Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Clouds, Snow, and School

LL 26
Now that school has been in full swing for 3 weeks I can say that I know I will survive the rest of  the term.  

There is a kind of fear, buried deep, that is like a dark thing that crawls to the surface at the beginning of every semester.  It asks, "Can you do this?"  "Do you really think you have anything to say, or teach that will make a difference?"  "What if you fail?" "What if you find you cannot keep up?  How many classes will you teach knowing you are unprepared?"  And, the most basic question of all, "Do you know what you're doing?"  To that last question I would say, "No, I don't always," or even most of the time know what I'm doing but I keep trying, thinking about what I have done, assessing, attempting to figure out just what it might take to be better, to communicate clearly, to be authentic in and out of the classroom.

I have spent some time this year thinking about the strangeness of an isolated community like ours--the isolation is not total but nearly so for some of us.  We are a mixture of expats and nationals.  Nationals have local, more normal lives mixed with interactions with many people off-campus--their friends and families from the other parts of their lives, lives they've built before joining LCC.  Expats generally do not.  There are language and social barriers that have proven, for some, to be insurmountable.  The language is, even by Lithuanian admission, difficult, and society is generally closed to outsiders.  Worse, the all-consuming schedule of the school precludes much outside time for making friends, even were one to know the language well.  

There is another isolating factor, having nothing to do with an individual culture or country but more to do with the built-in support system that nuclear families bring with them when they come.  I have observed that their lives have more balance, more naturally-occurring interactions, more expressions of love and affection than the life of the single.  Nuclear families have brought their best friends with them, singles have not.  When, in the evening, too tired and late to make a dinner date, a single comes home, there is no one with whom one can just decompress, vent, or even get a second opinion on a troubling problem.  Instead, I spend my time telling myself that I am fine, that my best friends and family are just a skype call away, that a new day will bring some peace and perspective that is always absent from the night and early morning hours.  I have discussed this with other singles and my experience matches that of others.  In other words, I am not more off-balance than other singles in this similar situation.  We must try to connect with each other and, when time and energy permit, connect with people outside the easy, but surface, relationships we have with each other on campus.  What a long time that takes!  There are so few expats who will be here over the long term.

This spring, like last year, is another overloaded one.  I have  multiple classes and multiple committees on which I serve, more committees than last year, and the blessing of having visiting faculty-friends is mixed.  Betty is here now teaching her blitz-version of "Language Research Methods" and Jan (Dargatz) will come in mid-February to teach "Expository Writing" to the same group of students.  Her version will be 3 weeks long and a bit more sane than Betty's 10-day blitzkrieg.  Of course Betty appears to be fine.  The students, on the other hand, are not faring as well as she is.  Her motto, "Sleep is overrated" makes no impression on them while they balance this with at least 3 other classes.

Thank God for my friends, who will probably diminish in number with my repeated requests for help.  The mixed blessing is, of course that we enjoy each other's company but have very little time to spend in it.  Naturally, there is a certain amount of time and energy that must be given toward ensuring that these generous professionals have what they need, are comfortable, have plenty of food and other necessities with so little time to actually get off-campus to do much for themselves.  Betty leaves Wednesday, Feb. 3 and only last night, thanks to Marlene, got the chance to get off campus for a bit of shopping and dinner.  I will do better with Jan who, besides being able to stretch the class to twice the length of Betty's will stay for Spring Break so she can actually see some of the Baltics along with my sisters who will be here, and me, of course.

The clouds, dark and heavy with snow have hung over the city and coast for days.  Before that, when it was sunny, it was much, much (deceptively) colder.  The snow has continued day after day after day and really, I've had quite enough.  It has become the new normal to know that there is no car between you and school, just wobbly walking and city buses.  Of course, my walking is much wobblier than before because I lost one of my Yak Trax in the snow walking home after a concert.  What was just a challenge--getting from one place to another without freezing--has now been complicated by a total lack of confidence without my snow/ice-gripping Yak Trax, the rubber+steel coils I snapped on the bottoms of my shoes and boots.  I have heard from locals that this is the worst winter in the past 30.  It certainly is the worst in the past 4.  I cannot remember when the snow came to stay, it has been here so long now and the continued projection of below-freezing temperatures stretches way into the future, as far as I can tell.

The good thing:  I found a Land's End commuter coat--one of their warmest, on sale with free shipping.  I had it sent to my sister Marylyn and she sent it on as a part of my Christmas gift.  It arrived just when this latest series of daily snows and cold began anew.  It is an amazing coat but even so, I'm sure my colleagues are a little tired of hearing about it.  They can tell that having this warm coat has made me very happy but it has probably diminished their entertainment somewhat.  The truth and sad fact is that there are some nameless and naughty colleagues who would gather to observe my Jamaican body (yes, it will always be more comfortable there) being wrapped and cocooned for the outdoors.  Of course, multiple scarves, a pair of ear muffs, leggings and cuddle-duds, camisoles, sweaters, and jackets and gloves, served to create a huge dark blob with eyes which, might be humorous to some, but comfort in the cold is a priority and I have been, mostly.  As I told Marlene though, there is one other issue: Safety.  Even if you were the worst hooligan in KlaipÄ—da, I doubt you'd have the courage to consider tackling someone who looked as ominous as I do in full regalia.

Now, back to marking, reading texts, and one short evening+mass with Betty.

Love and hugs,



  1. Geri,

    Just to prove you wrong, I'm going to jump out one of our windows and tackle you the next time you leave for the bus stop. Be forewarned.

    And please feel free to knock on the door (office or apartment) if you ever need to decompress. Seriously. Or, to compress, you can come over to office 116 and do pre-class jumping jacks with Grace and me!

    Three cheers for one groovy double neighbor,

  2. Thank you dear neighbor! I will keep all your suggestions in mind for the next need to decompress!

    Uhmm...the jumping jacks? That might tempt fate, having arrived safely at school, one would feel lucky to be walking upright, never mind jumping jacks! :)

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  4. Thank you! I will be moving to Lebanon. More on that soon.