A Pie in the Face

Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

Other times, you get a pie in the face when you think that you can tell your boss and colleagues that you’re ready to seek other employment.

Things start to happen…sort of like eating pie outside at a picnic table. Like a fly buzzing your pie, you fan away the rumors you hear about why you’re really looking for another job.

Then there are a few more flies, but you think you can still swat them away because your boss has just given you an evaluation so flattering about your accomplishments that you’re embarrassed.

Because of the increasing number of flies, you cover your pie carefully and put it in a safe place.

You tell your boss that you are a finalist in your search for a new position. You are asked to withdraw your application and stay one more year because you are needed. Your boss – who said that they would help in your search – tells you that the higher-ups are questioning your commitment to the institution.

You forget about the pie completely.

You make an appointment with the higher-ups. When you enter the office to attest to your commitment – WHAM! The pie you forgot about smacks you right in the face.

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Having your cake and eating it too…

There is nothing like savoring the freedom that comes with making the decision to change jobs. 

Your freedom tastes even more delicious when you are able to tell your boss and colleagues that you are looking for a new job without fear of repercussions.

And the icing on this cake is when you can respect and trust your boss enough to ask for their help in finding the position that best matches what they see as your strengths.

When you can do these things, it’s like having your cake and eating it too!

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The “selective” nature of memory

It’s a funny thing about memory. I’m not talking about when you find yourself in a room and can’t remember why you’re there. I’m referring to what might be called selective memory.

It was 1967 or 1968, and Charles and I were newlyweds living in our own place. We were feeling quite grownup when we extended a dinner invitation to former college classmates who were now engaged.

It might have been the cheap Chianti that we were drinking, Aretha’s Respect on the stereo, or the fact that my girlfriend had a new bright yellow Dodge Charger. For whatever reason, during the course of the evening we set a date to drive from Chicago to Florida, get on a ship, and take the short sail to the Bahamas. This would not be anything of note to remember if we had been making a well-thought-out decision.

The four of us were all beginning teachers off for the summer, and we had no money. What we had were gas credit cards that could be used at restaurants as well as gas stations. In our thinking at the time, these credit cards were all we needed. We would take turns driving the Charger and eliminate the need for a hotel on the trips to and from Florida.

I have no memory of the long drive or how we paid for the hotel in the Bahamas. What I remember is how horrified we were when we could not use our gas credit cards at restaurants in the Bahamas. We ate a lot of hot dogs in Nassau.

On the way back to Chicago, we stopped at a nice restaurant in a small hotel in Georgia. Now that we were back in the United States, we planned to use our gas credit cards to pay for our meals. I don’t recall what the rest of us ordered, but I remember that Charles ordered the most expensive entrée on the menu, “Duck a la Orange.” Seemingly pleased about the expensive selection, the server told us that this dish was a special order and would take extra time.

While we waited for our meals to be prepared, we laughed a lot and it seemed that anything any one of us said was hilarious. We were probably giddy at the prospect of a good meal. At some point, one of us noticed a sign at the reception counter that we had not seen upon entering. It read “No credit cards.”

We only had a few dollars among us. It was too late to stop the kitchen from preparing the food we had ordered. We whispered among ourselves about what we should do, all the while keeping a fearful eye on the door to the kitchen. Moving as if we were one single unit, we calmly exited the restaurant, jumped into the Charger and drove away as fast as we could.

We were scared because we thought we might be pursued by the police and hauled into jail for making that order and running out. But at the time, we knew of no other alternative than to flee.

Although we had not experienced any overt racism at the restaurant, we were uncomfortable because we were Black people in Georgia in the late 1960s. Perhaps we were hypersensitive because, on our drive to Florida, a clerk in a service station had sprayed disinfectant or something when we exited the store. So out of character for him, Charles had gone back into the store and made a confrontational comment to the clerk about what we saw as a racist gesture.

I didn’t remember this—Charles’ sister told me that we told her about this incident upon our return. If I didn’t remember this rather significant incident, I wondered what else I might have forgotten, so I called my longtime girlfriend whose Dodge Charger we’d driven to and from Florida. When I asked her what details she remembered about our trip to the Bahamas, she responded, “What trip to the Bahamas? I don’t remember taking any such trip!”

I began to relay numerous details about the trip. Then I asked, “Do you remember anything now?” She said, “No, but we were very irresponsible to take such a trip with no money!”

It’s funny how people can have the same experience and recall it differently or sometimes not at all. Perhaps most puzzling is that I recalled many aspects of the trip, but not the incident about the store clerk and Charles’ uncharacteristic reaction.  

Thinking about the selective nature of memory, perhaps my sister-in-law remembered the episode because her brother, Charles, could have been in danger. Perhaps I didn’t recall it because my mind was sparing me the trauma of what I might have been experiencing as the incident was occurring. Perhaps my girlfriend’s brain suppressed the entire trip because of some memories that involved her and her fiancé.

We say memory is selective, but it seems that the selection of what memories to recall and which ones to bury are beyond our control. We don’t consciously decide to remember this and not that, or this part and not that part. What does our brain know that we don’t know? Is our brain protecting us? If so, why do some memories cause us trauma over and over again and others make for a good story?   

It’s a funny thing about memory.

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“Old-School Selfie”

“Old-school selfie” one month before the wedding…

Doing the Best We Can

It’s Tuesday, December 16, and I’m not in a good mood because I had only five hours of sleep last night, missed my exercise, no time for any kind of breakfast, and my schedule is packed with back-to-back meetings and appointments.

 Driving to work on a familiar road as if on autopilot, my mind takes over and makes me anxious about all that I have to do before the holiday break:

  • Faculty evaluations have to be completed!
  • Search Committee for the Dean’s position has to wrap up!
  • Deadline for my follow-up response to the Middle States Report!
  • Reviews of journal articles due!  

After I arrive at the office, encounters with colleagues throughout the day put my previous worrisome thoughts into perspective. As I speak with colleagues, I feel as if I’m opening a series of doors, and behind each door there is a human being coping as best they can with every ounce of strength they have. These realities make my worries seem small and self-absorbed.

  • Door number one: Not getting along with spouse, fear that the holidays may be the time when things come to a head regarding their union.
  • Door number two: Seeing psychologist after loss of a beloved dog.
  • Door number three: Finding it too difficult to work and continue with doctoral program; will have to discontinue program.
  • Door number four: Hates the holidays; depression is an issue.
  • Door number five: Husband had an accident and may lose an eye.
  • Door number six: Husband shot in the hand, victim of a robbery.
  • Door number seven: Favorite cousin died; will be hard on the family during the holidays.
  • Door number eight: Sister will have cancer surgery after the holidays.

As I listen to each person, I become increasingly aware of our connection and the flow of feelings between us as I physically sense my colleagues’ deep distress. I feel as if we are joined together in these moments by a salve of empathy and a balm of solace.

On my drive home, I reflect on what I heard from colleagues during the day. 

Realizing the emotional burdens that each is carrying makes me wonder how they could have the spiritual strength to show up and keep moving forward.

And then I know how they—and all of us—keep moving forward:

Because we cannot allow random tricks of chance to crush our spirit.

Because sometimes our only option is to live through it.

Because, with faith, we can find the determination and resilience we need.

Because we all have to play the hand we’ve been dealt.

Because we’re all doing the best that we can with what we have.

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If Only She Had Someone To Talk To…

Work and paperwork brought home from the office meant she didn’t get to bed until around midnight most nights. Reeling from exhaustion, she would fall into bed only to have her sleep disturbed by strange dreams. There were only a handful of days in a month that she didn’t wake up with a headache, nausea, backache, and/or stomach pain. Yet, she pushed through the sick feelings to do what was expected at home and at work. During an entire year, she missed only one day of work because of sickness, and she used this as an “opportunity” to catch up on paperwork. If only she had someone to talk to.

She drove herself to do more than required on her job and in her volunteer work. She was like a robot doing what she was programmed to do. But she was not a robot, and her body kept telling her that. If only she had someone to talk to.

Why the struggle? She was a mid-level administrator. From her perspective, being mid-level in the hierarchy of administrators explained the purgatory in which she lived. If only she had someone to talk to.

Though she could see the positive results of her efforts, she was denied a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction because, before the good feelings could register, someone would do or say something that would cause her to push back in anger or retreat into a lonely shell of self-doubt. If only she had someone to talk to.

She could not understand why people resisted doing their jobs. Her attention to this would bring on accusations that she was micromanaging, and that she was managing rather than leading. If only she had someone to talk to.

Whatever staff needed for resources, she fought to get. If they had ideas about how to improve support to students, she was all in. She encouraged innovations and saw more than a few of them become successful. No one could give more to the job than she did. If only she had someone to talk to.

When particularly antagonistic staff began to misquote her and tell her that she had said things that she had not said or—even more mystifying—that they, themselves, had said, she felt incensed. If only she had someone to talk to.

When her mind seemed to be becoming a mess of tangled ends, she began to ruminate on the Joseph Heller quote from Catch 22, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” She thought, if only I had someone to talk to, someone who could see in me what I can’t see for myself.

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The Mystery, Layers, and Rarity of DMX

On Friday, April 9, 2021, Earl Simmons, known as DMX or X, died. His heyday as a rap artist was in the late 1990s and early 2000s when he was nominated for three Grammy awards and was in a number of action movies. His tragic death at the age of 50 is being mourned by many, and it’s through this outpouring of grief and the flood of tributes that I’ve become somewhat familiar with the artist DMX.

In addition to his regular fans, many celebrities have made comments on social media about the man and his life:

In an Instagram video, DMX’s very close friend and music collaborator, Swizz Beatz, said that DMX was a “humanitarian who never talked about it, and he should be celebrated. He was different because he lived his life for other people. He prayed before and after every concert, and he prayed for fans and for anyone who asked him. He prayed for everybody before he prayed for himself. He was a prophet—the only one, DMX.”

Justin Tinsley, sports and culture reporter for ESPN’s The Undefeated, in an April 12 interview on NPR’s “Here and Now,” said that “DMX’s music was a portal into our own lives. Tinsley recalled DMX saying that if he helped another person find light, he will have lived a good life.”

In an interview on the Dr. Phil Show several years ago, DMX admitted that he made angry music. Yet, he had a conversation with the Lord on every album. He was in violent action films and he also loved the 1990s television sitcom, The Golden Girls.

Some who knew him saw DMX as a victim. However, his behavior toward Iyanla Vanzant, life coach, on Iyanla Fix My Life,might paint him as a bully. In an interview following the interaction with DMX, Vanzant said that he called her the “B word” numerous times and was so aggressive that security had to be on standby.

He read the Bible and prayed publicly, referenced God in his music as well as the devil. DMX was a man of contradictions.

Michael Eric Dyson, professor and minister, tweeted, “The late great #DMX fused raw Black pain, personal suffering, the struggle with his many demons and an incurable quest for Christian salvation and redemption in music and lyrics—and prayers—that toured hell to provide a plan of escape. May his soul Rest in Peace #RIP DMX.”

If the Rev. Dr. Dyson’s description is accepted, I’m not surprised to discover that this puzzle of a man loved and cultivated orchids. Orchids are the largest plant family in the world, presenting in a variety of forms. As numerous as they are, they can also be rare and precioussome of the most expensive plants in the world.

In a description of one of the lesser-known orchids, Tom Mirenda, horticulturalist and renowned expert on the cultivation of orchids, wrote, “Every orchid has an interesting story. Once you look beyond their beauty, other captivating qualities emerge about virtually all of them.” The orchid Mirenda was writing about was ugly and it also stank! (“Meet Stinky ‘Bucky,’ the Bulbophyllum that Shutdown a Smithsonian Greenhouse,” Smithsonian Magazine)

From a very limited sense of the man based on a cursory review of his public life, I think that DMX loved orchids because he was as mysterious, layered, and rare as they are. He was a prominent example of the complexities that make us human.

R.I.P. Earl Simmons, a.k.a. DMX.

April Was the Cruelest Month

Many of us will remember where we were and what we were doing on April 16, 2007, when we learned about the unspeakable tragedy of the campus murders and subsequent suicide at Virginia Tech.

At the time, I was executive director of NASPA. I was grabbing lunch at a restaurant with the incoming president of the board of directors, Dr. Jan Walbert, vice president for student affairs at Arcadia University.  I was looking forward to a scheduled meeting with her university president in the afternoon, in which I would give her “boss” a sense of the importance and far-reaching influence of Dr. Walbert’s volunteer position with NASPA.

The tragedy at Virginia Tech altered the trajectory of Dr. Walbert’s year as president of the board of directors. Within weeks after the mass shooting, Dr. Walbert was giving testimony at a congressional hearing in response to their request for guidance on what campuses could do regarding effective emergency preparedness with the potential of increasing the safety of students and the campus community.

I say “potential” because it’s not possible to predict or prevent violence. Indeed, within the year, another tragedy would occur at Northern Illinois University. What can be done is to provide requested resources in order for mental health professionals to be as accessible as possible to the increasing number of students who need and seek help. What we were reminded of in the wake of these campus shootings is that the median age of onset for mental illness is in the range of late teens through the early 20s, with young adults aged 18-25 years having the highest prevalence of any mental illness, and this doesn’t take into account the effects of a yearlong pandemic.

In an Inside Higher Ed survey of student affairs leaders conducted by Gallup in 2020:

  • 78 percent of student affairs leaders said the number of campus visits to mental health professionals had ‘increased a lot’ in the last five years, and
  • 63 percent said the same for the number of students on prescription medicine for mental health issues.

When these leaders were asked about the issues on which they had spent a significant amount of time during the past year, 93 percent at public institutions and 96 percent at private institutions listed student mental health.

Even before the pandemic, mental health had been an increasing issue for college and university students for more than five years. When students return to campuses, their need for services may be greater than ever before, and the need will have to be met. No college or university wants to experience what Virginia Tech went through during the cruel month of April 2007.