Thursday, February 21, 2013


The past weeks have been difficult.  It has been one thing after another beating my psyche down - and I wasn't doing too well to begin with.

As if our financial situation wasn't difficult enough, we got a bill from New York State for $1400.  Apparently I miscalculated the taxes we owed; a mistake that stems from having income and having to pay taxes in multiple states.  I am not sure how we are going to manage to pay that, but I've added it to the pile of bills that are suffocating us.

Then came news that one of my best students tried to commit suicide.  I already wrote about that, but it hit me pretty hard.  It turns out that she is ok.  I talked to her mother, which was very difficult as she was crying and freaking out.  I know that there is only so much I can do, but the feelings of helplessness remain.

As I was to begin my weekend, hoping for a break from it all, I got an email telling me that I was not awarded a Fulbright for next year.  That application was one of the few things I had been optimistic about - wrongly so, apparently.  I had gotten a bad vibe from one of the people who interviewed me via Skype.  She seemed resentful that I had arranged to teach at a private university (one that many consider snooty) and not at la UNAM.  I have nothing against teaching at la UNAM, however, I chose La Ibero because that is where my network of contacts led me to.  It also seemed to be a good fit. Oh well...

I am still waiting to hear whether I get sabbatical or not.  It's a bit moot, since I really can't afford to go to Mexico without the extra financial support.  A colleague told me that if I get the sabbatical, I can postpone it for a year.  So maybe I can re-apply and go next academic year.  If I reapply, I will probably apply for some other grants as well and apply to be in some place other than Mexico City.

As I was wallowing in this bad news, I heard that one of my mother's dogs, Zena, passed away.  She was a very sweet dog, one that Zeus spent a year with when we were in Italy.  It also brought home the fact that Zeus is pretty old.  There are daily reminders: his back hips are slouching more and more, he has accidents in the house several times a week, and he is going deaf.  Zena's passing just brought it all into focus.

On top of this all, it has been a long and cold winter that is sapping me.

I feel overwhelmed and lost.  I have lost all optimism.  So even when spring arrives, I feel like I will still be drowning in the debts and problems I face, with the tentacles of even more issues grasping at me from the depths to drag me down even further.  I'm looking for a lifeline, but I can't find one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1Q84 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intrigue and romance in a surreal alternate world. Murakami characters are well-developed and fascinating. The alternating narratives between the two main characters as they search for one another keep the rather lengthy story moving. Despite the suspension of logic that Murakami asks of us, some of the plot becomes too convoluted, leaving one not fully satisfied. There is probably some deeper social commentary on Japanese society that as a foreigner I missed. Overall, it is an enjoyable voyage into an unknown yet familiar place.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Students & Tragedy

As a professor, odds probably are that one will encounter tragedy among his or her students.

Last semester, a former student died after a skateboarding accident.  I had gotten to know him because he was in my Urban Anthropology class where we go on fieldtrips and I have the chance to interact with the students more than in the classroom.  

Today, I found out that another of my students tried to commit suicide.  All I know is that she is in the hospital.  She is an excellent student - very intelligent and hard working.  She was also very active in our program, which is how I really have gotten to know her.  However, last semester she began to miss class and failed to complete her assignments.  Towards the end of the semester, she came to see me and explained that she had been having problems with depression.  I told her that the important thing before trying to make up the work she missed was for her to heal and get to a point where she was healthy enough to focus on her work.  She assured me that she was doing better and that she was looking forward to getting back on track in the Spring.

She was enrolled in one of my classes this semester.  She showed up to the first class, but then disappeared. Yesterday, after she missed yet again, I sent her a message saying that I was worried about her and that I hoped she was doing ok.  I let her know that I was available if she needed someone to talk to.  I also suggested that she consider withdrawing from school since it seemed that she needed time to deal with her medical issues.  I pointed out that there was no shame in this.  I ended by saying that I missed having her in class and the great contributions she always had to offer.

Then today, a colleague called me and told me the news.  I had feared that this might happen - it was not a strong fear or else I would have let someone at the college know, but it did cross my mind.  I then had a panicked thought, what if my email contributed to her actions?  My colleague assured me that she had been in the hospital since Monday.  My thought, as probably is the case in most of these situations, was why did I not reach out earlier?  While I know there was probably little I could have done, there is still the feeling of maybe I could have done something.  

When we had talked at the end of last semester, she had explained how she had found it hard to get help.  The college's services didn't seem adequate.  She had a therapist at home, but she had to pay for the sessions out of pocket and could not afford them.  Last, it seemed like her parents were against her getting psychiatric help.  I know first hand the frustration of not being able to get the help you need, whether because a lack of resources, the difficult access, or the stigma of getting help.  

I have no answers here.  Just sadness and a flickering hope that she gets better, receives the help she needs, and gets to a point where she can (and wants to) return to be in my classes and she can pick up where she left off - being one of those students that make teaching worthwhile.