The Art

I have been fairly quiet on the “share my opinion front” lately.  Not because I haven’t don’t have strong and valid opinions. But, I have been quiet.

I have been quiet mostly because I am heartbroken.

Not because of who is or is not the President of the United States, or because of Cabinet choices, or because of border walls, or because of Supreme Court nominees.

I am just heartbroken.

I have spent a good portion of my life in school. From grade school to graduate school and beyond, I attended school for a long time.  I finished classes I liked and classes I didn’t like.  I sat through courses that seemed to fit within my world and courses that – at the time – I thought did nothing but take my tuition money without giving me back anything.  I wrote papers on assigned topics that – at the time – I raced through and completed with little joy and more angry annoyance.  I participated in group projects that – at the time – seemed to be nothing more than a waste of good daylight.  I was quite sure – at the time – that I was often learning little to nothing, just moving towards that golden finish line.

And throughout umpteen years of classes – on subjects I enjoyed and subjects I didn’t enjoy – one of the most important lessons embedded in each course – unbeknownst to me – was a particular art, a foundational concept, a core value that I prize and value now.

School isn’t the only place where the practice of teaching of this art can be found.  In fact, school is only one of the places where it occurs.  But, for me – a person who thought college was more of an avocation than a temporary stop – it was one of my primary sources.

Looking back, I can see that I was being exposed to the art of collaboration.

I was learning how to play well and get along with others.

There were many times that I was quite unsuccessful.  I didn’t like someone in my group, or I didn’t finish my work on time and didn’t like the consequences, or I thought the method of teaching and learning was trite.

I often behaved badly and made some very basic mistakes.  With each new class and each new professor, I was offered the opportunity to try again and again.  And gradually as I practiced the art of collaboration, I learned how to navigate different types of circumstances more successfully than when I started.

My heart is broken because I think I am witnessing the denigration of the art of collaboration.

Each and every day, there are countless opportunities for people all over this nation and any nation to come together, open their minds and their hearts, and work together for the greater good.

The United States has resources available to create the best collaboration activities we have ever experienced.   We have great minds.  We have the ways and means to collect those great minds.  We have communication tools that can bring in top-notch research.  We have technology to beat the band.

We have both opportunity and need.  We have problems looming.  We must find solutions and find them soon.

Instead, I have witnessed too many attempts to spoil and squash the art of collaboration.  I listen to heavy duty name-calling. I watch grown-up pouting. I see stubborn streaks.  There is bullying occurring from every direction.  No one is listening and everyone is talking too much!  There are language violations, research violations, manner violations, and decorum violations. Instead of fighting for what’s right, good, and just, we are fighting each other.

And then there is violence.  I am brought to tears by the wave of violence happening in my country.

I have promised myself that my job is to participate.  I will not sit on the sideline.  I will not wait and see.  I will be a person who is a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

But I am asking myself to utlize all that was taught to me by those who walked before me.

I will listen to understand the best parts of the viewpoints of others.

I will research and read to fully acquaint myself with the topic at hand.

I will speak politely, professionally, and honestly.

I won’t hide my thoughts and ideas, but I will present them with the highest level of civility and manners possible.

I will recognize that there is more than one right answer and that sometimes, my way will not be selected as the current path.

I will acknowledge that there are individuals who are way more intelligent than me.

I will seek to find the goodness in others, for it is there.

I will remain hopeful, even when my heart is breaking.

I will not support violence.  Ever.

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Thank you to my young daughter who created this sign.

The View From Above

I work on a college campus, and I love it.

Though my days can be somewhat varied, most of the time there is a carefully plotted out routine to what I do. There are countless committee meetings, reams of email, tons of telephone conversations, numerous one-on-one discussions, lots of small decisions, and large decisions, significant time working with students – faculty – staff on problems, concerns, challenges. . . and the list goes on and on.

It’s normal, average college work and it’s what I do everyday.

As expected, I am generally busy. I come early and stay late.  Sometimes I stop at noon to eat, but more often, I use the lunch hour to catch up on reading, signing things, thinking.  I find my college activities quite interesting.  But, for those on the outside looking in, the picture might not seem so exciting. Instead, it might be viewed as . . . tedious . . . tiring . . . a little too much of the same old – same old, and not enough of the knock your socks off, type stuff.

Admittedly, I spend most days in my office or in conference rooms.  I listen . . . I talk  . . . I read . . . I jot something down . . . I confer with others. I squint my eyes, looking up just in case an answer to whatever problem being discussed floats through my mind. (Rarely happens, but I look anyways.)

Sometimes the day passes without me ever standing up and moving from behind my office desk to the doorway. The two chairs in front of my desk are like seats on a merry-go-round that bring all kinds of folks into my office to chat. Suddenly, I look up and the day is over. I head home. I eat, sleep, wake up and start the process over again. It’s been this way for many years.

Most of the time.

For this is a college, and I know that college life is full of both the expected and . . . the unexpected.

As was the case on December 5th, 2012.

The sun was shining, the weather was perfect, and I was ready.   I slipped out of my regular work attire and into worn-torn jeans, work boots, and a college sweatshirt.  The faculty in the West Building had invited me, and I jumped at the chance.  I was – flat-out – super excited about the opportunity.  It was as if the world leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder for a great, great adventure.

In a few moments, I met my partner-in-crime.  Joe quickly ran through the must-do rules, and I suited up.  One hard hat. Check. One pair of leather gloves. Check.  One cell phone and one camera. Check, check.  And one safety harness with tons of carabiners. Big time check.  And I stood – at the ready – waiting for more instructions.

Joe looked at me and smiled.  He and I both knew that this day wasn’t going to be the usual.  This day wasn’t going to end with me turning out the office lights, shutting the door, and carrying my shoulder bag out to my nearby car.  This day was going to be different.  It was going to be a memory in the making.  This day was going to be one of those crazy-funny college days.

Our campus is a proud one and like other locations, we are becoming more energy-efficient. We have hundreds of geothermal wells throughout campus and several solar panels perched on building rooftops. We recycle everything, drive energy-efficient college cars, collect dead batteries, drink water from the tap, and turn the lights out when we leave our offices. And, most important for this occasion, we have two brand new wind turbines strategically placed on our college farm.

And I was in luck for It was my turn to climb one of those turbines.

The time came, and Joe started to climb first.  Once he was a healthy distance ahead of me, he peered down, motioned for me to connect my safety latch, and begin.  For just a moment, I hesitated.  I was delightfully excited, but from the bottom rung, it looked like a long way up.  I could hear him telling me to take that first step, but my boot seemed glued to the ground.  It was like my mind said go, but my feet said no.

I glanced up and Joe, who was already about fifty feet ahead of me, glanced down.  He smiled and called out my name one more  – and most likely the last – time. And finally, I started to climb.  What I thought I couldn’t do and wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to do, I began to do.  And it was fun – crazy fun.

One step at a time, one foot at a time, rung by rung, I climbed.  I have no idea how long it took me to reach the top.  I only know that it took me longer than it took Joe.  He coached me through the last trap door and onto the top platform enclosure – where there was just enough room for the two of us to stand.

He opened the top hatch, and from that vantage point, the view was stunning.  Farm fields, nearby highways, barns, lakes, silos, the college buildings, athletic fields – the best word to describe it was magnificent.

Oddly enough the only thing that had really changed was that I was no longer at ground level.  I was seeing the same sights I saw everyday – the same farm fields, the same nearby highways, the same barns, the same lakes, etc., and it was like I was seeing something completely different.

I changed my perspective and everything changed.  Everything. Everything.

Today as usual, I sit at my desk with paperwork and people swirling around me, with a routine that feels safe and comfortable, with my shoulder bag waiting to go home right after I click off the office lights at the end of the day.  But I know that if I take the time to look at my world from a slightly different perspective, I will see something totally different  – something very interesting and exciting.  Just depends on where I am standing.

College is crazy-funny that way.

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Gotta Love Winter Break

I love winter break.

And, I am happy to report that I have had a winter break every year of my life since I was in kindergarten.  Really – what’s not to love about it –  ten days off each winter from sometime before December 25th to sometime after January 1st.  A brilliant idea in any world.  It can be called winter break or winter holiday or semester break or just plain vacation; regardless of the name, it is still grand.

Winter break is one of the joys of the United States educational system.  Everyone and everything stops – halts – pauses for a holiday.  No one misses anything because there is absolutely nothing happening to miss . . . for ten days . . . at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  There are no classes scheduled, no meetings to attend, no educational dilemmas to solve.  The phones may ring and email may be received, but all of it waits until the holiday ends and the next semester begins.

Winter break is one heck of an educational tradition.  Sports-metaphorically, it’s halftime for folks on both sides of the classroom.  Officially, we claim that its purpose is to re-invigorate ourselves, recharge our brains, and prepare ourselves for what follows in January.  Of course, those reasons are all true; however, behind the scenes, winter break is also a time to simply goof around during what can be the gloomiest time of year – in particular for those living in the colder and snowier climates.  Some say why, while those in education say . . . why not take a break.

Not only is winter break an educational tradition, but so, too, is spring break, and fall break, and of course, summer break – with the last being the longest and strongest both in tradition and duration.  Obviously, education isn’t shy about its official pauses.  It’s a glorious schedule . . . work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a little, work a little, rest a lot.

There are serious challenges to working in education, (and I will leave those issues for discussion by someone else at some other time); but, taking and enjoying break time isn’t one of them.  How to holiday is an art form that has been heartily practiced and universally adored by students, faculty, staff, and administration throughout all education.

This winter break, I have noticed two distinct reactions by folks outside of education.  The first I take as a compliment – although it generally comes in the form of questions with twists of sarcasm:  When do you work?   Are you still off?  When do you go back?  Is anyone manning the ship while the students are away? Who is paying for all of this?

And, truly, from the outside, it must look like education is break-happy beyond belief.  In fact, I am careful not to contact my dad too much during winter break, as he is old-school.  Prior to his retirement, he worked from dawn until dusk without even as much as a fifteen minute break.  Lunch was on the fly and a vacation was earned and given during the summer months only.   So, regardless of sarcasm, this reaction to winter break is well understood and well deserved.

The second reaction I also take as a compliment, but it is much more quizzical to me:  I wonder why I am not off?  Why isn’t everything closed for a winter holiday?  Shouldn’t it be a part of world tradition to take scheduled breaks? 

Here I can only empathize and whole-heartedly agree.  These questions seem to be directed more internally towards those who are not partaking in break time rather than externally towards those who are.  Yes, everyone should pause.  Yes, everyone should re-invigorate, recharge, and prepare.  And yes, everyone should have a length of time in the middle of the winter to goof around.  The only challenge is convincing the entire non-educational world to institute the winter break system immediately each and every year.  A possibility?  Yes.  A probability?  Hmmm . . .

My itinerary this winter break was typical for me, I think.  I spent time with family and friends near and far; I completed household projects put on hold throughout the fall; I caught up on day-to-day tasks, wrote thank you cards, worked out at the gym, cleaned closets and cars, read my backed-up reading list, wrote a new bucket list, watched basketball games, went to the movies, ate too much, and slept too little.   In reality, the list of my winter break accomplishments is a lot of nothing plus a little of everything that could have been postponed if it weren’t for the great winter pause.

Yet, I love winter break.

Regardless of how mundane and inane my accomplishments have been during break, it is crazy fun.  It is crazy fun to rejuvenate and recalibrate in any way, even in ways small and silly –  especially when facing the dark days of winter.

Interestingly, one part of my winter break activities included being in a car during the early morning hours on December 25th. From my bird’s-eye view, most – if not all – folks appeared to be on break at least for the day. All businesses were closed and a true winter break seemed to be in full swing. The roads were quiet and calm with no traffic in sight and no sounds to be heard.  Everyone was on pause.  For me, it was a surreal moment thinking that more than just the education population was taking a winter break . . . together.

My take-away? As a nation, we should seriously strive for the winter break concept.  Take what happens in the halls of academia and generalize it, so that those whose fortune hasn’t led them to work in education are able to experience the true meaning of holiday.  I have no clue as to whether I am a more productive and/or effective educational employee because of winter break.  It is hard to measure as there is no control group inside education to use for comparison!

However, it is easy for me to know that winter break is just a plain good idea.  So, here’s hoping that we all pause for ten days next December/January . . . together.

It doesn’t hurt to hope!

This photo was taken moments before the official start to winter break!