Saturday, March 31, 2007

"My sweet Lord"

...Yet another artist asserting his individuality and wit.

I don't know if you've heard of this, but some guy (who, apparently, likes to play with food - he also coated a hotel room in cheese as an earlier project) made a life-sized, nude, anatomically-correct model of Jesus on the cross out of chocolate.

And he's standing back, waiting for the inevitable response.

You know? You want to know how I feel? I think it's kind of stupid, but I also look at it (figuratively speaking; I've not actually seen a photo of the statue as the news-outlets I use tend to choose not to show photos of pudenda, whether made of chocolate or not) and I shrug and go, "It's a free country."

Because, here, we have freedom of speech. And that includes "speech" that some people may not necessarily like.

We don't have "freedom never to be offended." In fact, I'd argue that freedom of speech and freedom from offense are probably mutually exclusive possibilities. And if we decide to give up freedom of speech in order to have freedom from offense...well, it's kind of like what Franklin is credited with saying about safety and liberty.

I've seen a few Christians - including a member of the Catholic League - basically frothing on television over their hatred of the sculpture. And again, freedom of speech, but I have to admit I cringe a little bit at it because I think it is giving the artist exactly what he wants.

Now, maybe I tend to frame things too much from the perspective of my own childhood, but my general attitude is that when someone mocks you, you ignore them. Pretend they're not there. (I was one of those little kids who got the books knocked out of her hands, and her homework trampled, and got called "retard" and worse, on a regular basis. Eventually you stop showing the hurt because you realize that not showing the hurt maybe gets people to shut up a little bit, whereas reacting the way you'd like to react - wailing and crying and lashing out impotently with your little fists at them - just makes them laugh harder and think of new insults).

(Yeah, I know - why did they call me "retard"? I was one of the higher achieving kids in the class, I was the one who usually knew the answers to the questions. The cruelty of children is hard to fathom.)

Anyway. When someone does something in this country that seems aimed at taunting Christians, I just kind of shrug. Whatever. You know.

I just hope that no one in the press refers to this artist as "brave" for doing what he did. "Brave" doesn't really apply here. It's not brave to make fun of a religion in a secular country, where the majority of the adherents to that religion will respond by either:

a. shrugging and going, "It's stupid but my faith is bigger than that"
b. writing an angry letter to the editor (and letting that be the extent of their anger)
c. saying "I'll pray for him." (Heh. I know people, that that's their response when someone says or does something they perceive as designed to offend them because of their faith. I would think that if someone were doing their "offensive" art purely because they feel somehow shat upon by God, offering to pray for them would be a rather radical - perhaps even offensive - act).

"Brave" in my book re: faith is reserved for Christians in Moslem or totalitarian countries. Or people like Bonhoffer who stood up to evil and wound up being killed for it. Or for people who suffer so many reverses in life that you might expect them to give up on God altogether, or start hating Him, but who still manage to find ways to praise Him and follow Him.

It's not brave, as I said, to make a statue mocking Christianity in a secular nation where 99.9% of the Christians, if it makes them angry, would not consider doing anything violent about it. (It makes me wonder: what would have happened had he tried something similar with Mohammed? Even here in the U.S.?)

And - maybe I (and the other people reporting on this) are misreading the intent. Maybe it's a (rather misguided) attempt to comment on the commercialization of Christianity in this country, or on the way we tend to take the loving teachings of Jesus (the image of him saying, "let the little children come to me") and ignoring the more difficult ones (the image of him saying, "if you harm one of these little ones, you would be better to have a millstone around your neck and be dropped in the sea.") Because, you know, that's what a lot of us do. We like the "Jesus is my boyfriend" image...or the "Jesus is my BFF" image....and we don't like so much to look at the cross, really look at it, and we also don't like his more challenging teachings, like the comment that people must "hate" their families if they are to follow Christ.

And look at the commercialization of Christmas. And to a lesser extent, Easter. (Am I the only one who is vaguely troubled by the fact that they sell cross-shaped chocolate Easter candy? Somehow I find that disturbing. The bunnies I can deal with because a bunny is basically a secular/pagan symbol, it doesn't have any religious connection for me. But the crosses bug me and I will also say the lamb cakes bug me a little bit too). I think sometimes God is more offended by what His followers have done to the way we talk about Him and the way we debase His name and teachings than He is by someone who is lashing out like an angry child against Him.

(I have the mental image of one of my friends as a baby...she said her mother told her that one day, after fighting with T. to get her down for a nap, T. "punished" her mother by smearing the contents of her diaper around the crib.)

So, I guess my conclusion is that if I were pressed to comment, I'd say I find the idea offensive, but the guy has a right to express it. And that there are things that I find almost as offensive coming from people who call themselves Christians.

Just don't call the guy "brave." Just don't act as if he's somehow disproven Christianity with his clever clever chocolate sculpture. And don't run the story if your only motivation is, "Let's use this as a stick to hit the Christian hornet's nest with and see what comes buzzing out." Because I suspect that's one reason why this is getting a fair amount of media coverage.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

sudden loss

I was sitting at home last night, after youth group, thinking about getting ready for bed, when my department's secretary called.

My department chair's husband had collapsed while working out, was unable to be revived, and had died. (He was only about 43).

There's just nothing you can say in a situation like that. It's shocking, and horrible, and I can't imagine how my chair must feel.

They have a young son.

She had had a TERRIBLE fall- with the break-in here, and the minor fire, and lots of the typical sort of dumb annoying petty political carping that goes on (she's also involved with the faculty senate on campus which seems to me to basically be a big bitchfest for people who are dissatisfied about things. And she was on the receiving end of a lot of the bitching, even in cases where she had no power to change the item being bitched about)

Her spring was getting some better. And now this.

It just boggles the mind. I can't imagine losing someone that close to you so suddenly. Up to this point in my life, most of the deaths of people close to me have been people who were old, and sick, and it was more or less expected, and in many cases there was an adequate chance to say goodbye.

When stuff like this happens, it awakens all kinds of conflicting feelings in me. Part of me wants to become very loving and open and to remind myself every time I talk to someone that that may be the last words I ever get to have on them (at least on this Earth) and so my words should be loving and kind and wise.

And yet, on the other hand, I catch myself thinking, "but you shouldn't let yourself get attached to people; this is what happens when you get attached - people die or leave or disappoint you and you are really fundamentally alone and isn't it really better to kind of labor under the quiet gray fug of aloneness every day rather than to have a few bright moments of happiness, only to have it wrenched from you?"

Except I don't know how not to get attached to people.

And it also makes me feel like the stuff like what the people I wrote about the other day are doing seem pointless and stupid and useless. If your life could end suddenly, why should you deny yourself little things that bring joy? It's like the dieter who never lets chocolate or bread or sweets or anything that most people regard as a 'treat' pass her lips, and then she gets hit by a bus. And it makes me want to take and spend this weekend out having fun, instead of working on research, and....oh, I don't know. It just makes me ask lots of questions about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it and will I regret it on my deathbed that I went out and picked up trash instead of going to concerts, that I was the one who could always be counted on to be responsible even when it meant that I denied myself doing something I really wanted to. Am I going to regret starving myself of sleep to make the time to work out?

Everyone's walking around today, talking in very hushed tones: should we be making casseroles? where do we send the plants? SHOULD we send plants and flowers or is that just another thing for her to deal with? Has anyone talked to her? Who's looking after their son while she deals with the inevitable paperwork and stuff?

the good news is they are members of a pretty supportive church here in town and I'm guessing that she and her son are getting a lot of help from them right now (They are Methodists; the Methodist church here is one of the larger more active ones).

There's kind of a little unspoken (unspoken because we fear it will sound selfish) subtext: will she still be our chair? Will she decide to move back East to be closer to her family? Will we be able to function effectively as a department for the rest of the semester and the summer?

I don't know. I'm going to be off-campus tomorrow for a science-fair related thing and in a horrible, selfish way, I'm glad I'm going to be away, breathing some clear air. Everyone's so confused here and we're all kind of hurting (W., the man who died, was a prof in another department and we all knew him) but we know our chair is hurting far, far worse. And so there's just this kind of fog over everything - if I had been "second in command" I probably would have cancelled the department's classes for the day - but I don't know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

footprints and dealbreakers

Sometimes, I read the New York Times. (Sometimes, it's when I need my blood pressure raised). Say what you will about their "truthiness" or not, it's one of the places you can find thought-provoking articles.

Like this one: A Year Without Toilet Paper,.

It's about a family that is trying to have zero impact on the environment. Or at least as little as they think possible.

(I am not going to argue global climate change. From what I have read I think it is happening, but it is also not clear how much is natural cycles and how much is contributed to by humans. Also I do not think it is happening as rapidly as some would have us believe. I'm also not going to argue that it's possible to have "zero impact" because it is NOT. The only way to not have any impact on your environment is not to be alive.)

And you know - I have to say this up front - I'm all for conservation. I am the person in my department who goes around turning off lights in rooms that are empty (it's to the point where I warn people, if they need the lights left on in an empty room for some reason, to tell me). I "batch" trips, even if it's more of a hassle to, to use less gas. It's just good practice to save energy and prevent pollution where you can. (And I suspect in the next few years - maybe I'm just being too much of an optimist - but I suspect we'll see great gains in efficiency and maybe some new technologies. So we DON'T have to go back to an eighteenth-century existence.)

But there are places where I draw the line.

No toilet paper would be the major dealbreaker for me. (Oh, not being allowed to buy books would be another - but the t.p. would be the big one).

I don't know. Part of me says, "If you choose to live like that, God bless you and keep you." I don't really care what people do in their own houses as long as it's legal, doesn't threaten public health or well-being, or involve harm to children, weaker humans, or animals.

But there's another part of me that's kind of ooged at how some folks have a way of turning everything into a moral choice. I get the distinct feeling from reading the article of "we're better than you; we're stronger and tougher than you. You should do what we do." (I think their whole reaction to "An Inconvenient Truth" - which, in fact, even some scientists promoting the idea of human-caused climate change have suggested is overstated and perhaps wrong in places - is very telling. It's almost like, "Dear God, what we should REALLY do is commit suicide, to save the planet from us.")

(I wonder - as fewer and fewer things are regarded by society at large as "sinful," if people feel the need to impose the concept of "sinfulness" [maybe by another name] on new things? Look at how food is treated in our culture: if you're a woman, it's expected that you "pay" for every "sin" of eating cake, ice cream, steak, etc. with dieting or exercise - or you "resist the temptation" from the get-go [and become one of those tiresome people who never shares in the birthday cake that someone else in the department has, and talks endlessly about your food issues]. Because a lot of the environmentalist stuff seems to be presented in quasi-religious terms - even down to the selling of "carbon credits," which remind me uncomfortably of the "indulgences" of the Middle Ages.)

So there seems to be this growing fringe in American culture who would turn back the clock and live largely like their agrarian ancestors, because they believe it will lessen their impact on the environment.

And, um, no. For me, part of being a member of 21st century society is that I get to take advantage of some of the innovations. (And seriously: if we went back to 18th century technology? There'd be more pollution. Ever heard of coal heating? Ever seen old drawings of London shortly after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? Or maybe they want us to go pre-Industrial, where trees were felled for heat. Or where the "peasants" just shivered in the dark.)

I would also argue that using baking soda in place of toothpaste is a foolish choice: toothpaste is better for dental hygiene, and in the long run, unless you have preternaturally healthy teeth, you will probably get more cavities and gum problems (not to mention blood sodium levels!) using baking soda. And is it more environmentally sound to have to go and get teeth drilled, or use toothpaste in an aluminum tube?

And what of the human-misery angle? If I lived with someone who said, "In the name of causing less pollution, I am only going to bathe once every two weeks, and I am only going to brush my teeth with baking soda" I'd probably respond, "Enjoy sleeping on the couch and never so much as kissing me again." And if he suggested I do it? I'd be gone, daddy-o, gone.

But anyway. There are a lot of things there that I'd be unwilling to do. And the article also, I think, highlights some of the blind spots of urban dwellers. I've read people on Internet fora talk about how everyone should "just give up their car." Well...I live a fourteen mile round trip from the nearest grocery. It would take me all day to walk there, do my marketing, and walk back. But I don't get given a whole day off a week just to market. And going to the doctor would be all but impossible without a car. (Bus service is basically nonexistent here, and you could argue that a taxi is as polluting as having your own car). Yes, there are bicycles but thanks to multiple childhood ear infections, my balance is not good enough to safely ride a bicycle.

(Incidentally: this article - about saving money by giving up your car, which is in an otherwise-reasonable publication, irks me. I read this unwritten subtext of, "You can be environmentally smug and STILL get where you need to go, just by mooching rides off your car-owning friends!" While I'd not be hateful to someone who didn't drive for health reasons - or because owning a car really was a financial burden they could not handle - I would be very irritated with someone - like a particular person I know - who went "carless," talked up how virtuous they were, how healthy, all that, and then bummed rides home off of me when it was raining. Even if they offered to chip in for gas. It's not always an issue of money; it's an issue of dealing with ATTITUDE.)

There's also the whole "eat locally" thing. Where I live, there is little farming other than cotton and cattle ranching. And while I love good beef, it's not the only thing I want to eat. The couple in the first article will only eat food produced within a 250 mile radius. I suppose I could have milk, and beef, and maybe a few truck-gardened things in summer. But a lot of the things I normally eat - like oranges - would be right out.

(And isn't one of the reasons we live longer now that we can actually have vegetables other than beets and potatoes in the winter? And that we've essentially eradicated scurvy?).

That would be another dealbreaker - there'd be no chocolate and no tea. Two things very important to my diet - if not for nutrients, for my personal equilibrium and peace of mind. (And don't suggest that tea can be brewed from herbs grown in one's own garden. I've tried. Almost every herbal tea I've sampled tastes like ass. Sorry, but that's the best descriptive term I can apply).

I know people who do the "eat local" thing, and I applaud them for it. But it just doesn't work for me. Not in a way that would be workable, not in a way that wouldn't mean I eat nothing but beets and cabbage all winter long, or have to worry about whether I'm getting enough vitamin A.

I tend to feel like a lot of people go out of their ways to mention what they're doing, that they see it as a way of promoting themselves as morally superior. (And another thing my faith teaches me: no one is morally superior to anyone else; we are all beloved and worthy but also all sinners. And so the whole "I'm better than you because I use a composting toilet" thing just seems wrong to me.)

I think the biggest thing that bugs me though, is the whole smugness - the whole "we need to impose our lifestyle on yours":

Restaurants, which are mostly out in No Impact, present all sorts of challenges beyond the 250-mile food rule. “They always want to give Isabella the paper cup with the straw, and we have to send it back,” Mr. Beavan said. “We always say, ‘We’re trying not to make any trash.’ And some people get really into that and others clearly think we’re big losers.”

No, let me explain: most waiters and waitresses are heavily overworked, tired, almost dead on their feet, and being told by some Noblesse Oblige patron that they don't WANT a paper cup with a straw because they're "trying not to make any trash" (and where do they think the cup and straw - which have left the kitchen and so are not reusable under health laws - are going to go?) is just another burden on a tired person.

It's like the person who comes to your house for dinner and suddenly announces that they are on the Atkins diet, and are gluten-and-lactose intolerant, and they don't like broccoli, and strawberries give them hives, and is there really something else you could fix them, something macrobiotic?

(I wonder if the couple finds that they don't get invited to friends' houses as often any more. I know there are a few Insane Lifestyle Mentioners in my life that I've largely cut out of any socializing I do, because they CANNOT SHUT UP about their one, single, hobby-horse issue.)

Sometimes you just need to shut up about things. Sometimes there are times when it's not worth enforcing the rules you've imposed on yourself. If it involves creating a large hassle for an otherwise harried person, I tend to think that it's not worth it. It's just being self-centered and setting your own importance over that of another person.

An example: I cannot eat shredded lettuce. I got violently ill off of some (which probably had salmonella or something) some years back, and so now the feel of it in my mouth makes me feel nauseated again. But when I go out to eat somewhere and it's the busy lunch rush, it seems like asking for a "no lettuce if all you have is shreds" sandwich is needlessly complex for the person working the checkstand. So I just order the sandwich and if necessary, remove the lettuce at my seat.

I think the little "exceptions" they permit themselves are interesting,, she still gets to have lipsticks, because they were given free. And they get to "accept gifts." And they got to go on a shopping binge before shutting down their purchasing. (And yet, they tell some poor waitress that their child must have her water served in a re-usable container).

I do think the last sentence of the article summed things up:

“Like all writers, I’m a megalomaniac,” Mr. Beavan said cheerfully the other day. “I’m just trying to put that energy to good use.”

Uh-huh. Megalomaniac. Micromanaging your partner's and your daughter's lives so you can blog about it. Telling waiters and shopkeepers and doormen at great length about what you're doing (with the implication that "you should be doing this too").

I have some megalomaniac tendencies but at least I live alone. And at least I'm out of my own headspace enough to realize that sometimes, someone who's already worked a six hour shift on their feet somewhere doesn't want to hear the minutiae of your lifestyle.

And, I don't know. Maybe I am killing Mother Gaia with my insistence on having a daily cuppa and on running the air conditioning in my house so my asthma doesn't strangle me in my sleep during the summer. But part of life, I think, is enjoying things - and living in a cavelike apartment, eating cabbage, and having to use "a bowl of water and copious air-drying" in place of t.p. seems pretty unenjoyable to me.

As I said earlier: if it makes the couple discussed truly happy, God bless them and keep them. But if they're doing it solely for self-promotion, solely as a way of using their lifestyle as a club to hit other people with, shame on them.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Back. Tired.

And writing the Sunday School lesson I need for tomorrow.

That about sums it up.

It's good to see my parents (and my brother and sister-in-law), but it's also good to be back in my own home again.

I needed the break though; I don't always recognize that I'm starting to burn out a little until after I've pulled out of it. And the two or three weeks previous to last week, I was getting kind of burned out - not as able to face things with good humor, not as able to step back and kind of shrug and go, "Well, I don't have any control over that" about things I really don't have control over, things like that.

Fortunately the break fixed that.

I also didn't get sick. (I was worried after I had the student with some kind of stomach virus).

The next two weeks are short weeks for me. This coming week, Friday, I go to judge the state high school science fair (which is always fun; you get the top of the top students at those things, and I get to see colleagues at other universities, and I get a free lunch, even). And the week after that is Good Friday.

I'm contemplating something I've never done before: fasting on Good Friday. Partly to see if I can. Food plays a bigger role in my life than it probably could; it is probably a bigger stumbling block to me than it should be. Perhaps spending a day consciously fasting will help me confront the fact that I tend to turn to food emotionally and at other times when I'm not actually hungry. (Or maybe not. I get all these highfalutin' ideas that doing a single thing will give me this giant epiphany that changes my life, and if I know myself, it won't. I'll probably be surprised I'm able to do it, but it won't change my eating habits at all)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Friday schpam!

I thought I was going to get off for Spring Break without finding a Stupid Spam of the week. But NOOOOOO! This one was too good to pass up:

Subject line: "Roboti Robots Lackawanna Blues."

Can't you just see it? A robot, with an integral harmonica, set up on a spotlit stage in a smoky bar:

"I'm Roboti Robot, I have the blues
I'm Roboti Robot, I have the blues
I run a GOTO 10 loop
I'm Roboti Robot, I have the blues."

(A little blast from the past for those of us who learned BASIC).

"I'm Roboti Robot; I got the Lackawanna Blues
I'm Roboti Robot; I got the Lackawanna Blues
I can triangulate and find the distance between any city in Pennsylvania
But no one thinks that's good news"

I also got one that said "Brigitte Bardot Britney Spears" which I think is supposed to be part of those "One of these things is not like the other" games from Sesame Street.

It's either:

Brigitte Bardot
Sophia Loren
Britny Spears
Kim Novak

and the answer is "Three sexy actresses and one has-been tramp"

or it's

Brigitte Bardot
Britney Spears
Paris Hilton
Lindsay Lohan

and the answer is "One actress who has aged fairly well and three trollops who will almost certainly not."


My spring break has begun.

(I ended my last class of the day a bit early as we hit a natural "stopping place" - I rarely do that. I was very nearly sucked out the door of the class by the vacuum created by the students making a break for it).

I'll be back next week. (Sadly, not in time to chime in on next week's FFO thread, but if all goes well, I will have nothing I can think of that can FO at the end of next week.)

I LIKE it!

Thanks, Kate! I'm taking it and using it.

grammatically correct

Thanks for noticing, 'fly. I had an eighth grade English teacher who embarrassed several students in the class when they commented they were "nauseous." Perhaps not many people care about the distinction any more.

(I also am very tuned into the difference in meaning between "imply" and "infer," thanks in part to years of reading Nero Wolfe mysteries.

I guess I'm overly affected by things I read - as a child, I was kind of haunted by the fairy tales where the protagonist met an old woman in the woods, and how they treated that old woman affected the rest of their life...for example, the girl who opened up her lunch basket and offered to share was given an enchantment that made diamonds and rubies fall out of her mouth when she spoke, but the girl who was rude to the old lady got an enchantment where she got toads and lizards.

I'm sure the symbolism there is not so blatant as I interpreted it as a child - that it's something more like, "once a kind person, always a kind person." But I always was very careful to look out for old women when I was out playing.

At any rate...a little later on [and probably too late in my life to be given to this kind of fantasy], reading the Nero Wolfe novels, I envisioned myself being summoned to an office, where a large man behind a desk begins interrogating me, and he eventually asks, "Would you use 'infer' and 'imply' interchangeably?" And I would look at him, and my eyes would get large with surprise, and I would say, " are two totally different words. Infer is when you draw a conclusion from what someone says; imply is when you say something and try to get someone to draw that conclusion." And I'd sit back, feeling a certain relief that I had passed some kind of test.

I will also admit a certain reluctance to use "contact" as a verb, as a result of my Wolfean reading.)

Other grammatical things that bother me:

the less/fewer distinction. Or rather, the lack-of. "Less" is when you're talking about a quantity that cannot be counted as distinct units: "less" time; "less" water. "Fewer" is when the individual objects can be counted: "fewer" students; "fewer" trees. I suppose because we have one word on the other side - "more" - that stands in for both quantity and number, people get sloppy.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm not a complete pedant. I don't stop and correct people (except when grading a student's written paper; I do think that's right and good). But I cringe a little.

Also the "me/I" thing. This is where someone is using themselves as the object of a sentence and they use the wrong pronoun. Now, English doesn't really have noun cases any more (like German does), but the pronouns still fit the old case-pattern. But most people don't know that.

I was taught - if you're saying, for example, "Sally and I" or "Sally and me," drop the "Sally and" and see which one "sounds right." (I learned precious little formal grammar in school but I am fortunate in that I seem to have a natural knack for the "sounds right").

For example: "Sally and I went to the inn." That's correct; you would say, "I went to the inn." "Sally and me went to the inn" would be wrong; you wouldn't say "Me went to the inn" (At least, unless you're Cookie Monster.)

The bigger problem comes with...(and this is where I admit some ignorance) you are the (in)direct object of the sentence (my ignorance being that I can't at the moment remember if it is the direct or indirect object). "The car belongs to my brother and me." An awful lot of people would say "The car belongs to my brother and I."

(Again: "The car belongs to me" sounds right; "The car belongs to I" is clearly wrong. Just take out the "my brother and" to figure it out, as my seventh or eighth grade English teacher told us)

(Side joke: in my family we have a running joke that Disciples of Christ ministers cannot make the I/me distinction in sentences like that. Every single one we've ever met messed it up at least occasionally. In fact, the minister of the church I belong to now - who used to be in another denomination and "converted" to DOC - has started doing it!)

That one actually doesn't bother me so much; it doesn't grate on my nerves like the following ones:

And these are mostly in written language; in spoken language you can't "hear" them.

The "your/you're" messup. "You're" is short for "you are."

The "their/there/they're" messup. Again, same thing. I mostly see people using "there" when they should use "their."

(Are kids not taught the concept of possessive pronouns in school any more? I might mess up occassionally when typing fast -like on a blogpost - but in my 'serious' writing, like exams and papers and reports, I make jolly sure that I've got the right forms).

The "its/it's" messup. This one I can kind of forgive because it's tricky. This is one case where it LOOKS like the possessive (which we typically make in English with 's) should be the "it's" form, but "it's" is really "it is." (I keep threatening to get a stamp made up that says, "Its is the posessive; it's is short for 'it is'" and use it on student papers so I don't keep having to write that out.

That said: not too far from me there used to be a sign for a softball complex that had on its advertisement: "Softball At It's Best!"

I tend to think if you're putting out a commercially-made sign, you better damn well make sure it's right. That thing grated on me every time I drove by it.

The apostrophe-makes-plural! messup.

It is not "more than one flower is flower's." I'm actually surprised how often I see this. It's mostly, it seems, misused in commercial applications. Like, "Bagel's!"

I always want to be snarky and ask "What does the bagel own?" But I don't.

Bob the Angry Flower has a short guide to correct usage. (I wish Bob would also take on the it's/its thing.)

(I love Bob's reaction to the mistake: "NO! Wrong! Totally wrong! Where'd you learn this? Stop doing it!")

I CARE about grammar - I may not "formally" know much (I could not diagram a sentence to save my life; by the time I hit middle school sentence-diagramming was apparently on the Blacklist of Educational Practices), but I have a good "native knowledge" of how things work - which came in part from learning French in high school (where we were expected to know direct objects and indirect objects) and from reading writers who use good grammar.

I know, there are a lot of people who roll their eyes over my finicky attitude, who say, "What does it matter? Language evolves!" But I would argue that you need to be able to communicate, and not just communicate with your little coterie. And that there IS such a thing as "proper English," and it does not make it somehow oppressive or racist that it is not the English you speak with your friends.

(And that said? I'll be d****d before I will learn text-message-speak. The day when a student tells me he should have the right to hand in a paper written in "textspeak" is the day I reconsider my career as an educator.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Well, in my second class (a lab) this morning, I had:

1. couldn't get the demonstration microscope to turn on
2. one of the young women - coming down with a stomach bug from the kids she works with at a local day care - throw up in the trash can. (I tried to be sympathetic without getting too close to her. I have to travel tomorrow. I do not want my Spring Break to be a week of throwing up. I already washed my hands AND used antibacterial goo on them [tho' if it's a virus that will do little good] and I'm going to go home and pound down a couple of those Dannon yogurt drinks that claim to enhance your immune system.)
3. One of the guys dropped the stapler - it was an accident - and it shattered into about 10 pieces.
4. One of the students unhappy with how the "grader" (not me; we have a grader for the class because I am already teaching it as an overload) graded her paper.

So it's been an unpleasant morning. (I wound up carrying the trash can out to the dumpster, at arm's length, and closing my eyes while I tied off the bag and tossed it in. I have a squeamish stomach at the best of times and even THINKING about throwing up makes me a little nauseated).

And now, I have papers to grade.


Almost done.

Found one (of fifteen) that was partially plagiarized from the internet (took off a third of the points; I think that's about fair - it was about 1/5 of the paper that was cribbed). One paper was almost entirely plagiarized and from sources the papers author had not cited. (Yup...power of Google, folks. Type in a suspicious-sounding phrase and see what you get back.) He gets a 0 on the paper and he's lucky there's not more penalty...this is someone who is taking the class for a second time and I think (IIRC) he pulled a similar trick on his paper the first time. Durr. Or maybe he just plagiarized the sources he CITED last time and thought I'd not check...and this time got sneakier.

To be fair - I chose at random two "unusual sounding" phrases out of every paper and ran a websearch on them. It was only his paper and that other one that kicked anything out - and a lot of the other papers, it was pretty clear the students wrote them; some of them talked about personal experience with the topic and it was totally plausible that they had had it.

I hate playing cop but I admit deep down there's a tiny satisfaction that Google-boy isn't getting away with his shenanigans. (Here's a tip for would-be plagiarizers: don't choose sites that "sound smarter" than an average college undergrad. And for the love of Pete, don't plagiarize sites with complex jargon. That's just a red flag. Or rather - would-be plagiarizers, totally ignore what I just said. Plagiarize from sites that sound, like, rilly rilly smart, because your prof will be so dazzled that she won't possibly check your sources! And include lots of jargon, preferably jargon your prof might not know! And don't define it or anything! Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket...)

None of the papers were GREAT but most of them were not terrible. So I guess that's a little success.

quick update

Like nightfly, I'm busy these days and don't really have much time for updating.

My spring break is next week which is good because I really need some time off (and I need to do my taxes), and it's reached the point where some of the students are just at the giving-up point, they're so tired.

And another person - this time the choir director at church - has been diagnosed with cancer. Cancer, eff off already. If you were a human being you'd have been put to death for mass murder long ago.

I'm also dealing with a few slightly difficult people in other areas of my life and it's annoying me. If I piss you off so badly, why don't you just ignore me? I never understood some people's need to seek out other people who bother the hell out of them just by their existence. I tend to avoid people who rub me the wrong way (when I can), so I just don't get it.

Like I don't get people who argue for the sake of arguing. I used to know someone who, if you said to them, "It's a nice sunny day today!" they'd start arguing, either trying to convince you it WASN'T, or that there was something abnormal about the sunshine ("Global warming! It's global warming!") or whatever. Fortunately one of those people I used to have to interact with on a regular basis has moved away, but that is just something I DO NOT GET - sometimes, when people talk, they do it because they want connection. A lot of times when I say stuff, when I make small talk, it's because I'm looking for someone to validate what I'm saying or to connect.

What I'm not looking for is this:

Me: "Hey, it's a nice sunny day out today!"
Them: "What? What's so "nice" about it? And it's been sunny for over a week! We're not getting any rain - this is probably the start of a drought."

Me: "Say, do you want to go out somewhere and grab lunch?"
Them: "Where? I don't eat at any corporate-owned places. And most of the places around here serve too much food; it's bad for you."

Me: "Did you see that news story on topic X on network Z last night?"
Them: "Oh, I never watch Network Z. They're totally biased. And I can't believe anyone cares about topic X; it's just being presented as a distraction to keep us from thinking about what's REALLY going on in the world."

That kind of thing. Actually, now that I look at it, I realize it's not that different from the "Autorantic Moonbat" applet that some people have had on their blogs. But I've seriously known people like that - maybe not as extreme, but people who can't talk without arguing. Like, if I said I was reading a novel by Dickens and that I was enjoying it, they'd present a list of reasons that sounded like it was designed to make me feel inferior for actually LIKING Dickens.

And I guess that's the rub for me. If I said, for example, "I'm enjoying reading 'Tale of Two Cities.'" and they said they did not, I'd want to know why they, specifically they, didn't care for it. Not what some literature prof at Harvard said, not some kind of postmodern argumentation on the subject. And likewise, I'd want them to be willing to listen to my reasons for enjoying it - rather than trying to force me into some defense of Dickens as an author or of my choices in literature.

Because, I don't really have the energy for arguments most of the time.

I wonder if this is a personality-based thing? That there are some people who mainly want to connect in their conversations and some who mainly want to spar? And if sometimes a lot of interpersonal conflict comes when, for example, someone seeking connection is dealing with someone who wants to spar?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

striving for calm

Oh, my friends.

I am trying very hard to hold fast to that good feeling - the thought of all of Creation dancing for joy - but it is hard, sometimes.

It is especially hard when you have assigned a research paper on the 2nd of February, to be due tomorrow, and have three members of a fifteen-person class basically admit to you that they had not begun the paper as of 3 pm yesterday. (I will say, in order to be "fair and balanced," that one student in that class has met with me several times about the paper and has ALREADY HANDED HIS IN.)

I had one person - who apparently slipped through the cracks somehow - call up and leave a message last night asking me "if there were any topics left?" No, I don't think it's my responsibility to make sure everyone has a topic by a certain time. They had the assignment, I told them they needed to choose a topic from my list, I harped on this danged paper at least once a week (as in: "don't forget to be working on it") since I assigned it, it is in the syllabus, blah, blah, blah. They won't get that much warning about deadlines when they're out in the working world.

I called him back this morning (and had to leave a message). I gave him a topic. Oh, yes, I gave him a topic. The very HARDEST of the remaining topics. And the one he's least likely to be able to buy an existing paper on. And you know? I don't care. He had a month. I am busier than most anyone in that class and I manage to find time to get things done, even things I don't want to do. Even things I "have" to do because I'm apparently the responsible person, the "George" of "Let George do it". In fact, when I was in college, I would have been grateful to have had a month's warning about having to write a paper.

I remind myself: you are the only person whose behavior you control.

But I also have to admit I'm not lookin' forward to grading these papers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Lord of the Dance"

That was the choir anthem this morning at church. (The words are here if you are unfamiliar; the tune is a version of the old "Simple Gifts" Shaker hymn).

The whole time, I was sort of fighting tears. It's unusual something moves me to that point - and I had heard the song before so it was not a surprise - but I think it hit me some way strange today.

And you know, I came home, sat down at my sewing machine, started sewing on my current quilt. And I started thinking about the words of the song again. And unbidden, the tears came - I just started crying. It's not that I'm sad - it's just, like I said, the song just hit me in a particular place today.

And I think, sometimes, when we cry, it is not so much that we are sad or happy or anything, at the time, it's just that we need to get the tears out, the tears that build up over time.

I think the song moved me so much because to me, it is a more authentic description of Christianity, at least in my experience, than what the stereotypes of Christianity present:

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he

That's the refrain. I like the idea of dancing for joy. And I like the image in the first stanza - that Christ was there from the time it all began, and that He danced in the sunlight and the moonlight.

Because, I've spoken with people who thought they knew Christianity. Christians are all these dour people who follow a long list of "thou shalt nots," who don't know how to have fun, who would take any fun anyone else would have away from them. Oh, and they're hypocrites, too.

And I don't even know where to BEGIN with someone who has that image. While I don't doubt that Christianity counts among its ranks its share of killjoys and mean people (because killjoys and mean people are everywhere). And the hypocrite, thing, too - we are all of us (Christian and not), to some extent hypocrites. Or rather, we cannot live up to our intentions. We say one thing - we know what is right - but we cannot quite always manage to do it.

But my experience with Christianity - especially in the past few years - has totally been the opposite of the image of people dressed in gray sitting in church and listening to sermons about the fires of Hell.

In the church I belong to, we laugh. And we eat together. And there's a lot of hugging (and even though I'm generally kind of touch-averse, I participate. I understand that for some of the people - particularly women of a certain age who see me as a bit of a surrogate daughter - hugging is an important way of showing their love. [And no, I've never been hugged in a way at church that felt at all "creepy." And I'm pretty attuned to "creepy" vs. "not creepy" when it comes to things like hugging].)

The minister himself once said in a sermon that he saw two ways of bringing people to Christianity: first, the image of saving sinners from the pit of Hell, and second, inviting people to a wonderful banquet. Which, he asked, would be the invitation you'd take?

And you know, he's right. Since I've become more active in my faith, my life has become deeper and richer and more joyful right in the here and now. I am a happier and calmer person. I am generally better able to interact with people - even with difficult people - in ways that are productive.

My faith, and what I learn every week when I prepare for Sunday school or I prepare the Youth Group lesson or I think about what the kids say in Youth Group or I think about the sermon, makes my life more meaningful. I feel like I'm learning a lot, uncovering a lot about what God really means about life.

And dancing IS part of it, I think. (Oh, I know, some faith traditions frown on dancing. But David danced! In fact, he even danced naked! I think the problem comes in when there are some people who can't deal with some of the issues dancing brings up - I mean, the kids who go in for the simulated-copulation type of dancing. They're going about it the wrong way! They're taking something that can be very sacred and making it profane).

(I think a great many things in life can be imbued with a level of sacredness, given the right respect and the right attitude. Even sex. The problem is, we humans have a bad habit of taking things that have great deep meanings to them and drawing them down to their simplest and most carnal level, and somehow wringing the sacredness out of them.)

But I love the imagery of it: That God in Jesus is always dancing, always calling to us to join Him in the joy and wonder of it.

Of course, the song is a description of Jesus' life, so there is also the description of His death - "They buried my body/ And they thought I'd gone," but there is also the fundamental thing: "But I am the Dance, /And I still go on." And again - I love that image. That Christ is something so elemental, so fundamental, that people could not kill Him. People tried to kill Him then, and you know, in other ways and with other methods, people still try to kill Him now. But in the lives of the faithful, He cannot be killed.

The song - the last stanza - also reminds me of the bit out of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," where Aslan having given himself up as a sacrifice in place of Edmund, comes back to life because of the "Deeper Magic":

"Oh, children," said the Lion. "I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!" He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn't know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began...It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia."

Again - the idea of running and romping and dancing for sheer joy.

I think perhaps another reason the song got to me is that it makes me wish I could dance. I cannot. I have tried on a number of occasions, taking dance classes, but I turn out to be one of those people who has to look down at my hands and see which one forms an "L" to know my left from my right. I am simply not coordinated enough. I also can't sing, and that makes me kind of sad. I feel closed out of two ways of expressing my joy, expressing what I feel. Dancing seems so immediate: you just get up and DO it, to show how you feel.

But I did realize, sitting at my sewing machine, that perhaps I have other ways of "dancing." I have had many people say about the quilts that they make that they are vibrant and joyful and full of color. And often when I work on them I do feel that joy - I feel like the things I think and believe and feel are going down my fingers and into the cloth. (And perhaps it's interesting that in the past couple years, my quilts have become more vivid in the colors I choose).

But I know I will be thinking about that song, and about what it means, and about how to express faith as joy, for a while yet.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

cleaning house

(And I mean it literally, not figuratively, though there may be some figurative psychological benefits).

I did my spring-cleaning yesterday afternoon. I get done with classes around noon on Fridays. I gave an exam in one class so I did have that to grade (got done around 2). And then I started cleaning.

When I'm in the right mood for it, I enjoy cleaning house. There's always the inertia to be overcome ("I could be sitting reading right now!") but once I get into it, I can keep going.

I clean (in the sense of sweeping floors and wiping down counters) every couple days, but the bigger-clean - the moving furniture to sweep under it, the putting-away-of-papers-and-magazines, that only happens every couple weeks. As does the mopping of kitchen and bathroom floors. (I have white ceramic tile floors in both rooms. If I had a time machine, I'd go back in time to the person who owned the house before me - and had the tile put in - and yell at them for doing that. White ceramic tile is very hard to keep clean for long, unless you're willing to go all Adrian Monk and scrub after every cooking event. Which I am not.)

So anyway: I had lots of magazines accumulated, lots of mail (I tend to be paranoid about saving things like the statements from bills after I've paid them; I'm always afraid my account won't be credited and I will need to somehow reconstruct my payment records of the past 2 years so they don't turn my electricity off or something). Grotty kitchen floor (I cooked more this week than I often do; when I am distressed I sometimes cook as a displacement behavior).

So I just buckled down and cleaned. And it felt good. I turned the radio on (A semi-local talk station where the hosts are less frothy - left OR right - than most other stations, and then later the afternoon news. Sadly, there are NO "good" music stations here, at least "good" in my sense. There are music stations that play "both kinds of music*" in the Blues Brothers sense).

(*Barmaid: "We have both kinds of music here: Country AND Western!" Heh. One of my favorite lines out of a movie from which I can quote MANY lines)

But it felt good. It felt like scraping off barnacles. It felt like a purification ritual. (I wonder - does the tradition of spring cleaning in any way hark back to old religious purification rituals? I also wonder - does anyone really DO spring cleaning any more, or is it a concept that went out with rug-beaters?)

One of the things I like about cleaning house is that it leaves the thinking part of my brain largely unoccupied, while keeping the worrying part (or parts very close to it) occupied with making decisions like "keep or pitch?" or "authentically scrub or just use one of those cheapo Swiffer Wet things on this floor?"

I find that I start to get nervous and unhappy when my house is not clean. I am restless when I am at home. I think part of it - but only part - is deep down I'm afraid that someone - my minister (who probably wouldn't care), one of the ladies from my women's group, someone I teach with - would drop by and see my Horribly Messy House and then I'd be embarrassed and mortified that I can't even keep my house neat - that I would feel I had Failed as a Grownup because my house is a pit.

(Like I said: the people who really matter probably wouldn't care and I was at a colleague's house once for a dinner party and his house was less neat than mine generally is. So maybe my standards are a bit unrealistic).

Also - oddly enough, I am not bothered that my work-office is a mess. In fact, it is somewhat of a joke in the department - my office is the messiest and yet I am the one person who can generally find ANYTHING she needs in her office right away (My "filing system" is strongly based on spatial memory: I can remember where I put something as long as I am not moving too many things around at the same time. Hence, after I clean my office, I generally can't find ANYTHING for a couple weeks.)

I suspect it's because I don't see my work office as being so intimate a part of me - so much a reflection of who I am - as my home is. My office is just where I work; my home is, on some level, who I am. And I don't want people to think that I am disordered and slovenly.

Anyway. I felt my mood lift as I swept and scrubbed and did away with old papers I don't need any more, and put things back into their proper place (and did laundry at the same time, and then put that away). Having things put away where they are supposed to be is a certain satisfying feeling for me.

And so, now my house is clean. My house always feels bigger after it's cleaned, and it feels more peaceful and quiet to me.

I'm sure the larger part of my distress over a messy house is do to some psychologically distracting effect of clutter and dust; I am more productive when my house is clean and I am happier. Last night I sat on the sofa and knitted after the house was clean and I felt very happy and peaceful indeed.

Some of my friends keep telling me: you need to get a cleaning woman. You work hard, you make good money - get someone else to do those chores for you.

And you know? I can't. I just can't. Part of it is that I read the book "Other People's Dirt" (a series of rather snarky essays by a woman who cleaned houses - she was VERY judgemental of her clients and that was one thing that bothered me about the book.) I don't like the thought of someone going through my underwear drawer (perhaps) or looking at my stores of quilt fabric or my many shelves of books and shaking her head and dismissing me with a short four-or-five letter word.

I also don't like the idea of making someone else clean my mess. That's the bigger part of it. Growing up, my mom and dad did all the stuff around the house. They did the cleaning and the painting and the yardwork and my dad did some of the basic car-maintenance stuff (I know how to change the oil in a car but I do not; that is one thing I'm willing to leave to people I pay). Part of it was, I think, my parents are basically frugal about things it's easy to be frugal about. (They were frugal, yes, but when Christmas or our birthdays rolled around, then they spent the money they had saved on mowing the lawn themselves to buy my brother or me the very thing we wanted most...) And I think I've picked up that attitude: I save money on things like laundry (I know someone who sends his shirts out: I'm sure it's very nice but that's not something I could spend money on) so I can spend what I save on books. Or craft supplies. Or plants, when gardening season rolls around.

But I also think there's something spiritually good for me about the action of cleaning. It's almost like a little exorcism: I may feel that the outside world is disordered and screwed up, but dangit, at least the pots and pans in my cupboard are in a straight line and are ordered from smallest to largest. (I am not generally that OCD about things but I like my kitchen to be ship-shape). Getting the dirt and dust out is like getting the accumulated dust of the week out of my soul. (Perhaps that is also why I usually choose a Friday afternoon for my "big cleaning"). I feel lighter and brighter after the cleaning is done, more ready to face the coming week.

In general, I tend to think that it's good for people who don't do manual labor as a part of their job to do some kind - be it cleaning their own house, or gardening, or building houses for Habitat for Humanity - on their off time. It brings balance. And I think there is something potentially humbling about it - like, I may have a Ph.D., but I still have to go home and scrub the toilet. And I think that's a good thing for me, too.

It brings happiness to have a clean house, but it's a different - quieter - sort of happiness.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Thanks, 'fly.

I just get frustrated by the way the world in the here-and-now works sometimes.


I think I feel my natural cheerfulness returning. I don't know if it's because the elm trees are now setting seed (and therefore are making no more pollen for the year, thank goodness), or if it's just that the week's over and I can put this one behind me, or if it was just a matter of time and distance, or what.

I have been on a 'news fast' for several days - I have to do this periodically. The funny thing is, it's not so much the global news (like what's going on in Iraq) that gets to me, it's the stupid little local things. The cases of child abuse or animal abuse. The criminals doing stupid things that endanger people (like stealing stop signs - a couple years ago a teenager was killed because someone stole a stop sign on a side street and a motorist unfamiliar with the area didn't know he was supposed to stop. Well - I guess the motorist's life was harmed, too, because now he has to live with the consequences of someone else's action). The vandalism. (I could go on and on about vandalism - my university deals with it on a regular basis and it's like the students - generally the perpetrators - don't realize that that takes money and resources away from things that could benefit them). The sort of short-sighted, unable-to-see-the-consequences type behavior.

So not hearing the constant scritch, scritch, scritch of human selfishness (I agree with whichever theologian it was that said that the vast majority of human sin can be traced back to basic selfishness) helps.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

crazy, man

So I have this student, right?

And he's signed up for my class three times, the past three semesters. And every time, he attends for a couple weeks and then disappears totally - not even disenrolling, so he winds up with an F.

And I happen to notice on the sign-in sheet one of my colleagues has up for another class (people signing up for times to give a presentation), his name is there, but no time has been taken.

So I ask my colleague: "I see X is in your class. Has he been attending?"

"No," Colleague said, "It's the oddest thing. He showed up the first few weeks and then disappeared."

Now, because I am sometimes a suspicious wench, I thought: a-ha. Financial Aid scam. I've seen this before - people get their check to go to school and go out and buy stereo equipment or a used car and then leave town.

So I called Financial Aid. Read off his name and ID number and explained the situation. And the woman looked him up in the database.

"I'm so sorry, Dr. Ricki..." she said. "He doesn't get any aid from us. There's nothing we can do."

"You mean to say, he or his family pays for him to go to college, he basically drops out every semester, and no one's twigged to that fact?"

"Looks that way."

Dang. Daaaaaaaaang. If I had tried a stunt like that, my butt would be yanked out of school (by my dad) so fast, my head would spin.

Either this is someone who's independently wealthy, keeps thinking he wants a university degree, and then keeps changing his mind, or he has a rich relative he's skimming from. Or something. It's quite baffling.

Like I said to Colleague when I gave him the "rest of the story" - dude must be getting some money. There's not a lot you can do that's more interesting than going to college (At least, IMHO) unless you have a buttload of money...I would think sitting at home watching daytime tv would get seriously old seriously fast.

But what do I know, I'm one of those weird kids who became a prof....

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

M.'s memorial

I went to the memorial service for M. (the man from my church who passed away this weekend) today. (I was able to because morning classes on campus were cancelled today for a "testing day.")

At first I was apprehensive about going; I always am about funerals and the like. Also, I always wonder - does the family REALLY want all those people there? Or do they want more privacy to say goodbye?

But I decided to go anyway. I grabbed a handful of Kleenex as I left my office (I never know how things are going to affect me and this has been a borderline-weepy week for me any way; one way that allergies affect me badly is that they make me kind of depressed, I feel like there's this gray fuzz on the world. I take allergy meds and shots and they alleviate it somewhat, but it's just pretty much something I have to endure every spring).

I didn't cry, though. I teared up a little when I saw his widow walk in on the arm of (who I presume was) M.'s son (M.'s current wife - his widow - was a second marriage after his first wife died). She looked a lot frailer than the last time I saw her just a few weeks ago.

It was a fairly short service - a couple of solos by a singer, a eulogy from the minister, words from the family. (I hadn't known it but apparently M. and his wife had served as sort of an emergency-basis foster family to a set of siblings in tough circumstances. And in his role as a school principal, he made arrangements for kids whose families couldn't afford shoes to have shoes. Things like that that are not all that SURPRISING given what I knew about the man, but things I hadn't heard before.)

One comment the minister said struck me: At one point he described M. as having lead a "useful" life. And I felt a little pang there. You know, that is what I would like for them to be able to say about me, at the end of my life. That I was useful. That what I did brought some good into the world and helped people.

And you know? It makes me sad to think that there are hundreds - thousands - of people like M. out there, leading their quiet useful lives, helping people out, showing God's love to others, and just generally being an asset to the human race, and yet when they die, it's barely even noted. But let someone who is frankly somewhat of a wastrel die - like a famous stripper-turned-actress we've all heard about - and their death is treated with more attention and more coverage than the death of a world leader. And that says something sad about our society - that someone who did real and concrete good in the lives of people gets a couple inches in the local newspaper when he dies, and some woman who's best known for turning her life into a giant train wreck becomes "breaking news" on all the national channels, with even breathless descriptions of the shroud that covers her casket.

It just reminds that what the world seems to value is not the same thing that I find valuable.

I will say I wish the world's values were more in line with my own; I think I would feel less distress when I look out at the wider world were that true.

I do feel better having gone to the memorial. For all I roll my eyes at the pop-psych use of the word "closure," I do think there's a certain - if it's not bad to call it this - relief when the funeral is over. It's like: well, there's not anything we can do to bring this person back. We have mourned this person, we have commended his soul to God. Now it is time to get back to the business of living.

And so, we did. I talked briefly with the minister's wife after the service and she said it was time to get back to the bank where she worked. And I went back to school and led the afternoon lab field-trip that I had scheduled. I will admit a bit of passing sadness as we drove by the funeral home and crematorium where M. had made his arrangements, but I also knew that I had students to teach.

And M., having been a lifelong teacher, would have understood that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What part of "I don't want to hear it" don't you get?

So, one of my colleagues comes by my office.

"I have some news about Dick Cheney" he says (this is someone who has ALL the snarky jokes from ALL the snarky "comedy news" programs out there and who shares them with all and sundry, even those who don't appreciate them.)

I put up my hand. "I'm really stressed out and busy right now and I'm avoiding the news as much as I can." I respond.

So, he keeps going:

"He had a blood clot! They gave him rat poison! He didn't die! So I guess I was wrong about him! hahahahahaha!"

I looked VERY COLDLY at him and quietly said: "my dad takes 'rat poison.' It's called Warfarin. It keeps him from dying."

Guy was totally unabashed by it. He's one of those "Everything's a big joke that I disagree with, and everything's deadly serious that I agree with" types. I mean, I like him as a person - but his politics and his tendency to think no joke is in poor enough taste when it involves a politician on the right just wears on me.

I don't appreciate the kind of constant mean humor. Look. I don't like Cheney that much - I wish he were retired instead of VP. But - to make a joke about his having a blood clot - that's just really in poor taste. (My mother's best friend, several years ago, died of a blood clot. They didn't give her the 'rat poison' fast enough, I guess.)

I'm still sort of sad and raw-feeling and I just want to withdraw into myself and work on stuff without talking to anyone for a few days.

I probably should have reamed the guy for his poor-taste joke, but I just don't have the energy for that kind of fight right now.

Monday, March 05, 2007

tough week?

I hate to say it, but I have a feeling this is going to be a difficult week for me emotionally.

I woke up this morning at my usual time and realized that it would be 12 hours before I could even think of returning home (and then I have to go out again at 7 for an evening class).

During my workout, listening to the news, the headline was presented about how the troops think the security crackdown in Baghdad is working because they are finding fewer dead bodies in the streets.

(And yeah: I know, the news is designed these days to elicit an emotional response. I think my response - that the troops still need to be there and they need to be TAKING OUT with extreme prejudice the people who are making unsafe for people to go and do their marketing or go to work or go to school - is probably the opposite of what was intended).

But still - that image, the idea that the troops are finding "fewer" dead bodies and that is somehow a good thing - it just kind of sapped my enthusiasm for the coming week, not to mention working out.

What's the point of taking steps to make yourself live until 90 or so in a world like this? What if it just gets worse? What if that were to happen here: how would we, as a society, cope with the thought that going to the wal-mart for a bag of chips could get you killed?

Why am I giving up an hour of sleep (which would probably make me happier) just to force my body to keep going longer through a world that seems to be descending into more and more madness?

It's something I've wondered about for years: first, during the IRA bombings in London, then during the suicide bombs in Jerusalem. I suppose you adopt some measure of fatality, that you accept that, "Well, I can't put off buying food any more, hope this is an off day for the killers."

I don't know. From time to time I suffer from a wee bit of what some people metaphorically call "the black dog" and I can feel it following me know, hear the huff of its breath and the clink of the tags on its collar. I turn and try to wave it off but it still follows.

I'm telling myself this is probably hormonal or related to the fact that nearly everything I am allergic to is making pollen or spores this week, but that still doesn't help.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


I'm a little bit sad today.

M., the man on whose behalf I told cancer to "eff off" on the FFO thread ten days ago, died this morning.

I knew it was coming eventually, but it's still sad when it happened.

(And yet: I'm kind of relieved it's over for him. Towards the end, I understand, he was in a lot of pain and was suffering from confusion. He is no longer suffering now. And I believe his soul has moved on to a better place.)

He survived a bit over a year from his diagnosis with lung cancer. At one point we thought he had beaten it; he started coming back to church when he felt up to it. It was good to see him.

But then he suffered some kind of a setback a couple weeks ago, and he never recovered.

I taught Sunday school today. In the middle of the lesson, I realized that this was the week of the month M. used to teach - but back a year ago when his diagnosis was finalized and he was going to start treatment, he asked me to take his week for him, because he wouldn't have the strength to teach while undergoing treatment.

I said OK, and I remember telling him that if some point in the future he was better enough to take his week back, I'd gladly relinquish it.

He sort of shook his head sadly (I remember now) and said "I don't think I'll be taking it back."

A couple of other things I remember:

He always used to call me "Kiddo." From some people that would annoy me but from him, it just made me smile. (At 38, I'm hardly still a kiddo, but whatever).

He always had a joke. Most of them were the silly kind of riddle (Like: "Why did the golfer wear two pairs of socks? In case he got a hole in one!") that he probably saved up during his years as a primary-school teacher. All of his jokes were squeaky clean, and they usually involved some kind of bad pun. I loved them and I will miss his jokes.

He always had a kind word for people. That is more important than some people might think.

He was a coin collector and sometimes when he "weeded" his collection, he'd pass coins on to people he thought would appreciate them. I have a buffalo nickel he gave me. I don't think it's worth a whole lot, but that doesn't matter. What matters to me is that he gave it to me. It's sitting on my bookshelf now with a few other "treasures" I've collected over the years.

M., you will be missed. You were a good man and a kind man. Rest in peace.

Friday, March 02, 2007

the Friday Stupid Spam

...maybe I should make this a weekly thing.

Anyway. I got a spam-mail with the subject line "RC Hovercraft prom dress!"

Gee. Maybe THAT'S how I could have got a date for the prom:

"Hey...Jay? Wanna go to the prom with me? I'm buying an RC Hovercraft prom dress!"

"Whoa...I'm so there. I'm so there I'm even dumping the girl who already asked me, just so I can go with you."

(Seriously: the reason I didn't go to prom is that the two guys in the whole school that I liked enough to want to go with, by the time I got up the gumption to ask them, someone else had already asked.

That said? I don't consider having missed prom any great loss, so don't give me comments that are all pity-faced and sad because I missed out on one of the "seminal experiences of American teenagerdom." I will hurt you.)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Childhood books

Sheila has a post up about children's books that influenced you.

Some of mine are totally predictable, but some are less known.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia. I first got "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" as part of a set of books - it was five books, called something like "Classics of Children's Literature." Black and green bindings. Also had Mary Poppins, and Wrinkle in Time, and Little Women, and one other...some horse novel, I think. (I never cared for "horse novels" like Black Beauty when I was a kid).

Oh, wait. National Velvet. I don't think I ever actually read that. Part of it was that horses scared me a little (and still do). They're so BIG. And they can break your foot by stepping on it without their even knowing.

But back to Narnia - later on, a relative of mine (I think he was a second cousin) passed his entire set on to me, with a series of letters describing each book. (The idea was: I was supposed to read them in order. I wasn't allowed to open the next book until I had read the previous one. The letters were to pique my interest for the next book.)

Well, I TORE through the books. Loved them immensely. I loved the language. I loved the talking animals, that they could be grave and dignified, that they weren't just cartoons. (I loved Reepicheep, and I cried when he set off to find "the Utter East" in his little coracle. And like Lucy, I would have been horribly tempted to pick him up and hug him at times.)

I still re-read them from time to time. I know, they have their detractors (Philip Pullman is one), but I love them. I don't see them as being misogynistic (a common charge) at all - basically it is a chivalrous world with slightly different rules from our own, that's how I always justified it, when I needed to.

2. The Moomintroll books. I loved these for the characters. Tove Jansson (the author) apparently patterned them after people she knew. What I loved is that the characters were IMPERFECT. They had flaws. They sniped at each other sometimes.

My favorites - and the one I have sort of adopted as a bit of a "totem animal" (though without the religious significance) were the fillyjonks. They were a group (species?) of tall thin creatures. Only females seemed to show up in the books. They were flighty and houseproud and worried and tended to "borrow trouble." And I loved that these books had a character that I felt UNDERSTOOD me. (one of my father's classic admonitions to me as a child was to tell me not to "borrow trouble.")

And besides, sometimes the books are very droll. And they have this great otherworldly quality to them.

3. My Side of the Mountain. Jean George. This is the story of Sam, who ran away from home (with his parents' blessing!) to go and live in the woods in upstate New York. He finds a hollowed-out tree and makes a home in it, he tames a falcon to hunt for him, he makes salt from walnut twigs (funny how I remember that all these years later). It read like a how-to manual of self-reliant living.

I loved it.

I wanted to run away and live in the woods and catch my own dinner and endure storms and all of that. I wanted that solitude and that sort of meaningful work - where you had to keep your own self alive.

But even at eight or so, I knew that was a fantasy.

I still read "back to the land" type books to this day (both novels and the how-to manuals that you can buy out of the back of places like Mother Earth News). They make for great fantasy reading. But I know, as soon as I ran out of toilet paper, I'd be coming back out of the wilderness.

4. No Flying in the House. Betty Brock. This was the first "chapter book" I remember reading at school - it was in first grade, it was during "free read" time (do schools still do that?). It was from the classroom's "library" of books.

It was about an orphaned girl, Annabel, and the fairy-guardian who watched over her - Gloria, who took on the shape of a dog.

I must not have read the whole book though - or I forgot the second half. For years I remembered it as ending very hauntingly. Annabel had done something that had mortally offended Gloria - maybe it was that she revealed she was a fairy to someone? And Gloria sat down in the rich lady's curio cabinet and WILLED herself into a tiny golden statue.

So sad. And it seemed like a perfect ending to the book - very open, very haunting.

Well, years later when I tracked down a copy at the used bookstore, I found out there was a whole other half to the book - Annabel found her parents again (she was actually only half-fairy; her father was human). There was a conventionally happy ending - with the reunion, and Gloria going on a "world tour" to show off the tricks she knew, that sort of thing.

You know? I like the way it ended when I read it as a child better. (I really do wonder if the ending in the newer version I found was a later addition; I so strongly remember Gloria turning herself into a statue and that being that from my childhood reading).

5. This isn't a fiction book, but it was one that affected me a lot (and, ha ha, I found the title again): Steven Caney's Kids' America.

I had this book out from the library All. The. Time. (I remember it as having come out about the Bicentennial, but the Amazon page says 1978...)

It was basically a big compendium of STUFF - how to make things, recipes, games. I remember it had a recipe for corn dogs and how to make mobcaps and clowning and handwriting analysis and all kinds of crazy stuff. It was basically a book that celebrated American history and American culture by showing kids how to make stuff that related to topics.

I had a "magpie brain" even as a child - where I was interested in tons and tons of things and I could get interested in new stuff easily, and this book totally fed that interest.

So there's my five. There were a lot of other books that were important to me as a child:

The Beatrix Potter books. Part of the reason I loved these was that the library in my town had the little Frederick Warne library-bound editions - tiny green hardback books, which all lined up in a row on the shelf and looked so appealing to me. I think we checked these out and read them multiple times, first when I was of the appropriate age, and then when my brother was.

The Bill Peet books. These were big picture books, mostly about animals. He had one about a capybara, I remember, which made me curious about them. And he had a couple about mythical animals - a dragon and a griffon. (I loved mythical beasts when I was a kid). I think I read all of these multiple times as a child (again, these were mostly library-books).

It's funny, you know? When I think about the Beatrix Potter and the Bill Peet books now, I can picture the children's room (the way it used to be, before they renovated and "modernized" the poor old library) of the library in my town. I remember the funny reading-benches, which had the tops set at about a 45 degree angle, so you could sit and read and prop your book on the lip at the bottom of the table, and it would be at an ideal angle for reading. And I remember the "Story Hour" that they used to have - in the cold tiled basement of the library! (But it was still fun; we had such a wonderful children's librarian that it didn't matter that we were relegated to the basement for Story Hour.)

I also remember reading "She was Nice to Mice" (by Ally Sheedy, no less!). And the Daniel Pinkwater books which were bizarre and wonderful.

Any my mom checked out (from the adult section) Edward Gorey's Amphigorey. (My mom has a bizarre sense of humor; she loved his "Bug Story" where the red bugs and green bugs and blue bugs are invaded by a big black bug that terrorized them, until they all conspired together to drop a shoe or something on the big black bug. Hahahaha. I can still picture the bugs at the end of the story, all dancing around the corpse of the big black bug.)

I remember as a child, summer afternoons - either when it rained, or when it was too hot to go out - going into the living room with my big big stack of library books, and lying on the couch (which I was not allowed to do otherwise) and READING. And just having the time and freedom to read for hours on end. It was great.