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2019 June 18 - 01:59 pm

The Tide Rises. the Tide Falls

The Path To Becoming Expendable


Near his death at the end of the nineteenth century, the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned a piece that would end up being one of his most popular. "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls" is a tale fit for year's end, academically or otherwise, and for life's end, which Longfellow was expecting within a few years (he died at the age of 75 less than three years after the publication of this poem). 

As the month of May, merry or otherwise, ends, and as June begins, we part-timers get yet another opportunity to watch the tides of time rise and fall around us.

Here in southern California, where I work at as many as half a dozen institutions each term, I look out at what is commonly called "the June gloom", a gray day with a ceiling of impenetrable gray meeting an ocean almost indistinguishable in the gray light. The plants outside the window where I am working even seem to be tinged with a gray mist.

And for me, this is all fitting.

On the last day of May, I received a damning datum: An "Announcement" to me states that my work has been deemed so "unsatisfactory" that I am to lose my tenuous connection to it, at half of the places where I travail away, this being a "District-wide decision."

And, of course, such an Announcement, sent via "secure E-mail" cannot be responded to immediately, since the institution in question is undergoing electronic "system upgrades" until the middle of the first week of this gloomy June. And by then, the administrators in charge of any messages or messaging will have gone away to sunnier climes for the summer vacation.

And we part-timers will be the only ones left, satisfactorily or un-.

Vacation does not happen for us.

Part-timers must work during whichever parts of whichever days we can find amenable to our tasks. We part-timers who work online have an even more ticklish task, having to tease out tenuous access to materials that are as tentatively "out there" as are our own existences.

And since half of my employ has dissolved beneath me, I seek to make those footprints in the sand that Longfellow said will soon be effaced. I seek to make a mark in a cyberspace that has no marks. I seek to save my work in a Cloud that has no lining, silver or otherwise.

And I wonder each moment about what is real.

The student who is trying to impress me with French that he has clearly Googled into an essay thinks that his work is real, but he realizes how unreal it really is when I probe him with questions that I pose to him in this new "target language" of his. The other student who is incarcerated away knows exactly what is real, as she tries to recall from her youth in northern Africa the French that she can use to pass an elementary-level class at a community college. The student who leaves telephone messages to me that are mingled with English and Vietnamese, as he tries to express himself in French, has more than one reality.

But this is an era of questionable realities questioned by my administrators, some of whom claim that my materials are too obtuse for them, since those materials are in written in a language "that hardly anybody understands in southern California." Clearly, they have written to me, if those materials are difficult for the Administration to address, they must be tough for students too? 

But no, I counter, students who want to learn are a creative bunch. They Google things and they know how to hit the "back" and "forward" buttons that I have marked "précédent" and "suivant" as subtle learning mechanisms for them. They ask questions. This is the twenty-first century, and these students have learned not to assume.

And so I hasten, like Longfellow's traveler, toward another town unknown to me, leading as many students as I can along the way. They are practical, though, these new-century learners, and I know that when a Longfellow morning breaks again, and the day returns, I will not be permitted to return to this shore.

Ideas, these are, as a new month falls upon me.

At least and all, the tide will rise and it will fall.

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