Dr. Seuss

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

I used my writing prompt book and I have to say that I appreciate this quote from Dr. Seuss. It speaks to me at the moment. I’ve read lots of his books to my kids and remember reading the books a long, long time ago. There is something about the books and reading them aloud that is soothing. It’s the wit and the nonsensical stories that entertain. I also think that Dr. Seuss holds a place in my memory as an academic due to the collection at the UCSD Library.

I spent many days at the library working on my grad school papers and my dissertation. The foyer occasionally displayed some of Dr. Seuss collections and I would at times procrastinate and pore through the holdings. Well, Dr. Seuss also had some war propaganda pieces and part of my work focused on Mass Political Behavior–I was doing research! In all seriousness, this quote is an important one for reflection. People who care about you  aren’t apt to take offense at what you say. The people who care about you get you and are more willing to accept you and your quirks. And, well the people who have problems with what you say…they might not be worth your time. I know that this is not a truth; however, it is worth thinking about when you interact thoughtfully with people.

Make a Difference

I bought a writing prompt book and I do not use it as much as I would like to do so. This post is a response to, “Believe with all your heart that how you live your life makes a difference” by Colin Beavan. This quote made me think about work and university life in general. I use the quotes as a writing response and try to put pen to paper (yes, I hand write them out first) my first thoughts to the particular quote. Here are my first thoughts about Beavan’s quote.

Some people like to think of the university as this quaint place where professors reside in Ivory Towers or perhaps silos and are completely shut off from the rest of society. In fact, some opine that professors are clueless about the so-called real world. We professors are at times depicted as this uber-privileged class who are disinterested in students and teaching. Our students are often depicted as this group of youth who are hiding out in university learning about books or issues that will not help them get a job. Yes, that coveted job is the end result or want for our students. These depictions might offer an accurate view of some of my colleagues and some students; however, I would argue that for most these stereotypes or caricatures are false based on 16 years of teaching in universities in the US and Canada. Yes, this is my opinion.

The reality could not be further from the truth. Many professors are engaged in a myriad of work related projects that stem from research, teaching, service, governance in their units or across campus, as well as some community building in their disciplines or the wider community in which they live in locally. Sure, there are research intensive colleagues who are focused on that next book and their army of graduate students that they supervise. The university needs these different types of professors. This post is not about the army of exploited contingent faculty, as that deserves a monograph or at least its own post. It speaks volumes that I have this footnote or sidebar note in my scrawl on the writing prompt sheet.

Many do not understand that prior to smart-phones and other advances with digital technology, professors’ flexible schedules means that there is always work to do. There are always assignments that require marking, emails to get to, research to do, writing to think about and maybe do, and then more emails to respond to from students, colleagues, and others. With the advent of increased use of technology, people expect to hear back faster and in many instances you will get follow up emails about an email that was sent 15 minutes earlier or perhaps a few hours earlier. I have been emailed three times within my lunch hour by an administrative assistant about a meeting. The meeting was not a life threatening situation; however, my lunch hour meant that I was available. I did not respond until I was done with my lunch and my errand across campus. But, let me say that I was not keen to see a flurry of emails about something that was not pressing. My point is that boundaries are thin. Perhaps you think that I have moved away from the quote. But, I’m sitting here thinking about work and how I try to live my work life as if it makes a difference to those around me: my students. Do not get me wrong, I like my colleagues across campus, but my primary role right now is teaching and mentoring. This means that I need to go in each day and remember this quote. The little things that we do can make a difference.

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My Lifetime Listens to Yours. Muriel Ruckeyser

I have a book of quotes that serves as writing prompts and this is prompt two. There is space to write on the page, but I sent the first prompt to a friend in another department. And, have torn out the second prompt. Now, the title of this post comes from part of poem and the lengthy poem says lots. But, what does this excerpt say or how does it speak to you. I am thinking like a Political Scientist or Social Scientist at the moment and how I learn from reading and listening. If I think from a mentor’s point of view, I know that my reading and listening includes what is not said or spoken. People have “tells” for when they lie or feel uncomfortable and these nuances of movement are important to support and understand. What is your tell? I have different tells, but one is to stop and think and take a drink of water. During this short moment, I am thinking of my response–formulating what I want to say next.

We listen with more than our ears. But, do we learn from what we hear and see? I am in the midst of heavy marking and looked forward to this writing prompt and I come back to learning from others. I have also had several hours of office hours and meetings and tried my best to listen intently these past few work days. I firmly believe in life-long learning and this prompt reminds me of the importance of mindfulness. When I think of mindfulness, I always picture Dr. Juliann Allison, as she practices mindfulness in all that she does. This week I am trying to actively practice mindfulness. The Ruckeyser quote was the perfect reminder, as I try to balance out meetings, honors presentations, grading, and planning a conference. And, that is only part of the to do list. I’m breathing in and out and trying to listen.

Honesty Redux

This post just ran on UVenus and Inside Higher Education and I want to share it here on my personal blog. Saying that honesty is important almost feels like stating the obvious, but in practice it can be quite complicated.

A few weeks back I was chatting with a friend and she asked what my New Year’s Resolution was. I paused and thought about how I do not really believe in these sorts of things, but then realized that my resolutions are formed in late August or September, prior to a new school term starting. Last year my resolution was to continue to make mentoring my mandate. This school year my resolution was for honesty. Now, this honesty works both ways. I mean to continue to offer my honest, helpful comments to my students, mentees, and graduate students who I supervise or coach as my Teaching Assistants. But, it also means that I expect honesty.

What has this meant this last term? I have not responded to emails that crossed the line. I have set up face to face meetings with colleagues or students who sent the email to discuss the matter at hand. Life is too short to not communicate clearly and if I have the opportunity, I would rather clarify an issue face to face. This policy has worked like a charm. I have felt clarity with an honest conversation where all parties really come from a place of “I” and not “you”. I think I have to thank the Human Rights office and the two committees that I have sat on for the last year and a half for the foresight and tools to make me a better communicator and also expect the same from my students and colleagues.

In terms of my blogging and social media visibility, this has also meant that trolls exert no power or emotional energy for me. I am not saying that they took up that much space before, but now they take up zero space. I easily ignore them and move on, and this is quite freeing. I have used this place of honesty as a way to forge productive energies. I do not think that trolls are practicing honesty. No, the keyboard warrior is actually a coward. I have previously heard that I am blunt or brutally honest, and I think that these assessments have been fair. However, I do think that this resolution of honesty is different for me and my interactions with students.

I no longer circle around comments and waste time trying to not offend and choose my words ever so carefully. There are moments when you really cannot find something positive to say about a student’s work. This does not mean that I lack compassion or do not try to help my students perform well.  I offer constructive, honest comments and if this means that I state, “This is not your best work. This is sloppy work. You did not review my syllabus closely.” I will say it. I have said it. The reactions from students have varied and I know that one student thanked me profusely for my honesty. His next two assignments were stronger, and during the holidays he sent a nice thank you note. I was clear that he had not submitted his best work and that I expected more from him. I have told my mentee that I expect her to participate more in class—that she does not get a free pass—no favoritism. Guess what—she started talking more. I raised the bar, and many students responded with better work.

Sure, there was a student or two who noted something to the effect of, “I’ve never had a professor be so forward or speak to me this way.” My response was that I was sorry that no one had taken the time to be honest. I do not live my life by the students’ comments on sites about professors—see I won’t give them a shout out. I prefer to see the student do well, try harder, and graduate. I am not in the department to make friends. I am mentoring students and this includes honesty.  The year is halfway over and I will continue with my resolution of honesty. I really believe that the vast majority of my students appreciate it. Some of them might realize it a year or so later–and their cards or emails are a testament to the importance of honesty.

Managing Projects: Having More Balance

I did something radically different this Summer with my writing. I didn’t have a strict schedule and I worked daily on different projects. Normally I would have spent 60-120 minutes on different projects over the course of the day and work on multiple projects each day. This Summer was one per day–OK occasionally 1.5 per day. I have not decided which I preferred. Moments have taken place where I’ve wondered the veracity of this tactic. But, overall it’s freeing to try something new and then think about if it worked for me.

I’ve also made a point of taking some time off during my vacation this year. I ran twice a week with two close friends and kept this date firm in my schedule. I also was not the usual office rat. What this meant was that I did not go into the office every darn day, too. I was in the office 2-3 days per week. What I did differently–I worked at libraries, coffee shops, and outdoors. This meant more distractions and more conversations with people. And, looking at my bank account it also was a little more pricey. But, another way to look at this is that I was able to actually turn myself off from work. Some might say that this sounds unproductive or maybe less productive. Occasionally someone looked over my shoulder and would ask me some questions–even though I had my ear buds and music going. I was polite and engaged in some conversations. These interruptions were usually good. The best part was always the senior citizen who never believed that I was old enough to be a professor. I joked that they could go to the website and see me on the homepage. The screen shot below is of the new site that goes live in a few days, but the photo is the same one that has scrolled on the university website this Summer.

In all seriousness, I also spent as much time as I could outdoors–running helped me stay outdoors. I read outdoors–even if it was for only an hour. I am a Summer person and usually go back to Southern California for the Summer. I didn’t this year, so I tried to get as much Vitamin D as possible in Victoria, BC. This takes effort, as occasionally if you shower, you could miss Summer! No offense to fellow Victorians, but our Summer is sometimes forgetful. It seemed appropriate to try something different, since I was at home for the Summer.

I’ve thought about this again and again and at the end of the Summer I will evaluate what it meant for me and my productivity. To clarify, I am in a teaching tenure-track position and due to my heavy teaching load (8 courses per school year)–it really means that I have to write during the Summer months. Now, I realize that this situation is common for my colleagues who are lucky enough to teach half as much and more than common for my colleagues who don’t really get that much time off, since they have to teach year round to survive. Regardless, this Summer meant a few thing: write and relax! Oh, academe, thank you for these gifts! I know–I have a full-time job and should not complain. But, I’d like to remind that I did my time adjuncting (we call this sessional work in Canada) for more than 10 years.

Now that I’m in the last push before the term resumes, I can honestly say that I got less work done. I didn’t fret about it either. Oh, maybe I did a few times, but then I’d look at my kids and remember that I have to do better, as they observe and learn.  I had more balance in my life during these last two months. I spent lots of quality time with my family and by myself. Sure, I was in the office a day or two per week, but on my terms. The papers were revise (not ready to resubmit) and projects are further along, but I am happy. I won’t put a price on happiness, and all the time I spent with my two daughters. I also took up golf. Can you believe that? It was a great Summer!

The two photos are shots of my girls. I don’t post photos of them on my blog, so these are not direct face shots. My two loveys.

Fri Fun Facts: Organizing Writing Time

At Word Camp Victoria 2012 ( #wcv12 ) @Miss604 (Rebecca Bolwitt) shared how she manages her time blogging. And, as a a teacher/instructor/professor it made me think not only of my time management, but also my students’ time management with writing. This post is dedicated to organizing writing and thinking time. And, like so many of my posts the targeted reader is students or others who work with students. I look forward to your input.

Bolwitt gave some great advice. She blogs typically in the morning for a few hours and during this time she will compose 3-5 posts. Now, for students I would like them to think about earmarking time for thinking about writing. Yes, it’s part of the process. Thinking about what you want to say and what sort of research you want to engage in for the assignment. Is the paper an investigative piece or argumentative? What does the assignment requirements explain? You need to organize what the requirements are with what you want to do with the assignment.

If you merely think about writing as the actual writing, then you will not have enough time to “marinate” with your topic. I have found that placing “Janni Writing or Thinking Time” in my calendar necessary to successfully work on writing projects. Some of your ideas will undoubtedly hit you when you’re commuting in to campus or perhaps in another class. It is important to jot down these ideas, as you might not remember them later. Likewise, it’s also good to chat with classmates or your professor about the assignment.

Then, set time aside to begin your writing in earnest. You might start with pulling together facts and quotes and what you hope to find. Whatever method you use–make sure that you attempt to organize your thoughts. But, you must set realistic goals with your writing time and set time aside to get your writing completed. Bolwitt noted that the morning is a good time for her to write. When is your most productive time of day?

One Take Away from #WCV12

This will be the first of a few blog posts about Word Camp Victoria 2012 ( #wcv12 ). This was my second Word Camp in Victoria and I have to say that I definitely enjoyed this camp more than the last one. And, no, it’s not because #UVIC was a site sponsor! I got more out of the sessions and part of this is that I chose more wisely and frankly that I have fiddled more with Word Press. Yes, Word Camp is a Word Press Blogging conference, er camp for users or those who are interested in the platform.

This post is going to speak to Craig Spence’s presentation, “Why WordPress works so well as a Dynamic Creative Writing Environment.” Spence is a writer and the way he interacts with the Word Press platform is informed by his writing philosophy. I liked that he shared the Cosmic Chicken, his speculative writing series that allows readers to add to the story. And, did I mention that he was such an honest, humble presenter? He hooked me in and made me want to listen to his presentation. Sure, I live tweeted too, but I also have about a page of notes from his presentation.

What really struck me is that he views his writing on line as similar to his offline writing and this is something that I am trying to explain to my students, who are completing blogging assignments. I’ve said that their 1000 word post is like a paper in terms of coherency and organization, but the platform allows them to add images and video and make the post theirs via their analysis and the look of the blog. They have more opportunity for creativity and Spence’s talk reminded me of this point.