Saturday, December 26, 2009

What Would Molly Do?

For Christmas I received a green message bracelet from Austin, Texas, that read "What Would Molly Do?" The Molly in this case is the wonderful, irreverent, and sadly missed Molly Ivins. She was not mean, but she called it like she saw it, never letting the need to be "nice" get in the way of a good punchline and the need to deflate the balloon of hot air that surrounds so many public figures and politicians. She was smart as can be, 6 feet tall, and unafraid of speaking truth to power. And funny, funny, funny. She died at 62.

You get to a time in your life when numbers like that jump out at you. I will be 62 next month. Have I done what I came here to do? Could I say goodbye with a feeling of "job well done" the way I hope Molly did? Retiring has put me in mind of that since to me my career as a college professor was not "what I came here to do" and now I have the chance to try to figure that out.

Molly knew what I should do. For years I kept a quote from Molly on my desk at work:
In 1993 she gave this advice: "So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

Am I ready for a good fight? There are plenty of causes to take on, a world of things that need fixing. Am I ready to do any of this? I have to say that right now I can think about it, but I am not ready. I need some R and R, some time to recuperate from a challenging, stressful job. I am sleeping better than I have in years, just a week into this experiment. I don't want to lose that, or the feeling that of letting go of the weight of responsibility that has been on my shoulders. My friend Patty, a few years ahead of me in this process, advised that I let go of commitments for a year. Let what I truly love surface.

Maybe it comes from being a middle child in a pretty nutty family, but I am a peacemaker by inclination. I always feel the need to fix things. A perfect co-dependent I found out after attending meetings for Adult Children of Alcoholics. You can imagine, as a hearing person at a deaf university, where my students and colleagues had plenty of wounds from being deaf people in a hearing world, I got busy doing what came naturally. This is rather exhausting, I found out, and I got better at saying no. But still...

So here I am, the world outside my door, with much to be done out there, and me feeling the tug. What would Molly do? As I reread her quote above, I realize that it is easy for me to ignore the "fun" part of the message. In my new phase, maybe I can start to take fun seriously. If I have fun, then maybe it will lead to "what I came here to do". Or maybe it is what I came here to do. Hard words for an over-responsible person to hear. But I am wearing Molly's bracelet, and doing my best to have fun.

Anybody want to play cards? Play Clue? Play some folk music?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Turned in my key

Yesteday was to be the last day at the office. Not the last day of work, since grades are not due until Monday and I have a student with a good excuse who still owes me work. But the day that I clean out my office and turn in my key and ID and close that chapter.

I planned to get there 7:30 or so and be out by noon. But I woke up at 2:30 am and could not go back to sleep. Was I nervous, excited, just too much coffee the day before? Whatever the cause, by 4:00 I called it a night and got up and went in to work. I had to get a special buzz in from security, and found out who else is in the building at that hour (my IT pal who likes to get in early on Friday to be home in time for the Sabbath) and what it's like to see a Gallaudet sunrise.

I cleaned out my desk, gave away office supplies to whoever stopped by, and left far too many mixed up pens and pencils in a bag in the supply cabinet. (Sorry - just toss 'em if nobody wants them.) I took the decorations off my door.
The door has always been a place for the quirky and wild and wonderful things that come my way. A former student even wrote a poem about its crazy juxtapositions in the eighties. This final incarnation had a picture of President Obama in Crow regalia after he was adopted into that tribe, a quote from Pat Robertson against feminism, a picture of a Zen monk and his dog in similar prayer positions, the Serenity Prayer, a quote by Groucho Marx from the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore that says "Outside of a dog a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." and a sign saying "Give Peace A Chance" from the protest one freezing January day before the invasion of Iraq, among other things. Sad it see it all go, and wondering where I will be able to express that "look at what I discovered" wonder - oh, it's this blog. I will miss having a door as my canvas, though.

Near the end of the morning, I started to feel it a bit. Rebecca stopped by and we did the Medicine Cards - we pulled out the Hawk, for keen observation, and the Otter for playfulness. Go play! she said. Let's see if the obligation to work leaves me and I can really relax. Let's see.

I always wanted to leave the office with one box, like they do on TV when someone gets fired. Fraudulent, because I have brought home tons of books, filled all the empty shelves and have to do another book purge to make room for everything. But I liked the image. It's the one you see at the top of this post, with a few books left behind for my department.

What is that stick? you might ask. It is a stick from a tree hit by lightning on the campus 15 years ago. Who knows when you might need something like that. or the Tibetan incense or the rainbow leis in case of a rainbow emergency. Or the little spindle that spins tiny yarn so that I could demonstrate it to my classes. Spinning being a major cultural metaphor that shows up in lots of myths and stories.

I turned in my key and my ID to Susan, and there was a pang of regret at leaving all these people I have enjoyed working with. Our little corner of the University has been such a positive place, such a haven from political nuttiness, and I will miss it terribly, but time to move on to what's next.

I made myself walk out to the car, stow "the box" and start to drive. An odd thing happened at this point. I passed across the slightly hazardous bridge over the railroad tracks (they are replacing it with something that looks really substantial) and when I got to the other side I felt a release. Something has changed, and I felt it at the at moment even more than saying goodbye to friends and being "locked out" of my old life.

That night it started snowing, and it's up to 13 inches by now. It's expected to reach 20" by the time it stops tomorrow morning. I'm not going anywhere for a while and that's fine. A little midwinter silence is a good way to prepare for my future.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The last day

How do you say goodbye to a profession you have loved for 36 years? That's how long I have been teaching college courses in the study of religion and philosophy. And now it was time to say goodbye. I was worried it would be anticlimactic, or one of those days when the students were stressed and ornery, or I would cry in front of everyone. I've pretty much said what I had to say to my students, though every semester I wake up a week later and say, "Oh, but I forgot to talk about ..." something or other that I thought it was vital to discuss. (I'm handling that problem by my new blog "Dangling Conversation" that will be a place for former and future students to talk things over.)

So, to manage the last day of teaching, I gave a test in philosophy class and had a special event planned for religion and society. One of my favorite courses through the years was "Native American Religion and Culture" which was created out of student demand and interest. I learned a lot about the cultures of the 500 native nations that were here on Turtle Island (North America) at the time of contact. One thing I learned about I wanted to do on this day.

In many native nations, when it is time to celebrate a change in your life, you have a giveaway. I had much to give away in gratitude for many great years of teaching and learning at Gallaudet University. And, I'm kind of a pack rat (please don't alert the Clean House people) so I had collected lots of craft supplies and toys and stuff they give away at information tables. And earrings I don't wear any more and office decorations that it's time to move to a new home. So I brought in a large basket full of gifts, and each student was able to choose a few.

Then we had a talking circle with a feather I had added rainbow seed beads to years ago. (Just to alert those who are worried about such things, it was a genuine imitation eagle feather, originally grown on a domestic turkey and painted to look like a bald eagle tail feather.) We passed the feather around the circle and each spoke. The rules are that the person with the feather gets to speak, and no one else interrupts. If you don't want to speak you can pass the feather to the next person. We talked about what we want to let go of and what we want to include in our lives in the next year.

I said that I wanted to let go of stress and embrace creativity. Simple, right? Well, we shall see. But I did sleep extraordinarily well last night. The class ended beautifully with us thanking each other for a good semester and hopes for continued learning for all of us. I did tear up a little, but I don't think anyone noticed.

You should know that I have had a unique job teaching religion and philosophy in sign language at Gallaudet University. For many years, I was the only person in the world with that position, though now there are others on campus taking the torch for the next leg of the run. My students are all deaf and hard of hearing, with the occasional hearing student thrown in to make it interesting. Everyone communicates in sign language in the classroom and on campus. I guess I have to say my students were all deaf and hard of hearing. I am retiring, after all.

Next week I finish grading (the hardest part of being a professor) and cleaning out my office, and my friends are having a party to say goodbye to me. Not that I'm going anywhere. I'm right here, getting ready for whatever is next!