Saturday, February 6, 2016

Counting Down Blessings

The first week of the new semester is done, and all three classes look delightful. I can truly tell by the first day, the second at the latest, how good a class is going to be. Good classes have students who are willing to talk, but none who feel the need to hear themselves talk all the time. Extra bonus: students who nod and smile as I talk. Biggest bonus of all: a sprinkling of beloved students I've taught before.

The content of my children's literature class is now dear and familiar to me from teaching it several times before. Yesterday we argued amicably over Maria Edgeworth's early 19th-century story, "The Purple Jar." Some students were furious at little Rosamond's sanctimonious parents who allow her to purchase a beautiful purple jar (which only appears to look purple because of nasty purple chemicals inside) rather than much-needed shoes; other students were annoyed at clueless Rosamond herself.

In my ethics of immigration class, we're trying to get a first look at empirical findings on immigration. Some that have surprised us: levels of global immigration have remained constant over the past fifty years (with immigrants making up around 2-3 percent of the world's population); immigrants tend not to be the poorest of the world's people (the desperately poor don't have the resources to migrate); governmental efforts to reduce the flow of immigration tend not only to drive immigration into irregular and unregulated channels.

My eight-person "Ethics of Story" class practically teaches itself, as the students come to class so well prepared to talk, talk, talk. We launched the course with Jonathan Gottschall's engaging little book The Storytelling Animal, focusing most of our attention on his discussion of why we might have evolved as storytelling creatures. Students with more background in evolutionary biology found his treatment of the subject on the "lite" side, but all found the topic fascinating: do we seek out stories as the evolutionary strategy of obtaining cost-free preparation for surviving future traumas in our own lives?

So the first week was wonderful. And yet I'm still so homesick, in a way that I can't seem to shake, despite dinners with friends, a "Janeites" book club meeting (Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - fabulous, read it!), a philosophy department discussion of Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele (reads like a detective story, with lots of useful advice for educators), and many other treats. I just miss home. I just do.

I debated whether I should cross down the days till I head back to Boulder for good in May. In favor of the countdown; the pleasure I always get in crossing anything off a to-do list. Against the countdown: the dismal thought that I'm counting my life away.

I decided to make the countdown list. But I made it with a twist. I wrote down all the days until I go home on May 20; I started the list on the day before I left for Europe (134 days left); I'm now down to day 105. Instead of crossing the days off, however, for each day I record a blessing, or two or three: something lovely, something joyous, large or small. Of course that was staggeringly easy to do in London and Paris, but it's turning out to be staggeringly easy to do in Greencastle, Indiana, too.

Reading A Nearer Moon (magical!) by my friend Melanie Crowder.
A chilly, sunny February walk with two philosophy department colleagues.
A take-your-breath away lunchtime talk by an art historian colleague.
Reviewing galleys for my new middle-grade novel with a  young, witty editor who shares my passion for grammatical minutia.

I'm not counting my life away; I'm amassing a list of blessings, with, after today, 104 more days of blessings to come.

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