I have a very special passport!

My teacher

My teacher

In the last semester of the sequence of courses in which they learn academic writing skills, students at my university are required to write a research essay. This arrangement has a plethora of inconsistencies. The first is that few teachers in the department actually know how to do research.

Please note that I said “inconsistencies,” not “ironies.”

Most often when someone uses the word “irony,” she uses it incorrectly. An irony is not some bizarre inconsistency that flies in the face of reason. An irony is “an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected,” or an “incongruity between what is expected to be and what actually is.”

[“Irony” has a specific meaning in literature which I will not attempt to discuss here.]covey

Irony must be self-conscious—in order for something to be ironic, one must have an expectation. One has to know things are askew in order to understand them as ironic. If one is simply clueless, one is not participating in an irony. Otherwise, things are simply irrational or, as I said, inconsistent.

Here is a real irony. I teach classes in which one of the stated educational “outcomes” is that students know how to do research.

Oh, I say arrogantly, don’t get me wrong. I know how to do research.

First, I know that doing research requires discipline, attention to detail, the ability to concentrate on the matter at hand, and to keep track of every “jot and tittle” of what one is doing.

Do you remember a few years back when everyone was carrying around parcels called FranklinCovey Day Planner? They were the brainchild and the cash cow of Stephen R. Covey who wrote the book, The Seven Deadly Sins of Highly (self-proclaimed) Effective People. Everyone you knew was carrying one and organizing her life into quadrants to make her highly effective.

I’m getting to my passport.

In 1999, my late partner and one of my best friends conspired to make me highly effective by purchasing (and adding a few cents to the enormous wealth of Mr. Covey) a FranklinCovey Day Planner. By all means it should have made me highly effective. The problem was, I never remembered to carry it with me, and, in fact, most of the time had no idea where it was (I know it was 1999 because it’s right here on my desk).

That’s irony. I was totally and painfully aware that the first requirement for becoming highly effective was to remember to do something that was, simply put, impossible for me to do, and, therefore, I would never be highly effective. My inattention to detail was keeping me from attending to details.

Yes, I know—the passport.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychological Association lists a bunch of symptoms for adult Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. The six that apply to me are:

Inattention to details/makes careless mistakes
Difficulty sustaining attention
Fails to finish tasks/does not follow through
Difficulty organizing tasks or activities
Loses things necessary for tasks/activities
Easily distracted by external stimuli
Forgetful in daily activities

Will I ever learn?

Will I ever learn?

I’m not blaming my seizure-prone brain for my failures. I’m simply inattentive to details, have difficulty organizing tasks, and lose things necessary for the tasks I have difficulty organizing.

In 1990, I went with a group of educators on the most splendid excursion I can imagine for three weeks in Brazil. Of course, I had to have a passport.

In 2003, I went with a delegation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation to Palestine and Israel. I had to renew my passport because it was more than ten years old.

In 2009 (I think it was), I went with a bunch of Lutherans to Palestine. I had to get a new passport because I could not find mine.

In 2013 (now), I’m fixin’ (Texan for “I’m getting ready”) to go to Scandinavia with a Lutheran church choir. I had to get a new passport because the one I got in 2009 is, you guessed it, lost.

I have a very special passport! It’s good for only a year from its effective date (about two weeks ago) instead of ten years because the State Department wants to teach me to be a highly effective person. John Kerry insists that I pay attention to details. If I am a good boy and remember where this passport is a year from now, I can get one good for ten years (so I can make my mythical trip to Easter Island?).

The irony (the inconsistency that flies in the face of all expectations—of which I am painfully aware) of all of this is that I teach—teach very well—college students to pay attention to details. Go figure.

One Response to I have a very special passport!

  1. Mary Kalen Romjue says:

    Hmm! I thought that you were the “Typical Forgetful Professor”. Like understands like.

    Mary Kalen

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