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 a straight face.. Followed by a period of dark satire derived from anger, or irreverent and rebellious blogs aimed at the perpetrators that are destroying what I love about higher education and my current university. Man, did I lose a part of myself.
So, while on vacation today, coupled with thinking a lot 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. Thinking about the challenges of being an Aspy. And experiencing the innate need of our dogs to smell large Jelly Fish that had washed up on the beach, I thought I would try a weird OoO message again, I don't have a college to promote any more, but it was still fun to write. Maybe it will brighten your day, maybe it will generate a thought other than "what the hell is the matter with Jim?", but at least there is nothing in here that should ruin your day.
Read at your own risk,
Dear Gentle email correspondent,
For those who just want the "facts, I am out of the office from May 13-May 22. If your email is an emergency, text me at 573-953-2468. I am not sure how my i-Phone will react to a business text since it is on vacation, but it is worth a try. If it you are a new graduate student with urgent questions xxx (xxx@uncg,edu) might be able to help. If you are an alumni of one my classes and need a reference, the answer is "yes' as long as it is not needed by May 22, 2023. 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.
If you really just wanted the "facts," I 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, then the idea that your reality might be the only such reality in the universe, may support your hypothesis that you are the only organism in the entire universe that gets it.
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; to have all 1,000 thousand of genes of a dog turned on (humans have a 1000 too, but evolution has led to humans turning off 600 of them) so I can understand why my golden retriever wanted to go sniff the 50 or so large Jelly Fish (who apparently only bought tickets for the flow but not the return trip on Ebb) that washed up shore during high tide today; or to experience the cold self assurance that makes caring a superfluous cognitive trait- I just can't help caring about every student in classes I teach. I don't know what it would feel like to not care.
Knowing that evolution created nearly an infinte 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. As John Gorka wrote " I will always be lonely. Nothing's ever going to change that. It's just the way that I am wired. It's the way that I'm setback"
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 mean, but expect me to be a master of reading between the lines. Neil Young didn't include this aspect of Southern Culture in "Southern Man", but he might have.
If you read past the "facts', 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.
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