The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Friday, February 29, 2008

One Year Later

Today marks the completion of 52 weeks since my beautiful mother passed away.

52 weeks ago today, she lived until a massive, unanticipated ventricular heart attack took her away from me at 6:51am. She was in the hospital for what we were thinking was a minor adjustment of her medications.

I had gone home the night before (around 9pm) thinking things were fine. Unfortunately, I never saw her alive again. I was awoken from a deep sleep at roughly 7am to come to the hospital immediately.

I so miss her beautiful smile and her gentle eyes. I so miss hearing her talk with me. I so miss our ritual of eating out together on Thursdays. I simply, unbearably, and sadly, just MISS HER.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reply to Anonymous

This essay is specifically in response to "Anonymous" who wrote as a comment to me for my essay on Thursday entitled, "Inner Self". The comment stated:

"Thank you - You have given me new insight into what is going through faculty member's minds at job interviews. Having interviewed unsuccessfully for a TT job recently, I can now console myself through this reminder that selection is not based entirely on merit."

I am not sure if the above comment was meant as a true "thank you" or with sarcasm. However, a point that selection "not based entirely on merit" is for my situation at least, not accurate.

In the situation I have described, we have several people who are being interviewed for a position that will share some lower-level teaching duties with me. These duties will cover a course (A&P) that has been until this time, the primary class I have taught and I have been the only full-time faculty member teaching this course.

Of the candidates we have interviewed thus far, here is my opinion and my belief about the Department's opinion of the candidate:

Person #1 - My take... a very nice, young fellow who has a significant amount of experience teaching A&P. He has a teaching style that is different, albeit complimentary to my own. He also has a very distinctively different research emphasis than I do... and his research emphasis is not yet found in our Department (he would offer significant diversity). My opinion of the Department's take on this fellow... he may have taught A&P before, but he seems a bit strong-willed and too opinionated. He is also not "glamorous" or a "catch".

Overall, I feel I could work very well with this person and he could have a very unique and distinctive career at my University. I believe my Department will not vote for him because he is not "smooth and flashy".

Person #2 - My take... a wonderful person. He is a bit older and has enormous level of teaching experience in A&P. His teaching style is also different but complementary to my own. His research is different from my own, but (wonderfully) his research is very complimentary to my own and I feel the two of us could develop a significant amount of collaborative research together. My opinion of the Department's take on this fellow... he is older, he is not flashy, his research isn't overly interesting, and they express a generally "ho-hum" feeling about this individual.

Overall, I feel I could very well with this person as well, and would have the added bonus of having someone with technical skills different from my own that could give me a true collaborative partner that would allow both of us to accomplish research that is distinctly different from what either of us pursues as individuals.

Person #3 - (This is the fellow I am worried about) - My take... a very nice, young person. He has had no teaching experience in A&P, but his teaching style is virtually identical to my own for the courses he has taught. Additionally, his research overlaps my own research area completely. In the way our University operates, there would not be enough need for both of us to teach the UPPER DIVISION courses (senior level courses) we both specialize in, and there would be a limited amount of research money and space for both our forms of research. We would end up being expected to share everything. Add to this that he is "cool" and "trendy" and would I come out on the losing end of every interaction we share with students since I am "old" and "frumpy". My opinion of my Department's take on this fellow... they are bowled over by his "coolness" and "trendiness" and some of the women think he is especially pleasant "eye candy". Many dismiss his lack of teaching in the needed subject as a "minor point". The majority opinion is that they do not see a problem with him overlapping with *ME* as long as he does not overlap with *THEM*. In our Department, all faculty have been hired to diversify the offerings in biology in our Deparment... there is no overlap, at least right now.... until they hire this guy to overlap EVERYTHING about me.

Overall, this fellow is nice, but he does not have much teaching experience and the subject matter he *has* taught in is not what we were looking for. His research is nice, but it overlaps my own almost perfectly. It would be unfair to HIM and especially to ME to hire him because we would always be stepping on each other's toes, and competing for very limited resources. I would take it as a slap in the face if my Department selects this fellow... not because he is not a nice person... but because of Departmental need and Department harmony... he is the WRONG choice.

We have two additional candidates that are yet to arrive. But I think no one will "mezmerize" the crowds like this last fellow.

So... Mr. Anonymous... your statement about hiring not based "on merit" is not applicable in this case. The fellow is less qualified for his primary teaching role, and HE OVERLAPS with other fields represented in the Department... THIS IS NOT MERITORIOUS logic that is being used to select him. He is being very very strongly considered because he is "cool" and "trendy" and certain people "feel good" thinking about him being in our Department.

Your own personal situation may, of course, be very different, Mr. Anonymous. I am not trying to say it is not. But truthfully, this situation I write about is obscenely convoluted and *ss-backwards as far as I can discern. I would not have thought my Department would be so enthralled by style over substance. AGAIN, the guy is fine as a person, and he is most definitely a nice person... but for another school and department. He is not a good fit for my Department.


Monday, February 25, 2008


I have spent the weekend alternating between seething and crying my heart out at what I anticipate the Department will do. There are still several days yet before anything will be discussed and there is one additional candidate to be interviewed.

I am so very, very angry and emotionally raw at what I believe the Department will do. I am a very good reader of situations, and so in most instances my predictions in these types of situations are correct.

I WILL NOT be marginalized.

I WILL NOT become a bastard and stomp my feet to get my way by seniority.

If the Department slaps me in the face with their b*llsh*t decision, I will never forgive them and will:

Search for a new teaching job

Search for a job in administration at my University

Search for some other job.

I WILL NOT BE MARGINALIZED. This week is likely to be sheer hell. I need this sort of crap like I need another hole in my head.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Inner Self

I cry. I weep. I work. I try to make a difference. I try to be unique and special. Yet now it is being taken away from me even more. I will at best become run-of-the mill. I will more likely become second rate. I will be perceived as the poor option.

I dislike my Department immensely. I have poured myself into my work and my career, and have tried to be respectful by not stepping on anyone's toes, but at the same time I have striven to be a unique, needed, and special part of my Department. Now we are in the midst of hiring a new member. The "need" is for an additional professor in my primary class, anatomy & physiology. That, in and of itself, felt sad. Yes, there is need for more courses, but it was my primary way of feeling a unique and valued presence. But, I spent the last few months during this process working through my feelings on that matter and was comfortable with the logic and the need for an additional instructor in my field as the number of students presently was too many for me to handle alone. So, I have been trying to work through the selection process and select those candidates that were able to teach anatomy & physiology, but at the same time were individuals whose specialization was DIFFERENT from my own, and was different from others in the Department as well. I thought this would give needed breadth to our offerings and to the research opportunities we could offer. It was all well and good, and 6 of the 7 candidates WERE capable and distinctly different from me in terms of research emphasis and specialization. Yet, today, we had a candidate I did not really want to interview. He has the same background and expertise as me, and he has the same experience in teaching anatomy & physiology as well.

I am torn up inside. On one hand, the fellow is VERY nice. He is kind, considerate, and intelligent. He even uses a very similar teaching style to me. If he were elsewhere I would enjoy being his collaborator and friend. Yet, I am filled with anger and dread, because he will likely be selected by our Department to fill the position. Not because he was the only capable candidate... several of the candidates would do a good job with the teaching. The problem is, the Department likes him because he is "cool" and "trendy" and for the women, he is also likely to be considered quite attractive.

So, here I am now, a very good, loyal, dedicated professor in my field. I have worked many, many, many years to make a place for myself, a place that allows me to offer unique services and have a unique role in the University. And now we will very likely hire a duplicate of me.... a duplicate who is "cooler", "trendier" and more eye appealing. I can imagine the students now. "Hmmm, who should I take for anatomy & physiology... I have heard they are both pretty good... should I take the cool, trendy "hottie", or should I take the course from the fat, old guy who is frumpy? Damn, that was an easy choice.... I'll take the "cool" one."

I have not worked so long to be dumped back into a junior high where my worth is judged by how "cool" and "trendy" I am. I am not wanting to engage in a popularity contest based upon factors that I cannot control. It hurts like hell that my Department would do this to me.

It is not like there are not other candidates that are NOT clones of me (note, I mean "cooler" "trendier" and more handsome clones). In fact, there are at least TWO candidates that I think would be equally good teachers who would offer different areas of expertise than my own... and would leave me with the sense of having a unique aspect to my own work. But no, the others in my Department are just as "wowed" by the trendiness as the students will be.

All I foresee in my future if this hire occurs is a ratcheting of stress in my life. Sure, I could be a bastard and force myself to get the "plum" positions and "best offerings" due to seniority. But that is not how I live life. I also do not like to have antagonism and struggle continually be a part of my every choice at work. Yet, I do not want to become the "second choice" either, nor do I want to wither away into oblivion as a "cooler" version of me gets all the limelight.

Again, please understand this possible hire is a very nice fellow. He is, and I like him as a person. But, I do not feel it is fair or appropriate to have him join our Department because in the end all it will do is make my life harder, not easier. It will make me feel more insecure and stressed.

Even though there is no real option for this... I feel so strongly about this change that if I had another opening somewhere at some other University... I would uproot my family and move to the new location. Or, and I never thought I would say this, if I were to be offered an administrative position in my University... I would leave teaching and join the administration in order to not be put in this situation. Please realize the seriousness of this... TEACHING is always been my work and my life. It is what I have felt created to do. Yet, the thought of the stress of being in competition for every role I have and do at the University is simply unacceptable and unworkable for me, and I *would* leave if I had an option to do so.

I hope and pray that the Department vote will be to hire one of the other two "non-trendy" "non-clones" of myself. I doubt that will happen, because by and large my Department doesn't really give a damn about me... and they only look out for protecting themselves.

So, my apologies to all the people who gripe at me for being sad and moping and never writing anything uplifting. It is not in me to write anything like that today. I had vowed to not write if all I had to say was sad or negative, but I had to tell those of you who *do* care about my pain.

It has been a horrendous year on so many levels, and it now seems to only be getting worse.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Words Fail Me

I feel stymied. I have little to say at the moment that is not about worry and/or emotional sadness. I cannot be your entertainment at this time, so I stay mute.

For those of you who have befriended me, especially those in the last set of comments... zirelda, mapiprincesa, Dirk, patti, austere, GaP, and Sam... I thank you enormously. Your words have been kind and friendly and soothing to me.

I am hoping to be back to writing as usual in a few days.


Monday, February 18, 2008

What to Say?

I have been at a loss for words the last several days... feeling of gloom, tiredness, and despair have settled into my mind. It may be the long, harsh winter. It may be the recent passage of my mother's birthday. Or it may be the upcoming first year of the date of her death.

I have learned through some of you that talk of my times of despair grows tiresome. So, for now, I will keep it brief and be relatively quiet. For those of you who have supported me in my times of grief, thank you. I keep your words close to me.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Words Can Hurt

My wife and I had an argument last night and I feel wiped out, sad, and gloomy. I honestly feel that there is no real purpose in anything I do or say or feel in life. I am simply to be a robot, going through the motions of living.

The basic parts of our argument again involved issues of communication. We both had difficulty in that regard. Phone conversations we had while I was at work about some worrisome health matters in our youngest offspring made me feel edgy and tense as I drove home. In retrospect, I think these phone conversations were my wife's attempt to talk about her fears and worries... no matter how extreme and unlikely many of them were. If I would have viewed the conversation like that, I would have been better off. Unfortunately, instead I too became keyed up and anxious and started thinking that the very grave possibilities my wife suggested were more and more possible.... unlike what my logical mind was telling me. If I had listened to my logical side AND realized my wife was venting her ideas, I could have kept calmer myself and kept my focus on the more realistic and likely scenarios for my youngest offspring.

So, I arrived home most definitely on edge. Add to this a heavy snowstorm that I had to drive home in (3 inches had fallen right before I had left the U), and I was having to very carefully plan my actions and chose my behaviors. I decided to work on dinner while my wife ran a very important errand. I felt calmer.... not CALM, but calmer than I had after cooking. So, my wife and I sat down and started talking about our day. My wife was still in her venting mode... she simply wanted to say virtually everything that was on her mind that day. And for me this can sometimes be tough... especially when some of her thoughts are angry. This venting is so much unlike my own personality that I rarely anticipate it in my wife and often do not recognize it until far after the fact. If I had KNOWN she was simply venting, I could have been far more successful in not feeling hurt by her words. She DID NOT mean them towards me. Now in retrospect I can know that. But during the litany of them I was not thinking of them as being a venting event.... I instead felt she was complaining about me and what I was doing... and felt very hurt and wounded. The pinnacle of the argument arrived when she ended her venting by proclaiming in an angry tone, "Now my day will be ruined tomorrow as well!" or words to that effect. To me, not seeing her words as venting, but instead incorrectly viewed it as an attack on me and my behavior, my work ethic, my value as a person and my role as her mate... this became the last straw and I became very, very angry and hurt.

We did not speak for roughly an hour after that point. When we did again speak, words were angry on both sides and it took over two hours to get to the point where *I believe and hope" we both understood each other's perspectives. Again, in hindsight, I can now see her words and actions as simply her "venting" and expressing herself. Taken in that light, the words she said did NOT necessarily point towards me having done something wrong. If I could have viewed her words in that manner before they hurt me, this argument could have been avoided. Likewise, I *hope* and *sincerely pray* that my wife understands the *WHY AND HOW* of how her words could easily be seen as being meant to be hurtful... and that in the future she takes action to preface her venting by at least telling me her words are not meant towards me but instead are simply her own feelings of the moment and she simply needs to express them.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Cold Pipe Memes

First off, on Friday, my mother-in-law asked me to come over after work at the U to set up her new e-mail account. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the company of my father-in-law in the late afternoon. We had some pleasant libations, several pipes, and talked of all myriad of things, but especially about the difficulties that we both dealt with in regards to the 14 inches of snow we had received between Wednesday and Thursday. A very nice way to end the work week.

Speaking of the snowstorm briefly again, I have to say I am lucky I snowplowed the driveway/sidewalks twice during the storm itself instead of waiting until the storm concluded. It was much more successful an encounter dealing with the snow in smaller levels. The snowbanks down my driveway and sidewalk and at the roadway are between waist and upper chest high from the snow that had to be moved.

On Thursday, I had just finished snowblowing the snow from my driveway/sidewalks for the third time, when I heard the unmistakable scrape of a snow shovel two doors down and across the street. My elderly neighbor was attempting to shovel his (VERY LONG) driveway by hand. And, may I add again that this is over 14 inches of snow (roughly 33cm for you in the metric majority). So, I stomped over there through the unplowed roadway in my heavy, red-flannel lined galoshes, and asked my neighbor if he would like me to clear his driveway. Again, remember this is an elderly fellow, and the huge amount of snow would be nearly impossible for him to excavate. He said yes, and I spent the better part of two hours clearing his driveway for him. This effort is how I now realize how lucky I was in having cleared my own driveway twice during the storm.... my neighbor had not... and I had to attempt to move the full 14 inches of snow with my rather anemic, smallish snow blower. It must have been a mixture of my own patience, and a surprising stamina on the part of the snow blower... but I was pretty damn proud that I was able to eventually clear his driveway. But it was a helluva lot of work.... more so than the three individual clearings of my driveway put together. I went home and lounged around the rest of the day.

* * * * *

Now, a monumentally extreme temperature drop has occurred today in my region. The actual temperature at morning on Monday is anticipated to be -10 below zero Fahrenheit (which is roughly -23.3 degrees below zero Celsius (again, for you metric minded folk)). And, sad to say, but the anticipated wind chill factor is anticipated to be roughly -45. It will be a rough morning, with the day's high anticipated to be only -1.

* * * * *

Leon at "The Ancient One, Blessed Be He" has asked me to participate in the following meme. I am happy to oblige and encourage any of you so interested to do likewise:


1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open it at page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence/ phrase.
4. Blog the next four sentences/ phrases together with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig your shelves for that very special or intellectual book.
6. Pass it forward to six friends.

I reached to my left, as I am in my den, and proceeded to knock over one of the smaller pipe racks that I have on the nearest bookshelf. Fortunately, this rack was filled with a variety of virtually indestructible, work-a-day pipes that have all seen much wear and tear from use, so no harm occurred. But, the first book I grabbed, which was on the shelf below the pipe rack, was vanTienhoven's "Reproductive Physiology of Vertebrates (Second edition). This is a text I have owned for perhaps 20 years and have gleaned a great deal from for many different lectures in several of the courses I teach.

The four sentences that follow the fifth on page 123 are:

Please note these sentences are in reference to the nidamental gland...

"This structure is well developed in oviparous and ovoviviparous species, but may be vestigial in viviparous ones. It is a tubular gland which secretes albumin, mucus, and in those species producing an egg case, egg case proteins. Sometimes, sperm are stored in this part of the oviduct as well. The isthmus connects the nidamental gland to the uterus.

The final aspect of conducting this meme is to have six others partake of this endeavor themselves. Please do so, and if you are so inclined to participate, please record a comment stating you have done so in my comments section. I will greatly appreciate your assistance in completing this task.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Fourteen Inches

In the last 24 hours we have received 14 inches of snow. We are digging out, and of course the U is closed.

Today is my Mom's birthday. I miss you Mom and I love you.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Today is Ash Wednesday in my faith, the Roman Catholic Church. It is a day of fasting and atonement and contemplation.

This year, my fasting will consist of eating no food for the entire day with the exception of a small dinner. No breakfast, no lunch, no snacks. Only non-caloric beverages to stay hydrated.

A very important aspect of my faith on this day is the placement of ashes on the forehead in the sign of the cross. These ashes are made from the burnt palm fronds received the previous Palm Sunday (the week prior to Easter)and mixed with a small amount of holy oil. For me, I am now wearing ashes upon my forehead to participate in this aspect of my faith.

Additionally, there are no ashes today in my pipe, nor are there ashes falling upon my shirt or sport coat. I have decided to refrain from my pipe today. I am not exactly sure why I am refraining from my pipe today, but I am. A part of me wishes to refrain as an expression of my faith, but another part of me does not feel that faith and does not even have conviction that the tenets of faith are real. I am still in that land of nebulousity where I "kind of" believe, but I "kind of" do not. I also somewhat "want to" participate, but a part of me "wants to" do anything OTHER than participate.

Please recall that I had joyfully and purposefully given up my pipe last year at the start of Lent (Lent starts on Ash Wednesday in my faith). I felt very strong in my convictions and felt good about my sacrifice. I felt I *was* doing what God wanted, and was living a life of strong service. Two weeks into that participation, the horrid day where my mother died and was taken away occurred. It felt like a condemnation from God. It made me angry, more angry than I have been in a very, very long time. I PURPOSEFULLY broke my vow to refrain from my pipe at that time. I was so very angry and hurt. My faith has never been the same since that time. Truthfully, I am not sure if I have faith now, or if I am simply going through the motions in some sort of repetitive dance of no value or purpose.

This year, because of the variable nature of the placement of Lent and Easter in the calender, the day after today is the day of my Mother's birth. It is her birthday tomorrow, the first one where she will not be here physically to celebrate it with us.

My mind is awash with conflicting feelings, emotions, and thoughts of all sorts. The best I seem able to do is to suppress them, ignore them, and carry on in an unfeeling, unthinking fashion much akin to a robot. That is what I shall be doing in a few minutes as I head off to lecture. It is an odd, empty sort of existence in a lot of ways, but it helps me get through the day. When at night I allow myself to feel and think and emote, it is no better really, for then I am unable to sleep, unable to concentrate, and instead I toss and turn and fuss in all manner of ways. So, I often try to be robotic in my evening routines as well so as to not hinder my ability to rest.

* * * * *

A brief note: I did not post on Tuesday because my wife had her enormous presentation and when it concluded, we went to dinner (at a favorite Mexican restaurant in our region), and then we bought a special "treat" for each of us to consume for "Fat Tuesday", the day before Ash Wednesday. My treat was to purchase and eat a few cups of Brach's Bridge Mix... a variety of chocolate covered candies and nuts that I typically do not eat because of my propensity to eat far too much of the stuff.


Monday, February 04, 2008

Few Words Tonight

My wife had an enormously important project (and project deadline) that she was needing to meet this evening. She needed my help in this matter, and she and I just finished our efforts. We are both bushed. So, unfortunately, I do not have the energy to post anything of merit tonight (likely though, I never post anything of merit anyhow).


Friday, February 01, 2008

What Do People See?

I have been feeling now, for some time, a sense of ambiguity about who I am, what I am, and what meaning if any there is to my life. I am not seeking any sort of change, for I am what I am. But, I do sorely wish I had not lost that feeling of purpose and meaning. My role, my purpose, my meaning... even though they may have all been silly, unreal pipe dreams... when I felt they were real, when I felt they did define a true purpose for me and for my role in life... it was easier to feel contentment. Now, with my doubt of any real role, any real purpose, or any real meaning in my actions, every move, every task, every effort seems superfluous or worse, like a hamster running on a wheel... a lot of effort for nothing.

This ambiguity guided me to try to examine what it is that the world sees when by some minor happenstance, it sees me. I decided to spend as much time as I could with a mirror in front of me to watch what it is I am giving off at least as reflected light to the world. As I sat before my computer, I could see out of the corner of my eye, the mirror (a stand alone model in a frame. The surface was roughly 8 X 10). It reported to me a reflection that between a portrait and a profile by its angle. I could see my visage before me as I typed, as I drank coffee, as I smoked my pipe.

What did I see? It has been a few weeks since my haircut/beard/moustache trim. I should likely give myself my in-between haircut self trim to my moustache, for it was a bit heavier and shaggier than I typically wear it. It was taking on the old "soup-strainer" quality so often described in films of days gone by. I actually like the look better of my shaggier moustache, but it does get messier, so I tend to trim it a bit. The grey of my beard is still pleasantly mottled. Some regions are whitish grey, others a charcoal grey, and there are a few minor areas still dark as well. In my mind, the lack of uniformity in color gives depth and texture to my beard.

As I sipped my coffee, I could see how my roundish, wire rimmed glasses with thick lenses did give me a rather owlish look, especially with my shaggy eyebrows poking out above the frames.

I picked up my pipe and slowly filed the bowl with leaf, still keeping a focus on my image in the mirror as I did so. I watched as my mouth gently held the stem as my teeth would grip and align it in position. My moustache cascaded around the stem on both sides almost as if giving the stem a hug. As I ignited the pipe and inhaled the rich smoke, I watched what it looked like as I slowly exhaled curls of smoke from my mouth and from my nostrils. The patterns the smoke took were entertaining to watch as they slowly dissipated around me. My dark brown eyes, mostly obscured by reflections off the lenses of my glasses, displayed both an alertness and a tiredness.

So, this is how the world sees me. Does that give me any meaning or purpose? Not really, as far as I can discern. Perhaps I should try to videotape my teaching? If I did so, I could then watch what the students see. Perhaps that is where purpose and meaning can be uncovered?

Somehow, I fear that too shall prove fruitless. If you know of any answers or even theories, please let me know.