For those of you that knew me at VCU, you undoubtedly at one time or another received an out of office message from me that rambled on about this or that (including i-Phones and laptops with free will) and then ended by promoting the faculty and students of the College of Humanities and Sciences. These OoO messages became kind of famous. In fact, the only time I ever felt like a celebrity was when Adele and I walked down the steps from our table in the second floor section of a wonderful Richmond restaurant with two of the most generous philanthropists in Richmond. A young lady came running over to us from the bar just as my feet touched the first floor and said, "Are you Jim Coleman?". This never happened to me before or since, so I happily said, "yes!". She replied "I just love your out office messages. That particular donor supported creative writing and was an epistolary friend with my alter ego, Inspector Clouseauski. So, the whole thing was kinda cool.
That was the only time i really ever had a chance to feel like a celebrity and it was pretty short-lived. And, my dream of a someone running up to me in a restaurant with a reprint of one of my scientific articles or book chapters, asking for me to autograph it, never happened. Then, after three soul crushing experiences as provost took their toll, my penchant and desire to write something that might make someone laugh, find me silly, or maybe lead to a thought, was taken over by bland university memos, syllabi, rubrics, assessments, annual reviews and updates that tried to provide information with no silliness allowed. That period was followed by a period of dark satire derived from anger, irreverence, and annoyance aimed at the perpetrators that are destroying what I love about higher education and my current university. Yeah, I lost a part of myself.
So, while on vacation earlier this summer, I thought a lot about sunscreen and/or what to eat at the next meal. But, in between those times, I thought about an assignment in BIO 330 where students read an op-ed in the NY Times by Ed Yong related to his new book about how animals sense the world. Which led to recognizing that I will never understand the innate need of our dogs to smell large Jelly Fish that had washed up on the beach, nor how Pelicans or what it feels like to be pelican that can sense something in the water from 50 feet in the air and then dive head first, at lightening speed, at a right angle from the flight path, into the water. I thought I would try a weird OoO message again,
Read at your own risk,
Dear Gentle email correspondent,
I am out of the office from xxx-xxx. If your email is an emergency, text me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
I am not sure how my iPhone will react to a business text since it will be participating in my cousin's wedding along with me, but it is worth a try if you have an emergency.
If you try texting or calling when you don't have an emergency, be prepared. My i-Phone grew up near the Navajo sacred mountain of the west, which is called Dook'o'oosłííd, literally meaning “the mountain that reflects” in Flagstaff, Arizona [just giving you a reason to reach out to Google or Chat-GPT- you might want to also find out the meaning of the Navajo word "haatali" that played a role in my wedding ring]. So, the i-Phone has spiritual power. And, although it is the tool of a human who whose personality resembles his golden retriever, it can react like a Polar Bear does when presented with a sleeping human covered in fish oil. Ok.. maybe that is a little extreme. But, you get the point- i-Phones can be heartless.
If you are an alumni of one my classes, or viewed me as a mentor, and need a reference, the answer is "yes' as long as it is not needed by xxx.
If you were writing with a nice note about having me as an instructor or mentor, my i-Phone would consider that an emergency worthy of a text, but I will also read the email with delight.
If you really think that out of office messages should be short and factual, you might want to check your DNA for a mutation in your silly gene.
I also hate to disappoint you. Evolution acted to make reality a deeply personal phenomenon, making "facts" far more subjective than we humans want to admit. And, evolution also was rather smart in allowing every species, and at least in my case individuals within species, to sense and process their reality in their own distinctive way (Ed Yong would say they live in their own Umwelt ). As I age, and search for spiritual meaning, I have given more attention to what is happening around me. My spiritual opsins are now letting me a get a tiny glimpse into realities I never knew existed. It is exalting.
Your mind might be boggled because there are nearly an infinite number of realities in the universe. My mind certainly was.
if you are characterized by a lot of arrogant self-confidence, good for you. Knowing everything is as counter to mind boggles as having limbs is to being a snake. And, like snakes, you just don't know what you are missing.
For others, like me, having an infinite number of realities is bittersweet. On the positive side, I feel kind of glad to know that other organisms don't live in the dark side of my reality. I am also saddened because I would love to know what reality looks like from the perspective of a Mockingbird with 360 degree vision and 4 opsins; to fly acrobatically like a bat in a reality of echoes; or to have all 1,000 thousand of my olfactory genes turned on like those of a dog so, I too, can understand why exploring large dead Jelly Fish on a beach is more exciting than the Stanley Cup Finals.
Knowing that evolution created nearly an infinite number of ways to experience reality has helped me accept what this all means to me as a' high-functioning Aspy .It helps to understand that my perception of reality is most definitely my own.
Aspys and animals have a mystery in common- most humans can describe how they think we experience reality, but they can't actually know how we experience reality (and vice verse). This, unfortunately can lead to unmet expectations. For example, my inability to talk to you at a cocktail party is not because I don't like you, or because I am an arrogant schmuck, it is just because cocktail parties for me represent true psychological terror- especially if you add bright lights, loud music, uncomfortable clothes, or where the invitees have been trained to never say what they actually meal. Neil Young didn't include the inclination of obtuse speech in Southern Culture when writing "Southern Man", but he might have.
If you read this far, I appreciate your curiosity or your penchant for epistolary masochism.
May your heart always be joyful, May your song always be sung, may you stay forever young.
And, may you share in my awe of the intelligence, grit, determination, perseverance, lack of entitlement and compassion of UNCG students.