Saturday, August 2, 2014

sometimes you earn the minus

art courtesy of
My grandmother became ill during my first year in grad school. She was (and fortunately, still is) a funny, generous and wickedly smart woman who had been partly responsible for not only showing me what was "out in the world" but for convincing me that I could be in any part of it I chose. I was devastated when I received the call saying she was undergoing emergency surgery. I had never missed class, but couldn't imagine sitting through a discussion about financing American higher education while my family's matriach was holding on by a thread. So, I left my faculty member a voicemail and headed to the hospital. It was the first time I earned an A- in grad school.

A few years ago I was sitting with one of my students, let's call her "Lisa." She was in tears. It was the end of her sophomore year in college and she was looking at her first "A-" on an otherwise pristine transcript. Lisa was the perfect student on paper: stellar college exam scores, flawless homework, spotless attendance record, but she was the lab partner from hell. I knew this because I had been talking with her classmates all semsester. The problem was, Lisa's strive for perfection made it impossible for her to give up control. She not only micromanaged her team-mates but became rude and condescending during times of stress. And finally one of her instructor's grading policies reflected this aspect of her work. Students in the class underwent a peer evaluation; an evaluation which Lisa failed. As a result her overal grade dropped from an A to an A-. Lisa was furious and I imagine, even years later, would still say the grade was unfair. But I might disagree because I'm hard on students who say, "I got a 'C' in the class." Or worse, "Dr. so and so gave me a 'C'." In my mind class grades, with few exceptions, are earned not received.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

busy is the new okay - which isn't okay

I've done it too. I've walked into a meeting and had someone at the table say, "Angie, it's good to see you. How are things going?" And I've sighed dramatically and perhaps shook my head side to side before answering, "Busy. So busy." And perhaps in that moment, I'm not feigning exhaustion. Perhaps my pre-schooler crawled into my bed at four o'clock that morning and decided to lie his superman pajamed body horizontally across my entire pillow. Perhaps I spent the last two hours before dawn sleeping on the floor with only the hand towel I pulled, eyes half closed, from the yet to be folded laundry basket to keep me warm. Perhaps I sat next to the community gossip on the bus, and heard far to many half truths about my neighbors for what seemed like a never-ending commute. Perhaps I walked into my office with a strategic plan in hand only to be usurped by a student in tears over his cheating boyfriend and another in arms over the A- on what she swears was a near perfect paper. (And perhaps I spent an hour explaining that the "minus" was representative of the "near" in "near perfect.") And perhaps I walked into that meeting, with no sense of the agenda and having lost my pen. But even so, "Busy. So Busy." is not the answer to my well meaning colleague's question.

I've always disliked the word, "okay." Is it more or less than good? Should I assume my work-mate has too much on her plate; that my husband had a rough day with our son; that my friend has lost yet another job? I never know. 

But I far prefer it to "Busy." Busy is not an answer to how is one doing. It's just the lazy default response. Yes, you may be busy. You may even be too busy - but that alone doesn't dictate your mood. 

Recently I have tried to answer the "how are you?" question with at least some degree of sincerity: great, good, tired, excited, nervous. And at the same time, I'm trying not to wear the state of "being busy" like a sandwich board. Because what does being busy, or at least too busy, really say about my life other than I'm inefficient, unorganized, and overworked? And why should I advertise those things? And, if I'm too busy to read, sit in my garden, watch a movie with my husband or play superheroes with my son - then the answer to, "Angie, how are you?" should probably be "not okay."

Monday, May 20, 2013

philosopher's physics

I have a guilty pleasure - a thing for novels involving religious intrigue, you know the kind: Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and the true first pope kind of thing. Not only does this kind of fiction make for great summer reading, but the genre usually introduces us to a historical character (DaVinci, Dante, Galileo to name a few) charged with keeping the Catholic Church's secrets. And through their stories, we are reminded of the remarkable toolkit such men had to help them navigate life. These safe-keepers were "Renaissance Men." They were poets, painters, astronomers, philosophers, musicians and mathematicians in one. What a foreign concept! After all men and women are rarely afforded such knowledge in the 21st century.

Today's colleges and universities, even those built on the foundation of liberal arts, are designed to educate masters in their fields. Not only are students often asked to major in a particular discipline but general education is presented like a buffet menu: pick any two.

I think back on my own undergraduate education when I met my science requirement with a Physical Anthropology course. I adored the class and my instructor, but wondered, "What's the point? What does this have to do with my actual interests and goals?"

If only someone had helped me make a connection. Perhaps, instead of sitting in this New York coffee shop, I'd be off the coast of Madagascar leading an excavation. After all 20 years later, I discovered a genuine passion for the role of the performing arts in ancient and/or tribal religion. What an awesome thing to have uncovered as a twenty-year old theatre major.

Don't get me wrong, there are folks out there, folks with more letters after their names than me, that aim to re-introduce the renaissance man (and woman) into our working world. A few years ago I met a faculty member, an astronomer by trade, who created a science liberal arts course that was designed to marry the disciplines on his college campus. The course tackled questions such as , "How are astronomy, physics, philosophy and religion intertwined?" "How does a keen understanding of science help inform the artist's work; and vice versa?"

The course took years to make its way into the curriculum and was then balked by biology, chemistry and premed students (and in some cases their faculty mentors and advisors). After all these students were taking enough science as it was and didn't have time to take what I heard called "philosopher's physics".

But is there not more value in witnessing the marriage of seemingly unique disciplines than to have a base understanding of a particular subject? After all your every day undergraduate who asks, "What the hell does Latin have to do with my future as an account manager?" has a point. And it's the job of the college educator (faculty, advisors, resident assistants - everyone - to help students connect the dots.) Even so, their jobs would be a hell of a lot easier if the relationships between the disciplines and between careers and a liberal arts education were explicit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

from the archives: a favorite "aha moment" story

Simply Defined: the cellist (or how to succeed at music by really ...: So I have a story for you... A few years ago I was working with a young musician. He was enrolled in a highly respected program where he c...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

your workspace should be a space that works

my boy at his workspace- because being a toddler is serious business
In my mind, one of the most critical components for success is being in the right workspace. Whether you're a student needing a space to study; an artist needing a studio to paint; or a writer needing a space to write, your environment has to be in line with your needs.

A few years ago, I was working in a multi-functional space that served as my office, reception, storage and an occasional faculty lounge. Located on the building's first floor there were two ceiling high windows that had been  covered up with foam board to protect the glass from wear and tear. So, like Tantalus who couldn't eat the fruit above his head or drink the water before him, I spent my days dreaming of sunshine that couldn't be seen. I was miserable. My office was over-crowded at times, unorganized, and lacked charm. I couldn't even keep plants alive in such a sad little  place.

I personally need warm light (preferably natural but anything besides the awful overhead lamps that are found in most work spaces will do); occasional quiet and solitude; a place for my tea or coffee; pictures of my husband and son; and something green to make my workspace a space that works.

One of my challenges right now is I'm working on a book - exciting right? - and trying to find the physical and head space to do my work at home, is tough. My husband, a writer by trade, seems to manage. But he also is happy working into the wee hours of the morning after my son and I have gone to bed and he at least appears to to be comfortable holed up in the little room we call "the study" or working at the kitchen table. I, likewise, need to find an at home workspace that actually works. I have ideas (I'm thinking a lap table in the bedroom: just the right size for my iPad, journal and a cup of tea), but I've yet to execute.

What about you? What kind of work do you do and what kind of space - ideal space- do you need to be your most creative, efficient, and/or productive?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

money talks

photo by angie
We've all heard the phrase, "Money talks." I, for one, find it a little obnoxious as it immediately creates an image of a well-manicured man in a pinstripe suit dropping hundreds of dollars on frivolous luxuries and over-priced toys. Movies like Wall Street make my skin crawl - if only because we witness the implications of misdirected greed and ambition on a daily basis.

But putting all that aside, money does indeed talk. In fact, how we spend money speaks volumes about what's important to us; what we value. And, realizing this, is radically changing my relationship with money. I've never over-spent (in fact quite the opposite) but I've never felt comfortable earning and saving either. And, as a result, I've never invited prosperity into my life. Sure, my husband and I have always had more than enough, even while living in one of the most expensive places in the world. But I think it's because we've been afraid of failure. Afraid to be the guys from Salt Lake City, Utah who couldn't make it in the bad big apple. For many years, I rarely took risks which meant there was little chance of failure.

But I've found, over the last few months, my relationship with money has changed. I understand that spending money and more importantly earning money isn't inherently a bad thing. I should embrace my potential and steer towards prosperous opportunities. And I should do this with one thing in mind: what I value - love, family, loyalty, integrity, beauty and compassion - can and will be reflected in how I choose to spend (or don't spend) the money I earn.

What about you? What does your relationship with money say about you?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

a perfect day

Pencil tips
photo by Dvortygirl
When thinking about how to better manage your time, it's critical that you know how you'd actually like to spend your time in the first place. We all have obligations, but we may have some control over how we go about checking things off our to-do lists.

Try this: 
Think about your typical day. Make it a work day, whatever that means to you (a day you go to the office, a day you have the kids, a day you set aside to write, a day you have class). How would you most like to "tackle" your agenda on that day; and what self-care activities would bookend your to-dos?

On a typical work day, I'm in the office for about 8 hours. During that time, I meet students, attend meetings, facilitate workshops, manage a team, create communication pieces, plan events, and of course follow through on "other duties as assigned." When I'm not in the office, I want to spend my energies focusing on my home and family. My ideal day (within the constraints of my somewhat traditional 9 to 5 career) looks like this:

5:30am Yoga and meditation
6:15am Prep for the day
6:30am Wake, feed and play with my son
7:30am Commute
8:00am Student appointments
9:00am Catch up on email; define my action plan for the day
10:00am Work and planning meetings with supervisor, team or colleagues
12:00pm Eat, write, blog, check-in at home
1:00pm Open office hours for impromptu student meetings
3:00pm Wrap-up, return calls, prep for the day ahead
4:00pm Commute
4:30pm Catch up with husband and son, attend to housework as necessary
6:00pm Dinner
7:00pm Evening routine with son (read, clean toys, bathe, prep for bed)
8:00pm Downtime with husband (read, watch television, knit etc.)
10:00pm Bathe and prep for bed
11:00pm Sleep

That's my perfect work-day, again within the constraints of a 9-5 job. It doesn't always happen. Some days, I'm called upon to respond to the unexpected needs of my supervisor, team or students; some nights my toddler fights going to bed. But knowing how, in an ideal world, my day should look, provides a certain amount of structure and routine. I also think it reflects my values - it shows that at the core I'm a wife, a mom and an educator. I don't make time for friends on a typical day. Yes, my friends are important but at this stage in my life I really have to calendar them in, because meeting folks for an impromptu drink after work isn't realistic. But things might be different for you, given your needs, values and responsibilities. And that's okay. It's not about what's right or wrong- but rather how you simply want to define your daily life.