Recent happenings in my life- the bitter and the sweet.

I’m once again in Utah for the summer, teaching and mostly enjoying it. Anyone throwing a bloggersnacker? :) This is the only summer ever that all three of my brothers and I will be on campus together. I’m teaching, there’s a freshman starting, one graduating and moving to DC, and one in the middle. It’s great fun. On the other hand, my wife hasn’t been able to accompany me here, and that’s not so much fun.

Last Monday, one of the faculty sat in on my class to evaluate me. I went back to his office afterwards, and his positive evaluation made me quite happy. On returning to my cubicle in a state of jubilation, I learned that my cousin Allison, previously diagnosed with leukemia and doing quite well, had died suddenly following a major relapse. She leaves behind a husband in law school and a 1-year old. I cried.

Tuesday I got sick. I canceled my two classes and stayed in bed until 2. Between the death of my cousin and probably stress and sleep-related illness, I’m not sure my students got anything coherent out of me on Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday my family arrived. My cute nephews make everyone smile, and my family always has a good time together. We went to the viewing on Friday night, and the funeral on Saturday, and spent a good bit of extended family time. The occasion was sad, but it brought us together. Thanks to Mom and Dad’s financial contribution, we were able to get my wife out for the weekend as well.

I recently heard that I did not pass the retake of my comprehensive Akkadian exam. This was thoroughly disheartening, as I had spent a good bit of time and work preparing, and felt fairly confident. Once again, I simply ran out of time because I can’t read the $#!@! chicken-scratch script fast enough. In spite of that, I hoped that what I had been able to accomplish would be a sufficient demonstration of my Akkadian skills, since I’ll never work directly from cuneiform in my academic career. I have one more chance to pass the exam, in December. If I don’t pass that, then it’s only taken me 6.5 years to get a Master’s Degree, and I’ll probably end up looking at a new career path or different PhD programs. I think failing out of the program would really affect my self-perception, and I frankly don’t know what I’d do with myself. I’m simply going to study hard and hope they finally cut me a little slack.

In August, my wife and I are moving to Urbana, IL, where she will start a graduate program. The university there has a Religious Studies program, and I’ve been in contact with someone invovled with it. They’re trying to have me teach a Hebrew class in winter. I’ll also probably be teaching Institute once a week or so, while studying for my Akkadian exam and then (God willing) writing my dissertation. I’m excited for the new experiences. We’ve been in our current ward for six years, and though we love it and our neighborhood, we’re ready for a change. It’s all been working out well. We found someone to sublease our condo to, an LDS MBA student. My brother-in-law and nieces live in Urbana, and we’ll even be in the same ward.

Life unfolds in unpredictable and sometimes bittersweet ways, with the pleasant and positive often tempered with the negative, the unexpected, the unpleasant, and sad. But I am, overall, glad for the experience.

16 thoughts on “Recent happenings in my life- the bitter and the sweet.

  1. My condolences for your loss.

    I suspect I would have a tough time with an Akkadian exam. I can work with the language in transliteration, but the cuneiform itself is perplexing. My thoughts are with you. (Maybe if you fail the retry, you could transition into the religious studies program at the UoI you mentioned?

    I loved living in Champaign-Urbana! That should be a fun change for you.

    Keep your chin up, Ben.

  2. I believe it’s an undergrad-only program at UIUC, but I’m not positive. I suppose that would be an option, especially if I were already there teaching.

  3. I’m very sorry, Ben. I appreciate your sharing your ups and downs, life is so unpredictable.

  4. I learned that my cousin Allison, previously diagnosed with leukemia and doing quite well, had died suddenly following a major relapse. She leaves behind a husband in law school and a 1-year old. I cried.

    I would too.

    Bless your heart, it sounds like a terrible week.

  5. Ben, what does your presumptive dissertation adviser say about the Akkadian exam? Besides cramming more Akkadian before December, there are a couple of things you need to figure out soon. (1) How often does your program fail students out at the comprehensive exam level? Does it happen often, sometimes, ever? I’d be shocked if it did, but you never can tell. (2) Who evaluates the Akkadian exam–your whole committee, or the one bitter old Akkadianist in the department? How does that person feel towards you personally? (3) Who were the last few students, who like yourself were not specializing in Akkadian, who passed comprehensive exams in your program? What did their answers to that part of the exam look like, and what level of expertise were they held to? Ask them. I don’t need answers to any of these questions, of course, but you do. Comprehensive exams can be a lot of things besides a test of core competencies, including hazing rituals or proxy battlefields for departmental politics.

    Good luck, and enjoy Urbana.

  6. I wish you every bit of luck on the Akkadian exam. I wish I had talked with you more at the funeral. My eyes were a bit raw from crying, but it was good to see you and all the other relatives.

  7. ” I learned that my cousin Allison, previously diagnosed with leukemia and doing quite well, had died suddenly following a major relapse. She leaves behind a husband in law school and a 1-year old. I cried.”

    Oh, no.

  8. Ben, thanks for sharing these events in your life. The death of your cousin and the news about your exam must have been difficult to deal with so close together, along with preparing to move. It looks like you’ve managed to find some peace through all of it.

  9. Ben, I’ve found that sometimes all of the problems and change seem to come at the same time. There are usually long times in between of relative calm, but sometimes we only tend to remember the difficult peaks rather than the long, tranquil valleys. There are some good times just around the bend, as I’m sure you know.

  10. Oh Ben, so sorry to hear about the tragedies, big and small, but also pleased to hear about the new opportunities. You’ve got a big fan club in the computer rooting for you!

  11. Ben, chances are you’ll be a teacher in the future–I would think personal experiences like these to draw on are invaluable for sharing at appropriate times.

    If you’re not following the Tour de France this year, make sure you check out Floyd Landis’s amazing Stage 17 comeback. Another favorite story of mine regarding adversity and faith is Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of the David. In the book The Agony and the Ecstacy the author claims that the reason M.’s version became so famous is that M. was trying to capture David’s gaze before he conquered Goliath b/c this was the moment of truth, as opposed to other artist’s capturing the moment after David conquered Goliath. If you breezed through your degree, you’d prove that you were smart, but it wouldn’t prove/develop your character like you are getting the chance to do now (regardless of whether you pass or not, the pressure you have to deal with can make you a better person…). Also, if you want a recent personal experience to relate to, check out Russel Arben Fox’s challenges in academia (at the T&S blog, or his personal blog, In Media Res).

  12. Ouch, sounds like it’s been a rough month, Ben. I’m really sorry to hear the bad news, and I’m sorry for your loss. I’m glad you got to see the wife, though, and good to hear that you guys settled on Urbana.

    You’ll pass in December, just keep your chin up.

  13. Akash, good to hear from you! Hope things are well out east in your new digs!

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