Monday, March 31, 2008


I was looking for "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" (yes, I realize, it's a little late, and I ran across these on YouTube. I wasn't even aware of "fingerstyle" as a mode of playing guitar. But it's so beautiful! If I had endless time to work on things like this, it's something I'd like to learn to do, to play guitar like that:

(O Sacred Head Now Wounded)

(Abide with me)

It makes me happy that there are people out there who have that talent and who are willing to share it with the rest of us.

You want cranky? I'll give you cranky.

It is 84.2 degrees in my office right now. There is no air flow because apparently they have at least turned the heat off, but have not yet turned on the ventilation.

I am bordering on having a migraine. I think I need to go pound some Excedrin Migraine before my 3-5 pm lab.

(And if anyone bitches this week about my not having set it up ahead of time so they could do it early and get their precious special-snowflake butt home extra early, I don't want to hear it).

I also spent the better part of the afternoon ranking the scores for a scholarship test. This is a deal where high school students get a day to skip school with the school's sanction come to campus to take standardized tests in their main subject area to compete for glory for their school and possible scholarships for them.

If you guessed "That cannot turn out well," you guessed right. Easily 90% of the students don't take it seriously - either they get to campus and never show for the tests, or they make a mockery of the test (and, more importantly, the time of the faculty member or TA who has been pulled off of other duties to proctor the test) by filling in "ABCD ABCD ABCD" all down the test.

(An aside: One thing I did learn? You really, truly, do get an average of 20% from guessing on a 5-choice multiple choice test. I mean, it stands to reason, but in a sad way, it was kind of neat to see it borne out by real data).

Anyway. For the small percentage who DID take it seriously - and for those who at least stayed long enough to fill out the bubbles - we have to rank their scores. You know, for the glory of their schools.

Well, the problem is, the kids go into four "divisions" based on school size. NOT ON ATHLETIC DIVISION. I made a big point of that. I also made a big point that they should check the lists on the doors to find their school and go into the appropriate room.

This is where, had I more energy, I would make a long rant about following directions and how seemingly, the younger generation is seemingly incapable of the same. But I don't have that kind of energy so you'll have to imagine the rant.

Because no fewer than five people - from three different divisions - messed up the division code. Which meant - because on Thursday I was frantically pressed for time, seeing as I had a dentist appointment 20 minutes after I finished my little "obligation" with the test, and my dentist is 10 minutes across town (especially in the noon to 1:15 pm time slot, when everyone's either frantically running out to Bubba's Burgers or is frantically running back to work). So I didn't stop to verify every name with the division code on the list.

Also, because I am one of those fools who assumes that because I can follow directions, everyone can.

So today I merrily sat down and started ranking. And started filling in the ranks on the spreadsheet I have to submit.

"Wow, that's weird," I thought, "Like half of the Division 1 kids are missing."

I chalked it up to the Division 1 kids being the ones from the really, really small district, so the little town I'm in - with its burger joint and its Sonic and its multiple gas-station-convenience-stores may look to them like the shopping district in downtown Chicago would look to me, and they ankled it before the test.

But then I started on group 2. And realized there were several kids who weren't on the list. And when I checked the master list - they were SUPPOSED to be division 1 but they put down division 2. Just because, you know?

So I cursed, and re-ranked the Division 1 kids with the new additions.

Same again with Division 3, only this time it had a domino effect on both 2 and 1.

I re-ranked some of those scores 3 times.

Remember: my office is over 84* right now. And I'm bordering on a migraine. And my friendly ecology students are knocking down the door because a lab's due today, and they still have questions.

Interestingly, the kids from the biggest schools - division 4 - didn't screw anything up. (They also had the highest average on the exam, although the best score was something like a 54%).

At the very end? There was one guy who wasn't on the master list AT ALL.

My inclination was to leave him out, but the guy in charge said, "No, he's division 2, just add him in."

Crap. So I re-rank Division 2's scores again to reflect this kid's score.

I will say if any of the "top" (such as they are) scorers had put down the wrong division, I think that should have been automatic grounds for disqualification from any scholarships.

This whole thing was a giant pain in the patoot. I had to cancel class, I had to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, I had to deal with some rather sullen rude teenagers, I had to tax my tired, achy brain with both ranking AND alphabetizing today (oh, and some of the kids, the ones with lastnames that sound like firstnames? They wrote their names BACKWARDS - that is, Cody Joe wrote down Joe Cody, making me have to search for them on the list).

AND there's absolutely no thanks or glory in doing what I just did.

I'm going to have to find some willing sucker to pawn it off onto for next year.

If not? I might just refuse. I really don't think it served any purpose doing that - almost no one took it seriously, the test scores were a joke (54% as the TOP score. I wouldn't curve to that if I had a class that did that poorly; I'd verbally prepare for them a new bodily orifice and then tell them, through gritted teeth: "Next week. This time next week you will be taking a make-up exam. Do better on it."). It required a number of classes to be cancelled. And it was just one of those miserable, burnout-inducing things (high level of brain-drain, high level of timewastage, and high level of thanklessness) that faculty get roped into.


Later: I happened to see the guy whose purview this thing usually falls under (he's on sabbatical this year which is why I got stuck with it). I remarked on the low score, and he said, "Wow, that's actually pretty good!" and remarked that the test was made "excessively hard" and that no one ever bothered to rewrite it (and I can see why not, considering the level of value the kids place on it).

I remarked to him, "Well, yeah, it was kind of an unrewarding experience" and he agreed with me, and said, "This is J's big thing." (J. being a faculty member in another department who runs this whole schtick. I guess J. gets the credit for doing it because he's the big boss, and all the rest of us just kind of have to suck it up and "take one for the team.")

I feel a little better about it now, mainly because it's OVER. And because the lab I taught this afternoon went well - it's one of the "fun" labs I do and the students always enjoy it. (And it's not a "cookbook" type lab so I never know what people will find; there's that element of "I wonder what will happen today" to look forward to).

my students

I know, sometimes I gripe about them, but some of them are pretty good.

One of them made me laugh a little this morning. I require a Big Scary Research Paper in one of my classes; it is worth about the same as an exam. Every semester I offer the students the chance to write a "good first draft" that I will comment on and return to them for their rewrite - sort of a free-bee chance to improve their grade. I usually get a few takers (though most often it's the people with A/B papers ANYWAY who do it).

Well, one of the guys in my class did that this semester - way early. Handed in a good first draft (he said he wrote it over Spring Break - I guess he had to be in town for work anyway). It wasn't perfect but it wasn't bad either. So I put some comments on it and gave it back to him.

"Can I do another, or is the deal just one per student?" he asked.

It took me a moment to figure out what he was asking. But then I laughed and said, "No, only one shot at handing in a draft per student." He laughed and said he figured that was the case, and thanked me for looking at the draft.

But that's just so funny - this is someone who's a graduating senior, has already been accepted to professional school, he could just totally blow the thing off and accept a C for the class. But here he's asking for more input and trying to work harder.


Oh, and another thing: they have a big end-of-year faculty banquet here. Yeah, it's free food but it's also an evening spent in a stuffy room where you hear people ramble on about their "accomplishments," some of which are really pretty minor. Because, you know? I don't need someone telling me I should be proud of what I've done. I usually don't go.

I'm especially not going this year.

It's a themed party.

a 1970s themed party.

It is being recommended that we dress in 70s style outfits.

I am heartily sorry but I really have no desire to go to a party, with all the people I work with, from everywhere on campus, and sit in an overheated room for 3 hours and listen to speeches after eating rubbery chicken while wearing some kind of polyester monstrosity.

What is more, I don't even HAVE any 1970s inspired clothing. I was 10 in 1979 and even were the clothes I wore at that time appropriate for an adult to wear, they wouldn't still fit me. I have no desire to go out and purchase something specifically for a "70s party."

I know, I know, I could do the back-to-the-lander-hippie thing with jeans and a t-shirt with some kind of "message" on it and put my hair in twin braids, but meh.

(maybe I could have a tie-dyed t-shirt made with the words "Down With False Nostalgia," or, better yet - look up the name of some disastrous trade/foreign policy from the 70s, and have "Down With [that policy]" on a t-shirt. But meh, more effort than I want to go to for an evening of sitting in a room watching people pat themselves on the back)

I really have no desire to relive the 70s, even for a night. My memories of the 70s consist mainly of being teased in school, of spending a long time in the backseat of my dad's car waiting in gas lines, lots of snow, really ugly clothes, and having my dad holler at my brother and me "turn off those lights! Do you think we're made of money?"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Win, win, win!

Hahahahahahahahaha. That is the absolute, perfect, (il)logical extension of the I Can Has Cheezburger phenomenon.

(Seriously, they should have just ended it after that one; it is too perfect, to much a summing-up. There is little they can do after this that would be more perfect.

In fact, I am a bit surprised that the universe did not collapse in upon itself a little after that photo was posted).

Oh, in case there are folks who DON'T waste copious hours of free time on the Internets: cheezburger in a can. Yes, it is a real (German) product.

Yes, from "I can has cheezburger" to "I has can cheezburger" in about a year and two months. There is something peculiarly satisfying (to the more Rain Man-like part of my personality, anyway) about the completeness of that.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

another thing I love.

Okay, I've calmed down a little since that earlier outburst. (It helps that the tosspot spammers have apparently moved on; at least I'm not getting any more "you bad person you, sending us spam!" bouncebacks).

But I have to mention another thing I love all to pieces, especially in this era of high gas prices and my having little time to go out and shop:

I love Amazon Prime.

Yes, it's kind of expensive - I think it's $79 for a year. But that gives you free all-you-can-use access to 2-day shipping on most books, cds, and dvds. Even to addresses that aren't you can use it to send gifts to people.

The most recent thing I ordered, just today? Season 2 of "House" on dvd. I debated about it a long time - I MIGHT be able to get it cheaper at Target, but I don't know when I'm going to be going out driving that direction (it's an hour's round trip) next. And I've almost run through Season 1 even though I kind of save and "dole out" episodes to myself so I don't blow through the new-to-me episodes all at once.

It's been only about a year and a half that I've even HAD a dvd player; I'm slowly learning the joys of having one. I love the idea of being able to buy whole runs of television shows I like. I love being able to find obscure movies and obtain copies of them.

Oh, I had a VCR before. But the tapes can wear out if you watch them too much; they're big and unwieldy; there's no good way to skip ahead to another section. And more stuff can be fit on a dvd than on VHS tape. And the reproduction quality seems better to me (that might just be because I have a better tv now).

But I was talking about Amazon Prime. I love that I can decide, kind of on a whim, that I want a book or a cd or a dvd, and instead of having to wait until I have time to drive somewhere to buy it (or hope one of the local stores, like wal-mart has it - which, with books at least, generally the answer is "no"), I can order it and have it show up on my doorstep in 2 days. Wonderful. What brave new world with such people in it, and all that.

It's a really wonderful thing for those of us who live in the 'sticks' where the option of running to Border's or Barnes and Noble's or the local indie bookstore ISN'T an option because these things don't exist in our towns.

And there's something oddly comforting, oddly self-caring, about being able to order a book you want, and come home from work some afternoon, and hey presto, there it is, waiting for you.

(Much of my "disposable income" goes to books these days. And dvds. I've never been a "shoe" or "purse" woman; I'm not that big on buying clothing. But books - they are friends that never let me down.)

use your words...

(my mother always used to say that to my brother when he was about to whale on something because he was angry).

And I'm angry. So I'm gonna.

Some fornicating egg-sucking blowhole has somehow grabbed my campus e-mail address and has been using it to send motherlodeing "buy my watches" spam to people...have put it in as a "spoofed" address.

So my work time this morning was interrupted by my having to clear all the blinkin' stinking' rassle-frassen "We knew this was spam so we're bouncing it back to you!!!" messages from people I have NEVER EVEN EVER-LOVIN' MET IN MY LIFE.

So it's not a virus that has ahold of my address book (I also repeated the virus-scan I normally do earlier in the week, with new parameters, just to be sure it wasn't some fracking virus written by a small-gonaded individual of questionably legitimate birth)

So, I'm at a loss for what to do. The campus computer help center is closed for the weekend, and unless they could track down the #$()&*$#$)(#*#$)@(#$@$)(*#@ who stole my e-mail address from somewhere (I'm wondering if maybe one of the mail-lists I'm on got Hoovered), there's not a lot to be done.

I feel really really beyond horrible about this, and I'm fearful that someone that I maybe know...or worse, someone I might submit a journal article getting whacked with this argle-bargle spam.

Seriously, I think people caught doing this should be hung by their thumbs (or other convenient appendages) and be made available for their victims to pelt them with rotten vegetables. Then, once they're good and covered with slimy zucchini goo, they should be cut down and made to wear a sandwich board with the words "I am a no-good sheep's-rear-kissing spam-lover" while they walk long, long stretches of the highway picking up litter. And they should also get to watch while their computers and servers (if they even OWN servers instead of parasitizing others') are hauled out into the desert and blown up by the guys from Mythbusters. And they're forced to watch several replays of Adam Savage giggling like a madman as he pulls the trigger. (And Adam and Company would be given free rein on how they choose to effect the destruction: simple explosives, or by salami rocket, or by hot-water-heater pressure bomb...)

And then, the spammers would be stripped naked, coated in honey, and made to sit on an anthill for a few hours to think about what they've done...

Okay, I feel better now.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Stuff I love

(This is partly inspired by the lists of "5 things" Kate sometimes posts).

This is just a random list of things right now that I can think of that make me happy and why.

1. Getting into bed at night, having it be quiet, my bedside lamp making a little puddle of light for me to read by. I love it because everything's peaceful and RIGHT, I'm doing something I love, and I can relax.

2. Driving out in the country, being all alone on the highway

3. Something I saw at lunch today: I was on another campus for a volunteer activity and as part of it we got free lunch in the cafeteria. As I was eating, I watched a young Black man get his food, start walking across the cafeteria. Suddenly, one white guy at a table with a mix of guys and girls (all white) yelled out "HEY! Toby! Over here! Come eat with us!". Toby walked over, smiled at the guy, said, "Hey, man, what's up?" and high fived the guy who called to him. Then one of the girls got up and hugged Toby. And he sat down and all the kids ate together, talking, friends.

That might not have happened fifty years ago - or it certainly would have been far less likely.

4. Doing laundry. It's a fairly easy task (I have a washer and dryer in my house - no laundromats for me!), it feels purposeful, the clean dry clothes coming out of the dryer smell good.

5. Pasta bars. Where you can walk up and ask the person cooking for "mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, Italian sausage, no onions please" and they'll cook up what you want for you.

6. Having a small quilt shop right in the downtown where I live - less than 5 minutes from me.

7. Getting a package of stuff I ordered in the mail. (Sock yarn, if you must know. Yes, I knit some of my own socks. I am aware of how absurd that sounds. Yes, I know you can buy socks at the wal-mart. But handknitted socks are really NICE and if you're a little careful with them they last several times as long as commercial socks. I have pairs that are five or six years old and are still in very good shape).

8. Hot chocolate. It's turned surprisingly chilly again here (in the 50s and dampish so the chill goes through you). In a minute I'm going to get up from here and fix dinner and I think I'm going to make some hot chocolate for dessert.

9. Grilled cheese. I don't eat it often because of the fat content (and because my stomach's not always happy with the butterfat in cheese), but when I'm able to have one they're always good. American cheese on plain white bread, butter both outsides of the bread, pop it in a frying pan, cook a couple minutes on each side - so simple but so comforting.

10. Being able to get into pajamas and put my feet up and relax. It's nice not to have to go running out somewhere tonight, especially with the chilly rain.

Scottish wildcat

(This is partly for Kate, who asked).

Turns out they look a lot like Maine Coon Cats. But pretty tough, big Maine Coon Cats.

Scottish Wildcat conservation. Apparently they're threatened by habitat loss and by crossbreeding with escaped domestic cats.

(I love that even with a simple, cozy mystery novel, there's still something to learn. I didn't know this breed even existed - let alone its history - before reading about Sonsie and feeling driven to look up a little more on these creatures.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

old maids

I'm reading one of the "Hamish MacBeth" mysteries right now - Scots policeman who apparently turns the credit for solving hard cases over to others so he can keep his comfortable quiet position in Lochdubh rather than be promoted to somewhere else.

It's the first book that I've read in this series (not the first book OF the series; it was just one I picked up really cheaply at a used-book store. But now I think I will go back and read more of them).

Well, one of the things that comes up in the book is that MacBeth is beginning to think of himself as being akin to an old maid - he's not married, the various love affairs he had in the past fizzled for various reasons. What really brings it home to him is when he realizes he's letting his odd-looking dog and tame wildcat (and I wonder what a Scots wildcat looks like - is it like a little bobcat, or does it look like a Norwegian forest cat?) sleep on the bed with him.

And he's kind of horrified, and virtually decided to ask the woman he's been very casually seeing socially to marry him. (And as it turns out later on in the book - without spoiling too much - that marriage becomes impossible and his infatuation was ill-advised).

And I was thinking about that last night before bed. I AM an old maid. Never married, over 25 (over 35 for that matter), have an independent life. In some ways I even fit the stereotype: my main social activities revolve around church. I knit and sew. I like to put my feet up in the evening and read a book. I don't like movies with sex or large amounts of cursing in them. I am a prude in many ways.

And you know? There's nothing at all wrong with that.

I like my life.

It is a good life. I am very blessed.

My life is quiet and calm and relatively free of bad drama. I may not be raising biological children, but I am hopefully having some sort of beneficial impact on youth and young adults through teaching and youth group. I enjoy my work. I will hopefully leave this world a slightly better place than it would have been had I not been in it. Even if it's just by picking up litter on my street occasionally.

And this is one of those slightly epiphantic moments that I've had the past few years - perhaps the closest I'll come to a midlife crisis is to shed a lot of the unhelpful sorts of silliness I had when I was younger (please God). But realizing that I am HAPPY with my life, not MISERABLE, and that whatever society says about unmarried women over 30 and their problems and their hangups and their probable neuroses-of-a-sexual-nature is not true of me. I'm not desperate to find a man. I don't feel like I'm wasting my life.

Sure, in an alternate universe, it would be NICE to be happily married with children. But that wasn't in the cards for me, for whatever reason (And I'm assuming at 39 - even if I met someone tomorrow and we had a very quick courtship, children probably wouldn't be in the cards for me at this point). But there are a lot of worse things I could be. A single mom with multiple kids each with a different father, none of whom I was married to at any point, trying to scrape to get by, comes to mind.

And so, this is another one of those "society can go get stuffed" moments: society can go get stuffed for telling me that as a single woman over 30 I'm probably really very screwed up in some very strange ways, and that I should be desperately sad that I don't have a man warming my bed each night (and that, to society, in many cases, it matters little whether that man is married to me or not - that it's better to sleep with ANYONE than it is to sleep alone).

Because, as I said before: minimal amounts of bad drama. And you know? That's kind of the tradeoff. You can have an "exciting" life, but with it comes all kinds of tsuris. Or you can have a life where you are so predictable and consistent that when you fail to show up at 7 am the day after vacation, your colleagues figure you must have had some sort of travel delay and go ahead and cancel your classes for you.

And you know? Despite what society seems to say about "exciting" versus "predictable" lives, I like my life. I like the quiet and stability. I think they are highly under-rated in our society.

My life is pretty simple: I get up in the morning. I work out. I get cleaned up, put on my little dress or little skirt and top (or jeans and a blouse if I'm taking a lab out in the field). I go to work. I prep for my classes. I teach. I work a little bit on research. I gab with my colleagues. I go home around 4 or 5, fix a salad or something for dinner, maybe take a shower or do a load of laundry. I maybe watch a little tv if something good's on, or if not, I listen to music and read a book or sew or knit. I get into bed between 8:30 and 9, read for a while, then I go to sleep.

On the weekends I sometimes go antiquing. Or I bake bread. Or I work on a research paper. Or I go to a student art show at the campus gallery. Sunday I go to church; Sunday afternoon I rest and usually work on a quilt.

And it's a good life. Some might call it boring. Some might roll their eyes at how consistent I am in my schedule. But it is good. It is right for me; it works. I just don't quite understand why there seem to be so many in the entertainment and commentary world who are quick to dismiss or ridicule my lifestyle - I do not know if they've tried it or not, but if they haven't, I don't think ridicule is very fair.

As I said before: I think peace and quiet are highly under-rated in our society. So I choose to celebrate the peace and quiet I have in my nice little old-maid life.

strange error message

I don't know but if this showed up on my office printer (which is the same model as the one in the photo), I think I'd have to take it out to a field and go all "Office Space" on its *ss.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

a thought

I DID get to have Easter with my parents, something that's not been possible in almost 10 years. And that was good. We went to church together, we sang the old hymns together, then we went out for a fantastic brunch at one of the super-nice but under-rated (and therefore, usually not crazy-busy) restaurants in my parents' town.

One thing I always think of, with the traditional statement-and-response at Easter, is the power of faith, of how it keeps people going, of how people hold onto it even when they are persecuted for it or when it is forced underground.

Perhaps, even, some people's faith becomes even stronger in the face of having to carry it out "underground," in the face of official (or unofficial) opposition.

I'm reminded of the story Madeleine L'Engle recounted, during the Communist era in the Soviet Union. A party official had given a long (apparently "attendance required" for the townsfolk) speech promoting Communism and degrading religion. The old opiate-of-the-masses-and-you-are-all-too-sophisticated-for-that-childish-drivel stuff.

And then an old priest asked if he could get up and say three words.

The official allowed him to - thinking, I am sure, "What can this old fool say in three words that is better than my long and eloquent speech?"

And the priest got up. And surveyed the people for a moment. And proclaimed, "Christ is risen!"

And the people, almost as a single voice, responded, "He is risen indeed!"

That story always gives me hope and joy - that even when what is beautiful and true is trampled in the dust, it will spring up again.

Easter is kind of like Thanksgiving - there's not a whole lot of messy trappings around the holiday (like there is around Christmas). Yeah, there are the dyed eggs and the chocolate bunnies but they seem to only be a small part. The meaning is the biggest part of the day. It's also like Thanksgiving in that it gives a chance to stop, reflect, and catch your breath. And maybe be caught up a little short by the way you've been acting or the attitudes you've had.

Other than that? It's really good to be home. After traveling, there are so many things I am grateful for - my own bed, my own clean bathroom (after 18 hours on a bus, a clean bathroom is a lovely thing indeed), a chance to put my stuff away, my colleague who put up signs notifying students of my absence when it turned out the secretary had an emergency and couldn't be in...

(I had asked my mom to call the secretary, and when I found out she wasn't in - through a panicked cell-phone call from a truck stop in Arkansas, nowhere near my destination - I gave my mom the only other number I could remember, the guy I co-teach a class with, and she got him. And he told her to relay the message to me that I was not to worry, he had it well in hand, even down to letting my TA know that lab was cancelled, and these kind of foul-ups happened to everyone. He also said to me today, "I knew why your mom was calling - when I saw that your car wasn't in the lot Monday morning, I knew you had to have had travel problems." I guess being annoyingly consistent in your behaviors is a good thing; people will look out for you when something's atypical.)

Even the persnickety motor-pool lady, whom I had to call and leave a message with to tell her to cancel my van for Monday afternoon's lab and explained why, left me a voice-mail message saying she was "praying for my safe return through the floods." I had made fun of her persnicketiness (well, not to her face) in the past, I may not be so quick to do that now...

Monday, March 24, 2008


Break was good.

I do not recommend, however, traveling during a time of multiple "weather events." Mostly due to the floods in Missouri and Arkansas, my trip home was such that I expected John Candy* and Steve Martin to show up at any moment.

(*yes, I know he's dead. At one point while trapped on a bus that was playing the movie "Boiling Point" on endless loop for the "entertainment" of people who apparently do not need sleep, I said to myself, "I've died, and by some horrible clerical error, have wound up in Hell."

And - "Boiling Point"? what the heck? I'm sorry, but is there a WORSE movie to show on a bus when some of the passengers are trying to sleep? Nice, quiet talky parts interspersed by loud screamed obscenities, gunfire, and bad renditions of 40s music played way too loud?

I hate Dennis Hopper EVEN MORE now.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

s.y.g., i.g.h.

I used to watch South Park.

I don't so much any more - I just got tired of the crudeness and the general gleeful "let's be as rude and insulting as we possibly can!" (some of the earlier episodes - like the Chinpokomon one - actually had some funny social commentary, but it seems recently when I try to watch it, it's just sort of gross humor and "phoning it in")

Anyway. I remember one of Cartman's lines from an episode:

"Screw you guys; I'm goin' home."

(which he repeated later on as "Screw you....home" while pointing in the general direction of his house).

I've kind of adopted that line for the end of a hard week, or especially the day when I go on vacation.

(Never mind that going on vacation isn't technically going "home." Perhaps it's going "home" in a state-of-mind, of being able to relax. But whatever, I'm not into splitting linguistic hairs).

And I feel it now. I'm trying to get some papers graded but suspect I won't succeed. Because the childish part of my mind is jumping up and down and going "screw this! you're goin' on vacation!" (and yes, almost in a perfect Eric Cartman voice.)

But I do want to do it - so I won't have to do it when I come back, so my students can get their grades from the online grade thingie right away if they want it. So I'm gonna have to stuff down my inner Eric Cartman and get back to work.

biting the wax tadpole

I have no idea if there's going to be an FFOT tomorrow today (last night stupid went down like a binge-drinking fratboy after his skateboard wheel hit a crack in the pavement); it seems that "It Comes in Pints" may be disabled a while longer (if not permanently).

So I have my list here. Because it's been one of those weeks, folks.

Because I try to keep the language on here mostly PG-13, or at least no worse than you'd hear on the most strongly-cautioned episode of The Simpsons, I decided I needed a good euphemism for that action that the FFOT alludes to.

It hit me today, as I was pulling out of my drive this yesterday morning (and luckily it hit me, instead of my hitting my pecan tree, which is once again hard to avoid because you can't SEE at 6:45 am now). Anyway: my euphemism for that particular anatomical impossibility is related to a (supposed) literal translation of the brand name Coca Cola in Mandarin.

Mandarin is a tonal language. As far as I understand that, it means that the inflection of your voice when you speak changes the meaning of a phrase or word - sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly.

So anyway, depending on how you pronounce it (supposedly; as I said, this is an apocryphal story), Coca-cola translates to either "bite the wax tadpole" or "Female horse stuffed with wax."

Well, "bite the wax tadpole" sounds unpleasant enough, and it's close enough in spirit (at least, in my twisted psyche), for it to substitute.

So, with no further ado, here is the list of fornicating fornicators (thanks, Val!) who can bite the wax tadpole this week:

Daylight saving time can bite the wax tadpole. Because I do not like driving to work in the dark. Driving to work in the dark feels wrong. It feels like going on a nice date with a guy you met just recently and at the end of the evening, finding out that the "nice guy" was actually Courtney Love, in a suit, with her boobs duct-taped to her chest and burnt cork rubbed on her chin to simulate 5:00 shadow. And that there's an MTV film crew hiding behind a potted palm at the restaurant to tape your reaction. (Shudder. I apologize for that mental image to all the hetero ladies out there. Heck, to all the gay ladies, for that matter - my guess is Courtney Love is probably none of y'alls dream girl, especially not Courtney Love in drag).

And Congress, for extending the horror that is DST, can bite the wax tadpole. I am guessing that many of their days do not start before 9 am, so they are totally unaware of how flipping miserable it is to truck out of your house and feel like it's still midnight, because the sun won't be up for almost another hour.

And anyone who claims it "saves energy" - you may also have a bite of that wax tadpole, because I honestly cannot see HOW. I still am awake from 5 am until about 7:50 am when the sun comes up. Last week I could turn the lights off at, say, 7:15 am. This week I must wait until 8:15 am for it to be bright enough to do that. Yes, when I come home at the end of the day, instead of switching the lights on at 7 pm, I switch them on at 8 pm...but I do not see any net savings. And there actually was a study - I think in Indiana? - showing that it had no effect on heating and a/c, because when you get up early in the cold winter (which is SUPPOSED to be Standard Time), you turn up the heat, and when you come home in the summer, and it's still blazing hot because the sun's still out, you turn up the a/c.

Oh, I also remember reading somewhere that the oil companies liked DST and pushed for it because they thought that extra hour of light would get people out tooling around in their cars in the evening. (Maybe not so much now, in the era of $3.25 a gallon gas). But there's not much energy saved there!

Other things that have been a burr under my saddle this week:

Time bandits can bite the wax tadpole. Look, I don't care that you're retired and have nowhere to go, and so this supposedly 4 pm to 5 pm meeting is your social time and you'd love to stretch it out until 6 - some of us are dead tired from our days and we don't care about your discussion of the arcane members of the town's leading families. We don't want to hear about your other volunteer work. Yes, yes, you get a nice gold star for it, now can we move on?

People who change the rules without notifying the people likely to be affected can take a big hard munch of that tadpole. This happened on campus this week - someone changed something important, something that affects me and several of the other faculty in my department, and I only heard about it second-hand. The claim has been made that the change was made in January, but NONE OF US WERE TOLD. So now we have to scramble to fix things that we could have easily fixed if the power-mad individual in charge of this particular decision could have been non-passive-aggressive for two minutes and actually e-mailed us a heads up. And for that, not only does the person get a bite of that petrolatum tadpole for screwing us over, they also get a second mouthful of wax for being a Time Bandit. Because several of us had to go into emergency find-a-fix mode, which none of us could really afford to do today.

Assessment can bite the tadpole, big-time. Look, isn't it enough that our students graduate, that they get into professional schools (including some pretty damn good professional schools), that they get good jobs in their field, that we have some pretty highly places graduates in various state agencies? Why do we have to keep writing BS "pre test post tests" where we're testing the poor kids to death, and where we now have subtle pressure to "teach to the test" instead of teaching what is really the right thing to teach. I've said it before and I'll say it again: you can't spell "assessment" without A-S-S.

People who drive slowly, and wavering all over the street, because they are talking on a cell phone can chomp down on the paraffin polliwog. Just because you are in a RESIDENTIAL area and are not out in the DANGEROUS TRAFFIC of a main thoroughfare, does not give you the right to weave all over the road and be a dangerous block to the people coming up behind you (and for that matter - be a hazard to the kids walking home from school in the neighborhood). If you can't walk and chew gum at the same time, hang up and drive.

So that's been my week. Thanks be to all that is good that next week is my Spring Break.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

less explodey

First, this:

Except the pedant in me says "mitosis only leads to two cell products; meiosis [and only meiosis in males at that] is what leads to four cells." But of course, meiotically-produced cells have only half the I guess mitosis is probably more appropriate there.


Second, youth group made me feel better. Sometimes I need to get out and away from the laser-like intense focus of my work on campus.

The kids were reasonably well-behaved tonight (we've been having about 15). True, they're not PERFECT - there's a lot of giggling over in-jokes that were made at school, and faces being made at people across the table, but they were better than they were some weeks.

My lesson was on "happiness," or, a better term, contentment. I kind of based it on the Beatitudes and also on the verse out of Matthew about gaining your life by losing it (taking the tack of when you die to yourself, you open up more possibilities than you would have by being selfish and me-me-me all the time). I used a quotation from the Phillip Yancey book I'm reading right now (Hi, Tracey!) where he talks about how many of the famous people he had interviewed were flat miserable because they didn't have the chance to be involved with something "bigger than them," or by extension, they saw themselves as the center of the universe, and that's not a real fun place to be for very long.

(One of the kids didn't want to believe that rich people could be unhappy, but I think maybe I convinced him. Because I knew some very rich people in high school who were AWFULLY miserable. And my own family - though we had enough to get by comfortably, we weren't rich, not like the other kids at my school. But we were pretty happy.)

But what really made me feel better was the game time after the lesson.

The one thing that rehabilitates DST a little for me is that now it's not dark yet when we're done with the lesson, so we can take the kids out for a while to play games outside, instead of playing board games (which some like but some don't) or billiards (yes, we have a billiards table in the youth room. Alert the River City Citizens for Morality...)

The church is a couple blocks from the local middle school and after hours kids are welcome to run around in the schoolyard if they're supervised. So we took them over there.

So the kids went out, and some elected to toss a softball around, and some chose to play a variant of touch football (with fewer people and a tap on the shoulder counted as a "tackle").

And you know, after all the bad news I've heard - bad news close to me and bad news in the world at large - this week, it comforted me a lot to see a bunch of kids running around in a schoolyard throwing a football around, or playing catch. There's something so NORMAL about it - and right now, so many things have happened around me that don't seem normal, that don't seem right, that it's comforting to see something so ordinary and so normal.

I don't know if that really makes sense to anything but me but it did remind me that the sun comes up every morning, that the stuff that's getting to me right now will either go away or I will adjust to eventually, and that kids still enjoy running around and shouting and tossing footballs...

great googly moogly

If I make it through this week without my head exploding or without my dissolving in tears/anger in front of some random person who doesn't deserve it, it will be a blessed miracle.

EVERYONE around me has suddenly become Super-Demanding I-Want-It-No-I-NEED-It-Now person.

And on top of the fact that I'm running in circles trying to take care of the stupid but necessary things before leaving for Spring Break (like getting to the post office to have my mail held), and the fact that I'm effing EXHAUSTED from the time change and my allergies, I am NOT happy.

No, I will not look up your little gripe in the textbook. You should have been in class the day I defined that term. Yes, it is not in the textbook. But I defined it in class.

No, I will not have the exams graded by tonight. I have to teach a two-hour afternoon class AND do youth group AND find some time to sleep in the next 12 hours. I'm so sorry but my life does not revolve around your grade.

NO, I cannot have a "special emergency meeting" now. It is not my emergency and I do not think it is one bit special, and I don't have time to meet anyway.

Why does all this junk come up when I'm already overwhelmed and running on empty?

I guess so....

Find out how totally 80's are you at LiquidGeneration!

Actually, I was sort of a big nerd in high school (that was in the 80s.) If I had wanted an "alternative" mode of being, I probably would have been an Emo Kid, except Emo Kids didn't exist yet, at least where I went to high school.

But I guess in its own strange way, New Wave is kind of a counterpart to Emo. At least it's weird. I'd've hated to have come up a "Heather" or something like that.

(Oh, and New Wave always makes me think of "Maybe I'm new wave." "Maybe you're just stupid" from Calvin and Hobbes.)

mean, but what the heck....

In my volunteer life, I act as a judge of science fairs. Mainly my state's "big" science fair, the one that the best projects go to, so they tend to be pretty good.

The problem is - a lot of the kids (and these are mostly 6th through 8th graders with a smaller number of high school students) are taught that you need to have a catchy, preferably punning, title, to grab people's attention.

And a lot of these kids are - since we're in the rural south here - from pretty sheltered backgrounds.

So once in a while, there's a title that's unintentionally funny, or a title that makes you a little bit horrified if you think of the full ramifications of it.

But (and here comes the mean part), I don't think I've ever seen titles quite as bad as those featured in 41 hilarious science experiments.

(At least one of those is Photoshopped. And a lot of them rely on the unintentional humor of words like "wood"). Most horrifying title? "Crystal Meth: Friend or Foe?"

Um, I think I can decide on "foe" without a tri-fold posterboard presented under unflattering fluorescent light...

(Although I have to admit some of those - like "Drop it like it's hot" were probably presented with humor on the part of the students, so maybe it's better to laugh with them than at them. Though in a few cases, possibly laughing AT is justified...)

Monday, March 10, 2008


I find myself, these past few days, craving reading.

Now, normally, reading is a good-sized part of my life - I read at work. I read work-type stuff at home. I read for fun. I read because I want to learn stuff.

But right now - and this often happens when I'm under a lot of stress - it's almost a physical need. Like how you need to sleep when you're sick.

I've kind of put aside fiction for now - oh, I'll come back to Pickwick Papers in a couple days, I'm sure. But when I'm really distressed, I sort of like FACT. I like not having to deal with drama (even the very minor and usually comic drama of something like Pickwick Papers). I'm reading Thomas Cahill's book on Ancient Greece (and now I'm wanting to pull out the copy of Plato's "Republic" that I saved from Great Books - mainly because I liked the pretense of having Plato on my bookshelf - but now I do want to re-read it. And I want to read the copy of The Peloponnesian War that I bought in a "new exciting translation" five years ago and haven't gotten 'round to yet).

There's something oddly comforting to me about reading about events that took place thousands of years ago. And yet, kind of not.

In a way, it's kind of like reading the Pauline letters. Part of me is relieved that whatever problems my church is facing, whatever's screwed up in society, people nearly 2000 years ago faced the same problems and saw the same screwed-upped-ness. But on the other hand - it's kind of aggravating, like "We've put a man on the moon and invented flush toilets and we still treat each other in the same way that we did when we were crapping out on the street and thought the moon had rabbits in it?"

There's a quotation - I don't remember it exactly - from The Once and Future King that goes something like "the cure for sadness is to learn something." And I've found that to be true - if I can keep my mind busy trying to differentiate between the beliefs of the pre-Socratics and the Socratics and the Pythagoreans (and you wanna hear about a freaky bunch? Read about the practices of the Pythagoreans - they were this weird silence-loving non-bean-eating commune of early math geeks), I'm less likely to focus on what's happening to people around me and to ask that horrible question What's going to become of us?, which seems to crop up in my head too often these days.

I think it also helps that the last time I really thought about ancient Greece - at least in terms of the philosophers and literature - was Great Books in college, 20 years ago now. Twenty years ago my life was different, and while it was not necessarily better, there were things I worry about now that I didn't worry about then. I still believed in true love then, I still thought I would, in fact, meet my Soul Mate and live happily ever after. I thought I'd take a particular class and a dove would descend from Heaven and sit on my shoulder and I'd know that subject was what I was supposed to study for the rest of my life. I still believed that if I hit on the right combination of foods, I'd magically become slim, or at least smaller than a size 10. I was pretty naive.

But somehow, reopening that part of my mind again comforts me.

I also want to start reading a bunch of other books. I want to find the Thursday Next sequels I bought over a year ago, and re-read the original book and then the sequels. And I want to (finally) read all of the Harry Potter oeuvre.

It's funny, but I do tend to retreat into non-fiction and fantasy when I need a retreat.

Right after September 11, 2001, the only thing I could read - don't laugh - was a set of Mary Norton's "Borrowers" novels. I had recently bought the set - I belonged to a book club called "Bookspan" in those days; they had fairly reasonably priced hardbacks and it was an opt-in club, meaning you didn't have to send back some darn card or risk getting the Selection of the Month. And they reprinted a lot of the classic children's novels: I bought all the Mary Poppins books from them as well.

But anyway. The last time I had read "The Borrowers," I had been about nine. And opening those books again - not unlike learning about ancient Greece again - sort of re-opened a door in my mind, or maybe a gate, that led down a path, to who I used to be when I was nine.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I didn't regress or anything - I didn't wind up sitting on the floor with a bunch of My Little Ponies or develop a strong desire to eat Spaghetti-os while watching the Smurfs - but it was almost like I could have a glimpse, again, of who I used to be when I was nine.

(Even though I had all the same problems, all the same sadnesses, of other children, I pretty much liked who I was as a kid. I was pretty genuine, and creative, and funny, and smart. So getting to "see" that kid again comforted me).

It reminded me, I guess, that things were not always thus: that I didn't always live in a world where horrible and unexpected things could happen between your first and second class of the day.

And I guess that's what this kind-of regressive reading is doing for me - it's reminding me of a time when I, maybe, had more hope that my life was going to turn out the way I wanted it to, instead of my having to adapt myself to how it, in fact, is turning out. Where I hadn't yet seen the full panoply of crap that people do to each other. When I wasn't quite so tired and worn, before I had gray in my hair and lines around my eyes. A time back before my problems with insomnia started (I can trace my first attack of insomnia back to 1991. April 1991 to be exact). A time when I lived in a big city and it was still exciting and fun and full of possibilities and I could kind of overlook the fact that I was getting panhandled on nearly every corner and there were men who would go and pee against the wall of a CHURCH that my apartment faced (and yes, I was pretty scandalized the first time I saw that).

The thing is - it is kind of like looking at that time over a garden gate. I remember what it felt like, I remember what it was like thinking the world was just opening up and any wonderful thing could happen. But I can't quite cross that gate again; I can't quite get back there. And so my reading - even though I'm happy when I'm doing it, because my mind is diverted, when I'm thinking about it (like now, between classes), it makes me a little sad, because it's indicative of a time I won't get back.

that's it.

I am officially writing off 2008.

I now expect that the rest of 2008 will be a crap year based on stuff from the first three months. Anything good that happens this year will be a bonus, anything more bad that happens, I will just expect it. Because this year seems like it's just going to be a bad year for me.

The last year I had like this was 2004, when I lost several people I cared about and when I had a close relative diagnosed with cancer.

with the heat of 1000 blazing suns (that have not risen yet)

I LOATHE daylight saving time.


This is because I go to work at 7 am. It had been just light, the sun coming up, feeling like the day was beginning.

But now - today - it was the dead inky dark of night. I try not to personalize things but I feel almost as if the clammy, greasy hand of some Congress-critter has reached out to slap me in the face - because this is the first year for the "new special extension" of DST.

(They could, I think, at the very least, not require us to pay income taxes on income earned during this week).

This has also reactivated my periodic insomnia - any kind of jet-laggy messing with my schedule will do that. So not only did I get one hour of sleep stolen from me, I lost several more because my body's all mucked up.

And don't speak to me of "more hours of daylight in the afternoon." I frequently work late into the day - until 7 pm or so. I often have evening meetings that require me to sit in a windowless room while I know that SOMEWHERE, some idle soul is out playing golf. Or tennis. Or is out hiking. That "extra hour" of sunlight (which was STOLEN from my morning, thankyouverymuch) doesn't usually benefit me because I'm busy during that time.

And besides, since I get up at 5, by 8 pm I'm really ready to fold up for the day. You're not going to get me out playing sand volleyball or some damn thing. (Oh, great - I see what's coming next. DST will be recruited to fight "Teh Waaar on Obesity!!11!!" because people can be exhorted to use that "extra" hour of daylight to run around and get all sweaty. (Never mind that exercising within a couple hours of bedtime is a bad idea for people prone to insomnia.)

So I see DST as no net gain, and in fact, a net loss.

(And weekends don't count. Especially here, where in the summer it gets hot as Hades during the 10 am until 4 pm time-frame, so you still have to haul your backside out of bed early if you want to mow the lawn or cultivate a flowerbed without dying).

So: cranky today.

Doubly cranky because I discovered something in the copy room. Remember how I've been bitching about how I seem to be the only one who ever goes to get paper for the printer/copier when it runs out? Well, while waiting on a print run this morning I idly opened the doors of the cabinets in there - cabinets I assumed were unused as this room has been repurposed from something else.

And what did I discover, but a secret stash of copier paper, placed there (apparently) by one of my colleagues, so he will not have to run and get paper when the copier or printer runs out.

Gee, thanks. Nice for telling me. Nice for offering to help when I'm being pulled in fifteen directions at once and the damn printer runs out of paper two minutes before I'm due in class (BECAUSE YOU USED ALL THE PAPER PREVIOUSLY) and I have to almost break the sound barrier to get paper and get everything I need for that class printed, and you HEARD me complaining about how I'm "the only one who ever gets paper."

Of course, now, I face the ethical dilemma - I am not 100% sure this is not someone's private, self-purchased supply of paper (we have one person who's working on a textbook and at one point he said something about buying paper to use for his revisions). So do I leave it, pretend I didn't see it, and maybe have to keep running across the building every time the person ahead of me uses the last piece of paper, or do I take from the supply, figuring it's not in a locked cabinet, it doesn't have "Dr. X's private paper supply" written on the box, and after all, I've been fetching more than my share of paper?

Or do I do the same - get a "private stash" from the store room and keep it (maybe in my office) so I don't always have to run to get paper.

I don't know but I will say the idea of someone keeping a "secret" stash of paper just so they don't have to run to get new paper - and then not telling people who are in a big, big hurry that there's replacement paper close at hand - irks me a little bit. I used to keep a "secret" stash but everyone knew about the "stash" wound up being depleted kind of fast.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


I am SO STINKING GLAD I am going away for spring break week after next.

I got some more bad news today - bad stuff happening to friends of mine. And it's really getting me down. People never fail to amaze me in their capacity to hurt each other. And their capacity to willfully misunderstand. And their capacity to make it all about them.

(This is the point where, when I was younger, I would say "I hate people!!!!!" and immediately dissolve into sobbing.)

I don't know. I'm just really tired and frayed right now. No more bad news, please, for a while, okay? No more people doing stuff that has repercussions that affects everyone in their near circles?

I am normally very touch-averse (almost bordering on Asperger's-touch-averse), but right now I feel like I'd really like a hug.

This week is going to be tough to get through. I'm not going to have a lot of patience for the usual petty junk that people seem to like to treat as if it's a major crisis. The kind of thing that makes me want to say, "You think you've got something to cry about? I'll GIVE you something to cry about."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday morning laughs

If I'm home (and not busy) on Saturday mornings, I usually watch VeggieTales and 3-2-1 Penguins (which are run on NBC now). I know some people roll their eyes at the moralizing, but I like the programs.

And they're frequently quite funny. VeggieTales does some hilarious song-parodies (there was one episode that was a mash-up of Rocky, the Mikado, and sumo wrestling).

3-2-1 Penguins seems aimed at a younger audience, and the Judeo-Christian teachings are less disguised (not that there's anything wrong with that, at least as far as I'm concerned - and I figure people who don't like it can do what I do when I find a show on that offends my sensibilities - in other words, change the channel or turn off the tv).

But they do get off funny lines sometimes.

In today's episode (which was about not pulling mean practical jokes, and as someone who's been the butt of such jokes, I heartily agree), the Penguins were substitute teaching at the Galactic Academy (which is apparently an engineering school for space-ship pilots, navigators, and inventors) and at the same time trying to figure out a mystery - what happened to a hamster who had attended the academy in the past.

Well, while going through the files, the little-girl character (Michelle) and the scientist penguin (Ummm....Fidgel? The names are all a little close for me) found out that the hamster "went bad."

Michelle: "And it looks like he tried to have himself instated as Dean of Evil"
Fidgel: "Hmmmmm....sounds more like a Liberal Arts position to me."

HAHAHAHAhahahahaha. Maybe I find that funnier than it was intended to be, but as someone who works at a university that is very top-heavy in terms of Administrators With Too Much Time on Their Hands, and that has a tendency to create new deanships at will (usually when there's someone they want out of the classroom but can't fire), I found the concept of the Dean of Evil being a Liberal Arts position extremely funny.

(Even though, technically, Biology falls under Liberal Arts in a lot of schools. And it would in mine, though the college I'm in is called Arts and Sciences rather than Liberal Arts.)

(Or maybe it's more funny than it might otherwise be because the Penguins are apparently Australian, and speak in various accents. Except that Fidgel sounds more British Don to me, and the self-centered "captain" (Umm...Zidgel?) sounds American.)

I love cartoons. And fie on anyone who says I'm too old to watch 'em, even the cartoons aimed specifically at kids.

ah but

After that sad last post, I surfed over to one of my favorite sites. And this cheered me up considerably:

Humorous Pictures
Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

Hahahaha. I love giraffes.

sadness and gossip

Friends of mine - a couple - are separated and are likely divorcing.

(I knew about this several weeks ago but was sworn to secrecy - they were still trying to figure out the best way to let the entire circle of acquaintances know. And as these are people who both have careers in the public eye, and this is a small town with the typical small-town "sport" of gossip, they had to be very careful. But they've notified everyone now).

I have a couple of things to say about this:

1. This makes me sad. I hate seeing this happen. I thought they were happy together, but I guess we never really do know what burdens people carry, what difficulties they have.

I suppose in a way it's better than them having public fights or trying to make their friends pick sides. But it's a shock and a bad surprise and it takes me a while to readjust my worldview: "Happy couple - not so much."

The other thing about this is it makes my dream of maybe someday finding someone who's compatible and having a late-in-life (well, for where I live, 39 is late-in-life for a first marriage, and I'm 39 NOW with no suitors on the horizon) marriage that was happy and peaceful. Because, I tend to feel, if people who are as "normal" as the members of this couple can't make a go of it, how can someone as idiosyncratic and messed-up as I am ever manage to forge a life with someone else?

I mean, most of the time, I'm happy as a single - but I still hold out that tiny weak guttering candle of HOPE that maybe I will wind up with someone to "grow old with" as the songs say.

But maybe I've just lived alone for too long. I'm too fond of my free time, too fond of my privacy. (One of the issues the couple mentioned as leading to the separation: because of a recent change in careers, they were spending a lot more time together and they realized there were some fundamental incompatibilities).

And these are not children, these are not selfish, foolish people. These are both intelligent and deeply caring people. The kind of people I'd think could work out marital differences if they were possible to be worked out.

(So again - I'm singing, "What chance have I in love" in my head, seeing as two reasonable, stable, sane grown-ups can't work out their differences.)

But it just makes me kind of sad and a little bereft. I'm sad for them but also sad for the fact that I am telling myself I just have to ACCEPT that I will be alone forever because I'm too weird to work as part of a couple. (Oh, I probably knew that before - the whole situation with M. in my past - but I don't think my eyes were fully open to it, I was able to blame M.'s "immaturity" or the fact that he was looking for something I wasn't able to provide at that point in time...)

Also, at least one member of the couple will probably move away (that's how it's always worked in situations with friends who divorced before), so I'll have one less friend in my life. (And if it's the woman...well, for me, hanging with the divorced guy would be a little weird and would lead to problems with situation #2...)

2. This is going to lead to gossip. I HATE gossip. I don't mind the kind of benign information-passing, like, "Have you heard that T. and J. are going to have another baby?" where the information is generally positive, and while you might not TELL T. or J. that you already KNEW when they came to you and announced that J. was expecting again, still, it's a non-damaging type of gossip.

But it seems like so often, especially in small towns, especially among people who don't have a lot going for them otherwise, gossip gets blown up into a big huge ugly monster. A couple isn't separating because of irreconcilable differences, "no, that's what they're TELLING people but really they're both having affairs left and right and I KNOW it because my cousin's roommate's hairdresser was PROPOSITIONED by the guy, and I heard the woman goes to these swinger's parties that they have in the Big City."

Or -"Did you hear that Youth Coach X is really into kiddy p*rn? EVERYONE knows it." (When Youth Coach X is in fact the father of two of the children in the program, serves with CASA, is totally devoted to his wife, and doesn't even look at Playboy magazine because the thought of seeing a naked woman other than his wife outrages his sensibilities.)

The whole gossip situation in my town - it's almost like "So when did you jet in from Bizarro-world?" Because totally, some of the gossip that goes around, it's like the polar opposite of what is really actually true.

And it makes me worry sometimes, because some of the gossip I have heard, repeated to the "wrong" person, could lead to the subject - with no comprehension as to why it was happening to him or her - being arrested or at the very least, questioned by the police.

And you know? It makes me kind of sick. I don't want to hear bad stuff, even stuff I strongly suspect is false, about people around me. Gossip makes me angry - it seems like such a small-minded, small-HEARTED thing to do to people in your community. I have no idea how such rumors get started, but they seem to grow on their own.

(One of my friends - she and her family have since moved away because her husband was offered his dream job somewhere else - experienced this twice. First, there was a rumor afoot that her husband was a serial philanderer - when some of the nights he was supposedly out "catting around" she knew he was sleeping right next to her in bed. The second one was a rumor that he abused their children. And like she said, if that was happening, she'd KNOW. But she was terrified that the cops would investigate him, which she felt would only give credence to the rumor, even though they'd find no evidence of abuse.

Why did these rumors get started? I don't know. Jealousy, maybe? She and her husband had a happy marriage and a good family. He had a good job. He was kind of a good-looking man and in addition to his 9 to 5 job, he taught karate in town - so maybe it was just because he was in the public eye, maybe some crazy person got fixated on him and started some rumor. Or, hell, I don't know, maybe one of the she-sharks here in town propositioned him and he turned her down ("You KNOW I'm a married man") and she decided to spite him by spreading rumors.

I suspect part of the reason my friend was so quick to encourage her husband to take the job and move with her family was to get away from these small-minds.)

But anyway - it amazes me how gossip has the power to mutate into something so wildly untrue so fast. (Fortunately my friend wasn't too upset over the first rumor - she could laugh off the idea of her husband catting around - but the second one worried her a little because of the potential for DCFS or the cops to get involved).

Some years back, one of the "newsletters" I get had a bit of advice. It was aimed at coping with family holiday gatherings but I think it's generally true when dealing with people. The advice went something like, Before you say something, ask yourself three questions:

1. Is it true?
2. Is it necessary?
3. Is it kind?

And while I can see suspending #3 in "tough love" type cases with relatives, I do think those three rules are generally useful, ESPECIALLY when repeating information about people you know - if you don't know it's 100% true, don't repeat it. If it's information that is more than 2nd hand, or if you don't actually in-person know the person who had the experience being recounted, don't believe it.

I hear so many, "My best friend's cousin's boyfriend's doctor said..." stories that are wild and don't make any sense. People need to use a little of the good old critical thinking.

The other part - is it necessary. That means, is it NECESSARY for the other person to know? I can see, for example, telling a friend of a friend who might encounter either member of this couple "They're separating, I don't know if you knew that" just so they wouldn't cause pain by asking one member of the couple how the other is doing or where they are (if they didn't, for example, show up to have coffee with the friend).

The problem is, so often people seem to think "is it necessary" means "is it necessary to my social status to repeat this?" or "is it necessary for me to win points in the game of life to repeat this?"

And then there's the whole kindness issue. I would regard it as unkind to a person to repeat to them wild, nasty stories about one of their friends. Honestly? If one of my friends is into sexual practices I would regard as peculiar, I really don't need to know. (Only if it were a single guy I was thinking of dating, and probably the information would come out when necessary). I don't want to hear the details of a knock-down-drag-out argument a couple had; it only damages my image of them. I want to believe that people are basically reasonable and kind, and it kills a little bit of my idealism every time some friend-of-a-friend feels the need to share their little nuggets of TMI.

I know, I know, in some circles being the first one with gossip gives you some sort of sick status, but I don't care about status.

You know, I think one of the reasons so many famous people have problems is because of gossip. I can't imagine what it would be like to have your every move scrutinized. To have everything you ever order in a restaurant published in some tabloid somewhere. To have things blown up into some big quivering mess - like, if you pop a Claritin because your allergies are bugging you, the news stories come out implying you're on some kind of illicit pills.

It's hard for celebrities - although I suspect on some level they have to prepare themselves for that, being in the public eye - but I suspect it's even tougher for everyday folks - because you don't EXPECT it. I never expect the stuff that I hear is being passed about people I care about (and I find it upsetting even though I'm not involved). I can't imagine what you could do to clear your name after some kind of rumor about how you treat your kids or what you do when you're away from your spouse comes up. I guess you just kind of have to ignore it, or ask your friends to politely squash the misinformation when they hear it.

But it's just so damn petty, and so unnecessary. People who do that need to find a hobby. Something other than trying to disrupt other's lives to make themselves look good.

Friday, March 07, 2008

seen at The Anchoress:


Yeah, I'm fairly proud of myself. Remember, I grew up in the era after "social studies" had taken the place of geography and history, so I consider myself "handicapped" relative to the folks who had REAL Geography.

food fountains...

(Not to be confused with Foo Fighters...)

Another site linked to the nacho fountain that I posted about the other day, with a few other pointers: apparently some brands of fountains work better than others (one even comes with a viscosity-testing funnel so you can try out any semiliquid food you want). Oh, there are also the necessary-on-any-thread-of-this-nature detractors, saying stuff like "That's so gross!" or "Did you ever think about the BACTERIA something like that could pick up" (at least that's what I assume the first commenter, with her remark about "heated up and exposed to air, then mixed back in...") Well, you don't have to eat it.

One person made mention of a caramel fountain. I must pause here to emit a Homer Simpson-esque "Mmmmmmm......arrrrrrrrgggggghhh" and drool. Because: Caramel. Fountain. Can you imagine how awesome that could be? (With the right caramel; it needs to have a little salt in it, and be made with real sugar instead of HFCS so it's not make-your-teeth-retract-in-horror sweet. But the right kind of creamy, buttery, not-to-sweet caramel....that could be heaven. In a fountain.)

Someone needs to dream up a "Food Fountain Party" - with fountains of nachos, and maybe one of really, really hot broth so you could do something like a Chinese hot pot, and various beverage fountains, and maybe a garlic-butter fountain for dunking bread and vegetables in, and of course, caramel and chocolate fountains for dessert.

Too lowbrow, you say? Too gimmicky? Ah, but that's what makes it so wonderful - there is a point where "too gimmicky" becomes so gimmicky, so tasteless, that it transcends the whole issue of style and taste and becomes a wonderful phenomenon unto itself.


If Emily hasn't managed to beat the Hosting Matters guy into submission by today (I don't know how many more body parts he can withstand having ripped off), it looks like the FFOT will be at the Coalition of the Swilling.

I suspect both Ken and Emily will have particularly choice ones for today.

Me, not so much - it's been a good week, got a lot of "important" research done. (Scare quotes because it's "important" mostly to me; it's not like I'm working on a cure for stupidity or something. Though some days I wish I was).

I guess the one thing I could say is "F" cancer, yet again. And that I hope Patrick Swayze gives his pancreatic cancer a Roadhouse-style ass-kicking.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I shouldn't laugh, but

I got notification today inviting me to send students to a symposium in Portugal.

It's called Larval 2008.

I know it is supposed to be a symposium on the biology of larvae, but "Larval 2008" sounds more to me like a music festival.

Maybe a music festival you really don't want to go to.

"Larval 2008! Rockin' with Ecdysone*!"

"Larval 2008! Don't eat the brown grubs, people, the brown grubs are bad"

"Larval 2008! You really don't want to feel the creatures that are body surfing!"

(*ecdysone = "molting hormone" - the hormone that makes larvae molt and grow to a bigger size).

thought of the day

One of my colleagues was given a "Herman" (one of those sourdough-starter things). She offered me some of it, with the comment, "You go to church. When it starts doubling, you can give it away to people at church."

I turned her down, mainly because those things tend to be kind of higher-maintenance than what I like to do.

And also - and I even said this to her, she wasn't offended and even thought it was funny: "Those things are kind of the cooking equivalent of a chain letter."

Well, they ARE - you have to divide it and either pass it on or throw it away.

Experimental design

Ken asked if an experimental-design class was offered where I teach.

The short answer: not for the undergraduates. For the grad students (of which we have few and we're only a Master's institution), there's a course called "Research Methods" which includes some elements of experimental design. It's sort of a redheaded-stepchild course that is taught by different people from different departments - I have a colleague who teaches it once in a while, but it's most often taught by folks from the Psychology department (apparently they have a harder time making "load" than we do, which surprises me).

Some of our students complain that it's very psychology-centric when it's taught by one of the psychologists.

I DO try to put in a lot of experimental and research design stuff in my ecology class, and also in the stats-for-biologists class I teach. (Rule #1, I tell them: before you start collecting data, have some idea of how you plan to analyze it. I used to be kind of the "consult person" among my fellow grad students for stats stuff - because I knew more stats and had more stats background than any of the other students, and because I was considerably less scary than the official biostats prof. I once had someone come to me with data that she had collected with NO plan for analysis. NONE. The data were a big mess. There was almost nothing she could do - I think I told her she could calculate something called Brouillin's Index and that was it - because she hadn't even ensured that her plots were randomly sited.)

I never had a class in experimental design - well, an official-type class, I've gotten elements of it in many, many classes I've taken, and I've READ a lot. I think that's actually one of the weaknesses of the large-university science program in the U.S. Or at least it is in biology departments. Perhaps that's because in larger universities, there's kind of the assumption that "The good students will go pre-med, and the not-so-good students, we don't really need to worry about them." The problem is, there are some good students (like me) who can't stomach the sight of blood and really have no interest in being a G.P. or something, who actually WANT to go into research.

Grad programs SOMETIMES have them - mine didn't but luckily I worked closely with the stats guy (who wasn't all that scary if you weren't a complete idiot; you just had to tell yourself, "He's brusque, he's rude, it's his schtick" before going into his office. He was kind of a proto-Greg House now that I think of it.) And my advisor was pretty good so I learned the stuff I needed sort of by doing it. But I do tend to think a class where you're doing "little" research - that's not the whole next 3 years of your life, so if you screw it up, it's not so horrible - is a good thing for undergrads. If anything, it might open a few folks' eyes up that there's more to life than either being an M.D. or a gel-jockey for Abbott Labs. (That was kind of the assumed dichotomy when I was an undergrad at a large Research I institution: the vast majority of students became M.D.s (if they were good) or learned some technical skill (running electrophoresis gels) if they weren't, and so the "oddballs" who actually liked working with plants and such didn't count as much. Looking back on it, I probably should have applied to the School of Natural Resources instead; the SNR classes I took were more in line with my interests - and that was where I got my really good stats background.)

Maybe it's different in engineering or other science programs; I hope it is.

(If I were 16 again, and were starting over from scratch and wanted to do something different? I'd pay more attention in Pre-Calc and Calc and then go for Materials Science Engineering or something like that. The MSE folks always seemed to have interesting labs, trying to make stuff fail and playing with different kinds of ceramics.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Analyzing data today.

Actually seeing patterns - real, actual results of the experiment I babysat and worried over and took care of for two weeks. And they are patterns that make sense, that I can get up in front of a bunch of my fellow scientists in my little dressy suit and show powerpoint slides about and talk about and have them all nod knowingly, yes, yes, that makes sense based on results of other studies.

There are also some results I DIDN'T expect but that are interesting in light of what I am doing. So it's really pretty cool and wonderful.

I don't often get a lot of satisfaction from research because so many of my projects misfire, or so many require years and years of data collection before any pattern emerges, that this makes me very happy.

(I might just make Full Professor one of these days after all)

so wrong, and yet so wonderful:

Nacho fountain.

(If I ever marry? I am TOTALLY having one of those at my reception. Because, my friends would be far, far more into a nacho fountain than one of those pansy chocolate fountains.)

This is from a new-to-me blog called Grocery Eats: basically it's a guy experimenting with food. And I mean "experimenting" not in the Merck-labs-making-a-new-antibiotic sense, but in the Mythbusters-blowing-junk-up sense.

(For those to whom it matters: there is considerable casual droppage of the f-bomb. Just be forewarned)


Anyone wondering about "It Comes in Pints?" - Ken has a little post up on "Coalition of the Swilling" indicating that the site's not (apparently) gone forever, Emily's just having to go a bit Medieval on some hosting guy's backside.

Of course, the real question, the one we all care about is this: Will ICIP be back up in time for Friday?

I certainly hope it will.

Monday, March 03, 2008

When in doubt...

...listen to music.

Or at least that's fast becoming my mantra. I am absolutely at the saturation-point on the political races right now. Yes, I will vote in November, but that's all the more I care about the election right now. I don't want to hear who's attacking whom or who supposedly lied about something. All politicians lie; the only thing that's left to us is to decide who's not lying in the "wrong" direction about things important to us.

(And we have HOW MANY MORE MONTHS of this? Whimper.)

So anyway. I can feel my blood pressure (which is normally a pretty mellow 110/55) creeping up every time I see "Special Election Coverage" or BaraHillMcAbee.

So I'm using the "DMX channels" that hide out in the upper end of my cable lineup. (I would never have thought, as a child, that I might someday own a television that had the potential to receive 600 channels. As it is, I think I have about 125 broadcast channels and maybe 30 of the music channels, but still: amazing. I wonder if the next innovation will be so many channels that there's, for example, an entire network devoted solely to showing reruns of Gilligan's Island, in order, all the time - cycling through the show maybe every three days, but who cares, because there are people who want their Gilligan fix, and it's the world of narrowcasting. And maybe, just maybe, someday there really will be a Cute Baby Animals channel for people like me, or a Fishtank channel - where there's no commentary, no news, no plot, no drama, just puppies and kittens playing, or fish swimming hypnotically around. But I digress).

Anyway. DMX music channels. Next best thing to satellite radio (which I AM going to get someday, as soon as I can stomach the thought of spending the money and as soon as I'm reasonably convinced that the particular format I buy won't be the moribund one). I get lots of channels - about six heavy metal channels (WTF?), and a bunch of rap channels, ranging from "OK for your eight year old" to "Will make the ears of both feminists and Christians bleed." (And feminist Christians, I suppose their heads explode). And I get one lone "Big Band" channel, and a "standards" channel which, IMHO, SHOULD play more Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. and less Barbra Streisand, but who am I to program? And there are a couple of classical channels, and an "80s oldies" channel (eep. I remember hating most of those songs when they were first popular. My descent to fogeydom continues apace). There's a disco channel which can be amusing if you're in the right mood (and if Fortune smiles on you and they happen to play "I Will Survive" while you have it on. I am not really a disco fan but I think "I Will Survive" is one of the best pop songs, ever, mainly for the sentiment behind it but also because it's wicked fun to lip-synch to, at least when you're alone and feeling bummed about something. And yes, it does make me feel better to lip-synch to it [with the hand movements, too] when I'm alone and feeling bummed about something.).

And then there's "Holidays and Happenings." A holiday music channel. Which can be tiresome - they played all kinds of bad pop covers of traditional Christmas carols starting in November. (And I studiously avoided it in February, lest there be an unknown-to-me genre of Valentine's Day carols, which would cause me to leave my house, purchase a gun and ammunition, learn how to safely fire the same, get a concealed-carry license, return home, and shoot my less-than-a-year-old television and the rented cable box for good measure. And I bet there's not a jury in the land that would convict me.)

Anyway. It's March now, and they happen to have Celtic music on. In celebration of - the announcer told us, so there'd be no doubt - St. Patrick's Day. (Ya don't say!)

But actually, it's pretty good Celtic music, ranging from really old traditional (including what sound like older recordings) to fairly recent.

And it's kind of a joy to be able to come home at the end of the day and put something like that on, and just let it play, without having to think about it or change the channel for some inane ad or have it change from some happy fun program to a talk show about politics or some other distasteful thing.

So I think my channel rotations these coming months will consist largely of The Weather Channel (which I am kind of mad at right now because they are reducing the time spent on their main mission - telling us if it's OMG WTF THERE'S A TORNADO OUT THERE!!!!11!! - and shifting to these darn programs about things like snowboarding in the California mountains. Seriously, if I wanted that? I'd watch X-games or whatever the hell they call it. Tell me what kind of clothing I need to wear tomorrow. Not what some hurricane did 20 years ago) and Food Network and maybe HGTV and the Medical channel (which is starting to tick me off with all their Let's Watch This Family Melt Down Because OMG They Have So Many Children and OMG Americans are Teh Fat! shows. And yeah, there's only so much of "Trauma: Life in the ER" that you can watch before the corny re-enactments get to you). And Discovery (but again: they're larding on the Bigfoot and killer-ant shows right now, ugh.)

But the music channels - I suspect they won't disappoint me these coming months. So thank you, DMX, for your two classical channels and your swing channel and your goofy trance music channel and the Celtic music (though might you consider making that a full-fledged real channel?) and even the crazy hair-band channels. Please don't ever change.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

People baffle me, part n of x

Got an e-mail today from the campus police.

We now must lock up all the classrooms as soon as we are done teaching in them (unless there's another faculty member waiting at the door to go in and teach.)

Why? Two overhead projectors have been stolen from classrooms in the past week.

I'm sorry but WHAT? What possible use could a criminal have for one of those things? What possible street value do they have? They're big, and they're clunky, and as far as I know they don't contain any parts or chemicals that could be used in the manufacturing of controlled substances or weapons. I don't think pawn shops will take them.

But people will steal them anyway.

I don't like to think it's people stealing them to use in their classroom at a school, but I suppose that's possible.

So, once again, the erosion of the freedoms of law-abiding people continues apace. (And yes, I do think it's kind of an irritant to have to lock every damn classroom every time I'm done using it. Some of the classrooms have faulty locks and it takes five minutes of jiggery-pokery to get them to lock with my key. Perhaps I should tell the campus police about that...)

Because some idiot wanted a couple of free projectors.

The thing that irritates me is this - I have students doing independent research. I often let them into a lab to work on their own. If the way the e-mail was phrased was meant to be applied strictly to the letter, either I am not permitted to let them use the labs any more or I must be in there babysitting them every moment that they use them. And nuts to that. I'm getting really sick of all of us being treated like criminals because of that 1% or less of the human race who can't play by the rules.

(Of course, a SIMPLER solution would be to chain the things to the walls - like at my old school - but that's got it's own problems. Not the least of which is that it's kind of demoralizing to teach in a room where everything looks like the pens at the bank.)(

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Girly stuff

(Yeah, yeah, the blogbreak didn't last long. But I thought of something to write about).

I like girly stuff. By that, I mean scented candles and nice soap and pretty things and craft supplies and throw pillows and little angels to hang up on my walls and flowers and coffee mugs with cute pictures on them. I like antiques and "vintage" items. I like fancy tea and semi-gourmet food like fancy salad dressings.

Part of my weekend plans - I'm working on some research right now, and want to do some exercise this morning yet, and do my bimonthly walk-through-the-neighborhood-and-pick-up-trash-because-
seeing-it-bugs-me project - include going to a couple of new boutique/gift stores that opened in town. It's going to be my little post-birthday treat; there are four or more stores I can go to (I know of at least 2 I've never been in yet). I'm just going to go, and look around, and not worry about the time, and if I see something I like and I want, I'm going to buy it.

I'm going to focus my mind on light things, on girly things, and most importantly, on the Simple Questions.

Because I think part of my malaise these days is I've been thinking too hard about the Complex Questions - the questions that either don't have answers, or that I don't know how to answer:

1. Is this what I want to be doing for the rest of my life?

2. Am I having ANY kind of positive impact on the world? (And believe me, that's a big one for me. If I can't look back over my life and feel like I left something a little better than it would have been without me...well, you know how George Bailey felt at the beginning of "It's a Wonderful Life"? That's how I'd feel.)

3. What's going to become of us? (This one seems to be more at the forefront this year, I think it's because of all the campaign ugliness I've seen and also the fear that no matter who we elect, it's not going to be a great four years and might even be a very bad four years. And I worry about the creeping nannyism of laws, the thought that someday I might be told how many miles I'm permitted to drive in a week, or what I can set my thermostat on, or how many watts of electricity I may use per day, or what types and amount of food I'm permitted to eat, and on, and on).

4. What more is going to be expected of me in the coming years? (We have a few new administrators at my university. And like all managerial types, they want to "make their mark" by instituting some grand sweeping project, which generally trickles down to the faculty with the dictum of "Teach more better" or something, and they get all the glory for any improvement while we sit there scratching our heads about how to fulfill two mutually exclusive goals at once, like, "Increase retention but make your program more challenging." So I have a fear that something's going to come down the pike that will make remaining teaching here untenable...and I'll have to go out for the horrific job-search again, and start all over somewhere else, and try to earn tenure somewhere else, and all of that, until THEIR administration decides to meddle more...and it becomes lather, rinse, repeat, until I'm able to retire. If I put aside enough money. If they haven't decided to tax people of my generation at 80% in order to pay for free facelifts and "dealing with aging" therapy for Baby Boomers...)

And yes, I know, as a Christian, my feeling about all of those should be "it's going to be all right, eventually" but sometimes it feels like that "eventually" might be on The Other Side, so to speak, and I'm not exactly looking forward to another 50 years or whatever of dealing with the increasing incivility of the world, and worrying about the new things I may have to deal with in the future, and dealing with my own sense of general ineffectiveness.

So I need to get away from that. As much as I may decry some forms of shallowness, they do have their charms - being able to put worries about "what will become of us" out of your head and just BE. I once read a magazine article about a normally hard-driving businesswoman who spent a week at a spa...and she talked about getting "spa brain," where your focus sort of closes down, where you forget about the outside world and instead focus on things like, "What's for lunch?" and "Should I do the river-rock massage next or the volcanic mud pack?"

And I think people need that kind of thing. We need a chance to be able to unplug and to live with the "trivial" for a while, especially when we spend a certain amount of time dealing with the "deep." (And though I'm not a philosopher, and although I have no illusions of my research saving the world or even leading to medical advances, I do think spending a lot of time working to improve one's career - in my case, focusing either on research and teaching and kind of beating myself with the "must do better, must do more" stick - does kind of deplete the soul).

I think perhaps that's one of the purposes of hobbies - to be able to ask the "simple" questions, instead of the "complex" ones. What book should I read next? Which color yarn, what fiber type, should I use to knit up this pattern? What project do I want to start next? What do I need to fill in my collection? Should I re-do the train layout to reflect the changing seasons?

Because it's sort of restful to deal with questions where the "right" answer is 100% tied to your own whim - the world will not stop turning if you decide to read "Lucky Jim" instead of "Atonement" next, no one will die if you make a sweater out of peach colored yarn instead of periwinkle, no one (Well, maybe except for spouses) will take issue with your choice to do a spring-themed train layout with new little lichen trees and tiny flowers and repainting the tiny female figures so it looks like they are wearing pastel colored clothing.

It's nice to have something where there aren't repercussions that affect other people.

(And that may be a big part of my frustration, sadness, and malaise these past few days: I've seen far, far too many instances of where choices people made - in some cases it was the only choice TO be made, but still - had negative effects on lots of people around them. And I get that horrible feeling I get from time to time, that we're all like very fragile eggshells, ready to crack under the slightest provocation, or like we're all walking around carrying absolutely brim-full cups of water, and we're all trying not to spill the tiniest drop, but there are all these shocks that keep hitting us, and the ground under our feet keeps tilting crazily, and it's all we can do to keep from spilling our little cup of water).

So, this afternoon, I'm going to spend some time focusing on the Simple Questions: Do I want to buy lavender sachets to hang up in my closet? Do I like this soap or that soap better? Should I buy a bottle of this gourmet salad dressing to try?

Because those are the questions I can answer right now. And those are the questions that if I answer them "wrong," there aren't any really bad consequences - maybe I wind up with a $4 bottle of salad dressing I don't really LIKE, but that's easily fixed (take it over to my department and stick it in the breakroom fridge with a note on it explaining that I bought it and didn't care for it - someone will eat it up).

And right now, I want some things that are easily fixed if I happen to make the wrong decision.

I once described - in another place and referring to another location - as going to the boutiques for me as being kind of like Holly Golightly's vision of Tiffany's - that nothing bad can happen there. I kind of picture it in my mind as floating in a calm ocean of nice things, of being underwater in the sense that the daily demands cannot reach me, where I am just my own person - where I can sort of float freely and forget the work that's waiting for me.

It's sort of taking care of myself in a way. A different sort of way than the eat healthfully-exercise-floss the teeth-always wear a seatbelt way. Not the "So you won't die in a horrible manner" way. More of a "so you can have some happiness while you're here" way. Because those little things DO matter to me - having some kind of nice-smelling hardmilled soap to wash my face with, being able to light lavender or "vanilla oak" (whatever the heck that is) candles in the evening, having a comfy pair of slippers to scuff around in. Because that will make the insecurities I feel about the world in general and my particular role in it recede a little bit. Maybe it's being hopelessly escapist, I don't know. But it seems far too humorless, far too self-denying, to avoid the little luxuries of life in the name of...what? Saving money? Not using as many resources? I don't know. I tend to believe that it's not necessarily spiritually healthy to abstain from the things that make you happy.

I'd make a poor ascetic. But I can make a pretty happy girly-girl, if I let myself be.