Monday, December 31, 2007

Bidding farewell to 2007

I feel like I should write something to commemorate the end of the year, something that both acknowledges what transpired and looks forward to what comes next. My previous attempts to write that post over the last few days have ended up deleted. They felt too "emo," and strangely, too personal. For a blog. Yeah, go figure.

I tried coming up with one word to sum up the year and couldn't. 2007 was strange, I said. Draining. Overwhelming. Unsettling. Sobering. Exciting. None fit quite right, and to say it's been an ineffable year is a semantic cop-out. So I'll settle for this: 2007 was a year of massive change, both in terms of my professional and personal lives.

If I could have seen myself last year as I sit here, now, at the end of 2007, I'm... not sure what I'd have thought. Some changes I could have foreseen, like graduating. Others, the internal changes, not so much. Most days, I'm not even sure which is true: that I have changed in massive ways, or that I haven't changed much at all.

2007 seems like the year I turned a hell of a lot of energy inward, too much probably. I feel like I've had the strongest sense of who I am, where I've grown, and an all-too-keen awareness of where my defects still lie.

And in the midst of that existential mess, 2007 gave me a stronger appreciation of my friends. They've come through for me for so many ways, through their support and encouragement, even though I spent so much time caught up in a mess of negativity and had little to offer in return.

So, to rescue this post from the negativity that pervaded the previous attempts, I'm going to state, in vague terms, my new year's resolution: if I can't learn to embrace change, I need to come to grips with it and stop running the other way. I've already started moving in that direction, but keeping up the impetus is the challenge. This time 'round, it's one I think I'm up to.

And lastly, I think Scrivener put it best: "Happy New Year! And 2007? Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out." Cheers!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Honesty in advertising?

I was out earlier, around dusk, on my way back home from the used bookstore downtown. It seemed to be my luck today to wind up at every other red light I passed through. At one intersection, brightly lit, with a steady flow of traffic, was a panhandler. I glanced at him, and admittedly, did not register much about him beyond my obligatory middle-class twinge of guilt as he stood outside in the cold while I was warm in my car.

What I did notice was his sign:

"NEED MONEY FOR ALCOHOL RESEARCH"

Saturday, December 29, 2007

War is peace.

My kid sister is in high school, her junior year. She's a pretty smart kid--runs in the family, clearly ;). She reads books for leisure and can usually understand by context unfamiliar words. She's a whiz with math. She can place most countries at least in their correct vicinity. She knows who some of the major candidates are in our upcoming elections, and she knows who Benazir Bhutto was. In short, she is not an illiterate ignoramus.

In her Social Civics course, she was reading about the executive branch of government and the President's Cabinet today (winter break can be significantly shorter for home-schooled kids). The book gave a brief overview of some of the different departments, noting that the Department of Homeland Security was implemented after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"There was no Department of Homeland Security before 9/11?" she asked, surprised.

And in other news, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia and allied with Eurasia.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Multimedia Friday: Stereophonics

In an effort to bring a little structure to this blog, I'm going to make Fridays a day for multimedia, whether it's an interesting Youtube video (the lazy way) or a music rec.

This Friday, it'll be music. I'm banking on my tastes being eclectic enough that every once in a while, at least, I can share a gem of a song or artist/band that someone will find listen-worthy. I make no promises as to the quality of my tastes; I only know that I like what I like.

First off is a band whose music I've only gotten into recently, Stereophonics. When I fall for new music, though, I can fall hard, and these guys are skyrocketing up my Last.fm charts. Genre-wise, they're indie rock or indie pop or the ever-ambiguous "alternative." What does that mean? A groovy, laid-back sound. I think what first drew me in were the vocals; singer Kelly Jones has an incredible voice, with just enough rasp and emotion in it to send shivers down my spine. When I listen to their music, the vibe I get is either a small blues club or coffee house, an intimate, laid-back setting, or a free-ranging road trip. It's moody and melancholy, but not negative or self-indulgently emo.

Admittedly, I only have one album of theirs right now, You Gotta Go There to Come Back, but it's a solid album, lyrically, musically, and whatever else constitutes a damn good album. The track that drew me in was "Maybe Tomorrow." It has potential to be gloomy ("I've been down / and I'm wondering why / these little black clouds / keep walking around / with me"), but the refrain has hope in it, "So maybe tomorrow / I'll find my way home." I mentioned the vocals earlier; I'll mention them again because they affect the delivery greatly. These lyrics look flat as I type them out, but they sound beautifully world-weary in the song. "Nothing Precious at All" is another atmospheric song; "I been people watching again / I think they watch me too / There's a new girl at the coffee house" opens the song, and the music makes you feel like you're there.

The album has a few pleasant surprises, too. "Madame Helga" opens with a neat little guitar riff; "Jealousy" has what sounds like a... gospel choir. Don't knock it; it worked for symphonic metal group Nightwish in "Meadows of Heaven," and it works for Stereophonics, too.

My favorite song was originally "Maybe Tomorrow," but in subsequent listens, I've fallen for title track "I'm Alright (You Gotta Go There to Come Back)" and the following song, "Rainbows and Pots of Gold":



Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Good times

I believe I've mentioned it before, but I have strange friends. I'd be the first to proclaim that strange is a relative term, and given a choice between normalcy being defined as following the misadventures of a washed-out pop star or collecting giant stuffed microbes, I'd rather have the latter. I do, however, recognize that my friends' obscure interests and personality quirks are not mainstream. It's cool. They're cool. And truth be told, I'm pretty sure I'm strange, too.

My break's been a glorious time to relax and recharge and reflect and dream, but now, mostly, I'm unwinding. Lots of crocheting, struggling with a monstrous 1000 piece puzzle, reading for leisure, socializing--I'm taking back my life. My close friend and sidekick, whom I've recently talked into joining the Dark Side Blogspot, was over for a couple days because she needed company. I was happy to oblige, and we spent a chunk of time just hanging out, talking, and crafting things together.

I had, of course, my crocheting. She was working on sock monsters. I include a link to a Google image search in case you haven't seen any of those darling critters. Of course, those sock monsters are all polished and smooth and such, but you get the idea. My dear, dear friend, whom I adore like a sister, has determined with good reason that surgery is not her forte. Her suturing would be... uh, lawsuit worthy. So, anyway, she's made a few of these critters before, and they're so rough as to be cute, frankly. Most of them.

On the second day, she attempted a more complicated pattern. It turned out... interesting. She's gotten better at sewing the smiles on the monsters, but this one fairly leered. And its massive tail turned out funny. At least, that's what the appendage was intended as. The result, with very little manipulation, looks very much like a pointy-eared, candy cane striped, demented African fertility god.

After many fits of giggles, we determined that instead of giving it to her intended recipient, she should give it to a mutual friend who is just as warped as we are.

Until then, the monster is leering at me from atop my bookcase. I'd rather have him there than in my bed, which is where she originally left him. Thanks a lot. I'd post pictures, but I understand my readers may have delicate sensibilities...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Roles

Words, for such arbitrary, flimsy, strange looking symbols, hold such power. Entire identities and truths can be constructed from words, and if that appears to weaken the validity of said identities and truths, frankly, it does.

"All the world's a stage," Shakespeare wrote, "And all the men and women merely players." Players, actors, small-scale frauds all. The people we think we know are not, upon further inspection, the people we really know. We put up our fronts as a matter of necessity because the entire world need not know us completely; to put forth certain attributes and to withhold others are vital skills to keep from being vulnerable or stirring waters, survival skills adapted from thousands of years of evolution.

And because we get lazy or tired or careless or even because we deliberately put the idea out of our heads, we lose sight of that and take the facades at face value. When the masks come down and the facts are revealed, we don't always recognize the actor beyond the role.

When the roles become difficult, it seems that it would indicate a need for change. And so the actor moves on, as actors are wont to do, but the other players and the audience frequently mistake the actor for the role and do not adapt well to the change. And they criticize, oh yes, they criticize when the new role does not fit the template of the old. From their detached positions of knowing superiority, they are ready to tear down the play, the actor, the setting, the whole shebang because it is different and therefore not right.

But most actors know themselves beneath the facade, and they know when to move on. The new play may be a flop, but it may also stretch their wings beyond what they knew they were capable of. But they can't know until they try. They've just got to tune out the critics' voices and go for it, a leap of faith.

If they play their cards well, the new identity, as equally selective and misleading as the old, will emerge and eventually override the old.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's over

These were my symptoms yesterday: slurred speech, impaired judgment, delayed mental response time, and then I crashed. Yes, I finally finished all my grading. I did not drink, although I understand the concept of being "driven to drink." I wish someone would do a longitudinal study on the effects of grading freshman work versus the effects of drinking; the results would probably be surprising to many.

What have the last few days held for me? Hours of seemingly endless agony, tempered only slightly by hot tea and chocolate. There was a brief diversion, though--a note from a student. College freshmen, at least the classes of '10 and '11, have an apparent oblivion to tone. This, I believe, was one such instance.

To backtrack momentarily, I have a policy that allows anybody to revise an essay for a possible higher grade if they take the essay to the writing center. It could create more work for me, and it does a little, but few people actually take it up. It's voluntary, so the onus is on them if they want it. One student apparently found it a burden to do so. In a note attached to an unrevised essay, he informed me that he "did not have time" to go to the writing center, as he was going on vacation to a warm sunny state. Curious, I read on. He wanted me to re-read the paper because he already made one set of improvements based on my feedback on his rough draft, and it still got the unworthy grade of a C.

Last note of the letter, before he signed his name, he asked that I reconsider my grade, as he believes I may have been "over-critical" in my grading.

How did I respond? With it being so late into my grading mad dash and given my already mellow temperament, my response was, "Huh." My colleagues at the writing center were much more indignant over it than I was. They saw it as flagrant disrespect, and it could have been, but honestly, I've seen enough freshman behavior to lead me to conclude that they just don't know how they come across. Where that comes from, I don't know, but we seem to have a generation that doesn't understand how to adjust communication styles for different situations; it results in incidents like this one (same student, different paper, not surprisingly).

Ah well. The semester's over and grades are in. I left the grade as it was.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Curiouser and curiouser

Sitemeter touts itself as a way of seeing how "customers" get to sites and what interests them. Bull. I'll bet the majority--of free users, at least--just use Sitemeter or similar services out of morbid curiosity and vanity. How many people visit this thing? How long do they stay? What blog posts are popular?

And the burning question: How the hell are they finding my blog? The answers can be quite revealing.

Take this one, which just left me scratching my head:

But that's nothing in comparison to this one:

I try to understand the trends. For a spell, I had a bunch of hits from Delhi about being overeducated for a job. Several visitors recently came in search of the Tim O'Brien "How to Tell a True War Story" excerpt I posted for Veteran's Day. It's a trend. It fits.

But "catharsis in my arse" baffles me. Firstly, if one were in search of catharsis, said orifice would probably not be the best place to start looking. And if someone were googling said search string with the conviction that said person had said catharsis lodged in aforementioned orifice, well, frankly, I'd recommend googling proctologists instead.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Quality? Pfft. Out the window.

I don't jump on every meme bandwagon, but my Livejournal friends started passing this around and I could not resist. It's all spontaneous and borne of a mind frazzled by finals grading . Thanks to being an English major, I can BS like no one's business, and given the chance to lampoon one of my favorite genres of music, I just had to do it....

1. Go to Wikipedia
2. Press random article - THIS IS THE NAME OF YOUR BAND
3. Press it again - go on, you KNOW you want to - right, THIS IS THE NAME OF YOUR ALBUM
4. You get to press it 10 - 15 more times to create your tracklist!
5. Share!
6. Add commentary, or not.

Band: Bayfield River (man, you know this is totally an emo band, right? Boys in eyeliner and tight jeans? Oh yeah.)
Album: James Taylor (title is an ironic nod; they're like totally screamo, but packed with the same emotional intensity of the '70s songwriters)

Track 1: "Time War" - About a failed relationship, but the video's got all sorts of cool Dr. Who clips in it. Again, ironic nod to pop culture delivered with passion and a healthy sense of the absurd.

"'I love you, baby, but I need more time,
more time,' more time to hurt me more,
you use time as a medium to wage your heartless war."

Track 2: "Spanish Constitution of 1978" - This has little relevance to the song, except that it toys with the idea of a transition from tyranny to democracy, in an abstract, yet heartfelt way. That, and the lead singer was stoned when he thought it up. Incidentally, this is the song the critics quote most frequently in their critique of the band.

"My eyeliner bleeds just like my heart,
trickling down, almost molting.
But just you watch out, baby,
'Cause this proletarian's revolting."

Track 3: "Ryan Ferguson (footballer)" - A pain-filled anthem to the hypocrisy of the high school pecking order. A soccer player is an apt stand-in for all high school jocks. Bayfield River has nothing against Ferguson; it's just that "Ryan" is so easy to rhyme, as opposed to say, David.

"I can't believe the things you do, Ryan,
Hottest girl in the school--
Does she know you're lying?"

Track 4: "Nashville Confederate order of battle" - No relevance to the song whatsoever, which is about a haunted house.

"And I can feel the ghosts, I swear
They're lingering close.
Look, can you seen one there?
He's lamenting those he misses most."

Track 5: "Korinthou Street" - The found this one through Google earth and used it as inspiration for a song about the difficulties of a long-distance relationship.

"You're only five hours away,
But it feels like Korinthou Street,
yeah, it feels like Korinthou Street."

Track 6: "The Magic Pills (ballet)" - Last song released before the guitarist went into rehab for substance abuse. The song builds in intensity and then softens to a whisper in these last few lines:

"Here and now,
it feels good.
Come fly my magic carpet,
Nothing can hurt us now. Nothing can hurt us. Nothing..."

He OD'd six months later.

Track 7: "Christopher Chalmers" - An instrumental piece with some kickass guitar riffs.

Track 8: "The Cosmic Game" - If athletes, Dr. Who, and historical events are fair game for inspiration, so too is music from other genres. The drummer's brother is a fan of Thievery Corporation; to date, the drummer himself has never listened to the album.

"If this is all a cosmic game,
I wanna know who makes the rules,
'Cause they're all mean and cruel and lame,
Clearly designed by and for the fools.
But I've got your number,
You cosmic shyster,
And that number's up soon."

Track 9: "Egypt at the 1960 Summer Olympics" - "Egypt" is a recurring fantasy figure in Bayfield River discography, the exemplification of an exotic feminine ideal, removed from the tyranny of the band members' immediate existence. Instrumental song. The subtle harmonics offer a temporary refrain from the in-your-face shredding of the rest of the album.

Track 10: "The Hard Way (album)" - This was intended to be the title track, but then they got wind of the fact that it was first a hip hop album. That, they decided, would be neither ironic nor countercultural.

"The only way I know's the hard way.
The safest way's the hard way.
That way I'll never take love for granted."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"You're so cold, but you feel alive"

I am so lucky to work for a college that actually consults the weather to decide whether to close. Have you heard about the winter storm across the Midwest? Yeah. My alma mater still didn't close today. Bastards. But my current campus did, so I got to have a warm, stay-inside day, except to go out to take pictures, after which I went inside all shivery to get some hot coffee.

Here's what I found.

The leaf fell away, leaving this behind, like a butterfly abandoning its chrysalis.

Pretty good coating of ice all over everything. Pretty good fence, too; we rarely talk to, much less see, the neighbors.

The tree branch was ready for its close-up.

How quickly things change, within the span of a few weeks, even. The fallen leaves I so loved crunching through have given way to a thin sheet of ice over the grass. How do I know this? Well, it certainly wasn't by stomping through the grass and taking childlike pleasure in the satisfying crackles beneath my sneakered feet as I wrought havoc on the lawn's ice blanket, godzilla-style. Nope. Not at all. And for the record, I would never stomp in a puddle or kick up a pile of leaves. I'm too dignified.

* Subject line courtesy of this song, "Cold" by Breaking Benjamin, or as my friend and I call them, Baking Brenjamin.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Give the gift of...

I'm going to sound like an ungrateful ass here, but only, I hope, momentarily.

We're getting into holiday season and its requisite gift giving. Bah humbug. Sometimes I wish people wouldn't even bother.

And by "some people," I have specific family members and a few acquaintances in mind. Allow me to demonstrate. This summer, I visited my extended family on my father's side, and they place a huge emphasis on symbolic gift giving; what is given is less important than the actual act of gift giving--except, of course, that the gifts must be appropriately showy. The perfumes and jewelry they gave me? I passed them right on. And then there was the family who gave me... books. Hey, they figured, Twit likes books, these are books, it'll be great. They were religious tracts (first mistake), written in French. No hablo francaise. In the interest of luggage space and weight, I passive-aggressively "forgot" them there. I guess it was a step up from the Dollar tree soap baskets they used to give. Still. If the act of gift giving was what was important, perhaps we could've all pantomimed and smiled and pretended to be thrilled; it would've had the same emotional worth.

I actually enjoy finding gifts for people, gifts I know they'll like, and more importantly, use. There's nothing quite like seeing people's faces when you give them something made by hand, whether it's a scarf or baby blanket or scrapbook (not my thing, personally, but it's a craze right now). Or something that shows you know them and have been listening even when they think you weren't paying attention, like a book mentioned off-handedly or something in a favorite color. One of my best graduation gifts was from a close friend who gave me one of the most mind-blowingly awesome books I've read in quite some time based on a comment I'd made in an e-mail about it being on my "Books to read before I die" stack. And to top it off, she included some tea and a music download card. This friend, by the way, always gives such well-thought out gifts, including one gift set that included a bell, a book, and an old-fashioned candle holder. Her gifts are always the perfect blend of her personality and an awareness of the recipient.

Heck, if you don't know much about a person, you should know enough about his or her general interests to find an appropriate gift card. I am of mixed opinion on this matter. On the one hand, it's a bit impersonal, but on the other, it's a safe bet if the person is, shall we say, difficult to buy for (as people seem to think I am...) or the acquaintance is not too deep. Coffee fiend? There's a gift card for that. Craft addict? Plenty to choose from. Young couple renovating a house? Get 'em a Lowe's card. The point is, it's not brain surgery to put a little thought into things.

Even a card is something, with a hand-written note of thanks or acknowledgment of a person's worth (as some faculty did when I was an administrative assistant). Don't just sign your name to it; write something. Think, pause, mentally revise, compose--once upon a time, people wrote whole letters crammed margin to margin with things to say to their intended recipients.

These things take time, I understand, and time is money. But a boxed set of whatever or a watch or a make-up kit or a soap kit is only worth as much as the price sticker says. That value won't last and will in fact only degrade over time. In the end, it's not about the gift itself; all that is, as Kansas put it, "dust in the wind." What it is--or should be--about is what you put into it, showing that you've paid enough attention to understand, at however superficial a level, what has value to other people, or at least, how their minds function. It's one way to connect, and if that occasion only comes around once a year, it'd be a shame to pass up the opportunity.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sometimes poems come along at just the right time

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.
--"The Laughing Heart," Charles Bukowski

[Bio] [More poems]

Only in freshman comp

Perk # 17 of teaching freshman comp:

Coming across the phrase "shit or get off the pot" in the middle of an otherwise serious research essay, followed by an extension of the, ahem, shitty metaphor.

I'm not one to laugh aloud when I'm by myself, but that one had me in giggles once I got over my initial "does that say what I think it says?" response.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Downfall of the English language?

I was on Craigslist for a bit today, skimming over job listings. (Note to self: update the resume posted on Monster and Hotjobs.) And... I like Craigslist, I do--there's a lot there, from sale listings to real estate to "missed encounters" that are great for a laugh ("Our eyes met in the produce aisle of the grocery store. I was wearing a blue baseball cap, and you were gorgeous. I felt there was a connection. E-mail me.")

I make it sound disreputable, not my intention. People place stupid ads in the classifieds, too, only they pay money to do so. While I would not use Craigslist as my primary job search site, it's good resource to widen the net in a job search, which is why I was on to begin with.

If a listing is riddled with typos, I pass it over on principle--might as well stick with teaching freshman comp if that's what I'd have to look forward to dealing with. Sometimes, the issue is more than just careless editing. One listing I looked over was searching for (I believe) an editor or copywriter. I remember nothing about the job description except the word "impactful," as in, I guess, impactful prose, prose that is full of impact.

Ugh.

Impactful is not a word
.

I am willing to accept that language is a living thing and that my educational background leads me toward sometimes antiquarian tendencies. I've used words in casual conversation that I probably picked up in some Romantic-era tract, that are still valid but no longer commonly used. Pity, really, that so few people use the word "wont." It's so useful.... But I digress. At the same time, in the course of my studies, I learned to ignore spell check in writing papers with literary criticism because critics and scholars like to coin words on a whim (oooohh... "masculinist discourse" sounds good. Hey, what about "phallogocentrism?" All those syllables... size matters, you know). Those words at least sound impressive, and they do convey what the authors intended. Sure, they could as easily have found an existing word or combination of words to make the same point, but their alternatives work within a given discourse community. And when I write the occasional verse of poetry, I sometimes take liberty with language in the interest of scansion or simple wordplay. Language can change. It does change. It should change. People, cultures, societies change and evolve, and language will inevitably reflect that. "Google" is now a verb, and I suspect "to friend" will, with a bit of resistance from the old schoolers, wend its way into the language. I have no problems with those and few real issues with the lit crit folks' additions, much as I adore mocking them.

But "impactful" is just... it's wrong. Impactful just grates on the ears like nails on a chalkboard. The word "impact" alone has been so overdone, so overused as a buzz word, it's lost its, well, impact. Try "effective" or "masterful" or "clear" or "powerful" or "memorable." I came up with those off the top of my head, but if need be, you can use a thesaurus, oh poor, struggling, job ad writer. It's got all sorts of nifty words in it, ones that have been proven impactful effective over time. There's no need to bastardize the language in a failed attempt at profundity.

Needless to say, I'm no more applying for the "impactful" job than I am for the one seeking an "edutainer."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Beginning of the end

I don't know how it is in other industries, but December's a crazy busy time in academia, for students and faculty alike.

In spite of that, I love it. Sure, I'm usually stressed, sleep-deprived, and cranky, but there's an underlying eagerness to have it all done with. No matter how much I like a given set of classes, I thrive on novelty and the prospect of an upcoming new set of classes. I loved the prospect of new books, new material, new professors, and even a fresh batch of classmates as a student; now I look forward to the beautiful honeymoon period of a new semester, where students do their reading and assignments, but I also like having fresh slates to work with (even if the first set of writing I get always startles me with its... uh... roughness around the edges).

But I also like December for the same reason I love autumn--the end of a year and the prospect of a new one. I go through the motions of new year's resolutions, and like most, rarely accomplish them. I think they're just too ambitious. One of last year's ambitions was to find a balance between work and personal life; clearly, I haven't accomplished it. I thought I'd come to terms with God, but that relationship's still on the rocks. I thought I'd stop looking back at the what-ifs, and clearly, I haven't.

Such is life.

But I'm formulating next year's ambition. And it's simple. Oh, there are accompanying, unspoken goals that I would like to accomplish, and those are certainly bolder and more ambitious. But I think if I carry through with the relatively minor act I've been pondering for over three years, something that most people would probably do with little thought, the other things might just fall into place. It's a small act, but, I hope, a symbolic one. If--no, when I carry through, I'll blog about it ;).

---

I've heard it said that once you do something regularly for about two weeks, it becomes habit. After a month of blogging every day, I actually started twitching to write this morning. I may become a more regular blogger after all.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Wireless weekend

Wasn't completely wireless; twice, I had to use the computer to do things, but I kept those times brief. There were so many times I thought to just pop in and check my e-mail, just briefly, ever so briefly, but I didn't. And let me state, living in a house with three other people and five (functional) computers makes going computerless hard because the temptation is always there. So, what'd I do to counteract that?

I...

...crocheted a bit on a blanket
...beaded a necklace and bracelet
...raked leaves (and wafted a few over the fence into Mr. Obssessive Leaf Blowing Neighbor's yard. Hooray for juvenile pleasures)
...took my mom out for coffee
...saw a movie with my family
...got together with a friend
...read two books before bedtime, trading the 3 a.m. glare of the computer screen for the soft glow of a bedside lamp
...gathered up books to sell back to the bookstore and reordered my bookcases
...went through my stuff to get rid of things I don't need (ongoing process)
...got lost in my own head (daydreams, really; it's been a while since I indulged them)
...bundled up went to the park
...cooked a decent dinner (like, using the oven and everything)
...started a fire (in the fireplace, the first fire of winter)
...did a smidge of grading

And that's the kicker. I thought I'd free up that time to grade, but I chose to do other stuff instead, living stuff. That's the constant trade-off, it seems. Work, and personal and social life suffer. Socialize, and work suffers. The best I can do is see-saw a bit and try to make it all work out somehow.

Sorry, that was a bit depressing. Not fair to the spirit of the weekend. I realized, in spite of my not using the computer, it was impossible to disconnect from technology, from the car I drove to the cell phone I carried to the TV going in the background to the camera I took to the park (and umpteen other little things that I have no doubt taken for granted and ceased to register). I'm no luddite--far from it, actually--but I don't know that our reliance is a healthy one. We're so busy, so multi-tasking, so efficient, we miss important things, like human connection and... hippie talk here, nature.

I'm no Disney, skip around, singing and conversing with the animals type, but the time I spend in a park and outdoors makes me happier than the hours I spend on the bloody computer. I think I need to disconnect more often, and re-connect where it counts. And if that time involves getting out, living, doing things, and work has temporary set-backs, well, I think I can deal with that.

Friday, November 30, 2007

With apologies to T.S. Eliot

This is the way Nablopomo ends
This is the way Nablopomo ends
This is the way Nablopomo ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


Heh. I had to do that, just had to. T.S. Eliot is probably rolling in his grave right now (original source here). And for the record, I have been measuring my life out not in coffee spoons, but in coffee cups. OK, I'll leave Eliot alone now. I was just having a bit of fun with him, no malicious intent. I really can't criticize too severely the man who wrote the basis for one of my favorite musicals, Cats.

So. This is the end of an intense month. I went back through my old blogs to see what I'd written on Nov. 30 for the past 6 years, but there are generally fewer than a handful of posts each November (peak posting months, not surprisingly, are June, July, and August). It stretched me, mentally, this posting every day deal, but I stubbornly vowed I'd do it and I did. Quality, what I did have, at any rate, took a bit of a hit, but it also pushed me to hit publish on a few things I might've otherwise talked myself out of. I didn't post every idea that came to mind, either. I spared my readers a rant on the other day's outrages in the Wal-Mart parking lot (venting about the big box chain is like shooting fish in a barrel--far too easy and makes the shooter appear unambitious and a little hackneyed). I didn't post about the random conversations I've had with students (for one thing, about my tendency to wear my winter coat, wrist warmers, and flip-flops). I didn't post about my response to my peers' tendency to be marrying and engaging at an alarming rate recently (for one thing, my views on marriage are... uh... cynical and could appear bitter). I didn't post much about my job dissatisfactions. I kept the nagging metaphysical stuff to a minimum, even though those questions have flared back up again. For the most part, I think I kept from making an ass of myself.

I did intend to post about the albums that rock my world, which I plan to do when I have more time, as I want to give them the proper homage. I also have some interesting news articles bookmarked to write about, again, when I've the time to give them thoughtful treatment.

A student once told me, in defense of procrastination, pressure makes diamonds. Maybe, I replied, but it doesn't polish them. I don't know if National Blog Posting Month created any diamonds, but it at least created small nuggets of thoughts, some of which I like. And that's worth something.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Words, words, words--and naught but questions to show for them

All writers are discontent. That's because they're aware of a potential and believe they're not reaching it. - William Saroyan

How many words do we utter by the time we die? How many do we write? Is there a ballpark figure of how many produced between the first 'mama' and the fevered adolescent diary entries and the memos and emails of work and the last words we gasp out? Does the number vary based on profession, for example computer programmers writing X words, and writing teachers, thanks to grading and feedback on drafts and their own side projects, writing X times 3, and songwriters and poets writing about as much, thanks to re-writes and unreleased songs/poems? Do the words count if they're in any form of code or programming language? Does music itself count as writing? What is, really, writing? Where does it leave off at simple words? Where does it pick up with ideas and concepts? Does a word count as "just" a word if the ideas it suggests are vaster and grander than those small scribbles on paper or bits and bytes on a computer screen can capture?

I ask for an important reason: Last night, I was convinced I had run out of words, a scary prospect for a verbal person like myself. And a ludicrous idea, really. The words are there, but they're under pressure from other things. I've still got words in me. Obviously. I'm just a little stressed.

I've heard it said that before a writer can be good, s/he has to write about a million words' worth of bad writing. Where am I on that scale, I wonder? That's what led to my initial question, actually. A million seems arbitrary, but if there's an average number that people use in a lifetime, it would seem that at a certain point, adeptness would enter the equation, so to speak. If that's the case, it also leads me to question when the majority of words are used. For example, it seems like now, in my early 20s, I'm using far more words than I ever have, but there are other times in an average lifespan when words are important--when people have small children, when middle age hits and there are nagging questions and insecurities to work through, when it gets later in life and there are stories of heritage to pass onto the next generation.

Hmm. And I'm blurring the line between regular communication and writing, grouping them under the broad umbrella of "words." Is that as it should be? Or am I just full of it because it's day 29 of November and I'm digging at anything I can to make a post for the day?

My formatting's wonky. Thanks for the hint, Blogspot. Geez.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"And Yet the Books"

A poem from Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry, edited by Peter Forbes.

"And Yet the Books" by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Robert Hass

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
'We are,' they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it's still a strange pageant,
Women's dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will still be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

More of his poems are available here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Three cheers for tyranny, unapologetic apathy..."

Grading beckons. I am tired. I'm taking a lifeline, here: the rest of this post is something I wrote a year ago to the day, a post from my first semester of teaching. It was written at a moment where my idealism and my pragmatism had a head-on collision. The idealism's been a bit worse for the wear, methinks.

I've made up my mind: I am going to stop caring.

I only get paid to teach, not to care. I don't have the time or energy to do so; I'm not getting paid for it. I just have to make sure my students can write at the college level. Well, most of them are there. My job's done.

For the rest of the semester, I will just be a grading machine. Comma splice here, run-on there. Good development of ideas. Relevance of info? Transition needed here. Cut the wordiness there.

I will stop taking a personal interest in the writing itself and in the development of the writer. While this means I no longer will receive the thrill of seeing a struggling student finally "get it," it also spares me the frustration when students don't or when they sabotage themselves needlessly. It also uses less ink, so I won't go through as many pens--quite economic, really.

I will no longer care when they blow off their work. Hey, it's less grading, right? A zero is much more cut and dry than agonizing over the rubric to determine whether a paper is a B or C. It's college, and they're responsible for their own work. Again, by not caring, I'll be spared the twinge of disappointment when they don't come through. Once again, I'll miss out on the joy of seeing a previously slacking student finally start taking things seriously and pull up his or her grade, but the trade-off is worth it in easier sleeping.

By eliminating the emotional investment in my job, I will become that much more effective. Classes will be well-regulated sessions with very strict lesson goals and a complete lack of flexibility. No getting off topic, no negotiation, no room for opinions or options. It'll be like an assembly line of information, a one-way communication channel from teacher to students. Hey, it worked for centuries, right? Maybe those dead white guys really were on to something.

I don't know why it's taken so long for me to realize this; I think my emotional investment in teaching had clouded my vision. Whatever the reason, I've straightened my thinking up. Apathy is the way to go.

... Riiiiiiight... now if I could just convince myself...
A year later, I think I've finally started to convince myself.

Monday, November 26, 2007

This is ridiculous

Day 26 of National Blog Posting Month... The end is in sight. I'm tenacious. If I commit to something, whether it's a committee, an event, or even a mindset, I follow through pretty well. Sometimes this works in my favor; other times, it makes me my own worst enemy.

In this case, it's just a month of posting stuff once per day. The quality may vary radically, and the frequency of posting has led me to post more pictures, but dagnabit, I'm completing what I set out to do. And when it's over? I'll probably go back to posting about 3 times per week. As far as bloggers go, I think that makes me pretty consistent.

There is, however, one thing I want to try. This idea is triggered in part by a couple posts at The Skewed View about wasting time away. I haven't his fortitude to pull the plug on my Facebook as I did with Myspace, but I do acknowledge that too much of my time gets frittered away on the Internet. Facebook is but one culprit; it shares the time suckage with checking multiple e-mail addresses, checking site stats and Google Reader, popping in at my old journal to see what the friends I made there are up to, goofing around on Youtube, spending time on Last.fm. Oh, there could be legitimate reasons for those things: perhaps there are e-mails from friends (most likely e-mails are specials from Borders, mailings from the coffee shop, catalog specials, and the like), no legit excuse on the site stats thing but egotism (an average 10 hits per day!), I rarely comment on people's journals anymore even if I skim them, no excuse for Youtube since it's usually just for music and typically ends up somehow on inane videos like talking cats, and in my defense I typically have Last.fm going in the background to grading or some such thing.

It all adds up to more time than I'd care to calculate. I wondered to myself if I could go a week without the computer (which, to be honest, is synonymous with "Internet," the real culprit), triggering a painful knee-jerk response. No can do, and what about my employee e-mail? I should keep up with that, at least.

How about two days, then, as a test of will? Two days of only using the computer for necessities. It seems so simple, and it is... in theory. Communism seems simple in theory, too, and look how well that's worked out. No, entire economies won't go to pot with my little experiment, but I anticipate the prospect with about as much glee as a peasant girding up to go stand for hours in the bread line. (Note to self: bad simile. Quit it with the melodrama, you spoiled bourgeois baby.)

This will be after November, though--wouldn't want to drop the ball on NaBloPoMo with the end so close in sight. That would mean the first of December to start my experiment, a Saturday, running through Sunday. Would that mean actually going out and doing something that involves interacting with human beings? Doing my grading in a more efficient manner? Not being online at 2 and 3 a.m.? Taking that time to read or do something productive? Radical concepts.

I'd need to establish rules ahead of time: only work e-mail, no exceptions. No Internet otherwise. Shoot, no computer, period. I'll shut it down. Music? Charge the iPod in advance. Yeesh... I haven't synced any new music onto it since Spring semester... it's an odd mixture of Bayside, Muse, 30 Seconds to Mars, Bullet For My Valentine, Rise Against, Emery, and Within Temptation (I think I'll leave it be for now, as I never installed iTunes on this computer). If I want to play Solitaire, I can pull out a deck of cards. Need to write something? I can use pen and paper.

I can't think of anything else. I think I'm gonna do it even though my hands feel a bit clammy at the prospect. See that? I'm committing to it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Food for thought

Someone recently shared with me one of those stop-and-make-you-think quotes from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I've read it before (am about due for a re-read, actually), but if you haven't yet, it's a great book; most people are probably familiar with its anti-censorship theme, though Bradbury himself recently said it was actually about the dangers posed to reading by too much television watching. Either interpretation yields a rich, relevant message, and I look forward to re-reading the book with a new interpretive lens. Bradbury is a brilliant writer with brilliant ideas, including this one:
Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.
I read the quote once, was ready to pass it over, and stopped to process. I wonder, really, what I've touched and left an impression on--it's not the sort of thing we tend to think about in the rush, rush, rush of the daily grind. I teach, true, and I make some hand-crafted things; perhaps it's self-deprecation, but I don't think I've left my mark. Yet. And I wonder what that mark, that touch, will be, and on whom, and when. I like his word choice--touch--to reach out, to connect, to make meaningful contact, physical or otherwise, with another human being. It seems to be increasingly missing in our daily interactions. But I digress...

What about you? Who or what have you touched? What will you leave behind?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A travelogue of sorts.

Here, as promised, are the pictures from yesterday's adventure. Blast my not having my camera with me. These shady shots will have to suffice; they're the only tangible record I have of the exploration. It just means I'll have to go again to get better pictures. Until then, here's a mini-travelogue.



Let me take you on a journey. Start here. Which way would you choose? Please say right.

You chose right. Or correctly. Whatever. C'mon, keep moving. There's lots to see.

See? If you'd stayed on the paved path, you'd have missed this. Cool, huh? The trees were huge.

And you'd also have missed this. It's the closest thing we saw to a cave. The mud prohibited further investigation.

Watch your balance. The leaves under the water vaguely resemble rust.

What's this about being tired? Need a place to rest for a bit?

Clearly the art students have been here... There may have been a few goths among them.

Others have left their marks as well. I didn't. I was merely a passer-by.

And still others have made more permanent marks. Nature accommodates herself; she has to.

Finally, something gave us a hunch we should leave. So we did.

And thus ends an afternoon's excursion. I encourage you to find your own parks to explore. And for goodness' sake, get off the beaten path. It's OK to walk in the grass. Who knows what you may find.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A better alternative to Black Friday

I had a wonderful time today. It is, in case you were living under a rock, Black Friday, the day to kick off the consumerism that masquerades as Christmas spirit. But my good time had nothing to do with that.

Every year, I ignore the ads, ignore the commercials, ignore the radio--in fact, I avoid unnecessary shopping between Black Friday and about early January. No mass-produced gift basket or unnecessary and overpriced gadget can induce me to voluntarily take on massive crowds, unnavigable aisles, and overworked staff. The touch of claustrophobia and mild tension headache that result from such an excursion are compelling enough reasons not to.

The madness started early this year; some stores, eager to get the jump on the competition, were open Thursday evening. Others decided to open doors at 4 a.m. (sounds more like a bedtime to me than a get-up-and-stand-in-line time) or 5 a.m. "What on earth could be worth getting up that early for?" I pondered aloud the other night as I caught the tail end of a commercial. I was ready to forgo all of that nonsense, that is, until I caught wind of Half Price Books' special for the first 100 customers--a $5 gift card and a tote bag. I even set the alarm to get up; it went off at about 6:30, whereupon I shut it off and said screw that. If I want the five bucks that badly, I'll sell some books back next time I go.

So I went back to sleep, and when I got up, it was to get ready to make the drive out of the city back to the small town where I went to college. Yeah, that drive--the one I realized I kinda liked. The plan: lunch with a good friend at our favorite hole-in-the-wall-homestyle-cooking-and-tea joint. We shared a pot of black currant tea and ordered lunch. I'm proud of myself for trying something new (and liking it, too!), not the same thing I ordered the previous three times we had lunch there. We chatted and caught up, enjoying the atmosphere, the food, and of course, the company. It's hard to stay caught up with friends when they're all working, in grad school, or some combination of the two, and it'd been at least summer since we last got together.

Afterward, we pondered over what to do. There's not too much that doesn't involve shopping, and she, like I, didn't want to mess with that. So we decided to check out a park on the outskirts of town. Best. Decision. Ever. We parked and then set off on the walking trail. Not far in, the path split--one way, straight ahead, the other way, across a bridge. Across the bridge, an unpaved, footworn path through the woods. After a few Robert Frost punchlines, we crossed the bridge. The path forked a few times, and at each junction, we decided which way to take. When we reached the end of one trail, we'd turn back and take the other junction. There were lots of cool things to see--little creeks and rivulets, moss covered rocks and trees, impressive fallen trees, a few impressive rock walls. Eventually, we headed back to the paved trail--only to find another footpaved path to follow. A couple of those turns led us straight into the adjoining grave yard. Others led back to the rock face. Near one rock face (we couldn't decide if it was one of the "caves" that the area was supposed to have), there was a whitish-colored... ball... of something. My friend's first question: "Is that a skull?" Her second question: "Should I kick it?" In the intervening time, of course, we determined it was not a skull, but the incident was good for about 10 minutes or so of chuckling. "I'm blogging this," I said as we made our way back.

One rock wall was quite impressive, but it was a bit eerie--and the mud was a bit thick to slodge through. As I looked at it, a bit of graffiti caught my eye. "Looks like vandals have been here," I remarked. "Or maybe they were Goths," she replied. "Or Visigoths?" I asked.

At the end of the paved trail was a definite indentation in the rock where all manner of graffiti had been sprayed, all sorts of names and initials had been carved, and even some Mayan-looking faces carved into the rock. An occasional beer can or water bottle littered the area. We finally turned back, as it was getting late-ish, but we didn't leave until we'd explored one last footpath.

My hands were getting numb about half an hour in, and I could barely feel them by the time we left. My nose was running about off my face. I was chilled all the way through, but I had a wonderful time. I regretted not bringing my camera, but I snagged a bunch of shots with my cell phone (forthcoming, if I can get the software to work to get them off said phone). But really, there's nothing like tramping through the woods with a good friend, exploring the pathways, cautiously testing your footing on an uneven trail and finding with increasing confidence that you can feel your way through, and, yes, I'm going to sound New Age-y or at least somewhat transcendentalist here, getting out into nature. In places, it was absolutely silent, broken only by a bird twitter or squirrel darting through the leaves. It was perfect, absolutely perfect, and I can't wait to do it again--we only explored part of the park; who knows what the rest will hold.

And that's how I spent most of my Black Friday--with a friend. And that's the best thing to give--or receive--time, attention. Caring. Listening. Laughing. Exploring. The other crap in the stores? Material. Ephemeral.

Don't buy; do. It lasts a hell of a lot longer, costs nothing, and means so much more.

Which leads into one last Thanksgiving nod: I am so thankful for my friends, for their quirks, for their humor, for their intelligence, for their full acceptance of who I am, for the fact that they're there whether I'm looking to have a good time or whether I need someone to listen. I can only hope I've been half as good a friend in return as they have been to me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Scattered musings



I usually have the blinds closed in my room, but I'm glad I opened them. The picture, I realize, is not spectacular. It is, however, the first snow of winter here. Most of the snow's gone now, but I got to experience the novelty of seeing fluffy white flakes, and furthermore see them on a day off from work when I can lounge around and sip at my coffee indulgently, cozy, not having to scrape an undercoat of ice off my car or brave slick roads. Ahh, now that's luxury.

And today, Thanksgiving, is a day for friends and family (blood relation's the only distinction, as far as I'm concerned). And let's not forget the tryptophan-and-carb-induced torpor. The house will be full of wonderful aromas--turkey, baking pies, and, uh, the rest of the stuff on the menu. I don't do too much on the kitchen end of things (for heaven's sake, I exploded my dinner last weekend... in the microwave). I do bring my appetite, though ;).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm thankful for...

I don't like to give extra credit. However, from time to time I will put an easy opportunity for points on a quiz. For an additional five points, I added the following question to Monday's quiz:

What is one thing you're thankful for, and why?

Freshmen are funny folks; I never know what sort of answers I'll get. I had a few quirky ones, like the one who was thankful for food because of how wonderful it was, and there were a few related to work and school, but the vast majority were thankful for specific people--mothers, fathers, siblings, best friends, boyfriends, girlfriends.

As I read off representative answers after I collected them, I mused aloud. "A lot of people are willing to write this on a quiz for English class, but how many of you would say this directly to these people?" I saw quite a few heads shaking no. I admitted that I'm not good with doing that myself; many people aren't.

"They should know already," one student said.

In a perfect world, perhaps, each person knows exactly what he or she means to others, how many lives we touch just in our daily interactions. I wouldn't say this is a fallen world, but perfect it is not. Negatives are so easy to find, tempers can be so hard to rein in sometimes, work tends to take precedence over more important things, and we take for granted the people who mean the most to us. And those simple acknowledgments fall by the wayside.

I admit, again, that I'd horrid with this stuff myself. Start getting into mushy, feel-good sentiments, and I'm likely to get a little uncomfortable and start mocking the ideas or otherwise squirming, whether I'm on the giving end or the receiving end. But I think I'll try to work past my reservations. That's my intent, anyway.

Have a good Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Serendipity

It's a word I'm quite fond of, serendipity. This is my 50th post, but I'm sure I've used the word serendipity a few times. It just trips off the tongue. And it may have something to do with my bookish childhood.

Simply defined, serendipity is making cool discoveries by accident. Observe.

One of my Sitemeter referrals prompted me to follow this search string:

From there, I stumbled across Redneck Mother's blog. From there, I followed a link she posted to Free Rice. Oh my god, that link is making it to the vices list. It's a vocab quiz of sorts, but with each word you get right, they donate ten grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. As you play, it adjusts to your skill level; the top level is 50--I keep stagnating at about 40 (not bad for someone who supposedly writes like a high schooler), but I'm trying to go further. It's nerdy fun, but for a good cause.

And I do feel I should qualify that as nerdy/geeky/whatever. My sister once laughed at me for spending a chunk of a Friday evening playing a game where you place the respective 50 states correctly on a map. Or a simple RPG called Maganic Wars. Hey, I keep myself amused pretty easily.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Random bullets of crap

I'm at nearly 50 posts on this blog, so I feel some sense of entitlement to a "Random Bullets of Crap" post. So, here goes.

  • I finally tried a McDonald's free Monday vanilla latte--it was worth every penny I paid. While it's true I am something of a coffee snob, this goes beyond frou-frou drink to... Well, it's everything I expect of a McDonald's drink--all sugar, no coffee substance. If you want a latte, go to your neighborhood coffee house (and I do mean local, not Starbucks--crack open the phone book or use Google if you're not sure where to find one) and get a real latte, the kind that actually contains coffee. Coffee should bite back, not smother you in toxic sugariness.
  • On a positive note, Atlanta Bread's Baja Chicken Enchilada soup is wonderful--rich spicy flavor, chicken chunks you don't need a microscope to see, and, uh... corn. And beans. Protein never tasted so delicious. (With my luck, they'll be discontinuing this soup, now that I've discovered the requisite one dish that I like from a given restaurant. I'm a horrid stick in the mud when it comes to trying new things.)
  • Youtube truly is amazing. I started off by clicking a link to a featured video of talking cats (the Internet is an incredible medium for people to take pet dotage to new levels) and clicked through to several videos of talking cats, where I watched a cat named Roxie talk and grow up in the span of several videos. Then, since it was my break time, I searched for songs by a few folk artists I like, and then I searched with the generic search term "peace," just to see what was there. And then I found...
  • Gregorian chants, but with a twist. These are covers of pop and rock songs, you see, everything from Evanescence to Simon and Garfunkel. Check them out. R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters." Decent covers, but one surprisingly good one is a cover of Rammstein's "Engel" (original version here for comparison--probably not work-friendly). Another good one is their cover of Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." The Gregorian chant stuff eventually led me to the Leningrad Cowboys, who do some interesting covers, including a version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" with balalaikas.
  • If that's not random enough, I'll add a few more links you could have lived without following. Something about this video a few weeks ago gave me a hankering to search for Greensleeves on Youtube (don't even try to follow the logic; my mind jumps sometimes in ways that I can't always follow). That eventually led me to a Youtube group where people uploaded videos of themselves playing songs on their ocarinas, which I found cool because I was pondering getting one at the renaissance festival (but didn't). I did hit up Wikipedia to read more about ocarinas, though, because my only prior knowledge consisted of what I skimmed over at the ren fest and, uh, I knew it had something to do with a video game that I never played.
  • This comic made me smile the other night.
  • In time, this site will make it onto my "vices" list, if they update with more frequency. Shoot, I should submit a few of the ones that've made it into my spam folder recently. Something about massive meats and back doors and another one about stallions and fillies... Uh, yeah... I actually have to give them points for some of the metaphors, crude though they may be. Never mind that I have no need for such products given that I am female.
And that's it for now. I realized there was a steady spiral of negativity in my previous posts, so I'm trying to reverse it. Bear with me. It's been a long semester.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

This is... there are no words

From the NY Times Magazine: Sweeping the Clouds Away.

Early episodes of Sesame Street, available on DVD, come with a warning that they may not be suitable for today's preschoolers. Why? Several factors, including Cookie Monster's smoking in the Monsterpiece Theatre pieces, his unhealthy eating habits, Oscar the Grouch's misanthropy...

It's been a few years since I watched the show, but it's a part of my childhood warm-fuzzies. And I turned out... more or less OK. I'm not a smoker, not obese, and only borderline misanthropic. Which leads me to one conclusion:

It must be a strange experience to raise a child in this day and age. On the one hand, kids have cell phones and Internet access from a young age with access to everything the web has to offer, but on the other hand they must be so sheltered. They must be guarded from smoking (a current social bugaboo right now--it makes a convenient scapegoat), they must be shown people indulging only in healthy eating habits (because no doubt mommy or daddy, juggling both parenting and careers, are the very models of healthy eating), and they must be shown a technicolor-bright world where no one is unhappy (because it's that sort of thing that leads these current generations to being the Prozac nation, not increased anxiety from things like pressure to perform on tests and witnessing the violence of our society).

(Gee, but that "wtf" tag has come in more useful than I anticipated.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Last shots of autumn

I took a 20-minute break from grading earlier this week to go outdoors. After all, autumn won't last forever. Camera in hand, I decided to see what interesting things the yard held in store.

It started at the deck, actually. The leaves are accumulating. If we leave the back door open in the evening, sometimes the wind whips them up against the screen. And sometimes they scratch across the deck, an almost crunching sound, which when combined with the creaks of a settling patio, can be disconcerting. But the leaves looked pretty harmless in the halflight. The great thing about being digital is that I can take pictures just for kicks, just to play with the angles or the content. Those pictures tickle my fancy, but there's nothing spectacular in the composition.

Onward, then. This is what I eventually found:

This is a... shrub of sorts. Dunno what it's called, but it's got pretty little pink flowers in the spring.

Most of the leaves are gone now. I'm a sucker for silhouettes and sunsets, so here ya go.

OK, so I actually took this one a few weeks ago. It was an accident, actually. The shot I was trying to capture was...


Ah, the benefits of actually using the flash on a grey, gloomy day.


And that may be all the pictures I take in a while. I appear to have murdered my camera, or at least critically injured it in a steep topple onto a hard surface (blasted concrete...). It now works about every other time I try to use it and sometimes refuses to read the memory card (problem's the camera, not the card--computer reads it just fine). Could be the impetus I need to get a better camera.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good questions

This post is largely navel-gazing in nature, although I've tried to keep the whine down to a minimum. Skip over at your discretion; I won't be offended.

One of my coworkers has the following question posted on her Facebook profile:

What were you doing five years ago? What did you think you'd be doing? Where do you envision yourself in another five years?

Good question, I thought. Five years ago I was... I was... What was I doing five years ago, anyway? That was undergrad, right? Before I transferred, so community college. I was a student. Just a run-of-the-mill slacker/honor student. Didn't have a single blessed plan for the future. Beyond that, I still drew a blank; luckily, there are approximately five years of my life on teh interwebs. I logged into my oldest blog (I remember that password but forgot my login to pay my cell phone bill--what gives?) and skipped directly to November 2002. Here's what I found:

November 17:
For better or for worse, I'm an English major. My Respected Father (can you pinpoint my literary allusion?) is not too thrilled, but oh well. Y'know, I have almost no idea what I want to do with my life. I know darn well what others want me to do, but hardly any idea of my own ambitions. And I'll be a junior next semester--the real world encroacheth.

Oh, that post was good for a few chuckles when I re-read it. The melodrama and pretension--that was me, and those elements still flare up from time to time. I may prefer to complain rather than fix my problems, but by golly, I at least understand the underlying problems. I chose English largely for the fact that I could read books--lots of books, lots of obscure books, lots of classic books--books, books, and more books, all for college credit. Sweet deal, I thought. The future would come later, but there were faint whispers, never fully articulated to even myself, of being able to turn my experience around into publication of the literary variety.

I wasn't planning on teaching, that was for sure. Can I see myself doing this for another five years? No. If I keep up at the pace I'm going now, I'll burn out. Frankly, I think I'm there already. I haven't had any of the panic attacks that punctuated grad school, but I'm just barely keeping my nose above water as far as grading goes.

Four classes a semester is just too much--too much grading, too much stress, too much personal investment that wears me down, too many meals skipped because I was so busy I forgot to eat, too many weekends that leave me choosing between socializing or doing what needs to be done (with either option leaving me dissatisfied, sarcastic, harshly judgmental, and generally unpleasant to be around), too many cups of coffee and too little sleep. Too much of everything across the board. I like my colleagues, who are among the most intelligent, quirky, and generous people I've met, and I like the few students who make it worthwhile, but most of the students just don't care. And that burns--to give and give, and get almost nothing in return. In that sense, it renders the other sacrifices meaningless and bitter.

So, where do I see myself in five years? Still no clue. The real world no longer encroaches; it's here. It won't go away, either, the pesky bugger. Maybe I am one of those la-la land dwelling milennials so derisively described on 60 Minutes, but while I do want something that'll pay the bills and not leave me scrounging, I'm not at this point looking for a capital-C-Career. What I do needs not define who I am, and that's where teaching has screwed with my head--it became who I am against my consent. It's what academia demands, and unless I invest myself fully in the discipline and moreover believe that what I'm doing has worth and meaning, the payoff will be scant, both monetary and otherwise. If grad school taught me one thing, it was actually a valuable lesson before I invested in the blood, sweat, and tears of a Ph.D: I don't want to be a scholar of English. I love to read, and I love to write, but to spend so much time and energy in writing about what others have written strikes me as unfulfilling.

Where does that leave me? Staring at the crossroads once again. Unless I land a full-time job or a couple different part-time jobs, I'll continue to teach as an adjunct. I've requested fewer classes, and I'm starting to send out more applications. We'll see how it works out.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

And now for a bit of whimsy

From the depths of my creative writing portfolio, I bring out this. . . er, gem of a poem. It's nearly five years old; I submitted it for workshop on November 26, 2002.

"Writer's block"
I feel my fingers itch with the urge,
The words are on my fingertips.
The thoughts come in a rushing surge--
And then they quit.

That's one of the few creative pieces that made it past my summertime, post-graduation manic cleaning streak. Here's what happened to the rest:


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The thing morning people don't "get" is this

Or; Why I am liable to snap off your head if you so much as rob me of 15 minutes of sleep, regardless of the interruption or the interrupter. I'll give you a hint: it's not personal.

Firstly, it is a matter of proportion. Do a little simple math. Fifteen minutes to someone who has had seven hours of sleep is a mere pittance; fifteen minutes cut out of a four-hour night of sleep is a significant chunk. It's true we choose to sleep at late hours, but it's largely a matter of productivity--my day may be in full swing by 9:00, but my productivity doesn't peak until after midnight. Therefore, if I am to accomplish in a timely matter what I need to do, a late night is the way to do it.

Moreover, though, it is a matter of principle. Daily, with each time we hit snooze, we are reminded of the fact that we have had to accommodate ourselves to a schedule foreign to our own inner clocks. But we do it. We do. We may hit snooze a couple more times than you disgusting Mary Poppins types, but in time, we do wake up. Five times a week, in most cases. Often, we are not ready to go with skips in our steps and songs in our throats. That's just too much to ask.

And in light of that inconvenience, if we prefer to take a semi-autonomous stand of when within the timeframe of what my ex-military aunt calls "zero dark thirty" we arise, let us. It's the only retribution we have in a world that asks us to be fully functional several hours before we reach our peak of productivity.

"I'll rise," says one of my favorite Garfield cartoons, "but I won't shine."

---

And on a different note, here's a Windows Vista paradox: Vista will ask for permission umpteen times to run a program that you specifically initiated with the intention of running, but will take it upon itself to reboot and install updates without being prompted or given permission and regardless of any documents you had running...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Talkin' 'bout my generation

A segment on 60 Minutes was one topic of debate on campus today, and it was just linked through Groupwise. I await their responses. As far as I'm concerned, it's just another entry in the ongoing tradition of hand-wringing and proclaiming that this generation is the worst ever. It's titled, simply, "Millennials."

Where on earth do I even begin with this? The first clip is about how self-centered they are, how lazy, how bright and multitasking many are, but also how difficult and unwilling to compromise in the workplace they are, how "absolutely incorrigible." After all, "they come first." They must be spoken to "a little bit like a therapist on television," buffered from any harsh words. Yes, the overuse of "they" is deliberate on my part.

Next clip? Partying in the workplace, parades through the office, nap rooms, motivational seminars, and happy hours complete with godawful and tacky karaoke. A couple 20-somethings talk about what we as a generation want. "We're not going to settle," and it's not bad to have four jobs per year on a resume [in what industry?!]. "We definitely put lifestyle and friends above work," they say [speak for yourselves, dudes]. Next up, a woman tells a cadre of young workers about how they need to wear underwear, and wear it under their clothing, and by the way, talking about their sex lives in the workplace is off-topic. Her tone is rather like what one would use to address elementary students, bubbling with enthusiasm and softening any mild criticism she has.

It gets worse, blaming Mr. Rogers for the "narcissistic" kids in the workplace, how parents then used that to say how kids are special without having expectations of achievement. It's a "coddling virus," complete with examples of the "I deserve an A because I paid for it" mentality, and how sometimes kids'll bring in mommy to settle a grad dispute, and some even bring their parents to job interviews, and the companies are fine with that; nay, they welcome it! Goodness, but we're going to hell in a handbasket.

I'd go on, but I'd start frothing at the mouth if I did. What I want to know is how hard they had to search for all this. How mainstream is the tendency? Some of the behavior they describe is appalling--yet these people still land what appear to be cushy jobs. How? And if it's that appalling, if they're that "incorrigible," how do they keep their jobs? I hate to point fingers here, but if parents and companies are willing to put up with such histrionics, they deserve every bit of the entitlement attitude they get. And it won't get any better. And then they can continue to lament the decline of the American youth. Seems pretty self-serving.

They have a grain of truth to their pronouncements. Sure, my students can be whiny. Sure they seem startled to learn that their grades actually reflect the fact that they didn't complete two essays and are even more startled to learn that my "do-over" policy is stringent. Sure they're lazy, and sure they'd love it if I brought in all sorts of fancy gimmicky stuff to counteract the tedium of actually taking classes. I don't, and most of them learn to deal with that.

They learn. They do. Eventually, and I'll bet it often comes before the age of 26 (the age designated as the onset of adulthood in the clips). And they learn not from coddling, but from taking a few knocks. Some drop out of school and come back a couple years wiser and ready to make a go of it. Sometimes the glare of an impending F wakes them up. They stand no long-term benefit from countless do-overs and exemptions and words of encouragement when what they really need is the straightforward truth. The workforce, at least the one I'm acquainted with, does not function like the one on 60 Minutes.

I sound like an old curmudgeon there, don't I? Well, I've been told I'm really a 40-something at heart. The truth is, though, I belong to this generation of narcissists and folks who expect to both waltz into the boardroom in ratty jeans and set the stakes for employment. My mommy and daddy told me I was special, oh so special, just like a snowflake, and I would do great things no matter how little effort I put in. *snort* Yeah. That was why they hounded me about grades and were--not so much angry, god, it was worse--disappointed when I didn't, and they let me know it, not always in soothing, therapeutic tones. When I got to college, I never would have dreamed of asking them to intervene in a grade matter. I also went to my job interviews alone. Maybe it's different in the corporate world, but I've never expected to be buddies with my boss or department chair or dean; all I ask for is a decent working relationship and the knowledge that they'd have my back in a plagiarism case. Leave that touchy-feely New Age-y crap for support groups.

I was raised in a pretty solid middle class, Middle American childhood, born in the '80s, raised in the '90s, just like those folks they're talking about in that news magazine segment. But that generation, at least the one they described, seems alien to me. If that's the future, it's ugly, and maybe just a bit unrealistic and alarmist.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"...where all the angels meet with each other..."

One thing about teaching composition that is both amusing by spells and *headdesk*-worthy is the bloopers in student papers. Some are obvious goofs by an overly helpful spellcheck that can't read context -- "vestal lawn care" or the process analysis essay that defined the ridge of a roof as the place where "all the angels meet with each other." On the former, I actually wrote out the definition of "vestal," and on the latter, I wrote, "nice imagery, but I think you mean 'angles.'" Late night grading results in snarky comments sometimes. Lucky for one student I wasn't feeling snarky when I got to the paper that mentioned "mother-son bondage" (hot damn, I didn't know Jocasta was into that sort of thing).

And then there are the bloopers that can only be attributed to... pick a culprit; it's probably a combination of factors, the largest one being decreased attention to academic writing. And by academic writing, I actually mean writing that adheres to Standard English. But it's more than just making sure they iron out the glitches; their logic is... um, what do you call freshman logic?

One student took on the issue of interracial marriage, singing its praises. Lovely. I'm all for tolerance and breaking down historical barriers. But she had a hard time staying focused on the interracial aspect. One particular oversight was when she mentioned that if children were the result of such a union, they'd have the benefit of getting to know two different families! Granted, I do live in a state with a reputation for being "hick," but, really... I wrote something to the effect of, "Yes, but ideally most children would get to know two different families. I think you mean cultures."

And tonight, I wrote the following comments on a paper: "Well, there are male prostitutes, too" and "But it's not a crime if sado-masochism isn't involved?" My comments fit the context, by the way. But the logic was faulty.

... And the kicker? I read it through a couple times, inked it up a good deal, then played a hunch and fed a line to Google. First search, first hit. I'm getting entirely too good at this. The original source? An editorial piece.

Am I fighting a losing battle?

---

Here's Monday's post, early. My day's going to be crazy busy, but I'd hate to drop the ball and miss a day of November. What a great week this'll be, starting off with plagiarism, picking up with jury duty mid-week (it'd be neat to see the judicial process, but I've got to get out of it somehow...), and interwoven with a --pardon my French -- shitload of grading.