Sunday, May 28, 2017

Summary of the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend

This is the story of lessons learned on Memorial Day weekend.  Last year they came from running a 55 mile race in South Africa.  Today they are just everyday lessons.  But important nonetheless.   

This year’s Memorial Day weekend race was much different from last year’s.  Last year I ran Comrades. This year I ran a 5K.  I was fourth in age group with three of us in my age group within three seconds of each other.  I just happened to be at the tail end.  Doesn’t change my love of running or of racing one bit.  Before the race, my friend Travis introduced me to Emily.  Emily commented on my strong handshake.  Both Travis and I immediately went to the fact that I am and have been for four years part of a business school.  Emily seemed to find that a reasonable explanation.  I had not realized that my handshake would make that much of an impression on anyone.  But apparently it did.

Then I went to mass.  Mass was a lot of fun.  Great singing today.  I wore my socks from Nashville that Lauren had picked up for me when she ran the marathon there.  A fellow parishioner who happens to be the wife of one of the guitar players in the contemporary choir at the 10:30 mass asked if I was a guitar player.  I gave a muddled answer.  Compared with the people who play guitar for the mass—no.  Compared to someone with no experience—sure.  The irony is that my friend who is going for 50 marathons in 50 states who gave me the socks is the person for whom I did pick up the guitar recently to write a thoughtful song about being present when things are not so good.

Next, I came home and made an omelet with greens and gouda.  Good stuff. 

Then, I went to see A Quiet Passion—a movie about the life of Emily Dickinson. The main reason I had wanted to go was because I had quoted Emily Dickinson in my high school graduation speech thirty years ago.  I had quoted from the poem “My life closed twice before it’s close.”  The movie was interesting for a bunch of reasons.  Social context of the 19th century in the United States before, during, and after the Civil War.  Context of what was understood about Christianity.  Context of 19th century feminism.  Context of 19th century medicine.  Dancing—and the recollection that I don’t have basic formal dancing skills that seemed to be common back then as one character challenged another to be ready for a polka.  Period specific and appropriate clothing was cool to see.  The movie was slow—as life was in the 19th century compared with today.  The camera moved slowly.  There was not much background music.  It was interesting to watch the character of Emily Dickinson shown as someone who valued family and never imagined herself outside the confines of her family experience.  She was portrayed as witty. As sharp.  As having a condition that could not be cured.  As judgmental.  She called herself vile.  She talked about becoming what we most want to avoid.  And the poem I’d quoted for my speech was read as the next to last poem of the movie—which was set up with the actress reading her poems throughout.  Here it is:

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

I cried when I heard it. From stuff other stuff I have read, not one quite knows what the two events that made her feel like she’d already died were.  But she had quite a complicated and negative life despite being a recluse.

Finally, I came home and went to see Sound of Music in which one of my youngest son’s classmates was Maria for the first half of the play.  She did a great job.  The play reminded me of the importance of music in the household.  The comment about Maria bringing music back to the Von Trapp household.  And the joy that comes with music.

Then we had a party of kids and parents from the sixth grade class which was very nice.

In the morning, I will run again.

But the key is that today was learning.  Learning that my handshake made an impression on someone.  Learning about where my running is.  Learning about what I think of my musical skills even if other people appreciate them more than I do.  (And wondering how my friend is doing with her own exploration of the guitar.)  Learning about Emily Dickinson’s life.  Realizing how much I see in the struggles that she had and the desire to express herself.  Relearning the lessons of sound of music—tell people what you are thinking and appreciate music. 

Every day there are some lessons.  Today there were many. 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Day in the Life

Yesterday was an amazing day. 

Some parts of Tuesday, May 23, were normal Tuesday events.  I started the day with an early wake up because I had gone to bed a little early the night before with one goal in mind.  Make sure my voice was ready for the twice annual commencement ceremonies at which I read names.  I believe this was the seventh ceremony for which I was the exclusive name reader.  It’s a big job and an important one as each student deserves to have their name read as accurately as possible before he or she walks across the stage to shake hands with the Dean. 

After the wake up, a little bit of work and then a run with my training partner of 5+ years with whom I have run on average more than once a week for three years now.  It is a beautiful friendship and we had a fun conversation.  She also enjoyed the chickpea flour crepe with Nutella that I shared with her.  I had extra chickpea flour after a failed attempt at making an Indian dessert.  The crepes, however, were wonderful.

Home, ready for work, and a drive to the location of the commencement ceremony.  99% of the drive was just fine.  The last 1% took about 10 minutes as people were being asked to pay to get into the garage (rather than paying when they leave) and that slowed the process down. 

I was wearing a bow tie that I had to tie myself for the first time.  The number of compliments I received—not so much about tying it myself but about the bow tie in general, surprised me.  Apparently, many of the staff with whom I work asked my assistant if she had suggested the bow tie.  But it was as much a surprise to her as to anyone else.  My bow tie even made the hand drawn label where I hung my academic regalia thanks to the dean’s executive assistant.

Faculty also thought I was still working during the pre-commencement prep time.  I was.  But the work was not answering emails or reading a peer reviewed paper.  Instead, the work was my last read through of the names.  Someone even commented, “If you don’t know it by now…” 

Nevertheless, when we got to the name reading part of the commencement ceremony, I did a pretty good job.  Yes, I know of at least two I messed up on.  One was my bungling as I looked at the phonetic spelling but should have just read the name as written.  The other was a misinterpreted phonetic for which the student actually called me out as he walked across the stage.  First time that has happened.  But as I had told colleagues and my running partner earlier in the day, reading names is something where the reader needs to be present with and mindful about each name.  Not thinking ahead.  Not dwelling on past mispronunciations.  Just reading one name and a time.  And not letting one misread get to me.  If I did, it would be a disaster and could spiral to more misreading quite quickly.  I cited the story of Rick Ankiel that I’d heard on a public radio program.  He let throwing one wild pitch in a playoff game go to his head and threw five wild pitches in that inning.  I needed to go on reading regardless. When all was said and done, I received positive comments about the ever improving nature of my pronunciation of Mandarin names from faculty who were native Mandarin speakers.  And later, at a reception for one of our dual programs, a student leader told her fellow students who commented on my name reading on how much I practice.  She knows how seriously I take my job and my responsibility to students in particular.

The next stop was that reception I mentioned.  It was for our dual program with a design program that we call Design Leadership. I enjoyed talking with students and with one of the faculty from the MICA side of the dual program whom I had not met before.  I sat at the table with the student leader mentioned above.  She gave me flattering praise as an advocate for students and as a mentor to the Carey Women in Business group.  I chatted with her and her family.  And we talked about cooking, including Indian cooking, and the dessert I had tried to make.  She told me that even in India most people don’t try to make the dessert I tried but have their favorite sweet shop at which the family likely knows the owner and has gone to the same shop for generations. 

Also at the reception, we talked about cicadas.  Some of the 17-year cicadas who are due to come out in several years have been turning up early.  I had taken several pictures.  One student wanted to see a picture I’d taken.  The students thought the picture was pretty good.  And it was interesting to think about what could be done with a picture of a cicada while at a reception at an art school. 

On the way to the reception, I had passed the site of the commencement ceremony for my training partner who had graduated from the University of Baltimore Law School a year ago.  That brought back some very nice memories.  While I had not attended my other training partner’s graduation this year, I knew that another training partner had graduated from UB’s Law School just a week earlier.  On the way to the reception, I also passed the apartment building at which one of my MBA mentees had her post-graduation party several years ago.  More good memories. 

What a day in the life.  Great people at present.  Being present.  Great memories of the past.  Makes work a pretty great thing for me.