Monday, February 29, 2016

Somber mood... and Brilliant (?) Ideas

I don't enjoy this somber mood that I've been in today and recently, but I can't help it.

The relative job security of the three year contract helps, but just last week I was thinking that now that I will have more time I should pursue my dream of creating a website and putting the results of my really really extensive dissertation research online, while continuing and updating the research.

But how can I do that at an university that is in no way encouraging me to do scholarship?


In lighter, perhaps happier note, I just had a sudden idea/inspiration this evening, while playing a hymn for my family to sing.

Why don't I contact my friends in the Brazilian college where we were supposed to go back to teach (long story that precedes the existence of this blog by a few years) and try to arrange for me to go there every year to teach six-seven week long courses in their English translation-interpretation program as a visiting professor? (from mid-May to June)

That way I could go to Brazil every year, I could get money at least to pay for my airfare and maybe the boys', and I could spend between two to three months caring for my parents (my dad will turn 80 next year and I'm beginning to freak out about their aging) and enjoying being in Brazil too -- as it is, I feel it's AWFUL that I can only afford to go back every two years or more.

I would miss being home in the best season and miss my husband (and kids if they don't come), but it might be something that would be stimulating for me academically as well as really good for my parents.

And if the kids came along and attended school even if for ONE short month (June), that would help their Portuguese incredibly and maybe Kelvin wouldn't need to go spend a whole semester or year there (which was our original plan, but could be complicated for him academically).

I will write to my friend ASAP and ask what she thinks of that.

One (not extremely great) obstacle is that I never validated my doctorate in Brazil and it's an annoying, bureaucratic process (my husband did). The easiest thing would be to validate it in my "alma mater" (that's what hubby did). I will have to investigate that and maybe get the process started this July when I'm there.

Wow, it's incredible how energizing it is to have new ideas and plans!! They may come to nothing, but it doesn't hurt to dream, right? I won't say a thing to my parents until I hear back from my friend.

Damned are the Lecturers and Adjuncts...

... because there is no room for them to be recognized as legitimate faculty in many universities.

We are damned* because we represent (through no fault of our own) two irreconcilable sides of the same problem: we are a cost-saving solution for university administrators who don't allow more needed tenure-track positions to be created and a threat to the very existence of tenure and thus, a threat to our colleagues.

Therefore, we cannot be allowed to do research, get involved in meaningful curriculum development, advise students and, otherwise "shine" in any way that can cast a shadow on our tenure track colleagues, because then the administration may turn to departments and point out that there is no need for tenure. They tell us cheerfully to come, teach, and go home and be happy that we are not required to do all the other "boring work."

It's the most awful kind of victimization -- we are victims of a system that is keen to both have us in the first place and to make sure we are nobody and nothing. Those of us with PhDs were trained to do research and have extensive teaching experience (which at times surpasses that of a few new tt hires), and yet, we are treated as "second class" academics with no need for intellectually stimulating work.

We exist because the universities want to admit more and more undergraduates without hiring more tenure track faculty and, mercifully, without growing their graduate programs even more (because, as it is, many of these degree recipients will have an extremely hard time getting jobs and may end up as lecturers too, creating a never-ending vicious cycle of misery).

It doesn't feel good to be "damned"/doomed/cursed and being in such a disagreeable position where there is not much, if anything, that can be done. Even with a three year contract. Sigh...

* I don't like to use this word, but I was at a loss for which one to use. I know words matter a lot and I never use such language, but in this case I still felt it was the one that had the best ring to it. "Doomed" or "Cursed" are too specific and while damned seems to have lost a lot of its original religious meaning and it has become a lame insult and emphasis word, I decided to use it. It's not even considered a verb [a past participle, in this case] in the few online dictionaries I checked, and only an adjective & an adverb, that disappointed me. In any case, I wanted to make a parallel with the biblical beatitudes "blessed are those that... because..." and so I went ahead and chose to use this word. What do you think?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The classroom I hate

You can see the "retired" Vera laptop backpack in Baroque that I got for myself after Xmas & my cute rainbow keyboard cover.
Can't wait to not teach in this room again! Sigh...

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

17 Classes + 2 exams

I'm officially counting the days now until I am done teaching in a teleconference room if not forever, for a long time.

I cannot write an exclamation point there. It's a relief tinged with sadness. I can't wait to be done, I can't wait to have more time to become a better teacher to my better students at U#2 (which I guess will continue to be U#2 because U#1 will refer to where my husband teaches). At the same time, I feel sad.

That's why I want to keep emphasizing the things I don't like and that I can't wait to be over, but I don't know if that helps or not.

It's a constant challenge to teach this way, not to mention torture, when students aren't learning much (often because of a series of reasons, mostly not my fault) and students have so many levels of skill and ability to learn a foreign language. I've had some dark moments in these past four years. I'd say that the Fall of 2014 with its crazy challenging beginner class was the lowest point.

Few things were crazier than that first semester, though, when I taught in an empty room for students in two other universities.

And even fewer things were crazier and more awful than the Fall of 2013 when I was teaching almost seven 50 minute class periods two days a week with a one hour drive in between. I taught one 75 minutes long and two 50 minutes long classes, from 9:30 am to 12:50 pm then drove for an hour (while trying to eat something -- when I had it) to teach two more 75 minute long classes from 3-5:45!!! Thursday nights were the worst because I still had to drive 76 miles to teach two classes on Friday morning -- thankfully starting at 11 am. (I blogged a bit about that at the time calling those my über-packed days).

Edited to add: The hardest thing to believe is that in September 2013 I blogged about how I felt energized and did lots of stuff and how I was still productive a week later. I blogged a lot too, on purpose to reach my goal of more posts than the year before -- I wrote 26 posts in September, 25 in October and 30 in November (I always blog daily that month anyway). This goes on to prove my husband's theory that the busier we are, the most productive we get. In retrospect, it's interesting to see that I sound SUPER cheerful describing my Tuesdays and saying that I liked them because I went to the Farmer's market (until the end of Nov.) and yoga.

Towards the end of October my husband left for a conference and I was utterly exhausted, so I think the semester ended up taking its toll on me and by November the exhaustion was really taking its toll on me -- so in the December I wrote that the torture [was] over -- and it was, the following Fall wasn't as terrible

In the Fall 2014 it was easier because I only had two 50 minute classes in the morning and two longer ones in the afternoon and Fridays free!

Those two Falls were bad... OK, I want to write a few more posts about this transitional phase, but now I began to read old posts from 2013, so I'll come back later to write more!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

It's Official: I'm leaving U#1

No exclamation point.

Relief, that's for sure. Counting the days to never again (I know! Never say never!) teach a shared class with another university using a teleconference room, even this special one that I use.

And a bit of apprehension because (as I mentioned here) I will be making a bit less money (and working way less!) and paying more than double for the oldest son's tuition. Sigh...

I also feel a little wistful and sad to leave the place where my husband works and was just granted tenure and where I taught for 6 years and made many good friends and had fabulous colleagues. 

I need to keep reminding myself how little they paid me, how unprofessional the department is, how ABSURDLY exploitative of adjunct labor and... last, but not least, the quality of students cannot compare to U#2 (and #3)'s students. That last one is sad, but very true.

(and the last thing that is stressing me out is that the lady who will replace me has such a hard time with technology that I am worried thinking of what will happen, but I don't want to worry about it, I'll just give her the info she needs -- which will take some time -- and leave).

So, I should be happy, but there is some other stuff related to adjunct labor ALSO happening at U#2, so it's complicated. Happy mixed with sad and outrageous and fair mixed with upsetting. I don't know how much I'll be able to blog about that without saying too much and being too upset, but I'll try. 

Anyway, just thought I needed to let you know about this!

P.S. blogger's block officially over!

Blogger's Block?


I know, I sigh A LOT, don't I?

And I always have these periodic periods (oh, does that sounds redundant much?! I'll leave it, I don't care) of some writing apathy.

A mix of the fact that nobody almost no one reads blogs anymore or maybe some do but are too busy to comment so I don't feel like writing to no one and the reality that I'm continuing to be WAY too busy. I, for once, never read blogs on my phone, I only do it when I'm using a computer at home (never at work!) and sometimes that doesn't happen as often as I'd like -- but I still read and comment -- often more than I blog.

As for being too busy... sigh... I hope this will be the last semester of that!! More on next post.

So, I hope now that I broke the blog writing block I'll come back with more posts.

P.S. I'm also blogging way less because I no longer have data on my phone where I work MWF, only WiFi -- data can only be used when I'm in a LTE network, not 3G. I'm also saving some money b/c of that! a mixed blessing... ;-P

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sorry for the Silence... but I've got Sense, and Sensibility! ;-)

I'm sorry about the silly alliterative title, couldn't resist!

Everything is fine. Warning: tons of digressions ahead! ;-) AND CAPS. 

One of the reasons for the not-blogging is the fun I had this past weekend re-reading Sense & Sensibility (how in the world that one wasn't of my favorites before? Seriously? It is a bit melodramatic, but it's every bit as awesomely written as my other favorites -- #1 Persuasion, #2 P & P.)

(digressive sigh... I wish Dawn read this and we could talk about Jane Austen, and its adaptations... sigh...)

I re-read it for two main reasons:

1) I had a strong feeling I needed some "comfort reading" and since I'm a Jane-ite, one of her books it the utmost comfort read. I started this "tradition" five years ago of reading one of her novels around Valentine's day, but I guess I skipped a few years.. :-P
(Digression: I CANNOT believe it's been three years since my last Jane Austen post. and this post just made me realize I will have to watch the most recent PBS adaptation of S&S!)

2) Since Alan Rickman died last week, I wanted to watch the movie adaptation of S&S again and, OF COURSE I couldn't do it without re-reading the novel first (I'm not sure I'd ever re-read it, like I've done multiple times with my two favorites).

So I watched the movie on Monday night (literally in the middle of the night, how bad am I?).

I LOOOOOVED the movie, BTW, in spite that it's HARD to try to see 36 year old Emma Thompson as a 21 year old. And then I went and discovered that she married Greg Wise, the really handsome fella who played Willoughby -- but it looks like both of them are pretty wacky creatures, some weird statements to the press & a silly tax evasion protest thing). Emma totally deserved the Oscar for the screenplay. Not visually stunning like the latest P&P, but lovely. Ang Lee is good.

Going back in time... we also went skiing Sunday, I mean, the K & Kelvin were snowboarding and I was supposed to ski, but I decided to try snowboarding and I loved it. Too bad I fell multiple times and now I am sore and feeling pain in various parts of my body (even though it's been 3 days).

I've been working a lot and also shopping a bit, since I hadn't been to stores for a couple of weeks. I had to get jeans for my son (had to return a pair and get another) and do TJ's & wholesale club grocery shopping.

What else? Yeah... so last weekend I also did my super commute on Saturday night to go to a play put up by the department and it was awesome.

Last, but not least. I've made important work-related decisions and going to a work meeting made me HORRIBLY upset again about the whole adjuncting thing. Sigh...

But those are subjects for other blog posts! This one is already a crazy mish-mash.

P.S. Tomorrow we're going skiing with my sons' elementary school, but it's going to be SOOOO cold I'm taking another Jane Austen novel with me! Thankfully I'm not driving, I'm going with friends which is nice because I arrived really late back from work today (we showed a movie to students and nobody showed up, booo!), so I had a 13 hour day...

Thursday, February 04, 2016

A Tale of Three Uncles: the Rich, the Rascal, and the...

... schizophrenic?

I've been planning this post in my head for years, but I could never find the right "R" for the third uncle. Over a year ago, on November 3, 2014 I tentatively titled the post: "The Rich, the Rascal, and the Rebel, or 'A Tale of Three Uncles'" and wrote "I still haven't found [the right R], but Rebel will have to do for now. You see, my dad just told me that this uncle of mine is doing very poorly right now, so I wanted to write about him."

I never went on to write the post. Now I have to, but I'll say why later. I have more than three uncles (2 in my mom's side and 3 in my dad's, plus my aunts' husbands -- another long story), but these three stand out.

Most people have a rich uncle (don't they?) and mine is my mom's oldest brother (they are five siblings and my mom is the much younger "baby"). He is a handsome man (you can scroll down on this post to see him as a baby), who married really well into an entrepreneurial Italian-Brazilian family and became wealthy as a result. He also became more part of his wife's family than ours and my mom resents that.

She is also many years younger than him (15+ years), so they were never very close. He was always very nice to our family and let us use his beach house for free every summer (my parents still go there, but not every year anymore). We always saw him (sometimes only in church) when we visited my family's hometown (Curitiba) and in 2001 when we went to Brazil for my brother's wedding, K and caught a ride to Curitiba with him and his wife in their SUV and stayed at their apartment one night. My mom is always a bit upset with him because she wanted him to help financially other family members, particularly the children and grandchildren of their sister (second oldest), and he would always help begrudgingly only if she insisted.

I was happy to see this uncle and his wife in Texas last year. They had just done a cruise in Alaska with my in-laws who took a group with their tour company and I wasn't expecting to see them there. I think this uncle will turn 100 years old and still be in good health. He reminds me a bit of my grandpa, so I am always a bit moved to see him.

The "Rascal" is my mom's second brother, who also married an Italian-Brazilian wife! He was always very affectionate with my mom, so she was very fond of this brother. He was also kind of a rebel (he could have been both of those "Rs") and turned away from his dad's religious upbringing to marry the feistiest girl he could find. I say he's a "rascal" because we could never figure out if he had an actual job, and there were rumors that both him and his wife fooled around at various time, but he is doing well in his old age, still with his (feisty) wife. They have extremely successful children and grandchildren -- their oldest son is a doctor with a prestigious career who is also a professor at a medical school in addition to his practice. I haven't seen them in  over 20 years. :-(

My dad had three brothers, the oldest one got divorced over 40 years ago, never remarried, and now lives close to my parents. The one a bit younger than dad lives a few hours from us here in the U.S. and was left disabled by a benign brain tumor removal surgery he had back in 2009. The third one is my uncle Daniel who had schizophrenia, lived a very sad, troubled life, and died unexpectedly last Friday.

I mean, he hadn't been doing well since late 2014 (and much before that, frankly), but this is what happened...

... this uncle was very intelligent, but troubled. Unfortunately, mental illness runs in my dad's family and some siblings were more affected by it than others. My dad was always, ever since I remember, trying to help his younger brother out. I remember tio Daniel visiting us and I have some very good memories of those times -- he always would either bring or buy me and my brother presents -- toys. He bought me a large plastic doll once and I always thought of him when I played with it. I also remember how the way that he nervously moved his knees sideways as he was sitting on the couch talking to my dad made me feel uncomfortable. It was like a nervous tic and didn't seem normal to me.

He got married in the late 70s (against everyone's advice) and decided to become a policeman. He joined the police academy, passed the tests, and began to work. His wife had a baby, Rafael, and I remember a few visits to their apartment, getting to meet the new (and youngest) baby cousin. However, he drank a lot and was very unstable. His wife said he beat her and left him, moving away with the baby to her hometown. Then, my uncle ended up being discharged from the police (I don't remember if it was state or military police) with a disability pension -- one of the few positive points of his troubled life story. I remember quite a bit of tension whenever my dad's family discussed about him.

I don't know when exactly, but soon after, in the early 1980s, he went back to live in the small town in the North of Paraná state where they all had grown up. Many people in town knew him from babyhood (he may have been born there), and looked after him. After my grandfather died in 1978, the other seven siblings (my grandma had four girls & four boys) decided that they wouldn't sell one of two of their parents' houses in that small town so the house could be given to their troubled brother. My parents visited the former wife (then remarried) and her son a couple of times, but she and the boy wanted nothing to do with my uncle. She later died and my parents lost contact with the son. The step-dad actually told my parents that he probably wasn't my uncle's baby. Who knows?

I remember once, when I was 12-13 (?), that my dad needed to pick up this uncle to take him to the capital to go to the doctor and solve some problems with his pension and my brother and I went with him. It was very strange to hear our uncle talk about so many disparate things. I don't know if it was the last time I saw him, maybe it was.

There was a time when my aunt and her husband were helping care for him (taking him clothes, making sure he had access to his money, checking on the house) and my poor grandma, who died in 2008 would always be stressed about his well-being. Once in a while, when grandma wasn't bed-ridden yet, uncle Daniel would show up at grandma's house unannounced and she would be a bit disturbed (because he talked a lot and made up so many stories), so his sisters forbade him to come. My dad then took over caring for him and he would go every year, sometimes more than once, hiring people to help bring him food and look after him.

My uncle's health kept declining -- he also smoked a lot, having even set fire accidentally to his bed and house a couple of times -- and he lived in a filthy  house surrounded of junk (including old dilapidated cars that he'd buy) and he had lost his bank card and access to his pension. So finally dad had to take him to a judge and become his legal custodian, in charge of his bank accounts. The judge saw my uncle's condition and granted that, but the legal process was still ongoing.

(My dad was extremely stressed out about this whole process, because he thought that my uncle would make a scene at the judge -- he didn't want to feel controlled by anyone -- but tio Daniel didn't even realize what was happening).

Late last year, Daniel wasn't doing well and my dad decided to go see him after Christmas and try to bring him to a nursing facility in Curitiba (the capital). Fortunately he had the help of his "baby" sister and her husband, who live in Tennessee, but are paying an extended visit to Brazil now. They helped him convince Daniel to come and they had to take him straight to the hospital, because he was in bad shape, suffering from pneumonia. He was going to be discharged after four days, but the nursing home had no openings until last week on Monday (2/1), so he stayed in the hospital for a full week. Because he is older than 70, someone had to stay with him overnight, and they ended up paying for some nurses to stay because they were exhausted taking turns staying with him.

It was very hard on everyone because my uncle would become agitated and scream insults at them all, my dad wouldn't have been able to manage without his youngest sister, her husband and my cousin who is a dentist and dental school professor and helped get our uncle admitted and then kept at the Red Cross Hospital. So everyone was relieved when he finally entered the nursing home. They even traveled to the hometown to do some paperwork.

On Friday morning, when the news of his death reached my mom (he died overnight of heart failure), my dad was out without his cell phone, securing my uncle's health card (something like a Medicare card from the government). He got the card, but in the meantime his sister had already gotten another card, the one to go get his death certificate later. Dad called my mom from a payphone to ask where she wanted to go eat lunch and she told him to come immediately home (they were at my mom's sister home, the one who just lost her husband in August -- I never blogged that, will have to fix that, how sad!). So my mom told him when he got there that "It was all over" and he hugged her, cried and sobbed, saying:
I did all I could, I did all I could to help him!
Yes daddy, you did. Poor daddy. My mom said he was extremely stressed out about everything, so now he could finally be at peace.

My dad and his four sisters, three of which live in Curitiba, got together at the funeral home/crematorium. The one who hadn't been talking to the other sisters for years came and said that if they had called her to help in the hospital she would have helped. Three cousins also came. They said their goodbyes and he was cremated. My parents will do their best to notify his son and only heir that he can go and claim the property and any remaining benefits my uncle might pass on to him from his short-lived government job.

My uncle Daniel is the one standing on the left in this photo (my dad is on the far right, close to his dad, both wearing jackets, apparently, he was the favorite child):

Second from left with the white shirt (the two girls in the back worked for the family):
You're finally at rest, tio, and I'm so sorry that your life was so troubled.