Sunday, September 2, 2018

Lamenting a Lost Legacy

Since today is the two-year anniversary of my retirement from my academic administrative job, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these past two years and, as word drifts to me of massive changes in my school and my department, it has been difficult to not feel bereft.
I had a full year to actively plan my retirement and spent most of eight months of that time overseeing a renovation of a new-to-me home I bought to retire to. My last year of work was extremely busy as I had to catalog everything I did in my job while doing it all for the last time, and make plans for someone else to take it all over. Having been in my position for 16 years, there was so much living in my head that nobody else had any inkling about. I was one of the few repositories of history, with a great memory for details.
Though I was ready – more than ready – to leave when I chose to, I was also very sad to go. I felt badly to leave my staff behind. I knew that they’d be fine under my successor’s leadership while he was there, though I knew also he would not stay long. But I also believed that the future held massive changes because our new leader seemed on a mission to make her mark early and thunderously. My job was already exhausting, complicated, and often impossible. I could not imagine hanging around for it to be made more impossible by someone else who had no idea the challenges we faced.
And leave I did. I cherish the memories of my farewell party, and have photos on my home office walls that remind me daily of my dearest Fordham friends.  Though living 350 miles away, I still feel connected to my colleagues… through FB, email, and visits when I am in Manhattan, I manage to stay abreast of what is happening in my school. It also helps that I continue to teach on the online MSW program.
As predicted, change began to be imposed almost as soon as I closed my office door behind me. My successor spend much of his next and final year there, fighting the fight I didn’t have enough strength for…. much of which involved conducting research to prove there was no research that supported all of the assertions some leaders were fond of insisting existed…. and trying to figure out how to make sure crucial elements of our program were preserved despite efforts to dismantle it all.   
Every time I returned to those hallowed halls, invariably, someone would greet me in the hallway, hug me, and comment that my legacy was being destroyed. This assertion always made me pause for a moment and consider whether I was being annihilated by the powers in charge or by some unconscious hostility within the speaker. My legacy? Exactly what was my legacy, and how was it being destroyed?
My legacy is a group legacy. I had the privilege of working with a very special group of professionals. One of them was there a year on my arrival. The others were people I brought on over the years. We were a very tight team. Sure, the buck stopped with me, and some decisions were mine alone, mostly for expediency, but most of the time, we moved and acted as one.
If our legacy is a collection of processes about how we conducted the business of field instruction, then PLEASE go ahead and destroy that. We were constantly having to create work-arounds because the school’s administration failed to provide adequate funds to purchase or develop a computer system we needed to efficiently do our work. That we had to resort to excel spread sheets to track 1200 students in field work year after year is nothing short of ridiculous. That we had no ability to instantly generate emails to massive lists of students and personnel in community agencies when we needed to, is sinful. That I had to pay for a subscription to a survey generating company in order to have an online field application system and to solicit agency placements is ludicrous. This list goes on and on.
But I think legacy is more than a system, it’s a set of values, and it is indestructible. I’ve started shrugging and saying, “Things change, that was then, this is now,” when people lament my lost legacy.   They can put us in competition with each other, strip us of titles we’ve earned, change job descriptions, move us out of our offices, change our pay structure. But what cannot be changed or forgotten is what is in the memories of hundreds – thousands – of students, field instructors and faculty advisers in the tri-state region – that the field work department at Fordham University was a dream team…. that we were competent and responsive and creative, that we got an impossible job done – on time (often at great personal cost) and quietly, that we were supportive of and kind to students, and that we were always thinking about how we could do our jobs better despite serious infrastructure challenges.
And that will persist despite changes in curriculum, processes, and staff. Our legacy will survive until we and everyone whose lives we touched are gone. Only then will it not matter. And I am ok with that.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Exercising Need Not Be Torturous

One planned activity that eluded me during the first several months of being retired was to exercise daily. Sure – I walked a lot – but, according to my Fitbit, not nearly enough. I went to yoga but just once a week. I bowled with my brother every weekend, but never worked up a sweat or had an out of breath moment.  On occasion I would dutifully head down to my basement where I had set up a working out space as soon as I had moved in, complete with an internet connected television, a Wii sports system, ballet barre, lots of interlocking floor mats, and a separate tap dance floor. 

My goal was to begin a three-week workout DVD that I had purchased over a year ago.  I was intent on starting at the beginning and conquering the workout. But the problem was I hated every single second of doing it. I didn’t have the strength or endurance for most of the moves – even the ones that were considered ‘modified’. I hated being out of breath. I hated sweating like crazy and still feeling like I failed. I hated my hair curling up as the perspiration descended from my scalp and down my nose and cheeks.  

Most days I just avoided going downstairs and putting the DVD in. Then one day early this spring, I realized that there were no rules written in stone that I had to conquer that particular series. Everything didn’t have to be a test of endurance nor success determined by doggedly finishing what I had started. My goals were not to look good in a bathing suit nor to lose weight or inches. Maybe it was not necessary that I feel tortured while en route to physical fitness.  Novel idea.  

So after wasting more time than I like to admit trying to make it work for me, I allowed myself to move on. I did find that another DVD series by the same company was more to my liking. Challenging but fun because it was more like dancing. I didn’t dread doing the 30 minute routines, even if I did sweat.  I opened some ballet DVDs and reacquainted myself with steps I’d done on and off my whole life. After some trial and error, I found a tap dance series that actually simulated a real class. And just like that, I no longer dreaded turning off the morning news and heading downstairs for an hour to exercise.  The best part is that my coordination is improving. My memory for sequences is improving. I feel like I am getting an aerobic workout every morning. I don’t mind working up a sweat because I am having fun. 

I still need to find something that I will stick to for strength training. For now, I settle for a few pushups every morning while I have the news on. I know it’s not enough but for the moment, it’s something.   If anyone out there has something that works for them, I’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Happy Ending to March in May

This entry is coming pretty close to the previous one because so many people expressed concern that I felt it imperative to bring readers up to date. 

After a 7-hour surgery at the end of March and a few appointments later, my dear ‘heart-mom’ has been declared cancer free and in no need of either chemotherapy or radiation at this time.  She does, however, need to be followed on a regular basis, and I hope that she will heed that directive. To say she is lucky is an understatement of massive proportion.  
I am filled with joy and relief.

Friday, April 28, 2017

March's Challenge

Although content in February for the most part, there was something brewing that month – about which I was aware –  that would threaten to upend me in March.    The woman I call my ‘heart mother’ (see blog entry Feb 3, 2013), who has been a significant part of my life for 32 years,  was diagnosed with cancer. My emotional world imploded.   

For the first time since I left NYC in September, I did not want to be in Batavia.  I wanted to be back in NYC. With her.  For her.  I experienced something similar when my mom was sick. In fact, I had sat with my ‘heart mother’ at the time and lamented – I just want to be there (Batavia) with her (my mom). Being at work all week was an interference.  I wanted the weekend to come and I wanted to go to mom.  Nothing else in my life would get accomplished. It didn’t matter. I felt I was in the right place when I was with her. Shopping, doing laundry, or cleaning, helping with my brother, fixing what she felt like eating, sitting for long hours in silence or being an amicable companion when she felt like talking….that was what I wanted to do, where I found my purpose, and what helped keep my anxiety at bay.   

My ‘heart mother’ was having her own struggles. I called her daily to see how she was doing. Terrified of doctors and surgery, she was at times, vague. Without body language or close physical proximity, I felt panicked and frantic. She didn’t really want to know what was going on inside her body. But I did. Our opposing “needs” clashed and many times,  I would hang up gripped with fear and confusion.  It carried over to my daily life. I started finding it very hard to concentrate, very challenging to “be where I was”. My stomach churned much of the time and I lost my appetite. My heart did double flips. I was often close to tears for no good reason.  

I knew I had to get a grip. I struggled to not make what was happening to her all about me while trying to remain conscious of what I was feeling.  I was scared at the prospect of possibly losing her, angry with her for not taking care of herself, and filled with dread and sadness about the choices that she might have to make and the pain or suffering that she might have to endure. But I didn’t want her to have to deal with any of what was going on in my head while I was working it out.  She had enough on her plate and did not need to be taking care of me.  Still, she had always been the person I turned to in difficult times, and now I didn’t have that option. I felt very alone.

She allowed me to accompany her when she met with the surgical oncologist and for that, I was grateful.  I made my first trip back to NYC since the new year began.  Going gave me a direct pipeline to solid and complete information, which I craved. Leaving afterwards, she asked me if it was “too much information.” I assured her that it was not – I was feeling a little bit of ‘been there, done that’ because of my experience with my mom. I was internally adamant that I wanted to be there for her whatever it took. She had been there for me and now she would need support. I was up for it.  It was a very long three weeks between that visit and the scheduled surgery at the end of the month. 

She was subjected to further testing during that time, and although in hindsight, I realize she did the best she could at keeping me in the information loop, I just felt stone-walled and dismissed. I struggled to stay home, to continue living my life, and not run to her in NYC. There really wasn’t anything I could “do” and it was just a waiting game.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Stay at Home February

I vowed to stay in one place for the month of February…. I know, it’s a short month… but that’s just how it worked out. February, typically, has always been the month where if I was going to be depressed, it was statistically more likely to occur then.  So I tried to keep that conscious every single day. I bought lights that were balanced for daylight to boost my mood.  I had a reasonable to-do list that I vowed to complete most of each day. I did not always accomplish everything but was ok with relocating some items to another day. 

I practiced piano – a lot. Every day. Twice, sometimes three times a day.  I thanked my mother every time I sat down for the few years of piano lessons I had. The ability to read piano music, to know where the notes were, to know something about scales and arpeggios, and to actually remember how to play some early memorized songs went a long way in keeping me interested and encouraged. That – and a conviction that practice WILL make perfect (or close to it) helped me to practice consistently.

I made plans for my meals…. decided not to purchase anything that qualified as junk food… got out my crockpot (a vestige of the seventies with its avocado green exterior) and made chili and other homemade soups…. I experimented making chia puddings to satisfy my “need” for dessert.

I renewed listing things that I wanted to sell on ebay. I’ve been an ebayer ever since my mom passed away and my sister and I determined that selling old stuff on ebay was more profitable than selling at auction or garage sale. But in the chaos of the last six months of 2016 – retiring and moving, I had gotten away from it. However, the stillness of February gave me space to reorganize and start photographing items and listing them again.  

I wrestled with whether I was going to be an early riser or a late go-to-bed person. This was a real conflict. Left to my own devices, i.e. no alarm clock, my tendency is to awaken on my own around 7 a.m. This was much better than the 5:30 or 6 a.m. awakening that I did for much of my work life. I like to get up and watch the Today Show with a cup of coffee in the stillness of the early morning before I start the day. Trouble is, I also like to watch The Tonight Show – and if I get a second wind around 11 p.m., I can easily still be active at 2 a.m.  Five hours of sleep between 2 and 7 was not going to be enough. I had vowed that my life would no longer be lived sleep deprived.  But sleeping late is not in my DNA. Why sleep away a perfectly good day?  

Eventually I decided to force myself to bed before midnight, thus ensuring a reasonable rising time in the morning. And there is always the DVR so I could theoretically watch anything I might miss. So far, I have just reinforced a growing conviction:  I can live without television.

I watched and photographed birds at my feeders, spent a long time pouring over pictures in books and on the internet trying to identify the ones I didn’t recognize. I fought the battle of the squirrels (more or less winning), the deer (conquered), and a lot of crows or grackles (still losing). 

I started reading again, for pleasure, not for education or career. I knit a little every day.  I did actually do some real work. I was teaching a research class online for Fordham all during January and February, so most days I had to attend to student questions or work on grading assignments, at least a little.  I read applications for the Admissions office– again, not a huge time suck, but something that had a deadline.

I did not go shopping – at least not recreational shopping.  I did not exercise. I did not clean, despite that being on my list of to-do’s every single day.  Except for taking my brother to a concert in Buffalo, I stayed within a seven-mile radius of my home the entire month.

I did not long to go to New York City – or even to plan a more exotic vacation. For the most part, I was content with listening to my internal clock and letting my retired rhythm begin to emerge.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Busy, Busy, Busy

I am still working at finding my new rhythm in retirement.  The end of work was pure craziness – but that was expected, given that it was the beginning of a new academic year, which is always a race to the finish line. My last day was exactly as I wanted it to be, with a wonderful party attended by most of my favorite people at Fordham.  I didn’t have time to fully process that, given that the following morning I was headed south to the Outer Banks for a week of vacation – a wonderful retirement gift from my sister and brother-in-law. A week later, I was racing back to Long Island to my daughter’s to gather my “stuff” before heading west to my new life in Batavia.

There was so much to do. Although we had moved my furniture and dozens of boxes in during August, I hadn’t had time to unpack. So every day was filled, unpacking, arranging and rearranging, getting my art on the walls, doing homeowner activities like having the furnace serviced, the house exterior painted, having my front patio repointed, some dead trees cut down in the back yard…. I was on a mission to get things done before winter, but more importantly, to get the house ready for a housewarming party before the weather turned too cold to allow guests access to the outside.

I had dozens of thank you notes to write in the aftermath of my farewell party at work.  I wanted to spend time during the week with David to “prove” that having me here was a value added for him. I had the housewarming party to plan. We also organized a Halloween party at my brother’s house. I was very, very busy. And that’s kind of very, very me.  I fail miserably at doing nothing.

I did make some strides in creating a new life. My friends here had formed a knitting group a year before, and were patiently awaiting my arrival to join.  So within a week or so of my arrival, I was initiated into the Knit Wits. I went to yoga every week with my friend, Mary. I bought a piano and found a teacher with the help of my friend, Margy. 

But, I also made the trip to New York City in September, October, November,  and twice in December.  Even though I was retired, and ever so much more rested and relaxed, I still didn’t feel like I had reclaimed my life.  My friend Anthony would send me texts on the 2nd of each month – You’ve been retired for one month. For two months. For three months.  I began to feel a little panicked. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t exercising or dancing. Wasn’t making jewelry.  I wasn’t even thinking about writing a dissertation. I wasn’t blogging. My time was filled. I was not bored or discontent or unhappy in any way. But I didn’t exactly feel in control either.  I was carried along by my life, just as I always had been. 

I totally enjoyed the holiday season.  I decorated inside completely and outside too. I baked a zillion cookies and gave them away. I shopped and wrapped. Had my girlfriends from high school over. Participated in a progressive wine/appetizer party with my knitting friends. Went back to Fordham for their holiday party. Virginia for Christmas. NYC for the New Year. And then it was January.

A year ago, I had made plans with my sister and brother-in-law to rent a condo for January in Cape Coral, FL. A year ago, it had seemed like a really good idea. I would have the freedom to disappear for the whole month. No work obligations. Escape the northern cold. Why not? Well, when it was time to go, what I really wanted to do was just stay home. Stay put. Figure out what the rhythm of my days was without goals like housewarming parties and holidays. But since it was already planned and paid for, I headed south that first week in January, not to return until the end of the month.

On some levels, it was a very nice interlude. The weather was terrific. I was teaching a course at Fordham that started the second week of the month, so I had students to attend to. I was reading applications for the Admissions Department. I had taken a keyboard with me so I could practice piano every day. We did some sightseeing and enjoyed a couple of lunches with cousins who live and/or winter there. I knitted, planned another party at my brother's house, took him down for the final week of our stay. But it felt very temporary and I was eager to pick up my new life and find a routine that fit.... that wasn't frenetic....but kept me interested and content.