Friday, December 15, 2006

have a happy...

Don't know if I'm going to get to post again before I take off on one of those extended vacations that non-academics love to hate academics for (I get just shy of three weeks off for Christmas. I will be working on research during part of that time so I'm not just going to lie around and be a giant slug, but I sure will for the first few days of my break...)

anyway, if we don't "talk" again before January, have a wonderful Christmas. And if you do not celebrate Christmas, have a wonderful whatever-you-do-celebrate. Or at the very least enjoy having a federally-sanctioned day off on the 25th. (And eat lots of Chinese food and see some good movies!)

and if you're drinking on the 31st, have someone else drive you home, or plan on staying where you're drinking, okay? There are few enough People of Culture and Taste in this world (and I assume if you are reading my blog, you are a Person of Culture and Taste), and we can't afford to lose any.

Coal in their stockings...

This is somewhat in the spirit of Emily's now-traditional Friday thread (and many thanks to Emily for starting it; it has become weekly therapy for many).

But I'm pretty much in a Fine Holiday Mood today (and not chemically-induced, either: I'm done with grading, I just counseled a super-enthusiastic student who actually has her stuff together and will do something useful with her life, and this time Monday I will be hurtling [at the posted speed limit of course] towards a train station to meet a train that will take me back to my loving family, relaxation, and Christmas).

So, rather than the eff-off that Emily proposes, I'm going to suggest that here are a few people who should get Coal in Their Stockings. (Or in whatever Secular Holiday Symbol they wish to substitute...)

1. The people who steal baby Jesus figures from Nativity scenes. Look, I don't even want to KNOW what you are doing with them - any of the things I can think of make me more than a little ill. If you're bored teenagers, shame on you. You should go find an old person in your neighborhood and offer to rake the leaves in their yard or shovel their walks for them instead. If you're Christmas-haters, you're not advancing your cause any by anonymously removing the main religious symbol of the season. If you're iconoclasts, no one even understands who you are any more so just give it up.

2. The Seattle-Tacoma Airport, for taking down the Christmas trees, caving in to one angry rabbi. And for doing that rather than putting up his requested menorah. Look, I can see your rationale, but I don't appreciate it.

3. That rabbi, who is now (disingenuously?) claiming he "never wanted to make trouble." Then why did you offer to litigate, my friend?

4. Anyone who caves to a few grumpy people who complain about decorations, and take those decorations down. It's kind of like back in fourth grade, when Billy Dugan did something rude in class and the teacher kept ALL of us in from recess. The fact that I still remember that incident shows how bitter-making punishing the majority because the minority is being irritating can be.

5. People who complain about the "wastefulness" of Christmas - like that it "wastes electricity" to have those little fairy lights turned on for a few hours per night. Please. You can sit in the dark if you want. But sometimes being able to enjoy, for a little bit, outweighs any conservation concern.

And seriously? How much power do a few 0.5 watt (or whatever they are) tiny white lights draw?

6. The ultra-puritans (and I've known a few of these) who refuse to do the Santa Claus thing with their kids (telling even, like, 2-year-olds that the fat man is a myth), who refuse to have Christmas trees or greenery, because they are somehow "pagan" or "Popist" symbols. Because they're not sufficiently religious. Look, just lighten up a little for once? You're not going to be admitted to Heaven based on how stiff your backbone is.

Also, the people who have to tiresomely remind us that Christ wasn't "really" born on December 25th: look, most of us with somewhat of a theological education KNOW that, we just like to pretend for now, because of tradition and all.

(One of my mom's friends' sisters won't even send out Christmas cards - won't even celebrate on the 25th - because she says the date of Christmas is just an old pagan holiday, and that she feels that it's not good enough for "Our Lord" to have to have His birthday plunked on the old holiday of Saturnalia. To which I say something I seldom say, because it's rude and dismissive: "Whatever." And then I go back to wrapping my gifts and drinking my eggnog.)

Look, holier-than-thou doesn't go down well at any time of year, most of all a time when most other people are happy. And are willing to accept some of the little fictions of the season.

7. The people who tell us we shouldn't give gifts. Because it's "using too much of Mama Earth's resources" or it's unfair to the people who are too poor to give gifts, or whatever. Again, I say: fine, if that floats you and your family's boat, do it. Just don't tell me I'm a Bad Person because I bought my brother a cool book on bicycling that he will enjoy or sent yummy pecan treats to all of my extended family.

Being able to make people happy by sending them gifts is one of the joys of HAVING a comfortable income, and by golly, I'm going to enjoy it.

8. People who leave their dogs or cats outside in freezing cold sleety weather. Yeah, yeah, they have fur coats. But wet and miserable is wet and miserable no matter what kind of creature you are. At least let them hang out in your mudroom and have a warm place to sleep.

9. People who spend all their time bitching about "having" to give gifts to some relative or "friend" that they really dislike. Just shut up, okay, and stop making shopping miserable for the rest of us. There is a wonderful invention called the "gift card" where you can go in to Best Buy or whereever and by spending almost no thought and almost no time, have something that is seen as equivalent to a gift by most of the world.

10. That said: the people who commit fraud by taking the numbers off of gift cards out on display and then claiming that the card is theirs, they lost it, and, um, can they get the money back - thus defrauding some honest person who really purchased the card, and also disappointing and angering the recipient. You people deserve something worse than coal in your stockings. Actually, anyone who defrauds people this time of year, whether it be by a fake charity scam, or by taking the toys donated to Toys for Tots and putting them back out on store shelves (as a walmart supposedly did one year), or the gift-card thieves, or the people who break into houses when they know the families are out at Christmas Eve services and steal the gifts - all of you deserve a bag of flaming reindeer poop in your stockings.

11. Just in general: the people who would suck all the happiness out of this season. The cold-water-throwers and wet blankets. As I've abundantly said here: if you want to shiver in the dark and eat beans and not give gifts, that's fine with me. Just don't set yourself up as a Better Person because of that choice you make. And by all that's good, don't tell me that I just 'think' I'm happy while I do what I do, and that my life is really "empty." I'm a pretty good judge of "happy" vs. "empty" (having lived through some dark periods in my life) and I think "happy" carries the day for me right now.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


In my office, I often listen to an online classical-music station.

Today they are playing nice settings (sung by a good choir and NOT overly, gloppily "sweetened" with violins or harps or things) of old Christmas carols.

One of the ones was the old traditional "Sussex Carol" and another was one I've heard before (but not often) that is called "How Far to Bethlehem." Most of them are ones that have not been done to death by Muzak, which is partly why hearing them is such a joy and such an - almost - surprise. A sort of remembering, a "I had forgot how pretty that setting of those words was."

And it makes me feel better. It makes me forget all the crap that I've had to deal with over the past week. It gives me hope that even though there are people who behave in ways that disappoint or upset me, there are a lot more people out there who generally behave in ways that are good and kind.

And it reminds me that in less than a week, now, I will be in my parents' house. I will be on break. I will be free to sit at the kitchen "bar" and talk with my mother as she works, or make cookies, or go visit friends I had back when I lived there. Or just sit and knit or read a book. And that it will all be quiet and good and safe and I will be able to put my keys in the bottom of my purse and not have to think about them for three weeks - not have to think about even driving a car, or cooking.

And I will be back among the people that I love better than anyone else on this earth. People who understand me so completely that when something is upsetting me I just have to say a few words and they know instantly what the problem is, but also people who know precisely what delights me and fills me with joy and who themselves take joy in doing those things because they like to see me happy. And people that I feel that way about - who I understand what makes them happy and unhappy and there aren't the strange sad mixed signals and missed communications that I sometimes have with friends or more distant relatives.

And, I will be back in the milieu of the old family jokes - the funny childhood words my brother and I used to refer to things that kind of stuck, the "do you remember back in 1982 when..." stories from Christmas, the "Oh, I remember the year we got this ornament!".

And when my brother and sister-in-law get there, we can all sit around and play board games. (They're avid gamers, of the sort that like things like Settlers of Catan. I'm not a big gamer myself but when they're around I'm happy to play with them.) It will be a joy to hear my sister-in-law's laugh again and see my brother's crooked grin when he's up to something.

My family are all very silly people: silly in a good and wonderful way. I laugh a lot when I am with them.

I guess some families bring up old hurts at Christmastime and on other holidays. I'm blessed that in my family, we bring up the things that made us all laugh or enjoy in the past.

Once again, people frustrate me.

Well, last night was a monthly meeting we have at the church I belong to. (People in leadership positions come to the meeting and discuss things).

And we have a problem. Well, it could have been less of a problem save for the vagaries of human behavior.

One of our members - who is himself in a leadership person - is very likely to have charges pressed against him today. The charges are fairly serious. (I will not be too specific here in case anyone who thinks they know who I am reads, but, they are worse than passing bad checks but not as serious as murder...). Basically the man is in a kind of business that makes him vulnerable to these kinds of charges. There is more than half a chance they will not stand up in court.

The minister found out about it, and the man came to him to offer to resign his positions. The minister told the man no, that if he truly believed he was innocent of the charges, there was no need for him to resign, and even more, he needed to keep his head up and not give those who would gossip any fuel by withdrawing. The man wound up agreeing.

But the minister wanted to give us a heads-up and find out what we thought. (As the leader of the youth group - and I am also an Elder - I am considered one of the "leaders.") The general consensus was this:

a. We know this guy too well, it is very unlikely he would do this.
b. Even if he did do it, what is the church but a hospital for sinners? We've all fallen short and it's just that he fell short in a public and prosecutable way [if he actually did].
c. If he DID do it, he will need the spiritual counseling and support we can provide to help him get "better."

The minister remarked: I do not know if you all know how remarkable you are.

He also said, "Congregations often shoot their wounded." Meaning, many congregations would shun this guy and would call for his resignation from his posts.

I don't know that it's so much a matter of "remarkable" as it's that that's just the character of the people I go to church with. Well, maybe they are people of remarkable character but the response everyone gave was the response I expected. And the response I think is right.

So, that is not the frustrating part of people. That is actually the restoring-faith-in-humanity part of people.

The frustrating part is this: several years ago, when I was a new member, the church underwent a congregational split. It was very ugly. I almost - very, very close - hit the point where I said, "That's it, I'm done with organized religion" and left church attendance forever. (What kept me from it was the character of the people who stayed - the people I was talking about above).

As best I can determine, it was a generational split. There are a large number of members of my church (then as now) who are of my parents' generation and older. There used to be a large number of what would best be described as Baby Boomers in the congregation. The Baby Boomers - some of them at least - decided they had insufficient power, they weren't well-enough-represented on the board, etc. They tried to push for greater power - they tried to get greater than proportional representation. They tried a few ideas that were voted down by a majority.

So, they "picked up their marbles and went home." Or, in this case, went and built a new church.

(And so, to this day, the church I belong to has a few people of my generation and younger, a lot of people of the "silent generation," a few people of the WWII generation who are still hanging on, and almost no Baby Boomers. The truth is - I actually get on BETTER with people of the "silent generation" and older, mainly because when I was growing up I spent more time with my parents, their friends, older adults in my church, and older relatives than I did with my own peers. I understand people of that era and in general, find that their values are more in line with my own.)

That would be the end of it as far as I am concerned but for one thing.

The people who left began to spread rumors. Some of them were "matter of opinion" rumors, I will give them that, but in a few cases the rumors were - if what I heard was what was actually being spread - were patently false. Like, for example, we didn't believe in Jesus' resurrection.

The rumors were very bad when the split first happened but to my frustration, they are apparently continuing. One of the people who left is a coach in one of the schools and he was - for a while - working on some of my Youth Group kids, trying to (depending on who you ask) attract them to come to the new church instead or poison their minds against us. (We asked the kids what he was telling them and corrected the information that was wrong. I think one of my co-leaders also went to the man and told him to stop, and that if he didn't, she'd report him to the school board. It's sad she had to do that, but sometimes you have to fight fire with fire).

Well, bringing it down to last night: some of the older, longer-term members - people who had known the people who left well - had been getting calls (one man got THREE calls from THREE people in a single day) from people who left who wanted to "visit with them" about the man who may be charged with a crime.

(I have to explain for those who live outside the South: when someone wants to "visit with you" it is not always a pleasant thing. It can actually be quite ominous. It usually means, "I'm gonna talk and you're gonna listen and THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN SAY ABOUT IT" but it can mean stronger things. For example, if your boss says he needs to "visit with you" around annual review time you probably better have your resume in order and a few leads on other employment).

Anyway, these folks wanted to "visit with" members about the man. Basically, in other words, either try to extract gossip that could be used, or tell the person how they thought this person was Bad and Evil and if we continued to let him come to church it would be having a snake in our collective bosoms. And the two people who reported the visit-with calls, good for them, both squashed the people by saying they didn't know enough about the situation, that this was a democratic country with a mostly-fair court system, and they were going to leave it up to the courts to decide.

No one has called me. I do not expect they will, for three reasons:

a. I am known for being out of the loop on these things. In fact, I did not know until the minister told us that the alleged incident(s) had occurred. Being out of the loop can be a good thing, I see now.

b. I was not a longtime member at the time of the split and as I mostly hung out with the older members, I am not as well known to the people who left.

c. I suspect at least a few people know that I like to put the smackdown when people try to gossip about people I know. (Celebrity gossip is another matter, yeah, it's probably wrong, but....somehow it feels different).

That said - if anyone does call me, if anyone does see me in Wal-mart and make some kind of pointed comment? I'm going to shrug and say, "I know almost nothing about the situation and it is my practice to assume someone is innocent until they are proven guilty." And I'm going to wish them a Merry Christmas and then walk away (or hang up the phone).

Because, you know? I just think the kind of almost-gloating that some people are apparently doing is pretty unChristian. (I admit, it's also unChristian how the people I go to church with still seem to harbor a grudge - some of them at least - about the people who left. I'm willing to forget about it and just pretend that those folks ALWAYS attended a different church. Well, except for the rumors thing. And except for them telling things that aren't entirely true to youth group members to try to get them to go to the "other" church. If both of those stopped I could ignore the existence of the split altogether).

This is just another way I am frustrated by people. Frustrated both by the attitudes of those who left (You left, okay? I guess some of you thought that would kill us and it didn't. Don't keep trying to kill us using gossip.) and by the bitterness of some of the people who stayed towards those who left.

And once again, I think of something I once told a friend: Some of the worst advertisements for God are the people who most loudly protest that they are His followers.

Because using a person's misfortune as a way of trying to advance your agenda - or making yourself feel superior - well, that makes Baby Jesus cry. And not forgiving someone for a difference of opinion, that also makes Baby Jesus cry.

(And, thank goodness that in four more days I will be on my way home for Christmas, meaning I will be even farther out of the loop, and even more unreachable by Those Who Would Pump Me For Gossip or Those Who Would Rehash The Slights of the Last Four Years.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

honor roll

Joanne Jacobs has a story today that is something we hear about too often, I think.

It's kind of become a trend.

A high school principal wants to quit publishing the names of honor roll students in the newspaper. Why? (Hint: It's not because they're getting beat up by school bullies).

No. He says it "represents an unhealthy focus on grades." Or, that it contributes to "stress" in the students.

Well, at least he didn't pull out the old trope of "but it makes the ones who aren't on the honor roll FEEL BAD," which is what some of the principals have used as justification.

This kind of thing bugs me. It bugs me for two reasons: a personal reason, and a societal reason.

The personal reason is this:

When I was a kid, the honor roll was pretty much all I had. I wasn't good at sports. I wasn't popular. I thought of myself as fat, ugly, awkward, and bespectacled, and my peers mostly did what they could to reinforce that image. I wasn't good at art. I was too shy to go out for the theater stuff.

I also missed getting into the Gifted and Talented program by the skin of my teeth. Why? Because, although my test scores were high enough and apparently the psychological evaluation suggested genius potential, one of my teachers thought my handwriting was too bad and that I should be kept out to "work on it." (I found that out years later. I can kind of laugh ironically at it now.)

But anyway: the honor roll was all I had. And yeah, this is the height of my geekiness as a kid, but: it mattered to me that I got my name in the paper once every 9 weeks or 12 weeks or whatever it was. Because, I had pretty much written off my peers as people who would EVER give me positive reinforcement. But, my parents' friends and the people my family went to church with - they noticed. They told me. They'd say, "Ricki, I saw your name in the paper again for honor roll. Good job!" And for a few minutes at least I felt like I was okay, during a childhood where I spent a fair amount of time feeling not-okay. (But then again: that seems to be a hallmark of childhood. Almost all the high-achieving people I talk to express the same thing: that they spent a lot of their childhoods feeling like they were not-okay.)

So anyway. It sets my teeth on edge to think of a principal so fecklessly dismissing the fact that grades matter to some students, and that for some students, that may be the only recognition they get.

(And I'd snarkily add: are they going to stop publishing the names of the sports stars in the paper? Are they going to stop talking about the kid who made some piece of art that won an award? Are they going to stop publishing pictures of the cheerleaders, the pep band, the kid who reads to old people at the "home"? Because if you take away the value of academic achievement, you should take away the value of all those other things).

The other reason I object to the "Oh, grades don't matter!" attitude is societal.

One common argument given is that the lower-achievers "feel bad" about not being on the honor roll.

You know what? From my side of the desk, I'd say, "Good!" Sometimes feeling a little bad is a good motivator. Every time in my life that I've felt that sort of odd shameful guilt - that sense of "ricki, you COULD be working harder" or "ricki, you COULD do better at that" it's motivated me to work harder or do better.

What we DO NOT NEED in this country are more people who feel entitled to slack off. More people who say, "eh, it doesn't matter."

Look, if someone is not sleeping - or cutting themselves - or losing a lot of weight because they're stressing about grades, then there's a problem with that person that needs to be dealt with (but in my limited experience? In a lot of those cases there's also something biochemical going on - it's not just external stress. Otherwise, why would some people thrive on the challenges of a difficult school and others fold?)

But, as is so often the case in American education, a one-size-fits-all-band-aid is slapped on a problem that exists in perhaps 10% of the population. And it will have the effect, I suspect, of disheartening part of the remaining 90%. And another fraction of the 90% will see it as license to underachieve.

And yeah, yeah, I know, in the work-world, the only way you know you're doing well is that you get to keep your job and kids "need to learn" that excellence is seldom rewarded in this culture (but then again: why should it be that way?). But - for cripes' sake, let the kids know their grades DO matter. Especially in high schools.

And yes, I know: grades do not always reflect learning. There are some people who are like Dictaphones, who can parrot back everything the teacher said perfectly without that information making a dent anywhere in their brains. But the eidetic-memory-without-comprehension people are pretty rare, I would guess.

(To be personal about it again: I got high grades. Part of that was, true, that I was just smart. And I worked hard. And part of it was I knew good strategies. For example, I would start studying for a final exam 10 days before the exam and study maybe 20 to 30 minutes a day. By the day of the exam, I was confident of the material, I had slept adequately, and I had looked at it over a long enough period of time that it actually STUCK in my head. I tell my students how I studied and some of them look at me like I have just told them I have an extra head that I keep in a jar at home.

Of course, I also had - and have - an excellent memory. In some cases, close to eidetic, I say with some pride. And that can only help. But here's the point: I don't just memorize stuff, I try to fit it in with what I already know.)

My guess is that the "stressor" students will not be any less stressed upon finding that honor roll names are no longer published. Once a gunner, always a gunner.

(Another personal example: I have tenure. That means I COULD come into campus 10 minutes before my first class, leave right after my last class, never do research, and refuse to serve on committees. But I don't. For two reasons: first, I don't like being an a-hole to my colleagues. And second, and more important to me: I couldn't live with myself if I felt like I was doing less than my best. In fact, sometimes - frequently - I feel that my best isn't quite good enough, which I realize intellectually is bunk but emotionally I can't quite get past. I actually think I work harder and do more research and more "personal development" to improve my teaching now than I did before tenure.)

But anyway: It bugs me to hear a school principal saying that grades aren't that important, that they're not really a measure of learning (because then, what does that say to the people who get high grades: "Yeah...what you're doing means squat." Real helpful there.)

What we do not need as a culture is more people telling young people that things of the mind do not matter, which is what I hear in these "we're not going to publish the honor roll" reports. I do not believe the claim that "We're doing this because sports and artistic and community service achievement are just as good" (and for that matter, should they be viewed that way? I mean, yeah, if you're a great artist and that's your niche, okay. But the number of true Oliviers or Picassos or Mozarts is vanishingly small, and it's probably important for people to become well-rounded even if they THINK their career is planned out for them.

But oftentimes, like everywhere else, the truly excellent ones are not rewarded, it tends to be the more outrageous or infamous ones. We already have too many pampered, self-indulgent sports and entertainment "stars" who set a bad example and who have to go on television to "beg" or "whore" for money when their fame dims. But there are hundreds of thousands of people out there who took the academic route, who now have good jobs, who, although they may have to work long hard hours and get little recognition, they are actually contributing something useful to society.)

So no, don't tell people that academics are "unimportant." Yeah, it does fit in nicely with the stereotype of the out-of-touch egghead, the elitist "smart" snob, the evil mad scientist, or the money-wasting ivory-tower-person who does "studies" that report things common sense already knows. But that's not all academics. that's not all smart people. But unfortunately - watch most kids' shows today and that's how smart people are often portrayed. And "math is hard" as a famous blonde once said, so it's already a tough sell to encourage people to try academically.

But, for the sake of all that's good - for the sake of the sanity of the future college professors these kids may have - do not just do a verbal shrug and say "Grades aren't that important." Because what too many students hear is, "Learning isn't that important."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

scenes from an exam

Well, my "11:15 scholar" (the guy who didn't remember my name, didn't know when the exam was, and didn't know the correct time of the class) never showed to the final.

Maybe he forgot where the building was.

I did have a number of people (people who ATTENDED class) do well on the exam. One person aced it but considering who it was that did not surprise me.

I handed out candy canes - sort of a small tradition I have. Two people out of 25 thanked me for them.

My "four times miss an appointment" guy asked if he could make up the missed quiz. I decided, heck, I already had it made up, it's the holidays, it's not going to make a big difference on his grade so I said yes. He was very grateful which I guess made it sort of worth it but I still wish he had made it to the first appointment. I hope he doesn't pull that kind of stuff on the other profs; eventually he will meet up with one who is not nice about those kinds of things.

One girl's cell phone went off towards the end (there were 3 people left in the room). She had it on "vibrate." One of the other girls there in the room said, "That sounded like a fart!" and giggled. I kind of looked at her and said, "*I* would have said it sounded like a sick cow." Well, it did.

One guy who griped all up and down about the door being open (because a little hall noise was getting in) made about as much noise as a galloping rhinocerous when he got up and gathered up his stuff to leave. Hint to guy: don't dig for your keys in a nearly-silent room where people are taking an exam when you can do so after you get out in the hall. Especially after you've griped about it being 'too loud' in the room.


I don't have the winner-clueless-student story though. One of my colleagues holds that honor. One of her students called the secretary AFTER my colleague's exam had begun. First, she asked: "I can't my exam in [class X] supposed to be this morning?"

and then when she found out that, yes, the exam had already begun, she said, "Oh, my gosh! Would it be too much trouble* for you to go up and tell [Professor Y] that I cannot start my car and am going to have to walk over there to take the exam?"

Well, it turns out this student lives in the dormitory. Which is approximately a quarter mile from my building. I can cover the distance (at a leisurely pace) in about six minutes. I would not dream of driving it, mainly because of parking issues (but also because I *like* to walk).

But anyway.

(*oh, and: I am coming to the conclusion that the correct answer to that question, whenever posed by someone who is clueless yet acting entitled, is always "Yes. Yes, it is too much trouble.")

Professor Y later told me that this young lady is ALWAYS late. This is for an 11:00 class. She once confronted the student and the student said, "It's too hard for me to get there that early!"

Honey, you live in the DORM. Someone else cleans your toilets and shower for you. Someone else cooks your meals for you. You live a very short walk from where your classes are held. We do not have some elaborate dress code requiring stays and an Elizabethan collar to attend class - you can show up in pajama pants and a halter top and no one will say anything (well, some of the profs may roll their eyes, but they will not SAY anything).

Like I told Professor Y: my advice to her would be, "Go ahead and apply for welfare right now, because that sounds like an ideal career for you. And I'd almost be happy for my tax dollars to go to support you, because I will feel I am doing a public service by keeping you from driving your prospective co-workers insane."

The bad news? I am going to get her in one of my classes eventually.

Is there any kind of medication that can be taken prophylactically to prevent one's head from exploding? Because I think I will need those meds. (My class is also an 11:00 class, and if she pulls that "I can't be on time" stuff with me, I'm going to be very unhappy.)

random stuff

Thanks, everybody (about the utterly clueless student). All through the teaching assistant training that I did years ago, I got the phrase pounded into my head "People who become professors were atypical students" and so it makes me wonder sometimes if my expectations are just too high.

Except: I have as many as 100 students per semester and I learn all their names, and I remember their names at the end of the semester. (It takes me a couple of weeks but I learn them). Students have maybe five different professors. I don't think it's too much too ask.

(I've also been 'described' by students who don't remember my name, to the secretary: usually as "the one with long hair and glasses" because I'm the only person in the department who currently fits that description).

I suppose I'm extra-sensitive to the not-remembering-name thing because I go through periods of feeling kind of like I'm invisible.


Shirley Chisholm, yes, I remember that name.


I happened to wind up listening to a few minutes of the Morning Show again today, and I once again find myself wondering: what part of your brain do you have removed so you can utterly seamlessly segue between horrifying and sad stories (some suicide bomber blows up a bunch of Iraqis whose only apparent "crime" is that they're looking for work) and dumb celebrity news (I kid you not: the lady-host said something dangerously close to "George Clooney, rrrrrroooooowwwwwwr...[or however you render that "gee I'd like to have sex with HIM" purr in written English.]). I'd make a bad host for the very reason that I'd be kind of unable to do that. I'd be like, Yeah, yeah, Clooney made another movie. Now can we talk about how to try to solve the REAL problems in the world?


Ate dinner at someone's house last night and I think I must have got something made with aspartame; my head is killing me this morning. (I cannot consume any artificial sweeteners; aspartame gives me migraines and Splenda gives me stomach cramps.) I am too nice to be an Insane Lifestyle Mentioner about it, so I just try to avoid things that look suspect, but seriously? You don't expect that whippy gelatin salad with the marshmallows and cream cheese and pineapple chunks to be made with sugar-free Jell-O. I mean, that's kind of like ordering a Double Big Mac and a Supersize Fries and then getting a diet coke.

I popped an Excedrin migraine; hopefully it will kick in soon. God bless the man (I'm assuming it's a man as most pharmaceutical researchers still are) who invented that stuff. It has saved me a lot of pain on many occasions.


I'm contemplating another Fragment for later this week.

I pulled out a recording of Christmas music I listen to every year (and have, for more than 10 years now I think). One particular piece on it I had worked up kind of a little mental movie about. I was listening to it again yesterday and was amazed at the vividness of my imagination - the story has almost become like a memory of something *I* did rather than a story I made up - I can feel the chill in the air, and see the people on the street, and even feel the velvet that one of the characters is buying in a cloth shop.

I suppose that's how some people manage to be fabulists. They imagine something and they keep coming back and polishing up that imagining, but they lack the little stop-cock, the little safety valve, that reminds them "this is just something you made up" and so they go on acting as if it were REAL.

I find myself stopping from time to time - either while reading a novel or when I'm making up one of my fragmentary stories - and going all meta, and thinking, "man, where did that come from?" or "I can't believe how vividly I'm picturing this."

It sounds dumb, down on the electronic-version of paper, but it's one of those amazing moments.

I remember reading one of the biographies of Truman Capote (it was the one that was all in bits and pieces from people who knew him. I think it was the one George Plimpton did) and being amazed at how Capote could just make stuff up - about his life, about what was going on around him - and pass it off totally bald-faced, as if it were really real, and not seem too bugged about it when people caught him in a lie.

I often think - usually as I'm setting off on a trip somewhere - how much fun it could be to make up just this alternate life, where I have a different career, or I'm a different person, or something, and then "present" it to whoever is sitting with me at dinner on the train.

But I'm always afraid - afraid that someone I wind up sitting with or near will be a relation to someone I know or will somehow distantly know me, or that if I tell everyone I'm a book editor or a zookeeper or something, that no matter how exotic I make the job, karma will have put me next to a person who really, truly, actually has that job, and I will be caught in my lie and look like an idiot.

And yeah, it IS lying. That's a big part of it.

But like I said, it amazed me that Capote could apparently do it so gleefully and so without concern for getting caught.

I think part of my idea to fabulize (if that is an acceptable word) is that I fear, deep down, that most people find my career terribly boring. And by extension, find me boring.

I do not know why, but that is one of my deepest fears: that people find me boring. I'd almost rather be thought of as someone who "makes up stuff" and cannot be trusted than be someone who is boring. (But in a lot of ways, I kind of am: my hobbies and interests are what a lot of people find boring. I don't tend to seek out drama or excitement. I keep my promises and live up to my responsibilities. I don't wait until the last minute to do things. I have a tremendous amount of arcane knowledge about subjects that relatively few people care about.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Get this:

I just was down talking with the departmental secretary.

She said "One of your students called me this morning."

I suddenly was on alert: I was in my office, and a student calling the secretary rather than me means that they want something I'm probably going to say "no" to, but they're going to passive-aggressively not directly ask me, but make me call them back to tell them.

But it wasn't that.

It was one of my non-majors students.

He wanted to know when the final is.

(Which means he doesn't have the review sheet as it has IN LARGE LETTERS ON THE TOP OF IT when and where the final exam is).

He didn't call me directly because he couldn't remember my name.

Which means he no longer has the syllabus either.

So - he won't know, likely, that this is a comprehensive final. He likely has no idea of what is on it. He doesn't know to bring one of those scan-tron sheets and a number 2 pencil with him - which means he will perhaps try to take it on the exam sheet itself, meaning more effort in grading for me.

The exam is tomorrow.

He also called AFTER the first exam had started - so if that had been the exam time he would have been SOL.

Oh, and get this- he said that the start-time of the class was 15 minutes later than it actually is. That explains a lot. That's why he walked in late every single freaking day.

I just threw up my hands and kind of melodramatically exclaimed (so much so one of the other faculty came running to see what was wrong) that some people who are in college should not be.

I mean: not knowing your prof's name after a semester with her. (I know HIS name, and the names of everyone else in the class! And I'm bad with names!). Not knowing the correct class time. Not knowing when the final was, or even how to find out (hint: the schedule is on the FREAKING COLLEGE WEBPAGE, you dink!)

So, I don't know - can I just slap a 20% down for his grade and just forget it? Because I'm anticipating that's what he gets.

And here is a question: Am I totally out of touch? Am I being totally unreasonable to expect that (a) a student who has had me all semester remember my name and (b) a student (who is not merely a freshman; I think this guy is a sophomore) be able to figure out where to look for the final exam schedule?

flips and nots

I was home for a few minutes later than usual, and the Stupid Local News (which I watch only because The Weather Channel cannot seem to get the weather right for my corner of the world) bled into the Morning Show (one of the networks, I think it was CBS).

And their top story, the one they are breathlessly flogging?

"Princess Di may have been bugged before she died."

Um, yawn? I mean, I'd care about it if she were suspected of selling nuclear secrets to Iran or doing industrial espionage for China but I kind of don't think that was the case.

And it got me thinking about news stories I don't give a flip about:

1. "Diana may have been bugged." Part of this is that I don't understand the cult of mourning that surrounds her death. Yes, it was sad. Yes, it was a horrible way to die. But I never met the woman. And honestly, I think Mother Teresa's death (a few days after Diana's) was a bigger loss to the world.

In general, I don't get the crazed mourning over celebrity deaths. I think there is something wrong if you are mourning over a person you never met more than you would mourn over your own family and friends. (And yes, I understand that there may be some family members particular people would not particularly mourn, but I'm making a blanket statement here). And it is a problem with YOU, not with your family.

Look, Kurt Cobain never sent you a birthday card. And Elvis didn't witness your first halting baby steps.

2. "Barack and Hillary may run for president! OMG WTF This Is So Exciting !!!!11!!!"

Um...Barack Obama is NOT the first African American to run - which is what I think one of the commentators said. As much as I think Alan Keyes is a little bit of a nutcase (but just a little bit, mind you), he's still African American. Or doesn't that count because he's a conservative?

As for Hillary - well, Geraldine Ferraro ran for V.P., that's close.

And what's with calling them by their first names, like they're close personal friends of yours? I don't like this cozy schmoozy trend in politics.

I also have to say - and this is my more important point - that I DO NOT care that Obama is African-American and that H. Clinton is a woman. (In fact? Condi Rice is BOTH). What I care about is the qualifications of the person running. I care about what they are planning to do if they are elected. I care if they would make a good president and represent the country in the way I think the country should be represented.

I'm not sure about Ms. Clinton because it seems to me that lately, she's been changing her comments to suit what she thinks the audience wants to hear. I don't like that. I'd rather disagree with a politician and feel I'm getting more of their honest beliefs than have someone tell me what I want to hear - and maybe have them do the opposite, later on. (I know, that's part of the game, but allow me a bit of idealism here).

Obama actually seems more honest to me on that account. Not that I would vote for him because there's a lot - at this point at least - that I disagree with him on. But I can better respect a politician who seems to be giving it to me straight than one who seems to shift their message to fit the audience.

But please, media people, don't act like some massive blow for civil rights has been struck just because an African American and a woman are THINKING of running for president. It's not like there's anyone keeping anyone like that down any more; it would be against the law if there were.

3. The stories flying around now about how the average American spends 130% of their take-home pay. Yeah, that's sad. Yeah, that's gonna be a big problem for a lot of people when the bills do come due. But you know? In my world, it looks like a lot of the problem is self-imposed. It's not that there's some Evil Government Entity telling people they need a new car every 3 years, or they need big-screen tvs in every room. People are trying too hard to keep up with the Joneses.

And yeah, you could tell me I'm in a comfortable enough position that I don't have to worry about it. I spend just under all of my take-home pay each month - I have maybe $200 left, $300 in a good month. Sometimes $400 if I'm really frugal and am not travelling anywhere. But - I have $500 taken out before I get my pay for investment in TIAA-CREF. And of that $200-$300 (plus any extra bread I make by reviewing textbooks or something) I manage to eke out an IRA contribution each year.

(I do have a savings account for emergencies; my father has periodically given me "gifts" of money because he's still partly supporting my brother who is finishing divinity school, and he wants to be fair.)

But - I make perhaps $48K after taxes (and before my $500 monthly deduction). I don't own a big-screen tv. (My tv is a dozen years old. I'm already wondering what to do when the "mandatory" switch to digital - or is it HDTV - comes in 2009. Unless there's more programming on that appeals to me, I'm not sure it will be worth $2000 to me to buy a new set). My car is seven years old. I live in a small older house. I don't eat out much or take lavish vacations.

But I'm happy. To me, not being in debt is a greater source of happiness than a week in the Caribbean.

But anyway: the whole "lotsa people are in debt up to their eyeballs" thing makes me shrug a little. What can I do about it? I mean, other than stay out of debt myself?

I hope there's not some plan afoot to "transfer" funds from people who are flush to people who have spent themselves into the toilet. 'Cos that's just wealth redistribution, yo.

4. Medical studies where the jury is still out and findings are very preliminary but the media presents the stuff as "OMG! Do this and you'll DIE" or "OMG! If you don't do this you will DIE!"

Um, no. You do not understand how science works. Please hold your fire until there's been a study done on more than 12 people. And when they remember to factor out smoking and exercise and lifestyle on the effect of whatever-it-is on death.

However, despite these "I don't give a flip" news stories, there are news stories I do give a flip about. And many of them do not seem to be being reported all that well:

1. Serious talk about Iraq and what is really going on. More than just body counts or "another suicide bomber blew himself up." Is the government really going to be able to take over? What's going on in parts of the country that aren't as violent and horrible? How is the training of the new army going? How is the country going to surmount - can it surmount - the Sunni/Shi'ite division?

But what we get is body counts and "a suicide bomber blew himself up today."

yeah, that helps a lot, thanks.

2. The six imams on the plane. The crazy guy in Rockford Illinois who was planning on blowing up a shopping mall. Are there more dots here to be connected?

Are there actually homegrown terrorists planning things? What do we look out for? What's the follow up on them? Genuine threat or someone being "harmless" but annoying. (And I'm sorry: doing "Muslim stuff" specifically to worry the non-Muslims on a plane, that's just not very fair in my book. If I were sitting there loudly repeating the Lord's Prayer over and over again, or reading the Bible out loud to make an impression on the others, I'd consider that to be unfair to my fellow passengers.)

But please, don't reveal what the FBI and others are doing to try to stop it. Don't tip the law enforcement agents' hands to the possibly-bad-guys.

3. What's going on in North Korea. What's going on in Iran. Honestly, how worried do we have to be about our future?

I mean, geez: a probably-insane Beloved Leader with a nuclear device that might be able to reach Hawaii is a bigger concern than some princess who's been dead ten years.

I really honestly would like to know a probability - a probability developed by a knowledgable person, an expert, and preferable someone without an axe to grind - of a nuclear device blowing up on the U.S. mainland in the next 10 years.

'Cos see, there's some life- planning stuff I could do. For a very simple-minded example: If I'm gonna likely be dead by 2020, I'll buy that big screen tv now, and say to heck with only spending 90% of my monthly take-home income.

There are also some stories I care about but that I think are being misreported. Or that I care about but probably for the wrong reasons.

1. The whole Kim family tragedy. I really hoped they'd find the dad okay. I just hope they leave the mom and kids alone now instead of doing the horrible reporter's trick of shoving a mike into the bereaved's face and saying, "How do you FEEL about this?"

(Seriously? I'd love to see someone haul off and sock a reporter in the nose for doing that to them. Or saying "I got your FEELING right here" with the gesture that usually accompanies a phrase of that nature).

I will say I feel like there may be some things that are not being brought out about the story.

At the very least, it brings home that vandalism is not always a "victimless crime" - apparently they blundered down a road that is normally gated and padlocked because some tool cut the lock off the gate. Thanks, whoever you were. Thanks a lot. I hope you feel like the jerk you are.

2. The Taco-Bell green onions story. Didn't this happen two years ago, too?

I think there are more dots that need to be connected here. I think there needs to be some serious looking-into of the whole thing: are these simply isolated occurrences, rare instances of bad luck in a mostly-very-safe food industry (which is kinda my gut feeling, not to use a pun or anything), or is there more to it?

(And where do migrant workers come into the issue? Wasn't there an outbreak on strawberries a few years ago where it was blamed on people doing #2 in the fields because there were insufficient lavatories provided?)

I will not go off on my "irradiation would solve a lot of these problems" rant because most of the American public either doesn't understand, or refuses to understand, irradiation and they are desperately afraid of it. (No, the food does not become radioactive. Yes, perhaps a FEW nutrients are lost but I'd rather eat irradiated hamburger than one that might be crawling with E. Coli:O157. Yes, we would have to take care that suppliers didn't use it as a way of covering up past-its-prime food.)

Just in general: I often feel like news stories are frothed up, hyped up, and then we never hear the resolution. Or things are presented in a fragmented, short-attention-span way, and people who want to "connect the dots" are frustrated because there's never any more indepth coverage.

And could we stop with the fawning coverage of celebs, already? I mean, if I wanted that, I'd watch E! Or The View. Or Oprah.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Really. Not. Cute

Okay. So one of the people scheduled to prevent failed to show (this happens; sometimes people are so phobic about public speaking that they'd rather forfeit all those points). I commented on it and said, yeah, I guess he chose not to do it.

And my 'I'm so cute! I'm so funny!' guy piped up with "We could choose not to do it?"

And he was very loud. It wasn't like one of those hee-hee-hee, behind-the-hand comments.

You know? His stuff was old the second week of the semester. I just looked at him and sighed and said, "yes, but then you'd forfeit all those points."

As this is someone who has loudly bruited his lack of edumacational prowess (he is the one who said, "Studying hard and I, we really don't get along"), that kind of shut him up as the rest of the class rolled their eyes (and I think a few were thinking in my direction, "just dismiss us now, please, so I can get away from this turkey!")

But it doesn't matter now. Home, weekend, couch, relaxation. Not having to listen to some wise-acre-who-thinks-he's-funny.

(Dear God, I hope he's not in my Soils class next semester...taking his brand of humor at 8 am might be more than I can bear).

T minus 1:05

My exams are written and ready to go.

All of the grading (save for the four student presentations being given in next hour's class) is done.

I have pushed my current research through one set of goals and I can achieve the next necessary set next week.

I can go home after my last class today.

You have no idea how wonderful this is. No. Idea. I have pushed myself hard this semester and I'm tired and I cannot even put into words how grateful I will be for this afternoon, my couch, cartoons, and a simple knitting project. And tomorrow: baking cookies and more cartoons (it is Rankin-Bass Animagic Special Day on Family Channel. Laugh if you must but I LOVE those things. It's a big happy slice of everything that was wonderful about my childhood).

Oh, downtime. Sweet blessed downtime. Oh, I'll be doing my laundry too, and those other kind of tasks. But that doesn't matter: it's not grading. Laundry is fun. Laundry is easy. Laundry smells good and looks pretty when it's done.

I am so looking forward to this weekend and not doing anything that involves WORK.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Okay, I take back my bitching about the service of the furnace company I use.

The guy was out at my house at 5 minutes of 1.

He found the problem - the previous homeowner had tried to put a filter where a filter is not meant to go. (That sounds vaguely dirty...).

He pulled out the filter (it had not been found before because it was in such an idiotic place) and told me that that was probably the problem, but to call him if the furnace wasn't working okay again.

Again, people are strange: why did the previous owner stuff the filter where she did, instead of calling someone to explain it to her? (or, for that matter, RTFM, as they say on Usenet). It is a mystery to me.

But at least I have a warm house.

And there's also another People are Strange, and a bit of a mystery:

as I was getting my mail, a guy pulled up alongside the curb. (He had been parked at my neighbors' house. These are the neighbors I think I've complained about before, with the loud white-trash gangsta-wannabee friends and the demon dog that sounds like it would like to rip my throat out).

The guy in the car identified himself as FBI. (I didn't approach the car too closely; I've had too many years of women's "not be a victim" training pounded into my head when I was in university.) He gave his name and all. He asked me if I had seen my neighbors in the past couple days.

I said no, not since Monday, when one of them took the trash bin back up from the curb. But their dog was still there. He laughed and said, yeah, I introduced myself to the dog. But I told him I didn't know any more and I was sorry.

And he thanked me and drove off.

And I walked in the house and then sort of dope-slapped myself and said, "ricki, you stupid cow, how did you know he was FBI other than that he said so? You didn't ask to see a badge or anything!" (Frankly? I was more concerned about ME and not getting too close to a strange car...there was a scary abduction-and-rape in a city south of me last night). But I realized: he could have just been a garden variety crook with a good line, casing their house, looking to break in.

So I decided it was best to call the local FBI office, just to check and also get some input on what to do if the guy was likely a crook.

Well, I got a recording, which suggested to me that the guy I talked to was the guy (we only have one agent; we're small.) I left a message, feeling kind of an idiot.

A few minutes later Jody (that was his name) called me back to reassure me. I said I felt like an idiot but... He kind of laughed and said it was ok, it was good for me to check, and he said he would have showed me his credentials (ooh, that sounds dirty too) but that I looked cold and he just wanted to let me get back in the house.

But now, I'm a wee bit freaked out. These people he was looking for - their house is like separated from mine by less than 10 feet at one point. I wonder why Jody wants to talk to them?

I'm telling myself it's something innocent - either one of them's a witness who's going to have to testify, or they're a victim of a long-ago crime and Jody has to tell them the perp is getting out of prison, or something. Not that they're on the run or violent criminals or meth cooks who might inadvertently blow up the place (and also my house and the house on the other side of them because we're so close).

I don't feel UNSAFE in the sense of not wanting to go out after dark any more - but I'm a little apprehensive.

(Maybe, I tell myself, maybe they're running that Nigerian Widow scheme on the Internet. Or something like that. Something criminal but something I'd not be a victim of because I'd not fall for it. I hope if it's a crime it's something like that.)

small town woes

Most of the time, I do not mind living in a small town. I have adapted to the fact that everyone knows everyone else and that they still rehash what Shane did to get himself kicked out of high school or the stir that the Wendell triplets caused. I have adapted to the fact of, if wal-mart doesn't carry it, you're better off planning ahead to mail order it. I've adapted to the fact of cultural events being few and far between (and often scheduled in such a way that they conflict with the times I'm doing volunteer work somewhere).

But: I have not adapted to the sheer flakiness of service people. It is profoundly frustrating. It is as if they all operate in 1950s mode, where every household in the town has the husband who takes the only car to go to work in the morning, and the housewife who can stay home all the time save for her weekly trips to the beauty parlor and the grocery store.

The assumption being, that someone will ALWAYS be home and it is in no way an imposition on "madame's" daily schedule if they fail to show up one day, they can always come the next. Or the next.

Unfortunately, not all of us are trophy wives. Or independently wealthy layabouts who need not work. And even in married couples, most that I know, both members work. So it is a major imposition for someone to have to be home "sometime between 8 and 5 Thursday, or if not that, before noon Friday." I've had to cancel classes in the past for workmen in emergency situations - simply because they couldn't give me a time when I was normally home. And I don't like to impose on my few retired friends: "Hey...could you come over to my house a little before 8 and housesit there until I get home at 5, just in case the plumber happens to show up? There's cold cuts in the fridge and I have cable, help yourself!"

My furnace is on the fritz. This has happened before. Back in 2004, it went out altogether and I had to go through a string of flaky repair-people before I hit on a company that KEPT their appointments and actually FIXED the dang thing.

Well, it's some kind of a problem with the switching this time, apparently. The ignition will go on for a short period of time, run, shut off, and then almost immediately re-ignite. This morning I woke to a 62* house and a furnace that had turned on its "lockout switch" because something was wrong with the flame switch.

I reset it which got it running again for now. But I cannot hit the reset button in the middle of the night and I especially cannot hit it just over a week from now when I am gone on a 2 week plus vacation. If it gets down into the twenties/teens here for an extended period of time while I'm gone, my pipes will freeze if there's no heat in the house.

So anyway. I called the best furnace place in town and explained the problem. Probably made the mistake of admitting I had heat for now. The woman said she'd make me an appointment, but "It will be for this afternoon." I asked her for a time and she said she'd call me.

She hasn't called and it's been 2 hours.

So - do I just go home when my 12:15 class lets out, and risk them not coming because they "couldn't reach me" at my work phone (they have both my numbers but this is where I said I'd be). Do I call them again, risk pissing off the receptionist (it's happened before) and maybe have her put me to the bottom of the list? Do I just sit at home and stew knowing I have a 6:30 commitment this evening and if they're not there and done by then, I have to miss my commitment on the slim chance they'd be working after hours?

It frustrates me because this is the best company in town - the one that doesn't send you incompetent people who tell you your house is miswired and that's why your furnace won't work (an expensive electrician's visit later disproved that idea), or people who never show up for any of their appointments, or people who mysteriously stop in the middle of a job and say "they'll be back" only to return DAYS later as you are running out the door for somewhere. Or people who speak in that backwoods mumble you hear 'round here and smell vaguely of corn liquor.

So I don't know. Yes, I do know. It's that the company I use is the ONLY GOOD COMPANY in town and they are probably booked up with calls from businesses or other situations where there will be more than the cost of a simple service call involved.

But it frustrates me. This is a growing town - it is claimed to be one of the most economically active areas of our state now - and we can't get service companies that are any good. Or if we do, it's just one, and they're booked up beyond belief.

And when I complain about it, the long-timers here just laugh. And shrug. And go, "That's how it is."

No. You can make good money in plumbing or electrical or HVAC. Furthermore, you can work a job where you are usually only involved from 8 am to 5 pm. And in fact, with a good staff, you could rotate who was on-call for emergencies so you'd only have to be on-call maybe one day out of seven. And those kind of home-repair jobs will never be outsourced - you can't fix a clogged drain over a phone from India. So. Why is it that we get so many people with zero work ethics?

I swan, some days I wonder why I didn't go to a trade school.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

People are strange.

Just another reason I'm glad I don't run in a wealthy milieu.

(The link may require registration. Basically it's a story about Insane Rich People who dictate where guests can walk in their houses, what they can bring as food, force guests to wear booties, or who COAT THEIR FURNITURE WITH SARAN WRAP BEFORE PARTIES TO PROTECT IT FROM SPILLS. And yes, I was yelling there)

I mean - seriously? Telling people to a potluck not to bring brown or red food? That's pretty compulsive. (And actually? I'd understand it BETTER if it were someone with some kind of odd compulsive disorder who hated brown or red.)

I can understand renovation nightmares - I lived through a minor sort of one, five years ago, myself. I still do not own a cat, in part because I paid $3000 to refinish the hardwood floors in my house and I'd rather not have something with claws running all over them and scratching them up. (That is not the ONLY reason however).

However, if I had guests over, and if they were wearing stiletto heels, or shoes that might pick up gravel - I'd not say anything. If they scraped a chair across the floor I'd not say anything (I would draw the line at someone wearing cleats, but seriously, what kind of a boor doesn't change out of their football shoes before coming to a friend's house?).

I mean, some things are reasonable. Coasters are reasonable. Civilized people use coasters. However, it is not reasonable to hermetically seal guests in an anti-stain bubble to protect your furniture.

And if I went to someone's house and they had little slippers or something and asked me to take off my shoes, okay. I take off my shoes when I walk into MY house. (But I don't ask my guests to). But even slippers seems a little far.

(They could always do like all the Italian Grandmammas in the part of the country where I grew up and get those plastic "carpet runners" - the ones with the little nubs on the underside that hold them in place - and plastic covers for all the upholstered furniture. Actually, the male couple quoted in the article kind of does that already, but to their wood furniture).

I don't know. This is another case of people valuing THINGS over other PEOPLE. I would be very uncomfortable if I came to someone's house and they made me, say, stand in the kitchen, while I drank a glass of red wine, because they were afraid of spills on their carpet. It infantalizes the guests - it says they are not responsible enough not to spill - it implies that they are all big slobs and that the safety of the Flokati rug or whatever is more important than the guests being made to feel at home.

In fact, you know? If I were invited to one of these Insane Lifestyle Mentioner's homes, I'd probably turn down the invitation.

You know what? Stuff breaks. It gets stained. Things spill. It is the way of the world for things to lose their newness and lustre. Get over it.

I like the attitude of the guy who bought a new sofa, then invited his little spaniel dogs to jump all over it, because, he said, things aren't perfect until they're imperfect, and once you get the first spot on something, you can relax.

I don't get the people who want to hermetically seal everything and try to preserve it. As I said, it's stuff - it's here for our use, and making ourselves miserable by having to (say) put a clean white "Texaco suit" (jumpsuit) on over our street clothes before we can sit on a sofa is just kind of pointless to me.

I kind of count this attitude in with the people with massive collections of first-edition books or something that they never open and read because the wear and tear of even careful reading "destroys the value." I don't get that. I don't get the whole mint-in-box idea. When I buy stuff, I want to enjoy my stuff. I don't worry about whether I can get bookoos of bucks for it fifty years hence.

'Cos guys, it's just STUFF. If it's so expensive that you're afraid to enjoy it, get cheaper stuff. That's what I do.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"you're special and unique, just like everyone else"

I was walking out of a meeting today, passing through one of the main parking lots on campus, and I noticed a bumper sticker:

"A PBS Mind in a Fox News World."

Now, I've mentioned my distaste for bumper stickers before - mainly because of their tendency to oversimplify reality - and this is just another example of it.

Now, maybe I'm over-interpreting - reading too much into a bumper sticker that just made someone snort with laughter a little and slap it on their car, but the sticker is characteristic of an attitude that I've seen a lot lately. It's an attitude I like to call the "Beleaguered Elites." These are the people who think they are better - they think they are smarter, or more informed, or wiser, or more moral, or God knows what else, than the ordinary run-of-the-mill soul. And these Beleaguered Elites can determine their status as a person-of-quality because they like things that they perceive the rest of the world as not liking or not understanding. And they dislike and disdain the popular.

(You should hear some of the cracks I hear about NASCAR. Now, I'm not a fan - I'd rather watch other athletic competitions if I watch them at all, and frankly, I find horse racing as boring as car racing. But. I'm not going to automatically assume I'm a better person than someone just because he likes NASCAR. That's just foolish.)

The Beleaguered Elites are kind of difficult to deal with at times. They can be as exhausting as dealing with a certain sort of teenager - the kind who is CONVINCED they are extra-special-wonderful, that the world never has and never will understand a soul as sensitive and as perfect as theirs, and everyone will be DARN WELL SORRY how they mistreated said teenager when he or she is proven to be the prince or princess that he or she actually is.

(I actually remember feeling that way a bit as a child. The whole imagining I was a princess sent to foster for some reason in an ordinary mundane family, and I was sure it was only a matter of months before my REAL father the king would call for me to be returned to my rightful place. But I was also six at the time I believed this.)

Anyway. One thing I've found about people who do the Beleaguered Elite act is that they seem to be convinced of their specialness, and their uniqueness, and how the world misunderstands them so.

And they don't particularly seem to have a sense of humor about it, some of them. You can try to jolly them back into a more charitable attitude and they just LOOK at you.

And you know? Everyone's special. And everyone's misunderstood in some way. (In fact, you could argue that the B. E. are deliberately misunderstanding the NASCAR fans or wal-mart shoppers or the people who choose to drive SUVs). Just becuase you have a set of beliefs or values that happen to be different from what seems to be the prevailing reality where you live, does not (a) make you some kind of paragon and (b) doesn't mean the rest of the world should go to the devil.

Because when I see things like "A PBS mind in a Fox News world," that means to me that the person thinks (a) Fox News is something horrific and contemptible and (b) PBS is wonderful. And that both can be a sort of metonymy for humanity - that there are the Morlock who watch Fox and the Eloi who watch PBS.

(And actually? That's one of the things I hate about our society right now. The seeming need to force it into a binary, dualism nature where you are either one or the other, either black or white, red or blue, beer-swilling cretin who watches TV and burns up fossil fuels for fun or a right-thinking intellectual who disdains modern comfort because it is "wasteful." Because no stereotype is fully true. I'm pretty conservative in some ways; in others I am about as crunchy as they come. I can happily hang out with people of a variety of stripes as long as those stripes don't include complaining about and setting themselves up as superior to other, often more "working class" folks)

Because, you know? Everyone is kind of special in their own way. But it's also good to recognize that that doesn't just mean YOU are special; it means that other people share that mantle with you. And like Plato said, be kind, for you do not know what burdens others are carrying.

A simple minded example: My father's family ran a series of cottages when he was growing up. It was pretty hard work, I guess, from the stories he's told. He also worked summers at a foundry when he was a teenager and college student. He worked the "graveyard shift" usually, getting home sometime around 11 am. He also talked about how he'd have to take about a gallon of water with him to drink so he'd not become dehydrated. Well, he was coming home one mid morning and was walking across his parents' property to get to his house and have a shower and go to bed. And there was some Country Club type reclining on one of the lawn chairs with his "best girl" sitting next to him, and my father said, as he passed, he heard Country Club Type proclaim, "Ah, me! I am SO tired. I've been playing tennis since 9 am!"

And my father said he never wanted to slug a guy more right then than he wanted to slug Country Club Type. Because he (my dad) had just spent 8 hours working with hot metal - something that could kill you if you were not careful - during the time that this, forgive me, PUKE was sleeping comfy in his bed, and my dad was having to drink mass quantities of water to keep from DYING while the Country Club Type sipped a mimosa or some such thing.

Okay, I don't know how that fits in too much with the Beleaguered Elites other than that sometimes a person looks really ridiculous when they complain about what's actually a small thing. And that lots of time the "upper crust" folks don't really understand how the people who actually build their cars or their houses or cook their food or clean their buildings live. But still. Sometimes it's wisest to just shut up and realize how good you have it, which is what I guess I would have said to Country Club Guy if I had been there, some kind of angel-form of my not-yet-conceived self sitting on his shoulder.

And the whole "I'm so sensitive! I'm so misunderstood! I am the likes of which this world has never seen before" attitude that some of the B.E. take is really tiring. I kind of want to look at them and go, "You know? I remember being 14 too!" But I'm afraid my sarcasm would either be totally lost on them, or else they'd decide that I was part of that Fox News World that is apparently oppressing them so.

And you know? That's part of it. It seems too often these days people are good at taking "I disagree with..." and turning it into "I am oppressed by..." And there's a fat giant gulf of difference there. It's the difference between the local Wal-Mart playing Christmas carols during December and a person who is a Wiccan shopping there during that time, and that same person being burned at the stake as a witch. Yeah, having to listen to songs alluding to a religion you do not practice probably stinks, but it's not going to shorten your life or really do anything other than give you something new and different to complain about.

(I don't agree with Garrison Keillor on much these days - my pathetic local paper runs his column once a week and it's usually "Oh I'm getting so old and it's horrible and Bush is bad and the country's going to hell..." but last week's column did have one point that I think is well taken - about those who complain about Christmas in the U.S.: Keillor remarked: "It's a Christian culture. Work with it." Not, "you're entitled to demand we wipe the holiday away or prevent those from celebrate it from enjoying it." Not, "You are right to be aggrieved and should complain as loudly as possible." No, rather it was: this is the way it is. Most people in this country will not be amenable to changing things just to accomodate you. You can accept it or you can be miserable, take your choice. And I would add: we're not building re-education camps for Non-Christians. We're not telling you you must celebrate Christmas or can't celebrate what you want. It's freakin' "rockin around the Christmas tree" in the wal-mart, for goodness sake. Dumb modern songs about Christmas being played in a discount mart are not the same as a jackbooted thug trampling on your face for not being part of the Master Race.)

And you know what? I actually watch BOTH PBS and Fox News at times. I wonder if that would make a few heads spin among my friends if they knew that fact.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Fragments part 1

First, a short word of explanation: Years ago, I used to do a lot of what you might call "creative writing." I really loved having the opportunity to come up with characters and dialog, and place those characters in situations. I even had a few "stock characters" in my imagination who featured again and again in the stories I made up.

Most of those stories were not written down. Most of them were solely to entertain me - to keep me from wanting to kill someone as the line at the post office moved s-l-o-w-l-y to the front and I found that I was behind some guy running a used-book business with 85 different-sized packages to mail out, a woman who wants to buy a very precise configuration of stamps, and a single mom trying to wrangle five children plus her packages and paperwork. Or they were to try and lull myself to sleep at night. Or they were to pass the time on long trips.

I kind of put story-writing on the back burner when I became "an adult" (meaning, I got a grown-up job with real responsibility). Recently, I've returned to stories and am surprised at the solace and pleasure they still bring. But this time, I think I'm going to write at least some of them down, and I think I'm going to share a few of them here. Posts will stories will generally have "fragments" somewhere in the title, because most of my stories ARE fragments, they are part of something that could be larger if I knew where to go with what I had set up.

I am not a professional writer. Please understand that. Please be respectful - if you think my stories suck, please don't be quite so bald about it. If you want to criticize, please try to make it constructive.

Also understand that these are quickly dashed-off things, for the most part. I don't spend a lot of time polishing and rewriting like I would if I were submitting things to a magazine or journal for publication. This is partly for my own fun - and partly, if the stories are any good, for the fun and enjoyment of my readers.

So that's enough introduction. Here's the first fragment:

Outside the train station, freezing drizzle was falling. The station attendant had announced that the train was seriously delayed; a freight had derailed farther west on the line and the passenger train would not be able to move until the derailment was cleared and the tracks were checked.

A number of people in the station snorted with derision – how would they ever get a crew out, let alone a sober crew, on New Year’s Eve. Those people who had places to go – back home, back to relative’s houses – gradually trickled out, leaving the few longer-distance travelers who had little recourse. One woman said she thought there was a hotel another twenty miles down the road, and she set out for it, but Will did not care for the thought of risking his neck to go in search of a hotel that might or might not exist, and that might or might not have room.

Will sat on the old wood bench. It seemed constructed either for a person with a very different physique from what modern folk had, or else it had been designed to prevent lingerers – transients – from sleeping in the station. It made Will’s old football injury, forgotten these twenty years, resurface and remind him of days gone by.

When he could stand it no longer, he stood up. The station was mostly dark, a few dim “retro” lamps high up on the vaulted ceiling providing weak illumination on the stranded travelers. Besides Will, there was an ancient couple leaning against each other for support, a despondent-looking middle-aged woman trying to read a mystery novel, and a young family. The family consisted of a father with a crew cut – Will marveled that anyone under 60 still wore those – a young mother feeding a bottle to the baby, and a little boy and girl, both sacked out on a blanket the mother had spread on the floor. Everyone was silent.

It got later. The station attendant, behind the thick glass partition, dozed. His phone, which might have signaled salvation in the form of the passenger train getting through, never rang. Will mused on the irony of this year’s holidays: Thanksgiving spent helping his now ex-girlfriend dish up turkey loaf and gluey pre-made stuffing to unappreciative bums at the Salvation Army. Christmas, spent alone, thanks to the blow-up he had had with his siblings over their grandmother’s estate. And now, New Year’s Eve – spent alone, again, and in a strange uncomfortable place with no chance of getting to Chicago in time for any kind of celebration.

It was after eleven. On the East Coast, the ball would have already dropped. People would have had their New Year’s kiss, their toast, and many would now be toddling home to sleep off another night’s jubilance and to gather their strength for the coming year. Will thought of all the years – all the long gone New Year’s eves, the ones spent with his family as a child, where he and his brother and sisters were allowed to stay up to midnight and drink ginger ale out of champagne flutes. The crazy drunken college-aged New Year’s, where hangovers lasted for days thanks to some kind of hideous concoction that his roommate – a med student – dreamed up for the punch. Adult New Year’s, more sedate but still joyful, spent in the company of one or more of his siblings, or, more recently, with Jolene. And now, this year…the worst one yet, Will thought bitterly. Everyone hates me. Jolene, who wouldn’t even talk to me on the phone when I tried to reconcile. She’s probably dating someone new now. Matt, who had told him that he was “still too angry to talk” back in August. Anita and her husband. Faye – normally the level-headed one of the family – who had burst into tears and said, “I can’t believe you did that with Grandma’s house!” before hanging up the phone the last time he had called her. And all of his friends – well, they probably didn’t hate him, but Will didn’t like to burden them with his family troubles. And besides, they all had parties or family events or First Night celebrations to go to. Heck – David was a cabbie, he’d be hauling drunks home all night. Probably cleaning puke out of his car tomorrow. Will made a mental note to call David midday tomorrow to commiserate, if he could get to a phone.

But now – now Will was lonely. He wanted to talk to someone. What he wanted was his family. He thought of his brother, of the lopsided grin and the crazy conspiracy theories Matt made up to make them all laugh. And Anita – the beauty of the family with her two perfect children and her Bollywood-movie-star-looking husband. The golden couple. The ones who made good. And Faye – the baby who grew up faster than the rest of them, with her calm gray eyes and her motherly manner. How Faye managed to keep them all going after their parents died suddenly. How they had all had The Pact – as Matt referred to it, and as it would always be known – The Pact which said they would pick a holiday, one each year, and choose to be together for it, no matter what it took.

Well, Will had screwed up The Pact. Maybe it would never work again. Maybe things would never be the same again. Or maybe Matt, Anita, and Faye were honoring The Pact by themselves, cutting Will out for what he had done, pretending he was dead. Could they do that? Would they do that?

In a dark corner of the far side of the station, there was an old pay phone. Will looked around – the old couple was asleep, leaning against each other. The mystery-reading woman, her coat fluffed around her like the feathers of a brooding hen, had finally gotten engaged in her book and stopped sighing melodramatically and looking at her watch every five minutes. The young wife had fallen asleep and her husband had wrapped an arm around her to support and comfort her, and he had taken the baby into his own arms as his two older children dreamed on the blanket at his feet.

Will walked slowly over to the phone. He touched it gingerly, nervously. He picked it up – there was a dial tone, it seemed to be working. He pulled out his phone card; he could never remember all those numbers in order. First, he dialed Anita’s number, apprehensive, trying to think of what to say. He got the babysitter. Anita and her husband were out at a party, did he want them to call back? No, Will said, just say I called. I’ll try again later when I know better where I am.

Next, he tried calling Faye. He let her phone ring fifteen times; Faye had never believed in answering machines or voicemail. Obviously she was out.

For a moment, Will was gripped with horror – they were honoring The Pact without him! They had decided to get together and had cut him totally out. He would be a total orphan, then – no parents, no grandparents, not even a crummy brother or sister.

There was still Matt though. If Matt were home, that would mean that The Pact had not been reconfigured without Will. That would mean he still had a chance to make things right.

Will stood for a moment before the phone, gathering his strength. This was like calling the doctor for test results, he thought. Bad news and your life is changed forever. Good news and you wonder what you were ever so worried about. Will took a breath, said a short prayer (his first in years), and dialed the phone.

It rang four times. Then, it picked up, and Matt answered.

“Hey….bro…,” Will said falteringly,
“Hey! Will….how are you, man?”
Will had to pause for a moment. Matt didn’t sound angry. He didn’t sound sad. He didn’t sound drunk, either, so Will figured he still had a shot.
“Not so good. I’m stuck…there was this freight derailment. It’ll probably be at least Tuesday night before I’m in Chicago.”
”That sucks…where are you?”
“Hell if I know…some transfer station in Iowa or some damn place. There’s like no one here, it’s sleeting, the station feels like a morgue, no one’s telling us anything.” Will was talking too fast and too much but he wanted his brother to hear him, to know where he was. To know he was alive and that he wanted to talk.
“Aw, man. Ya get dinner?”
“No, just some crap out of a vending machine. Cheese crackers and Skittles that were from, like, the Renaissance, they were so hard.”
Matt laughed. It was a welcome sound.
“Look, man…” Will swallowed hard and once again began speaking too fast. “Look, I just wanted to call you and Faye and Anita and tell you guys – I’m really sorry. I behaved like an idiot, and I am especially sorry about all that junk I said. If I could take it all back – not just what I said but the stuff I did about Grandma’s house – I’d do it in a minute. I totally would.”
There was a moment of silence. Will’s heart sank. He had screwed it up again; it was still too early to try to ask for forgiveness.
Then Matt said: “Will, bro? It’s 2007 here. You’re forgiven; what happened was the past. Water under the bridge. We were all messed up at that time. I’ll work on Anita and Faye later today. Then you can call them later this week. But hey, man…how ‘bout we do St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago this year? You know, The Pact? This guy I work with says he knows a great Irish-style pub, and it’s kinda out of the way, so the usual St. Patrick’s Day idiots usually don’t find it…and it has good food, and there’s usually a band. We could totally do it – it would be great. The whole Clan Donahue together again!”
“Well, Clans Donohue and Patel. Don’t forget ‘Dr. Luke.’ I bet Anita’d never forgive us if we didn’t invite him.”
Matt put on his ridiculous fake-Irish brogue “Sure and we’ll be invitin’ the foine Dr. Luke Patel! He can administer the antidote, don’t ya know, if one of us drinks a wee bit too much stout!”
It was Will’s turn to laugh. Suddenly, the PA crackled to life- the sepulchral station attendant announced, “Amtrak is providing through-vans to Moline, Rock Island, Chicago, and points south. They arrive in five minutes. Gather up your luggage and have your tickets ready please.”
“Sounds like you better go…sounds like you’re actually gettin’ out of there,” Matt remarked.
“Yeah, bro’ and it only took from one year to the next. Hey, man, I’ll try to get out to Michigan City to see you when I get in town.”
“Sounds good, man. Travel safe.”

Long string of Eric-Cartman-esque phrases here

Well, I see why my university closed down yesterday.

They don't have the #$)(%*$#$%* heat turned on.

(*Yes, I said in Emily's f-off thread I was giving up swearing for advent, but Beetle Bailey Sarge style swearing doesn't count).

it is freaking FREEZING in here. It is, in fact, 16* Celsius according to the thermometer I stole from the teaching lab to keep in my office (So I can know how hot or cold it actually is and thus be accurate in my complaints about it).

That's 60.8 degrees F for those of us who relate better to SAE units. Not deadly cold but sure as shooting uncomfortable for typing and very easy to make typos typing.

Too cold to work. So I guess I'm gonna rustle up a blank disk, copy ALL the crap (approximately 15 files) I need to work on, go home, and work in my nice toasty 72 degree house.

Physical plant here has really gone downhill since a particular person retired - they're unresponsive, they do sort of the verbal equivalent of an eye-roll when we complain that it's too hot or too cold (and they never send anyone to check). They tell us we can't have thermostat control because we'd be "irresponsible" (hello? Biology and CONSERVATION department? Most of us raised during the Carter administration? Trust me, we won't be setting it on 62 in the summers and 80 in the winters. I'd be happy with it being 68 degrees in here).

They also haven't yet responded to our complaint that the fire alarms don't work in the building. Even though the local fire department has nailed them for it.

Actually, I SHOULD go home...I wouldn't want to burn up if the building caught on fire and I didn't realize it.

The thing is - if the heat's not on now, it's not going to be on at 8 am Monday when classes restart. And it probably won't warm up in here - EVEN IF the heat goes on at 8 am Monday - until mid-day Tuesday.

Thanks a lot, guys. There ARE some of us who actually work on the weekend, you know?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Lettin' it go....

Well, it's icy in all the surrounding towns (but our streets are dry), so they cancelled classes for today.

I changed the update on the course's online information board to tell people their papers were due Monday.

I have (mostly) let go my desire to have these graded by the end of the weekend.

(I am not good at letting things like that go. When I make plans and those plans change, my life is disrupted for a while - no matter how minor those plans are).

I DO hope that everyone who was going to turn in a last-minute-written piece-o-crap is going to take this snow day as a sign from God that they better spend the weekend redding up their paper until it's decent. (Not unlike that old Simpson's episode where Bart prayed for snow because he hadn't studied for a test...)

I've decided not to go in to my office today. I could. But I bet they don't have the heat turned on yet (whoops!) which is probably partly why they closed the campus.

(Although I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps the administrator who is in charge of this decided either he wanted a 3 day weekend, or that his office was going to be a little nippy, and he didn't want to deal with that. You know, seeing as they didn't close school yesterday until after it had started sleeting).


It's December 1. This means that it's going to be hard for me to concentrate on work until the holidays are over. I love Christmas, I love it so much, I love the whole run-up to it - the baking and the decorating and the cards and the tv specials and the old movies that were they about any other holiday I'd roll my eyes in cynical scorn. I love it all. I want to open up my arms wide and embrace the whole thing.

But it's conflicting - exam week is coming up (yes, SIGH, I am going in to my office tomorrow to mostly-write the final exams for my classes. Mostly-write because there's still a week of class and I'm not sure how much of the concluding material I'm going to be able to cover). Also, this is a prime time to work on indoors-research - data analysis, and journal searches, and the sort.

I know a lot of my more "professional" colleagues sort of disdain the three-weeks-off. They may spend the 24th and the 25th with family, and they may be forced into traveling to distant relatives for a few days, but I know there are people who look a bit askance at me for taking off after classes and exams are over.

But whatever. My parents are like 71 and 72 and they've had health issues over the past two years and I'm d.....d if I'm going to give up the chance to spend time with them to work on some kind of cold dead paper that I could just as well work on when I get back in the boring and decidedly non-festive time of January.


Tracey is talking about one silly little Christmas tradition she and her beloved have. I love those silly kind of little things. I don't really have any silly little traditions, but then again, I don't have any sort of an audience for those.

I have a tree, which I put up so early that it makes the natives 'round here roll their eyes (to them, only "Yankees" put up decorations earlier than one week after Thanksgiving). I have little candles in my windows (not REAL candles, the little night-light-bulb kind. I'm not that much of a fool.)

I have a silly red and green knitted hat that is as goofy and silly as any hat out there that I pull out and wear each December - I should get it out - last year one of my colleagues saw me wearing it, shook his head, and said, "only you could get away with that, ricki."

I also bake cookies for my department and bring them in on the first day of exam week. Maybe I could use part of today's snow day to get a jump on that...even though exam week is still a week away.

I also ALWAYS ALWAYS watch all of the Christmas specials that I can fit into my schedule. Watched "Charlie Brown Christmas" last week - and once again, I started to cry when Linus recited the passage from Luke. When did that begin? I never cried over it as a child. I don't know why it makes me cry as an adult other than that it's one tiny bit of quiet and peace in a season that seems to so often have become about:

a. buy buy buy. Get your sweetie a luxury car or a big honking diamond or she might think you do not love her.

b. rather stupid toys being pushed at children. Look, when I was 6? I did not need a toy puppy full of machinery that makes it bark and wag its tail and (ugh) lick me with a "wet" tongue (is the fake saliva sold separately?). I had an imagination and that worked just fine.

c. "There's a war on Christmas!" "No there isn't!" "The Christians are being too pushy!" "They're trying to take Christ out of Christmas!" Ugh. Just. Shut. Up. Okay?

d. really rather bad televised things made last week that are trumpeted as "destined to become a classic!" NOOOOOO! Don't say that. "Destined to become..." is pointless. Things only become classics because they are GOOD and because they RESONATE with the people who watch them. A Charlie Brown Christmas is a classic. It's A Wonderful Life is a classic. A Christmas Story ("you'll shoot your eye out, kid!") is a classic. Some piece of drek featuring this year's toy character you want to fly off the shelves is not going to become a classic because you declare it is "destined" to.

e. The sad-making news stories about
1. People who got burned out of their houses ("Christmas irony")
2. How many calories are in that eggnog
3. People behaving like idiots and trampling someone's grandmother at the Wal-mart in order to save $40 on a big-screen tv
4. People who do charity scams this time of year

All of it. It's nice to have a little quiet and a little peace and a little reminder from Luke that all of a through e really doesn't matter.

Which, again, is why I go "home" as soon as my grades are handed in - somehow, it is easier for me to cling to the True Meaning of Christmas when I am surrounded by my family and my old friends from "back home" that I don't ever get to see any more.

There! I've let go of the grading madness! I'll work on research here at home today, write my exams tomorrow, and grade the papers next week. And I might just bake some cookies this afternoon and bring them in Monday. Yes, it's early - but isn't it nice to spread a little unexpected Christmas cheer. (Or, I suppose, Non-Denominational Winter Holiday Cheer, as I teach at a public university)