What We’re Doing Here Today Won’t Make The Bad Life Go Away

This college professor’s life has seemed to get only more work-consumed as the semester rolls toward its end. A few observations with just a little over two weeks to go:

–I have to believe that it’s my first-year students that have had it the roughest in the craziness of the last few weeks. They were still in the process of learning how to do college when everything got turned upside-down, and several of those I have this term are the ones who’ve struggled most to remain engaged. I’m fortunate in that my lowest-level class is first-semester calculus; based on conversations with colleagues, students in general education courses, just wanting to complete their math credit, have had more issues.

–I elected to turn the assigned meeting times for my two calculus courses into office hours/question-and-answer sessions over Zoom. Rather than try to lecture in real time, I’ve spent a good number of hours recording videos where I work examples on an iPad screen for these students to watch when convenient. Based on the number of views I’m seeing, I regret to report that to date these appear to be underutilized. Nevertheless, I’m persisting, hoping to knock out the final videos this weekend.

–I’m essentially holding class at the regularly scheduled times for my two upper-level classes. It helps that they’re smaller, but it’s also true that non-freshfolk are simply more invested in major-related courses. Rapport was already established, everyone’s showing up–it’s gone as well as I could have hoped.

–Most of the time I’m recording my Zoom sessions and linking to them afterward, so that students who can’t/don’t attend can view what they missed. I generally trim off the beginning of the video before posting, since it’s usually either students waiting for teach to arrive or me making small talk with them before getting down to business. While I’m not thrilled at all at the sound of my own voice, it’s positively painful to have to watch myself interacting with my students day after day during the editing.

What my students see on Zoom. I usually hold court in the basement; that’s our CD shelving unit on the right. In this staged shot I’m only pretending to look at a monitor I have set up next to my work laptop.

–As stressed as I am, I know many of my students have it worse than I do. I’m trying to keep that in mind in our interactions. And I feel bad for our seniors, who’ve had what’s supposed to be a celebratory last few weeks go completely off the rails.

–The pressure to “get back to business” seems to be mounting in a number of places. I get it, but I don’t see how we’re remotely ready to even begin approaching what used to be normal. Without breakthroughs on either the testing/monitoring side or the treatment side (preferably both), it sure feels like we’re in for a long, long slog. I wish that weren’t the case.

I really haven’t felt that I can take much time these last couple of weeks for writing. But it’s Friday, so I’m putting the grading and recording aside for one evening and tucking into a tape I recorded around the end of 1991. The A side is standard-issue Harris mixtape stuff, almost all of which I’d listen to anytime still. The flip contains what was then a recently-acquired favorite CD: Pop Beloved, the Reivers’ fourth album. Here’s a recap of the mixed side.

World Party, “Is It Too Late?”
“Okay. Roll it.” Kicking off with the lead track on Kurt Wallinger’s second outing as the mastermind of World Party. Goodbye Jumbo is one of my favorite albums from 1990, and we’ll be seeing two other fantastic songs from it in Modern Rock Tracks posts later this year.

Cocteau Twins, “The Spangle Maker”
Another band with a 1990 release (Heaven or Las Vegas) that had two Modern Rock hits. This one, though, is from The Pink Opaque, a compilation mostly plucked from their mid-80s EP releases. Elizabeth Fraser is at her best when you understand less than 40% of what she’s saying, which fortunately is virtually all of the time.

Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, “He Said”
A bit of a train wreck here, jumping from the ethereal jaggedness of the Twins to the hippieish musings from Brickell and company. It’s a toss-up for me as to which of the New Bohemians’ albums is better. The highs on Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars are way high, but Ghost of a Dog might have a little more consistency. “He Said” is easily my favorite on GoaD.

Loey Nelson, “Railroad Track”
The subject of my first Forgotten Albums feature. I mistakenly claimed then that “Railroad Track” was on the tape I wrote up this past January. C’est la vie.

John Hiatt, “Memphis in the Meantime”
My favorite Hiatt album is Slow Turning, but 1987’s Bring the Family, his breakthrough, is awfully good as well. Last week I mentioned that I heard “Fish and Whistle” at my college roommate’s wedding rehearsal party back in October 1991; I want to say those musicians played this prime cut that night, too.

And just when did Code-A-Phones become passé?

The Go-Betweens, “Love Goes On!”
The first half of my favorite two-fer on a tape; I liked the combination of this epic Go-Betweens song with the next one so well, I put ’em back-to-back on a mix CD a decade later. And yes, I’ve featured these two songs before. I’ll say it again, though: go get 16 Lovers Lane if you like this song–I love that album so, so much.

Sam Phillips, “Raised on Promises”
Phillips’s first three albums after moving away from the Contemporary Christian scene are all excellent; over time, I’ve come to decide that the middle one, Cruel Inventions, is the best of the bunch. “Raised on Promises” kicks off an epic trio that ends the disk. (As noted, this song has been blogged here before; that post references an event mentioned above. Everything circles around everything else, it seems.)

10000 Maniacs, “Hello In There”
I wasn’t the only one who thought of this song at John Prine’s passing last week. My good friend Greg remembered it from the CD single for “You Happy Puppet,” noting it may have been his first exposure to Prine’s work (I’m willing to bet he and I bought our copies of that single at the same time). And my blogger pal The Old Grey Cat gave the song a signal boost this past weekend, too. While I worry now that Peter Asher helped make this a little perkier than it should be, it’s always the version that plays in my head when the song gets mentioned.

Lori Carson, “Way of the Past”
When I saw last week that COVID-19 had also claimed the life of Hal Willner, I immediately recalled that he had produced Carson’s debut Shelter. The title song had appeared here in January; this is that album’s most charming track. In another world, it could have been an AC hit.

Grace Pool, “Me Without You”
Lead single from Where We Live, the second album by this New York band that went nowhere. Another song that deserved more of a look than it got; both Grace Pool albums are worth tracking down.

Depeche Mode, “Policy of Truth”
Maybe every tape needs to have a hit single on it? Probably liked this more at the time than I do now, though it’s hardly bad. I will say that it filled the tape out almost perfectly.

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