.journal 2022.11.11


.org.22: An Empty Cage That Has No Key

Now listening to: David Darling and Jacqueline Tschabold Bhuyan, Cello and Piano Meditations
Now reading: [REDACTED]
Now playing: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)

One of the refrains of my teaching career since I first came to Wisconsin is that I want to go where I can do the most good. Teaching is first and foremost a service profession (or at least it is to me), and especially since moving out of Toledo close to five years ago, I’ve felt a distinct lack of local knowledge that would help me figure out the question of where is best for me to go to and teach. Especially as the vast majority of students here in southwest Wisconsin are from the area, I’ve had to ask them about things like where to get the best pizza, what political issues are talked about the most in their hometowns, and things of that nature, the kind of stuff that a lifetime of living in Ohio had pretty much ingrained into my DNA by the time I first started teaching at the University of Toledo.

I’d only been in Wisconsin for a year and a half when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and as we’ve all been navigating the changes it’s wrought on our individual lives and larger society, the question of where I could do the most good began to pop up again. Teaching for the other campuses of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, on top of my original home campus in Richland Center, quickly became a reality for me in that first year, but that wasn’t such a big issue since we were running classes online, and I’d already had students coming to class on Zoom from half a world away, so students who were an hour’s drive away from me was hardly a big deal. As a greater percentage of our offerings became in-person classes over the past year, though, the possibility of me moving out of Richland Center became larger and larger, and I just couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the possibilities.

All of the cities that house UW-Platteville campuses have their advantages. The Richland campus is the smallest of all the University of Wisconsin campuses, to the point where it’s basically nestled into the natural beauty of the driftless part of the state, and getting to see that panoramic beauty every day does a lot to lift one’s spirits. Baraboo is closer to Madison and Milwaukee, though, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss some of the big-city conveniences of living in Toledo, especially being able to stop at a Meijer or Little Caesar’s whenever I want. Platteville is furthest away from those big cities, but it’s also a college town, which matches my personality and spirit more closely than the other cities do.

As I’ve documented here over the past few months, the place where I could do the most good right now wound up being Platteville, and so I moved here at the start of September. In addition to the move being plagued by several people breaking promises to me (resulting in me having to move the day before the semester started), and the resulting chaos of having no time to adjust to life in Platteville before adjusting to teaching on a new campus (a much larger difference than it probably appears to people who don’t teach), I also had to fight off one of the worst illnesses of my life, and I’m still struggling with random coughing fits every time I talk. Between the illness, how that illness caused me to fall far behind on a lot of things, and all the extra walking I’m having to do here, fatigue has been a constant problem for me, and I fear that the mental struggle of dealing with the Wisconsin winter is only going to make matters worse. There’s a lot of enjoy here in Platteville, and I’m almost positive that I made the right decision in agreeing to come here, but things have been far from perfect.

The other catastrophe I’ve had to deal with in recent months, of course, is the passing of Heather (a.k.a. Hedder, a.k.a. Silka), the friend I’d been sharing an apartment with in Colorado before I got hired to teach here in Wisconsin. I first heard of her health issues as I was struggling to figure out how to get here to Platteville and where I was going to live, and even though she passed away a few days before I moved, I only heard of her passing a week later, during my first week teaching here. Hedder took me in when no one else would — for reasons I still can’t get into, I basically had to leave Toledo when I did at the end of 2017 — and even if we hadn’t already been close, her assistance during that part of my life is probably the only reason I’m still alive right now, and even if she hadn’t passed away and we’d both lived into our nineties, I probably would have spent all that time feeling like I could never pay her back enough for what she did for me when I finally left my hometown for good.

While I was in Colorado, I got hired to teach part-time at a couple of community colleges, just like I’d been a part-timer in Toledo for a dozen years; before I could start at either institution, though, I got the call from Richland Center, and I simply couldn’t afford to pass up that opportunity. As I was getting ready to move to Wisconsin, I kept hugging Heather, nervous about this huge step I was about to take. Needless to say, I had no idea that we’d never hug again, and as certain as I’ve been that coming to Wisconsin was the right thing for me to do, part of me can’t help wondering how differently things might have turned out if I’d stayed with Heather. Even if I couldn’t have done anything to prevent her passing, she and I would have become much different people if we’d continued to live together, and I’d like to think that I could have brought at least a little more ease to the final years of her life. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have similar thoughts about how I tried to help Mom through her final years as well.

It’s too easy to fall into the trap of second-guessing whether or not Colorado was where I could have done the most good, if not as a teacher than as a human being, and I know that those kinds of thoughts will lead to no good, and potentially a lot of harm. I guess the problem is that I’ve had so little time to think here in Platteville that I don’t know if I’ve even had a chance to first-guess my decision to move here. It still feels like this was the right decision, but between how busy I’ve been, and how hampered I was by illness for several weeks, I’m still experiencing this new phase of my life as very transitory, like this is just some small diversion in the grand scheme of my life, even as I work (as much as I can) to make Platteville feel somewhat like home to me. My years in Richland Center made me realize that I’m always going to feel like a transplanted Toledoan wherever I go, and I’ll never really feel like a Coloradan or Wisconsinite or whatever (even if my upbringing still makes me feel like I’m more of a Michigander than an Ohioan), but I did what I could to make myself feel like Richland Center was a new home to me while I was there, and I’d like to do the same thing here in Platteville, but I just haven’t had the time for it. At the rate things have been piling up for me, I’m not even sure if I’ll get that chance until campus breaks for the winter holidays at the end of December.

I’d like to think that I’m where I can do the most good right now, because there’s certainly a lot to like about Platteville. I can recognize that this has been a very difficult year for me — the last three months in particular — and that I need to put my focus right now into taking care of the things that have been so difficult for me to handle since moving here. There’s no guarantee that I’ll succeed at that, or I’ll finally be able to figure things out for myself after I get those things handled, but I’ll certainly make things a lot harder on myself if I don’t try my best to get back on track. Things are hard enough without me making them even harder, so I need to do everything I can to make my current situation work out better for me, even if more difficulties and tragedies are likely awaiting me in the coming year.

Everyone take care and be well. I will see you all soon.

— Sean