Sunday, May 10, 2009

Memories of Mom

So, I got my mom a really nice, sincere Mother's Day card, which I totally meant. My mom is pretty much awesome, and that's just the way it is. But I thought it might be nice to think through some of more specific things about my mom in addition to the generic Hallmark sentiments. Here are a few things that make me smile when I think of them.

1) When we went to South Dakota on vacation when I was pretty little, we saw some buttes. Mom said, "Hey, aren't those the butts I read about?" Obviously, she didn't realize how important some e's really are. At the time, I didn't know what a butte was, but I knew my mom said butt, and that was enough to make me laugh. Dad teased her about it, and it became a family joke.

2) When I was little, she used to tease me by squeezing my thighs. That sounds really weird. But it was a tickling thing, and it made me laugh. She would sometimes give me warning so I would try to squirm away, but other times she'd surprise me and get me. As I write, it sounds so bizarre, but it was hilarious to me at the time, and truly a fun mom thing. Not weird.

3) She also called me poopsock, boogerbutt, and missybutt. I swear she loved me! :)

4) I used to cry a lot at school, and one time she made a deal with me. She bought a Barbie doll and told me I could have it if I went two weeks without crying. I didn't make it, but I was too honest to lie about it. My teacher told me to tell my mom, but to explain that she (the teacher) thought it was 100% understandable and I shouldn't be punished for it (this was my fave teacher EVER). So I went home and confessed. Mom expressed that she was disappointed, but she didn't get mad at me. I got the Barbie, though I think I did have to wait a couple of days. I just remember that as an instance of her being a good disciplinarian, but one with compassion.

5) I remember as a teenager, something happened that mad mom feel bad, and she cried. She's normally fairly stoic for the most part, and especially as a kid I rarely saw her cry. I remember seeing her cry there in her chair, and having that first dim realization that my mom was a person beyond the four of us. It took longer to fully realize that (and I still sometimes forget), but that was a hard thing to realize as early-teenage kid. I ended up crying just because she was crying.

6) Similarly to that one, I was 15 when my Grandpa Huisman died. We knew for a while that it was going to happen, so when the phone rang late one night, we knew what it was. Dad answered it and then Mom came to my room to tell me. I remember I started to bawl because A) Grandpa died and B) I had been snotty and mean to Dad and now I felt bad because now I saw that my dad wouldn't live forever either. Mom just hugged me and told me not to feel bad about that. Dad would be around a long time. Then, in the kitchen, Dad was writing a note to my brother who was working till way late to tell him what had happened. Dad got upset while writing and threw the pen down on the table and started to cry. And Mom and I sat down the hall on my bed and cried together. As an adult, I think maybe she should have been with Dad instead of me, but at the time, I needed her and I guess she knew that.

7) More generally, it's just a funny realization to have your mom go from the lady who bosses you around and makes you do dishes and vacuuming to the lady you want to talk to and go shopping with and hang out with just because she's your friend. I remember the teenage moments of frustration and anger, but those are so faded and distant and now mostly all that's left is the idea that my mom is a fun person I can hang out with and laugh with. And vent to when I need it. And I need it a lot.

8) One more. I remember sitting next to her in church and being cuddled up with her arm around me. I got to play with her rings and necklaces and eat pink mint candies. That was about the safest place on earth. I still miss that sometimes. But I suppose it would look dumb for a 32-year-old to curl up next to her smaller mom and play with her jewelry. Darn.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On year one

This year was my first as a professor, and like a good lifelong learner, I've been trying to pay attention and get something out of it. Here's a list of good and bad discoveries, in no particular order.

1) I am not as horrible at my job as I fear I am. I learned this when I got my evals back for my large lecture class, and discovered that I got high marks from almost everyone in the course. This was only weeks after I had a breakdown in fear that I had irrevocably messed up my course and my reputation as a teacher. I had been so convinced that I stink that I was terrified to get my reviews. And then it turns out I did fine, and several of my students from that class were repeats this semester, and several others have asked me to be their adviser. So go figure.

2) I'm also not as good as I want to be. I've always been unorganized, but I let that get in the way of teaching a few times this semester and it made me feel bad and inept. We'll see what that means on my evals this semester, but I hope my honesty and enthusiasm make up for some of the absent-minded professorisms. Nonetheless, I gotta work on some serious skills in this area of my life. I'm a mess!

3) Despite my general self-loathing and continual apprehension about what students really think of me, I am relieved to find that I really love what I do. So now I just have to build my confidence to match that. It feels amazing to know that all those years of school were worth it for this job. Even when I'm feeling (as I'm feeling now) like I'll never get all the grading done.

4) I'm not a happy person even when I'm happy. I'm not sure what it will take for me to embrace the happiness that I know I deserve. I continually fight the slump, the dissatisfaction, the anger, and the overall unhappiness that seems to follow me around. The past few weeks, it has been nearly unbearable, and I am not sure why that is. I keep writing it off to being tired, but it's not like I haven't been tired before. I've learned that I need to get to the bottom of it if I don't want it to destroy my career, as well as, potentially, my overall life. I just don't yet know how to do that.

5) I've learned that Wisconsin is near Iowa in geography, but a far distance in many cultural senses. The constant presence of beer--in the most unexpected places--continues to surprise me. I've learned that I enjoy the stuff more than I thought I did, but I also learned that it's easy to pack on a few pounds with a simple glass of liquid. The occasional, single beer to be social can turn into a few extra pounds in no time. No wonder this is one of the most obese states in the U.S. And no wonder my pants are tight.

6) I've learned that people are nice. I am lucky to be in a department full of really, genuinely nice people. I have little in common with many of them, but I love spending time with them all the same. They are good, fun, caring people around here. In academia, that's not all that common (alas), so I am particularly grateful to all of them. And I hope they don't think I'm a raving lunatic, though I'm sure I sometimes seem that way.

7) I actually am a raving lunatic.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

American Theater

I like TV. I like theater. I like musicals. So when the opportunity presented itself to see all three in one, you might understand why I said, "Yes, please." Or at least why I said, "Sure, why not?" It all started last fall, when I was new and friendless in my new town. Some colleagues invited me to attend a production of Gilligan's Island: The Musical, which was playing at another local university way off in May. I agreed for the reasons mentioned at the start of this paragraph, plus the added fact that I wasn't about to turn down a social opportunity, even if it was more than six months away.

Finally, the night came. I admit that I had low expectations. The TV show was utter crap, but I like it for its open embrace of crapness. I figured the musical would feature little references to the show, little in-jokes and stuff like that. Plus songs...who knew what the songs would be like, but I was game to try. Low expectations for me does not equate to unpleasantness.

When I got there, I discovered via the playbill that an alien featured in the plot. Oh, dear. I had been duped into going to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and had been shat upon by a plot involving crystalline aliens. So that was warning bell one. The group of us discussed our growing apprehension with this development. Were they really going to mess with the 'integrity' of the show in such a ridiculous way??


So the second warning bell was the first song, where the characters meandered about the stage, each carrying a plywood section of the ship that was tossed about by the storm while they sang the theme song of the show. Finally, they were separated by the tides, and washed up on a plywood forested-island.

And then it went downhill from there. Honestly. That was the high point. The second warning bell was the high point.

The good news is that I laughed pretty much throughout the whole debacle. The bad news is that I laughed at it, not with it. I have low-brow tastes, but I'm dismayed that crap such as this passes for theater, and that its connection to a terrible TV show means we were suckered into going.

Though I should add, in our...oh, let's say in our defense...that our original draw-in to the show was the fact that Greg Brady (aka Barry Williams) was going to play the Professor, but he had to back out. The problem with this defense is that it still rests on our being lured in by crap TV. So we still come out pretty weak in this whole thing. But not quite as weak as the musical itself, so it evens out, I guess.