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 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 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


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.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veteran's day

As it turns out, today is Veteran's Day. It would be so easy to turn that into a politicking opportunity, wouldn't it? To promote my own views? My opinions are strong, a combination of personal conviction supported by evidence that I have selectively chosen. I could excoriate the Bush administration or praise its efforts; I could drag Iraq into this easily.

Or perhaps a non-statement is as much a statement as a soapbox spiel, and perhaps by refusing to take a clear stance I am as guilty of the political correctness and fear of saying anything that someone somewhere might take offense at as my students appear to be. What I intend is acknowledgment only, for the ambiguous thing that war is.

One of my favorite books is Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. The following is a passage from the story entitled "How to Tell a True War Story."

In a true war story, if there's a moral at all, it's like the thread that makes the cloth. You can't tease it out. You can't extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there's nothing much to say about a true war story, except maybe "Oh." True war stories do not generalize. They do not indulge in abstraction or analysis.

For example: War is hell. As a moral declaration the old truism seems perfectly true, and yet because it abstracts, because it generalizes, I can't believe it with my stomach. Nothing turns inside.

It comes down to gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.


How do you generalize?

War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.

The truths are contradictory. It can be argued, for instance, that war is grotesque. But in truth war is also beauty. For all its horror, you can't help but gape at the awful majesty of combat. You stare out at tracer rounds unwinding through the dark like brilliant red ribbons. You crouch in ambush as a cool, impassive moon rises over the nighttime paddies. You admire the fluid symmetries of troops on the move, the great sheets of metal-fire streaming down from a gunship, the illumination rounds, the white phosphorus, the purply orange glow of napalm, the rocket's red glare. It's not pretty, exactly. It's astonishing. It fills the eye. It commands you. You hate it, yes, but your eyes do not. Like a killer forest fire, like cancer under a microscope, any battle or bombing raid or artillery barrage has the aesthetic purity of absolute moral indifference - a powerful, implacable beauty - and a true war story will tell the truth about this, though the truth is ugly.

To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. Though it's odd, you're never more alive than when you're almost dead. You recognize what's valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what's best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.

Mitchell Sanders was right. For the common soldier, at least, war has the feel - the spiritual texture - of a great ghostly fog, thick and permanent. There is no clarity. Everything swirls. The old rules are no longer binding, the old truths no longer true. Right spills over into wrong. Order blends into chaos, hate into love, ugliness into beauty, law into anarchy, civility into savagery. The vapors suck you in. You can't tell where you are, or why you're there, and the only certainty is absolute ambiguity.

In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it's safe to say that in a true war story nothing is absolutely true.

I can't really write about war or the veteran's experience. I've never been there. And that's my non-statement of a statement for today.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The times, they are a-changin'

Once again, by complete accident, I've ended up at craft supply stores shortly after payday. Not the best timing on my part. My yarn stash is just shy of reaching the "when on earth do you expect to have the time to complete all those projects" stage. I have no self-control when confronted with a brightly colored clearance sign and funky textured yarns. Oh well. There are more expensive and less productive vices I could have; being a yarn sensualist isn't going to break the bank just yet.

Many of the people I saw at the store were middle-aged to older women, especially with my tendency to linger in the yarn aisles. There were, of course, exceptions. I kept passing a group of three Amish (or Mennonite; I didn't ask) women. They were probably around my age. Their hair-coverings were my first tip-off, and then I noticed their dresses--not stodgy, faded colors, but simple floral prints, full-length and I would guess by the length, homemade.

It was a bit brisk out today, not cold, just enough that a light jacket or sweater would be welcome. I was wearing a fleece poncho myself.

The Amish women? Hoodies. And flip-flops.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Wherein the Twit jumps on the meme bandwagon

I saw this shiny little thing floating around the blogosphere and had to try it out. (Yes, all the other kids were doing it, and yes, I'd jump off the bridge if they did, too, mom.)

According to this site, my blog's readability level is:
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Get a Cash Advance

My first response was indignation. After all, I have, like, an advanced degree, and this silly little thing says I write at, like, a high school level, you know? And that's just not cool, I mean, my reputation is at stake here, and, like, it could completely ruin my life. You just don't get it.

And then I removed the stick of self-importance from the orifice where I had it lodged, and realized that what I aim for is readability. It's a blog, for goodness' sake. I can write gloriously convoluted sentences as the occasion requires (and by "occasion" here, I mean "grad school"). But I wouldn't write like that the rest of the time. I'm pretty sure I blog like I talk--the style can range anywhere between flippant and silly to somewhat stilted or stuffy sounding, and then it can make a 180 degree turn.

And if that averages out to high school level, that's fine. After all, I spend a considerable chunk of time each week dealing with students fresh out of high school.

(Day 9 of Nablopomo... can you tell I'm tired and a little short on material here? I got a blog post out of a meme.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007


One night I was listening to music in the wee hours of the morning, a CD my friend had burned ahem, given to me. The music was Shinedown, with a few tracks by Lacuna Coil thrown in to use the extra space.

"Let me know which are your favorite tracks," my friend said when she gave it to me. It sounded like an odd request, but hey, she does keep company with me. Oddity is a given.

So I was listening late at night. Track five was a bit slow to start. Impatient, I fast forwarded a bit. "You have no riiiight to ask me how I feeeel..." Phil fucking Collins. The bitch.

She loves '80s music. I do not. It's a running joke between us--when we're out in my car, I threaten her with my "emo-screamo crap," and when I'm with her, she threatens me with Phil Collins. Or Genesis. Or something equally against the grain of my picky tastes.

With the exception of Metallica and The Cure, I really don't much care for '80s music. But I'll be darned, '80s pop makes for really good cover songs. A good cover song has to capture enough of the original, but add something new--otherwise, it just seems like a shadow of the original.
So, here are a few good ones.

Dead or Alive's "You Spin me Round (Like a Record)" as covered by industrial group Dope.
The Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" as covered by Marilyn Manson.
Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" as covered by Marilyn Manson (eh... Manson's video is nsfw).
Genesis's "Land of Confusion" as covered by Disturbed.
New Order's "Blue Monday" as covered by Orgy.

Actually, it isn't just '80s stuff.
Metallica's cover of Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" is in my humble opinion better than the original.
Ditto for Shinedown's cover of Lynard Skynard's "Simple Man" (Shinedown's vocalist is incredible; that's 90% of it right there).

And this last one is... Well, there's a trend in these songs for my preferring industrial renditions better than the originals. The last one reverses the trend, and it almost feels blasphemous to say, but...

I like Nine Inch Nails. A lot. And I like their song "Hurt," but Johnny Cash's rendition just blows them away. When I heard Cash's version, I think my heart broke a little bit. Heck, a lot. He strips it down and makes it bleed with regret. If you don't click any of the links, at least watch this:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

So many books, so little time

It's said that booklovers never sleep alone. I can top that (yeah, that's what she said). I like multiple books, often at the same time, for a little bed(side) variety. Right now, I'm reading The Zombie Survival Guide, Tim O' Brien's The Things They Carried, several recent issues of National Geographic, and Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire. Which one I read depends on my mood, and there are nights when I'm just too tired or have a headache. Lately, Desert Solitaire's been my pick.

Whoever sold it to the used bookstore originally bought it at an information center in Moab, Utah. I'm jealous. If the land is half as beautiful as Abbey describes it, the scenery must be breath-taking. However, it's not just about the scenery. Not at all. Abbey writes in the introduction,
This is not primarily a book about the desert. In recording my impressions of the natural scene I have striven above all for accuracy, since I believe that there is a kind of poetry, even a kind of truth, in simple fact. But the desert is a vast world, an oceanic world, as deep in its way and complex and various as the sea. Language makes a mighty loose net with which to go fishing for simple facts, when facts are infinite. If a man knew enough he could write a whole book about the juniper tree. Not juniper trees in general but that one particular juniper tree which grows from a ledge of naked sandstone near the old entrance to Arches National Monument. What I have tried to do then is something a bit different. Since you cannot get the desert into a book any more than a fisherman can haul up the sea with his nets, I have tried to create a world of words in which the desert figures more as a medium than as material. Not imitation but evocation has been the goal.
And from what I've read so far, he succeeds. Even throws in a bit of metaphysics. My own spirituality has been in what could, in the grandest of understatements, be referred to as a state of flux. In trying to sort that mess out, I'm not finding satisfactory answers in trite organized religions' tracts. Instead, I'm drawn to personal testimonies-- no, "testimonies" seems too didactic. Accounts. Questionings. Musings. Perhaps what I mean is personal spiritual experiences. (Even here I struggle with how to define spirituality, and even my final answer seems inadequate. And I'm quibbling with semantics, not the actual substance. A little more tussling, and I may have the exact word that I want, but no answer to the underlying question. I prefer words.)

Off track there. Sorry. That was supposed to lead into another great quote from Abbey. From a descriptive passage, he leads in to a description of a huge rock near the arches:
it looks like a head from Easter Island, a stone god or a petrified ogre. Like a god, like an ogre? The personification of the natural is exactly the tendency I wish to suppress in myself, to eliminate for good. I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it's possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us. I want to be able to look at and into a juniper tree, a piece of quartz, a vulture, a spider, and see it as it is in itself, devoid of all humanly ascribed qualities, anti-Kantian, even the categories of scientific description. To meet God or Medusa face to face, even if it means risking everything human in myself. I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with a non-human world and yet somehow survives still intact, individual, separate. Paradox and bedrock.
His words were what got me at first. There's poetry in his writing, and when I re-read the passage the first time, it was because I loved the way they sounded. Then I got into the ideas. We've still got a fair trace of romanticism in our culture, and the idea of going out into nature to find ourselves or some objective truth, removed from the sullying effects of "civilization," still resonates. What he proposes, at least in this passage, seems impossible. We're so caught up in ourselves and in the world we've created, we can't help but impose our all-too-human and all-too-fallible structures on our surroundings. If it's our humanity that makes us push for some metaphysical truth, and giving up that humanity is what it takes to find it... The idea is terrifying.

Urgh. My head hurts now. Mr. Abbey can sleep on my desk tonight.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Nerds 'r' us

". . . And he killed the vampire by chopping its head off with an axe. Just a regular axe. Everybody knows you're supposed to use a stake to the heart. Didn't he read Dracula?" My co-worker was adamant on this point. We had a lull in students coming into the writing lab, which gave us a chance to catch up. She was talking about watching a horror movie with a friend and being unable to shut off her writing tutor's analysis. "There are rules. Certain ways to kill zombies, certain ways to kill vampires."

My other co-worker was at the computer opposite me. "How do you kill a zombie?" he asked.

"Three easy steps to killing a zombie. I wish I were still in English 101 so I could write a process analysis essay. Chop off its head. That's how you kill zombies, not vampires. It's like... sprinkling salt on a bear to kill it like you would a slug. It just doesn't work."

"That's not the same thing, though," my other co-worker said. "You can't kill something that's already dead."

"Undead," I corrected. "And there's a book about how to fight off zombies, actually. The Zombie Survival Handbook. I bought it recently from the bookstore."

"They published a book about how to survive a zombie attack?"

"And you bought it?"

"Yeah." I'm on by now to prove my point. "Borders had a sale. Oh, it's The Zombie Survival Guide."

"So, how do they say to do it?" they ask.

"I haven't gotten there yet," I say. "I just started reading it the other night; it's my current bedside reading."

"You're strange," my co-worker tells me, and then to further emphasize her point, "You chop off a zombie's head. And there are rules about vampires. They can't go out in the sun, and you kill them with a stake in the heart. It's in Dracula."

"But," I said, ready to enter the fray, "Dracula's not the authority on vampires. It's just our cultural reference point for vampire mythology."

"Bram Stoker did his research, though. He based it off of traditional vampire lore."

Somewhere in the midst of this, the supervisor for the learning center has come out of her office. Someone asks her how to kill a zombie. "Cut off its head," she says without missing a beat, showing no surprise at the nature of our conversation.

The conversation then drifts to the subject of how vampires and zombies became so popular. Paranormal studies, we decide, and an ongoing cultural fascination with the paranormal in general. Two of the shows that I watch with any regularity are supernatural in nature: Ghost Whisperer and Moonlight. Our supervisor hasn't heard of Moonlight.

It's a new show, I explain. "It's got vampires. The main character, a vampire, is a private investigator, and the show has a noir-ish feel. They update the vampire mythos, though. They can go out in the sun, but it weakens them--" I don't even get to the part where I explain how even the "rules" regarding stakes in hearts have been updated.

"That's just not right," my co-worker says. "I'm going to write an essay on the rules of vampires. I'll cite--"

"Buffy," my other co-worker suggests.

"Yes. I'll cite Buffy the Vampire Slayer, like I would cite [the city newspaper] as a reference."

As I leave, she's planning her essay.

Oh, the joys of working in a writing center. There are some conversations you can't have anyplace else. I'd call us geeks, but that term tends to have computer-y connotations. Nerds? Yep. I think it fits.

. . . And a search on Google turns up a late nineteenth century vampire killing kit. I want one.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Watch for the quiet ones...

They're probably watching you.

We were talking about this in the writing lab a few weeks ago. I don't remember how we got on the subject (and with such an oddball group, there's no tracing this conversation's origin), but we got to talking about watching people, namely, that we like to do it. It's always interesting.

My colleague agreed. "We're social anthropologists. Or writers. It all boils down to the same thing."

Well, I do scribble. Writing isn't something I've had the nerve to throw myself into without restraint yet. When I do, watch out. 'Cause I've been observing from the outskirts for quite some time now.

My newest lair is the student cafeteria, where I go for part of the time between my morning classes. I think I spend more time there now than when I was a student at the college. It's one of the few places on the largely commuter campus that show signs of student life--laughing, talking, studying. Once, I sat next to a table of four--three were on laptops, and the two I could see were on Facebook. Another time, I sat on the opposite end of the table where nursing students were reviewing for an exam, quizzing each other. Often, I'll see a few tables with only one person seated, quietly absorbed in a novel or a textbook. I wonder if they're lonely, or just lost in the world of someone else's making.

Last week, I sat in the loud corner, and the noise was not from the arcade area. They were friends. And they were loud. If they hadn't been so fascinating, I'd have moved. Their conversation went something like this. I'm not censoring it.

"Dude, why the f--- you move my sh--? You know that's my sh--"

Shortly after,

"Man, what the pluck is that? I said, what the pluck?"

Seriously, I did not censor that. It was like listening to the radio being bleeped as a song plays, but they were doing it in real time and without missing a beat.

What's up with that? Nice church kids afraid of using bad words but wanting the naughty thrill all the same? Was it some sort of hipster type irony? The newest faze to counter a mainstream culture where nothing shocks anymore? Who knows. It could warrant investigation.

I might be able to do something with that later, so I'll file it away.

After all, it came in right handy when I couldn't think what to post for today ;).

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Productive, my arse

Last semester, I discovered a nifty trick to beat both the monotony of grading and my attention deficit tendencies: I went out to the coffee shop to grade. I had my iPod going against a backdrop of coffee grinding and chatter. Too distracting, you say? Well, not really. I'm a millennial, if you recall.

Most of all, being in a public place took away the distractions that really interfered with my grading: those little tasks like tidying up or washing dishes or feeding the cat or even simply getting up and pacing restlessly. Yes, my messy room is distracting when it boils down to either grading or cleaning. Coffee shop is downright spartan by comparison, especially since I'd hardly go and volunteer to wipe down the counters or tidy up.

So that was the plan today: go out to the coffee shop and grade. It was a brilliant plan, considering the amount of grading that's piling up. There was one teeny tiny itty bitty really really small--OK, you got me--ginormous hitch in my plan: The Bookstore.

They sent me coupons in the mail, the last of which expired today. Naturally, I had to use it. Want not, waste not. The plan was simple. Go to the bookstore, find a book, pay, leave, and head next door for coffee and grading fun time.

Oi vey. I can go through a mall in half an hour. I can be in and out of Wal-Mart or a shoe store in five minutes (without talking to a single soul, no less). Craft stores, department stores, and computer stores I can clear in, oh, somewhere around 15 or 20 minutes on a good day. I possess the ability to be efficient in my shopping. Except where books are concerned. And it's even more pronounced in a used bookstore where the inventory is always changing and they have an ample selection of clearance books. Egads, I know that store like the back of my hand but it never ceases to fascinate me. There's always something new, whether it's a book on cremation or a children's book I remember fondly or even a cheap Norton critical edition (lit geek; I freely admit it)... I never leave with what I planned to buy. Most times, I don't even bother actively looking for a specific book, instead letting serendipity take its course.

I lost track of time. I was there maybe an hour, probably a little longer. That time's gone. Pfft. Disappeared. And what do I have to show for it? A few books, a couple CDs, and roughly 10 bucks squandered. I could've used that time to grade; I average about 3 essays an hour. Considering the number of people not turning in essays, three essays is a significant chunk.

Oh well. It'll get done eventually. In the meantime, I've had my coffee and done some grading--an hour's worth. Guess they balanced out.


In unrelated news, this humble blog's gotten 400 hits. Shoot, I remember looking at the hit count a month or so ago, when I only had 86 (precise number, I know), wondering how long it'd take to get to 100. Pretty nifty.

Wonder how long it'll take to get to 1,000...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Go ahead... sue me

Thanks to Yahoo news, I don't live completely under a rock. Today I learned that readers who bought James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces, won a lawsuit so they can get their money back. You see, the book, a memoir, if you recall, was not 100% gospel truth.

Hmm. A memoir. A personal recollection. A telling of the events in one's life.

I dare you to go sit down and write out your life. Too much? OK, write out a small portion of it. Maybe an intense period. I don't really care; just do it.

Done already? Wow, you write fast. So you've written this out. Now go fact check it. Did you maybe, just maybe, embellish a little something in the process? You live a pretty dull life, don't you? Maybe you wanted to add a bit of zing, wanted to cast yourself as a hero--let's face it, we all want to. So you misrepresented things a bit.

That's bad. Very bad. You'd better hope you don't ever get published, don't ever get famous, and for the love of god, don't get on Oprah's bad side. Because that could haunt you, and your publisher could get sued, and that might make your publisher angry, but more than that, it could make your readers angry and hurt and betrayed. Poor babies. They might even sue.

Because autobiography has to be 100% fact. No omissions, no fabrications. Pure fact.

In other words, readers expect the impossible.

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

I don't have much to say about anything. I have plenty of thoughts, but they're all mush after a long week. I'll spare you my incoherence.

Have a gander at this video instead.

I'm still not sure what to make of it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ah, sweet catharsis

On my way off campus, I held the door for a pleasant older man. "Are you supposed to be a witch?" he asked as we exited the building.

"No," I told him. "I decided to dress up as the scariest person I could think of--myself."

Ironically, when I stopped by the writing center to get some of the free food they had see my comrades, I told them I had decided to dress up for Halloween, then explained my "costume."

"Oh," one tutor said, "I was going to say--you look like your normal self."

Draw your own conclusions.

Today went quite well. I got my jollies in. And my colleagues got some vicarious enjoyment from it. When I told a couple about my plan, one eagerly suggested I get out my cell phone and start texting. Another suggested stage whispering to the person next to me. I tried to contain my grin as I set off to class. This would be fun, for the first time in quite a while--the class is the one that drives me up a wall and 'round the bend.

There were three essays my little dears were supposed to have read, so I divided them into three groups, gave them a few suggestions for how they could approach their "lesson," then gave them about 15 minutes to get it together. After all, they were supposed to have it read. It was surprisingly hard to cede the role of instructor. When I heard them get off-topic, I steeled myself against the urge to step in. It was their presentation; let them figure things out themselves. I was there as a passive learner.

First group didn't cover the material as fully as they could've, but I had to give 'em points for humor. "Did you guys read this one?" they asked. "Well, we did. Most of it, anyway." They finished off with, "How many of you actually read this one? Two. That's what I thought." And in the midst of that, they learned firsthand the futility of trying to have discussion with unresponsive students. They asked a couple questions, generic 'what did you think' questions, and called on me. "I don't know; I didn't do the reading." Score one.

Second group did a decent job of summarizing the material, but one student was doing most of the talking. And then class fell into one of its many silent lapses. Oh, it was tempting to ask a question or two, bail 'em out, but I didn't. Instead, I put my head down on the desk. "Excuse me, head off the desk please," one said to a backdrop of "oooooh"s. Dropped the ball there, kid, if you were trying to channel the Twit; the correct response is "Am I interrupting naptime?" Points for effort, though.

Third group was the best prepared. They had some discussion questions and prompted students when they gave vague answers. When several students were chatting it up (off-topic), one girl asked if "we're interrupting anything back there?" Oh, hon, a little more assertiveness, and you'd have had it down pat. And then someone said, in response to a question, "I thought you were supposed to teach us this essay." The response was golden: "I thought you were supposed to do the reading." Yes, yes, yes. It seems a shame that my most disruptive act fell during their presentation, but... I don't regret it too much.

This was my coup de grace. My phone went off in the middle of their presentation. I guess it reveals a generation/technological gap, but some of the other faculty were in awe of how I timed it, when I related my exploits to them. Easy--I set the alarm on my phone, using my standard ringtone at full volume. I knew I had set it, but it still surprised me when it went off, so my startled, slightly guilty reaction was genuine, after which I tried to act nonchalant. They figured quickly by proximity that it was me and asked me to turn it on vibrate.

I asked at the end what they learned or found a strength in each presentation, and then what I really wanted to get at, what they learned from the exercise as a whole. Their responses?

"It's harder to be a teacher than it looks."
"That no one reads or participates."
"Teachers take a lot of crap from students."
"I liked interacting with the class, but their involvement sucked and was rude."
"We suck. Never let us teach again."
"It's a little tough to teach when people don't read."
"Proves it takes more to teach a few unfocused college students than meets the eye."

They got exactly what I wanted them to; they might not have gotten as much out of the readings themselves, but the lessons I wanted to impart were not in the book and couldn't really be lectured. We all had a bit of fun. I could see their grins as they swaggered up front and channeled me at my most severe, and at those moments, it was all I could do not to laugh aloud.

It was a fun activity, one I'd like to refine for future use. Minus the disruptions on my part. Maybe.