Sunday, November 28, 2021

Best Life

"Living my best life" is one of my favorite contemporary expressions. I had one of those best life moments recently, sitting at a brewery that I already count as one of my happy places. The name or location doesn't matter, but the association is a positive one going back to my first visit there on a hot summer day after a baseball game. A bunch of us converged on the brewery after our kids finished playing a baseball game, so together we drank beer and listened to a cover band play some classics from the 70s and 80s. The recent "best life" visit was a few weeks ago when my wife and I happened upon trivia night at the brewery. We had 24 hours to ourselves while our kids were at her parents house, and made good use of the time together. We visited a few wineries, checked into a hotel, then made our way to the brewery. Sharing pretzels and a burger with your person, that's already a win. And then getting destroyed in trivia night as a bonus. I mean, seriously, being unable to answer almost every question and hearing your team name announced last, what a thrill. How can the two of us, joining forces, be so bad at trivia?? Who cares. We finished our drinks and went back to our hotel. We got some very forgettable dessert at the hotel bar, but we did have a nice chat with a friendly bartender who is a fellow Buffalo Bills fan. When we got back to the room we felt glamorous wearing the cozy hotel robes. In the morning we watched the sun come up, almost like a movie. It all felt great and I'm thankful to have had the feeling of escape and a short period of fun with my person. Getting our ass kicked in trivia while having a drink and a pretzel really was a living my best life moment. Even in a pandemic. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Are You Sure of Your Perception?

Are you sure of your perception? I love this question. Sometimes I ask it of myself, and occasionally I ask it to someone close to me. I borrow it from Thich Nhat Hanh. The question is in the "Wrong Perceptions" portion of The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh. In this story, he tells of a man who had to leave home for a long time, unaware his wife was pregnant. Upon his return was a boy, whom he suspected was not his: "He hated him. He saw the neighbor's face in the little boys face." Years later, the man's brother visited and clearly saw his brother's face in his nephew's face. The man felt better about his wrong perception. But only after years of suffering. "We have to be very careful with our perceptions, otherwise we will suffer." 

It's a great reminder to check ourselves, and to check each other. If I text someone and don't hear back, why assume the person is mad at me? There could be another explanation. Maybe I run into someone at a store and I perceive they are cold to me. But how do I know what is going on in their day? 

Thinking about the power of perceptions reminds me, of course, of The Thomas Theorem. If we define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. Rather than run with a wrong perception, it's best to slow down until we are sure about what we think and what we believe.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

How's Your Semester Going?

As the pandemic goes on and on, I find myself increasingly tired. It's been hard to maintain good spirits in the classroom. There's something about masks that is messing me up. A mask is hard to talk through, it's uncomfortable when I quickly get sweaty teaching face, and I can't see students' facial expressions. I feel like my humor is missing this semester. Every step of the way, it all feels different to me.

The students are doing their best. They are tired too. Some have reminded me that they spent last year learning remotely, and the transition back to the classroom has been a challenging one. In my intro classes, I don't see much interaction between the students. I think the masks are a barrier. They make things impersonal and uncomfortable. Masks are required for all of us when indoors on campus this semester. I fully support masks as a safety measure. But they are tough to deal with when it comes to teaching and connecting with students.

My thinking as the pandemic drags on is that I don't want to add stress to their lives. They are already over stressed with 5-6 classes, one or more jobs, and all the other stuff of life. I think sometimes we look at them only as students. We forget they are full human beings and being students is just one part of who they are. This semester a student told me she can relax in my class. It was a great compliment to me. I try to create a low stress learning environment. Maybe that's a luxury I have as the easy going sociology professor. But truly I don't want to pile on stress.

There are other approaches to take and ways to cope. I suppose others would seek to tighten the structure. It might come from a firm belief that structure is vital and that we all need to push through. This approach might come from a sincere belief that this is the way we prepare people for the rest of their lives. The thinking might be we aren't doing students any favors if we are too accommodating and flexible. There might also be the concern about rigor. That is to say, if we ease up too much, where is the academic rigor?

But I come back to the thought that different times call for different measures. I'm not hurrying up to make things feel like they used to, or trying to have "a normal semester," whatever that means. I'm looking at things and feeling through things and adapting to things as they are right now. 

And how's your semester going?