October was a month that lasted about a year and a half. My streak of intense workload has continued, and unfortunately, I now know, it’s going to continue through the Spring semester. We had a colleague announce a sudden retirement and a number of adjuncts choosing not to return to teach in the Spring, so it’s all hands on deck to fill the classrooms.
Sigh. I think all the reasons behind the Great Resignation are making themselves known in everyone, including our students and professors. And for adjuncts, who generally teach on top of working their day jobs, the weight of professorship is the first obvious thing to cut. The real problem though is the domino effect: students are feeling the crunch and exhaustion so they struggle more, that makes adjuncts and other professors jobs more intense and some of them choose to walk away, which in turn makes the department more short staffed and puts more work on those who remain, especially the professors in charge of programs and departments. And with so many vacancies in the job market, it’s harder to entice new design professors when they stand to make way more money in an industry desperate for their labor.
I really love my job and my students, so I’m trying my very best to weather the challenging situation. But burnout floats in the periphery of my vision all the time these days. My friend Stache told me that you hove to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others, which struck me as surprisingly apt and wise. So I’m trying more than before to take some time for myself and to say no to whatever I can get away with not doing.
One personal thing that hit on top of all the work stuff: My older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and has begun chemotherapy. The prognosis looks good, but she has some really difficult months ahead and I worry about her. We’re going to visit just as soon as my semester is finished in December.
- Book club at Texas Keeper Cider — At which we discussed The Brothers Karamazov. See my thoughts below. **
- Fall festival at Barton Hill Farms near Bastrop — This was a big outdoor fair-type event that was a bit too family-friendly for my taste, complete with pumpkin patch and someone from the Dairy Council there to promote milk by having children grope at the udders of a poor cow. I think most of my friends enjoyed it more than me. Oh, and the corn maze was Elon Musk themed for some reason, with Musk-related trivia sprinkled throughout.
- Watched a jousting championship at Lysts on the Lake — An honest, non-showy, historically inspired jousting competition with competitors from all over the nation. Not a big crowd; mostly just a small community of medieval combat enthusiasts and their horses. This was much more my kind of fun.
- Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Fall Sale — Gardening gets more and more fun as I get older. We bough plants to begin a new bed along the back wall of my garage. The back garden is really starting to look great!
- Bird Watching class at Pioneer Farms — This was one of my favorite events of the month. The experienced bird watcher who led the walk taught us a lot about how to look for birds, how to identify them, what books, apps, and equipment to use, and lots of other tidbits besides. Fantastic.
- Halloween shindig in my backyard — About ten friends, my wife’s delicious themed baked goods (meringue ghosts!), Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror on the projector, and a crackling firepit. A proper good time.
- Guns of Navaronne — A properly epic World War II film that may be a quintessential role for Gregory Peck. An interesting note is that while I watched it I kept thinking that for such a grand story the directing was surprisingly businesslike, not at all bad, just not trying to make a statement of any kind. Turns out the original director was fired and the new one came on just weeks before shooting. No wonder he didn’t have time for splashy shots!
- The Fog — A minor John Carpenter film for Halloween. Spooky and fun.
- Black Widow — Easily one of the worst MCU films to date. There are some funny moments, sure. But the tone jumps all over the place, the villain is completely without depth, and the action fails to hold an tension, with Natasha strolling away unscathed from car crashes and collapsing buildings. Also, is it me or is this the exact same plot as The Falcon and The Winter Soldier?
- News of the World — A forgettable but competent sentimental western. You can rarely go too far astray with Tom Hanks in the lead.
- Dune — Epic, operatic, and textured, Denis Villeneuve’s take on the sci-fi classic lives up to the source material, something which neither of the two previous adaptations were able to achieve.
- Newton’s Law — A great podcast that tells the story of Isaac Newton’s time as Warden of the Royal Mint, when he focused his piercing intellect not on unravelling the scientific mysteries of the universe but on catching a master counterfeiter. With the depth of a book and the production value of a proper radio play, the series uses the mystery at its center as a window into many wider historical questions about economics, law, culture, and the rise of modernity.
- Richard III — I love Shakespeare’s great villains and Richard III is one of the greatest of them all. Unapologetically evil, it’s a joy to watch him scheme, lie, and murder his way to the top (though his subsequent downfall feels a bit rushed and perfunctory, as if the bard knew he had gotten past the juicy bits and was eager to wrap it up). On this read I really noticed how much House of Cards and even A Song of Ice and Fire draw elements from it. **
- The Brothers Karamazov — My book club chose this one to read and I was relatively interested to see how Dostoyevsky’s work stands up to my high school memories of Crime and Punishment and fragments of The Grand Inquisitor section of this book. The answer is not so good. The book is rambling in the extreme and most of the plot involves around a quasi-incestuous, middle school style game of he-said-she-said romance melodrama. It does explore philosophical themes, but the central question of whether a person can be moral without faith seems to me (as a humanist atheist) to be pretty well answered and not particularly germane to contemporary readers.
- The Forever War — A Hugo Award winner for a reason, Joe Haldeman’s military sci-fi epic takes one character skipping across the surface of time through a thousand year interstellar war. It’s grim, it’s episodic, and it’s brilliant. The book portrays the futility of war with a sharpness that is just as relevant now as it was in the Viet Nam era during which it was written.
- Buddhism Without Beliefs — Sometimes you read a book that restates a lot of what you already believe and know, but it’s still worthwhile because you needed to have it brought to the forefront of your thoughts afresh.
- Pericles, Prince of Tyre — A minor Shakespeare work for a reason. This one is thought to likely be a collaboration and it shows in its lack of Shakespearean depth of character and interiority. Still, interesting for a completionist like myself.
- *Rust and Moth* Winter 2021 cover — The deadline for this one snuck up on me and I confess that I threw the cover together without much forethought. Luckily, I actually think it works fairly well.
- New keyboard and studio tweaks — I’d had my old M-Audio MIDI controller since maybe 2002ish, and while it still works, it’s too big for the keyboard tray on my new desk and doesn’t have all the controls and features I’d like (like rhythm pads). Plus it took up a lot of floor space on a metal X-stand that I never like aesthetically. So I finally decided to order an Arturia Keystation 61 mkII. The step down from eighty-eight keys to sixty-one and the loss of weighted keys is very different, but it is noticeably more modern and capable. And since it fits on my desk try I’ve been able to rearrange my floor plan to bring my effects cabinet into arm’s reach of my chair, which honestly makes me far more likely to use those tools.