Friday, July 20, 2007

Last Stretch of Summer Teaching

Until I finish my grading this summer, I'll be absent from this blogging environment. At least another week remains of the summer session. One of my classes has ended; two others won't finish officially until next week. I'll have that weekend to finish the grading although I'm hoping to get through my essays earlier than Saturday or Sunday.

Those people with regular jobs know when to report to work and how long to remain at work. Online teachers like me have some flexibility in our schedules because it is possible to sleep till noon or work through the night. It is even possible to make time for family by going swimming or seeing a movie. Afterwards, no matter how late it might be, I still have to return to my computer if there are essays to grade and to return to my students.

It has been especially hard getting through my grading this summer. It seems like it never ends. After I have returned one set, I have a day off before I get another set to slog through. Unlike most semesters, fewer of my students dropped my classes. I expected a fifty percent attrition rate in two of my classes; the attrition rate was more like twenty percent.

If it is any consolation, I can say that I like my job sometimes. One benefit occurred on July 4th at the fireworks display on Fort Leavenworth. Arriving a few minutes before the fireworks started, my wife and son and I set up our chairs on a hill overlooking the lake. Just as I sat down, the person next to me told me that he was one of my students from a few years ago. He even called me by name. After all that time, one of my students still recognized me from when I used to teach onground. I love those moments of recognition. Another instance happened a couple of years ago when I encountered one of my former students at a game store. As he was ringing up my purchases, he found a way to give me a copy of the Hulk video game, either the first or second one, free of charge. He apparently liked me as a teacher. What more could a teacher want, other than a full-time job, of course?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Purple Coneflowers & Clematis Blossoms

Photography started as a hobby for me when I was in high school. My roommate my junior year of high school (it was a boarding school for military dependents) worked as a photographer for the school newspaper and got me interested in using a SLR. He also knew how to develop his own pictures, and I often used to watch him as he spent Saturday mornings in the base photo lab.

Eventually, my dad let me use his Voightlander, and I started making trips to the photo lab on my own. Photography helped to rein in the excessive drinking that characterized my weekends during the first few months of my senior year. Able to pass for a GI, I could buy beer on base. Sometimes I would hang out outside of the NCO club, occasionally with a young woman who liked me best when her boyfriend was off playing football or basketball for the school, and wait for a drunk GI, usually a young one, to come out. After talking to him and slipping him a dollar, he would return inside, buy a six-pack, and bring it back out to us. After one of our excursions, my drinking buddy got caught when she returned to the girl’s dorm. She admitted that I was with her and got suspended for three days, but I refused to confess because of what could happen if I had to return home to my folks.

It eventually proved more fun to wander around the school grounds and the airbase in search of photo opportunities. Once the weather station where I worked as a work study student in the afternoon sent me home early because of a snowstorm. The forecasters needed up-to-date information because of the jets on alert, ready to go airborne in a matter of minutes. Within the busy weather station, I proved in the way. Returning to the high school, I saw the other kids running around in the snow. By that time, I had fewer and fewer things in common with my peers. I opted to grab my camera and took pictures of the snow sticking to the trees in a quieter part of the high school grounds. Moments like those satisfied my creative impulse.

Anyone who been visiting this blog might have noticed that my pictures are seasonal. A recent discovery of mine has been the flowers in the yard and in a flowerbed near the municipal pool. Let me know your reactions to these pictures. As in my previous posts, clicking on the photograph will enlarge it.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Update on Previous Posting

My mother, I’m happy to report, has survived her surgery and is making a slow recovery. She’s currently administering morphine to herself to deal with the pain. I don’t know when she’ll be able to return home.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

News We Hate to Hear

I learned today that my mother (She appears in the back row in this picture. Grandmother McKimm, her father's mother, the woman who raised my mom after my mom's mother died from TB, appears on the right on the front row.) was rushed to the hospital and had to have emergency surgery to have her spleen and colon removed. She’s 80. From what I’ve been able to piece together, my mother started bleeding internally and externally during the night and at some time called for my father to come help. He is nearly completely deaf and didn’t hear her for the longest time. When he finally realized what was happening, he got their friends from across the street to help. My mother only had fifteen minutes to live when she either was found or when she reached the hospital, according to what I’ve learned. The next seventy-two hours are critical.

I’m reporting these things secondhand because I wasn’t there. My mother and father live in Northern Ireland. It had been their dream, after my dad retired from the Navy, to return to where my mother was born and where my mother and father first met. They left this country in 1973 and haven’t returned. As I was growing up and began hearing about my parents’ future ambition, it was always assumed that my sister and I would live nearby.

Actually, we created lives for ourselves in this country: My sister lives in Connecticut with her husband. I live in Kansas with my wife and son. Finding the time and the money to take a trip to Northern Ireland hasn’t always been possible. There has, in fact, been long lapses between visits—especially for me.

My mother and father choosing to live overseas has often been a sore spot with me, one that became most acute when my son was a baby. I would have loved for my parents to see their grandson when he was first born. At the time, both my wife and I were working toward our PhD’s and certainly didn’t have any extra money. As it was, we were living off student loans, credit cards, and our teaching assistantship salaries.

When I graduated from college each time, I invited my folks to graduation. My mother’s excuse was usually that my dad couldn’t travel because of his colostomy. Without my family present, there didn’t seem to be a reason to walk across the stage when I earned my BA. MA, and PhD. All of my wife’s family came down from Kansas to attend her graduation when she graduated with the PhD. None of my family came.

Even this past year, when my son was playing his alto saxophone in the middle school band, I thought to myself how wonderful it could have been to have his grandparents attend the school concerts. I looked around the gymnasium and saw what looked like grandparents and aunts and uncles. It’s true that some of the kids were there by themselves and ended up walking home alone afterwards. Some of the parents probably had to work the evening shift and couldn’t get the time off. That sense of absence, that loss, or what Lacan would call a lack, contributes to our personal pain. My son wrote in his journal at school this past year how much he would like to see his grandparents before they die.

Recently, when I was driving through Leavenworth, I noticed that one family was having a cookout on the front porch and had a yard full of family and friends mingling around, talking and laughing. That’s the kind of life I would like to have on holidays—father’s day, mother’s day, Memorial day, 4th of July. When I was single, I used to hate Christmas so much that I usually made a point of sleeping through much of it, having stayed up late watching movies on TV the night before, thus ensuring I wouldn’t have to face the day. When I was smoking marijuana, I made sure that I was fully supplied for the holiday so that it would largely pass in a haze. Maybe I should have volunteered at the Salvation Army, but I don’t know that I could have handled being sociable. This year on father’s day, I spent some time with Gregory Peck, the actor who most reminds me of my dad, particularly in On the Beach. His intonations and speech patterns are similar to my dad’s.

As I wait to hear about my mom, I’m reminded of the song Kilkelly , which appears on the CD recorded in Matt Molloy’s pub in Roscommon. So typical of my life would be discovering that my mother passed away from hearing a message left on the answering machine or from reading an e-mail message sent by my dad since he can’t hear well enough to talk to me over the phone.