This has been a weird week for me, at times surreal. We had FSI, this time an event jointly for Four-Year College and Community College faculty, support staff, and a few administrators. FSI has always been something of a catharsis both because of the intensity of the experience for the attendees but also because hosting any conference has something of that element in it, and one with technology all the more so especially because of Murphy’s Law and the consequent need to manage more of the details. In this case both because some of the EdTech staff were handling a good part of the program and especially because Michael Lindeman of ION was putting in yeoman’s effort, it was easier for me to relax. So, why worry? Well, that’s only for starters.
Monday morning, before FSI started, the CITES Roundtable (this includes all the administrators at my level plus all of our direct reports) was greeted with the news that my boss, Pete Siegel, is headed off to new stomping grounds, UC-Davis. Bully for you, Pete. We wish you well. But what does that mean for the rest of us, both within CITES and those on campus who care a lot about IT? No matter the ability or character of the interim person named as replacement, things usually come to a standstill during that period, so they can be left for the next permanent person in the job. And it’s definitely a seller’s market now. There are a lot of CIO openings nationally and within the CIC I believe about half the positions are vacant, either due to retirements or to turnover. It’s not unrealistic to expect a long time before we fill the CIO slot with a permanent hire.
Because at this point I’m the old veteran of FSI, I got to kick off the opening session with some brief remarks. In trying to be a little humorous, and playing off all the attention at present to Biblical ideas stemming from the DaVinci Code movie release, I coined an expression “BG” meaning Before Google, and referring to the time not when Google was formed but rather when it first entered into our consciousness. I’m really not sure when that was for me, but for the sake of this presentation I was referring to summer 1999. I do think that now Google is the most profound force shaping how we use the Internet today and so it is worth marking when we became conscious of it; even if I’m a bit off in my dates.
From my own personal perspective, however, all of these things pale in comparison to what happened to me starting at 12:30 AM Tuesday morning, when I woke up feeling a pain in my lower back on the left side. Thinking I had wrenched something, I started to walk around just to try to loosen up. But that wasn’t helping. After about an hour or so of that, I decided it was a kidney stone. I had a kidney stone perhaps twenty years ago. Then it happened over a weekend. A friend took me to the emergency room. My recollection is that they fluoroscoped me and found some of my “pipes” quite swollen indicating something was blocking them. But by the time that discovery had been made I had passed the stone on my own accord. My friend took me home and though shaky, I slept it off and was fine the next day.
So I started to drink water with the hope that I could replay history. And I was pacing around our downstairs because that seemed like the best way to relieve the pain. Of course, I was asking myself what I should do about FSI (and my other work). I had no formal obligations in the morning, but did have a meeting in the afternoon and one of our featured speakers was arriving at the airport and I was supposed to pick him up and take him to dinner. Could I bluff my way through the pain? Somewhere around 5 AM I decided that after my wife took my kids to school (she is between jobs and not working this week) that she should take me to the doctor and also that I needed to have a contingency plan about my obligations in the event I didn’t pass the stone by early afternoon.
That turned out to be prudent. It’s now Thursday evening and I’ve still not passed the stone. The doctor gave me some Vicodin after a basic urine test confirmed something wrong with me and kidney stones seemed a plausible explanation. I didn’t take the pain medicine immediately, because I wanted a clear head in case I had to deal with FSI stuff. But by around 4 PM, the pain was overwhelming. So I caved in and took the stuff. They had given me Demerol twenty years ago. My recollection is that it made me nauseated and the pain persisted, so I wasn’t that optimistic this time around. To my surprise, the Vicodin surpressed the pain substantially and for a period of time it seemed the pain went away entirely. I can see why this type of drug is habit forming.
One of the lessons learned from being in intense pain like this but still having important work obligations is that it is a must to rely on others to get things done. It was literally not possible for me to do my job. In a pinch, others stepped up. I don’t know if it was a big deal for them or not, but they did it and FSI ran smoothly without me. The dependencies are almost certainly there even when there is no kidney stone, but then I’m apt not to ask for help (I’ve got the male gene) and I’m not sure people would be so responsive and willing to step up to the plate otherwise. This is something to ponder. A more cooperative less individualistic approach probably makes sense but I’m not sure my persona is fit to shape that. For now I’m just appreciative of their efforts.
Sometime Wednesday, I started to think of Dylan’s song, “Rainy Day Woman,” and especially the tag line, “Everybody must get stoned.” During the previous day or so I know I had promised myself to repent on my worst sins, if only the pain would go away. And for whatever reason, probably just play on the word “stone,” I started singing that song to myself.
That song was extremely popular with some of my high school classmates in 1972, the year I graduated. And of course then the tagline referred to smoking pot, which all the kids I knew then thought was the hip thing to do (but I only knew one kid who actually smoked pot in high school and it was only him and his mom, his dad having passed away).
I’m not sure what I thought about smoking pot when I was a senior in high school, but I know the first thing that comes to mind now is the Bill Clinton line, “I didn’t inhale.” Why did he come up with that one? Of course he came up with other gems of moral certitude, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” thereby paving the way for the know-nothingness of the religious right. So lesson here is that with a kidney stone and a little Vicodin you can get pissed off at Bill Clinton.
But let me turn to the other meaning of stoned in Dylan’s song. This is the same meaning as in Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery, which I believe was read aloud to us in English class, either in middle school or early on in high school. Stoned in that sense is a brutal assault on someone by others, both in Jackson’s story and in Dylan’s song. In my case this assault was from within, physically and painfully from the kidney stone, and emotionally from some of my other demons. If one believes that everybody must get stoned in this sense, then asking why is paramount. The answer I can come up with now, and I’m still looking at some more physical pain for me before this episode is over, is my need for absolution, a commitment to mending my ways, and in particular in placing greater trust in others as I’ve already mentioned. If I’m looking for a larger meaning in getting this kidney stone, that is the meaning I would attribute.
But this is a purest solution and Dylan’s song is anything but pure. Everybody must get stoned, in the sense my high school classmates understood the song, to drown out the pain and take on a sense of gay merriment. I achieved that with the Vicodin.
This morning, after having gotten a CT scan yesterday that confirmed a kidney stone and also that it might still be several more days of the same before it passes, I decided I could function well enough and returned to FSI to be in the audience and listen as the various “Learning Teams” gave their 5 minute reports to showcase what they had accomplished.
It was weird for me. I knew I was quite drugged up and so I was registering things with a lag and felt like I was inside an echo chamber. The Learning Teams concept was not one I had come up with. My sense is that it was Robert Baird of EdTech who championed the idea after some prodding from Michael Lindeman that he didn’t want an FSI with many plenary sessions. Some of the people at the podium giving the reports had a lot of fun with their presentations. One team literally sung their lyrics. The mood in the room was festive, not scholarly. And the attendees being in high humor is how we marked that the session was a success.
For me, in a glazed torpor due to the Vicodin, the presentations at this session seemed other worldish, and my own emotional reaction to the situation – elation for the mood of the attendees, some jealousy because I was not responsible for that success, and some disappointment because the depth of conclusion didn’t seem to be there, with all of these feelings interwoven but also muted and therefore less profound. I don’t think I’ll linger on that. It’s just how I felt then.
Perhaps everybody should get stoned when seeing something new. Then first impressions don’t mean as much. And we can linger on a worthwhile idea rather than discarding something that is promising because the book cover didn’t look quite appealing enough.