Death and purpose

Last night I found a geocache in a cemetery, and this sparked a conversation about death. Or, rather, about what my friend wants to have happen to her when she dies. She’d opt for cremation, and has plans for friends to help her husband with her collectibles. Such a calm, reasoned plan in the face of the inevitable, and I envy her equanimity.

Me? I don’t even like to think about it. Thinking about death, most specifically mine, still has the power to provoke an anxiety attack. I’m not ready to face it. I believe in real death; that you disappear from this world. We will leave it and be forgotten entirely. Not immediately, but certainly by the time the sun dies its death. By that time, no living being will remember us and whatever influence we had will long have faded into nothingness.

Religious adherents may be tempted to argue with me at this point, or tell me to find God and find comfort. I’ve spent years thinking about that aspect of the situation. If that works for you, great. That line of argumentation has never worked for me nor resonated true with me. I don’t believe, and I’m not going to sacrifice a heart-felt truth for comfort. Do you prefer comfortable lies or uncomfortable truths? I prefer uncomfortable truths.

Except that, when I can, I would avoid thinking about this one.

But even believing that in the end we disappear, there is still the question of what is my purpose in this here and now. I do not choose to live a purposeless existence. Even if every act is eventually erased.

Certainly part of it is to do my best by my students. To teach them not only about math but to try to give them wisdom and strength to get through life. An idea or a thought, source forgotten, that helps them find their path and their purpose.

Another part of my purpose is to write. Here, this blog, this is practice. I don’t know what exactly it is I have to say yet, but writing here, day by day, I hone my craft and tune my voice. And wait, and watch and think. I will find my message and my way of writing it.

A last part is certainly in human connection, but this part has me lost. It is something I should write about at a future time. Suffice for now to say that I find myself in middle life, alone, but for family of choice (and some by birth that I am less close to). Not a path I chose for myself, but one that circumstances thrust upon me. It gets to me sometimes, though I have found much comfort this past year in focusing on the love I can give rather than the love I wanted to find. Focus on what you can control, and keep moving forward.

What is love?

What is love? I don’t call Dad anymore. The conversation confuses him and frustrates me. It doesn’t go anywhere. I was avoiding and delaying making calls, and thus not getting it done. Instead, I started writing to him. I try to write once a week. I don’t always succeed, but at least I often succeed.

What is love? I think about this every time I visit the nursing home.

I don’t want to go.

It is sad inside, and I am depressed when I leave.

Sometimes I’m glad when Dad is too sleepy/out of it to visit. Then I can leave more quickly.

I feel guilty for that.

But twice a year, I make a trip up to Chicago. I see him pretty much every day for the three or so days I am up there. I get to visit my friends too. I go, and I sit with him, wondering if he’ll remember I was there. I touch his arm or his shoulder. I hug him, and I tell him I love him. I worry about how he is doing.

Sleepy Dad and me selfie.

Sleepy Dad and me selfie.

Sometimes, when he asks obnoxious questions about my underthings, I remember all the ways he failed me as a parent, and many things that I don’t or didn’t like about him. But that’s water under the bridge now; that parent is gone, most of what he is is gone.

I cannot fix any of that. The only thing I can do is show up. Twice a year. For a few days. Even though part of me really doesn’t want to. Yes, I show up for him. But I also show up for me. Because showing up tells me who I am. That, in the end, I realize this is the only father I will ever have, and that he loved me, however imperfectly. I loved him too. However imperfectly.

It is my turn now to take responsibility for loving him now by showing up and by writing letters since those are the things I can do.


This semester I have two students who are honors course contracting my classes. This means that they want honors credit for the class, and we create a written agreement about what they have to do to get it. In practical reality, I write the contracts with some broad leeway so that we are doing extra work but the exact details are somewhat fluid, and easily customizable to my needs or the students’ needs. Sometimes I think I should be more formal about it, but so many classes like this I don’t teach very often, and so, no, I don’t have enough mastery of the material to really know ahead of time.

One of my honors students has not been showing up to class. I get that he’s generally smart enough to learn the material on his own. And I also get that the engineering school is being a gigantic problem for him with group projects and teammates who aren’t helping. And a grandparent recently died. I can cut him some slack once for missing my class, but I think he’s missed two or three in a row. And this isn’t the first absence.

I called him in to talk to him about it the other day. “Look, I know you are under a lot of stress, but make it to class. Think of it this way, would you want a letter (of recommendation) writer to say that you were reliable except when you are stressed and busy?” I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not going to put that in a letter, even though I’m annoyed. And even though I am annoyed, this is still a student that I just plain like. I should have poked more into how he was doing first. The poor kid was like a whipped dog for the rest of the day, either from me or from exhaustion.

I felt like such a heel. On the other hand, I really think he should be coming to class.

So lesson one, write it into the honors course contract. No absences except for excused absences or with prior consent of the instructor. I have to go to extra effort for you, you show up to class.

Lesson two, listen first. I already know this one. It is the execution that’s sometimes is lacking.

Lesson three, focus on the positive. I really wish I’d said instead, “I miss you when you don’t come to class.”

Lesson four is just a question for my readers. What should I do now? If I could write a Dear Student letter, what should it say? Oh, heck, here’s a first try. What do you think?

Dear Student,

I called you out for not coming to class the other day. I think I did a bad job of that. I wish I had asked you first what was going on in your life that caused you to miss class. I wish rather than getting on your case, I had told you that I missed you when you don’t come to class. I wish I had written it into the honors course contract so that we both would have agreed to that ahead of time. You looked bad the rest of that day, and I’ve been feeling bad since. I hope you will accept my apology for handling that badly. And I hope you will come to class. I miss you when you aren’t there.


Dr. Jinx

Bruised all over

I think the title says it all about how I feel about last week and its meetings. I feel like I was mugged and beaten, and the signs should show all over my body. In reality, all the damage is to the soul, all invisible, except for those who look closely.

I know I’ll heal. I knew this might hurt. I knew I might get nowhere. This feels like nowhere. Or marginal progress towards anywhere.

So what happened? First, I hope I don’t have to justify to anyone here why I involved the faculty ombudsperson. After all the misunderstandings I’ve had with the department over my job duties, when it appears that now we have a new one, I went to her and asked her to attend the meetings with me. This was, I think, a good thing overall. Documentation!

One conversation I needed to have was with the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant. I am the co-Principal Investigator. I always thought that made me co-responsible for the program. I’ve got a lot of good qualifications and successes with undergraduates and research, and it was logical that’s why I was asked to be involved with the program.

I’ve heard third hand reports of a meeting the PI had with the department chair discussing my position with the REU and credit I should get for the position. Some of what I heard did not match with my understanding. It’s not fair to just get angry. You have to ask the other person their side.

Perhaps he was offended that the ombudsperson was there. Perhaps I offended him. I don’t know. But when I told him I was hearing stories about this conversation and wanted to know what was going on directly from him, he replied with a hostile, “That was a private conversation and I will not discuss it.” Private my ass when I’ve heard about it third hand. But that was certainly a conversation stopper, or hook, and I was hooked and off balance from it.

Things didn’t improve from there. The conversation felt hostile to me. The ombudsperson felt that the PI was apathetic and ambivalent about the REU, rather than hostile. In the course of the conversation, I discovered my duties during the year consisted of nothing more than

  1. Assembling the applications from students.
  2. Sending out acceptance and rejection letters.
  3. Arranging dormitory accommodations for the students.
  4. Sending them an informational email about College Station and TAMU.
  5. Arranging a get-together every other week in the program with lunch.
  6. Arranging for them to give their final presentations.

I was flabbergasted. I confirmed that list more than once to make sure I got that down correctly.

I’ve been doing a hell of a lot more than that. No wonder we want to devalue my contribution if this is all the contribution that is expected. I made sure to clarify that in his mind my performance would be considered excellent — by him — if I did nothing more than that. Yes.

I asked about all of the other expectations that have been placed on me, usually in the form of statements of what my predecessor in the position did. I got dressed down for not, until now, formally requesting a list of expected duties. No, instead I asked, “What needs to be done?” I asked, “How can I help?” I asked, “What is expected here?”

Let’s notice something else about this list. This list is entirely secretarial. And presented to a woman Ph.D. — the only such involved with the program — who has a solid track record in mentoring undergraduate students in research. How insulting can you get?

The last issue I will discuss is whether I was asked to bring a research project into the program last summer. I recall that I asked what needs to be done to find research problems for our group. I was told some came from the PI and his collaborators, but that my predecessor usually brought statistics related projects in and mentored those. This set me up for the expectation that I should do this too, and I busted my ass to make it happen. I mentored two students solo. I was informed by the PI that I had done this voluntarily, for my own professional development. I am sure I commented that I thought it would be good for my professional development to try to do this, but that’s not where I recall us starting from.

The fact is, that I felt obligated to figure out how to get this done, and at a fairly high cost to myself, I did.

It has done me good in the long run, but ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

I walked out of that meeting, back to my office, asked the ombudsperson to please shut the door. I buried my head in my hands, and I started sobbing.

I had less than 20 minutes to pull myself together and get to my next meeting, with the department chair, who seemed rather unconcerned about my report of this previous meeting.

This is still bothering me. Greatly. I have a meeting with all the REU mentors on Monday and I am trying to figure out how to handle it.

With my head held high, and with professionalism. Obviously. But I’d rather hide in my closet.

It was hard to sit there and listen to someone devalue me professionally like that. Especially after the incident this past spring. When I know I’ve been trying my guts out to help, to do what’s right, to do it well. And when I realize I’ve not been given resources my predecessor had to get the job done. I did do it well. I did a fantastic job. Then to find out the job requirements are so minimal and different from what I thought I was supposed to do, and all that other stuff is considered “volunteer work”. I know I was asking good questions. I know I didn’t go into this with a cautious, document everything, legal mindset. I trusted that we all had a common goal we were working for.

Common goals aside, apparently it is more important to put a lecturer in her place than to make sure this program runs well. I’m disappointed in the PI. Disappointed in the department. And disappointed that my internal radar didn’t give me warning that I was dealing with people who are untrustworthy.

This is yet another reason why I don’t want to stay at Texas A&M. Dammit, you idiots. I have done so much for you. Is it too much to ask that you value me accordingly? Good luck finding my replacement.

Are you ready to sign up for this?

Contrary to my worries, that last interview went smashingly well. I still think there will be some financial issues to discuss, but I think there is a good chance they will get resolved satisfactorily.

I really liked the people. Knowing I do geocaching, someone put GPS coordinates on the schedule sheet, and then question 8 during the Search Committee Panel Interview (that’s supposed to be the scary one; it wasn’t):

Some of your research appears to involve zombies. Would the University be expected to provide you with zombies, and, if so, how much risk is there in housing such creatures locally?

We all had a laugh, and I mentioned that maybe we could persuade the students to get a game of Humans vs. Zombies going. Then we can harvest the data to do some modeling. I did harvest some data from the local game, but I never had time to do any real analysis with it.

But one thing is bothering me tonight. The town. It’s small. 18,000 people. Okay, less than 2 hours from a major city, if the pass is clear, and not too far from a somewhat larger community (100,000).

But here rears my fear of being alone, forever (well, until I die). Look at that ugly head on it. And would I be choosing that for myself if I moved there?

I remind myself that I didn’t exactly date much when I lived in Austin. Maybe I’ve even done more dating in my current smallish town (pop ~120,000-200,000 in the area). The most dating I’ve done is when I was on one of the internet sites, and that was eye-opening. Not in a good way. But definitely eye opening. I’m not at all sure I want to do that again.

I know it is also true that I could move to New York City and spend the rest of my life alone, but this feels like I am asking for it. Am I? Am I just in a funk feeling sorry for myself?

If I’m in a funk, there I am tonight. All I can do is continue with the interviews and get more information about the places. One step at a time, and try to trust that an answer will become clear. It may not be the answer. It may not be a good answer for very long. But it will be an answer, and that is all we get in this world.

Ups and Downs

Another interview tomorrow. This group took me hiking today; that was cool. Someone noted my interest in geocaching and put GPS coordinates along with the building and room numbers on my schedule for tomorrow. That was a nice touch. I laughed out loud. I sent a thank you.

All the photos in this post are from the hike.

* * *

At dinner tonight we were talking about the interview process and who to ask which questions. The first thing that came up was that when I meet with the Dean. That’s the person to ask if I have questions about pay, promotion, etc.. I do have some concerns about this; I think I have qualifications beyond entry level assistant professor. How do they intend to handle this? How do I intend to handle this?

Immediately, I can feel my anxiety level rising.

spiny seedpod

All of a sudden, I am acutely aware of all of the spiky things, and scared I will get hurt.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. (Yes, those breaths were taken that fast!) No right answer. No wrong answer. You get information about who you are dealing with (and they, likewise, get information on me).

With all the oh-so-encouraging information on women and negotiating, this thought is giving me a high stress moment. I want to win at this, but I don’t have a strategy for handling the conversation.

Picture of thin ice.

Negotiating can feel like skating on thin ice.

But. But. One of the secrets to negotiating jiu jitsu is to establish your worth and the benefit to the organization in giving you what you want. Maybe I don’t have to know how I’m going to handle this. At least, not yet. One of my big questions for the Dean — in fact, for everyone — is what could I do that would really make them happy if they hired me for the position? What can I do to knock the ball out of the ballpark in this job?

My first order of business is to find out what that is, and whether this is something I want to and can deliver. My second order of business is to get the offer. My third order of business is to negotiate the package that gets me out to the position that I want to accept.

Birch trees

There are many trees and many facets to this process and negotiation. Don’t lose sight of the forest, which is, ultimately, everyone’s satisfaction.

One step at a time. One step at a time, I can walk around the world. Watch me. But sometimes the secret is in knowing which step to take, and which direction to take it in.

I’ve negotiated in my past life. Sometimes I think I’ve been punished for it. That can definitely happen again. I can’t control what other people do. When I know more about these people, I will be better able to predict what they do. Regardless, I can only control me. Sometimes not even that! And the best job I can, right now, is to find out about this job, this university, this community, and how I would fit into it. What I can do to make it better. How I think I can become better in it.




leaf in a nest of thorns

Even in a nest of thorns, you may find one perfect leaf.

The other side?

Since I wrote and published Half-Assed, a mild case of concern has set in. Was I fair? Did I see it from the other side? What have I missed? One known cognitive bias is that we tend to rate experiences not on their overall happiness, but on their peak intensities (good or bad) and on how they end. And that relationship surely had a painful and unpleasant end, which certainly has colored my view of all of it.[1]

Another aspect of my thinking is from watching the video at the Representation Project, about judging men and their maleness. Men are supposed to be the fixers in the relationship, and they are supposed to do a good job of it. When one fails to do so, whether through sloppiness or lack of knowledge, we are (meaning I am) quick to judge.

What if he opened up the electric plug, and understood generally how it worked, but couldn’t quickly come up with a way to shorten the wires and strip the plastic coating? He could have asked — I would have had a suggestion — but men aren’t supposed to ask. There are numerous “How to Repair It” books around the house, all of which I purchased.

What if his access to the resources was reduced, not really knowing the books were there, since those were mine and not his. Unable to ask, because guys don’t ask. Not conscientious enough to really care about doing it right. “I put it back together, and it works, even though it is ugly and doesn’t look right. Good enough. And I don’t really like this vacuum anyhow, partially because I didn’t pick it out and partially because I just don’t like vacuuming (who does?), so maybe we should get a new one.”

I have an advantage of sorts in that I’m a female. I’m not supposed to know how to fix things. I know I can generally learn from a set of instructions, and so I provided myself with sets of instructions. I’m conscientious, which you might call anal-retentive if you are mad at me. If I am going to do a job, and I can do it right, I get stubborn and I will do it right. I’m experienced. I’ve been living alone and I’ve owned a house for over a decade. If something breaks, I’m the first line of defense for fixing it. I might not have started out as confident or competent, but it grows.

And as for the rest, it is one thing to have an attitude or opinion of really valuing communication in a relationship, but it is another thing to know how to do it. How would you learn when your parents never do such a thing? When your previous girlfriend made it impossible to do such a thing? How would you know how to deal with someone who tells you up-front what she needs and wants? Would that be a good thing or a threat? Maybe someone more confident would have been able to make more of it. But maybe this just wasn’t him. Not even when I was the one who was putting forth the effort and trying.

It’s that thing about responsibility. You can’t ever really give someone responsibility. The other person has to take it. You can give all you want, but if the other person doesn’t take, it doesn’t matter.

“What else could I have done,” is the question I am always asking myself. I don’t have an answer, and I don’t think I ever will. A relationship, a good relationship, requires two capable, responsible, willing, and invested partners. I am not sure I had that. I am pretty sure of my own investment, even though there were times I had a hard time holding it together. I know what I was willing to do. The one thing I saw clearly at the end was that if it was going to get better, he had to make the move, to make the commitment toward that happening. It wasn’t there. I think it had been missing in all the earlier conversations we’d had. Maybe it wasn’t neglect. Maybe it wasn’t not caring. Maybe it was just not knowing how or not being confident enough to try.

But once again, here we are. There it is. It is my job to make peace with this. I hope that I am; I hope you can see I am trying; one slow step at a time.

1. For more information on this, I read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. For a discussion on experienced vs. remembered well-being see page 4 of this NYTimes article for a discussion on duration-neglect and the peak-end rule.

Anxiety Medication

Hello. My name is Dr. Jinx and I have an anxiety problem. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as far as I can tell, not that I’ve ever had anyone other than a general practitioner take a crack at it. It’s one of those things I have to figure out how to live with and deal with.

About a week and a half ago, I went on a different medication. It was one I had used successfully before, but there was a good reason to go off it. My then-significant other and I hoped that, despite my advanced age, we might get pregnant, and this medication is not recommended with pregnancy. So I weaned my way off of it, doing sometimes okay, and sometimes worse, while we tried and hoped. I had another medication I could take for immediate crisis. It was okay, but not great.

That part of my life ended rather suddenly, but I never returned to the old medication that had worked relatively well for me. I toughed some things out I shouldn’t have, and finally began relying on my back-up medication more. And more and more. It was time for a change.

It is working like a charm. I feel normal most of the time, which means, I’m not feeling on edge all the time, waiting for the axe to fall or the other shoe to drop. I know that it is a matter of days or weeks before “normal” stops feeling like the wonder it is right now. I better write about it, so that I can remember it later.

In my handwritten journal, I’ve written over and over again, “Please make the anxiety go away. Please find a solution to my anxiety problem. Please make it better, this is so hard.” For a little while I am here, and it is better. I wish I could give this to everyone who is suffering; a respite.

When I’m suffering, on edge, I think I should be strong, hold off taking anything, breathe through it. It’s a personal failing, is it not, to have this condition in the first place. So many bad situations that I stayed in far too long, thinking quitters never win and winners never quit. But there are problems that you just have to run away from. In this case, in my case, medication that I just need to take.

A wise friend has said to me, there is something about emotions that just needs to be witnessed. Yes. I need the pain to be seen, and the relief to be seen. Maybe in someone seeing, we can begin, between us, to make sense of it.

Success and Luck

I have had several conversations about success and luck today.

The truth is that if someone is successful at anything meaningful, s/he had to work hard, but s/he also got lucky. The right opportunities appeared at the right time, and the right place for that person to take advantage of them. This isn’t to say that hard work wasn’t involved. It certainly was. It is to say that luck is involved too. Sometimes a lot of it.

Now, most people, especially most successful people, think it is all about hard work. I don’t want to deny hard work, but realize that some people who are less successful worked just as hard, but didn’t get the same opportunities.

What really grates is the implication that if you aren’t in whatever successful group it is, it is surely because you just don’t work that hard.

This is explained by the Just World Hypothesis, a known cognitive bias in psychology. We all want to believe in a just world. And in a just world, the deserving, the hard-working, will succeed, and, well, we know who it is that fails.

News bulletin: the world isn’t just.

This goes along with all the talk about the relationship between power and empathy. They don’t go together. Here’s a link to the research paper and scientific results.

I hope you didn’t miss the video with evidence that wealth and economic success go along with poor behavior: cheating, taking advantage, lack of empathy.

What got to me today was a conversation about online dating. I tried that several years ago. My experiences were mostly pretty awesomely awful. And hilariously funny. But not so much while I was going through them.

A friend met her husband on one of these sites. I don’t think she realized that she immediately began offering advice on how to succeed, how to play the game right. I know she wasn’t criticizing me, but all I could hear was the message, “if I just tried harder, put together the right profile, screened the other users of the site more carefully, then success would be mine too.”

It grated several weeks ago when someone else commented, “Well, I didn’t meet my special someone until I was 50.”

As if … as if we can just play the game right and find the relationship we are looking for. Or anything else. Yes, it requires hard work. But it requires more than hard work.

And hey, I also know I’ve done this to other people too, in a variety of contexts. I’m not innocent of this, and it is hardly a crime. We all say things that strike others the wrong way sometimes. No sense in getting angry, No sense in getting upset.

So yes, it is kind of stupid to get so upset, I know, but after the awful experience this spring, it all hits home that I’m 44 years old, and I honestly don’t believe I am going to find that special person. And even if I do, at this point it is too late to have a family.

And yes, I do know how negative and unfair that line of thinking is. The Just World Hypothesis. If I’ve been doing things right, I shouldn’t have to go through this. And what is it I did wrong? Can I fix it? Make it up to the universe and somehow get back on track? Of course not. Ah, but the world isn’t fair. And yes, yes I do have to go through this. And the other things that are bothering me right now.

I have to just let this and all the rest go. I have to find a way to be happy with the life I have, not with the life I thought I’d have, not wanting something that isn’t mine. Focus on the things that I am grateful for. Surely students are the next best thing to having children. Even when they walk out of class right after quizzes.

But another truth is, as true as all that might be? It isn’t comforting much of the time. It all tastes like ashes. These days it takes a hell of a lot of effort to put on that happy face and keep moving forward. Not that I’m about to stop, but just saying.

And yes, yes, I do know first world problems. Yes indeed.

I also know that this is a sign that my world has been disrupted, and I haven’t resolved the disruption yet. I think it is harder when you are older. But maybe I’m wrong; when you are older you at least have more experience and maturity to realize what is happening and what you need to do to get through it. I am surely an expert at grief by now.

If you are single you establish a pattern (eventually) that at least mostly works for you. Then you start a relationship, which disrupts the pattern. Then if the relationship ends, you don’t have a pattern any more, and you go through a time as I am now, where I spend a lot of what little free time I have alone. Which is hard on a person. Solitary confinement is punishment everywhere for a reason.

And the other part, too much work, too little free time, just wears me down day after day after day. I haven’t had 24 hours off since the beginning of the semester. Not even when I was sick. And some real nasty issues have come up at work, making me uncomfortable and unhappy there. So nothing in my life aside from teaching the honors class is working well right now. And that is working well at the price of a hell of a lot of time to make it happen, and once again without much hope that I will get to re-use the work I put into the class this semester. No wonder I am emotionally and physically tired.

But there we come back to it again. Put on as happy a face as you can and keep moving forward. Keep moving forward. One step at a time. But that sure doesn’t make it easy, and it sure doesn’t make it better quickly. But yes, it is, indeed, all I can do.


Today is my birthday. I’m at the age where I do not not want to be another year older. My next major birthday (fortunately still a few years off) is 50. Note to self: isn’t it interesting how I feel absolutely obligated to include the information that 50 is still a few years off? Don’t want anyone thinking I am any older than I am, like that is some kind of failing!

I am not ready to be 50…. there’s a little screamy part inside me that says I am not *ever* going to be ready to be 50. I think that most people feel this way, and we are all really good at not talking about it.

We are good at joking about it. “Sure beats the alternative.” “Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what-in-the-hell happened?” “Getting old is not for sissies.”

It is completely mind-boggling to be older for reasons I can’t fully explain. Somehow when you are 20 or 25 you never think you will get to 40. Recently I discovered, that you get to 40, and you somehow think you are never going to get past 40! Just like when you are 6 you think you will never be 10. It scares me…. but sure beats the alternative, right? Sometimes I wish I could talk about it, but even here, I am afraid.

I had a self-pity party this morning, just feeling funky and out-of-sorts. One thing I am struggling with is the lack of a family and being alone. It is hard realize that these are things I am never going to get. There are compensations; I am free to do many things others are too tied down to do. I visit more friends. I spend more time with students. I can do more travel when the opportunity arises.

Before I start complaining about life not being fair, I think to myself that I don’t live in Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Iraq, or Afghanistan — even if things are unfair, I have it pretty good. The trick of it is to want the life you have, rather than to spend your energy wanting what you can’t have. But if that was easy, no one would be taking anti-depressants.

In the midst of this, I got a call from one of my REU students (just arrived yesterday). He was feeling sick and needed a trip to the doctor. I could do some complaining about having to be on call my birthday weekend, but you know what? I am actually happy to do that. I know it wasn’t a big thing, but he had someone to call and ask for help. Someone who was happy to come and help.

While he was seeing the doctor, I headed out to get some lunch. I found an electrical outlet, and I plugged in my e-reader which was low on charge. I sat down nearby, but not right next to it. My lunch didn’t arrive and didn’t arrive … I was worried my student would get done with the doctor and call. I finally asked about my food, and it was forgotten. They ended up comping it for me, so I got lunch for free my birthday. There’s one thing to be grateful for.

Turns out one of the two people who ended up sitting next to my e-reader was one of my business math students from Spring 2012 and her Mom. I taught a class of 300 that semester, and sadly I didn’t recognize her. There were too many faces in that sea of students for me to recognize them all. She recognized me, and she and Mom took time to tell me that she enjoyed my class and recommended me (as a teacher) to her friends. Even though that class was a monster with 300 people, this says I was successful at making it a human environment, rather than a dehumanizing environment. That’s something worth being proud of.

I don’t have a family, but I do have a lot of good friends. I have students to take care of. I have a lot of people in my life that look out for me.

I am not a well-respected scientist with a national reputation, but I am, perhaps, a much-loved and much-respected teacher in my corner of the world. I make a difference for many students, sometimes when I don’t even realize it. That’s something to be proud of too.

No, this is not the life I thought I wanted, but maybe I should be — and am — grateful for the one I have.