Throwing In the Towel and Communication Inundationcks on the Cheek
As February hits its mid-point and most academic terms are well under way, I look at the tasks before me and recall why both full-time and part-time professorial colleagues of mine decided to retire early.
The waves of work never cease, it seems. My full-timer friend, formerly engaged in international education at our college and now retired in what he calls “the swamps of Florida among the manatees,” said before his retreat into the wilds that he had become frustrated by “never feeling on top” of the ever-increasing masses of work that lay before him each day. An early riser, he had begun to arrive at his college office before dawn, after taking a short run in day-glo shorts and old sneakers. He told me that his door was often post-it noted with “urgent” thises and thats that had been left by passing colleagues and querying students late the previous night, that he had trouble opening his office door for the masses of envelopes that had been stuffed beneath it, and that the floor in front of the door usually had at least half-a-dozen inter-office envelopes that had been dropped there for his examination. Once he had scarfed up all this stuff to go inside, he would see that his desk had even more “new stuff” upon it, that his fax machine had not stopped functioning during his seven hours away (he usually left at about 10 p.m. and returned the next day at 5 a.m.), and that the telephone answering machine was flashing with new messages. He told me that when he realized one day that he was spending most of the morning catching up on communications left for him during his brief absence from work, and that when he was finally able to attack the new day’s challenges, the sun was nearly mid-sky, he concluded that the new world of 24/7 communication was no longer for him. He put in his resignation.
And we lost a good and sensitive, diligent and assiduous gentleman.
My part-timer colleague threw in the towel in a more bittersweet way. For him, it was the final realization that, even after more than two decades of curriculum design and execution, academic senate and planning and budget committee memberships, faithful attendance at hot dog parties and bake sales, and the acceptance of schedules that would strain his family life, making him drive 60 miles one way through California “rush-hour” traffic to meet students at face-to-face, “real” “Distance Learning Review Sessions” and Friday-night exams, he was never ever going to snag one of the few full-time jobs that the college offered every other year or so. On his final day with the college, he said to me, “You know, it feels bittersweet to retire. For one thing, I am definitely not going to miss the politics of full-time, part-time and who gets to teach what class and why I have to be scheduled for review sessions on Friday nights.” And then, he looked at me straight-on, in a way that I will never forget, saying, “But you know, too, no one really cares if you retire from a part-time job. They barely notice. They just fill it up again in a week.”
I continue to notice. He is gone.
This month of February is a short one, of course, with Presidents’ Days and Black History Month, with significant political events occurring around the world, and with a mid-month respite, I hope. Since I teach French, “the language of love,” I like to make a semi-big deal of Valentine’s Day, a fun fête for Francophiles who want to know the various words for lover and for kiss, for “I love you” and “I need you.” We discuss these words and their origins, we use them, and we enjoy the fact that we can connect in less than a moment to la Francophonie, where French is spoken any/everywhere across the globe. We hug one another à la française and give one another at least two pecks on the cheek, or three or four. We communicate live and right now.
And it is sweet.