This was added to the packet.

The packet was then left in the dean's office for a month.  During this time, all the senior members of the business school were expected to come spend an hour or so reviewing the materials and forming their own evaulation.  There were meetings to discuss me.  Toward the end of February there was a final meeting in which the faculty cast votes: Yes or No?

This all went to the Dean's office.  He reviewed everything and made his own personal evaluation in early March.  

All of this--my materials, the outside letters, the department and dean statement and the school yes/no vote then went to the university chancellor's office.  The vice-chancellor (aka the provost) reviewed everything again.  She will make her own final recommendation entirely on her own judgement (she's not required to agree with anyone else in the process).  This week she'll present the case and her judgement to the Board of Trustees of the university, and they'll sign off on it (in theory they can make their own judgement, but the provost's decision is pretty much it). 

And Friday it comes back.  Yes?  No?

Rumors have that the outside letters were strongly positive.  (I'm not allowed to see them or know who wrote them)  I know my department statement was strongly positive (I read it.)  The school, unfortunately, voted strongly negative in February which led to my complete and total breakdown for about 2 weeks of panic and sobbing.  The dean has strategically avoided any indication of his opinion either way.  And so this is a very real worry.

If yes?  We fix up the house a little, re-load the savings account that got drained, and do a lot of charitable work we've had to keep at a low-roar.  I take on some bigger and more interesting projects at work that I've put off due to the uncertainty of where I'll be in a year.  Maybe we get a cat.  Or another kid.  Life is beautifully open to us.

If no? I figure out how to get temporary (i.e. half-pay and more work) contracts in town for 2 years so Maryna can graduate from her high school.  I refuse to ask her to move schools again.  We consider homeschooling or public-schooling the other kids if we can't manage their tuition on my reduced pay.  Rob looks for additional teaching slots for the year. I recreate that job market exhaustion of 2006-2007, and if that works out well, then I move to a new university, probably in a new state, and see where life takes us next.  Or we change up careers.  

48.25 hours.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

August this morning at 6:28AM:

Do you know my three favorite numbers?  7, 2000, and 5.  Seven, becuase that's what time I get to wake up and have breakfast.  2000 becuase that's the highest number that I know I can count to, and five, because right now I'm five and I think it's magical.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Here's the truth, because why not?

I struggle with depression.  I've dealt with this in long and short stretches for as long as I can remember.  One of my earliest clear memories of calling it depression was in college, but at the time I remember recognizing it with the knowing assurance of "oh, yes, I know what this is and have been here before."  I can identify a very dark time in late ninth grade and into tenth grade before that.  Age has wiped out much awareness before then.

Maybe this comes as a surprise.  Sorry.  But I see friends and family that are clearly struggling and can't admit it and it's a dangerous lonely thing to wrestle alone.  No one should wrestle this alone, feeling broken in every way and unable to even talk about it. So,  I'm standing up and being clear: I deal with depression--a lot.  I take medication.  I use some crazy self-motivation techniques that work for me.  I occasionally drown myself in church-y feels.  These days I occasionally drown myself in pillows and blankets and growl at anyone that comes near.  I'm working on it.

For me (and this is only me and maybe you but not necessarily so just be cool with that), depression eats my brain, my creativity, my organization, and my perspective.  I can only see the task in front of me.  Thankfully, I can see that task, which is why I've managed to mask depression with my mad skills in academics. Am I depressed?  Sure.  But there's a worksheet to get done. A book to read. A vocabulary quiz. The SAT. No rest, no white flags, just keep moving.  High school's deadlines and small projects were really an endless series of "just stay afloat long enough to get the next thing done" rungs on a ladder.

College knocked me down a little.  Deadlines stretched further out and more ambiguous. There were days at a time without a checkbox to mark off or a task to accomplish.  No one forced me to go to classes and there weren't always attendance checks.  I struggled heavily with depression in the first year of college, only emerging again when I had a tougher course load and more work to do than time to worry. Adding a job or two wiped out any other chance to let myself get sucked down the hole completely.

It still happened, of course.  But by then, I experienced depression like finding myself on a downward escalator.  I felt and saw that I was sinking; I knew where I would end up.  I knew my way around depression by then. I knew that--when I was ready and able--I could find my way back up to the rest of the world.  Until then, I'd be removed from everyone else; able to see and hear them but not quite interact.  For me, depression feels like a 3 second delay; like my brain has detached and lifted about 4" away from the base of my brain. It's a confused fog; a struggle through muddy ground; more work than it seems worth.

Graduate school.  Oh, man. "Choose a topic whenever you are ready, do all the work, and let us know how it goes."  Yep, I hit a few hard spirals of depression again.  I looped around, left for a nice 9-5 job with a routine that immediately bored me, came back, left to have a baby (woah!), came back, and finally finished when the whole thing turned into "do this now or get out."   Task lists were written, schedules and deadlines drawn up, and life kicked back into drive.  And then it was drive drive drive all the way through the job market, starting my first tenure track position, and working my butt off every day. (And adding three kids to the mix!)

And so, now, I find myself spinning at the end of a tenure track.  For three years I've worked nearly every minute of the day.  If I'm not actually writing, then that time must be justified through intense multi-tasking: folding laundry or socializing or reading or knitting while watching a movie with the kids and making dinner; sleeping as little and as efficiently as possible; intentional bonding and teaching to the kids; work work work work work.  Every minute of every day counted and had to be used productively--preferably toward work but if not toward therapy, parenting, housework, and multi-goaled highly intentional time with my family.  "Let's get bonding time while we cook dinner and I explain fractions and share some chemistry and cultural studies."  For real.

And now? Everything is loosey-goosey.  My tenure case is under review and not really open for additions or edits; so every day is just...a day.  Days stretch wide in front of me: "is today the day I want to plan that next project?  It doesn't have to be.  Maybe today I just sleep...again."  I've gone from 120mph to nose down in a ditch.

And so I find myself adrift, cruising around the basement of my brain waiting to find the up escalator, blinking slowly while I process what I just heard for longer than seems reasonable, and wondering what I could convince myself to care about enough to actually do it.

This is my depression.

Monday, March 14, 2016

2 year anniversary

Last month we celebrated Maryna's 2 year anniversary from when we proposed adoption.


Adoption is a lot like marriage -- it's a legal contract which takes otherwise unrelated people and makes them a family.  It takes work, compromise, learning, patience, and committment.  Some days it feels like a mess; most days if feels like the most natural thing in the world.

I'm so glad she trusted us with a life-changing yes.

Sun and Sand


We took a much needed vacation in February to Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico.  

Sun, sand, surf, silly, sleep.
(More pictures in the full post after the break)

Monday, February 08, 2016

Dear Jorge....the other letter

Dear Jorge,

I've been dreading this conversation.  I knew we'd have to have it and it was becoming more clear every week.  When I snip at you for wearing baggy sweatpants out of the house, for walking around in ripped up shoes and dirty clothes, when I remind you so often to take off your hoodie's hood that I just give up and put all the hoodies in the attic rather than let you wear them.  It was coming.

A few weeks ago we were given a box of your dad's old toys from Grandma's basement.  We didn't bother to take inventory--whatever was in there was yours to discover.  You three little kids dug through them and added to their play kitchen, dress-up boxes, and more.  Saturday afternoon here was unusually beautiful--upper 40's, sunny, and perfect--and you were puttering around the front yard grabbing fallen sticks while I tidied the porch.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed you were carrying something black--a piece of bark?--no, a toy gun.  A very realistic toy gun.  My heart stopped.

We have occasional toy guns in our house.  We definitely have them for the GI Joes, and blasters for Star Wars play, and plenty of swords and light sabers and daggers.  It wasn't the idea of violent play that stopped me, it was the sight of you--a brown skinned boy holding a very realistic toy gun while wearing your favorite sweatpants and a long sleeve tshirt.  If you were just a few years older and a few inches taller, you could be Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy shot by police in a playground for carrying a toy gun much like that one.

Funny how fast those same people that might want to argue "there's nothing wrong with letting a kid have a toy gun" are able to turn that to "no kid should have a toy gun at the park; probably up to no good."  The fact is he was a twelve year old kid, with light brown skin and big brown eyes and if you ever let me give you a haircut you could look just like him in a year or two.  Maybe sooner, if you hit one of those crazy growth spurts you pray for nightly.

And so we asked you to put the toy in the house.  You asked why. We exchanged the look and that conversation happened.

Will you remember it as the first time you really realized what "it's not fair" means?  Will you remember it as the day you started to see your skin not just as a different color but as a thing to have an opinion about?

"Some people make bad guesses about other people based just off what they see.  Like, if they see a girl or boy, or an older person or teenager, or a person in a wheelchair, or a girl with short hair or a boy with long hair, they might guess things about what that person likes and dislikes and wants to do."

"That's stupid."

"Yes, it's not a good idea to pre-judge someone based on their looks. Even if sometimes it does mean something; like if you wear a Star Wars shirt I might guess you like Star Wars."

You agreed. "Right, but maybe you had to borrow it because your shirt was dirty at school."

"Right.  And then for stuff people can't choose about themselves at all like age or gender or height or health or skin color it's really just making a big guess. Those don't really give a good guess about any one person.  These are pre-judgements.  They're judgements made before there's any real information.  It's called prejudice."

You understood, but were waiting to see what this had to do with your toy.  I prayed for words.

"So sometimes people are lazy or scared or just don't bother to think too hard because it would mean a lot of hard work for them...and they make these pre-judgements about what a person is like, and what that person is planning to do or how they'll behave.  They are bad decision makers. And these people tend to think things that are hard to understand, like that girls are weaker than boys or people with dark skin are bigger trouble-makers than people with light skin."

Jorge, this broke my heart.  You go to a beautifully diverse school and have been taught love and peace. You had Sneetches on Beaches memorized before you could read. You personally have friends and classmates from dozens of countries and ethnicities. Your two best friends are your sister and a girl in your class who could probably beat you in any game you named but only by an inch. You are far more concerned with some one's choices about favorite superhero than any physical characteristic. You think evil only really exists in Star Wars and GI Joe. Girls are weaker and more docile than boys?  Skin color as a personality decider?  I might as well have told you that these people think that anyone with an odd number of eye lashes was better than those with even numbers.

"And sometimes--too often--bad decision makers see a brown-skinned person--especially a boy--and think they are going to be trouble.  Sweetie, not long ago a little boy like you was at a park, playing with a toy gun just like this one--the very one your dad probably played with every day at your age without a thought--and someone made a bad guess: they guessed he was dangerous.  They called the police.  The police took one look at him and didn't even ask him his name or to set the toy down, they just shot him dead.  He's dead now; just a little boy.  And not long ago a young man with dark skin was at a Wal-Mart and picked up a kind-of-practice-toy gun that they sell there.  He just picked it up and was carrying it in the store like you'd carry a book or some Legos you wanted to buy.  Another customer was a bad decision maker and called the police because they guessed he was going to do something dangerous.  The police showed up and didn't even ask him a question, they just shot him dead. The customers and the police were bad decision makers. They pre-judged.  I could walk in that store and pick up a gun and carry it to the front and no one would care, but because people are scared or lazy and just make decisions with no information, this guy was killed.  Not all police are bad decision makers--most of them are very good decision makers--but they can also be bad decision makers. And that can be dangerous.

Honey, you can't play in the front yard or the sidewalks or a park with a toy that might ever look like a gun. I like our neighbors and our police--I think they're all pretty good decision makers--but we can't know who the bad decision makers are and so this is for your protection.  I would never stop crying if you were hurt by a bad decision maker who saw you and made a bad guess and then they hurt you."

Jorge, you started crying.  This conversation gutted us both.  What the heck is wrong with this world that I have to warn  my nine year old that he'd almost certainly be arrested or presumed dangerous for doing things that his cousins or little brother will do without a thought and everyone will smile because, you know, boys will be boys?  You don't get that chance.  Because here's the reality: light-skinned-boys will be boys.  Dark-skinned-boys will be shot, pushed to the ground, sat on, trailed through the store watching for you to steal things, asked how you got the car you're driving, asked for your immigration papers, and generally treated like a sneak, a thief, and a threat...for the rest of your (hopefully long) life.

And so I cringe when you want to wear your favorite sweatpants to school, or your favorite shirt which is now stained in a dozen places and worn at the cuffs, or your favorite shoes which are a bit beat up.  You don't have that privilege.  You (and in turn, I) will be judged far more harshly for you looking dirty, messy, poor, or otherwise uncared for.  Katie wore dirty ripped-up shoes for 3 years and refused to let me replace them and people just  But if you show up in ripped shoes and ripped pants and a stained shirt, people make judgements about your potential and your value.  This right here is when you can finally use that phrase I've otherwise banned from your mouth: "It's not fair."

I've been quiet about this issue for a long time.  I cry with my friends that deal with this daily but I have not spoken out.  But Saturday afternoon it went from a political statement I didn't want to make, to a necessary reality to protect your life. You are getting bigger.  Soon you won't be immediately associated with your parents and sisters and brother and re-judged.  Soon you will be asking to go to the park with your friends for a bit and I want to be able to say yes, but I also need to know you'll be safe from the bad decision makers.  You'll get taller, hairier, and in the eyes of the bad decision makers, far more sinister and suspicious.

This, more than anything, is why I panic when you still can't learn to control your tantrums and rages.  What if you are still prone to shouting and arguing about little annoyances when you are 16?  What will happen if you try to argue that you weren't actually doing anything wrong when you are stopped on the sidewalk for a "random" search? What will happen when yet another blowhard tells you to go back where you came from?  What will happen if you get frustrated and angry at a friend and are voicing that opinion in front of the wrong person?  What will happen if you and Katie are arguing about whose fault it is that the car battery died at the mall and it gets loud and heated? You'll be judged quickly and harshly.  Not as a rowdy boy with a lot of energy and passion, but as a threat and a danger and menace.  You have to be twice as calm, twice as reserved, twice as obedient, twice as respectful. You don't get to earn your teenage war stories of "boys will be boys" like your uncles and cousins.  Those are far too likely to earn you suspensions, jail time, or a grave.

I want to scream with you: it's not fair. But mostly I just want to protect you.

I'm sorry I can't fix this.  I'm trying.