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How are you, Sam? (#1162)

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

How are you, Sam?

I hear that question a lot. Sometimes it’s the normal politeness that most people share: When you see someone you haven’t seen in a while, you ask them. (In a few cases, the question is only out of politeness. In my experience, in most cases, people do want to know.) Sometimes it’s because people are worried about me after the heart attack, particularly because they know my personality and habits.

Most of the time, I give my new standard response.

I’m great; I’m alive.

I do like to mix things up a bit. So there’s an alternate.

I’m alive. I’m great.

I am definitely happy to be alive. And it makes me feel great.

I usually provide more details. This musing provides some details for those who keep track of me online, rather than in person.

I feel good. I’ve lost about 25–30 pounds. I’m exercising. I’ve cut back significantly on work. I am not department chair anymore. I’ve learned to say no to things. No, I won’t do that review. No, I won’t serve in that role for this conference. I’m embracing the idea that things are not my responsibility. My joint pain is mostly gone, too!

In case you missed it in a prior musing, I’ll also note that the prognosis seems good. The output from my heart is at normal levels. My blood pressure is great (even at my ankles). My cardiologist doesn’t think that there is any permanent damage to my heart.

Admittedly, things are not perfect.

Life has gotten in the way of my normal exercise schedule. I expect to resume that schedule once classes resume and I have a normal schedule. And I continue to exert myself physically, often in moving things around and doing gardening and such.

I’m sweating a lot. It doesn’t necessarily correlate with anything, other than small amounts of exercise. It’s probably a side-effect of my meds. But it’s weird. I’m trying to decide if I should warn my students.

I continue to need much more sleep than I did in the past. My family says that I used to get by on four hours and now need twelve. I think I mostly got about eight hours and now need ten or eleven. Sometimes I need more. And when I don’t get enough sleep, I don’t function well [1]; I’m often close to falling back asleep by 3pm or 4pm.

Even when I get enough sleep, my brain does not seem to be functioning at its normal capacity. I can’t point to exactly what’s wrong, or even to when I notice it, but I feel less sharp. I continue to hope that that’s a side effect of (a) the heart attack and (b) the anesthesia. I think it took me over six months to recover full brain function the last time I had a significant operation. It’s frustrating not to be able to function well.

I also feel more scattered, less able to focus on a task. I’m a bit more easily distractible, a bit more inclined to go off into rabbit holes. Or maybe the rabbit-hole thing isn’t new. I’ve often found myself chasing white bunnies. You sometimes see that in my musings [2].

I haven’t been perfect at saying no. Last week, I was worried about my class prep, a review I agreed to do, stuff for Tapia, SIGCSE evaluations, getting ready for a house concert, clearing things out of the house we are selling, and more. That seems to suggest that I’ve said Yes to too much. This week, I’m worried about similar things.

I also haven’t been perfect at letting things go. It’s been hard to deal with Council’s reactions to my department’s requests and the significant underlying philosophical differences, particularly those about the design of shared, required classes. I’m also less good than I would like about letting some of what I consider performative statements slide [3]. I’ve already sent out a letter about the agenda for tomorrow’s faculty meeting and I’ve considered sending out another about other issues. But I’m still much better than I would have been in the past. I’m not sending out lots and lots and lots of letters. I’m mostly not yelling at people about things [4]. And I’ve accepted that I’m not the one to address most issues. However, I must admit that there’s at least one dream per week in which I go off the rails about some campus issue. And I’ve drawn a line in the sand about one issue. That line may cause significant problems. We shall see.

On a more positive note, I’ve committed myself to a forty-hour work week. But I’m not convinced that I can manage all of my primary work in a forty-hour week. It’s been a long time since I taught CSC-301 and I’m using new textbooks. CSC-151 needs a lot of work to convert from the term format back to the semester format. CSC-281 needs some management. I’m running two reviews. I’m participating in at least two others. The department is conducting a search. I have responsibilities to Tapia and SIGCSE. Can I do all of that in forty hours? I guess we’ll see how that goes.

It would help if the institution finished getting a new chair or chairs in place. Lots of things that should have happened over the summer or should be happening now aren’t getting done. And I’m getting asked to do some of the necessary ones, such as reviewing courses that students are transferring to Grinnell [5] or checking on the placement text for incoming students [6].

Moving on from my wellness, I am sad about all the people who have left Grinnell recently. I’ll miss Henry Walker, Janet Gibson, John Stone, Lee Running, Linda Ludwig, and more [7]. I’m sad that Lesley Wright will soon be gone and that so many faculty I respect highly and rely on for advice are moving to Senior Faculty Status at the end of this academic year [8].

Remember the comments about my need for sleep and my inadequate brain? One place they’ve been particularly present (or absent) is in my writing. I’m finding it much harder to muse than I expected. I miss musing. But I also have trouble getting myself to muse. Of course, it’s also time consuming at a time in which I don’t have a lot of time. I probably shouldn’t be musing right now [10]. Rather, I should be preparing classes, inviting alums to speak in CSC-281, conducting an external faculty review, writing instructions for using Discord at Tapia [11], taking pictures of furniture we want to give away, and other things like that. Oh well, some writing is good for me. Maybe I’ll find a way to do more.

Perhaps the answer to that original question should be,

I’m alive. I’m pretty damn good. But I could be better.

Postscript: I got to see live music with close friends and marvelous musicians the other night. That was amazing. Good for my soul and my mood. I need to remember to channel that feeling more.

[1] My esteemed colleague, Andi Tracy, regularly reminds us that no one functions well on insufficient sleep.

[2] Perhaps you often see that in my musings.

[3] That is, they frustrate me.

[5] I feel too much of a sense of responsibility to our students to say Nope, I’m not doing that.

[6] I still have responsibility for running the placement system. But we’re not running the placement system this year; it requires scores for standardized tests, and we did not require standardized tests this year.

[7] Remember what I said about my brain not functioning correctly? Here’s a case in which I know that there are other people I should mention, but my brain can’t pull up the names.

[8] Amazingly, mentioning SFS doesn’t lead me to fury about former President Kington’s lies about SFS and the way they undermined the program [9].

[9] Note that the $1.2M+ that Kington earned in a recent year would have allowed us to stay at five years of SFS, rather than four, for another dozen years.

[10] See early notes about the work that I have to do.

[11] Fortunately, ITS removed the restriction that I could not recommend software that they had not approved [12].

[12] Let it go, Sam.

Version 1.0 of 2021-08-24.