She’s made of iron

I played hooky this morning to escort my wife to and from the hospital, where she had a colonoscopy done. Apparently she’s perfect inside as well as outside, and got a clean bill of health. So clean that the doctor said she doesn’t have to come back for ten years.

I guess I’m as ugly on the inside as I am outside, because last time I had this done I was told I should come back every three years. Mary is going to outlast me, that’s for sure.

Skating perilously close to burnout

And the semester hasn’t even begun! I think it’s clear that I’m in a fragile mental state.

Here’s the deal: I’ve been building up some enthusiasm and momentum for my genetics course. The last couple of weeks, I’ve made significant progress, using the experience of the last few years to build it up more flexibly and better able to cope with the awkwardness of teaching during a pandemic, but also looking back long-term on what works and what doesn’t. The last couple of days, in particular, I was rather happily rewriting the first couple of weeks of lecture, tweaking lab exercises, building up a library of problem sets to assign, etc., and looking forward to trying new ideas in the classroom. I was streamlining all the stuff students have had no problem with in the past, and expanding bits where I’ve found conceptual roadblocks before. It was productive work.

And then, I get an email telling me that my syllabus must incorporate PSLOs and CSLOs, and I’m sent a handy-dandy link to guide me step-by-step through adding these statements, if you already know all the PSLO/CSLO jargon. These are statements used by assessors in evaluating what general skills students learn in my course, they’re important for accreditation and assessment, and some of my colleagues worked very hard on them in committees around campus. I understand why they’re important and appreciate all the work other faculty have put into formulating them.

I hate them. It’s bureaucratic noise. I know very specifically what my objectives are in genetics, but now I have to reformulate them in the broadest, most general context to satisfy administrators, in a way that isn’t going to be at all useful to my students, and package them up in boilerplate bloat to tack onto my syllabus, which is just yet more verbiage the students will find irrelevant and won’t read.

OK, though, it’s part of the job. It’s drudgery, but I’ll derail what I was doing and switch to this task today and get it done. I admit I spent a good twenty minutes yesterday tearing at my hair and cussing furiously at my computer screen, but I’m a big boy, I’ll buckle down and get it done.

This morning, I drag myself to the computer and calmly and unproductively stared at the screen for a few hours. I am unable to proceed. I get nothing done. I pulled up the university’s list of these biology PSLO/CSLO thingies and let them suck all the inspiration and enthusiasm out of my brain. I can’t even warm up to actual genetics, and there I even have a little to-do list of specifics to get done before classes start. I have all these back-up plans in case we go into lockdown, for the inevitable result of having to cope with students requiring prolonged absences, for doing labs online (the worst possible thing that could happen), but I was totally unprepared for the university to reach in and crush all the joy out of my heart with these chains of bureaucracy.

That’s partly me, I know. It’s why I say I’m so close to burnout — in a normal year, I’d just roll my eyes and get on with it. I just don’t feel like I can do it right now.

You know, this university has done as little as possible to adapt to the terrible circumstances the faculty find themselves in, I would have thought they could at least stop pestering us about our TPS reports.

I think what I need to do is just say fuck it, and go spend a few hours in the lab doing worthwhile things, like washing glassware and feeding animals and scrubbing spider poop off the floor of containers and setting up a few more bottles of flies, and then maybe go for a winter walk. Maybe by this evening my brain will manage to regenerate some of the enthusiasm that has been recently vaporized. It would probably be for the best if I just ignore all official university email for a while.

Clearly, I must assert my claim to the throne

I stumbled across this old photo on the web, and at first I wondered why a random website would have a photo of my great-grandfather…and what’s with the uniform? He was a dairy farmer!

Then I discovered that it was actually King Haakon VII of Norway.

H.M. King Haakon of Norway’, 1942. From ‘Calling All Nations’, by T. O. Beachcroft. [The British Broadcasting Corporation, Wembley, The Sun Engraving Co., Ltd., London and Watford, 1942]. Artist Unknown. (Photo by Print Collector/Getty Images)

I think the passing resemblance is sufficient cause to claim a link. More evidence: Norway already has a king, King Harald V, and he doesn’t look much like his grandfather. I, too, don’t look much like my great-grandfather, providing further proof. I guess I’ll be nice and not usurp the throne, as he seems to be doing a fine job, but you know, if ever you’re looking for another heir, Norway, I’ll be available.

The environment defines my plans for the day

After my successful foray into the world of walking yesterday, I’m thinking today might be a good day to cower in my office: it’s -18°C out there, the snow is coming down, and we’ve got blizzard conditions. The spiders are warm, my lab still has no running water, and I’ve got to prep the first couple of weeks of lectures for genetics. It’s also snug and warm in my home office, and these fuzzy slippers are kind of cozy, and I’ve got a big cup of coffee. What more could I ask for?

Easing back into the flow

You know, I’ve been crippled up with tendinitis for a while, but I got the pain managed fairly quickly, and have since been in heal and repair mode, avoiding putting stress and strain on my ankle. I have not been happy about this, as you might guess. Today I took the bold step — actually, a whole bunch of steps — bundled up, put on a pair of loose fitting boots, and walked a couple of kilometers in -20°C weather.

I made it! I’m in even worse shape than I was before, so I’m a bit worn out, but I didn’t break anything, no tendons ruptured, I’m feeling no pain. I’m on the road to recovery! I just have to keep walking regularly, and next thing you know…the spring field season! Spiders re-emerge! I’ll be out in the weeds again, finding spiders while the ticks find me. It’ll be fun! As long as I don’t break anything again.

We can sleep when we’re dead

In a classic example of end-of-semester anxiety, I couldn’t sleep last night and got up at 2am to grade lab reports. They’re done! But now I’m either going to be a shambling, weeping mess for the rest of the day, or I’m going to get a second wind and turn manic. You never know! I do wish we had some good drugs in the house, but all I’ve got is ibuprofen and aleve.

See, students, it’s not just you suffering this time of year. Your professors are also going a bit mad.

The final hurdles are two final exams one week from today. I’ll probably make it, I think.

How to tell what time of year it is

Just look at how your college professor is armed for war.

Alternatively, you could look at their haggard face and haunted eyes. I tried that on myself, but fortunately for you, I decide my visage was probably too horrifying. If you think photos of spiders are gross, you don’t want to see me this morning.

My boring goal for this weekend

Next week is the last week of classes, so my goal is to be even more boring than usual, focusing on getting totally caught up in all of my grading and getting my final exams finalized. What that means is I’m doomed to days of mental torment, grinding away.

The good news, though, is that the physical pain has abated! I can walk without grimacing now — I can even go up stairs without whimpering. I’m still wearing a brace for a while longer to make sure the tendinitis doesn’t come back.

Maybe next week, with most of the administrative stuff done, I’ll be able to do some fun things with my new sprightly physicality.

Debooted!

Good news: I had a check up at the doctor today, and she said I don’t have to wear the mega-clunky boot anymore! Instead, I’m downgraded to a brace.

It’s progress. Now I just have to wear this clumsy thing for a month, and as long as there is no relapse, I’ll be free before Christmas.

I have to stop being optimistic

I got out of bed this morning looking forward to my visit to the doctor. My tendinitis pain has been greatly reduced, I’m able to walk without any pain at all, and I expected to be told I can finally get rid of The F$#*!ing Boot. But no, it was not to be. There’s still some residual inflammation — touching the back of my heel hurts something fierce — so the doctor wants to clear out that last little pocket of trouble.

Two more weeks of The Boot. Plus a 5-day pulse of prednisone. It’s the opposite of what I wanted to hear.

To give me something to look forward to, at the end of those two weeks they’ll reassess, and if the tendon hasn’t calmed down, it’ll be time to look into surgery. The way things are going, I’m just going to assume it’s going to go badly and that I’ll get to celebrate Xmas break by going under the knife.

Damn. Well, I needed to be trapped at my desk to do a lot of grading, anyway.