Thursday, November 1, 2012

Election Season

Scott and I are very excited about election season.  We voted early and feel very strongly about the candidates.  Have you voted yet?

My job at WBU has proved interesting and exhausting.  I love my students and my colleagues, and I have darlings in each class.  And I firmly believe that I have the best dean in the world.

It's looking very favorable that my husband's part-time job will turn full time next fall.  We're so thrilled-- actually, "thrilled" doesn't even begin to describe it .  Relieved.  Confident.  Blessed that God brought us here to serve, lead, and praise him through our work at WBU.  Can you imagine it--two full-time salaries for the Strovai???  Stranger things have happened!

The bad news is that we're so tired that we're about to fall over, and we're only 2/3 of the way through the semester.  The good news?  We know we will make it through.  Only 54 days until Christmas 2012!

Friday, August 10, 2012

looking forward

I know many people go through this.  I probably over-think it more than most people, but I console myself with the mantra, "you're not alone, you're not alone, you're not alone."  What am I talking about?  Let me explain.

As I transition from graduate student life to full-time academic employment, I feel the need to reassess some of my goals and--as odd as it may sound--figure out what parts of me aren't necessary anymore.  And, honestly, I need to figure out what is missing.

I'll never forget, my very first semester of my Ph.D. program, I took a short story seminar (shout out to Sharone, Stef, Jan, Doug, what what).  After our professor read our first batch of mid-semester papers, she announced that we basically had all written on "identity" and that she was forbidding the topic because it was...stupid.  Identity is self-constructed and over-discussed in academia, so she was putting her foot down.  No more identity.  Yes, many of us were writing about politics, poverty, race, gender, nationality, etc.  And identity was naturally a part of that.  But it was our job to go past identity and say something more significant and thought provoking.  I wrote some great papers for that class, moving far past surface-level analysis of characters' identity, and that moment has made me a better literature teacher and tutor.  But it's taken years for me to be able to understand that I need to assess myself that way, too, and look beyond my titles, my accolades, my jobs, my responsibilities, my partnerships, determine who I am and who I will be.  And what's entirely separate, perhaps, who I want to be. 
  • Am I healthy: physically, emotionally, mentally?
  • What are my goals and my ambitions?
  • Will my pursuit of these things further my Father's kingdom?
  • What can I do to make my daily life both simpler and more productive?
What other questions belong in this list?  What soul-searching questions would you ask yourself during a life transition?  I'm not alone, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Plainview, week one

I don't have the right words yet to describe our move from Glendora, CA to Plainview, TX, but I can tell you that Scott and I are TIRED.  We got to our new house about a week ago and are certainly not all unpacked.  We don't even have our furniture in the right place because we are still having workmen come into our house to fix things that weren't done before we got here (cabinets, air conditioner, etc.).  So, hopefully our day-to-day lives will start making more sense and we can stop living out of boxes within another week or so.  I'll feel more like I moved here by that point (here's hoping...) than only feeling like we are taking a really long, strange, expensive, and stressful trip.

I'm 100% excited about starting my job at Wayland Baptist in August, but I do hope that Scott and I are less exhuasted by that time.  I've said this a hundred times, but moving across the country is HARD.  We need a vacation and a generous supply of naps, otherwise we might not make it to October, much less the end of the school year!  Also, there's a bit of anxiety in the back of my mind because I'm not completely done creating my syllabi for the classes I'll be teaching, but ...right now I can't find the box I need with that stuff in it.   So, I am giving myself permission to wait until my boxes are slightly more unpacked before I jump into my course planning again.

The good news is that it only took me three days to find the box in which I packed the coffee, and four days to find the coffee filters.  I said, "Okay, Scott.  I can finally call this place 'home.'  The coffee's officially unpacked."  :)

My sweet, sweet nephew Kallan was born this past week, so Scott and I are uncle and aunt again--this time on his side. Both our other nephews are on my side of the family, so it was really special to welcome a new family member on his side now. I don't have pictures, but you have to trust me that he's cute as a button and small as one, too. My oldest nephew, Timmy, will be turning 5 this week. Can you believe it? Wasn't it just yesterday that the munchkin was one? What did he ask for for his birthday? Fruit snacks and hero action figures. I'm on it!

We've been blessed with help over and over by our friends, family, and colleagues before, during, and after this move.  God's love shines through those who love others, and we have been taken care of and loved on all fronts this week and last week.  I'm ready for our next adventure.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Last Week in California

There really is a Friends quote for everything, isn't there?

MONICA: Six years is a long time, the end of an era, you might say.
RACHEL: You know, Mon, I gotta say, I don't think six years counts as an era.
MONICA: An era is defined as a significant amount of time, now it was significant for me, maybe it wasn't significant enough for you!


As I've mentioned in a previous post, I have accepted an Assistant Professor position in Plainview, Texas, and the job will start in August.  We're moving in six days back to the panhandle of Texas, close to where we grew up. 
It's impossible to put into words the emotions that Scott and I are feeling this week--our last week in California--but I am going to try, if only because I imagine that what we'll shortly be facing will obliterate all these feelings and bombard us with new ones.  And I feel as though this moment is important to remember.

We miss our friends already. And it is a deep, tender hurt that we haven't been able to talk about much yet. Not even to each other.

We feel as though life is heavy:  We're physically and mentally exhausted from packing, sorting, boxing, making hard decisions about what goes into a box and what goes to Goodwill or the trash.  But less than from these move-related issues, I think we're primarily still exhausted from working so many different and differently-difficult jobs while working on our Ph.D.s, which is a full time job in and of itself.  So, as we garner all the strength we have to pack our heavy material possessions (mainly books) and academic careers into cartons, we are also looking forward to what happens once we get to unpack.

We feel as though life won't get easier, but it will get less heavy:  There were points during these past five years at which Scott and I were each working four part-time very low-paying academic jobs.  At the same time.  Usually we were working three each.  We know that our teaching and service responsibilities at our new university will be more rigorous in many ways; but the good news is that we'll be in ONE location. ONE office.  For goodness sakes, I'll have an office!!!  With shelves and a door and everything.  And, right now, that makes all the difference in how much this one big job will weigh compared to all my small jobs added together.

We miss CGU, APU, and Glendora already.  We miss our mentors, the few professors who time and again reached out to us, and the important men and women who have shaped and guided our academic and spiritual growth during our time out here.

We miss the trees, the flowering bushes, the ocean, the foothills, the landscapes, and the color green already.  (Our new stomping ground will be rather more yellow and brown in hue than any other colors.)

We are hopeful and not a little anxious about Scott's part-time position turning into a full-time one.  The school has led us to believe that it's a real and likely possibility.  So, we wait.

We are overjoyed that we are coming home to three sweet nephews, one of which will be born this week.

We are blessed and happy that the school that offered the job was within an hour from either of our families.  (My mind is still a bit blown about this bit.)

We are halfway timid, halfway gung-ho about leaving student life behind.  Last night Scott mentioned that, up until this point, we've been working very hard toward the achievement of one very specific, defined goal--our Ph.D.s--and these tasks that we had to complete had very little relevance outside of that goal.  But now that we're doctors and becoming "real" professors, the things we do, write, say, publish, etc., have the potential to move us forward in our careers in ways that our Ph.D. work never could.

We're nervous about the logistics and the actual moving part of the move.  Excited about everything it symbolizes.

And, lastly, I believe we understand that this move is the beginning of the next phase of our marriage.  So far, we've only ever been doctoral students while we've been husband and wife.  And starting our careers and new phase of marriage beyond student life will be a change and challenge, but one that we're very ready for.  This change will lead the way through any number of doors in the future, such as the door to buying a house, or starting a family.  There was no way to do these things until we had passed this first big hurdle of graduating together and finding jobs at the right school.  The feeling--as scary as it is to think of buying a house or getting pregnant--is actually quite liberating.  We can choose these things now.  They are now tangible options.

So, as we move forward into the new era of our lives, I can't help but feel free and heavy at the same time.  One week from now, our immediate lives and home will be very different.

Friday, May 4, 2012

What is literature? Students weigh in...

Every semester at the end of Introduction to Literature, I give my students an opportunity to tell me how they would define literature.  It comes within the context of a final exam essay in which they are writing a letter to an incoming student about their experiences with literature in the class.  I am always intrigued by these definitions, as I know that the students' definitions have surely changed in the few short months since they enrolled in my class.

I would like to share some of the definitions my class wrote with you.  Many of you are lovers of literature, too, and will find these inspiring!  Some of these are thought-provoking.  Some are funny.  Some are a little off topic.  (Remember, it's a freshman-level college course.)

What is literature?

 "Lit is the power of words. It is the power to share life, love, and story through language. If brings us the opportunity to share the human experience with others. In fact, it is the marriage between recorded words and human experience. It is an escape from the tasks of today, and can broaden your perspective by taking your gaze off your own life for just a little while."

"When you read, think about the words, and let the words work in you and on your feelings because they may help you make a right decision."

"Literature in Latin means words...Since words are powerful when they are connected to one another in the form of sentences, they can have an effect on the reader; thus, literature is any written text that a person can relate to it because it represents a part or parts of life to the reader.  Therefore, literature's role is to affect the reader and cause him or her to think deeper, better and evoke the reader's emotions."

"Literature is a form and expression of words that anyone can write, to tell stories or give insight to complicated questions in life. It is combined with different nouns and sounds that give the reader insight into the thought process of an author.  Our lives are broadened by theirs.  To understand this course subject is simply to come in with an open mind ready to learn."

"In reading literature, you gain a love for language, a lot of information about new worlds, and most important, you get to develop your imagination."

"Coming in to this class I thought only long books could be literature, but now I know that it can be any form of creative writing from short stories, to poems, to comic books, to screenplays. Look, I'm a Psychology major, and I thought this class was going to be a pointless waste of time.  But this class surprised me.  I never realized how much I enjoyed reading and writing before I took it, and now I've declared a minor in English with a Writing emphasis."

"You could say that literature is any type of written work, but that is not truly what lit is.  Lit is the connection books are trying to make with you.  To quote Jhumpa Lahiri's short story 'Gogol,' it's about 'adventure without ever leaving your home.'  It's about the emotions involved inside of you while reading."

"To me, literature is a door to experience another person's life...Literature offers you more than what you give."

"On day one we learned that the word literature comes from the Latin meaning 'acquaintance with letters'; I would define literature as the art of written work.  I liked the word 'acquaintance' because it makes literature sound delicate, and it is."

"Reading literature is me taking the time to appreciate the author's work."

"Lit opens the reader's eyes to some of the brokenness in our world. I found myself growing in compassion."

"Literature, to me, is a story where the reader applies what he or she reads to his or her own life.  The reader does this through analysis of the characters as he or she begins to see him or herself in the character.  Because of the fact that you'll learn things about yourself through the characters, it is essential to understand that litearture is applicable to all fields of study, helping character development, and through understanding who one is, one can grow and succeed in any career."

"I've come to give it the definition: any type of printed work that turns society's hand mirror on itself.  There needs to be a reason for this art form and literature is made by us every day."

"Literature much like music, movies, and art is a creative outlet for a person to pour their soul out.  It is a way that people can express emotions they often keep locked inside.  Taking this class helps you to be in touch with your emotions better (and being in touch with your emotions is a great way to meet ladies!)."

"Literature would be defined as a  creative or imaginative work in writing, but doesn't have to be published.  Only in modern times has literature been published."

"Literature is anything from a song lyric to a three-hundred page novel masterpiece.  Anyone can writing literature.  Sure it may not be good but if you are really passionate about writing what you believe in then literature will help you grow.  That's what this class has done for me.  It gave me a chance to grow and become more open minded about the world."

"Literature seems to be a creative work of art meant to send a message or draw out emotion.  It needs meaning."

"Pages in a book are more than pieces of paper.  They have worth because the author sent a message to every individual who reads them."

"[Literature, specifically Greek tragedy,] gave me the perspective that what I have now can go down the trainhole in the blink of an eye and I should act blessed every day of my life that I do not have something tragic happening in my life."

"Athletes aren't supposed to be fond of poetry. Ironically, I gained a respect for very old poetry more than the new stuff. The way it is written with strict guidelines and perfect diction.  Also the way poets are so precise with their words drew me in.  They could find a few words that could give more detail than 3 of my sentences.  Not a word is wasted."

"It is something the author wrote so that you and I can use our imagination to think about it like art."

"Literature is a body of written works that contains imaginative or personal interest that highlights specific themes that are meaningful to the author or their background, culture, or history.  To be completely honest, literature is what YOU want it to be and what you make of it.  Don't just check off the box when you take this class, invest yourself."

"Trust me, I know literature is a complex term and scary word. I thought it was just all about books, but it is much more than that. It is a work that is put together coherently and creatively to make you think about the world.  It is based off of human experience and values.   It makes you think about yourself.  It is the 'story you've never heard but always knew.' Even if it doesn't apply to you directly, it can always affect you.  It can make you feel to the people around you.  Ltierature can also make you more aware of the world and issues around you in a creative manner that you might not have known about or thought about before.  Thus, it can spark interesting conversations.  Everything can be related back to literature."

"I have learned that literature is an accumulation of words strung together to express a belief or reveal something to the reader."

"Based on what I now know it is something like this: any written work that expresses feelings, attitudes, or creative desires of the author."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Confessions, Blessings, and Tetris

Confession:  I've deleted the only blogs that I've posted in 2012, and that's something I never ever do. If there's anything that bothers me about something I've written, I usually say c'est la vie and hope the past moves away in a graceful manner.  The problem this time was that -- for a short while-- I misplaced my direction.  I misplaced my faith in what comes next.  I misplaced my optimism and gentle spirit, and I was ashamed of the ease with which all of these misplacements made their way into language, into the public.

It wasn't until the various oversized and overstressed parts of my life started fitting together in wildly convenient--no, ordained--ways that I realized how blessed I was and how each of my bitter disappointments during the fall and winter months occurred for a reason.  Only Level 1 of Tetris could have fit together better.  My friend and mentor at the university where I currently teach always tells me, "Karen, you have to remember that God closes doors just as often as he opens them, if not more often.  If a door is closed, you can probably rest assured that God closed it for you."  It's wonderful advice but not always easy to accept.  She says of these closed doors that they're nothing personal: "They're signs of God giving you permission to walk away, feeling no worse about yourself, confident that they have been closed for a reason."

After applying for about 35 assistant professorships in academia...after all the months of hearing nothing from search committees and receiving zero job interviews at MLA...after all the fear, the discouragement, the confusion, the doubt, the regret, the embarrassment...I received not only one job interview, but two, and these were schools near the top of my wish list.  As recently as a month ago, I was rather severely depressed and disappointed at the way my job search was going.  It was easy, too easy to come down hard on myself and wonder what I could have done differently to make the various search committees give me a second glance.  I'm embarrassed that I doubted myself so thoroughly and had put so much of my self worth into my ability to gain satisfying employment after having spent 4.5 years on my doctorate degree (although I am sure I'm not alone in these emotions). Confession:  I'm embarrassed by my doubt and discouragement.  I wish I could say that I have held my head high this past year, growing in confidence every single day after defending my dissertation.  Instead, I've been shrinking in my own shame of being a jobless, potentially penniless Ph.D.

This week I accepted a British literature and composition position that will bring me back to my home state, close to family, where my husband will be working, too.  I am overwhelmed.  Overjoyed.  Everything has clicked together in nice, clean, Tetris-y ways.  And I know that this door was propped open by a greater strength than mine.