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Do You Miss It?

When I left my college teaching position in 2013, many people asked me if I missed teaching. In response, I published the following blog post.

For a wonderful two and a half years I lived the life of a farmer and urban homesteader. It was a great experience – not always easy – but something I thoroughly enjoyed.

And then, quite unexpectedly, life took a different and maybe unexpected turn. Now, in a new location, I’m back to teaching college math. Maybe it wasn’t quite so unexpected – I see that my last paragraph in that post from 2014 included the following: “Will I ever teach again? Maybe. I am not ruling it out.”

Do you miss it? Now the question can be applied to my life as a farmer and my life as an urban homesteader.

The answer is still the same: “I prefer looking ahead and at what could yet be.”

Right now, I’m working full time teaching math, I occasionally volunteer at a local farm, I am a substitute organist. My work life is full, diverse, and interesting. And I am enjoying embracing what is and looking forward to what is to come.

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to miss (verb)
to discover or feel the absence of

It was about a year ago that I drafted my resignation letter from Goshen College. I was resigning to homestead in the city, to explore small-scale farming, to apprentice at a local produce farm, to start on a different career and see where that would lead me.

Every so often, I get asked the question: “Do you miss it?” I honestly answer, “No,”  but I always feel that I need to explain that answer. After all, I was a teacher. It is a profession that many would characterize as a vocation or a calling. We teachers are to be committed to our students, our colleagues, our discipline, the institutions at which we teach. It was hard not to feel a little bit of guilt for having left all that. I was supposed to be a role model and a mentor – a female Ph.D. mathematician in a field still dominated by men. So then, to say that I don’t miss it seems a bit harsh and I feel that I should somehow soften that statement.

I don’t like to use the word “miss.” By definition, “to miss” means “to feel the absence of.” For me, the word “miss” carries with it a sense of regret. If I feel the absence of something, I am looking back at what once was, perhaps dwelling on what could have been. I prefer looking ahead and at what could yet be. That does not mean that I don’t remember (and remember fondly) what was, but I don’t view the past as an absence in my life, as a hole to be filled.

In 1989, Pete and I moved from Evanston, Ill., to Seattle. As we were moving, we were reminded of the 1985 film “The Trip to Bountiful,” where an elderly woman longed to go back to what she still considered her “home” in Bountiful, Texas. She managed to get back there, only to find a deserted, desolate place. It seemed sad – she couldn’t embrace her new home because she was always longing for her old home. She was missing Bountiful, acutely feeling its absence, but Bountiful was no more. We liked living in Evanston, close to Lake Michigan and the parks and beaches, just a short “L” ride to downtown Chicago and the shopping, restaurants and people–watching of a big city. But we were moving to a new city and we didn’t want to keep looking back. So, to mark our new start, we named our Seattle apartment “Bountiful,” to remind us to consider our new location as our new true home, our own “Bountiful.”

When we moved from Seattle to Goshen, our friends in Seattle encouraged us to keep our house, to rent it out, but not sell it, so that we would have a place to come back to. But if we would have done that, would we have been holding on to the past and not looking forward to the future? If we kept our house on Vashon Island, would we ever truly embrace our new home in Goshen? After considering these questions, instead of hanging on to what was, we sold the house that we built and embraced our move as a new adventure. When we were asked why we ever left Seattle to come to Goshen, we replied that it was our Great Indiana Adventure.

In these transitions, even though I was leaving places and people I loved, I never wanted to use the word “miss.” Likewise, now, in my transition from teaching to homesteading and farming, I do not want to use the word “miss.” I enjoyed teaching mathematics. Sure, there were aspects of teaching that did not thrill me (I never looked forward to grading) but, overall, teaching was a profession I loved and was (I think) pretty good at it.

Two weeks ago I was back in the classroom, a substitute for two class periods in one of my favorite courses at Goshen College. It was great. I loved preparing for class, going over the material again, working out examples, solving those homework problems, answering questions, engaging with the students, having conversations with my former colleagues in Science Hall. I experienced again the joys of the academic life.

There were many joys. I have great memories of teaching. Right now, however, instead of dwelling on memories, I am looking forward, wondering where my new experiences will lead me – and building new memories.

Will I ever teach again? Maybe. I am not ruling it out. But do I miss it? No.

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A Tiny Step Toward a Tiny Adventure

In 2013, I embarked on a new adventure. I left a stable, secure job to try something new. In 2016, I embarked on another adventure. I moved to a new location, a new city and state, not for work reasons, but just because …

Looking back over this past year, it occurred to me that I probably would never have moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico if I was still at my teaching job at Goshen College. If I had been still employed as a tenured, full professor, I don’t think I would have ever considered moving.

So it seems appropriate to look back on that first step of this journey, leaving that stable, secure job, stepping into the unknown, and being open to what would be to come.

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It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. – “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien

 

One of my favorite books is “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien. Actually, it probably is my most favorite book. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve read and re–read it. It is such an epic story with great characters and lots of action.

Frodo set off on a quest. The future was uncertain, the path unknown. Like Frodo, early pioneers and homesteaders set off on journeys to the unknown. My mother also left home and family, fleeing an oppressive regime, to find a new life in a new land. These were true adventures, with hardships and uncertainties mixed in with dreams and hopes.

I, on the other hand, have never had such an adventure. Actually, to be honest, I can’t say that I’ve had any adventures. I have never taken off on a hiking trip through Europe with only a backpack and a spirit of carefree abandon. I have never moved to a new city without having a job and an apartment already lined up. I have never gone skydiving or gotten a tattoo. My life is pretty tame – and pretty safe.

This coming week, I am taking a tiny step into a tiny adventure – a tiny step into the unknown.

In my tagline for this blog, I said that I dream of, one day, having a five–acre sustainable farm. Several months ago, I realized that the dream will never move to reality unless I actually do something to make that move happen.

By this time, next week, I will have taught my last class at Goshen College. In February, I resigned in order to explore small-scale sustainable farming. I will be interning at Clay Bottom Farm and learning what I can.

My tiny step into an adventure is still pretty safe. Unlike Frodo, I will not have Black Riders following me. My life will not be in danger. But I will have some uncertainties. I will have left a fairly secure and well-paying job for a dream. Where will this all lead? Will I be able to support myself? What will I do about health insurance? Does a future career for me lie ahead? What will that career be?

New transitions, in spite of uncertainties, are exciting. I am starting off in a new direction. To put the previous concerns in a more positive light, I can ask a different question. What possibilities might open up for me? The future is open. I just need to look around.

 

Home is behind, the world ahead,

and there are many paths to tread

through shadows to the edge of night,

until the stars are all alight. – “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien

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