Thursday, May 5, 2011

The End's Not Near

This semester has just flown right by.

They all do, but as a first-semester professor, the tempo is more presto than allegro. I remember being nervous for my first lecture, and then being less nervous for my second lecture. Now, here I am, one semester down, and lectures just kind of roll off the tongue.

Needless to say, particularly from the students, it's been a bit of a rocky start. I'm learning by trial and a lot of error, but I'm getting the hang of some things. I know how to use the projector now. I know where the chalk is in one of my classrooms. I can and occasionally do remember to put notes and homework online. Still have a little trouble reading my board handwriting, but hey, at least my students can! No, no, they can't.

I can, however, say that I feel better about things than I did a couple of months ago. I could see students perking up a bit more by the end of the semester. Answers on homework and exams seemed more complete, and more earnest. This despite the ever-looming reminder that summer, and perhaps the real world, were waiting for many of them. That's a start, I guess.

As a student, I was a bit aloof to a professor's life. I knew there was lecture, and preparation for that lecture, and grading of homework, and maybe if there was time, the other thousand things that have to be done (primarily research). I remember feeling that the last thing I wanted to do was get in the professor's way. So I spent very little time taking advantage of office hours, or saying hello before or after class. I came in, sat down, opened a notebook, wrote down some notes, occasionally laughed annoyingly loud at a couple of jokes, and walked out.

I doubt this is universal, but as a professor, I sort of want the students to chat with me. Even if it's not school-related. Here all of these students come in to class and give you permission to riddle their ears with knowledge for 50 minutes without so much as a peep -- you start to wonder: "Who are these people? Why in the world are they listening to ME? What do these people do besides listening to me?" It turns out, they do many of the things I did while in college. Imagine that. But I can tell I was wrong as a student -- professors don't mind chatting with you. Many times, they enjoy the diversion. I sure do.

One student exclaimed during my first class that I looked so young. My response? "Think how it looks from my end." A 21-year-old telling a 28-year-old they look so young -- that's a new one.

Today was the first day that a student has shaken my hand. Hopefully not the last. That alone is enough incentive to give it another go. Maybe next time, I'll find the chalk before class starts.

Monday, May 2, 2011

24 Hours Later

War is hell.

When I first heard the news last night, I wasn't happy. I wasn't sad. I wasn't really feeling anything.

Osama bin Laden was dead, and I didn't feel anything. It didn't seem right. I was listening to people outside of my apartment singing "God Bless America" in a complete daze. Everything seemed surreal (overused word, but nonetheless). I heard people say "Fuck Obama!" and "USA! USA!" in response. (Please note: Received two comments already: No, that is not a typo.) There are two American flags on balconies today that were not there yesterday.

No one really talked about it at work today. It was brought up, but more of a "I can't believe it" than a "We did it!" sort of way.

I still don't feel anything. Not one damn thing.

I knew somebody who died on September 11. I was a "good acquaintance", at best, but it is fair to say that the attacks that day affected me personally. Indeed, they led me to a very dark time in my life, but that's a story only a small number of people know and should know. I have recovered from that dark time, and I am a better man for it.

But I'm not feeling anything ... anything.

I listened to a few "Here's what I was doing when..." stories last night, with a maelstrom of tears and beer. What was meant to be a celebration quickly turned into a group of people drowning their sorrows in alcohol, the only elixir they could find. I know the temptation all too well.

People were shooting off fireworks, wrapped in flags, bouncing beach balls, and cheering wildly in the streets throughout the country last night. Many have used the sports metaphors. Others have compared our reaction to that of some of the Palestinians after 9/11. Me? Well, I see it as a parade after a war being over. The parade is full of pride, excitement, relief, and sorrow. And tomorrow, there will be leftover confetti on the streets, a couple of people in jail, and a rising sun. All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.

War is a human construct and an eternal reality. Conflict is in our nature. We are animals, savage beasts with brains capable of recognizing this fact. Sometimes we are capable of transcending this fact. Most of the time, we change the scoreboard.

Osama bin Laden is dead. One less evil person in the world. A stain on our collective history, yet one casualty of war. But this war has lived longer than we have, and will outlive all of us. We don't live in "interesting times" or at the cusp of some new, unforeseen future. We're metaphorical hamsters.

Some are preaching us to be joyless, some are claiming we are no better than the other side, some have found closure in whatever way they can find it.

I feel nothing. I'm too busy running on a treadmill.