Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Recently, the anniversary for this experiment called BleilBanter.Blog has come and gone. I asked my friends to tell me what their favorite entry was, and although I received a lot of kind and supportive feedback, I didn’t get enough specific suggestions to have a “friend’s picks” post. But one friend did make a request, specifically asking that I write a post reviewing my accomplishments for the past year. It’s actually a difficult request, because as I look back on the wreckage of my life, I don’t see a lot of accomplishments from the previous year.
Another friend posted on her social media page asking her friends to comment something bragging about themselves, something that they are proud of from the past year. My only comment was “I wish I could.” She is a warm and supportive person in general, but she’s also a great friend and supportive of me personally, and as such, she replied, “You’ve had a tough year. But you’ve maintained friendships that matter and you’ve created your own business and you bagged yourself an adjunct position, and that’s not nothing!”
So, okay, for my friends, let’s try this review of the year. In situations like this, it’s customary to start with the bad news first, which suits my personality well since I am from a generation where “tell me about yourself” typically means career news. Yes, I’ve been teaching at a small college as an adjunct professor. My friend lives in Scotland so maybe it means something different there, but here it means part-time temporary. It does acknowledge education and experience, so that’s something anyway, but it’s usually the just-out-of-college hoping to get experience to lead to a full-time position.
It also looks like it’s over. I teach chemistry, which is a subject many students are nervous about, and as such, I use humor in my class to break the tension and to try to put my students more at ease. It’s my personality, yes, but it’s also a teaching tool. One of my students went to the administration to complain about my in-class “Dad jokes” saying that it’s unprofessional. I didn’t realize that professionalism and humor are mutually exclusive, but there it is. Although she didn’t complain about anything specific (that is, not inappropriate jokes, just…jokes), it looks like the administration will not be offering me any new contracts to continue teaching. Honestly, I can’t say that I’m heartbroken. If they’re that unsupportive, it’s not an environment I want to be in anyway. So, there’s my first success. I lost the only job I had.
Still, though, in one semester I did manage to pull of my usual feat of improving everyplace I work. In the short time that I’ve been there, I managed to help secure funding to upgrade their organic lab equipment, a move that will make the lab both ecologically, and in the long run, economically friendly. What I thought would have been a well-known approach to the lab seemed to be one that nobody else knew about. And I developed a bank of test questions for the course I taught that will be of use for anybody who follows. I wanted to expand and clean it up this semester, but that seems unlikely now. In addition, I helped their analytical chemist to work on the very expensive, and very sensitive, equipment in the lab and to learn that. It was a good collaborative effort, and I’m glad I could work with her.
I started that job so I could utilize one of their pieces of equipment for a project I was working with through the company I started. It was a very strange problem, where I had been asked to find a constant to determine the constant of a small component of a solution. Without going into the details, it was a highly specialized problem, and one that I don’t think I’ve ever seen done before (if it had been, I just would have done that). I am happy to say that I had one of my “intuitive leaps” and figured it out. It was kind of an amazing breakthrough.
And then there are my friends. This truly is a great accomplishment of mine, although even in that I feel like I have let them down. It’s ironic, though, that I’ve built great friendships not in spite of my hardships, but because of them. I’ve recently come to describe myself as “nomadic” because I’ve been more or less homeless. I’ve reached out to my friends to ask for places to live, and they’ve stepped up to the challenge. This really blows my mind, and the friends who have been so very generous to open their hearts and their homes have been surprising as well. I hope they know that I truly love them, but they were not the friends I expected to reach out to me. In Rapid City, Sarah was a former student that I stayed in touch with, but I never realized the golden heart she had, and her and her family’s generosity. In Sioux Falls, I knew my friend Anna was very much beloved by so many people, but never understood why. In Omaha, my friend Allen was an acquaintance from a college where I taught, but he was so quick to offer to embrace me that it was astounding. In all three cases, I learned so much about these people and their families and am humbled by their beautiful souls. Yes, I think of this as an accomplishment. They saved my life, but more than that. They fostered my soul. I want to thank all of them, and I hope they know what they mean to me, and how much my love for them have grown. If I’ve brought even a fraction into their lives as they mine, then that must be the greatest accomplishment of my life.