Sunday, April 23, 2023

Once More Around the Dance Floor


There are two more weeks left in the semester. Three if you count final exams and grading. My students are exhausted. I'm exhausted, but slightly melancholy that the semester is ending. I had a really good bunch of students and I'm really going to miss them. My Salem State students -- a cohort of Early College students from Lynn English HS -- are a raucous, fun, and super smart bunch of young people. For the most part, they're hard working and pure joy to teach. My online Seton Hall students are as engaged as they can be for a class that abruptly moved from an in person to online format mere weeks before the start of classes. Like my SSU students, they are smart and funny. It's the casual chitchat and relaxed ease of class interactions that I enjoy immensely. Ah well, all good things must come to an end. It's time to relax so that I can greet my Fall 2023 classes with renewed enthusiasm. Yes, I'm teaching at SSU and Seton Hall again this fall: Women, Art and Ideology (SSU) and Art of the Western World (SHU). HOORAY!

Just up the street from our house: The Pickering House. Photo by me. 

This past fall, I took a leave of absence from the MLIS program at Simmons. Quite honestly, I don't think I'm going back to finish the degree. In addition to teaching, I'm also working in the Center for Teaching Innovation at Salem State as an Instructional Designer. Between teaching and this job, I'm really busy and I'm really happy. As you can see from above, I adore the students at Salem State and I'm thrilled to be back in the classroom. Furthermore, I like working as an Instructional Designer because it allows me to "talk pedagogical shop" with fellow SSU professors. My coworkers are great, my bosses are wonderful, and the student body is incredible. sigh ... the only problem is that both positions are contractual and part-time.

I'm not delusional. Salem State is a public, state funded university. I absolutely understand that budgets are tight and that full-time gigs are getting increasingly hard to find. I know that teaching lines have been closed when people retire and getting them refunded is close to impossible. I also understand that my position at the CTI may never go full-time, but that's ok. I make more than enough money and I get to teach awesome students. Win-win. But hope springs eternal and I'm an unwavering optimist. Who knows what the next year or two will bring? 

To be honest, if given a chance at a full-time, tenured position, I would jump on it immediately. I would take the opportunity to have another "spin around the academic dance floor," especially if that dance floor is Salem State. So, just in case -- and for my own professional and personal satisfaction -- I'm focusing on getting at least one paper written and out for review this summer. Maybe this will jump start my research and writing goals? Maybe it will get me into a cerebral routine so that I can FINALLY focus on writing my book (or two)? Maybe it will get me to the point of submitting proposals to give papers at conferences again? Maybe I'll finally make all of my dreams come true? Who knows. 

Cross your fingers and do whatever mojo you do. The Professor is back in the academic saddle and ready for one last try at cracking this nut! 

Monday, April 17, 2023

I'm Awesome in a Crisis: My Mid-Life Meltdown

Salem Harbor

It finally happened. I expected it when my Mom died, but it didn't come. I expected it when I had my hysterectomy. Nothing. I expected it when I pivoted and changed and moved and pivoted yet again, but it didn't happen. 

Leave it to a global pandemic and turning 50. Leave it to a very late ADHD diagnosis. Leave it to finally buying a home and, weirdly enough, going back to teaching to knock me into a complete and utter mid-life crisis, a deep and desperate crisis of self that has had me reeling for a few years. I didn't see it coming even though the signs were there.

For months I've been sorting through my clothes, my goals and plans, my inner self. I keep pulling clothes and accessories out of my closet and throwing them in boxes to give to charity. I've been obsessed with color theory and capsule wardrobes. I bleached my hair and have been trying to embrace my grays and natural hair color. I've adopted all sorts of productivity and essentialist methods to organize my time around the things that "really matter." I've been boxing possessions and storing them in the basement until I'm "ready" to depart with them. I am very sad to say that I gave away my beloved black transferware dishes, only to replace them with Fiestaware because it "goes" with the Midcentury "feel" of the house. Have I told you how much I hate these dishes? There's nothing interesting about them! They're ... plain and boring and stupidly heavy. I've embraced plain and boring. Why?  Sigh ... I don't know. I turned 50? I finally landed in Salem State University in two roles that I love and I didn't want to screw it up? I want to be taken seriously? I'm trying to make friends and don't want to "scare" people off. I don't know. This all sounds so stupid as I write it.

My ADHD diagnosis didn't help. Sure, the diagnosis helped me understand myself better. It helped me realize that I'm not lazy or unmotivated or incapable. I just have a really hard time focusing, getting started, and maintaining interest. I get stuff done when there's a strict deadline, but usually at the very last minute. It helped me realize that I'm great under pressure and that I absolutely thrive in a crisis. It also helped me realize that people's negative opinions of me came from a place of misunderstanding. I'm not a flake. And I don't change or drop things because I can't do something. It's mostly because I have a hard time sustaining anything and if something isn't working, I walk away. I also have a difficult time regulating my emotions and I'm super sensitive. This explains a lot, especially why I can't be around overly critical and self-centered people.

The diagnosis resulted in a few weeks of therapy that dug up past pain that I came to terms with and put to rest years ago. I've already done this shadow work, dammit! Therapy wouldn't let me move forward because it kept focusing on the past. And this absolutely crippled me. I don't move backwards and, yes, I often burn my bridges. Therapy wasn't progress. It certainly didn't give me the tools I need to write the papers and books I want to publish. It didn't give me the tools to help me regulate my emotions or deal with ever-changing work situations. What it did was give me a diagnosis, so I went down the self-therapy bunny hole to try to help myself. Yup, more shadow work. The four things that have been helping is meditation, extending compassion and kindness to myself, journaling, and talking to Ed. It's through these activities that I realized that I'm awful to myself and that I'm in the middle of a mid-life crisis. 

I don't allow myself time to rest or play anymore -- all I do is work! It dawned on me a few weeks ago that I often used "taking care of my Mom" as an excuse to do all the things that I love to do! Let me explain. Yes, I took care of my Mom because I loved her dearly. I juggled two households, her healthcare, etc. for years. It was difficult and stressful, but BOY! I loved being with her. I loved our time together. I loved the hours and hours we spent chatting over mugs of coffee. However, I used "taking care of Mom" as a way to take a break from my own life. I took care of her yard and planted a garden more for me than her. I love gardening and get great joy out of tending plants. I would often surprise my Mom with lunch and would stay with her in the afternoon. It made her happy ... but it made me happy and less stressed. I took a time out to be with my best friend, my Mom. It made all the difference in her life and mine. I don't have this outlet anymore, therefore, I just stopped playing. I stopped taking breaks. I embraced a workaholic, serious lifestyle because I relied on the excuse, "I need to take care of Mom," to give myself permission to rest and play.

Blondes DON'T have more fun!

I also realized that I spend an enormous amount of time listening to the opinion of others -- in real life and via social media. I consume an awful lot of social media, especially YouTube videos of so-called "fashion and lifestyle" experts. Shocking, I know. It started during lockdown and I was using social media as a way to stay connected with the world around me. I found the effortlessness and sophistication of French style immensely attractive. Capsule wardrobes composed of good quality clothing in colors that suite my skin tone captivated me. Maybe it was time to embrace this? Maybe it would make everything easier? What it made me was nuts. "French woman over 50 don't wear ..." became a mantra. It replaced whatever personal flair I had because it seemed easier, more sustainable, more "mature" and "sophisticated." 

The reality is that I look like a little kid playing dress up in Mom's clothes. My foray into the capsule wardrobe world didn't last very long. I got bored with the same stuff all the time. And let's face it, the only colors I really like to wear are navy, some variation of dark pinky-coral, burgundy, burnt orange, and deep forest green ... and black. Lots and lots of black. Black is comfortable and effortless for me. It's sophisticated. It doesn't show most stains, ahem. It's a security blanket for this old Goth. 

What I learned from this whole experiment and mid-life crisis is that I need to make more time to relax, explore, and play. I'm trying to figure out how to transform the statement, "I need to take care of Mom," into "I need to take care of myself" without feeling guilty about not being productive. I also learned that my style preferences have changed quite a bit since I started blogging back in my Le Professeur Gothique days. Yes, I still adore retro and vintage styles. Yes, I still love graphic and band t-shirts. Yes, Docs and Converse are staples in my wardrobe. However, these days, I'm more about good tailored pants, a plain black t-shirt, nice tweed jacket, some cool pins or brooches, and my Converse. I've embraced my inner Kate Hepburn with a Goth twist. I guess I did learn something from all of those French vloggers I follow. And see that blonde-grey hair? It's going. Goodbye. What the hell was I thinking? sigh ... 

So what does this all mean? I'm not quite sure yet. I'm very grateful that Ed doesn't listen to me when I ask him to drop off my possessions to charity. He left the boxes in the basement ... just in case. I reclaimed most of my wardrobe and a good portion of my possessions. I'm still pissed off that I gave away my dinnerware. Maybe I can start collecting it again? Or something similar? 

I've decided to just stop and be for a while. Deep down, I know exactly who I am, what I love, and what I want to do ... so, I'm embracing it. I'm ignoring the rest.