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Yale 62

Question of the Quarter #1

Roman Weil (cont.) (Aug 24, 2020, 4:50 PM):

Macro.  The largest impact is the whack the Pandemic has administered to university budgets, including the one where I’ve taught for the last six years—University of California San Diego—which makes my elective courses disposable.  The major blow is not to my pocket book but to brain engagement.  Eighteen months ago, the School of Management realized that it had promised the State of California that it would offer a course called “Recent Developments in the Practice and Regulation of Auditing.”  It looked around and asked the faculty, “Who knows how to teach this course?”  No one.  Then it asked, “Whom do we figure can learn how to teach this course by next Winter term?”  Roman.  So, I learned how to teach the course and did it.  A year earlier than that … (READ MORE)I had taught a different, new elective that engaged my brain.  That course involved some new things.  We professors don’t always use old dog-eared faded notes to teach the same old things.  I’ll miss the opportunity to learn new things required to teach.  A mentor, Nobelist George Stigler, taught me some decades ago that the only difference between a professor and a student is that we get paid to learn.

A different university asked me to teach an Osher course.  That’s a course where old people—younger than we are, but old, nevertheless, come back to school to keep their brains engaged.  The trick here is that one isn’t allowed to give homework assignments.  As I write this, Pandemic appears to have canceled this course, too.

One of our corresponding secretaries asks [“demands” is too strong a term] that when we classmates communicate with each other that we talk about our Feelings.  He always seems to use that word, even orally, with a capital letter.  I feel disappointed in the loss of opportunity to develop the new courses I had anticipated for the coming academic year.  I should also Feel poorer, but it’s not a JND. [Look it up.]

Micro.  I can’t recall when we started, but my family has weekly Zoom meetings on Sunday afternoons, 6:30p EDT and 3:30p PDT, with participants in all time zones.  This has led to more interaction with siblings and children, mainly, and grandchildren, to a lesser degree, than I’ve had ever before in my life.  This has provided nothing but positives.  I have three siblings, two of whom are regulars, three kids, and eight grandkids.

An unanticipated benefit of Pandemic:  my college age grandkids attend schools that require quarantine before schools start.  [Unbelievable that all three kids who live in Washington State attend school in Vermont or New Hampshire.]  One other, from Illinois, is at Cornell.   Two of them rarely talk to me and I have missed that.  Then, I got the idea that they enjoyed, and got close to, an old girlfriend of mine, K, now married, but still a good buddy.  I suggested to K that she and I engage these girls one at a time on a Zoom call.  The girls were game and we had one-hour-plus calls with them.  These calls gave me more pleasure than most any activity I’ve engaged in during the Pandemic.  [The Zoast to celebrate my 80th b’day, described elsewhere on the Yale62 website might be in first place, or maybe second.]  This gave me Feelings of affection for both K and the grandkids.  K wrote me that she wanted to be a grandchild of mine.  I wrote her that I already had an honorary granddaughter, but I’d make her an honorary wife, so long as she didn’t tell her current husband.

I got a kick out of hearing that one of the grandkids was recruited by one of the coaches at the H-school but that kid turned down the H  school to accept an offer from another coach, whom I not allowed to identify until later.   This kick was not more or less a better Feeling because of the Pandemic, so far I as can tell.  It made me Feel good.

The highlight of daily life is interaction at the gyms I attend, two of them.  I had some back surgery over a year ago after which the surgeon gave me a scrip for physical therapy.   The therapist said I didn’t need any.  I didn’t Feel pain then or now.  When Pandemic closed the gym I regularly visit, I went back to the PT guy and asked if my scrip was still valid.  Yes.  So I started using that gym.  Bonus:  insurance paid for those visits.   Now, that the State lets regular gyms operate, I have two gyms I can use and I visit at least one of those every day, sometimes both.  The regular gym has the better locker room, so I go there to shower, virtually every day.  This makes me Feel socially connected, not to mention clean.

Death by boredom also poses a risk.  I recently read a long article in The New Yorker about boredom.  [I realize that “long” is redundant, once I decided to tell you the article is in The NYker.]  I realize that what I call boredom and what the various scientists quoted in that article mean by boredom differ.  I mean by boredom that I have no specific brain-engaging project with a publishable paper or book at the end.  I always have plenty to read and stuff [such as what I’m doing right now] to write, but these small projects aren’t the kinds of things that I’ve spent the last 50 years doing, so I Feel adrift.

I’m engaging with Larry McEnerny about how to write better, but I’m counterpunching.  He’s the one making the large contributions.   If you want to hear something that will change the way you think about good writing, listen to the first 12 minutes or so of the following.  Likely you’ll enjoy it so much that you’ll finish it.

During the Pandemic, I had so much time on my hands that in my role as Fellow of Berkeley College I volunteered to read and comment on the senior theses of BK students who wrote in areas of my alleged expertise.   I did so and sent my comments to Larry.   In his low-key way, he lambasted my comments and showed me how I had erred.   If you want to see him in action as a writing teacher, ask me and I’ll send you my comments on the student’s work and his comments on my comments.   I commented on a single page of the thesis and his comments on mine take about four pages.

This was instructive and I wish I’d had that instruction several years ago, not at the end of my teaching career.   This made me Feel enlightened and deflated.

I’ve had some back-and-forth with a honcho at an SEC school about designing a defense against Covid-related myocarditis lawsuits should these emerge if there is SEC football.  I Feel engaged about this.  I hope there is more, but I suspect they can get on with what needs to be done without me.  I’ll Feel left out.

I used to travel at least two weeks every month.  Now, virtually never.  This removes a time-consuming activity that give me more time to Feel lack of brain engagement, what I call boredom, which I learned from NYrker isn’t what the professionals mean by that word.

If I had real work to do and Felt engaged, I wouldn’t have time to ramble on like this.   I will conjecture that the length of answers we get to the Q of Q is proportional to the amount of boredom of the classmate.  I Feel more professional ending with an hypothesis.