Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Argument

Ugh. I finally had a meeting with my advisor, an endowed chair who spends most of the summer in a cabin with no Internet. I talked to him back in early June when I was trying to get some writing done while living with my mom at the beach (there was perhaps more beach time than writing time, but whatever, it was summer). But I hadn't talked to him since somewhat changing my angle and starting to write my first chapters and, well, maybe that was a bad idea.

During our very brief meeting yesterday, he was able to immediately ascertain that my current thesis didn't appear to have an argument. Sadly, this is true. I had a lot of information and was taking it nowhere. It seems that while I can write succinct, to-the-point one-page press releases and brief web copy, I apparently get lost when told to write, oh, 80 pages or more. My plan to just keep writing about everything I had found until a point seemed to emerge suddenly looked seemed ridiculous (not that I'm surprised, as my concern was growing as well).

So now I'm feeling adrift. I had been so upbeat about this process. I was ahead of schedule, relieved of the requirements of classwork, and happy to sit and write on this topic. I was actually feeling less stressed than I have in...well...as long as I can remember. Honestly, I was lighter than air. (To illustrate, I had actually used Sylvia's nap time the past few days to catch up on Project Runway, finish a book and nap myself, all splurges that I would never have allowed in previous student life). But now, now I'm back into standard stress mode. I need to see what parts of my paper I can salvage and figure out what I need to do to get back on track. I have to do more research, more reading, more sorting. And I need to do this quickly, as two months is suddently sounding like no time at all.

I'm trying to think of this as a bit of a blessing. I work better under stress, and now I have some. But man, I was really enjoying that blissful feeling of being on top of things. Glad I enjoyed it while I could, because now it's back to late nights in front of the blinking screen. Ugh.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jumping Online

Class went well last night. I am requiring my students to blog about the book chapters they've read and their client-based projects. I will also keep a blog about the class with links to all of their blogs (this is getting rather meta). In case you want to see what we're up to in class, check out www.SCFSCFall11.blogspot.com (ugh, that site is unattractive; I need to go fiddle with the design more).

Some of my students already blog, but the process is new for most of them (glad I'm no longer a phoney). Many of them are on Twitter, but two remarked that when I pulled up my Twitter page, it was the first time they'd ever even seen the site. I realize, though, that I should probably mention Google+ as well, and though I've joined, I know nothing about it. Anyone out there have any good tips? (I see people Tweeting about it all the time, but I got overwhelmed and stopped paying attention). Thanks!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Expert Status

This week, I'll begin teaching a new semester. It's my fourth semester of teaching. Twice I have taught a class on writing for PR/business -- this is my bailiwick, where I feel most comfortable speaking to the students as an expert. Public relations as a field may be changing a lot, but the skills for writing well rarely do. I am about to start my second round of teaching a class called "Strategic Communication for Social Change." I approach it as nonprofit and government PR, with a focus on social media.

Now, I do think I'm qualified to teach these courses. I have the master's credit (more than 18 hours, even if I'm not officially done). I have the life experience from working in internal marketing/PR, starting my own company for freelance communication and writing, and working as the PR/marketing director of a state botanical garden. I have a personal interest in social media and I have read up on how nonprofits are really benefiting from the (nearly) free way to promote their causes and form communities.

All that said, it is so hard not to feel like a poser. I have to wonder if other teachers or professionals feel this. I mean, how much experience and knowledge do you need to have before you feel fully confident that you are indeed the expert that students should learn from? I realize that many professors have egos so large it may never occur to them to be humble, but I'm sure there are others out there who have nightmares about students exposing them as just normal people who read a lot of books on a subject.

Now, a lot of the writing pedagogy I just studied for my qualifying exam is about how teachers should really serve more as facilitators than instructors. To quote Ann Berthoff, professors should avoid a "pedagogy of exhortation" (dumping information into students' heads) and instead embrace a "pedagogy of knowing" (teaching students how to learn). This makes me feel better. I love learning, and I think I share that passion. I know for sure that I don't know everything, so some of my material -- especially in the ever-changing world of social media -- I learn along with the students.

But still, I have to stand up behind that podium on Wednesday and exert the confidence of an expert. They have to believe I'm someone who can teach them something, and that I do indeed know what I'm talking about. It's a good thing I've had a lot of theatre training.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Shifting Gears

I finished. I passed my test. I actually got honors, something I was not striving for but felt nice to hear.

I thought I would want to party, to drink, to rejoice. Instead, I have retreated into the second Hunger Games book (I had held off until after cram-reading for the test) and quiet playtime with my daughter. I am tired and a bit shaken, I think. I want quiet time with nothing demanded of me.

But alas, quiet time is rarely possible. We signed up Sylvia for preschool at the last minute, so that has been a whirlwind of forms and supply shopping. Somewhere in the middle of Walmart buying Elmer's glue, I realized that my baby was starting school, going into the hands of another caregiver, off to learn things I can't take credit for teaching her and make friends I don't know. The only thing preventing my full freak-out is the realization that these three mornings a week will provide me with some of that quiet time I've been craving.

Also, I'm not really done yet. I have to write and defend a thesis. But that's for thinking about next week. Now is the time for YA novels, silly games with my baby and a moment of calm. I want to soak in this fleeting moment.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm Over Snark

Maybe I'm just bitter. Maybe I just want to belong. But...

Since I started blogging last month, I decided to start reading more blogs. I followed links my friends suggested and ended up on a lot of so-called Mommy Blogs. Many of them are fantastic and offer an amusing take on the struggles we are all going through. But you know, they also are all starting to sound alike. Each blogger brags about her "snark" - often making the same jokes about how having kids ruins your life, how parenting is easier with alcohol, how husbands just don't get it, and how they watch bad reality TV just to make fun of it. I know that these are all well educated women who have great senses of humor and sure know how to tell a great story. I respect them for blogging and for keeping things entertaining day after day. But at some point, I realized I was done.

This happened to me in college as well. When I first arrived, I hung out only with the theatre kids. Their sarcasm, devil-may-care attitude was refreshing. I eagerly wanted to understand all the inside jokes, to make the same scathing commentaries about the world. But after a few years, it got old. It's exhausting to be judgy all the time. It wears me down to be cynical.

Thankfully, my then-boyfriend-now-husband was going through the same crisis. He too was longing for something more authentic, something less angry, something with a little more joy. We found each other, and we shifted our group of friends. While I still love many of my friends from the theatre crowd, the ones I still keep up with were the ones that laughed a lot (not always at the expense of others), were silly, and welcomed me with open arms. I didn't have to pretend to be cool (ha! a stretch) or drop all the right names; they welcomed me anyway. Thanks guys.

Now, do I drink wine after a long day with a toddler? Yes, yes I do. Do I watch bad reality TV just to judge it? Check. And am I keeping a blog so I can yell about all this stuff to the world? Um, yes. But somehow...I want to step away from that too. I want to stay joyful. I don't want to join the cool kids club.

So yeah. Sorry about that, all you snarky moms out there. I will visit your world, I will laugh with you...but then I will go back to my studies, to my toddler, to my husband, and I will work hard to appreciate all the good stuff I've got. Because I sure like seeing the world better with rose-colored glasses than with the harsh glare of cynicism. Now pardon me while I celebrate all this happiness with a cocktail or three.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Restored

I spent this last weekend receiving the best therapy I know of: spending long hours talking, eating, walking and just enjoying the presence of my best, oldest girlfriends. I have known these six women for decades, ranging from 16 to 32 years (most of them 20 years or more). We came together as a group in middle school, adding a few folks as they moved to Dallas and others moved away. At times since our graduation from high school we have gone years without talking, but recently we have all made room and time for annual get-togethers, where we end up talking and talking and talking for 2-3 days, taking time only to shop for food or go on occasional walks.

Though we all share a love of good conversation, reading, healthy pursuits, food and travel, we are not too much alike anymore. Time and age have taken us in different directions. We have settled in states all across the country. We have very different jobs in various sectors, including corporate and health, nonprofits and academia, entrepreneurs and stay-at-home moms. Five of us are married; four of those have kids (ages 1-5). We are liberal or libertarian, Christian and agnostic, and all sorts of in-betweens. Though we all attended a well-to-do high school, our personal budgets and families’ funds range from just-getting-by to way upper class.

As a group, we have had a lot of blessings, but there have also been some hard times. We have leaned on each other through deaths of our parents, marital strife, fertility issues and miscarriage, parenting and family challenges, job stress, dating issues, sex issues, and all the aches and strains of growing up and trying to become our best selves.

The joy, the incredible blessing of this group of women is that we have created a safe place to be our true selves. We all hang up our pretenses, our "everything is fine" versions of ourselves, and we just relax into the comfort of being totally natural. We talk frankly and openly about anything and everything. We tend to skip over the everyday details to instead tackle the big stuff that most of us don't have a chance to regularly address. We offer each other support, advice, comfort and open minds.

This is therapy at its greatest. And not only do I get all this in a weekend, but I also get a break from my everyday life. I was off schedule, sleeping late, drinking a little too much booze, staying up late, and not having to worry about a to-do list. I was responsible for no one, and I even left my study materials unopened. It was freeing. It was glorious. It was restorative.

I returned home to a husband who (once he recovers), realizes how truly challenging it can be to be home with a toddler all day; thus he missed me and is quite appreciative of my return. I was elated to see my Baby Girl, even in her new whiny state, and I gave her my full attention for a long afternoon of home play. I am looking forward to jumping into my last two weeks of studying for my exam. All in all, I am refreshed. I return to real life a better version of myself. I needed this. I need this in the future. Thank you, friends.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Email Etiquette, or Yet Another Rant about Kids These Days

I'm sure I have nothing new to say on the topic of email etiquette, but it's on my mind as my husband is struggling with emails from his students. This summer he is teaching students who were tentatively accepted into the university. They have to do well this summer and in their first year to be fully admitted, so these are young people, perhaps in slightly over their heads, trying to do well in their first college course.

It has become clear that they are not yet prepared. One of my husband's major pet peeves is that his students will send him emails with attachments, but the body of their emails will be completely blank. No salutation, no signature, no request to perform a function. Yes, these emails were requested, but that doesn't mean they should skip a prefunctory "Hello Dr. L, Attached, please find my speech outline. I appreciate your help. Sincerely, Student." I mean, at least putting their own name on the email would be a start.

What bothers us both about this is not just the lack of politeness, but also the assumption that he would know what to do. These 17- and 18-year-olds are assuming that my husband knows their thoughts and intentions, and they are too lazy to even be nice about asking. It shows a lack of respect - both for his seniority and for his time - as well as a an egotism that I fear has become all too commonplace. They are treating the professor as if he works for them.

Our education system is suffering (well, for a lot of reasons, but partly) due to a shift to consumerism. Current students view universities as vendors: the students pay and the school provides a degree. This is not how education works. You have to earn it. You have to put forth effort and be willing to change and grow. A professor is not there to service your needs (meet with you at any time, answer emails in the middle of the night, give you extra days on assignments because your life has been "really crazy" recently), but rather to challenge you to peform better.

I know I am preaching to the choir here, and - yet again - I am on my high horse preaching about old-school ideals. So let me step off the pedastal and at least offer these constructive Very Basic Tips for Writing Emails:
1. Put a salutation (a "dear" line) on all emails
2. Sign your name or have a signature on all emails
3. If there is an attachment, indicate what it is. Too many viruses circulate by attachment (not to mention tasteless jokes or sketchy links), so state what you are sending.
4. State what you want out of the email. Even if you just hung up the phone, telling the recipient what you are sending, add a quick line ("here's the report we discussed."). It adds context. It aids action. It helps organization. And it takes you less than a minute.
5. Spell check (that's another issue, but I'm throwing it in for good measure).


That's it. Now off to pack for a luxurious trip sans-toddler to spend a long weekend with dear girlfriends. I hope to return less cranky.