Can’t Teach = Can’t Sleep?

Seems like, on the weekends, I’m finding it more and more difficult to fall asleep.  Like today.  Tonight.  This morning.  I slept later in the day, from seven to ten in the evening, and now I’m wide awake at three in the morning.

And I suppose that’s enough of an explanation.  I don’t really exercise, so that can’t be good for the ol’ sleeping thing, either.  But, here we are.

The good news is I landed a logic course for the fall.  One section.  It’s been two years since I taught for the university.  I thought not teaching for a couple of years might have something to do with not sleeping, with—depression?  Is that here again?

I stopped by the department office to catch up with the admin secretary.  She mentioned how I had been scheduled for removal from the system, that from time to time folks just “stop teaching.”  That struck me odd, for a few reasons.  For one, I had contacted the dean every semester begging (okay, not begging, asking) to teach the following semester, only to be told that nothing was available.

For another reason, it seems to me most curious that anyone ever just “stops teaching.”  Maybe it’s only where I’m coming from, but anyone I’ve ever known who teaches does it for a living.  The better ones live to teach.  So, in order to make sense of the idea that someone “stops teaching,” I had to imagine why (in the weaker case) one gives up their livelihood or (in the stronger case) one gives up living.

Now I can imagine all kinds of reasons why one gives up on living, most of them more or less variations on the notion that one has no conceivable reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  Less surprisingly, tied as I am by the fear and loathing that have come to envelop me over the years from poverty and destitution, I find it much more difficult to imagine why anyone would give up their livelihood.  Put another way, when the administration tells their adjuncts that no teaching is available for them this semester, and they tell them this for four straight semesters, how do we think adjuncts react?  How do we think they should react?

This is Why People Don’t Talk to Me

Some time ago a student of mine wrote me with a request to respond to a personal survey.  They were upset that “someone” they cared about had called them vain, conceited and self-centered, so they sent a short survey to a few people whose honest feedback they could trust.  The survey asked, “Am I vain?  Am I conceited?  Am I self-centered?” – with a request to answer yes or no to each of these questions.  Ever my philosophical self, I replied:

“It’s not clear to me how the results of your survey will help improve your relationship with this other person.  Keep in mind, I don’t have clue one about who this “someone” is – and I prefer not to know! – so that my remarks can at least attempt to be as objective as possible.  Whoever this someone is, ask yourself:  “Will this survey and its results improve my relationship with this person?  Will it help bring us closer together?  Or will this survey only worsen that relationship?  Will it only drive us further apart?”  The kind of relationship YOU want to have with this person has everything to do what your survey means for that relationship.

“To be human is to be vain, self-centered, conceited, spiteful, nasty, mean, ruthless, disgusting, ignorant and rude.  To be human is also to be valuable, nurturing, humble, just, pleasant, joyful, caring, appealing, curious and polite.  And to be human is to be all of this, a walking, incomprehensible bundle of contradictions, and much more besides.  If we are human, we have to keep in mind that the shadows of our existence highlight, emphasize, and “make stand out” what is truly outstanding about this same existence.  In other words, until we can acknowledge and accept the failings and frailties of being human, we can never appreciate how human beings manage to overcome such obstacles again and again.  Our efforts, our struggles to prevail, give meaning to our lives and make them worth living.

“Clearly being out of the classroom for so long has caused me to preach endlessly!  Thanks for letting me ramble on.  As always, know that you have my care, concern, and support.  I look forward to hearing from you.”

I never heard back from them.

“Rinse and Spit”

I like dealing with the older ones, she thought to herself. Those kids can be such a pain – constantly squirming in the chair, never staying still. Cleaning their teeth is a real nightmare. Still, it’s a good job, and I’m glad to have it. Dental hygiene was proving to be a real growth industry: it took very little to keep your teeth decent, but it seemed people had lost interest in even the smallest tasks. Well, go ahead, let ‘em rot – job security never looked so good.

“Say Martha, could you check on Mrs. Manning? Number ten, distal – crown strength.”

“Right away, doctor.”

The day usually moved by fairly quickly. Dr. Snyder had a large, thriving practice: four hygienists, two lab technicians, and forty-three clients, most of whom were his patients for at least ten years. All kinds, all ages, all sizes, and patients who practiced various degrees of home care. Mrs. Manning was one of the more diligent ones: other than the root canal on the upper right, she had excellent dental health. My teeth should look so good, Martha thought – more out of pride than envy, of course.

“Hi Celeste, long time no see. Guess your brushing and flossing is keeping us apart.”

“Huh? Oh, hi Martha – yes, I suppose so.”

Hmm. Seems Mrs. M. is a little off her game today.

“Are you okay, dear? You seem a little distracted.”

“Well . . . I’ve been thinking about what needs to be arranged for this year’s Fourth of July celebration. Ever since the Donovans moved to Pittsburgh, I’ve been at a loss of who else the town council might call on to organize the parade.”

Please don’t ask me – please, please, please, please, please . . .

“Any ideas? We’re a little more desperate this year: we need all the help we can get.”

“Have you ever met Tom and Jenny Wilkins? Young couple, came here about six months ago?”

“Wilkins, Wilkins . . . Geez, I thought I knew everyone in town.”

“They’re an amazing couple. He volunteers at the food pantry twice a week, and she’s a part-time nurses’ aide at the hospital. They might be overextended already, though …”