Wednesday, February 28, 2007

reeeeallllly annnnoyyyyiiinnnnggggg

When did college students get the idea that it was their right to randomly complain about stupid stuff?

I have one student in one my classes who is ALWAYS bitching about things. Drives me up the wall. And it's not generally things-of-substance. Real, substantive complaints, I take to heart and consider if it's worth a change. Complaints about things easily fixable ("Hey - could you please write bigger on the board?") are immediately addressed. I am a reasonable person and I want to do what I can to assist my students.


This guy has a problem with EVERYTHING. He never prefaces his complaints with a "could you please" or a "would you consider." No. Everything from him is either a demand or a whine.

He is apparently someone who's been taught that if he gripes enough, people give in to him. And I can kind of see why - he has exactly that kind of voice (I can just IMAGINE what he was like as a four year old).

He was griping today because we "don't get to go outside enough." Well, I'm sorry. It's winter. And even though we live in the south, winter means unpredictable weather. The first six weeks or so of labs are spent indoors, to avoid the problems with unpredictable weather.

One of the things I think this fellow fails to understand is: I generally need to plan labs 2 weeks or more in advance. Especially field trips, as we have to request 2 of the (aging and poorly kept-up) university vans. And I have to be sure my teaching-assistant is university vehicle driving-certified (luckily this year I have the same assistant I had in the fall so I know she is). And so - I can't conjure up a field trip on the spur of the moment, just to suit someone's whim.

(We can't really do "field trips" on campus; there's nothing scientific we can do that we haven't already done. And carpooling is not an option: I have been informed by the Powers that Be if a student gets in a wreck while carpooling to a field trip for my class, it is on my head).

I haven't explained all this to him, because he strikes me - from other conversations we've had - as exactly the sort of person who'd nod sagely while I explained, all the while thinking "cop out!"

He's one of those "entitled people" - the sort of personal-conspiracy-theorists where everything that goes wrong, goes wrong to thwart his happiness and desires.

He's also given to randomly making...well, I guess comments is the best word for class. Things that have little relation to the topic being covered and that tend to stop discussion dead. A few times I've said, "Thank you for your input." but apparently he doesn't get the irony.

(What I'd like to say is, "If this is a blog, what you just said would be considered a spam comment" but I suspect he'd get that even less - or worse, he'd be insulted.)

Once in a while I come across that kind of person - both lacking in filters and consideration for others, yet totally believing in their own entitlement to consideration.

You know how some people talk about having "personal conflicts" with their professors? Well, in this case I'm trying REALLY HARD not to let this get to that point. Heavenly Father give me strength, because this person has a few particular characteristics that push ALL my buttons.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Two pieces of spam worth remarking on this afternoon:

First, one of those financial-scam things (I'm guessing from the subject line) from "Criminal Berg." Well, at least he's honest.

Second - a spam for one of those ahem, male enhancement things that had the subject line, "SHE WILL BE RUNNING FROM YOUR D*CK!"

Snerk! Bah hahahahahahaha. That conjures up all kinds of horrible mental images. Sort of a monster-movie effect: Attack of the 50-Foot Organ!

musings on growth

My birthday is this week.

I gave up, a few years ago, the "OMG! I'm getting sooooo old!" sort of whining that seems to be considered required for women in this society (and I've not taken to dying my hair or having Botox injected, which is the other apparent option). Because, you know? The alternative to getting older is a whole lot worse than getting older is.

I am going to be 38. I know, in the grand scheme of things, that's not very old, but when you teach on a college campus, where most of the students are 18 to 20 years younger than you - it's good at making you feel old. I mention stuff I remember WELL - the Mt. St. Helens eruption, Reagan being shot, the Challenger explosion, and all of those are events that many of the students were not born yet for.

I remember the Bicentennial. (Which reminds me - I was dating a guy once and I realized things weren't goint to work when I mentioned remembering the Bicentennial and he piped up, "Oh! I was born that year." Um, yeah.)

But anyway. One thing I do like to think about is how I've grown and changed over the years. I can think of two big ways - one that was a change that happened a long time ago, the other is a more recent change.

Long-time ago change: I have become less self-centered/self-absorbed in, oh, probably the last 10 years. I am far better now at not taking things personally - I was talking last week about people who thought the Universe was out to get them when things didn't go how they wanted? I consider that basically an adolescent philosophy: the idea that the universe revolves around you and that things that happen are specifically aimed at you.

I'm not saying I don't get upset when my carefully-laid plans are upset, or that I'm not disappointed when the Exciting! Piece! of News! that I share with someone is met with a shrug and an attitude of "oh, I knew that already." I still stomp around a little and feel bad (especially if it's plans being upset), but I've kind of dropped the "Oh, why me!" attitude.

(I also realized this - I cry a lot less than I used to. It used to be, when certain little things happened - usually when I was alone - and I'd just sit down and WEEP. And wail. And generally go all drama-queen. And it was over stupid stuff. And thinking about it - even though really no one ever witnessed me - now, it embarrasses me).

I think perhaps age has also brought more emotional stability. I don't mood-swing quite as much as I once did, and I'm better at recognizing, "gee, I'm in a crap mood right now" and trying not to let it influence others.

(I've also become aware of something else: that I should not go more than 6 hours during the day without eating something nutritious. I think that was probably part of the source of some of the mood-swinginess. I wonder how much of the alleged "crazy" reputation women have - vide Bitter's tagline of "Women: we're all crazy" (or words to that effect) - is because so many of us are on self-imposed fasts, where we're eating badly, ignoring natural hunger, and living on strange combinations of foods or things that aren't foods. (I consider Slim-fast shakes to be a non-food). Or because we're eating crap. (I know I feel better and saner when I'm getting the necessary veggie and fruit and protien and all that servings in a day). At any rate: hunger for nutritious food, and the associated neurochemical changes that it seems to bring, make me kind of crazy.)

Anyway. Bottom line: less self-absorbed = big improvement. Not only in how I treat other people but in how I feel generally.

The second change is more recent.

You know the big mania (it's died down somewhat but you still hear it) about "living in the moment"? It's not totally bunk. There's a point at which you can be such a planner and such a worrier that you can't enjoy things.

I would find myself getting into bed to read at night, and then start thinking about the things I had to do the next day. Or when I took a little time to relax, I'd feel guilty because I was not working, and I started to think about the things I needed to do.

I'm slowly getting away from that. I've gotten a lot better, over the past year, at saying "I am working now; this is what I am working on. I am not going to worry about the other things that I have to do that I am not working on at this moment."

I have also gotten better at saying "I need my relaxation time." I have come to the conclusion that I work pretty hard. (Especially compared to some of the professors you see featured in the media. Even compared to some profs on my campus, if the things students tell me are true. I had a guy in my class last week complaining about another class, saying, "We don't learn sh*t in there! The guy has it set up as a "discussion" but almost everyone else in there is so stupid that we don't ever get anything done! He's not teaching us anything, I feel totally unprepared. Not like this class..." Now, granted that the last bit might be a little sucking up for my benefit, still...). I'm usually on campus from 7 am until 3 or 4, some nights even later, and most of the time (despite my blog here and the occassional comments on other blogs) is spent prepping, grading, or on research, if I'm not in class. And I often put in time on Saturdays working on research or catching up on grading.

And I need time to relax. I used to feel horribly guilty about that; I'd read about Famous Scientist X who moved an army cot into his lab and showered at the gymnasium so he never had to leave campus. Or about the woman who would spend fourteen hour days working on research for six days out of the week. And I'd feel HORRIBLE. Like I was wasting my life. Like, I was dissipating my powers on stupid stuff.

But, you know? After putting in three, fourteen hour days this past week, I cannot understand how someone who doesn't have a spouse/parent/grown child/houseboy taking care of their every "outside" need (like laundry and grocery shopping) manages to put in that kind of time without self-destructing.

I don't believe in that "work smarter, not harder" dictum (and in fact, it makes me rather want to throw up whenever I hear it), but there's something to be said for working hard for a few hours at a time, and then taking a break. I kind of wonder how effective those people who purportedly lock themselves in the lab really are.

And even at that, I am a different person. I cannot have a single focus on just one thing - I get bored too easily. And I tend to invest myself too much in single things - what if that thing fails? What if I spend 16 hours a day writing a massive grant proposal for five months, and then I get a letter back from the granting agency saying they don't think it's good enough? I think too many instances of that would kill me. (And I am NOT being melodramatic). I need to feel like I have successes in my life, even if they are small successes - a well-taught Sunday school lesson, a nicely-pieced quilt, even a good loaf of bread.

And to get back to the topic - I've become better at just sitting down and sewing, or reading, or watching tv at night and not thinking, ricki, if you were over in your office, what useful things you could do instead of "wasting" your life.

I still feel it SOMETIMES, but not as often as I once did.

I guess I can sum it up by observing that once I'm dead, my CV isn't going to matter as much. A few people read my papers, not many, and really, the majority of scientific papers are never read other than by the few people in the specific field. Do I really want to be remembered solely as a set of initials on a publication?

I think also working with the youth group has helped with this - it gives me the sense that I'm affecting people (even if just a few) positively: I know many people who talk about the youth leaders they had as kids, how those leaders were role models and made a big positive change in the kid's life. I don't know if I'm doing that, but I can hope. And to me, that's more important than getting more papers published.

Heck, even leaving behind a few quilts that my heirs (whoever they may be) can look at and think about my taste in color or pattern over is important to me.

I still need to work more on not-worrying about things (and that's another post for another time; I was musing this weekend if maybe "worry" is a basic animal instinct - considering that the worrier was probably the guy looking out for sabre-toothed tigers and stuff, and the mellow guy was the one who laid back to look at the clouds and wound up getting stepped on by an elephant - and if maybe overcoming our tendency to worry is as much a spiritual exercise as is overcoming other animal drives (like to overeat, or to mate with everything that is of the opposite sex and moves))

But I'm a lot better than I was.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Random rudeness

I think it was Kate P., in my comments, who remarked on the Internet/non-face-to-face communication, and wondered what I thought about it maybe contributing to greater rudeness? (If it wasn't Kate, I apologize to whoever it was).

I DO think anonymity - as in an Internet situation - allows people who might not otherwise be rude (because of social constraints or fear of reprisal) to be rude. But I don't think that everyone will necessarily behave that way; I think perhaps it's more of a "natural tendencies" or "state-of-nature" thing coming out.

There are a lot of really pretty anonymous people I've communicated with via this blog and their own blogs - Ken S., Emily, the nightfly (whose real name I do not even know), Dave, Kate, Lisa, Shannon (both Shannons) and others...and they've all been quite polite. Nice even. Even when I say really rather stupid stuff. I don't think the model that some people push, the "Teh Internets makes U roood!" model, works. I tend to think that it's what's more at the base of a person that comes out.

J. C. Watts famously said that character is what comes out when no one is watching (or words to that effect). I tend to believe that. I try to practice it in my everyday life - to behave as if someone were watching me, as if someone could tell my character from how I acted even in private.

So, I try to be civil. I think I said in a comment on Sheila's blog, that if a blog irritates me, I ignore it. Usually, if I disagree with a post or a comment, I don't say anything, unless I have a good and reasonable argument to the opposite: I am not given to the "You are teh SUCK!" kind of comment in response to things I disagree with. Because I tend to feel like there's not much point to that - you're not convincing anyone, and what you're saying really has little to do with the opinion expressed.

But I do think for some people, anonymity facilitates rudeness.

What would you do if you knew you would not get caught? goes a question (whether it's from a Barbara Walters interview or a test-to-screen-psychopaths-out-of-the-hiring process, I don't remember.) And for some people, that's being rude to the fellow man.

I also think - and this is a trap a lot of people fall into, even people who might be mortified at being rude in general - is that the people you communicate with on the Internet don't seem "real." Even when they have pictures of themselves up on their website, even if you know their real name. And in our video-game soaked world, there may be just some people who are used to shooting down "not real" enemies on a screen...and so, anything that happens on a screen develops an air of unreality, and it's easy to flame someone for something they've said - because you're not flaming a real person.

(I remember a "cautionary tale" - perhaps I'd even call it a "modern parable," in that it's a story that may not literally have happened, but that it carries an important truth. A young man had just got his driver's license. He was allowed to borrow the family car one Saturday. And so, he took the car out. But he wound up stuck behind an old man who was driving very slowly and had left his turn signal clicking. The young man followed, getting increasingly annoyed, until there was a point where he could pass. As he passed, he "shot the bird" at the driver of the other car. To his horror, the face he saw as he passed, finger in the air, was that of the minister of the church he belonged to.

In other words: You may not realize who you are flipping off until it is too late.)

I would add that this increasing anonymity of modern life - and I DO think anonymity is increasing - encourages people to do certain things, like litter, that they might not otherwise have done. But that's another topic for another time, my own personal version of The Tragedy of the Commons.

I also think the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy to ignore the fact that others have feelings. And that feelings can be hurt. Perhaps I'm overly conscious of it, and overly careful (because I do have pretty sensitive feelings and I know very specifically what hurts me). But I also remember the old Platonic dictum to "be kind, for you do not know what burdens others are carrying." You can't always do that perfectly to a t (there are some people who, for example, are infertile and who don't mind the topic being discussed; there are others for whom the mere mention that "X is having a baby, did you hear?" can send them into a total spiral. I try to be sensitive to stuff like that but I don't always know or always remember).

And I think it's particularly unpleasant for someone to KNOW the exact button that will set someone off, and then for that person to keep pushing that button. I know some people who seem to take a certain joy in going for the one tiny weak spot in a person's emotional armor, again and again, and it's a fairly ugly thing to witness.

I also tend to think there are simply some people who don't see being unpleasant as unpleasantness. Those are the people who roll their eyes and say things like "oh, grow up" or "don't be such a wuss" when they've said something rude and someone got offended. That's simply a personality thing. To be honest, I don't like dealing with people like that in my everyday life and I try to avoid them in my online life. I've become pretty good at sussing out who is that way from what they say and how they respond to people (the old Usenet rule: read a newsgroup for a month or so to learn its tenor before you post, also works with blogs). I guess it's pure self-preservation (deep down I am a rather sensitive person. And when my feelings get hurt I kind of curl back into myself like a sea anemone that's been prodded, instead of lashing out at the other person. I know that I tend to BELIEVE the rude and unkind things people say about me. So I try to avoid places where those things will be said to me in the first place). I guess I've been pretty lucky in that I've really not dealt with that much rudeness in the blogosphere.

I will also add that I think some people like hiding behind an anonymous mask, that they don't really think of themselves as "representatives" of their faith or their profession or their ethnicity or their political beliefs, or whatever. But I will say I do see myself as a representative of whatever I am. I cringe when I see other college professors behaving in asinine ways. I get a little sick to my stomach when someone who calls themself a Christian says something that I'm reasonably sure Jesus would call him out (just as He called out the Pharisees) for. So I try not to be "that person." I try to be gracious. I try to be kind. I don't always succeed, because I am just a weak foolish human, but I do try.

I will say if I could change one thing about the human race is that I would increase our respect of each other. Not so much "enforced respect" of groups (in other words, political correctness), but the old-fashioned, "I'm not going to be mean because that's mean" kind of respect - where you treat people as individuals, where you (if it is in your realm of belief) you try to look at each person and see them as a child of God, where you are kind to them because they are a fellow human - with loves and fears and hopes and desires and they are as bound for the grave as you are.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

entitled people

First off: Dave, you're probably right. I grew up in a Northern state and so we had both Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays. (I don't remember getting them off from school but I do remember "special topics" on those days related to the presidents).

The state I lived in prior to the one I live in now even had Casimir Pulaski Day. (Hah. I wonder how many people - even IN that state - under the age of, say, 30 [maybe 40] know who Pulaski was?)

(Perhaps that should be the condition for getting the day off: if you can name two important facts about the person whose day it is.)


I've been watching a little bit of the Jet Blue balls-up. I admit, I don't feel like I have the whole story here and doubtless someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but here's what it looks like to me:

Big, bad storm, worse than expected. Airline had to cancel a lot of flights. Bad communication after the storm exacerbated the problem.

And you know? A lot of it is what we used to call "An act of God" before mentioning "God" got you marked as some kind of possibly-dangerous religious nutcase theocrat.

But I watched coverage of people...just random people in the airport...talking about it. And granted: probably a lot of them were tired. And a lot of them were fed up. And a lot of them were worried about getting to their destinations.

But: almost to a man, the people I saw interviewed seemed to have two components to their attitudes:

1. "This is the WORST THING EVER that could EVER HAPPEN!"
2. "Jet Blue is doing this SPECIFICALLY to thwart my desires and damage me!"

And there was a lot of talk about "never" using Jet Blue again, or about suing, or about how their offer to fly the person to their destination AND THEN GIVE THEM A FREE TICKET for their troubles wasn't good enough.

And just so you know: I have my share of bad travel stories. I've sat on planes that were "stranded" on the tarmac for many hours - in Hawaii, in midsummer. (And the airline started giving away free mai tais to people on board. And at the time I was still underage. And they didn't seem to be able to scare up a 7-up or something for me. But whatever. We eventually got underway). I have been on trains that were 12+ hours late, thanks to bad weather (ice storm) and a freight derailing ahead of them on the tracks. And yeah, it sucks to be stuck on a train for hours and hours and hours. But you know? It wasn't Amtrak's fault. If they could have magically made the problem go away and been on time, they would have done it. I still use Amtrak despite the occasional latenesses.

Bad stuff happens. You just have to live with it sometimes.

Now, if the engineer had stopped the train, and come walking through the cars, demanding that each and every person onboard pay him an additional $50 in order to get to their destination, then there'd be a problem. Then there'd be something worth calling Amtrak and complaining over. But not over a Union Pacific train going wheels-up on the track ahead of us. No one has control over that.

And you know, in my more pessimistic moments, I think about what may eventually bring this country down. And when I see behavior like this, I'm inclined to think that it won't be terrorists, or some crackpot dictator somewhere with a nuke, or someone unleashing smallpox or Ebola or bird flu, or even the rift between Red and Blue. No, we will die as a nation because we reach a critical mass of people who think that every single thing that goes wrong in their life is designed and done SPECIFICALLY to hurt them, and that they are deserving of MAJOR compensation for those hurts. That the only possible reason something bad could happen is because someone has it in for them.

I don't know. I have two responses to people like that:

1. Priorities, people! This is really and truly not THE WORST THING EVER. Most of the people interviewed were going to Cancun or Cozumel or somewhere like that. They weren't mostly flying home to see a dying relative. They weren't mostly on their way to Mayo Clinic with their sick child to try to find the right treatment. They were going on vacation.

And, I know: I hate the whole "my tragedy is worse than your tragedy so STHU*" game that some people like to play. I realize that we all have problems.

But. I got a phone call last night about a couple who are friends of mine. The man has been battling lung cancer. Well, he is back in the hospital, this time on oxygen, and they've called in the kids. (Meaning: he is most likely dying).

(*STHU = "Shut the Hell up." A slightly more polite version of a phrase that usually features an F)

It's hard for me to work up a lot of sympathy for someone who was thwarted in their plans to go lie on the beach in Cancun when I think of Mr. F. fighting for every breath.

I also have several days this week - yesterday was one - where I am involved somehow with work, volunteer work, or classes for 14 hours. I don't know about you but a 14 hour day is too long for me to be able to spend a lot of my energy feeling sorry about some guy stomping around an airport in New York.

The other thing is - and I've said this before: it bothers me to see people acting as if the sort of random junk that happens in life is PLANNED, that it is happening specifically to thwart their desires and happiness.

I work with someone who takes that attitude on occasion and it is simply a very draining thing to deal with. It's like: Do you live in an alternate reality from me?

And I realize: I am not perfect. There are times I fall into the trap of "poor me" or of feeling almost as if that jerk who pulled into the last parking place, coming around the wrong way, ahead of me, did it specifically to make me late for my meeting, unhappy, flustered, and angry. No. He did it because he saw a parking place. He did it maybe because he's a little bit rude and doesn't ascribe to the rule that if you see someone aiming for a parking place, you let them have it. But he didn't do it because it was ME in the other car.

I come to recognize that eventually. Or I make up stories to make myself feel better: that person who cut me off on the highway was on their way home from work because his wife just called and said their kid has a fever of 104*, and he's worried as hell, and he wasn't paying attention. Or the woman who pushed in front of me in line has less time than I do to get her groceries and by stepping back graciously, I'm doing a "mitzvah" somehow. For me, that's easier than getting angry over all the little slights of everyday life.

But I've seen an awful lot of people lately who seem to take the attitude that if something goes wrong - or even, if something's not 100% perfect according to their expectations - that they are gravely wronged, and they deserve some kind of compensation. I see this in students all the time: the lab took too much work. They had to use a calculator! A week isn't long enough to do a short homework assignment! The class is lecture and there's a shortage of movies and jokes and entertainment and breaks and the teacher doesn't bring donuts to class every day! The book doesn't have an index!

And on, and on.

And I don't know. I look at that kind of thing and I see a fundamental attitude of ingratitude. I see people taking all the good stuff they have for granted, and not seeing anything but the one tiny thing that's not to their liking. Rather like the Princess and the Pea, they can only fixate on the tiny tiny bump in the mattress and are NOT grateful for the fact that they are out of the rain, they have been fed, they are safe, and they have a bed.

I suppose I'm frustrated by that attitude because I was taught early on that there are simply some things in life that you kind of shrug over and deal with. That it's a mark of maturity to be able to let little petty crap slide off you.

(And I will admit: it makes me kind of mad that I let little petty crap slide, and then there are other people who get rewarded for complaining about the very same kind of little petty crap.)

I think, as a nation, we all need to re-learn the Serenity Prayer. (Though, I don't know - in this day and age, promoting anything called a "prayer" might be difficult).

You know it:

God grant me the courage to change the things I can
The serenity to accept the things I cannot
And the WISDOM to know the difference.

The key, I think, for us moderns is the knowing of the difference. Because I see far, far too many people who are insisting on a change when they should be accepting.

(And yeah - I know - it was originally written for dealing with more personal aspects of one's life than flights being cancelled. But I think it applies to those kind of situations too: Is there a real injustice being done? Then do something about it. Is it an "Act of God"? Let it slide.

Again: I think there are far too many people who take the kind of random bad stuff that happens in life as a personal slap in the face, and who get all injured and huffy when perhaps a more useful response is to shrug and say, "Sh*t happens." And maybe think of the things that COULD go wrong but that did not. And maybe be thankful that we live in a country where, for example, air travel is comparatively safe. Or where we have the freedom to travel. Or where we even have the freedom to sit around and bitch about things, even when they're kind of petty things)

And you know? About that "Sh*t happens"? Several years ago I saw a bumper sticker that I thought was a good response to that statement. (I am not a big fan of bumper stickers but I liked this one).

It said: "Blessings happen."

And perhaps, that's a juxtaposition of the two fundamental attitudes people can take: in life, you can look for the sh*t, or you can look for the blessings. And I'm afraid sometimes far too many people are ignoring the blessings and focusing on the sh*t.

(And yeah, yeah, I know the story about the optimist and the room full of manure. You don't need to remind me of it, if you're one of those "always looking for sh*t" types.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

dead presidents

So, today is President's Day.

(I am old enough to remember when we celebrated both Washington's and Lincoln's birthdays, instead of mooshing all the presidents - good, bad, and indifferent - into a single day for honoring. I sort of wonder if in 20 years time, if Martin Luther King's birthday will have morphed into a sort of "Civil Rights Leaders Day." Because there's something kind of sad, to me, and maybe even a little cold and bureaucratic about an "honor general classification of people" day rather than "honor this specific person who did something memorable and worthwhile day")

At any rate. This morning, on the morning news show I listen to on the radio when I am plucking my eyebrows and brushing my hair and all of the many little tasks one need do to look acceptable in the modern world, they were talking about some "Know the Presidents" quiz that was out there.

And one of the news guys kept getting the wrong answers. And they were laughing about it.

And I don't know, but maybe it's elitist of me, but I tend to think that it is a little irresponsible not to even know about WASHINGTON (good God, the first president of the nation). The guy could not pick correctly off of a list of multiple choices what Washington's main contribution was to the founding of the country (the correct answer: as a military leader and a statesman.)

(I suppose that I should be equally shocked about something I heard on Book TV yesterday - that apparently some 20% of British high-school students chose "Denzel Washington" as the name of the first American president.)

I don't know. One of the things in society currently that bugs me is that there's this strong undercurrent of anti-learning. That it's somehow wasting brain-space to know facts about history, or science, or literature. I DO think there are important events, dates, theories, and books/plays/poems that I would consider an "educated" person as needing to know. (If that means I'm an elitist who "privileges" certain information over certain other information, then fine. We need a common ground. And one place where we can find common ground is if we all have the same basic background information we know).

I've also heard some people claim that that kind of learning is "elitist" and "white-male" and that it doesn't work with "where they came from." And that makes me kind of sad...yeah, I understand the whole "my people" (whoever they were) "are not regarded as part of the historical pantheon" thing. But...just as there's a point at which the idea of saying "all literature is good" becomes ridiculous (when people are saying, for example, that a Harlequin romance from the drugstore is as meaningful to society's development and understanding the human condition as, say, King Lear),) there's also a point at which you need to stop trying to force affirmative action on history and just go, "yeah, dead white guys made a lot of history and maybe it was wrong that they prevented other people from being important, but that doesn't mean there's no need to learn them..."

I'm not sure I totally agree with the old saying about those who don't know history being doomed to repeat it, but I do tend to think that those who don't know history are kind of rootless, and may not have as clear a perspective on or understanding of
where we are now, how we got here, and what we should be doing.

Anyway. I was feeling embarrassed when they brought up the quiz and I couldn't immediately think of the 14th president (that was one of the things one of the guys asked; I knew he would have been someone shortly before Lincoln - probably the 1850s - but I could not remember). (It was Franklin Pierce.)

Some of my friends, when I was in school, knew all of the presidents in order and the dates they served. My memory was unfortunately never that good, but I did know facts about what I regarded as the "really important" presidents.

Adams (both father and son, I'd regard father as more important, but both are)
Jackson (also beforehand - the Battle of New Orleans and all that)
maybe McKinley because of the Spanish-American War
both Roosevelts
maybe Kennedy
Reagan (but then - I count presidents who were in office during a given person's lifetime as just being presidents they should know something about. For me, that begins with Nixon...well, really, it begins with LBJ but I was a baby when he was president)

I also know at least a little about some of the others:

Madison (who might rise to the "really important" list if you included his earlier work)
Fillmore (who always seems to be the butt of jokes)
Andrew Johnson (the impeachment, though I'm not sure I fully understand WHY he was impeached or on what seems like people just didn't like him, mainly)
U.S. Grant
Hoover (know quite a bit about him, in fact - I've been to the Hoover library and museum a couple times while traveling through Iowa; it's pretty interesting. Hoover was also - AFAIK - the only President who was a geologist/mining engineer)

and then, the ones who served during my lifetime (or at least the time during which I was laying down memories).

I recognize the names of others, and if pressed, might be able to come up with a random fact (like: Buchanan was the only bachelor-president. Or: W. H. Harrison caught pneumonia at his inaguration and died slightly after), but most of the facts I know are trivia rather than "what they did historically while they were in office."

But again: maybe it's elitist of me but I think American citizens should at least know a little bit about their presidents. At least Washington, Lincoln, and the ones who served during their lifetimes. And I'll say that I think it's a little sad that there are people out there (And I KNOW, because I've talked to some) who know more about the detail of Anna Nicole Smith's life than know about the first president of our nation. ESPECIALLY people who are currently in school, who should be learning this stuff.

I also tend to think about the "what you put in your head affects you" idea - is it better to learn about the deeds of people who (though they may not have been perfect) made an effort to improve the world, who were concerned with things OUTSIDE themselves, who, in some cases, were willing to sacrifice themselves (on whatever level) for the good of others...or does that have no effect at all, and spending your waking hours reading about/watching television shows on people who are basically selfish and shallow and don't see past their noses doesn't matter?

I don't know. I know I do feel better - and I feel more pushed to try to BE better - when I read about people like Washington and Co. than when I read about whatever fake tsuris some starlet is going through (especially when much of the tsuris seem to be largely self-imposed).

I don't know. I wish that instead of a nebulous day off that is mainly notable now for furniture sales (and a really egregious car ad featuring a hip-hop rendition of "Hail to the Chief"), that we took time to educate people (schoolchildren) about who the presidents were and what they did.

Another thing I'm not sure about is - where is the line between unrealistic hagiography and portraying EVERYONE as somehow debased and not worthy of emulation? One of the problems I have with some modern historical methods is that there often seem to be people with axes to grind, who want to make it seem that no one is actually really very good, and that even the people who did great things had bad motives underlying them. And yet - I'm not sure the Parson Weems school of biography is any more helpful (Although maybe I LIKE it more. I'd like to be able to believe in larger-than-life figures, I'd like to be able to have heroes).

So I don't know. For those of you with kids in the schools today: what are they learning about the Presidents? And for everyone: Who would you include on a short list of "really important presidents" that people should know the basic policies and actions of?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mr. W.T. Pooh and Company

A couple days ago on Tracey's blog, Kate P. made a comment about Eeyore being an IT guy: "ooooh deeear. We had a viiiiiirus."

That made me giggle. And it made me think a bit:

If Pooh and friends worked in a corporation, what would each one of them do?

I think the Eeyore-as-IT-guy is a good start; most of the IT guys I've known have had that kind of hangdog, expect-the-worst disposition.

Rabbit would have to be in accounting; he seems to have the soul of a bean-counter. And he'd be the sort of chap who'd NEVER come up off money if he could avoid it.

Piglet would be a cubicle-dweller in fear of his job. Or maybe a temp. That kind of almost pants-wettingly fearful attitude (at least in Disney Piglet) seems to suit.

Owl would probably be R and D. Thinks he knows more than he actually does.

Gopher (who I'm going to include, even though I really rather dislike the character in the Disney Pooh movies, and I wish they hadn't dinked with the books quite so much) would be in Infrastructure. He'd be the guy who walks around in a hard hat, shaking his head, because he knows the machinery won't produce at the rate which he's being told it needs to produce at.

Tigger would be one of those annoying HR types - who's all hepped up about MORALE and FUN and MAKING WORK LIKE PLAY. The kind of people that the cubicle-dwellers roll their eyes over when they hear him bounding down the hall. He'd be the kind of guy who buys an "office dog" until it turns out that Piglet is violently allergic to it. Or the kind of person who tries to initiate Trust Exercises and Kanga is all worried about Owl groping her during the "trust fall."

Kanga would be the token female on staff (kind of like the engineer-lady in Dilbert). Being a single mom, she'd probably be all agitatey for on-site day care, and flex hours, and stuff. She'd have to be a little strident just to make herself heard.But secretly, she'd be the one who'd keep the office fridge stocked and she'd be the one to make sure that Piglet got fed something after having a midafternoon low-blood-sugar crash.

And that leaves Pooh. I suppose, being a bear of little brain and all, he'd have to be the CEO. (Or maybe Owl would be the CEO, and Pooh would have to be a cubicle-dweller along with Piglet; I've not totally worked that out in my mind.)

So, that's the Hundred Akre Wood meets The Office.

I'm also going to go with something I know much more intimately: the college campus. If the Pooh folk were professors, what would their fields be?

Rabbit would either be Accounting (again) or perhaps Agronomy. (Actually, a lot of the soil scientists I've known are a bit Rabbit-ish.)

Owl would be Philosophy. Or one of those disciplines that often gets accused of being all think and no action.

Tigger would be what is called on some campuses Kinesiology, and on others HPER or HYPER. (HYPER. That suits Tigger well.) Again, he'd be kind of a busybody, all tied up with the Athletic program, all into getting people to participate and cheer and stuff. And that would really tick Eeyore off.

Eeyore would have to be either Economics (the Dismal Science, don't ya know) or else one of those biologists who studies emerging infectious diseases ("There's another bird flu outbreak in Germany; we're allllll screwwwwwwwwed.")

Pooh....well, it wouldn't matter what discipline he was in. He'd be one of those beloved old professors who has been there for so long and is so tenured and so much a part of campus, that he could walk into the classroom and fall asleep on the podium, and no one would really care. (Or he could be Meteorology - after all, he has an intimate knowledge of what it is to be a "little gray rain cloud.")

Kanga - to suggest Women's Studies is too easy and too cheap, and I also think that's not quite who Kanga is. Perhaps she'd be what used to be called Home Ec - and is now called FCCLA or somesuch. Or she'd be in Elementary Ed. (Actually, that seems to suit Kanga - I can see her in one of those denim tent-jumpers and sensible crepe-soled shoes that I tend to associate with the women who want to teach primary school. And she'd sort of squeal a lot, and her voice would have that singsongy inflection...)

Piglet. Piglet is hard. I kind of think Piglet might be mathematics, just because I am thinking of the show "Numbers" (and no, I WILL not spell it with the e substituted by a 3) and Peter MacNicol on it. And Peter MacNicol always kind of reminded me of Piglet (even though I will admit to having a wee tiny crush on Peter MacNicol)

And Gopher - even though I'm not nuts about Gopher, I'll include him again. Gopher would not, as you might expect, be Engineering. Gopher is not brilliant enough and is far, far too talkative and busybodyish to be the stereotypical engineer. No, Gopher is Industrial Hygiene (and that is cracking me up, as I know several guys in Industrial Hygiene and one of them is a Lot. Like. Gopher.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Oh, man, my brain is fried. I've been grading like crazy all afternoon (this is after teaching a 75 minute lecture class - WHICH ARE TOOLS OF THE DEVIL, I TELLS YOU - and a two-hour lab. The two-hour lab is our fourth lab of the semester and I had a student show up for the first time for lab.

I was too shy to ask him why. I always assume there's some good reason, like he was deployed or in jury duty or somesuch. So I went and found the coordinator of the class after the lab was over, and I asked her.

"Um...he JUST showed up to lab?" she said. "Oh, he's one of THOSE."

Meaning - people who show up to class when the fancy strikes them.)

But anyway. I'm mongo tired now and I still have 2+ pages on an exam I gave yesterday to grade. It's "grown ups game night" at church tonight but I AM NOT GOING. I do not feel like it. Maybe it's ratty of me to say this, but I really don't care if only six people show up tonight and it's not able to go because of too few people. I've been to this thing every month - even some months when there were only FOUR of us so I wound up playing Scrabble with this 85-year-old woman who, I swear, was very very close to saying "I will CUT you!" when you took "her place" on the board.

And I can't deal with that tonight. Even if I get a designed-to-induce-guilt, "We were just wondering if maybe you...forgot...." phone call.

I was out at church two nights already this week. I think God will understand. I really really need some quiet time.

And this is a little early for Emily's Friday tradition, but I'm gonna note it here anyway:

If someone is doing something for you on a volunteer basis, that means, on top of all the stuff they already get paid for (and the stuff that they don't but that is kinda sorta expected on top of the paid stuff), you do NOT have the right to leave them long rambling phone messages accusing them of not being 'willing' to help you any more, and of thwarting your deepest and most dearly held desires, if it takes them more than two days to get back to you after you called before.

Sometimes people are just crazy busy. Or, for that matter, sometimes people have relatives die. Or they get sick. Or something. (I always wondered why it was the people who needed the most slack cut for them who were the least willing to cut slack for others).

And under no circumstances do you have the right to go all haughty and entitled on them. What part of "doing this out of the goodness of my heart" do you not understand?

Oh, and another thing: If you are calling from a cell phone, and you leave your phone number, recite it at least twice: at the beginning and the end of the call. I had an angry phone call from someone asking "why didn't you callllll meeeeee baaaaaaack" when in fact, her phone cut out precisely as she was delivering the exchange of her phone number. As we have approximately eight different exchanges here (thanks to cell phones), I can't just guess and play phone-bingo.

clocky, meet rifley....

There is a new product out there.

It is an alarm clock that "runs away from you.".

Presumably so that you don't turn it off, roll over, and go back to bed.

The other day on It Comes in Pints? I commented that I had a dearth of "violent" hobbies. But if I had an alarm clock like this, I'd quickly develop one:

Clocky, meet rifley.
Clocky, meet Mr. Mallet.
Clocky, meet The Screwdriver Gang.

I mean, I'm a morning person and all and I do manage to haul my sorry lumpen butt out of bed at 5 am most of the time. But a clock that runs under the bed while still issuing forth what is doubtless (given its apparently Japanese origin) a very shrill and annoying beep, that's just cruel.

no one should have to listen to that first thing in the morning.


Joel, you get a *rimshot* for that comment.


It's 20* here today. With a windchill of about 7. I don't care where you live, that's COLD. (And I grew up in the snowbelt of Ohio.)

I wonder what kind of attendance my 8 am class will have. Cold weather plus lots and lots of people sick (the flu is just crazy here; I'm so glad I got vaccinated against it) means that classes are sometimes running as much as 50% down.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

yup, he's desperate...

I just got a spam with the header "Rolex Rolex I want you Rolex"

Um, very flattering Umberto, but my name's not "Rolex."

(Or is "Rolex" now a slang term for a particular type of sexual activity?)

Monday, February 12, 2007

An absence...

I don't know if anyone has noticed an absence of something on this blog the past few weeks. But I realized it today:

I'm not bitching about my students this semester.

Part of it is, the "terrible" class I teach (the non-majors class), I'm in a different section, no longer right before lunch. (I'm coming to conclude that the 11 to noon hour is basically a wasted hour for all but the really dedicated souls). It's also a smaller class and some days, we've just kind of hung out, playing with demonstration materials, doing dry labs, and talking. Which is kind of fun and feels a lot more "human" in scale. They're not necessarily getting MUCH higher grades but I'm not hitting that wall of "I don't want to be here" with this group.

And my other classes are also good. My one lab-intensive class, I don't even have to remind the folks to wash their glassware at the end of lab. Now, that may sound sad to some of you, but I will tell you, sometimes it's really hard to get the 18-20 year old set to remember that it's not their mom at the front of the class, and that there aren't Magick Laboratory Elves who clean everything up. (Well, maybe on some campuses there ARE, but we don't have them.)

So when students "forget" to clean their glassware, either I have to do it, or the TA does (on the rare occasions when I have a TA). And usually it's me. And I don't like washing glassware when it's not glassware I've dirtied.

But this semester, they're really good about it.

They also ask a lot of interesting questions and actually seem interested. I have a couple of them who ask some really detailed questions and a couple times I've had to say, "I don't know the answer but I will try and find out."

(Note to students: Any professor or other teacher worth his or her salt eats it up when you ask those kind of questions. It shows that what they're trying to teach is making an impression on you. And most of us - well, me, at least - LIVE for the knowledge that our students are learning and that they care about what they're learning).

The other thing is: It pushes me to hunt down more material. I've been looking online for videos - and I've found a few, from USGS and other places - that touch on topics we're discussing. And it's a lot easier (and more fun, and I think ultimately it makes a bigger impression) to show a video of how a sandboil forms than it is to try and describe it or draw it on the board.

My other majors class is fun, too. They're, most of them, very personable and FUNNY. Like, on an essay on the last exam, when there was a question about niches, one of the students titled his essay, "Cribs: the Ant Edition." (Okay, so WHERE a species lives is not strictly its niche, but he covered that in his essay.) Someone else wrote as an example of a neutral mutation that cattle could develop a mutation that would make their pelts like shag carpet: "It wouldn't hurt them or help them, it would just be ugly."

I love little things like that; they make me laugh while I'm grading. I like that little spark of personality coming out. I wish more of the students felt free to do that.

I find that my spring semester classes are more interesting and fun than my fall semester classes. I do not know why that is, but that's usually how it comes out.

Another geek type?

Listening to the "Carmen Suite #2" on the online radio station I listen to at work, it strikes me there's another group of people who would be construed as geeks in this modern world:

Classical music fans.

I LOVE classical music (so much, in fact, that I feel compelled to refer to it as "classical music senso lato" or "what the rest of the world class classical music." because, really, there's Renaissance, and Baroque, and Classical, and Romantic, and Modern, and probably some other subtypes I'm either forgetting or don't know because I'm not as hardcore as some classical-music people. "True classical" roughly starts with Mozart and, I'd guess, ends perhaps about 1850-1860. Guys like Haydn and Beethoven, that sort of thing.)

But I am a big geek about it. I'm pretty much the only person I know who really likes it - I mean, likes it well enough to make it my internet-radio selection, and who can rattle off the merits of different conductors/ensembles. And I'm someone who cares about the period instrument/modern instrument debate.

I guess I'm kind of what would have been called a "longhair" back in the 30s or 40s (Though I don't know that that ever applied to women; it was mostly a reference to men in the Romantic movement who grew their hair long, like Liszt did.)

(I think it's funny that I - a baby of A.D. 1969 - knows and likes the term "longhair" as applied to an aficionado of classical music)

I guess I'm also a bit of what you might have once called a Highbrow..

And not just because I have a "five-head*," either.

(*jocular term for someone with a high forehead: "it's too much to be a FORE-head, it must be a FIVE-head." And yeah, I do have a "five-head." I wear bangs to cover it up as much as possible.)

I think it's because of my parents. My dad grew up listening to the New York Philharmonic on the radio; after he and my mom married one of their major forms of entertainment was attending their college campus' productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas or going to the many classical concerts on campus. They always had classical records and operettas/"better" musicals' records around the house - as a kid, I listened to things like "The Student Prince" and I knew most of the Strauss waltzes before I was out of grade school.

We went to see "The Nutcracker" every Christmas and both my brother and I got taken to classical concerts (we grew up near a major summer outdoor venue for one of the premiere U.S. orchestras) and even to operas. (I saw "La Traviata" at about eight - it was really because my parents had tickets, my brother was sick, and so my dad took me because my mom was home caring for my brother. But still.)

I didn't listen to the local Top 40 station (except when I was trying desperately to "fit in."); I listened to the classical channel.

It was another thing that made me a Big Geek in high school - but you know, now, as an adult, I'm glad I had that early exposure. I'm glad for my particular musical preference as the classical music has brought me a lot of joy in my life. I love Hadyn and enjoy Bach (both father and sons). I have a fondness for a lot of the British 20th century composers who wrote in a folksong idiom or who wrote for the stage or the movies.

But I do think my parents were what you would have termed "highbrows" - from a lot of their "early married" stories, the things they did for fun. The stuff they knew. The books they had and read. It almost seems like a Golden Age to me, to hear about it - a time when being well-informed and a Person of Taste was seen as a good thing, rather than snobbery.

I've said it before....

....I'll say it again:

God bless whoever it was that invented Excedrin Migraine. We are entering the "spring weather pattern" here, which means we get days when it's 60* and thunderstorming, and the next day it may be 30* and trying to snow. And the problem with that kind of temperature change - especially coupled with low pressure cells - is that I get massive, painful, want-to-remove-ones-eyes-with-an-icepick migraines.

And because I'm generally a big wimp about things medical, I've not gone to the doctor for the ergotamine-based "This will take care of your migraine...but in some rare cases might stop your heart" medicines. So I take the OTC stuff.

Usually the Excedrin Migraine works, if I take it soon enough after starting with the headache (I've learned to keep a bottle in my office. And I'm not generous about sharing.)

Today, it's reduced the migraine to sort of a dull roar. I don't feel GREAT but I feel like I'll be able to make it through my 3 pm class.

One weird thing about migraines is I can tell when I'm getting one, I get sort of dyslexic (I'm having to very carefully proofread this) and I also get that weird brain cramp thing where you can't think of words you want to use. Which is bad in front of classes. I don't know why it affects my language generation centers but it usually does. I'm still ok at PROCESSING spoken/written word (unless I'm in so much pain that I'm rolling around on the floor begging the person to stop talking and leave me in peace and quiet), but it's hard for me to write/speak.

I've heard they're working on some kind of electrostimulation thing to fight off migraines, as they're somewhat similar to epilepsy in that it's some kind of short circuit in the brain wiring (apparently; I know the vascular system is also involved and funky changes in blood pressure can also affect them). I don't know if it would be an implanted device or something external. I'm kind of hoping for external because I don't get migraines enough to want to go under the knife to cure them, but if there were like a couple electrodes I could paste on my temples and zap the headache any time it started, I'd buy it.

The only other thing I have to say is: I hope to GOD that meth-heads or other druggies never find a way to distill a controlled substance from Excedrin Migraine, so it's taken off the market or made into a "I will give you my passport, a pint of my blood, and the right to request one of my kidneys if you need it" type of drug, like they did with the cold medications. I don't take cold medications (they dink with my blood pressure and I'd rather tough out a cold with a vaporizer and saline nasal spray) but I've heard horror stories of the agony friends have gone through to just score a few tabs of Advil Cold and Sinus or something like that.

Because Ken asked....,

Ken S., who, despite all the crap he takes on his site seems to be a real sweetheart, did the geek test and tagged me.

So I did it.

Damn, that was long. I'm more used to those stupid Quizilla things (with their incorrect grammar and references to pop culture things that make me shrug in confusion) that are about eight questions long.

But I took the test, and I came up 20.9073% geek - between Geek and Total Geek (and I agree; Total should have been a higher class; the third step should have been Major Geek. Do I get more geek points for making that observation?)

That said - some of the questions on the test - like the one about knowing the chemical symbols for >10 elements - well, I'd just take that as a hallmark of having a decent education. And some of the questions, like the ones about "have you read history on your own" seem to suggest that "geek" is merely a synonym for "person who is NOT dumber than a sack of hammers."

But whatever.

I'd have liked to seen some classification into types of geekdom. I know I'm a geek, but I'm an academic/learning/science geek and definitely not a computer geek. (When my computer breaks, I don't open it up and go, "Let's see if I can fix this." I call someone whose job it is to fix it). I'm also not into Sci-fi (or, as a friend once very seriously insisted, SF, because "sci-fi" is what people say to deride it).

Let me take a stab at categories. I know some of these will overlap, for example, computer geeks are very often gaming geeks:

Computer geeks
Band geeks
SF geeks
Comic geeks
Fantasy geek
Gaming geeks
Trivia nut geeks
Learning for the sake of learning geeks (that's me, more than any of these other things)
Theater geeks
Band geeks
Math geeks
Goth geeks (the ones who want to be vampires, etc.)
Science geeks (I guess I'd be one of those too)
Food geeks
Natural/healthist geeks

I'm sure there are more.

I don't know that "geek" is such a pejorative...most of the people I know who are geeks flaunt it proudly. And thinking back to high school - the petri dish for all social interaction - there were the geeks and the populars. And you know? The populars by and large tended to be kind of ratty to other people, especially non-populars. Whereas geeks, probably by virtue of the fact that they didn't feel the need to impress anyone, tended to be really nice people. The kind of people who, for example, if the lock on your bike jammed, would sit down and figure out a way to fix it for you, rather than just shrugging and either saying, "Sucks to be you!" or suggesting you call someone.

I think also a lot of self-proclaimed (or otherwise) geeks are comfortable manipulating THINGS. I know I am. I'm happiest when I'm making stuff or when I'm playing with data. Human interactions, not so much. I'm not always so hot at interpreting the subcontexts in what people are saying; I tend to take people at face value which can lead to embarrassing situations, for example, responding in earnest when someone is making a joke. (I honestly wonder sometimes - I know there is a whole "autistic spectrum" ranging from normal to so severely impaired that you cannot function as a human - if I'm not a bit farther towards the autistic end than other people who are out in society: my discomfort with "unscripted" interaction, my rigidity of schedule, the fact that I'm more comfortable working with data or soil or embroidery floss or fabric or food than I am with people. And in the past I'd occasionally have that compulsion to sometimes parrot things I'd just heard [I can suppress it now, but as a child, not so much]...)

I don't know. I do know that being a geek, when you're among geeks, is a happy thing. But when you're among people who were more like the "populars" of high school, not so much. The "populars" make me feel weird and kind of gray and there's some secret knowledge people are supposed to have that I lack.

Which is probably why I mostly hang out with other people who would self-describe as geeks.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

unintentional spam

With my new "webmail" program (With "Spamcatcher!") I seem to get more spam than before.

The only good thing is it's easier to get rid of.

And some of it is unintentionally funny.

I got one from 'Of Friday' with the subject line "At Monday." That's almost a Zen koan, people.

But I got one today, with the subject line, "snatch away soft c1alis"

Um, yeah. I don't suppose the programmer thought of the alternate meaning for "snatch." But I have a borderline dirty mind, so I did.

I dunno. I have little revenge fantasies against spammers. I guess it must be lucrative enough to net them some money or they'd stop doing it. (What I really hate are the stock-spams - where gullible people hear that such-and-such stock is going to go through the roof, so they buy it. I assume the spammers probably sold short on it and are going to make back their spread by duping people into buying what is essentially worthless stock.)


Ugh. I think I'm starting to feel the winter blah thing.

Normally, I like chilly rainy weather. But this is getting kind of ridiculous.

We have had exactly 3 nice days in the past 3 weeks. They have all been Wednesdays. Wednesday is my longest work-day, and it is also the day I have volunteer work AFTER work. Meaning, I am indoors doing someone else's bidding for approximately 13 hours on Wednesdays.

Do you know how much it feels like a middle finger from Ma Nature to have the mid-week be lovely, warm, and bright, and then Friday morning, seeing the clouds clamp down, the temperature drop to 40, and the rain begin? Every weekend since I've been back in town after my Christmas break has really sucked rocks. I've had plans for most of them and wound up cancelling the plans (generally) because the weather was either too miserable or was downright hazardous to drive in.

Also, where I live, we've been in a drought for well over a year. I was looking at some old pictures I took a couple years ago of my garden and I could not believe that it was ever that green out.

I guess I just hit a wall mid-February. I begin to feel kind of trapped, I get sort of cranky. I get even worse if we're in a drought and there's NO chance of anything greening up much for the approximately two weeks we get spring.

I'm also put out at the recent decision to extend Daylight Saving Time. Did you know, this year it starts in March and ends in November? I'm sorry, but as an early riser that just doesn't work. It's depressing as hell to me to go out and HAVE TO PUT MY FRONT PORCH LIGHT ON AS I AM GOING TO WORK SO THAT I DON'T BREAK MY NECK FALLING DOWN MY PORCH STAIRS IN THE DARK. I don't know, that just feels wrong.

I go to work at 7 am. It is just barely, barely becoming light at that hour. And with the low gray clouds we've had, it's usually not even barely light at that hour lately. (I would add that most days, as I drive past My Local Sonic, they are just putting their lights on. I go to work before the Sonic opens. That just seems kind of sad to me on days when I'm already sad.)

There are days when I am indoors from 7 am until very nearly 7 pm. I do not get to see the sun if it is out. The whole "recreation time in the evenings" issue doesn't even apply to me - I'm lucky during the week if I get an hour of "recreation time" in the evening, and that's usually from 8 to 9 pm, when it's dark all the time except for the veriest height of summer (and at that - who wants to be out at that hour? The mosquitoes are crazy, even when it's still light here).

Again, it feels like a middle finger to me. But this time from the Feds to us early risers. I get up at 5 am and I will tell you, that feels like the deadest darkest part of the day when it's early on in Daylight Saving. It's a painful transition - it would have been just barely be beginning to gray up as I got up in mid-March, and then, BAM, Daylight Saving, and it's back to feeling like I get up at 2 am. Miserable. Depressing. And very hard not to take personally.

It is very hard for me not to take personally anything that makes my life more complex and difficult at 5 am when I am getting up to do my hour's exercise. I do an hour's exercise because if I didn't, I would be able to eat approximately 4 calories in a day without gaining weight. And that's like a Tic Tac and a glass of water.

So I haul my sorry fat ass out of bed at 5 am as many days a week as I can force myself to (usually five). And I work out. And it just makes it worse knowing it won't be light for three more hours at that time.

And I fail to see how all these vaunted "energy savings" are going to materialize. I'm not going to bump around in the dark at 5 am when I get up. True, I MAY not have to put my lamps on as early in the evening but from where I sit, it looks like a wash, in terms of energy savings.

And then there's driving to work in the dark. I know lots of people do it, but I think most of them would agree with me that it FEELS WRONG. No one should have to drive to work in the dark unless they are voluntarily working a night shift. And I'm sure there will be more accidents - dawn and dusk are the worst times for accidents, and then you factor in people who are sleep deprived, cranky, and sad, because they're getting up at what feels like the dead zone of the night.

So I don't know. It's gray, gray, gray here (except when it's too dark for it to be gray) and I feel like I'm never seeing the sun. I know I'll be complaining come August when it's 105* and there's no shade and it's not rained in a month, but...I'd just like a happy medium for once.

And I don't know. I'm just "not feelin' it," as that moon-guy on the Jimmy Dean's ad says. I haven't really "felt it" for a little while - oh, I keep up appearances, I have my happy moments, but when I'm alone and it gets quiet, I get a little sad and restless. I need to get out. I need to see living green. I need to stop feeling like my life is circumscribed by the little radius of work/church/grocery store.

But I also don't have the energy to go out and do something. I wake up on the weekend and I think, "It's going to be 45* and it's raining; there's no point in going anywhere because it's cold and miserable." So I'm in a little rut right now, and skeins of floss notwithstanding, it's just not a joyous time of the year for me.

It's also a little while until my birthday - of a year which shall not be named. I really honestly can't believe how I got to be so OLD. My hair is going gray. I have little lines around my eyes. (And yet, I still get acne, once a month: yet another middle finger from Ma Nature, I guess). I've reached an age where I realize it's unlikely bordering on impossible I will ever marry, and it's impossible I will have a child (a biological one at least). Not that I particularly WANT children, but there's still something I think to be mourned over the departure of that possibility (66 or whatever the hell they are women at fertility clinics notwithstanding; I think having a kid over 35 or so is pretty risky both for mom and baby).

And I ask myself: Will I still be doing this, when I am 60? Will I still be packing my sorry little yogurt and apple and crackers in my lunchkit every morning, and trundling off to work (in the dark), and coming home to my empty house, watching cartoons, and generally living as I do now - not a real grownup, I think?

Is that going to look too pathetic at 60? Does it look too pathetic now?

I don't know. I just...the whole grown-up thing frustrates me. I thought when you hit 18 or so, you got some kind of "received knowledge" or you were issued a handbook or something that explained it all, that said what you were supposed to do and how you were supposed to act. I don't get this making it up as you go along, I feel like I'm doing everything the wrong way some days, I feel like I'm acting "too young" for my actual age and for my supposed gravitas as a college professor.

And the gray hairs don't help. Nor does the gray weather. Nor does the prospect in a few more weeks of losing, totally losing an hour of my life to an arbitrary change of the clocks.

If I had had more time and energy earlier in the fall, I would have forced a few narcissi or something...just to have a little bit of green and a little bit of a flower for now.

Friday, February 09, 2007

embroidery floss

One of the things that makes me happiest, for some reason, is embroidery floss.

I think it's the possibility it represents - all those little bundles of pure color, waiting in their little bins, for someone to find a use for that particular shade.

I love color and I love working with color. But I can't paint very well (and paint is messy, even watercolors - and I don't currently have a good "messy work" setup in my house). So I use floss and fabric as my stand-ins for paint.

I also like the physical nature of floss. Unlike paint, which has to stay in its tube until you use it, you can set the skeins of floss in a bowl and look at them - or even just keep them in a box and take one out and look at it now and again.

I find I need that kind of color sometimes. Sort of like the pioneer woman I remember from a story who wept when her husband brought her home a forced narcissus in the middle of winter because all she had had to see for weeks and weeks was grey, brown, and tan, and the green was almost too much for her.

There is a purity to the colors of the floss. Some of them are very strong and saturated; I find those are the ones I tend to be drawn to. Also, I don't generally go for the primary colors - I like jeweltones or strong "secondary" colors.

I also think I like it because it's crazy cheap. I'm kind of a cheapskate in some ways and one is that I don't like to spend huge amounts of money on myself. But with floss - when I need a little treat, I can go and get a couple of skeins inexpensively, usually 4 for a dollar these days. And a single skein goes a long way when you mostly make small projects.

I also like that it's widely available. I can even get it at my local wal-mart. And I can get my standard brand at the wal-mart (which is unusual; so many of those big box stores carry only the crap brands of craft supplies, because that's what they can get cheap and in big volume, and that's about what their typical customers either can afford or are willing to pay for. Yeah, I'm a snob about some things. Sue me because I don't like acrylic yarn.) But they carry DMC floss, which is the standard brand I buy.

I know there are fancier, "nicer" brands to be had at needlecraft shops, but I've found that good old DMC works fine for me. And, as I said, you can even get it at wal-mart if you need. And the colors seem to be pretty true: 825 is going to be 825 all the time, with little variation from batch to batch.

I like having a lot of floss on hand. I do some embroidery, mostly simple stuff, outline-stitched cartoony designs, kitschy things. I make tea towels with chihuahuas or the Eiffel Tower on them for example. (And yes, I use my embroidered towels to dry my dishes. If they wear out I can always make more). I like having a wide variety of colors so that when I'm seized with the desire to start a new project, I can just plunk down and DO it, without having to run out for all these colors of floss.

Sometimes I buy with a project in mind. More often, I just buy what grabs my attention - I was out today and at one of the larger craft-type emporia in my area, so I bought a couple bucks' worth of floss - as is typical of me, I chose "complicated" colors - greyed purples and oranges that shade over into red and greens that are almost yellow. I just grabbed what appealed to me, I said, "I'll spend $5 on floss and just get some different colors."

And it made me happy picking it out. Perhaps part of it is the ghost of the memory of my childhood; for a few years there was still a shop in my hometown that made an effort to sell penny (and nickel, and quarter) candy - and not just typical grocery-store candy but some of the real old traditional things like Black Jacks and those chocolate babies. And I remember going to the store with my mom once in a while, and she'd give me a quarter or something, and I would take fifteen minutes (sometimes more!) figuring out how I'd spend that quarter.

There's a certain pleasure in being able to pick what you want, in being able to get "lots" for a little amount of money.

Probably some of the colors I chose will duplicate ones I already have; I don't really organize the floss by color or number like some people do. I keep it in one of those big plastic shoeboxes and have to hunt and dig a little when I'm looking for a color that I think will work. But there's also the element of serendipity in not-knowing exactly what you have; there's the chance to find something totally unexpected.

There's a book of poems out - called "The Very Stuff" by Stephen Beal. He wrote poems inspired by different colors of the floss. One of the neat things is that the color-number-code for each poem is given at the top of it, along with a little square printed in the color that the floss is.

Beal seems to favor reds; in fact, some of the reds he writes about in different poems (that have different numbers) do not look all that different to the eye.

Some of the poems are nice but some are a little eye-rolly for me; I get the feeling that "the gentleman doth protest too much" (the "I'm NOT gay, really, even though I'm writing about embroidery floss") because a lot of his poems are about women and his wanting to be with those women and his wanting to do certain things with those women. (I described one poem to a friend as being one that fantasized a "fatal Viagra moment" for the author that was brought on by a woman in a dress of a particular shade of red.)

Beal doesn't talk much about greens (other than one, apparently, that Rita Heyworth was meant to be dressed in). But green is my favorite, and the one I tend to buy the most of - because there are so many greens. There are the pale, baby leaf greens, almost yellow. Some of them almost glow in the dark they are so pale yet bright. And there are the soft gray sage greens - which is a color, incidentally, that I look good IN, which may be partly why I like it. And emerald green. And all of the blue-greens from teal to jade. To my eyes, green seems to be the color with the widest range of variation in what you would still call "green," with maybe only purple as a rival for this title.

And so, it is greens and purples I buy the most of. And some pinks and peaches and some browns (and brown, that is another good color, another color that can have forms that are redder and forms that are yellower and some forms that are even almost purple).

And I take my floss home and take it out of the bag and range them on my coffee table for a while, just to look at. And then I put them with the others, and plan to sometime soon pull one of them out, and use it - for the flower on a water-lily perhaps, or the scales on the Chinese dragon I stamped onto another tea towel, or to make stars in a night-scene.

There is something private and close about the colors of floss; I can hold them in my hand, they can belong to me. And I love that.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

V-Day hatred

This is my REAL post for today, what I would have written had I not been distracted by New Blogger and its machinations.

Next week is Valentine's Day. I had almost ignored that fact but it seems that advertising is ramping up.

I hate Valentine's day. I have three reasons: first, the reasonable-adult reasons, and second, the whiny-'tweener reason.

Reasonable adult reason one: If you treat the person you love well, if you are kind to them on an every day basis, there is really no need to buy them stuff on a trumped-up holiday. Valentine's day is not a religious holiday like Christmas, it's not like the person's birthday - in fact, I suspect the "tradition" of buying a present for your lover is a 20th century notion, by and large. Oh, maybe some of the very wealthy bought presents for their lovers in years past - but the truth is, until about 100 years ago, most people in the Western world didn't have that kind of disposable income.

(And some still don't. I kind of gasp at those shows where they show how much people are in debt. I saw a bit of one last week where the couple was bringing in like $3200 a month [more than I have as take-home after taxes, incidentally] and they were spending about $6000. And they didn't even realize that.)

So - I think it's preferable to be a loving person every day (as much as is possible) rather than go-for-broke on the little robin's egg blue box or something. (I exempt people buying engagement rings; that's somewhat different.)

A gift is NOT a "get out of jail, free" card. I know too many people who do that: they act really ratty to someone and then think they can buy them off with a pendant or a bunch of CDs or something. And while maybe some people go for that - I'd rather just have a sincere statement of "I'm sorry I was ratty to you the other day, please forgive me." (Of course, that's HARDER in a lot of cases than going out and buying something).

The other "adult" reason is related: Aren't most seriously involved couples pooling their money? So if you go and spend $5K on a bracelet, both of you are taking the financial hit? Wouldn't it be better to do something cheaper and put most of that $5K towards retirement, or a house, or college for the kids? I realize I'm not exactly a wildly PRACTICAL person but even I cringe at the thought of spending that much on a bauble when there are other things out there.

And on to the childish reason.

No one loves me.

Or rather, no one loves me in the sense of "love" that Valentine's day is designed to celebrate. I have friends. I have family. But I don't have a "lover." So all of the Valentine's day ads, they are largely meaningless and, if I let them, embittering.

(I know a wee bit how a Jewish person feels at Christmas, I guess).

I hate the whole concept that romantic love is the be-all and the end-all and that if you don't have it, you might as well hang a rock around your neck and head for the nearest bridge. Because that's not true.

And romantic love is damned hard. At least for my generation, it seems. We're the generation of "He's Just Not that Into You." (Which is the most pessimistic thing I've ever read excerpts out of.). We're the generation of Neil Clark Warren and his annoying smug face reassuring us that really, no one is too weird for Internet dating. (But I still kinda believe that I AM. I suspect I'd be one of the people who gets her money refunded, along with a firmly worded note asking me not to use their service again). We're the generation of Dr. Phil, for God's sake.

And a lot of this, I think, is because we're the children of the generation of free love, the sexual revolution, and "living together." People don't court people any more. People who are, for whatever reason repulsed by the concept of "hooking up" or "friends with benefits" are often seen as the bigger perverts than, well, perverts.

And that frustrates me. I WANT to be courted. I WANT someone to tell me that he loves me enough to wait until I'm ready. I WANT to know what's inside a guy's head before I know what's inside his skivvies.

And so, I've often turned my back on the dating scene. So much so, that now some of the things that I hear are taken for granted (like: women go and have painful things done so that they are bald as an egg "down there" at all times, just in case. 'Cos that's what men like, or so I'm told) just horrify the hell out of me.

And so, I go on. Alone. Figuring on always being alone. It sucks sometimes, but I remind myself that is sucks worse to be three-times-divorced with kids by each husband. Or that it sucks worse to be the victim of a stalker.

But you know? It would still be kind of nice to be someone's valentine.

And another thing, to vent my spleen on:

One of the magazines I read (and I'm clearly not in the demographic) was talking to married (or otherwise 'coupled') women, talking about how their "single" friends would feel "so very left out" on Valentine's day. And so, ladies, here's a kicky fun idea: The Sympathy Lunch! (only they didn't call it that.)

The idea was: you invite your poor, neglected, forsaken, single friend out to lunch on V-Day. Still leaves you open at dinner time for a romantic dinner with your lover AND you get the smug satifaction of having showered a little charity on that "Ugly Betty" in your life.

And you know? That kind of pisses me off. The whole attitude of it: first, that those of us not part of a couple would WANT to go out for lunch on the one day of the year we're likely to encounter truly gross PDAs in a restaurant. And second, that the coupled person can discharge a whole buttload of obligations by taking poor Single Sally out for a salad at the local fern bar.

This is particularly offensive as an idea if the coupled friends have (a) called upon the single friend to babysit on an emergency basis more than twice in the past year (especially if the "emergency" is "we're going nucking futz with these kids, and we just want to go see a movie as a couple") (b) if the coupled female friend has ever cancelled plans with the single - plans she already had - because of a "new honey" coming on the scene or (c) if either member of the couple EVER played the "YOU don't have a family to take care of; you do this onerous task that we really want out of" card.

Again: don't be ratty to people and then think buying them something erases that.

As v-d approaches (and you know, it's interesting that this day has the initials V.D.), I'm sure I'll rant more. I have particular ire for Pajama gram and Vermont Teddy Bear company, both of which have used the theme of "spend some money on your honey if you wanna get somethin' somethin' back."

Maybe I'm jaded because I'm a biologist and I know a little about animal behavior, but there are species in the animal kingdom where the male will, for example, kill a small bird and drop it at the female's feet. The message is: "I'm a good provider. Bear my offspring." I always thought if a fellow biologist ever gave me chocolates (and I wanted to turn a very cold hose right on him right away*), I could see saying, "Oh, a courtship food gift. I suppose you expect me to copulate with you now."

(*And I would never do that, in reality, because I'm not big enough of a bitch to. Even if the guy was a serious creep.)

Because, you know? That's almost what Pajamagram is saying with their Valentine's Day ads. And it's so crass and so wink-wink nudge-nudge that it makes me angry.

(And don't EVEN MENTION the other made-up holiday that some talk about celebrating on March 15. The one that's about a big hunk of cow and the woman doing something that most women would not choose to do if given the choice...)

Perhaps I'm actually not such a cynic at heart, although I claim to be one. Because really, I WOULD like to get a valentine's day card. I WOULD like for someone to ask me to be their valentine, in the cute silly no-real-expectations-of-quid-pro-quo like we used to do back in 4th grade. (Back before 4th graders were sexually active).

Because it is sort of a hard cold world, and the idea of someone being your Valentine in that sweet, silly, old-fashioned way makes it a little warmer.

But no. I will soldier on, Valentineless. I have a big tub of cinnamon gummy hearts I bought earlier last month and when I get to feeling too down about what "love" has come to mean in 21st century America, I will pull two or three out of the tub and chew them up. Slowly.

Got rid of it.

Okay, so maybe I'm not as anonymous as I'd like, but at least I got rid of my "name" down there.

Incidentally, if any of you readers give a fig about silly craft blogs, you can give me a comment with your email address and I'll email you the address of my other blog. I don't want to link between them; that place I'm more sweetness and light than here. And I also post photos, sometimes of me.

so you can understand the desire to remain at least partially anonymous.

Okay, fixed.

Stupid new blogger.

They did all kinds of stuff that changed up what I was doing. And they merged this blog with another one I write - under a less anonymous veil - and they had my other username up here for a bit. And I kind of freaked, because I really don't want people to know that the nice, sweet craftblogger who posts under That Other Name is really grouchy old right of center ricki. (Because craftbloggers, by and large, tend to be a left-leaning group, and some of them are the sort who would delink/stop reading someone because they disagreed with their politics, EVEN if the person never spoke politics on the blog).

But I managed to fix it even though I didn't really want to.

(updated: well, crap-o. Looks like I can only have one user name. Dammit.I don't know...I may still take this blog down as the other one is the one I truly love...)


Stupid blogger making me non anonymous.

I may have to take this thing down if I don't figure out how to remove my alternate identity from it.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Jane Austen Kicked my Ass - a fragment

Jane Austen Kicked My Ass – a fragment.

(But first: a couple words of explanation. This rose out of an idea I had while commenting on Sheila's remark about Jane Austen being described primarily as a 'spinster'. I said she should come back as a ghost and kick those people in the tuchis. And Kate P. egged me on. And I realized, I HAD to do it, it was too fun not to. So here it is. Conrad is a character who rattles around in my head and inhabits a lot of the little stories I write. He's one of my favorite characters. I picture him as being a little bit short and looking a little pale and weedy - perhaps a bit like Niles Crane on "Frasier." But he's a great intellect and a man of humor and I often like setting him up a bit as the voice of reason in my stories. So he appears here...)

So, we were all sitting around the big table. Discussing the “special issue” of the magazine that was to be devoted to Jane Austen. Reza was there; she was doing a feature on what she was tentatively calling “The ‘Clueless’ Phenomenon” – namely, modern interpretations. (I figured Reza would probably hit a wall after digging up one or two examples, but I didn’t say anything to her about it; she was touchy that way.) And Millie and Bob were doing the “Austen-ite” fashion angle, people who liked to dress in Regency clothes, women who did needlework like had been done at that time, that kind of thing. Our Midwestern readers ate that crap up, even if they didn’t always get the heavy ironic tone. Hampton was planning on doing his usual post-modern mash-up critical look at the “revered author.” I think the only one in our crowd at that time who felt anything like respect for the poor old biddy was Conrad. And he was kind of an odd duck anyway. He actually LIKED literature; he openly confessed to having thousands of books in his house. And he wrote – I mean, he wrote “literature” – poetry and short stories and stuff. Had some of it published, mostly in small literary journals. I had read some of it and I realize I’m not, like, smart or anything about that kind of thing, but I thought some of it was pretty deep.

So anyway, Bob and Millie and Reza and Hampton and I were all sitting around the table talking – Conrad was off somewhere; he frequently was “off somewhere” but he always came through with the necessary articles (and even then some; more than once he would save our tails by shyly presenting us with something from what he called his “personal slush pile” – stuff he had written but either never tried to publish or got rejected from the “real” publishers. We all knew that the job at Oh-Snap! was mostly a paycheck to him, that his real goal in life was to be what Hampton would call a “stherious” writer – with a roll of his eyes – but Conrad was generally pretty nice about it. He never acted like he was better than the rest of us, even though all of us really knew it – even Hampton.)

So, like I said, we were sitting down around the table, we exalted souls of the Oh-Snap! “editorial board.” We were planning the layout of the Austen issue and discussion about what we could add in.

Millie was looking at some of the background on Austen she had printed out from Wikipedia and places. She looked kind of sadly at the pages and said, softly, “And she never ever married. She spent her whole life writing in her father’s house…”

Hampton remarked, “Well, yeah…if she was anything like the way she wrote…”

“I didn’t realize you ever read her,” said Reza. “I didn’t think she’d really be your cup of tea…”

“Oh, they MADE me read her in college. You know, the “affirmative action get-the-women-in-the-canon thing. But like I said – if she was anything like the way she wrote, she was probably such a bitch that no man with half a brain would want her. And look at her picture – I mean, bow-wo….OW!”

And suddenly, Hampton leaped up out of his chair and started rubbing his backside.

“Damn – that was just like somebody kicked me in the ass!”

“Must have been a spring,” said Bob. “Stupid cheap chairs. We should have taken out a loan and gotten the Hermann Millers.”

“Yeah…” said Hampton, a little suspiciously. He sat back down.

I tried to pull things back to order. “Okay…so we’ve got Reza’s piece on Clueless…and we’ve got the Austen-era needlepoint piece…”

”I’m nearly done, I promise!” exclaimed Millie.

”…And the Austen-reenactor bit.”

”And that’s going to be just crazy awesome,” said Bob, who tended to be given to hyperbole. “I found all these nutso people who like to run around in tight breeches and muttonchop whiskers and those little funny jackets the women wore, and they talk like she talked, and they argue about what she would and would not have said and eaten and read and all that. And they have conferences and everything! It’s like, totally the Woodstock of the crazy romance-novel set. It’s going to be my ‘Confederates in the Attic’!” Bob exclaimed, hugging himself.

And then Bob launched from his chair with an oath. “Hey – who the hell is playing jokes around here? That wasn’t funny! That was like getting kicked in the ass!”

“You too? I thought you were the one who played the big practical jokes!” Hampton was still eyeing Bob suspiciously, as if he thought Bob wasn’t above hurting himself to make a joke go farther.

“Guys, shut the hell up, we still need to figure out a couple more things. We’ve not sold as many advertising sections for this thing so we’ve still got a bunch of blank pages. Even with” I said, forestalling what Reza was going to say “the letters-to-the-editor frothing about our ‘food’ issue, and even with the couple of usual opinion columns. We can surely tap Conrad for something, but not even I would presume to ask him to prepare four separate stories – which is what we need at this point.”

“Well….” said Reza hesitantly, “You know, there’s a lot of people out there who write stuff about Jane Austen – or rather about her characters. Like the stuff the crazy addled sci-fi people do…writing stories about Spock or the Star Wars people…”

(Hampton snorted at the phrase “Star Wars people”)

“You mean like fan fiction?” asked Millie “I bet there’s hundreds of women out there who’d go nuts to have their crap published…”

“Yeah, and then they’d sue us when they found out our hundreds of subscribers were laughing at it because it was ‘crap.’” I said. “I don’t have any interest in dealing with some grandma from British Columbia who made up a story about Emma’s cat who gets all bent out of shape when she finds out people are laughing at her.”

“We could look around, anyway,” said Reza, somewhat deflated. “I mean, maybe there are some people who are doing it ironically. Or who don’t know or care that it’s crap. You know, kind of the American Idol thing – they think they’re totally great and when someone tells them they suck, they can laugh it off because they’re so deluded about how good they are…”

Bob was frantically scrolling on his laptop. “Guys, this is absolutely insane. This is like some alternate dimension. Did you know that people have written ‘slash fiction’ about these books?”

“Ugh!” said Millie, who was kind of a Puritan, after all. “About whom?”

“Mr. Darcy and…”And then Bob exclaimed, “Shitty computer! It dropped the connection…the screen’s gone totally blank!” He started frantically working over the computer.

“Damn thing’s fried! I don’t know what happened!”

”Probably a power surge?” said Reza “The wiring in this building always was for crap.”

We clustered around Bob and his dead computer, everyone offering the sort of useless suggestions that people tend to offer in situations like this. As we were arguing over whether it was better to unplug the computer and restart it or immediately call a “doc” for it, Conrad sauntered in. He stopped midway between the door and the table and gazed at us in the vague way he had. It always reminded me strangely of a llama I had seen at the zoo once.

“What’s going on?”

“We were trying to crank out the Austen issue and Bob’s computer died” I said by way of explanation.

“Hrm.” responded Conrad. He wandered over to the computer and hung over Millie’s back to gaze at the blank screen. “What was he doing right before it crashed?”

“Nothing,” said Millie. “That’s the weird thing.”

”Was he just writing, or was it on idle, or was he looking stuff up?”

“He was…looking stuff up,” Millie said, her voice getting small as she realized she was probably going to have to explain to Conrad about the slash fiction. She knew that he wouldn’t take kindly to that; in many ways he was more na├»ve and more bluenosed than even Millie.

“Bad stuff.” Conrad responded, matter-of-factly. “Look…this Austen thing. There’s something kind of weird about it. I was doing some research, talking to people? And there was this guy who was an indie filmmaker – sick guy, but there you are. He wanted to make some kind of movie that was like this alternate history thing – saying that Jane was having some kind of…affair with her sister.” Conrad shuddered at the mental image.

“I’ve heard such things…” drawled Hampton. And immediately he vaulted from his chair again, cursing this time, and immediately turned the chair over to inspect it. “This damn thing has been happening all day,” he moaned. “We get talking about this Austen bitch and then stuff starts happening.”

Conrad nodded gravely. “Exactly the same thing.”

“Exactly what thing?”

“This kind of stuff was happening to Trent…the filmmaker guy. He’d get some kind of idea, something crazy, and he said it was like an electrical shock would hit him – like someone was kicking him in the backside. And his iPod got fried, and his car stolen. Crazy stuff. Stuff that seemed coincidental, but wasn’t.”

“And what did he do then?” Millie was getting sucked in, as always, by one of Conrad’s nutjob stories.

“He hired a psychic. Big, fat West Indian woman with long dreadlocks…some of them bleached and dyed fuchsia. I’ve met her actually, she’s a total hoot…but anyway, he hired Salinda, and she came to his office, and did a reading. “ He paused, overdramatically, as was his way. I found myself even getting a little spooked.

“She said, ‘there’s a presence here,’” (Only he said it mimicking PERFECTLY the West Indian accent of the psychic) “’A ghost. A woman. A little woman…from a long, long time ago. And…hoo! Is she ever angry. You done something to piss her off bad, man, and she be kickin’ your ass!’”

Conrad rocked back on his heels, pursed his lips, and regarded us archly.

“So Trent, he dropped the project like a hot rock. He figured, this angry ghost was none other than the shade of Jane Austen.”

“Oh, that’s bullshit,” began Hampton

“Oh, really?” said Conrad, “You lot popping out of chairs like you’ve been stung whenever you say something against her. Bob’s computer dying JUST AS he is looking up nasty, nasty stories written using her characters? You say that’s coincidence?”

”Well, what do we do?” I asked. I was pretty spooked. I started thinking of all the bad crap that could happen.

“Oh, we do the issue. But we change the focus. We make nice with Jane…We print articles about her fans, about the history of her time…Millie? Anything bad happen to you while working on that needlework article?”

“No…” said Millie. “If anything…good stuff happened. Mike called me up and said he wanted to try again.”

“Article one,” said Conrad. “And Reza – you have any mysterious whacks to the bum while looking at how “Emma” was updated for a modern audience, while basically keeping the ethos of Austen intact?”

“No…” said Reza, and I could see she was beginning to believe.

”Article two,” said Conrad. “My conclusion is: we change the focus of the issue. We make it celebratory, perhaps even hagiographic.”

“Aw, man!” exclaimed Hampton.

“You want to deal with HER? You want to put up with her wrath? Look, you can doubt as much as you want but I’ve been doing a bit of research – you don’t screw with the canonical authors, my friend. You’re just lucky it was Jane Austen you were playing with. I’ve heard that Dickens is even worse…And Victor Hugo, man, you do not want to mess with Victor Hugo.”