Holiday email: Hie thee hence away! Monday, Dec 30 2013 

In my almost 18 year career in higher education administration, I’ve never gone long away from the office without checking work email, whether overnight or weekends or holidays. And that nervous habit of in-box checking was exacerbated in recent years with the cell phones and portable devices, all synchronized to the work account, vibrating, beeping, or chiming whenever a new message arrived. Then, my check-in habits were always worse during times of relaxation when I had time on my hands: checking email provided a distraction from the mundane episodes of tedium that attend routine slices of life.

I’ve lately grown dissatisfied with the practice, though. How many times over the years did a message derail the tranquility of a relaxing Saturday morning after I peaked into the in-box to find some report of trial or tribulation that couldn’t be dealt with until Monday, anyway? But there the irksome message with its issues appeared, glaring at me there on the patio where I’m sipping my Saturday morning coffee and supposedly escaping the stress of the work week.

The 41 unopened messages in the Exchange account contribute to seasonal feelings of peace and good will.

The 41 unopened messages in the Exchange account contribute to seasonal feelings of peace and good will.

Enough of that! Perhaps emboldened by the resolve that grows in pre-retirement, I determined to ignore the work email account for the duration of the 2013 Christmas and New Years holiday. I left an “out of the office” auto-reply before I left on December 23 to let anyone trying to reach me know that I’ll be back on January 2, and all matters will be addressed then. This practice does make me feel a little impertinent, as if the power to read or ignore messages promotes self-actualization (I ignore your email; therefore, I AM!). But guess what? I feel liberated!

From time to time during the holidays, I do look in the email client manager on my cell phone to view count of unopened messages that grows from day to day. But whereas in former seasons I would anxiously open the account to read and respond to those unread messages, this year I click the home key with a smile to close the email app. I don’t want to know what’s inside, much less to read any of the messages. If I’m truly bored or distracted, I use my portable device to check Facebook or the Weather Channel app or ESPN score center where more refreshing diversions and information entertain those idle moments.

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The Legacy of a High School Drop-out Friday, Dec 20 2013 

Ann, with her fiance Brandon, finished her M.S. at LSU in May.

Ann, with her fiance Brandon, finished her M.S. at LSU in May.Zach, with his special friend Trisha, received the M.Ed from U. of Louisiana Lafayette today. Zach, with his girlfriend Trisha, received the M.Ed from U. of Louisiana Lafayette today.

My Daddy was a high school dropout. Am I proud of that?

Yep, darned right. Daddy dropped out around 15 years of age and knocked around the Depression era WPA and other odd pursuits, including a stint in the Army Air Corp, before feeling a divine call to the preaching/pastoral ministry. In response to that call on his life, he determined that he needed better education. Thus, he found his way to the private church-related Clark College in Mississippi, a junior college that specialized in remediating under-prepared students with what Daddy used to describe as “bonehead courses” that brought dropouts, like him, up to speed. He finished his associate degree at Clark and transferred to Mississippi State where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English in 1953.

He was the only child in his blue-collar family of five children to earn a college degree. He never touted that fact, but we all could tell it was a source of pride for him. And it was for us, as he instilled in my brothers and sisters and me an understanding that higher education wasn’t just an option for us, but an expectation. I can never remember a time in my life when I suspected anything other for myself than that I would graduate from high school, go to college for four years, and earn a degree. And that’s exactly how my life turned out.

And that’s exactly what my two children did. And they also upped the ante, because 2013 is a landmark year for us in that both of our children finished graduate school with master’s degrees. Daddy would have been proud. I’m sorry he’s not here to see the ceremonies or congratulate the graduates, but I know he’d be proud.

Daddy was a school drop-out who dropped "in" and left for the rest of us a legacy that would transform our lives.

Daddy was a school drop-out who dropped "in" and left for the rest of us a legacy that would transform our lives.

Humble rewards of the profession: Fall Semester 2013 Tuesday, Dec 17 2013 

How often did I neglect to thank teachers who touched my life? Shame on me! Like most semesters, several students took time at the end of the course last week to send affirming messages. A few semesters ago, I decided that this is a good place to record and preserve testimonials.

Professor Pulling, it has been a real honor and pleasure being in your class. I enjoyed it and definitely learned.

Mr. Pulling, I wanted to thank you for everything this semester. I really enjoyed your class and you as a professor. Thanks again!

Mr. Pulling, Thank you for a great semester! I can honestly say that this class was one of the best classes I had this year, probably the best I had in my whole LSUE career at that. I had taken a semester off because I wasn’t sure if I was heading in the direction I felt I should be in and after a lot of thought and working almost every day in a restaurant I realized, “Is this what it’ll be like if I don’t go back to school?” So I decided to come back and I was so nervous to start, especially English. I never thought I had the ability to write the way I did this past semester. You always made sure we had exactly the right information to get us on the right track, and I am very thankful for that.

Thank you! I really appreciated your teachings and your willingness to always assist me when I was stuck.

Country Roads, Acadiana: Rockin’ Across the Prairie With a Sense of Place Friday, Dec 13 2013 

This rural Louisiana highway would speak Cajun French if it could talk.

This rural Louisiana highway would speak Cajun French if it could talk.

I finished a Christmas shopping jaunt in Lafayette yesterday and hopped off Interstate 10 first chance I got on the western edge of town. I really prefer the back roads (as long as they’re paved). With Pandora tuned to the Iry Lejeune classic Cajun channel, the volume twisted hard right, the Tunda was rockin’ as much as it was rollin’ to one waltz or two-step after the other along the almost 40 miles of secondary state highways that make up the route.

The longest lap of the trip follows State Highway 365, a road listed by the Dept. of Transportation as East/West, but be not deceived: the highway’s numerable twists and turns along the way touch all of the compass points. And it has lots of names. Turning north off of Highway 92, Hwy. 365 is Osage Trail; turning west a few miles north, the road name becomes Mary Alice Road, then a few miles later after another directional twist you find yourself driving on Choppy’s Lane until the last leg turns to Branch Highway after crossing Highway 98 in the Higginbotham community.

But apart from the name changes, it’s all Highway 365 across rural Acadia Parish in the deepest heart of the Cajun Prairie. Crossing the flatness of the prairie’s extensive stretches of open fields dotted with farm houses and an occasional patch of woods along a coulee or bayou, the traveler gets a real strong sense of the presence of place, a very Cajun place steeped in some of the richest folk culture in North America.

Interstate 10 crosses the Cajun heartland, too, but it’s too easy to miss the point of Acadiana when you’re driving 70+ mph in a mob of frenetic traffic where everyone seems hell-bent on getting to wheverever they’re going moreso than on enjoying where they are.

Highway 365 (and lots of other secondary highways in the region), on the other hand, is a quaint thoroughfare where you should enjoy where you are without worrying about where you’re going. When I have the time, as I did yesterday, I drive slower just to make the journey take a little longer, just to savor the musical chanky-chank blaring from the speakers, just to drink in the mesmerizing panorama of flat prairie spreading away from either side of the highway, just to feel the sense of place where generations of industrious Cajuns have scratched out livelihoods, often by the hardest, from these fertile patches of earth.

Yes, Highway 365 is a country road where the place you are along its course could be more important than the destination where you’re going, a thoroughfare best for slowing down to drink in the sensory details of creation and to feel that undefinable but incredible sense of place.

You’d think grown men … Tuesday, Dec 10 2013 

Yeah, they’d behave in Sunday School, you’d think. And mature men, no less. These guys are 55 and up–some of them waaaaay up the age scale (chronogically, that is).

C'mon, guys, ... cut it out?

C’mon, guys, … cut it out?

But behold their foolishness. How am I supposed to teach and lead this unruly lot if they’re going to guffaw away the hour, brandishing knives and jousting with taunts, tales, and raucous side splitting laughter?

I can’t answer that question except to say that, somehow, we do manage to settle down into some serious and heavy-weight discussion of spiritual matters. At the end of the Sunday School hour, these guys are counting on the fact that the Almighty has a sense of humor and approves the sport of their fellowship, because the Almighty also looks into their minds and hearts to note the searching and longing for truth, the unity of their brotherhood, and the depth of their commitment. Yep, you’d think grown men would get some things right, and these guys do. I’m proud to claim ’em for more than friends.

The Ways We Were: Family Pix and Rich Remembrance Tuesday, Dec 3 2013 

What do I remember in this almost 30 year old photo of my first-born son and his two oldest cousins?kidz

I remember the outfit little Zach was wearing. It was one his mom had chosen for him–without the picture, I wouldn’t have recalled the details, but the photo brings it all back into clear focus–the cap, the striped shirt, the little shoes. He was a cute little character in that get-up.

And his cute little cousins–Wow, they were still girls! Now they have grown or almost-grown children of their own, children as old or older than they were in this photo.

And there’s more in that picture than the young-then-now-grown-mature. There are memories of family departed. The tomato plants, those were PaPaw’s (my Daddy’s). He was vain about his potted tomatoes. And in the background I can make out the rear half of Daddy’s Ford van parked in the driveway. When he and Mama got the van new, they used it for vacation road trips. In its later years, probably the time we see here, it became Daddy’s carpenter work vehicle. If I could climb into the picture and open the back door of that van, I can imagine from front seat to back would be an unruly and tangled pile of carpenters tools, electrical and plumbing fixtures, maybe some 2 X 4’s or scrap panels of plywood, and even a ladder or two. I always wondered how he ever found anything in the chaos and clutter of the rear sections of the vans and station wagons he used over the years as his work vehicles.

And so we were. Maybe 30 years from now our kids will look at pictures from our present generation and remember the way they were now …. or the way they are then? Whatever. These old photos remind me that life is a divine cycle, that family is a divine plan, that what goes around comes around, and that the ways we are now will become the ways we were then.

How should that understanding of the future inform our present? Alas, the answer to that question could be the topic for a later post.