Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Reading loved, reading disliked...

Get lost, Mr. Chips has a post up about what books people can't stand teaching, or couldn't stand being taught.

Now, I'm not a lit. professor, and mainly what I assign to read are the textbooks (that I chose myself) and also the occasional article or section-of-a-book that seems particularly relevant.

(I used to read some of the essays out of "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold - one of my favorite books - to classes, but I've started getting "boredom waves" off of the students the last few times - and in fact, in my non-majors class, the last time, several people assumed it was an interval in which to check their text-messages. So no more. I mean, I like to expand people's horizons but there's a point at which you've led the horse to water, it's looking at a butterfly, and you can't quite get away with saying, "Drink, damn you!")

It makes me sad because I do think ASCA is a wonderful series of essays and I know people who have said they were inspired to get it out of the library and then read the whole thing in a weekend after hearing a little bit of it. But those people seem to be few and far between these days. (One of the problems may be that Leopold is of an earlier generation and he makes references to the Bible and Shakespeare and classic myths in his SCIENCE writing, and in his time it was expected people would "get" that, and there are some people today who roll their eyes over that, who go "Miss? Miss? Do we have to know why he's talking about some guy named Samson?" To quote Professor Kirke: I do not know what they are teaching them in these schools.)

(Argh! There is a very combative, "challenged" couple out in the hall. They cannot find the stairway. They could not find the student lounge earlier - I tried to help them but apparently it was not what they were looking for. They are ARGUING with my colleague over the location of the stairwell.

I really don't mind the whole "mainstreaming" thing, but when you start shouting at the person who's trying to help you...then there's a problem.

One member of the couple is legally blind on top of whatever other impairments he has; I have talked with another colleague about him - she has to take extra time and copy everything to giant size. She doesn't mind doing it, but you know? I'd think that would be something that the disability services on campus would be willing to handle.

Maybe it makes me a horrible person but I jumped up and closed my office door when I heard them coming back. There are just some interpersonal interactions I'd rather not deal with).

Anyway. I was thinking back to college and highschool lit classes. Took four years of English in high school, a year of Great Books in college.

I remember reading a lot of the ancient Greeks. And now, looking back on it, I'm glad I did - it gives me a grounding and a "place to stand" where I understand a lot of the literary allusions. (And I'm also willing to accept the assertion that there are something like 12 basic plots out there, going back to the Greeks, and every story tends to be more or less a variation on one of those).

I mean - I know enough to laugh my fool head off at the "Hey, M*****F*****" line (where Josephus greets Oedipus) in "History of the World, Part 1." (And seriously: I normally don't like that kind of language in movies but that is the ONE time when the line is literally appropriate. It's kind of too bad they have to cut it in broadcast presentations of the movie...)

I do aspire to go back and re-read some of that stuff. I saved my big Compendium of Plato from Great Books, and I went out and bought the "new" Fagles translations of Iliad and Odyssey when they came out. (Someday. Someday I will read them). I even saved my Herodotus, thinking (after reading the selected sections for Great Books, it would be kind of a lark to read the whole thing someday).

We also read some Shakespeare in high school - "The Scottish Play" (and yes, we also learned the superstitions associated with it), and Taming of the Shrew (an odd choice, when you look back on it; I think it was mainly because the teacher wanted an excuse to show us "Kiss Me, Kate" at the end of the semester) and King Lear (which is probably one of the SADDEST of the Shakespeare tragedies I've read, at least on a "human" or "family" scale).

And I enjoyed those. They were not easy - but we did get the books that had the "glossary" on the facing page, so that we could easily get the words that were unfamiliar. And all the teachers agreed that a good way to learn the import of Shakespeare was either to SEE it acted out or to act it out ourselves....so we'd get assigned scenes, in small groups, and have to learn them and act them out. I remember for King Lear, I had to play "en travestie" - I was the dude who ripped out the guy's eyes (my memory for names is horrible; I just remember it was the eye-ripping scene). We planned it out very carefully - the guy to have his eyes removed was seated with his back to the class and I had palmed a grape in each hand before the scene...so I crushed the grapes and threw them on the ground. Got a big reaction out of the class...

But a lot of the things, effort was put in to make them fun and vivid and to give us the desire to read more and read deeper.

I first read Kafka in high school; being the sweetness-and-light type, I might not have read him on my own but I found his work fascinating and horrifying and kind of moving.

We also did a lot with poetry, including us being encouraged to write our own. (Most of what I wrote embarrasses me now, but I think that's kind of the function of high school poetry - to get all that banality out of you at a young age).

One year, I had a teacher who LOVED Flannery O'Connor and the Southern Gothic writers in general (I think we also read "We have always lived in the castle" that year, wonderful creepy book. I re-read it recently). I would never have read O'Connor otherwise...and I liked O'Connor, after reading her; I liked the inflexibility of her vision, her uncompromisingness. I liked that she STOOD for something, even if her characters were at times unlikeable, and I probably would have found O'Connor herself a difficult person to like.

There were other things we read that were not so successful. Another year I had a teacher who was either a big Salinger buff or who figured "16 year olds LIKE Salinger so even the ones who aren't avid readers will read this."

And I liked Salinger, at 16. Tried to re-read "Catcher in the Rye" a few years ago and found myself wanting to slap Holden upside the head. And I wonder what I saw in him now...kind of like any of the pimply faced boys I lusted after in high school, seeing their pictures now makes me cringe in horror at my taste as a teenager.

The worst experiences though centered around Huck Finn.

We read "Huck Finn" but we couldn't just read "Huck Finn." Maybe it was to deal with some kind of state law involving books that contained the "n-word," but we also had to go through all of the horrible tiresome "issues" surrounding the book. We also had to read (I am not making this up) some Scholastic-published book that dramatized the effect Huck Finn had on some inner-city school classroom. It was eyerollingly bad, kind of an "Afterschool Special" set down on paper. And it just kind of sucked the life out of Huck Finn for me.

Look. Twain was not a racist. A reasonably intelligent person can get that from the book. Especially from Huck's "Well, I'm goin' to Hell, then" assertion (when his choice was presented thusly: turn in the escaped slave or go to the devil). Why, for the love of literature, make us read a bad watered-down "depiction" of people getting upset and other people saying there was nothing to be upset about? I mean, gosh.

The worst novel though, for me, was Kate Chopin's "The Awakening." I have blocked out most memories of the book other than (a) it was tiresome and (b) here was this woman with what seemed like an ideal life and yet she could not even be a tiny bit grateful that she had healthy children and a roof over her head and a husband who loved her and she was wealthy. My friends and I used to moan and roll our eyes and say we wished she had walked into the ocean on the very first page of the book, so that we would be spared the agony of it.

I guess I'm lucky - based on the other commentators - that I was spared Moby-Dick in high school (I do have a copy on the shelf but I've never even cracked it), and Hemingway (read a few of his short stories on my own, found them kind of depressing).

Never "had" to read any Dickens, either, but I rather like Dickens. The silly names, the long descriptions - it's good literature for me, I like getting lost in it.

I wonder how many "hated" books that you "had" to read would not be "hated" if you came to them on your own? I read Middlemarch a few years ago - on my own - and I LOVED it. It is one of my favorite books ever. (In some respects? It is the "anti-Awakening"- people made bad choices but they deal with them rather than maundering and drooping and ultimately doing themselves in). But how would I have reacted if I had had to read it and write essays on it - and if I had had to read it at the rate of 200 to 300 pages a week (the standard Great Books rate)? I probably wouldn't have been nearly as happy or got nearly as much out of it - as it is, it took me over a year to read it, going back and re-reading earlier passages, spacing it out slowly, reading other books while I read it...

I wonder - how much of college/high school "literature" turns some people off of reading? I briefly flirted with becoming an English major but then I realized I'd be expected to analyze novels or poems (sorry, "Texts") to death, to suck all the joy and life I felt on reading them away, and I couldn't quite face that. So I became a biology major; a biology major who still likes Dickens and still has a shelf full of books she believes "every educated person should read at least once in their lives":

The Brothers Karamazov
The Red and the Black
A Tale of Two Cities
Heart of Darkness
In Search of Lost Time (or whatever the most current translation is called)
War and Peace
Gulliver's Travels

and those are just the ones I've not read yet.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

slice of life - shopping

I went out Saturday morning - feeling at least marginally recovered enough from the cold to go and do "big" shopping.

You must understand: in my life, there is "big" shopping and "little" shopping.

The "little" shopping is what I usually do - running to the local Mart of Wal for milk or salad greens or fruit or aspirins or the silly little things you need on a regular basis (or forget to buy at other times). I don't like "little" shopping because it's usually done at a time when all the freaks or self-absorbed or entitled-feeling people are out - the people who feel there is nothing wrong with blocking an entire aisle with their cart, or who will walk obliviously through the store as they converse on their handsfree phone...

(And may I remark here? The bad thing about the handsfree phones is that you no longer have one of the clues to "crazy person ahead." Back in the day, before them, if there was someone wandering through a public place, talking and waving their hands, you could assume "crazy person" and give them a wide berth. Now, nine times out of ten - at least where I live - the people talking and waving their hands have those little BORG-appliances stuck in their ears. So although they MAY be crazy people, they may also just still be someone TOTALLY absorbed in talking with a co-worker or spouse.

And I will add, I HATE the way the people doing that seem to barrel through the store, ignoring that there are other human beings in their way. I've had to step lively more than once to avoid being run down by a tank of a person who was apparently intent on directing their underling just what to do with the TPS reports at work).

Anyway. "Big shopping" is a little more pleasant for me because I can usually schedule it. And I schedule it for early Saturday morning - before the really difficult people get up and get out. Because "big shopping" involves driving about 1/2 hour to a larger city near where I live, where they have (among other things), a Target, and a Bath and Body Works, and nicer grocery stores, and a couple malls, and a Sam's Club.

I wanted to go to Sam's Club yesterday. It's kind of a joke I have a membership there - I'm a single person who lives alone. But you know? There's something deeply COMFORTING to me about being able to buy a year's supply of paper towels at one whack. It's nice to be at home on a cold winter's night and know that I've got enough t.p. and light bulbs and granola bars to last me a good long time. (I have a big closet in the guest room of my little house that is otherwise little used; that's where I keep all of the paper goods and such that I buy ahead.)

And I was getting low on some of the stuff. So to Sam's I went.

A friend of mine, raised in Britain, once said of Sam's, "It's a very American place, isn't it?" I don't think she meant that to be totally complimentary, but if you look at it, in some ways it does have some of the things I regard as good about America, and American commercial products: abundance, choice, generally good quality.

Among other things they had a very good deal on tunafish, which was the "suggested item" my congregation donate to the local food bank this month - so I bought a couple of the multican packs to take to church. I always like being able to do that, I think in some cosmic way it's making a little nod to all the blessings that I have, among them the one that I'm never hungry. (I could probably do more than I do, though).

Sam's was busy but it wasn't packed, and the people there were...well, I'd guess I'd say "reasonable" - many older couples stocking up, a couple small business people, a family or two. No Borgs, no one barrelling through the store without looking at the people around them, no knots of teenagers hanging around and pointing and laughing at the adults (and yeah, I did that as a teenager. I didn't realize how a-holish it made me look at the time).

So I got in, got my stuff, and scrammed.

The next stop was Bath and Body Works. And yeah, I know. Ivory soap costs about 1/5 of the stuff and is just as good. But I like their lavender vanilla scented stuff AND I DO THINK IT HELPS ME SLEEP after I shower with it. (And as a long term insomniac, anything that helps me sleep - or even seems to - is valuable to me). And I needed more of their stuff.

I got a bit irritated with the cashieress - she rang up the amount and said, "Wait, that's not right" (And I agreed with her, it was too much). So she pulled out a calculator and - I swear she must have retotaled my order five times, getting a different amount each time. Finally she came up with an amount which I'm not 100% sure was correct (I can never remember the tax % exactly) but I was willing to accept so I could get the H out of there - I always feel a bit out of place in that store because it mainly seems to cater - at least the one near me - to the 14-18 crowd.

The mall where the store is, in general, is pretty depressing. It's not doing well economically and you can tell. Oh, it still has a couple of the "anchor" stores left, but most of the other chains have pulled out - either closed their doors altogether or moved to a newer mall development across town - and so it's full of empty storefronts and weird one-off stores that are kind of like pale imitations of actual chains. There are a lot of discount stores, some of which that have sad piles of merchandise heaped on tables. There are also a number of stores that have oddly little stock and are manned by Middle Eastern looking people. My father once commented that he had read somewhere that Mossad sent spies to the U.S. and their "cover" was running those little kiosks in the mall. I wouldn't believe it except I do remember being accosted by a VERY talkative young woman with a strong Israeli accent (who was selling some kind of nail treatment)...so I wonder.

This mall is also the only one I've ever been in that actually has a "Dollar General" in it.

I know it's snobbish of me, but those "dollar" stores kind of depress me. When I shop, it's because I need something specific, and the few times I've tried going to one of them for the particular item (be it dental floss or bug spray or a tire gauge), it seems that that's one item they happen not to have in stock at that time. And they're always kind of badly lit, and there are weird cookies from other countries where you're not sure if the standards are quite the same as the USDA's....

There's also a cosmetology school and a "premiere unaccredited" "Christian college." (I wonder if the people who are attracted to schools like that really know what "unaccredited" means. It is not necessarily a GOOD thing).

So anyway: the mall is a depressing place - it's sort of dim and shuttered and strange and most of the people there are old people using it as a mallwalking place.

Now that I think about it, the mall makes me think a little bit what the U.S. would be like if we were a Communist country - lots of cheap, badly made stuff in poorly lit stores, lots of places that seem a little creepy and strange. (Okay, yah, in the typical "Communist" version, the Christian college would not be there, but you get what I mean)

I next went to the new shiny mall. (And I really do hope Bath and Body Works gets its act together and moves over to the new mall someday; then I'd never have to go to the sad/scary old mall). This was partly to shake off the bad-mall-feelings. I went to Pier 1 and (yes, I know, this is just SO deeply interesting to you...) I bought some candles. Smelly candles. Red smelly candles, because I wanted to do a little tiny bit of something kind of like Valentine's Day decorating, even though I really hate the holiday...it's just, it's been so gray and fairly cold and it's kind of nice to put up some bright colored things. There was almost no one in the Pier 1; the cashier was annoyingly aggressive about trying to get me to start a credit card with them. (I know, Corporate tells them to do that. But I hate it. If I wanted another credit card, I'd go ahead and apply for it without being cajoled.)

By then it was well into midmorning and I was hungry. So I did something I rarely do - I went to a fast-food place.

Now, I am not one of those "Super Size Me" anti-fast-food snobs. Truth be told? I kind of like some of the fast food options. But I realize they are not that good for me, so I don't eat them very often. But today, I just felt like I wanted to.

(In many respects, I am the opposite of a food snob. I like canned macaronis sometimes, for example. And Cup O Noodles. And Hershey bars. And I like Chef Boyardee pizza [it was the pizza I grew up eating; my town didn't have a pizzaria until I was 12 or so]. I recognize that my tastes aren't that sophisticated and I'm careful in how I choose food to be sure to get the right nutrients and not too much fat or anything, but I'm going to openly admit that I like some foods that serious "foodies" call "crap." And I don't really care.)

So I went to Chick-Fil-A. I had never eaten at one before; mainly I knew them for their cow-ads and for the fact that they closed on Sundays (which I appreciate, you know? It seems kind of nice to me that some businesspeople will take a stand and say, "I know I could make money by being open this day but it goes against my principles")

Maybe I hit the particular franchise on an unusually good day, but you know what? Chick-Fil-A is good. I got just the plain old fried sandwich and some of the fries, but the fries were really really hot and fresh and were just salty enough, and the chicken sandwich tasted more like a real chicken sandwich than most I'd had...and I got a shake, because my throat was still hurting me and a shake sounded good. And I knew that the food wasn't that good for me, but it all tasted so good - the salty salty fries and the cold chocolate shake and the nice munchy sandwich.

And you know? I was happy. Sometimes happiness is simply getting what you need at the right moment, and right then, I needed food, and I needed something cold and smooth to make my throat feel better.

So thus fortified, I made my way to Hobby Lobby. (Yet another Sunday-closing store). I like craft stores; I feel at home in them. Like bookstores, I can walk around and just feel all the possibilities - do I want to learn to make soap? What about beading? Do I need more embroidery floss? I picked up a few things, browsed a bit, paid, and went to the grocery store.

And you know? Even by then - noon, on a Saturday - the grocery store was still mostly okay? Not that crowded, not any really difficult people to have to get around or struggle with. When it's like that, grocery shopping is kind of agreeable - and again, there's something fundamentally comforting to me about it - that I can walk up and down the aisles and choose what I need, and there's enough food there, and I can afford it.

(I always think of something a minister I once knew said - he had hosted a man who was a new immigrant - I want to say he was an asylum-seeker - from the Soviet Union. And the first time the minister took the man to an American grocery store, the man started to cry, because he couldn't believe that there was so much food so readily available, and that you didn't have to wait in line for anything, and that there were multiple brands of things like breakfast cereal. I suppose that's a lesson in how even the little things we take for granted are something to be thankful for...)

So, thinking on that, I picked out the particular brand of granola I like, and the fancy special expensive milk that's bottled not very far from where I live (and it's a total extravagance, except I do think it tastes better and is fresher), and fresh fruits and vegetables (and even in my mother's childhood - not as many things were available fresh year-round as they are now), and a candy bar, and some crackers that looked good to me, and some staples I needed - and I paid for it all and went home. And I put all the stuff away and planned my week's meals based on what I had bought and felt very happy and comfortable in that I knew that I had enough food, of enough variety, and even beyond having to worry about HAVING food, I don't even have to worry about going out to GET food.

And I know - a lot of the anti-capitalists, a lot of the environmentally-minded people like to deride American commerce as being exploitative and wasteful. But I can't help but think of that Soviet man, and his tears in the grocery store, and I can't quite feel so negative about the abundance we have - abundance both in variety and in sheer quantity.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Top ten (real top ten)

Because I have to balance the bad with the good.

There are a lot of frustrations involved in teaching college, but there are also a lot of good things. So here's my list of "good stuff":

1. Explaining something a different way, or asking "leading" questions, and seeing the student's eyes light up and them go, "OOOOhhhhhhhhhhhh...."

I often get students that I describe as "smarter than they think they are." They psyche themselves out, they convince themselves they're "not good at math," they decide that the subject is too hard and they need to switch majors.

And I try working with them. Because I've found in at least some cases, they really DO know they stuff, they're just letting their fear-of-failure or their fear of looking unfeminine/too "white"/unmanly/whatever get in the way. (Mostly, it's fear-of-failure).

I ask a lot of leading questions or I try to get them to attack their mental block from another side. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's quite beautiful.

2. Students who DO have a sense of enthusiasm and love for something. It's a lot of fun to teach people who care. They go beyond, they try to understand things more deeply. I have students who e-mail me articles on topics like those I discuss in class because they found it interesting and think I would, too.

I like to say that it's only 10% of the students that are the real dead-heads who frustrate me. But fortunately there's a 10% who have that passion that (on a good day at least) more than balances out the "Can I have my diploma now and go work for my daddy's company?" people.

3. Being able to be somewhat of a nonconformist.

If you saw me - especially if you saw how I dressed - you would realize why I would not fit into the corporate world. (Think a bit of "Miss Marple meets Annie Hall" and you're not too far off the mark).

I never, ever have to wear pumps to work. I never would even have to wear a skirt if I didn't want to. I have colleagues who shop at thrift stores and wear what they find to work. (And yeah, sometimes I bitch about it a little. I do like the look of a man in a suit.). But there's a line - my brother used to work in the corporate world and all the women he worked with looked like those freaky clone-women in the background of Robert Palmer videos. (Well, not as sexy and distant looking, but they had the same extreme hair and high pointy shoes and lack of color in their wardrobes.)

Me? I like color. I wear pink sometimes. Or green. Or even small amounts of plaid. And I wear flat shoes because I figure I am tall enough already - and I have knee problems that heels would surely exacerbate.

I mean, don't get me wrong - if you're picturing "Ugly Betty," you're on the wrong track. I do have SOME fashion sense. It's just...it tends to go in a slightly different direction than most of the typical "corporate ladies" clothes out there today.

4. You are surrounded by (mostly) intelligent people. Oh, they have their blind spots, but when you learn to navigate around those, they tend to be funny and gracious and good to talk to.

I have had wonderful bizarre hypothetical conversations with people. One centered on if it was possible to make a photosynthetic animal. I was agitating for the world's first photosynthetic animal to be a toy dog (my argument being they'd be a lot mellower than normal toy dog and you wouldn't have the poop issue). My colleague was unimaginatively plumping for a pig.

But the fact that we could discuss it at all - or the fact that I can make comments like "I'm quite fond of eskers" in class and people don't think it's TOO strange - well, that's worth something to me.

5. The access to information. I'm an information freak, an information junkie. It is actually bad for me to have the T1 line access at school because I am always looking up obscure points of knowledge for my classes during my downtimes between classes. (Students in an unglaciated part of the country probably really don't need to know about kettle-hole bogs, but I find them fascinating! And there are pages and pages of stuff on them! And on the Moundbuilders! And on predatory mites! ....Look! A bird!)

I'm the same way about the library. I have to be careful going in there or I wind up checking out 23 books, exactly 2 of which I will have time to read. And I usually won't wind up reading the two I originally went in to get.

I love to learn! For me, working in a university setting would be kind of like someone who adores bread working at a bakery...except I've not yet got sick of information, and a friend of mine who worked at a bakery said it took eight months after she quit before she could stand the thought of pumpernickel again.

6. I've decided I like doing research. Well, planning the projects is a little scary, but tracking down background information is fun. And reading the papers is sometimes fun. And it's exciting to come across a point that is VERY VERY important to your thesis in one of those papers. And collecting data can be fun - looking for the patterns, the just simple mindless work of counting or sorting or weighing.

It's also satisfying to have a journal article come out.

(We will not speak of the writing or revising process here. It is with good reason that Darwin said, "A naturalist's life wouldbe a happy one, if he had only to observe and never to write.")

7. Labs. Teaching labs is enjoyable. You get to know the students better - it's more casual, there's more chance to talk one-on-one. You get to see people DOING things. I've known students who did not do all that well on tests, but put them in a lab, give them an experiment to try or a simulation to run - and they're all over it. They love it. It makes sense to them. And they do these beautiful writeups and you feel better about your teaching because you feel like you're not totally screwing things up for them, that there's some area where they can do well under your tutelage.

8. Just being a part of campus. I think I wrote before about how I'm a professor's kid, how I've always at least marginally been associated with college campuses.

They are places I feel comfortable. They are places where I know who I am, and I don't feel like I have to play some fake role - I've been in other situations where I felt like I couldn't really be myself, people wouldn't accept me, because I was too far off the continuum that was considered OK for that milieu.

But on campus, I can be my somewhat-weird self. (And I'm actually not all that weird in the grand scheme of things. I mentioned Miss Marple before? Well, I'm Miss Marple weird in a world where there can be people who are Hunter Thompson weird, or Howard Hughes weird. I'm weird but I'm COZY weird. People tend to trust me and tend to open up to me because I guess I'm kind of dumpy and nonthreatening.

9. Opportunities to do just fun random stuff. There are regularly plays on campus. And concerts. And art shows. And they offer continuing-education classes.

Now, granted: city dwellers will go "huh? How's that stuff so special?" But when you live in a small area - a small rural area - if there's not a university, you don't have the same options. If it weren't for my college, I'd probably have to drive an hour and a half to the nearest big city to hear live classical music. I probably wouldn't have the opportunity to learn German in the evenings, or ceramics, or aqua kickboxing. (Someday. Someday I will take that aqua kickboxing class. It doesn't work with my schedule now but I so want to take it).

There are also campus clubs: a chemistry club and a ceramics club and an outings club (outings-trips. Not the other kind of outings that have become fashionable these days). And faculty have the opportunity to contribute and take part in the various clubs as their interest dictates. (Again: city-dwellers also have these options. But in the town where I live, the university-offered options are IT. There is nothing comparable offered through the town).

10. Flexibility of schedules. It's not a 9 to 5 thing. It's an 8 to 3 thing, or some days an 8 to 7 thing but with a couple hours off in the middle of the day, or a noon to six thing...and if you're done with your teaching and office hours and you don't have any research that's holding you in your office, you can take off in the middle of the afternoon and no one says "boo." As long as you get your work done, your hours are your own.

And you know? I know far too many people who work - or worked in the past - as receptionists and stuff, and they were basically told, "You need to sit here from 8:30 am until noon, and then from 12:30 until 4:30. And if it's a slack time, you will just sit here - if you are reading a book or knitting or doing your nails, it will look too unprofessional if someone walks in." And you know? That would very rapidly drive me insane - sitting at a desk 8 hours a day, with nothing to relieve the slack times other than perhaps a bit of computer solitaire. (At least one person I knew - her company blocked most internet sites so even surfing was forbidden).

And yeah, I work weekends quite often - or at least Saturdays - but that's my choice. I do more than "minimum" or more than "just competent" because I care about what I do and I enjoy doing as gooda job at it as I can. And frankly, some days, it's such fun to sit down at my desk to try to interpret data results, or to try and figure out a new and different lab exercise to do with my class, that it doesn't seem like work at all.

Top Ten (or maybe, Bottom Ten)

This is a list of some of the irritations I have in dealing with the world of teaching college today. Some of them are simply societal and not much can be done about them; others, perhaps, better enforcement of rules or something would help.

This is not a "ranked" list, this is just as I think of them:

1. All the students who work full time and try to go to school full time and try to have a family full time but can't quite pull it off.

Look, I know it's hard. I know college is expensive and I'm not sure how to fix that problem (because people expect the newest fastest computers on college campuses, and nice shiny new athletic facilities, and state-of-the-art classroom buildings). And a lot of schools have a certain number of "deadwood" profs who probably don't generate enough credit hours to pay for themselves (and maybe we all fail to do that, I don't know. But since most of the people in my department are teaching 14 hours, and in many many schools out there, 8 or 9 is considered the ultimate maximum, I wouldn't necessarily call any of us deadwood).

In some cases with the students it's a matter of survival - they have a stay at home spouse and little kids, they have a mortgage to make. And some of the students do it admirably well.

But others - they fall asleep in class, they randomly miss class (and then say that they were either too tired from work or there was a mandatory meeting. There is one employer here in town that regularly ticks me off because they call these "mandatory meetings" when something goes wrong - and I know it's not the students lying to me because multiple people are out and even students who don't have class at the "mandatory meeting" time are complaining about them. The employer KNOWS that a goodly percentage of their employees are from here, and yet, they persist in calling in people who work the late-evening shift at 11 am or some damn time like that to "meet" with them.). Some of the students can't seem to get papers written on time, or they complain that the library isn't open when they are free.

And I know this is a problem. In some cases I will admit to wondering if it would be less of a problem if the students didn't need to drive a brand-new car or have the fancy new cell phone with all the bells and whistles or have an iPod or go on skiing vacations or such. Because, you know? When I was a student, I didn't go on fancy vacations. I used the same old ugly "boom box" tape deck that I saved my money up to buy in high school (I didn't own a cd player until 1995 or so, when I was in grad school, and had a tiny bit more disposable income).

There's a point at which you should say, you know, going to school and successfully getting a degree is more important than having whatever new "toy" right now.

Because they'll come out with a newer and better "toy" in six months, and then you'll have to buy that too....

As I said, I never know how to judge it. When I was in college I went to a "Public Ivy" with mostly upper middle class kids. Some were on scholarships that they had to keep at least a 3.5 for, so of course they worked hard and made school their first priority. But no one that I can remember worked full time...I was of course one of the lucky ones, I had money from grandparents that paid my tuition and housing. Those of us who did work, usually worked less than 12 hours a week, and it was doing stuff like shelving books in the library. And it was for "pizza money" or "movie money" - so you could go and spend a little more than your "allowance" and not feel too bad about it. I can't imagine working a 40 hour week and going to school full time. I applaud those who can do it, but sometimes I wonder if some of the student body might not be better served either (a) going to school part time or (b) taking a few years to work and try to save up money, and then go to school later (If that's even possible.)

One problem with part-time is that financial aid makes it hard as hell to do. Financial aid is set up badly in some ways, IMHO.

2. People trying to finish degrees in absentia.

I'm working with one now. He's out in the workforce, is a couple classes and a thesis away from a Master's, and now he wants the Master's. The problem is? I'm doing this ON TOP OF my already 14 hour load. The other problem? He wants everything done YESTERDAY, except for the things he has to do.

Look, dude: primary rule of working with people who will grade you: do not piss them off. Okay? Don't write me long misspelled e-mails full of conspiracy-theory type accusations because some office somewhere in the university hasn't bowed to your whim at that very moment. May I remind you you LEFT CAMPUS for employment before finishing your degree?

I remind this person on a regular basis that finishing a degree in absentia is harder and more frustrating but I don't think he believes me.

3. The whole politicization of so much in academia.

Please, please, please, please - do not come to me asking me for campaign donations for your "guy." Please do not stop by my office and deliver a speech as to why I should vote for your "guy." You will not change my mind.

Also please do not expect me to discuss politics. I like keeping politics out of the workplace. I see what political disagreements can do. It's really ugly and really unpleasant and unnecessary.

I consider it a GOOD thing if students walk out of my class and don't know my political affiliation for sure. Because the problem with them knowing is that then they also "know" what they are "supposed" to say on certain topics, and it makes for less interesting discussions and less thoughtful essays.

If I disagree with a student politically, but they write well and write persuasively and fulfill the requirements of the assignment, I will not grade them down (provided their facts aren't wrong or provided they've not made up statistics to support themselves).

4. Mass meetings. Mostly these are kind of a waste. Mostly these involve people from the administration getting up and stating things we all already know (because the press release was e-mailed to us). Unfortunately these also often involve someone with a pet political (or university-political) agenda, or someone who feels they've been slighted somehow, getting up and making a big long spiel about how they've been wronged.

And it looks SO petty. I wonder if they realize how petty it looks?

I don't know. I was taught that if you had something good to say about someone or about a situation, you talked about it in public, but if you had something bad to say or a complaint, you went to the person in private and delivered it in private.

5. Students with drug and alcohol problems.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't expect students to be members of the WCTU or to never party. But when someone has other students saying about him, "He's really pretty smart but he parties way too much" or "Yeah, don't expect him to show up to many 8:00s; he's usually hungover from Wednesday on," then there's a problem. (Note: these are actual student comments I heard about a particular student - a student who is taking one of my classes for the third time.)

Likewise, with drugs, unless it's some scary dangerous thing that can make you violent like meth does, I'm pretty much willing to shrug and go "As long as you don't drive stoned, do as you will." But I don't like students coming to class stoned. I don't like having to wake people up in the student lounge and tell them it is time for lab. I don't like having someone who reeks of pot and has those glittery bloodshot eyes coming up to me every five minutes to ask me what they need to do next in lab.

It never happened to me, but a colleague recounts a story of how a student once came to class high, hooked a bunsen burner to the water jet instead of to the gas jet, and then turned on the water, not realizing what he had done, even as the water fountained up. (As I said to the faculty: good thing you weren't planning on using water-filters that day; he might have hooked the thing to the gas and blown up the room).

And again, it's sort of like having that 40 hour a week job to pay for your cell phone - or like having that hot and heavy romance - there comes a time when you have to ask yourself: is this interfering with my education?

6. Some of the crap with financial aid.

In particular, the policy that seems to be in place (no one will actually CONFIRM it for me at financial aid but the students say it's so) that says it's preferable to fail and retake a class than it is to drop out of it.

This one makes me crazy. Because, there are some people who just "give up" mid semester. I encourage them to drop but they don't. And then I'm faced with assigning F grades to them. And someday, I know the administration is going to start calling those of us who "give" Fs in to justify why.

7. Plagiarism.

Look, the reason we make students write papers and do projects and all that crap is not because we're mean harpies who want to punish the young and the beautiful because we are old and hidebound and ugly. No. The papers I assign are generally mock-ups of what I would expect a person to be doing in their work-life: research reports, short briefs on particular species, proposals, mock-equipment-requests. There's a reason for it.

So - if you copy from someone else - or if you buy a paper online, you have just defeated the assignment. You have failed to get the practice I was trying to get for you. And you have royally pissed me off in the process: plagiarism is one of those things that makes me angry all out of proportion to the offense.

Yeah, yeah, I know, "everybody does it." But the truth is, they DON'T. I'm not sure I buy that statistic (so often quoted to us) that 80% of college students say that they have cheated.

The other thing is that plagiarism creates an atmosphere of distrust. I find I Google phrases out of all my student papers now...not just the ones where I go "this doesn't sound like a college freshman." And it wastes faculty time. And it makes us feel suspicious of all the students. And it's just kind of distressing; one of my colleagues has stopped assigning papers at all because he's so fed up with plagiarism

(which feels to me not unlike "when you're afraid to go about daily life, then the terrorists win." He's given in to the 10% or so that did the wrong thing. And that just makes me sad.)

8. Utilitarianism. And I realize this is as much a problem with ME as it is with other people. But I get so down when people balk at learning about plants because "I'm gonna be a doctor and I don't need to know this stuff." Or the whole difficulty in promoting the gen-ed classes as something worthwhile: "I'm going into business, I shouldn't have to learn this genetics crap in general bio." Or, "I'm going to be an engineer - why are you making me read Dickens?"

I don't know. I realize I'm sometimes kind of an odd duck but I don't think it's so very odd that I like learning and I enjoy learning. And it makes me sad to see so many people, when you ask them what they want to do in college, they say, "Get my degree so I can get a job" or "get my degree so I can make more money at my job."

Again, it's probably a factor of financial pressure, but it makes me sad to see people not choosing to explore things - taking the "safe" courses - because they're concerned about not wasting their education. And unfortunately that sometimes boils down into an attitude of "unless it is directly related to the narrow task I am planning to do for the next 40 years of my life, I do not want to know about it." And that's sad.

(That said: there are waste-of-time courses. As much as I love The Simpsons I'd never expect to be able to get humanities credit for taking a course on it. But when I was an undergrad, I thoroughly enjoyed my Great Books courses although they've done little - directly at least - to advance me in my career. It was a different way of thinking, and I enjoyed that.)

9. "D is for Diploma." I actually had a student say that to me, after he came to ask after his grade, and I (sort of sadly) told him he had earned a D.

I wanted to shake the guy, and say "You think a crap job is good enough? You think sliding by doing the bare minimum is how to get through life?"

I didn't. Hell, for all I know it may have been his only D, he may have been in some other class that was a real ballbuster and he took the D graciously from me because it meant he passed the ballbuster course.

But I kind of don't think that's it. We have a coterie of students whose goal in life is to get a job that pays well but allows them to do minimal work. Sadly, such jobs rarely exist, and if they do, you probably won't get one on a 1.9 GPA. But there are people like that - who seem to slouch through life with enthusiasm for nothing (I could forgive the D, almost, if he were, for example, a dedicated Theater major who gave great time and effort to working on plays. But he was just an average Joe and was not known to really make an effort anywhere.)

I mean, yeah, I know, it's a free country. But it makes me kind of sad to see someone who doesn't seem to care about anything much, who lacks a passion. And who thinks that's a normal state of affairs. (And who, in some cases of some students I could name, roll their eyes over the fact that the professors or other students care about things and express a passion for them.)

10. Some of the petty rudenesses. One thing that's gotten on my nerves this semester is this: I open the classrooms where I teach in the morning. (I teach 8:00s five days of the week). The students who are waiting their always PUSH PAST ME to get into the room - they cannot stand back and let me enter first.

(I suppose I should be grateful for that were we living in Iraq or somewhere; they'd trip the IED first).

But when my arms are full of books - and like this week, I'm also juggling a water bottle and Kleenex and cough drops - it's kind of annoying to be standing out in the hall as people push past you in a big crush to get in the room.

And you know, maybe I'm just old-fashioned but: I'd like the tiny bit of respect afforded by "we will stand back and let you enter the classroom first." The sort of ironic thing is, some of the guys at least, if we come up to a door together under other circumstances (like coming in from a field lab), they will HOLD THE DOOR for me (and the other women in the class) and let us in. So why can't he let me enter the room first at 8 am?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

easily amused

In some ways, I'm easily amused, I guess.

For example - there's a radio commercial that plays fairly often here (it also exists in television form, but I've not seen it in quite a while.) It's for a particular car insurer.

The set-up of the commerical is, it's a car race (I presume NASCAR-type, but that's not explicitly mentioned). One of the drivers* gets rear-ended and as a result, calls his insurance agent from the car (in the televised form, this is very dramatic; the guy's car is somersaulting through the air.

And he says to the agent: "Hello? I just got rear-ended by some yahoo." And he says it very calmly and politely, with this totally flat affect. (In the televised form, he follows it up with something like: "Well, I'm fine. But my car is kinda busted up.")

And that always, always make me smile. I think it's the incongruity - I find things that are incongruous funny. I mean - how many people who had just got rear-ended would be speaking so calmly to their insurance agent? And how many would refer to the other driver as a "yahoo"?

(The way he says it - with sort of a Tennessee - or maybe it's Alabama - drawl - contributes to the funniness of the line. I mean: he is SO polite about it, in a situation where a lot of the people I know would be spouting four-letter words all over the place).

The insurance company is not my company - and I'm happy with the one I have now and probably wouldn't switch - but I still love that line and it makes me chuckle. (And I have to admit: this is my sense of humor - if I ever got rearended and it were a minor enough accident that I was walking around outside the car and the other driver was walking around outside the car and we were both unhurt, I'd LOVE to call up my agent and say, "Hello? I just got rear-ended by some yahoo." I doubt my agent would laugh, though...considering that it's a competitior of the company I'm with).

But yeah. Easily amused. That's me.

(*And I must plead ignorance, not being a NASCAR follower: I have no idea if the guy involved is a real driver or an actor. My gut tells me "real driver" because the delivery is just amateur ENOUGH...I think an actor would sound "slicker" somehow)

you know...

When you're at work with a cold, you know it's time to go home when you've run out of Kleenex and have to resort to picking partially used ones out of the trash.

(I am not sure if I am more grossed out at myself for DOING that or for BLOGGING about it).

the worst part is, I have to go to Mart of Wal to obtain more kleeneces. (kleeneces: the plural of kleenex.)

responsibility rant

First of all: I'm sick. I have that bad cold that's making the rounds. Last night I went to bed at 7:30 because I felt so "crook," as they say in Australia. I realize that has no bearing on the matter at hand, except that I'm less able to cheerfully cope with it than I usually would be.

Anyway. This semester I am teaching a lab section of a class I have never taught. It's a beginner's-level class, so it's not like it's so HARD, and it's not even that all the labs are all that unfamiliar (variants of them are taught in every introductory bio class in the nation). But. I've never taught this particular class before, to our particular majors, and it's always an unfamiliar thing.

I was supposed to have a teaching assistant with me. (The labs here are only assisted by TAs, unlike many universities. One of the "selling points" used by this school is that you get a "real" professor in your classes, not "just" a TA. Which is important, I guess, thought I will say there were times in college when I learned more from the TAs than from the profs...)

So I came in this morning to check something with the woman who is the lab coordinator. And after ascertaining where the stuff would be, etc., etc., she said, "Oh, and I just found out - Tom changed his schedule."

Tom - who was to be my TA, who was someone who had both had and been a TA in the class in question - now has a class during our class.

But that's not even the biggest problem. The biggest problem is, Tom did not call the lab coordinator, nor the departmental secretary, nor anyone he was to be teaching with, to let them know of the change. If the lab coordinator had not had to look up Tom's schedule for some other reason, I would have walked into class on Thursday and wondered where the hell he was. And not been necessarily prepared to fly solo the first time.

(The lab coordinator is trying to get me another TA but I'm not sanguine about it, given the challenges we have finding people who are eligible to work).

One of the problems is that we have a very small graduate program - any grad TAs we have wind up being lab coordinators or wind up doing a section of the non-majors class. So it's undergrad TAs, which is a concept that makes me somewhat uncomfortable - I do not like the thought of students grading people who are their classmates in other classes; I think it can leave the situation too open to favoritism.

And also, when I was a grad TA myself, I had the undergrad TA from hell - she never helped out in class, she undermined what I said, when students cheated and I was going to turn them in to the prof she called me a "narc" and asked me: "Didn't YOU cheat when YOU were an undergrad?" (To which I responded - truthfully, but VERY coldly - "No. I did not. I never HAD to.") So I have bad associations with undergrad TAs.

Anyway. This guy. Tom. I commented to the lab coordinator that although I know we have a hard time finding TAs, this kind of act - bailing without telling anyone and leaving the person they were supposed to help to twist in the wind - should be grounds for their immediate dismissal and never-rehiring as a TA. She kind of shook her head sadly and agreed, and said, "But in Tom's case, I don't think money's the issue. He has plenty of money to go to school without working." (Apparently he got tapped to TA because one of the other profs liked him.)

Well, I'm sorry - but in my book "having plenty of money" doesn't mean you can change your plans without telling the people who were depending on you.

I can manage - it won't be as much fun and I'll have to take a couple hours on another day of the week and sit in on another lab section just to see how things run - but I can manage.

But I'm still ticked at Tom.

Friday, January 19, 2007


It's something I think about a lot. What makes one individual basically a "happy" person, and another individual - perhaps even one of similar circumstances, perhaps even one of better circumstances (speaking as objectively as possible), not?

Is it merely some accident of birth or genetics - you get a good roll of the dice, neurotransmittorily speaking, and so you're happy? Or, there's some kind of quiet gray stain that hangs out on Chromosome 12 or somewhere, and you get the tendency to see bleakness and destruction, like your Aunt Margaret or your grandfather?

Or is it learned? Does it come from parents who are resilient, who bounce back after bad stuff happens, who tell you things like, "As long as one person loves you - and I will always love you - life is good."?

I don't know. I tend to prefer not to analyze it too much, fearing sometimes that, just like dissecting a frog, trying to pin down the "secret" of happiness will kill it forever.

I'm pretty lucky in that, despite my occasional "black moods," I am basically - mostly - a pretty happy person. I usually don't get up in the morning dreading the day to come (well, unless I have a dentist appointment, but that's another matter). I can usually shrug off or laugh off life's little failures, or the miscommunications that happen. I don't really go in for conspiracy theories or thoughts of "they're out to get me."

I have a little sign hanging up in my office, to which I have at times silently pointed when colleagues or students come in all agitated that "so and so did this thing to me and they're doing it specifically to harm me and thwart my desires."

The sign says: "Never attribute to malice what stupidity can explain."

It's perhaps a bit more strongly worded than what I'd come up with if I were writing the quotation from scratch, but that's how I heard it. (I tend more to think, "Never attribute to malice what poor communication can explain." It seems that poor communication carries with it a multitude of problems).

I think also happiness comes in an ability to appreciate the small things. A good cup of tea, a well-prepared meal, a cleverly-crafted story, a well-performed waltz or scherzo or old bluegrass gospel tune...

I tend to think that our lives are (geologically and cosmologically speaking) so short, that somehow it is wrong not to stop and appreciate when there is something worth appreciating.

(The only line I remember from reading "The Color Purple" in high school? The one where one of the people says something like that she thinks it pisses God off if you see the color purple in a field somewhere and you don't notice it. Sometimes I think not enough people notice things like that).

I also think happiness probably involves not dwelling on bad things. (I do not know if happiness is a result of not dwelling on bad things, or if happiness allows people not to dwell on bad things.) I know that if you watch too much news - particularly the 24-hour-cycle all-news channels, you get a picture of the world that is bad and horrible and scary. All foods have the potential to kill us. There are people who are crazy and who are building bombs and who want to kill us. There are random sick freaks who abduct children or rape and murder women or who carjack and shoot men or whatever. There are ticking time bombs in your very body, things you can do nothing about, that will give you a horrible disease and then kill you. Things in Iraq are very very bad. Things in South America are very very bad. And on, and on.

And it gets kind of to be too much.

I am happier when I step off that merry go round - I don't mean being totally absent, totally clueless about the news - but not obsessing. Taking my news in a 30 minute dose early in the morning when I'm working out, and then switching over to music for the rest of the hour. And telling myself that I live in a pretty safe place, compared to the rest of the world. And I take pretty good care of my health, compared to a lot of people. And that there are people who are doing lots of good stuff, under the radar so to speak, all around the world, only they never get on the news.

It's not exactly like the old Serenity Prayer - I'm not ACCEPTING the things I cannot change, so much as I am accepting the fact that they mostly do not immediately and directly affect me, and so my concern about them - beyond, perhaps, praying for the safety of soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen in Iraq, for example - will not measurably change the situation. And that it's much saner and better and probably more in the spirit that most of those men and women went overseas that I go about my life and be as happy as possible.

I think also, my work helps keep me happy. (Now, granted: I am at the beginning of a semester, when I am still all filled with hope and confidence. Talk to me again in about 10 weeks). But I'm also working on a research project and I'm just to the point where I can see what it will be when it's done, and I can also see what I have to do to get there. And I'm not on any kind of super-tight deadline, so I can pick it up and put it down at will - I can spend three or four hours working on it in an afternoon, and then pack it up and go home and read a book. (One of the reasons I didn't become a laboratory scientist was that running experiments until 2 am, or having to come in at 4 am and 10 am and 6 pm and 12 midnight to check on things, and being idle in between, was not something I wanted as part of my life.)

I do also enjoy teaching, as frustrated as some of the students can make me (and as I said, it's probably ultimately an IDEALISTIC sort of frustration: I look at them and go, "you could do so much more! you're smarter than you're acting! you need to reconsider your priorities; fifteen years from now it won't matter that you got the newest, most bling-ed out cell phone two days before your friends did"). I enjoy conveying knowledge. I enjoy coming up with good analogies, good ways of presenting things, and looking out over the class and seeing the "Oh - I get it now!" look on people's faces. I enjoy it when a student asks a question in class and it's clear to me he's trying to relate the current topic to something he already knows. I enjoy it when a student makes a comment that shows that she is pulling in prior knowledge and is thinking and is engaged.

But I also enjoy being out of work - I enjoy my free time. Again, I think it comes down to being able to appreciate simple things. Being out driving on a country road, when the weather is good, and I'm the only driver out there. Shopping (at least when the stores are not crowded full of rude people). Stopping somewhere for a drink or a piece of pie. Going to a bookstore.

(And perhaps it also strikes me here, that some of those pleasures - like going to a bookstore - are infrequent enough that they don't lose their luster through repetition. I live 1/2 hour [one way] from the nearest bookstore that is larger than my uni bookstore. So I get there perhaps once a month. It is always a joy and I always have a list of books I want to look for. I wonder if I would feel the same almost giddy delight to be on the way to the bookstore were it simply down the block from my office)

I also wonder if perhaps a capacity for gratitude is part of happiness. For example, coming home on a cold rainy night, closing my nice big heavy front door behind me and locking it, and being home. And saying, as I always do, "thank God for this house and thank God for being able to be home in it." And really meaning it - not saying it as a formulaic thing but genuinely feeling a thankfulness that I am out of the rain and in the warm and that I don't have to go out again and that I can take a warm shower and get into my jammies and make a cup of hot tea and read my mail and maybe work on a quilt or read a book.

Perhaps that gratitude is somehow tied up with an appreciation of small simple things. The stuff I really love - the stuff I want around me - is mostly not that expensive: good tea, good chocolate, good hard-milled soap with a nice scent, clean sheets on the bed, enough pillows, lots of books to read, a diversity of cds of music, my craft supplies, candles, good light to read by, kitchen gadgets I will actually use when I cook....Many of the things I take the most joy in, individually at least, are less than $20. Many of them less than $10.

You can have your iPod; I'm satisfied with my circa-1997 cd player and my cds of Dolly Parton. You can have your Wii or your Playstation or whatever; I'm happy with my books.

I'm not saying that that makes me better - don't get me wrong. But I think part of happiness comes with KNOWING the things that make you happy, and accepting that those are the things that are important to you, and not needing to buy things that other people have because you know that although those things may make those people happy, you are a different person, and different things make you happy.

I think another thing that makes me happy is having a little change, a little variation in my life. Too much of the same thing - even a good thing - gets kind of wearing.

Weekends make me happy but going back to work on Monday makes me happy.
Working hard on something makes me happy but rest also makes me happy.
Rain and snow and general crappy weather can make me happy, but sunshine after the crappy weather makes me happy.
A big crunchy green salad after having indulgent meals the day before makes me happy.

I was watching some PBS program the other night - I came into it late so I don't know exactly what it was about, but they had some "chick from the future" debating a man who was supposed to represent Aldous Huxley about the idea of humans interfacing (literally) with computers: putting in cybernetic things. The Huxley-actor was generally opposed...at one point he gave a long list of things (which was apparently from one of Huxley's real books or real essays, perhaps even Brave New World: it's been too long since I read it), listing all the "bad" things (like malaria and dyspepsia and such) and making the observation that he "wanted" those.

And while I'd not take it so far - personally, I think a technology that allows people who have lost their hearing to hear again, or allows people who were paralyzed to regain some motion, using computers, is a good thing, I'm not so sure I like the idea that some people implied - that we could "hook up to" everyone else in the world and know their thoughts and feelings and such. And that we could have electrodes and such implanted in our brain that would make us always and eternally happy (like a "soma" binge, I find myself wondering, remembering a bit of Brave New World from high school...). And I'm not sure I'd want that. While I would say there's a place for it - a way, perhaps, to allow profoundly depressed people to have some semblance of a normal life - I'd not do it myself. Because, I feel that without the occasional mood-of-darkness, the occasional day where everything goes badly, it would be difficult - maybe impossible - to recognize the good times. I tend to feel that bad times - a little shadow - is necessary to give depth to the good times. That having that "Christmas-morning" feeling 24/7 would eventually become so flat as to be taken for granted, that happiness fades when there's too much of it.

(And perhaps that's part of it - why I feel pretty happy now - because I WASN'T all that happy the end of last semester. It's kind of like - to use another example from my life - it's kind of like when I have a migraine. I get into bed, I turn off all the lights and get away from all the sounds I can. And I lie there and suffer. And I actually do sometimes ask myself, "Am I going to die?" [I have read that migraines, in all their neurological weirdness, can engender feelings of dread beyond those you'd expect for that level of pain.]. And eventually I fall asleep. When I wake up, usually the headache is gone. I'm a bit weak, I usually look pretty pale and am not entirely as steady on my feet as I was pre-migraine, but I'm elated. I'm alive! I don't hurt any more! I can read again! And I don't think I'd feel that simple excitement and appreciation so strongly had I not had an hour or so of agony.)

But anyway: to happiness. To being able to appreciate the small things, to being able to work with a will and a purpose and take satisfaction in that work.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hoppin' on the trend bus...

...all the cool kids are doing it

I have good childhood memories of hunting in card catalogs. I kind of miss them. Computer databases are not nearly as romantic. (And, at least at the place where I went to grad school, would crash RIGHT at the moment when you needed them most).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

51% "single"

I saw that article - and heard it mentioned on the news - about how apparently now 51% of American women do not live with a husband.

And I kind of sighed. And I thought, "Let the spin commence!"

And it already has. Lileks has semi-fisked the piece today (for one thing: they include 15 year old "women," apparently, in their assessment. I don't know of too many 15 year olds, outside of historical novels or perhaps some parts of the Arab world, who are married). He seems to be taking the tack that it's being presented as "striking a blow for feminism" when it really isn't. (I agree with him on that).

But I will admit to cringing at the line:
"I expect it’s one thing to be a hard-core spinster who’s forged an individual path from day one and has a hard shell, a gimlet eye, and a perspective on human relations as vaulable as a film critic's assessment of cinema. (He's never slapped a reel o film in a camera, but he knows the difference between Citizen Kane and Porky's IV.)"

Yeah, nothing like those gimlet-eyed spinsters, like me. Who never having loved, are probably incapable of love, but have an opinion on it nonetheless.

I tend to picture myself more as being like that girl in the Roy Lichtenstein parody poster who wakes up one morning and exclaims, in best comic-book exclamation fashion, "OMG! I forgot to get married and have kids!"

(Seriously: when everyone else was "dating" in high school I was either (a) still not mature enough to feel comfortable doing that or (b) swotting to get into a good college. In college, when people were "hooking up," the whole "hook up" culture kind of repulsed me, but it was very difficult to find guys at my college who were outside of that culture. And then by grad school - well, everyone in grad school was either already paired up or was (and I include myself in this category) a bit of damaged goods, either with personal issues or with a string of failed romances or with something else that was repulsively weird enough about them to mostly keep them out of the dating pool.

And now, my options are, at this point, narrowed to being a "replacement mama" for some guy's kids (and a "replacement housekeeper" for him while I'm at it), or getting involved with a possibly-gay-but-not-admitting-it-to-himself-yet mama's boy. Things like that).

I suppose on the other end from the NYT with its pseudo "blow for feminism" attitude there will be other commentators screaming about how all these selfish women are destroying the American family, and how we will soon be overrun by little brown people because the educated American woman thinks herself too good to stay home and pop out sprogs on a regular basis.

And that attitude kind of frustrates me as well.

Look. I'm someone "in the trenches," as you might say. I'm part of that illusory 51% (And they also include widows in that category which is NOT THE SAME THING as never-married women. There's a huge difference - in terms of your view of life and also your "respectability" if you're an 87 year old who just buried your husband rather than a 37 year old who somehow never managed to get hitched).

And I'm not out here striking a blow for feminism. I'm also not out here to take down the American family, motherhood, apple pie, any of that.

To be honest, I'm more bemused than bitter about my state. And I'm not making some "statement" with my single life. My main goal? Keep body and soul together and not lose my mind in the process. And some days, that's about all I can manage.

So please don't paint me as some kind of Enemy of the State because I'm not a mom with kids.* But likewise, don't portray me as some kind of icon to be lived up to, someone who's "making it work" and "doin' it for herself" and all those damnable cliches. Because, you know? "Makin' it work" and "Doin' it for herself" ring pretty hollow when you're:

a. standing at the mechanic's, he's talking to you like the classic "little lady," your B.S. sensors are going off, but you're not sure what he's talking about EXACTLY and you don't have anyone around you can ask to talk to him, man-to-man, so you don't get screwed on your car repairs.

b. preparing to mount a ladder and remove a large heavy branch that threatens the phone line going into your house, because the phone company has disavowed any responsibility in taking care of it ("It's YOUR tree, after all") and wondering if you are going to die falling off the ladder or with the 50-something pound branch falling on you.

c. you wake up in the middle of the night and hear a sound...and lie there for the next fifteen minutes trying to determine if it's just the refrigerator or if someone's trying to pick the front door lock, and calculating whether you can get to your phone in time to dial 911, or wondering if maybe it's better to grab some shoes and slip out a back window and hope you can wake up at least one of the neighbors and ask them to call the cops.

I don't know. I tend to look at these demographic studies and think about how they're lumping a big group of people - people who are individuals, who are all different, and trying to make it "signify" something.

True, they have quotations from newly-divorced, newly-freed women. (And again, the Lileks: "Ms. Terris said. “There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side.”

That’s the saddest thing I read in the paper today. I have no doubt she’s probably happier, and if she ends up spending the next 20 years throwing pots and taking extension courses, fine."). Yeah, I suppose it is kind of sad, when you look at it coldly, that a woman's rejoicing that she can sleep on either side of the bed now, and that seems to be the only thing she's looking forward to at the moment.

But what of looking forward to another 20 or 30 years of miscommunication, and sad moments, and doing things you may only hear criticism for? I think a lot of people are kind of broken and screwed up and don't know HOW to have a good relationship where they're neither completely self-absorbed, or little dictators (or dictatresses), or people who never throw a kind word anyone's way. (And women are as guilty - if not more so - of that last than men are).

(I must hasten here and say I don't think divorce is a good thing; too many people get hurt, and it ultimately seems to represent the taking-lightly of something that should be taken seriously. But I also think there are a lot of people who get married for the wrong reasons: either it is the "thing" to do, or they are told by their friends and family that they will be sad and alone when they are old (and again: what of the 87 year old widow whose children never visit? Is she not sad and alone?). I also think in some respects, marriage is too easy to enter into. I used to belong to a congregation where a condition of getting married in that church building was that you took a 6 week (minimum) "class" and series of counseling sessions to make sure you were ready to marry. And I knew a judge who imposed a 30-day waiting period on marriage licenses; he told me more than one couple had come back to thank him for the enforced wait; they had really THOUGHT about things and decided they needed to work on their relationship first, or they really weren't right for one another. And I do think it's better to realize that before saying "I do" than after).

Anyway. I don't look at women in the U.S. and go either "shameful group of selfish hussies" or "striking a blow against The Man!" or "crypto-lesbians bent on destroying all that is good or has been good about our country!"

No, rather, I look at a society where sex appeal is rewarded over intelligence and personality. And I look at a society where you're designated as some kind of a "sicko" if you're unwilling to put out after the third date. And a society where so many things are commodities - where some women won't date a man who makes less than a certain amount. And I look at a society where few people seem to really talk anymore. And a society where so many things have become so sexualized. And I'm not entirely surprised, you know, that there are a lot of never-married women out there (though we are probably only about 10 to 15 percent when you actually look at the numbers correctly; maybe even less).

Would I RATHER be married? Sometimes, I think yes. Certainly, it would be easier in a lot of ways: people don't always know where to "put" me, category-wise. It's sort of odd to be in a roomful of other women and have the conversation turn to husbands and kids, and I sort of sit there in a little shell with nothing to contribute, sometimes for hours on end.

But sometimes, I also think no. I can be a difficult person: I'm moody, I'm a bit of a slob, I get obsessed by things. When I'm in one of my black moods you do not want to even try talking to me. I'm not sure I'd want to subject a fellow to the less-pleasant side of my personality, and excising or keeping that side entirely covered does not seem to be entirely possible.

So, I don't know - but I do know that I'm not living my life as any kind of a symbol or any kind of a part of a movement. I just want to earn enough money to keep a roof over my head, and food on the table, and books on the shelves. I just want to make a wee tiny difference in the world suggesting that it's better off than it would be if I weren't here. I just want to make it through life relatively unmolested.

So please, don't use me as a symbol. Don't look at how I am living and somehow psychoanalyse it to fit in a neat box. Because you don't know me, totally, and you've probably not walked in shoes like mine.

(*It just occurred to me: Could Pelosi's criticism of C. Rice somehow fall into this whole mess? I tend to look up to Condi; she's smart, she may have chosen to sacrifice a more "conventional" happiness to use her skills in life. And I don't think she deserves crap from ANYBODY over having not married or having had kids).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Catching up

redfish, thanks for your suggestion (of the end of Ephesians 4). I'm going to use that, also the famous part from Galatians ("neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free..."). I've used both passages before but in slightly different contexts and it's also been a while.

I'm going to use the Galatians one as a finishing-off bit, and make the observation that there is one label we should "stick" on ourselves - not for anyone else to necessarily see, but as a reminder to ourselves. And then I'm going to write "Child of God" on a sticky note and stick it on me and encourage the kids to do likewise. (Sometimes if I'm willing to lead in doing something a little "goofy," they will follow.)


I'm still thinking on the Churchill bio. I know the Last Lion is a very good one but I'm not sure I want just now to commit to a major series-read. I've begun buying "A Dance to the Music of Time" as Folio Press comes out with the volumes - it's a series I've always wanted to read and I'm going to start the first one very soon.

I do like the idea of one written by his friend. I tend to like things written by people "who were there" as opposed to people who interviewed people who "were there." I realize there can be just as many inaccuracies and inconsistencies and all that, but still...I like the "voice" that tends to come in "I was there" type of histories.


Yes, I'm a member of the Folio Society. I recognize that it's a real indulgence and also a bit of an affectation on my part: I could just as well check out my uni library's editions of many books (except they have done away with the 16-week faculty check-out time; we get ten days with our books, same as the students, then we have to either return them or renew them and it gripes me a little to have to constantly be renewing a book that it's taking me a while to read). And besides, I have to admit the snobbish overeducated elite part of me LIKES the idea of Folio Society. I like nice books, with good paper and an easy-to-read typeface and pages that don't fall out (a major complaint I have with most of the cheaper paperbacks, like the mystery novels, that I read. I realize they're largely designed to be disposable but still the falling-out-pages irks me). And illustrations. And book jackets. And all that stuff. And the general Britishy tone of the thing - sort of a never-never land Sebastian Cabot or Peter Ustinov Britishiness that some Americans (like me) tend to fall for and want to believe in. (I don't want to believe in the New Britain, where there is agitiation to offer halal meals in the fish-and-chip places, or where the local school authorities police student lunches so no child gets fat from too many jam butties).

So when the nice glossy Folio catalog with words like "colour" and "centre" and "honourable" in it arrives, I'm often suckered in to buying books.

(And the half-off sales - or the buy-one-get-one sales - that they offer usually in the spring are a pretty dam' good deal. I buy a lot of gifts ahead at that time. Luckily I have a family that likes books.)


I think I broke through the shell of sadness and unmotivation that was brought on by the end of the last semester. I, once again, have high hopes for my classes. We had bad weather this morning (part of the generalized ice storm complex that's zapped Missouri and Oklahoma and parts of Texas) but 70% of my 8 am general bio class showed up for class. And they PARTICIPATED. And they paid attention.

It wasn't unusual last fall, on even a GOOD weather day, for less than 70% of my general bio class to be present. Now, that was an 11 am class - 11 am classes are generally not so fun - everyone's either tired from their morning classes or they're trying to plot how to get out to the Fatburger at noon for lunch before the rest of the crowd (and my class was supposed to last until 12:15 so you understand the conflict in some of the students' hearts).


And tomorrow, I'm trying a new lab - that I have high hopes for - with one of my other classes. I had to go buy supplies for it including big sheets of paper at the bookstore. And it felt good, to stride out of the bookstore into the cold afternoon air, with my packets of paper and my big big posterboards under my arm. It felt purposeful and hopeful.


I tend to go by cycles. I have times when I'm full of hope and full of joy at what I do, and other times when I just feel beaten down by it. Part of it, I think, is the POV I take. This is going to sound odd and potentially psychologically disordered, but if I can get myself into the mode of sort of "watching" myself - like I were a character in a play or a movie - if I can kind of pan back and see the larger picture, I'm happier. Part of it is I often get the odd little sense that I'm playing a part, that it's not the deepest most personal part of ME up there in front of the classroom, and so if I look a little silly or undignified or if I mess up a little, it's not really ME that's messed up - it's the character I'm playing.

And somehow, I'm happier. I have to admit I sometimes even "narrate" in my mind:

"She signed the slip and thanked the clerk. Rewinding her scarf firmly around her neck, she gathered the packets of paper and the large pad of newsprint and tucked them under her arm. She strode to the door, drew back seeing a student entering. When she saw he was holding the door for her, she turned a radiant smile on him and thanked him, then swept out into the windy afternoon."

Yeah, okay. It sounds kind of stupid written down. And to be honest, I've not yet decided if it's a sign of some kind of serious psychological derangement or if it's merely an innocuous coping mechanism. I kind of tend to lean towards the latter, since I "function" just fine (better than just fine at times) in my daily life. And no one really knows I do it - it's not like I'm so "absent" in my narration that I'd not notice someone I knew walking up the sidewalk.

I guess I prefer to think of it as kind of a game I play, a way of belaying boredom during the ordinary everyday tasks, and perhaps, more importantly, convincing myself that the little awkwardness or mistakes that happen in the course of daily life are simply a part of the "character" I play and not some deeply-set stain on my personality.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fragments III: Dottie remembers

(This fragment incorporates a few stories from the marriages of relatives of mine, altered a little bit. I also wanted to try to do a different "voice," that of an older woman. I am not sure how successful it is. Also, Dottie's story - especially of her early life - unfolded in a TOTALLY different way than I expected when I started writing, but I think it kind of fits with some of the things in the earlier part of the story)

They say that time heals wounds. I think that’s true, I don’t hurt as much as I did three years ago or even three months ago. It’s getting to the point where it is nice to remember things. Things about him.

We got married just after I graduated college and just before Jack started medical school. That seemed like the best way to do it. These days, I see a lot of kids who get married while they are still in school – kids who are nineteen or twenty, who have big student loans, who don’t really know what they want to do with their lives. And I want to say to them: wait. Give it some time. My daughter works in a registrar’s office at a big college down South and she says she sees it all the time: girls coming in one year to change their name to their new husband’s. Then the same girls back, some the very next year, to change their name back to their maiden name because they got divorced. It’s sad. I think part of it is that kids are pushed to be grown up so fast and all at once. And I think there are a lot of them who think that the first person they ever really date very much is the person they should get married to. I don’t know if it is because they think they are somehow obligated to this person. Or maybe – and this could be because it’s the South and kids are still pushed to be “good girls,” it’s because they don’t want to wait any longer to have sex.

I want to tell them: you can wait a little longer if you have to. Or you even really don’t have to wait, not these days, not with the pill and no more stigma really attached to condoms and things like that. Girls don’t have to worry about getting pregnant any more. Not like when I was dating – there were things you could do to protect yourself but a lot of them were pretty humiliating and sometimes, you couldn’t get them unless you could prove you were married. So what I would say to those girls today is: enjoy your freedom. Date a few more men. Wait until you know who you are. I dated around a little before I met Jack. I didn’t fool around though but then most boys didn’t really expect that, at least not until you had been dating a long time.

But after dating Jack I knew that he was the one. And we waited until after we were married for that other thing, too – I don’t really know how many girls did in those days, it was the 1950s and we didn’t really talk very much about those things. Or at least the way I was raised we didn’t really talk very much about those things. Maybe if we talked about those things more it would have been better. I don’t know.

After Jack and I got married, I started working as a secretary in a law firm to pay for our apartment and food while Jack went to medical school. I’ve heard a lot of stories since then about how women do that while their husband is in medical school or law school or something like that, and as soon as he gets his degree, he turns around and divorces her. I think that’s despicable but I also wonder if maybe it’s another symptom of people getting married too fast. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen to Jack and me and it didn’t. We stayed married all the way, until he died three and a half years ago. But I don’t like to think about that. I like to think about the way it was, especially at first, before the children came.

I was working as a secretary. I liked some parts of the job. Some things were important: you had to type well and you had to be able to take dictation and understand all the legal terms. I had done a business degree so it was a little bit different but not that much. And you had to talk to clients on the phone, sometimes. I was good at calming people down who were angry before I transferred their calls in to the lawyers. I was proud of that, that I could protect the lawyers from angry unreasonable people. And probably, I protected the clients too, because the lawyers might not have wanted to help them if they had been all worked up and rude.

But there were other parts of the job that were not so good. I had to go in very early in the morning, around 7:30, so I could make the coffee and water the plants and bring in the newspaper and make sure the office was clean and not dusty from the day before. I guess women working as a secretary today don’t have to do that kind of thing, but when I was working it was kind of expected.

I hated getting up that early in the morning. When I was in college I managed to work it so I never had a class before 9:30. But for my job, I had to get up at 6, and I hated it.

So Jack started doing something. Jack always could get up early, he was always good at it. In fact, once we had the children, they usually went to him when they had a bad dream or wet the bed early in the morning because it was so much easier for him to get up early and he wasn’t cranky with them the way I was sometimes.

Anyway, Jack started getting up early, before my alarm would go off, and he would wake me up a little early and have me start getting dressed. He would let me get dressed up to the point of having my stockings and my slip on, and then he would say, “Okay, Dottie, you can go back to bed for twenty minutes now.” He had woken me up early so I could have more time back in bed. The first time I was kind of angry with him for doing it but it sure felt good to get back into bed. Later on, I figured out that if I picked out my dress or my blouse and skirt the night before, and set them all out with the shoes and hat and purse and gloves I was going to wear, I could sometimes get an extra forty minutes of sleep and that was really nice.

Jack also took over making breakfast. I never said anything to him but I kind of didn’t like it when he made scrambled eggs, because he never mixed them quite as much as I did and sometimes there were rubbery pieces of cooked white and streaks of unmixed yolks in them. But like I said, I never said anything to him because he was going to the trouble to make breakfast for me. Some of my friends say they would have complained if they had been me, but I kind of thing that when someone does something for you, and they’re being nice, but it’s not quite perfect, you shouldn’t say anything because they took that trouble.

And anyway, with his help I was able to get a little bit more sleep first thing in the morning and that was good.

I usually got home before Jack in the afternoon because of his classes. I would start dinner. I usually made something like stew that would hold over well because sometimes Jack had to stay late. A lot of the time I knew in advance – he was good about telling me. And sometimes he phoned if something came up, if he could get to a phone. It was really bad when he was a resident. It was worse than when he was a student. I don’t think it’s really fair the way they treat residents; it’s almost like they don’t want them to have families.

But Jack and I made it through his time in medical school and through his residency. We argued sometimes but I think all husbands and wives do and I think it’s more healthy to let it out and then forgive the other person than it is to keep it in and keep thinking about it. Sometimes Jack would get very angry and say, “I need to go for a walk” and he would walk out of the apartment. But he always came back within fifteen minutes and he was usually in a better mood.

I remember one time we were arguing. I think it was about money; it was usually about money in those days because we were trying to live on my salary and whatever Jack could save up over summers when he worked at his parents’ hotel. But anyway, Jack took a deep breath and said to me, “I’m too angry right now, I need to go for a walk.” And he left. But when he came back he had a bouquet of flowers and he told me he was sorry he was being such a bear and that he was just too tired from his classes.

Now that I think about it, it was funny that he bought flowers when I think he was the one arguing against spending more money in the first place. But the flowers did make me feel a lot better.

Later on things got better when Jack got his M.D. and got into a practice with other doctors. There was more money then and we stopped arguing about it. Jack was still a “bear” sometimes, like he said, when he was tired, but I knew that when he got angry it wasn’t really at me. And he never really said anything too bad to me. And he never hit me. If he had, I would have gone to stay at my sister’s, at least for a while. I think he knew that but I also think Jack was the kind of man who would never hit another person just because he was angry.

Jack changed when the children started coming. He asked the other doctors he worked with for fewer evening hours and he sometimes started telling them “no” when they wanted him to take Saturday hours. That was probably risky because Jack was the new doctor, but I think the other two understood. One was a bachelor and the other was an older man whose children were almost all grown up. So I think they let Jack have the time with his family even though they could have told him “no.” And I am grateful to them for that.

Jack was a good father. He liked children and he knew how to talk to them. I didn’t always know how to talk to them or play with them. I sometimes think all that talk of women having more of an instinct for how to be a parent is not true. I know Jack was a better father than I was a mother. I wasn’t always very patient with the children.

Some of the best times were when we all took a vacation. Jack would plan out a trip somewhere, call up the motels and get us places to stay, plan out a route, and pile us all into the car. Sometimes he didn’t even tell us where we were going and we would spend a lot of time laughing and guessing and coming up with silly things that he might be taking us to see.

We went to a lot of zoos and a lot of museums and things like that. There weren’t as many amusement parks around as there are now and I don’t think Jack liked them anyway, he said some of them were “deathtraps” and you didn’t know which ones were safe. But the zoos were fun and it was really fun when we went camping. Jack took care of everything, even getting the food, and I kind of got to be like another one of the children. I didn’t have to do anything! Those times were a lot better than any gift he could have given me. They were better than the flowers he brought home or the jewelry or a new car or a fur coat or anything.

You see, one thing that Jack knew about me was that I really hadn’t ever been able to be a child. Maybe when I was really little but I don’t remember that. But my mother and father died when I was six and my little brother and sister and I traveled between different relatives. For a while it was like no one really wanted us. Finally we wound up living with an aunt and an uncle who had a farm, but they really didn’t take that much care of us. I kind of had to be the mother to my little brother and sister. I knew how to change diapers when I was barely out of them myself. I had to stay out of school sometimes when they were sick even if I wasn’t because my aunt didn’t want to take care of them and she said my uncle was too busy with the farm.

And we never went on vacations anywhere, not even camping. And camping doesn’t cost very much money. I know.

I guess I didn’t have a very happy life growing up but I don’t like to think about that. I like to think about how when I was a teenager a family at my church saw my name in the paper for the honor roll at school and they told me I must be smart because I did well in school “despite everything.” And they had a lot of money, I guess, and they only had the one son, and he was in the Army. So they asked me if I wanted to go to college and I said yes. By that time my brother and sister were old enough to take care of themselves. In fact my brother was doing a lot of things on the farm, more I think even than my uncle.

But anyway, Mr. and Mrs. Henderson said they would pay for me to go to college and get a degree if I wanted it. I guess a lot of the girls at school were either jealous of me or didn’t understand because they made fun of me for that or they asked me if I thought I was too good to marry one of the boys in town. I wanted to tell them that I was through taking care of people, and it seemed like that would be what the rest of my life would be like if I married one of the boys in town – he would work in the coal mines or on a farm like almost everyone else, and he would expect me to do everything around the house, and he would expect us to have lots of children. And at that point I wasn’t ready for that. I had already had experience with being like a mother and I wasn’t sure I wanted it again.

But later on, after Jack and I had been married for a while, I decided I wanted it again, and we had Susan and then Thomas and finally Matt. And Jack helped me raise them all and he was a good father. And even though he was busy he didn’t expect everything to be perfect. He wasn’t one of those men who came home at six and picked up his newspaper and griped if dinner wasn’t on the table by 6:30. He would come into the kitchen and talk with me while I cooked and he would cut up things. We used to joke about him being a surgeon when he cut up the carrots and things.

The first part of my life was hard in a lot of ways, but Jack made things better. The first eighteen years of my life were not very good but the last fifty – up until the day he died- were. And I am thankful for every day I had with Jack. I just wish I had had more. I wish that he had gone to the doctor when he first started having pains in his chest. Maybe they could have done something. But I guess they say that doctors make the worst patients. And anyway, if he had lived, he probably wouldn’t have been able to do much, and Jack would have hated it. At least he had enough time after the heart attack for me to say good bye to him, and for Susan and Matt too. Thomas lived too far away and his wife was in labor when it happened. I know he’s sad about that – I mean not being able to say good bye to his dad – but that is the way life is sometimes. I didn’t get to say good bye to my mother and father.

It’s funny. Right after Jack died I couldn’t bear to think of him. I couldn’t stand the fact that I wouldn’t come home and find him sitting there, or hear the door open and hear him call out a hello to me. And I couldn’t stand the fact that that would never happen again. But now that time has passed I realize that I had fifty years with him and that I had an awful lot of good times in those fifty years. Probably more good times than most people get in their whole life. So now when I think of him I am happy.