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2018 November 6 - 02:47 pm

Little Things: A House Of Cards Cannot Stand?

Hoping Each Day that No Storm Will Rise

I have had a number of subjects cooking away on more than one burner this week, all readying themselves to accept the condiments of completion to be applied by me in my not-exactly-weekly commentary upon this life part-time that I pursue full-time.

But “little things” have somehow detoured me.

And I have decided that this tendency to attend to the detours of my days might in fact be worth bloggery as a subject in its own right.

After all, as Harmon has stated, “Sometimes it’s the little things that hurt the most,” or that provoke the most down-the-rabbit-hole-style detours, inescapable slippery dark holes with no clear way out.

Like the proper psychologist that she is, Harmon suggests that “seemingly small incidents can have a significant impact,” and that each of us lives in a sort of “house of cards,” some of those houses made up of thick and sturdy elements that resist the winds of change, and others composed of thin, bent, unstable cards that cannot withstand a storm.

I suspect that a lot of us part-timers living in the persistent precarity of unpredictable circumstances are inhabiting that second sort of house, hoping each day that no storm will rise.

But many of us are like me, I suppose, susceptible to the stresses around us and weakened by so much fighting for a tiny bit of academic and personal-worth space.

To wit: I have been told in the course of my “regularly scheduled academic evaluation” at one of the half-dozen places where I work that my “communication with students is insufficient and without adequate substance.” The person who has told me this speaks no French, the subject that I teach there, and neither has this person spent more than two hours perusing the matière (content, subtance, questions, and critical thinking features) of more than one of the various courses that I teach in French; this was admitted during E-mail communication.

The comments and “evaluation” that I have received from this person are to be placed in my personnel file. I am allowed to “comment” but not to rebut.

The whole procedure has more than depressed me. It has thrown me for an academic loop-the-loop.

After all, that remotely performed (online) evaluation took place at about the same time that another school was chastising me for “using too much French” in a French class. Fortunately for me, at least two students saw me reading that chastisement and laughed, one of them saying, “Tell those people that we learn way more than French in here! We never know how much new stuff we are going to find out about all sorts of things!” Unfortunately for me, the students’ remarks were neither recorded nor “of interest” to The Powers That Be.

Sometimes, it seems that hopeless precarity and card-house structures are not all that interesting to those Powers That Be.

During the 1980’s, Jonathan Kozol wrote of poverty in the United States and of the “unbroken dreariness” that it provokes. He set forth examples of many who fall into the cycle of sadness and precarity that define poverty after the failure of a single simple card of the kind Harmon said can comprise our self-worth houses: There was the young woman whose water heater ceased functioning and then burst, a twenty-five-year-old mother of three who could not pay what would be necessary to fix the problem and who was then and because of that made hopelessly homeless with her brood; there was the woman rendered homeless and penniless after trying to pay for care for her daughter, suffering from poisoning provoked by the lead-based paint on their apartment walls; there was the man sitting lonely on the steps of his foreclosed home who had lost his job in construction when he fell and hurt his back.

Community colleges used to invite these sorts of people in. But the institutional card-houses that hold them up seem no longer so welcoming, I fear.

A young woman former student of mine who was in a car accident that put her in a wheelchair was given F’s in all her courses except mine, in which she got an “Incomplete.” I heard one of her instructors telling college staff that “the girl didn’t plan right.” A recent conversation I had with the girl revealed that she has also lost her job. “Everything is so sad,” she said. Not entirely in jest, I told her that she had demonstrated a knack for language, and she might want to look into further study, as well as possible jobs related thereto.

A friend of mine who is in her 60’s is losing her job this week as a veterinary technician, a task she has been performing for two decades, after her work in the photography development business had to end in the face of digital photos. “I knew this was going to happen,” she told me, “but it’s still a shock, and it’s depressing besides. I seem to be on the cusp of change everywhere, but the change goes on without me.”

Each person’s history, each house of cards, is different, Harmon would remind us. But when the cards are falling upon us, they can overwhelm.

The real, gemuine, “brick-and-mortar” house in which I live is suffering from so many expensive, necessary repairs that I have been zoned out by them. I do have a place to live, though, unlike the people in Kozol’s tales. The evaluation that I have received from one place does not represent what all of them think, and I can still enjoy students who tell me out loud that they like what goes on in class. The student who has become wheelchair-bound has sent me a message just today to ask how she might finish her Incomplete and pursue further language study. My friend who worked with the veterinarian has given me just this evening a young cat to care for; “this was the hospital cat that was admiring you last week,” she told me.

Harmon points out that each of us will respond differently to hurt, depression, anxiety, and suffering, and she adds that emotional ills build upon themselves. Realizing where our hurts really come from and finding succour with “like souls” can help, she says, even if we are feeling what I used to call “lonely-ized” by the maelstrom mix that the Powers That Be may be using to shake our houses of cards.

Working part-time is, at least, work. I find that each institution has its powers and its expectations, and all I can do is to provide what one of my deans said some years ago about what he thought we must remind ourselves that we are: “the opening, the exciting passionate opening of a new subject to students whose only connection to it and to this school may be you.”

Also from KATHERINE WATSON

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