Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thanks guys

I'm gonna let the tough side win.

(My dad - who taught for 30-some years, and even was a department chair for many years, when I called him and explained the situation, responded, "Don't let the a-hole win.")

Or at least, I won't let him win that easily. If he still feels wronged, I know two colleagues who would probably re-grade his paper for him. The only catch would be they would grade it even more harshly than I did.

So unless he has some kind of horrible ninja skills (like his dad is a big donor or something), I think I'm safe.

First thing tomorrow - so my resolve cannot waver - even before I check my e-mail, I am locking in the grades so they cannot be changed.

But, gah. I wonder where the guy works (all those "long hours") and if he's so whiny to his boss. (And I know he's going to bitch about me to other students, and that kind of bugs me, because I can't defend myself, but whatever. I didn't go into this career to be loved, though I kind of would LIKE to be loved.)


I think a big part of my distress over this is I am just drained. Intellectually (it was a tough summer semester and I also wrote two papers and worked on a third research project during that time. And prepped for the "total re-do" of a class that is being totally re-done to try to make it more "appealing" to students [good luck with that]). And emotionally - I'm still processing the various health issues that people close to me have, and I'm still coming to terms with the cat's death (yes, it's been a week, but I'm still coming to terms with it), and just all the STUFF going on in the world (mark my words: it is going to be an ugly, UGLY election season this fall). And I'm kind of physically worn-out as well from the heat and from the fact that it's a bad allergy year where I'm at right now.

So I'm kind of running on fumes and when I look at the calendar and realize that in three weeks I will be gearing up to start the fall term I kind of want to curl up in a fetal position and cry.

I'm glad I'm going for a short break starting tomorrow. True, I have meetings to go to but my paper is on the first day of the meetings (thank God, and not just because I get it over with - I hate those afternoon-of-the-last-day talks where it's you and the five other people speaking that afternoon in the room, and everyone else has either left or gone drinkin'). So I may cut out one afternoon if there's a museum or an interesting shopping district in the town that I'm at.

And I'm already promising myself a trip to Boutiqueville (if it's not 100* or hotter out) the Saturday after I get back (before classes start) as a reward for surviving this summer.

Of two minds...

I have to submit my final grades tomorrow.

I received another "nasty gram" from the guy who earned a C and wants a B. He is arguing that he deserves the 5 point (well, actually, it's 6.5 point) bump up.

Because I was more lenient than I claimed I was going to be in the syllabus, and he didn't happen to benefit from that leniency. And he sent me all kinds of presumptuous "advice" on what I should do in the future.

And I'm of two minds about this.

Part of me wants to say, "Hell, no. This guy is being an a-hole. He screwed off in lab, he spent lots of time sitting around while his "girlfriends" did the work, he didn't even SHOW UP for one pre-lab one day and didn't know what we were doing, he walked out of class when he'd decided he'd had enough. And when he didn't like his grade, he used vague accusations and complaints of unfairness as his first tactic."

But another part of me says, "It's 1.5 percentage points. Give him the damn B; it will get him out of your hair and out of your life."

Except, then the tough side of me says: "But if he's in your stats class come fall, then he'll think he can roll you for what he wants."

And then the wimpy side says, "Yeah, but if he hates me and has it in for me, I'm going to have to massively document every point I take off of his assignments."

And the tough side of me says: "Why should you care?"

And the wimpy side of me says: "Because I have no life outside my job, and when my job is going badly and I'm unhappy in it, nothing makes me happy."

So I don't I roll over and let this guy feel like he "won" and maybe become even more obnoxious in the future, or do I expend my tiny remaining stores of emotional energy on fighting this?

I wish I had some input from a colleague but everyone else was gone the end of last week when this reared its ugly head.

For the record, here's what he earned:

71% on the final (25% of the grade)
75% on the in-class tests (29% of the grade)
72% on the contested paper/presentation (18% of the grade)
and a 92% in lab, which was 27% of the grade. And I was generous on grading labs; I was with EVERYONE because I had very little time.

I might also note that I accepted some of his labs late, even though I claimed in the syllabus I would not, because as much as I hate accepting late work, sometimes it's easier than dealing with the whining that results.

I've totaled and re-totaled those numbers and I keep getting a 78.6% - not high enough to justify a bump-up especially for someone who projected such a bad attitude during class.

So I don't know. I have to decide by 10 am tomorrow morning if I'm going to wimp out or be tough. Because if I'm tough and then someone above me tells me I have to roll over, then it's a bigger headache to deal with.

Sometimes I wonder if the principle is even worth is. It seems so often the smarmy, complainy, "I don't care that I have a bad attitude, I still deserve it" people rule the world. Why should I be the lone figure standing in front of the tank?

I just don't know. This whole episode has made me question myself, question whether I'm any good as a teacher, question whether I even still want to be doing this.

The sad thing is, I can't think of another job I could do that wouldn't involve dealing with a lot more people who want a lot more than they actually deserve. (Retail, waiting tables are out. Working for an agency dealing with the public is out.)

Church stuff

I don't think I ever explicitly stated it, but one of the reasons this spring and summer has kind of sucked rocks is what's going on at church.

The wonderful minister we had - who helped us pick up the pieces after the split - left. (He and his wife decided they had "irreconcilable differences" and he felt that, since she had a stable job here, the honorable thing to do after the divorce was for him to move away.)

So we've been limping along with "guest" ministers. Some have been better than others. But it makes me sad...I almost have the feeling that this congregation is winding down, that the state leadership may be sending us the message of "better to have them disperse than spend any more effort on them" and that makes me sad.

I don't know where I'd go. There's another Disciples church in a town to the south of me, but it's nearly a half-hour drive, and I'm not sure I'm up for an hour's round trip to church every week (or more, if I participated in other activities). There's a Presbyterian church (actually two) in town, but I don't know...

I'm hoping maybe I'm misreading the situation through a tendency to be pessimistic. But the pews are pretty empty each's like a lot of the people who are members are staying away because of "'s a guest preacher." And I don't think that's very good or very helpful.

At any rate, we get our interim today. (And there have been noises made about "Maybe we can persuade him to become permanent). Interestingly enough, he is the same interim minister who was here when I joined, nearly 10 years ago. (The church has had, I guess, I lot of problems in the past 15 years...apparently they sent away the minister before the current interim's first term and no one likes to talk about why he was sent away, and then we got a minister who helped precipitate the church split, and now this.)

Actually, some of the people take on a very hangdog attitude about this run of problems. They are actually saying "I don't know what we're doing wrong but..." in a very Old Testament sense, in a very "God is punishing us and we don't know why" sense. And it makes me sad and nervous...couldn't it just be we had a run of problems because people are kind of messed up, and that messed-up-ness sometimes spills over into the pulpit? I'm sorry, but when I look at this congregation I can't believe that there's some huge secret sin that God is punishing us for...we are one of the most giving congregations I've belonged to, one of the most civically active. We haven't shunned people or formed cliques. We haven't put individual wants above the needs of the community. We don't have dissent in the ranks, or what there is, is minor and is usually addressed by sitting the two people down and talking with them.

I don't like the siege mentality.

I'm more prone to shrug and go "Life sucks sometimes and it looks like we got some of that 'suck' on us" instead of saying "I don't know what we did but God is punishing us."

Because I'm inclined to believe that God doesn't keep secrets. If you're doing something wrong, He will let you know precisely what it is. It seems unfair to me to speak of a God who forgives sin and then say, "Yeah, but He's holding back on us with this one and we just have to keep guessing what it is."

The other thing (I will admit openly) that irritates me is that there are a lot of people who are members who don't attend regularly - not for reasons of poor health, or travel, or small children at home. I was raised that you went to church on Sunday. Even if there was a guest preacher that you suspected might not be that great. Even if someone in the congregation had said something last week you took offense to. Even if you were tired and had worked hard all week.

At one time, the women's group I belong to was pushing for us to have a call-list - where the "faithful" members kept tabs on six or eight other people, and if they were absent for more than three weeks in a row, calling them to be sure "everything is ok." I don't like that idea. Partly because I don't like doing what I perceive as interfering in other people's lives, but partly because I feel like I shouldn't have to take my time and effort to try to force someone to do something they should be doing anyway.

I kind of demurred and commented that because I was "home so seldom" (well, dang it, it's true) that I should be left out of the calling tree, because some weeks I'm away from home between 7 am and 9 pm three or four days, and exactly WHEN would I call my people?

So I don't know if they ever got the calling tree up and running, but the idea irritates me, I will admit. As much as I hate seeing empty pews, I think that bugging people to attend isn't going to help matters.

So anyway. We get our new interim today which I hope will bring a bit of stability to the church, and maybe bring a few people back. But it makes me sad to think of all the empty's a wonderful congregation and I don't want to see it die because the powers that be think it's not worth helping to find a new minister, or because there's not enough money, or something.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

You know...

I don't like the word "Staycation."

Oh, don't get me wrong, the CONCEPT is fine. It's just, I've heard the word so much lately it makes me want to gag. It's the new trend: "Oh, we're having a staycation."

Or the news stories: "Ten tips for a happy staycation." "With finances tight, more are opting for staycations!"

If I were vacationing and staying at home, I'd just say "I'm going on vacation" and leave it at that.

Then I'd unplug my phone and try to avoid places where people I know go, so that I couldn't have people going, "I know you're on vacation but....could you do this thing for me?" or so I wouldn't have people want to come over because then I'd feel obligated to clean my house all up, which you shouldn't have to do on vacation.

I think part of the reason it bugs me is that it's so self-consciously, "We're saving money!" or "We're being green!" It's like "Give me extra credit for doing this thing now!" Even though I've been doing it much of my life.

When I was a kid, we took vacations-at-home. We went to local parks and stuff like that. We didn't give it any cute name. It was taking a cheap vacation because there were more important things in life than staying in luxury hotels. Fact of the matter is, I never in my life stayed in a hotel nicer than Holiday Inn (and stayed in an awful lot that were WORSE*) until I was an adult and went to meetings and figured it was better to shell out the extra bucks for the Sheraton close to the meetings than to have to walk 10 blocks in a dodgy part of town to get to a Days Inn.

(*There was one I remember where I actually threatened to sleep in the back seat of the car because the room was so skanky. And I wound up taking my beach towel and elaborately (and very dramatically) wrapping it around the pillow while making noises about my fear of getting head lice. My dad actually relented after the first night - I think he was concerned about the cleanliness too - and got the family rooms in a Holiday Inn instead).

Just call it a damn vacation. Especially if you're expecting sympathy points from me for your "Look we are staying at home because the economy sucks." Yeah? You took nice fancy vacations a couple years ago and rubbed my face in it when I went to boring old meetings. So don't act all "pity me!" now because you've decided you have to scale back and pay off those credit card bills.

And especially don't ask me to babysit your bratty kids so you and the spouse can have some alone time on your staycation.

Me? The only summer vacations I've ever taken have been to visit family or go to meetings. So I'm gonna roll my eyes a bit at your "new austerity" especially if you were jetting off to Alaska or somewhere last year.

another one bites the dust apparently a Nevada bank is having to be taken over in order to stay solvent.

You know, I'm glad I do my banking with an institution (my university's credit union) that hasn't offered mortgages for many years; it seems that that's the thing causing these insolvencies. Bad loans of too much money to people who wind up defaulting on them.

Of course, my credit union is also insured by NCUA, and I don't have $100,000 in either of my accounts, so I'm probably safe, but it would still be vexing to find you couldn't get AT your money if you wanted it.

Perhaps it's time to do what I know many people do - find a secret, fairly safe place in my house where I could keep a stash of $5s and $20s against just such an event. (A fake book would probably work pretty well for me; seeing as I have 5000 some other books, a burglar would be unlikely to be able to hit upon the right one. Or to want to spent the time searching.)

(No, I didn't go out. I wound up having to replace the flapper assembly in the toilet - it had been leaking but I had been in denial about it - apparently the rubber just rotted out. So I had to run to the local hardware and get a new one and it was kind of fiddly getting it in. After that, I made a quick mini-pizza out of some pita bread that was in danger of going bad. It's too hot to go out anyway, despite gas having inexplicably - and vexingly, to me, because I just filled the tank two days ago - dropping 15 cents a gallon overnight.)

I shouldn't, but...

I'm contemplating (once I get this Sunday School lesson written, and believe me, I'm having a hard time) going out antiquing.

I shouldn't - I leave town Monday for vacation (an expensive "vacation" as I am going to meetings and meetings mean that the prices in the town get jacked up 25% for a "special conference rate." Thanks so much, people with generous expense accounts, for allowing the rest of us to get screwed).

I shouldn't spend the gas.

I shouldn't put the wear and tear on my car. (And it's going to be hot - over 100 - today, and they had a worry-making story on the news last night about how tire blowouts become more common in hot temperatures.)

I shouldn't go out to lunch - even though I want to - because I've not been eating all that well this week, and not been exercising as much, because it's been hot and humid and kind of miserable.

But. I've had a CRAPPY week. Any week that starts off with a death and winds up with someone telling you how much you suck is a bad week. This whole summer has been crappy - one friend had to have surgery (fortunately successful), another is having surgery next week. A friend of the family was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Several people I know lost parents. Or spouses. Or brothers or sisters.

I can't even look at my TIAA-CREF statements, or my Vanguard IRA statements any more, because I feel like I'm throwing money down a rathole. Might as well spend it now, it's not going to be worth anything in 50 years. And hell, we might not even be here that much longer, if the asteroid slated to hit the earth in 2036 (just about the time I would be retiring) hits. Or if the nutjobs are right and the Large Hadron Collider creates a black hole when it's turned on, then we're all done for. No more worrying about retirement. No more worrying about trans fats, for that matter. (Arnold, you'd look pretty silly then.)

(You know, in the bleakest mood I was in this week, I actually muttered under my breath, "Maybe the collider WILL end the earth. And then God can start over again and maybe it won't go bad this time.")

So I don't know. I do know if I stay sitting here I will keep getting in a sourer and sourer mood, and I will begin to feel increasingly cabin fever-ish.

But on the (probably damn close to 100%) chance that the earth ISN'T ending, I also don't want to risk screwing up my car by going out and driving it in The Hot. And I don't really NEED anything...I have no real excuse to go and burn the gas and spend the afternoon wandering antique stores.

So I don't know. I wish there were places downtown I'd not been to so recently that I know what all their stock is. I wish that things were closer. I wish it weren't so hot. I'll probably wind up sitting at home reading instead.

I hate summer. I hate it so much. I'm wondering how many years I can take it here - whether I'd be able to even GET a job somewhere else (that's one of my big fears, that I'm not good enough to get another job if I want it, that this was just a lucky fluke, and I suck so badly that it's a real miracle I even got tenure). But if I knew I could, and I knew it wasn't going to be in a department staffed with crazed ego-heads, I'd start applying for jobs up North. Because the summers just make me crazy. I can't stand the heat and the humidity; I know that I'm not on as emotionally even a keel as I should be. I let stuff get to me that I could laugh off in the cooler months.

Friday, July 25, 2008


So I come in this morning. To an e-mail from the guy I referred to yesterday. He's complaining about his semester grade. (He got a C. He says he's "only 5 points" away from a B, but as I remember it, that's percentage points, not actual point-points, which are two very different things).

He tried to make a case but unfortunately (for him) only succeeded in pissing me off more.

First off: "I find it hard to get to 8 am classes because I work nights."

Oh, really? Gee, I don't remember you ever having informed me you worked nights. And the fact that you screwed off in lab a lot and sponged off your lab mates (and yes, I notice such things) kind of had me thinking you didn't value the class.

(In the return e-mail, I said, "I'm sorry but everyone faces difficulties in life. You should have told me about yours.")

I mean, seriously: yes, it is an 8 am class. But it is not an 8 am class year-round. Only in the summer. He could have taken it in the regular semester.

Frankly, if you work full time, you should NOT be taking summer classes. Period, end of sentence. It's too much work in too short of a time. Take the summer off, work some over time, save up some money.

Second: "But I'm only 5 points away."

Yeah? This is where "faculty discretion" comes in. I see someone chronically skipping class, being a screw-off in lab, getting up and walking out after completing the test on test-days when I had made it clear I was going to cover lecture material. I interpret that as Bad Attitude and I don't bump grades up for that.

(Again, I said: "You should have let me know of what was going on in your life.")

Finally: "I think you graded me harshly on my paper considering there were some people who made up results or didn't even finish theirs."

Okay, there is so much wrong with this statement that it's hard for me to begin.

First of all: he really doesn't want me re-grading his paper because I was somewhat lenient.

Second of all: it INFURIATES me that he's pulling this card. Granted, I have no way to assess whether the students are reporting honest data. None of the data I saw looked "too good" or failed to make sense. I told him - in a more polite way - that I thought it was shabby of him to try that as an excuse.

And if he knows people are falsifying reports, he should report it, with evidence, to me. Not use it as some kind of lever to try to get a better grade.

And if he's referring to one particular woman in the class who did a paper that was kind of off the topic, he doesn't know the full story: that she came to me at the beginning of the semester and said, "this is related to an internship I am doing; may I write it up for my report?" and we discussed it and I okayed it. And she wrote the BEST DAMN REPORT in that class. So if that's what he's referring to, he can blow it out one of his bodily orifices.

So I e-mailed him back, saying, in more polite terms:

hell no I won't change your grade. I think it's shabby to accuse your classmates of dishonesty in the service of trying to get a better grade. And you should have told me what was going on in your life that kept you from class (but anyway, it shouldn't: 8 am is 8 am regardless of your work schedule).

I refrained from mentioning his screw-offing-ness in lab, but I could have pulled that card if I wanted to be nasty and escalate things.

I wrote to my department chair explaining, to give her a heads up, seeing as I'm leaving town for meetings on Monday and won't be around to defend myself if he decides to go over my head.

I really hope it doesn't come down to my being forced to change his grade. That will make me angry. (It could happen; our good supportive dean retired and we now have an unknown quantity in his place. And if he goes crying to the dean...who knows what will happen).

Stuff like this makes me hate teaching a little. It makes me wonder if I want to still be doing this in five years. But the problem is, I don't know what else I COULD do, what else I would be any good at. I so do not have the "salesman" personality that I know I would loathe sales or retail.

Maybe I better start buying Lotto tickets and hoping I hit the big one...

This is for Nina...


(Those of you unfamiliar with the It Comes In Pints? Friday tradition, what I am saying is cancer can perform an anatomically impossible act on itself and then die.)

Too many people. Too many families. Too many folks taken way too soon. And it's one of those things that you cannot DO anything about when it happens to someone close to you, other than pray. And while I can and do pray....sometimes I need to do something concrete and tangible. Like, if a pipe bursts in a friends' basement, I can show up with a mop. Or if a friends' dog runs away, I can start driving or walking all over to look for it. But with cancer, the only things you can do seem so peripheral. Driving people to treatments. Cooking. Doing child-care duty. It's not like you can attack the actual PROBLEM.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Something that made me laugh...

So I had to go to the local Walgreen's (we have a Walgreen's now which excites me because it's one of those "familiar"'s a common chain up where I used to live but isn't that common down here, and so walking into one is like going "home" a little tiny bit).

I was wandering the aisles trying to remember if there was any sort of drugstore-ish thing I needed but had forgot to put on my list.

I went down one aisle - the one where they had socks and stuff.

And then I saw it.

"Bag 'O' Panties."

I kid you not. That is the name of the product. "Bag 'O' Panties" - it was three or four pairs of women's undergarments, rolled up, and, as you would guess, sealed in one of those clear bags so it could be hung from a peg.

Now, granted...the undergarments I buy could be described as a "Bag 'O' Panties" (because yes, I am cheap, yes, I like plain white cotton, and yes, the way my social life goes I'm the only one who ever sees 'em). But I've never seen it stated quite so baldly before.

"Bag 'O' Panties."

Almost sounds like a prize on a game show, doesn't it.

"And our runners up will be going home with the lovely Bag 'O' Panties consolation prize!"

(I also have to add - I'm one of those women who kind of hates the word "panties." It sounds so giggly five-year-old - it's like one of the early forbidden words, it's like the playground gateway drug to hardcore cursing. Pannnnnnttttttiiiiies!

I usually call it "underwear" or sometimes "unmentionables" if I'm being whimsically Victorian. But I don't like the word "panties" and I wish there were another one that worked well.)

I take it back

Okay, so the student I talked about before came in to take the exam. He finished before several of the other people, so I caught him at the door.

I explained that I had gotten his voicemail message, but I didn't get it until this morning so I hadn't had a chance to act on it.

(He looked a little abashed when I said "I got your message" so I figured this was going to be easier than I thought).

I reiterated my standards for the paper and I explained the main areas where he lost points and why. He just kind of nodded and mumbled a thank-you for my response and walked out of class.

So I've decided that the voice mail was one of those "sent in the heat of emotion" things that the career counselors tell you never to do.

I'm just relieved that I won't have to deal with a grade-challenge (or at least it seems that I won't); I kind of lack the emotional and intellectual reserves to be up to that at this moment.

And at any rate, I'm leaving town Monday to visit my folks for a few days, and then go on to the usual round of scientific meetings. (I really, really hope it is cooler and less humid where I am going).

So the semester's over. I'll miss my Gen Bio class - they were a lot of fun and were really interested in the subject. They were one of the best classes I've had here. Too bad I can't infect the other students at this school with their kind of enthusiasm and camaraderie.

gotta vent

Okay, so I had this bad-attitude student this semester - rarely showed to class EXCEPT on test days, whined when he didn't get the announcements that I made in class.

The research paper he wrote was rather poor. I graded it, I filled out the grading rubric I used and explained on the rubric where I took off points and why (a big aspect of it being he hadn't done that much background research). He didn't show on the day I handed the papers back - I just happened to see him yesterday afternoon and I figured "I want this out of my office so I'll give it to him" even though he did not ask for it back.

Well, I get this phone call this morning. Or, rather, phone message, as it was sent in the late afternoon.

"Why did I get such a bad grade? I put a lot of TIME and EFFORT into this paper."

(Honey, I can tell when someone's lying to me. There wasn't a lot of time and effort in that paper - or certainly not the kind of time and effort I expected.)

"Can you call me and explain to me why I did so poorly"

(Um, yeah - you didn't show up to class to hear my explanation of my expectations on the paper. You have the grade sheet in front of you with my comments like "You did not do enough background research" and "you did not find enough sources" and "your discussion is not sufficient - you need to explain the results better and fit them in more with what we already know."

The fact that you skipped class, walked OUT of class when you decided it didn't interest you, and whined when you failed to get some important piece of information that I announced in class, does not favorably dispose me to call you up and explain to you once again how you did not meet the standards I set.)

"I really think I deserve a better grade on this."

(Oh, you do? I've been doing this exercise in class for...let me check...SEVEN years now, and your paper is one of the poorer ones I've run across. And I had a checklist I handed out to you all - and I know you got a copy of it - and you didn't follow all the instructions on it. Sorry, you don't get to decide whether you deserve a better grade. Talk to some of your colleagues; they mostly didn't get very good grades either. Sorry, that's how it goes sometimes.)

I suppose he'll want me to take time after the exam today to go over it with him. If he insists - if he doesn't just take the exam and walk out like he always has before, I guess I will.

But he's violated Ricki's Rule For Students #1 so many times that it's going to be hard for me to put up with his whining any more.

This is what we get when we tell kids coming up through school that they're all "special and wonderful" and that it's OK when they slack off and when we do self-esteem exercises instead of doing projects that actually, you know, teach the kids something other than how to become little monsters of ego.

Part of it I'm sure is that this guy...his area of biology is a different area from this particular class, and so I'm sure he felt "I don't have to put much effort into this" and then he felt slapped when it turns out that yes, in fact, I expect effort.

In fact - and I hate to say this - I graded a bit more generously on these papers than I really ideally wanted to. (Well, the good thing: if he insists on arbitration I can pull in my buddy the ornithologist and not only will he back me up on the grading, but I bet he'll tell the guy, "This was a piss-poor paper and you're lucky you got a C.")

It sucks having standards, but I tend to think it sucks worse to abandon those standards and let the whole world continue its slide into mediocrity.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


How much bacon should be added to Rice Krispie Treats?

Now, I like bacon as much as the next (non-vegetarian, non-pretending-to-be-grossed-out-by-real-food-in-the-interest-of-looking-like-she's-thinner-and-superior-to-those-slobs-who-actually-EAT) girl, but I tend to believe it has no place in Rice Krispie treats.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I don't Has It as of yet, but I'm getting there.

At least I was able to eat (if not to cook) this evening, and I laughed over something funny.

And reading helps. It at least removes me from the here and now for a bit if I'm hurting. I've decided to finally make a stab at reading the entire Harry Potter oeuvre and am midway through "Chamber of Secrets" (which I admit is where I stalled out before). "Prisoner of Azkaban" is on order. And dammit, I'm getting these in hardcover even though it costs more - because I bought the first two books in hardcover and I canNOT stand having a mismatched set.

And I managed fine at work...actually work goes well. It's a place where I feel in control and I know I can't sit down and cry, so I don't. (I totally understand why my co-worker went back to work soon after losing her husband. Being at work is normalcy.)

Monday, July 21, 2008


(Edited, ca. 8 pm: yeah, it's pretty incoherent. I had just gotten the news (my dad e-mailed me - I suppose he didn't trust himself to tell me over the phone, what with the familial dislike of strong emotions and all.) I'm not angry...that stage of grief (and guilt, as well) won't be happening with me, because I know she was very old and had probably lived longer than she might otherwise.

But I guess I am a little bereft. I'll think I've cried it all out, and then something will hit me funny, and I'll start to cry again. Not sure if I'm going to watch the re-run of "House" as I was planning to this evening because sometimes "House" makes me cry as it is, and the last thing I need is more fodder to make me all sloppy and sad.

Also when I wrote the following, I had not eaten yet. I was just thinking of fixing some dinner when I got the news and of course, news like that makes me not want to eat (ever again). But I did force myself, and even forced myself to eat something nutritious (salad and shrimp toasts). So I'm feeling a little less crazed now but still sad.)

Death can FTFO. Seriously. Even though you know when someone or something you love gets old and it's going to happen, it still hurts like hell. And for me, it awakens all my fears that there will come a time when everyone I love will have died, and I will be left with no one to talk to, no one who cares about me. (And then all of the jerks who told me, "you'll be sorry you didn't get married" will have their time to laugh.)

I'm not sure I'll feel up to posting again until after my short vacation/conference trip.

Not only am I sad but it's about eight hundred degrees outside here. And I had to deal with a crazy person at the DMV this afternoon. And I still have more errands I have to run tomorrow, including going to the drugstore, which almost guarantees I will have another crazy person to deal with.

I think I'm just going to go to bed and read a Harry Potter book or something. (but one of the earlier ones, where nobody dies.)

(Yeah, the cat had to be put to sleep. It happened this morning. She couldn't walk or drink or eat any more, so I guess it was time. But it still sucks and I still feel like I have a big sucking vacuum in my stomach and my chest.)

In the news...

Wanna know what was the story that received the largest chunk of time in the 5 am news-broadcast on the radio station I listen to while working out?

It wasn't the price of oil.
It wasn't the economy.
It wasn't Obama's trip to the Middle East.
It wasn't that the missing soldier was found alive but hurt, and her husband is probably the culprit.
It wasn't a hurricane developing in the Gulf.

Oh, all of those were MENTIONED, but in terms of time-devoted-to-story, the most prominent one was:

Two female race-car drivers have a cat fight.

(And no, it is not a sports channel I listen to. And I had to search a good bit to actually find an Internet version of that story.)

I kind of hate the news outlets. Why is this important? Because it's two women generally considered to be "hot," engaged in a's the closest thing to mud-wrestling in the Penthouse Forum allowable on the public airwaves.

And yeah, I suppose I should be grateful for slow news days, because they mean nothing too bad is happening...but why devote two and a half minutes of a four minute newscast to that? Why include the (barely comprehensible) dialog with bleeping?

I'd be willing to bet if Petty or Andretti or whoever of the men are racing these days got into a fight with someone, it wouldn't be such big news.

I wonder how many years away we are from importing that Russian news concept where the newscaster progressively takes off a piece of clothing with each story.

(And I know...women over 30 or so don't "matter" in the demographics, because our money's apparently no good, but it irritates me that if there's going to be titillation, it's almost always titillation for those who enjoy thinking about half-clothed women or women engaged in a cat fight. [don't get me wrong: I hate that there's titillation at ALL...I don't want to have to watch/listen to pieces of beefcake trying to present the news. But it does irritate me, the whole "woooo! Cat Fight!" tone with which the story was presented.]

Come to think of it? Thank God Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton aren't the ones running for president; I can just imagine what some news outlets would do with that.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

pulling out of the spin

This happens to me pretty much every summer. It gets hot, the people I normally interact with are scattered on vacation (or are so immersed in fieldwork that the most I get out of them is "Can't talk. Working."). And I start to feel sad and bereft and crummy.

I blame the high pressure and heat and humidity in part. I have a body that doesn't cope with "hot" well. (It does, on the other hand, cope with "cold" very well. I often keep the thermostat at 66* in the winter because it is comfortable for me. Yes, I will turn it up if I know someone's coming over for any length of time.)

I also think this year my Midsummer Doldrums have been worse than usual for a couple of reasons.

The first one is situational. Lots of bad crap have happened this spring and summer to people around me. Most "immediate" is the fact that my parents' cat is winding down (as I've been talking about ad nauseum these past few days).

But I was also really hit hard by learning that Rev. R., my family's friend, has Alzheimer's. (Alzheimer's can FOAD.) It's just such a shame - he's someone who's done so much for so many for so long, and now instead of getting to enjoy retirement, he's got that.

And a couple of my friends split up this spring, and one moved away.

And two of my best friends here in town have moved away - the first one last fall, the second one just this spring. So I have a smaller circle of support this summer (and a smaller circle of people with whom I am comfortable shooting the breeze). Oh, we're still in contact through phone and e-mail, but it's not the same.

And another thing that's been getting me down, I think, is my push to economize on gasoline. I've gone hardly anywhere this summer (not even to the next biggest town over for a change of scenery of grocery stores). Usually in the summer, because I had Fridays and Saturdays off, I'd work all day Friday and then run off somewhere on Saturday - go antiquing, or go to a park, or go find a museum somewhere. And I've not done that this summer. And you know, it makes it harder to work on Friday if I feel like all I'd have to look forward to on a "free" Saturday is sitting and home and thinking about how I really SHOULD mow my lawn even though it's 95*.

The other night I had to meet my research student at her workplace so we could go do some fieldwork. Her workplace - she's doing an internship - is almost all the way to Next Biggest City. So when we got done, it was still early enough - the Hobby Lobby was still open, the bookstore was still open (turns out it's open weeknights until 11: a good thing to know in case I ever find myself "stranded" there for some reason). So I quickly ran over and spent a little time - not more than 15 minutes in each place - roaming the aisles and just looking at stuff for sale. (And, okay, buying a little bit of stuff). And you know? I felt a bit better after I got home.

Less cabin-feverish.

I think that's what it is, really - something kind of like cabin fever, where I get caught by the throat and held down by inertia because I feel trapped at home. Trapped because it's so hot (too hot to go out and hike or do anything very active outside). Trapped because I'm "supposed" to be conserving on gasoline. (Though I suspect spending a couple gallons of gas once or twice a month to go out antiquing or something would be cheaper than getting therapy...)

I definitely felt better today. I cleaned house. I hadn't done that (well, other than the bare minimum to maintain a standard of hygiene) for several weeks because I just felt...meh. (I think it started after I found out about Rev. R.) I thought about how I should be scrubbing floors and sorting paperwork and I just felt one big giant "meh."

So I let it pile up.

Finally, today, I got up off the sofa and thought, "That's it; I can't watch any more cartoons. I can't surf the Internet any more. I have to do something productive." And I cleaned house - well, not perfectly, not totally, but my kitchen is no longer a disaster area and the living and dining rooms are a lot better than they were.

I almost put up the new blinds I bought well over a month ago but I kind of ran out of energy for that. Maybe some afternoon this week.

I also cooked (well, kind of - I made homemade salad dressing for the big salad I was planning) dinner tonight. Which is another good sign. When I stop cooking, that means I'm really low, but when I start to take an interest in making food again, that means I'm getting better.

(And unfortunately, the food thing becomes a vicious cycle - I stop wanting to cook, wanting to prepare, wanting to even MESS with food - so I start eating cereal for dinner or going through drive throughs. And then because I'm eating poorly, I start to feel worse...though finally at some point I can stop and go, "I need to get some vegetables and some fruit and eat some kind of meat that didn't require talking to a Fiberglas clown head to obtain")

When it gets cold again, I will feel better. I can cope with things a lot better when the temperature is cooler. Oh, and when it rains periodically. I love rain and I literally get rain-starved in the summer here - we will get spans of 6, sometimes 8, weeks where it really does not rain. And it's horrible - everything dries up and it's all dusty and I forget how rain SMELLS.

(Of course, it's a great joy then, that first big rainstorm of the fall - because usually that's when it starts coming again; when the back of summer has been broken and fall is on its way).

I feel about summer much the way people in northern New England or Minnesota feel about may be OK when it first starts up but it overstays its welcome and I feel a little dysphoric and unbalanced before it's finally over.

(I would just like one good big rainstorm though sometime soon...though the weather forecast is not promising.)

At least I'm starting to feel a bit better, a bit more on an even keel. (I think that's largely because I've accepted the bad stuff I know I have no power to change, but also maybe because I've realized that the cabin fever feeling isn't "just me," it's because I've been sticking too close to home too much.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

One quick thing...

I think one of the things that's killing me so much about the cat end-of-life issues is that my dad's taking it hard. She is/was "his" cat. (I don't even know what tense to use. I kind of figure the cat's in some limbo between life and death so I find myself using the past tense.)

My mom called me up (on an unrelated measure) and she talked about how she had taken the cat in to the vet for some therapy (and also for the vet to look at her and decide if it was "time" yet, and to discuss the various end-of-life procedures). She said, "Your dad drove me over there and I could tell he was really tickled when I came back out with a cat." (I guess they had discussed beforehand the possibility that it was "time.")

That breaks my heart. Seriously it does. As sad as losing the cat makes me, it makes me even sadder for my dad and how he must feel.

I can be doing okay with stuff (like at funerals and things) but if I look over and realize my dad's crying, it just destroys me for some reason. I may be going along not even really shedding many tears, but as soon as I know he's crying, I just start to bawl.

I think it's because when I was a little kid I saw my dad as the big tough strong one who could fix anything, and so somewhere deep in my brain, the child that is left in my psyche goes, "If Dad's upset, it must really be something unfixable."

I also think part of it is that emotionally we're a lot alike...the dislike of showing strong emotion, the feeling a need to be the tough strong one, but when that dam breaks, it's kind of hard to put it back together.


Well, I graded the research papers last night. (Took me most of the afternoon and evening to do it). Worst batch yet. There were two out of the fifteen that were good enough to earn a high B or an A, but the rest were pretty horrible.

One person cited 0 sources. None! This was something I'd been harping on since the start of the semester. Several other people omitted an important part of the paper (either the abstract or the description of the results).

One guy, referring to an area where he did his study that was an artifically created lake, called the structure that formed the lake a "damn."

I had several freak-out moments - it happens when I'm grading writing, especially when I already feel lousy (see previous post, and also we've reached the stage of the summer where Satan himself would complain about the heat). I would SLAM the papers down on the floor, jump up from my chair (this is why I grade these things at home), and stomp across the floor muttering imprecations and maybe shedding a few frustrated tears.

It's because a lot of these violate one of my deeply held principles - when you are faced with a big project, don't "phone it in." These papers are worth more than any test this summer (save for the final exam). They've had the entire 8 weeks to do them, and while I know that's NOT a lot of time, they've known about them since Day 1 and I've kept reminding them about the papers. I've offered copious amounts of help, reminding them if they have a hard time finding background information, or analyzing their data, or whatever, I have 10 hours of office hours every week, plus I make appointments.

I know people are going to be unhappy. But you know what? I don't care. These papers made ME unhappy. I can't stand it when people "phone it in" on the biggest project of the semester...I can understand doing the occasional lab or quiz with less than ideal attention, we all have busy lives...but a person needs to learn to prioritize and go, "This is a big honking deal so I better do my best on it."

It doesn't help that a couple people who did the worse papers are people who consistently piss me off by skipping class and then acting unhappy when they didn't get some vital piece of information. They even got up and WALKED OUT OF CLASS after the short exam yesterday...they KNEW I was going to be covering the last bit of new material for the final. (Well, there's stuff I'm covering that's not in the book/not on the online material, so they're going to pay for it).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

keeping it together

I realize to the non-pet-owning part of my readership this may look trivial, or not make sense, but it's important to me, so I'm going to talk about it.

One of my parents' cats is almost certainly dying. She's refusing food except when coaxed, doesn't seem to be that interested in things. The vet said she's not really in pain or suffering, and is trying one last thing to see if that will get her some more life (and some more quality life) but I'm not sanguine as this is a very, very, very old cat.

This cat is so old, my parents got her when I was still in college. I kind of "bonded" with her when I lived with my folks when I was in grad school. I always looked forward to seeing her on trips back to my parents.

So I've kind of been dreading this day.

My dad warned me last night that the cat was "winding down" and that she probably wouldn't last much longer. The first words out of my mouth was, "If it's time...don't try to keep her alive just because I'm coming up for a visit in a couple weeks." Because I don't want the cat artificially kept alive just so I can say 'goodbye.' I'm grown-up enough to deal with it and to understand. (And I honestly don't want to see the cat all emaciated and half-dead; I'd rather remember her as she was. And I'm not sure I want to be in on the trip to the vet's to put her down, if it comes to that.)

How I deal with grief is funny. Or at least some people would find it funny. I'm actually grateful that I have a lot of grading to do this weekend and that I have final exams to write and that I agreed to go to a play with my church group on Sunday. Because by keeping busy, I can grab a few minutes to a few hours of feeling good and happy and normal in between the grieving.

(And I'll be over this pretty fast. While it's sad, it's not the same as losing a human relative. Though then again - losing an animal is hard because [depending on what you believe] they show you unconditional love, or at least what humans interpret as unconditional love. And because I tend to have so many problems and issues in my relationships with people...)

When my grandmother died - the most recent "big" close relative loss - I was trying to finish college physics and pack to move. Both of those things helped me cope. Not by covering up the grief or allowing me to be in denial, but somehow, having "normal" every day things to do reminded me that life goes on, that there will come a time when I will hurt less and not be sad.

I think I reacted worse than I might have to the suicide of a cousin some years later because I found out over my Christmas break and I didn't have a lot else to do; I spent a lot of time thinking about it, probably more time than was really good for me.

I know some people think that way of dealing with grief is strange or "wrong." When one of my colleagues lost her husband suddenly (heart attack at a very young age), she was back to work the next week. There was a lot of talk about that. But I totally understand - it's good to go back to a place where you have some control over the situation, where there are things to be done, where the business of living keeps you from brooding on the sadness surrounding the death. Where there are things going on that do not explicitly remind you that you have lost that person. I do think some people successfully grieve and reach that "closure" state faster if they're allowed to do what seems to work for them. (Not that I'd prescribe the back-to-work-right-away for everyone; I recognize that it only helps some people and for a lot of people, going back to work right away would probably make things worse).

I didn't sleep all that well last night. (Part of it was totally external - my neighbors were away until late AGAIN and their damn dogs were barking out in the back yard AGAIN and the stupid security light kept getting triggered AGAIN. I finally stuck in earplugs and put on a dark eyeshade and managed to grab some sleep). I dreamed twice about the cat - in one dream, my mother and I were arguing about who got to take the cat in to be euthanized (It being a dream, the thought of both of us going together didn't occur). The other one - the cat was there, but I don't remember much of the dream, I just remember waking up and crying for 10 or 15 minutes afterwards. (Stupid dreams. I thought they were supposed to afford some kind of escape.)

(Similarly, after my grandmother died, I had lots of dreams about losing other family members. And after my cousin's suicide, I had a very vivid dream where I was trying to prevent someone else's suicide. Remembering one's dreams is not always the blessing some claim it to be.)

The other thing I did last night as a self-consoling behavior...regressive reading. I looked at all the books I have going, couldn't face any of them. So I pulled my old battered copy of "The Silver Chair" off the shelf and started to re-read it. It's been years since I read it so it helped, somehow. Both in the sense of an escape...and also, oddly enough, it comforted me because it was something from "the time before" - the time before my parents got the cat they have now, back when we had the old cat, Sam, the one who passed on when I was a freshman in college. (And oddly enough, now, I realize last evening I sought out another old toy I had saved from childhood...which was also from "the time before" and had to have it near me while I was reading. Strange. But it did help.

So it'll take a little time.

So, while I'm trying not to be TOO sad (she had a long life, probably the best life a cat could have, and if she starts suffering my parents are strong enough to have the vet do what needs to be done), I'm still sad.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two. Hours.

Okay, this is something that bugs me.

I am in a couple of women's groups (no, not that kind of women's group; we're not revolutionaries in any sense of the word and I think if you showed any of the other women in the group the word spelled "womyn," they'd probably pull out their Red Teacher Pens and correct its spelling).

Anyway, I'm also an officer in these groups. (Don't ask me how that happened. In a couple cases it involves the bad old, "But you don't have a husband or children to take care of" argument which I actually fell for).

So one of the groups had its planning meeting the other evening. (Yes, evening. I wanted afternoon but the other still-employed member doesn't get done with work until 6).

The meeting lasted two hours. Two stinking hours. In that time, we accomplished the necessary planning in probably about 20 minutes.

The rest of the time? Chatting, and one person sharing several rather hair-raising and borderline TMI stories. In the guise of "sisterhood." (DO NOT WANT).

I didn't say anything but I was getting really weary - I had put in a full day over at school, I was staring down another full day starting in less than 12 hours, I had not had any time to myself that day. And I'm sitting listening to stories about stuff I really would rather not know.

(Why, why, why do women do that? Why do they need to share detail of family troubles and gynecological problems and horrific crimes they've witnessed/been victims of with innocent-bystander women? I thought that counselors and therapists served that kind of function in our society).

And this is one of the things that irks me. And almost makes me wonder if I could find some graceful exit from the group...dealing with that kind of thing. The time bandits. The people who, because their lives are relatively unstructured, see nothing wrong with taking hours of other people's time to SHARE.

And yeah, maybe I'm being antisocial and curmudgeonly - but - I was tired, y'all. Tired and hot and thinking about how nice a shower would feel, and then getting into my pajamas and into bed.

Fortunately, most of the meetings are not like that. But sometimes they are. And I want to get up and say, "You retired stay at home moms....I know for you sometimes time out of the house and away from your husbands or kids is a welcome change. But as for me - I have to get up at 5 am tomorrow, I worked a full day, I am DONE with dealing with other human beings. All my words have been used up - I have no more to share. I need sleep to be able to restore my stock of patience and tolerance."

(As I said, there was one other "working woman" in the group....a local shopkeeper. And interestingly, she was as silent as I was. I'm willing to bet she'd used up her store of words and perhaps patience and lovingkindness for the day (if you're a shopkeeper, I bet you have a lot of days like that). I don't think she was fuming like I was but then again she probably didn't have to be at work before 8:30 or so [her shop opens at 10]).

But I don't know. Maybe this is how I am deeply antisocial and kind of neurologically atypical but I really, really, really cherish my quiet evenings at home and even though I don't MIND taking a half hour or so to do some planning - and maybe 20 minutes for small talk - I'm really not up for the hour's worth of hair-raising stories.

Sometimes I bemoan not having a BFF, because it seems like most of the other women I know do. But if being a BFF means being able to sit on my rump for hours, and do that strained smile-nod thing when someone is talking about something I really don't want to know about, maybe I'm better off with my hermit's life.

I didn't look at my watch the whole time - it was a small meeting and I was afraid of looking rude. So when I got in the car, and turned it on, I thought to myself, OK, what is Mr. Car-Clock going to say the time is.

And that's when I saw that 2 hours of my life had been drained away. And that's when I got a little angry, because at that point it was late enough (by the time I'd be home) that all I'd have time to do was go to bed, especially if I planned on getting up for my usual workout the next day.

I don't know. I like people but sometimes I almost feel like my diffidence and tendency not to say, "Why, oh why, are you sharing this horrible story with us?!? Why can't we just wrap it up and all go home?" means people take advantage of me a little bit and are time-vampires.

Monday, July 14, 2008

humidity can **** off

I woke up this morning perspiring. Now, you have to understand: I have a/c that is set in the range of 74-75 degrees. And a ceiling fan in the bedroom. And a dehumidifier that runs intermittently in the kitchen (which is just across the hall from my bedroom...I have a funny old house with a strange floor plan).

When I actually got up, I realized I could barely breathe.


It's our high humidity time again. When it's foggy when I wake up, dewpoints remain in the 70s all day long, and I walk around feeling like I'm a couple inches away from an anxiety attack because that's the way humidity makes me feel.

And the humidity traps stink. I can tell that one of my neighbors grilled out last night - the cloud of lighter fluid is still hanging in the air. And I know when I get home I'll be able to smell what's on the grill at the Dairy Queen a couple of streets over. And God forbid a skunk gets hit on the road, or there's some kind of big roadkill, because we'll all smell it for days.

And I think the misery that's brought by humidity has a lot of other consequences:

1. People's tempers are shorter. I know mine is. And while I'm less inclined to go OFF on things (because it's so hot, meh), I am less patient and tolerant and more prone to just walk away from a situation in frustration.

2. Crazy people seem to be crazier. I've seen this at the local grocery store - people screaming at cashiers, accusing them of some kind of conspiracy, when the poor cashier knows nothing of the situation. I've (occasionally) been buttonholed myself in shops by someone with glittery eyes who wants to share some very important information

3. Stuff seems to break more readily, or there seem to be more car "issues."

4. Annoying people seem annoying-er, but I don't know if that's them, me, or some combination.

5. I can't type as well. Making lots of errors. Kind of being borderline dyslexic in my spelling like when my allergies are bad or I'm starting with a migraine.

We haven't had any rain - real rain - in a while, either, and that sort of adds to the fug of bad-ness hanging in the air.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

In case Ken wants some yard art...

...or in case he decides to "go Green."

wind-powered banjo.

Well, sort of. It only has one string but I think that's a banjo head used as the basis of the thing.

I'm sure someone with some engineering know-how could work a real banjo into something like this. I mean, if they wanted to. (I think I'd get tired of hearing the A string or whatever that is being plucked over and over and over as the wind blew).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oh, dear.

...I don't think this was what they intended.

Big, splashy ad on the TV (can't remember for sure but I think I was watching Cartoon Network at the time.

"BE A PLAYER!" the ad exclaims.

and then, in smaller letters: "Get an hour of physical activity every day."

Now, surely I'm not so behind-the-times in slang, that the "alternate" meaning of "player" has gone away? Surely some of the kids seeing that (especially the teens) will respond to "Be a Player!" with some Beavis and Butthead-esque laughter?

And yeah, I suppose encouraging physical activity is a good thing. But I have to admit I really hate that one PSA with the cartoon ref, who throws down a yellow flag for "inactive activity" and forces the kids to go outside and run around. I especially hate at the end that it encourages the kids to go online to look stuff up, "but don't stay too long!"

As I said: physical activity is a good thing. And heck, maybe many kids today aren't that active. But it sort of irritates me, the very nanniness of the ad. (If some cartoon character had showed up in my living room on a hot summer day while I was reading a book, trying to escape the summer heat and my own hatred of being 13, and they told me I needed to go out and "play," I would have showed them a particular physical gesture I had just learned earlier that year).

I do know when I was a kid I did spend a lot of time running around outdoors and also doing borderline-dangerous stuff like climbing trees. Maybe not a full hour EVERY day though; Wednesday afternoons I had piano lessons. And maybe kids don't do that so much any more. But I'm getting tired of childhood being turned into Adulthood, Jr. - where you're expected to eat healthy foods all the time, and cupcakes are considered contraband in some schools, and there's a push to get those kids out exercising (in fact in some places, unstructured play - the good kind - is being looked at critically because apparently it doesn't raise the little darlings' heart rates enough, or something).

Childhood is childhood. They'll have 50 years or more to be adults.

I do remember my one experience with "structured" sports as a kid: my parents enrolled me in Saturday-morning field hockey when I was 12 or so. (I think it was at the pressuring of my doctor, who saw me gaining weight but not gaining height...I was starting a growth spurt but I started it pound-wise first).

I HATED it. No, I LOATHED it. I was on a team with all the "popular" girls. In other words: the ones who saw me as the gum on the bottom of their shoes, and the ones I saw as my daily tormentors.

They used to "test their sticks" by beating on my shinguards with them. They never passed to me. They said rude things to me and excluded me from their conversations.

I was miserable. I begged my parents to let me stop. I told them I'd go on a diet if they let me (and I did.)

However - when I could just run around outdoors, or play with CHOSEN playmates (there were four kids, close in age, in the family across the street and we got some awesome games of kick-the-can or smear-the-[politically incorrect term for a homosexual] going with a few other neighborhood kids.) So I wasn't a total slug but I did learn to hate the organized team sports. (And I continued in that. I played tennis in high school but that's not really a "team" thing, at least not where you can be frozen out by the other people on the playing field. And I swam, but then again: you're doing your thing when you do it BY YOURSELF and while your team-mates can make your life hell when you're out of the water, when you're there in the lane, it's just you and the people from the other teams.)

So I admit, I tend to be very cynical when well-meaning adults take something kids would do for fun (left to their own devices and provided a location where they can do it) and make it into work. And make it into Good For Them. And make it into something with which adults can interfere, because I remember as a kid feeling often that "adults take everything fun and screw it up."

But: Be a Player. Yeah. You don't want to be saying that so much when they get to be 17 and 18.

something I love

...about teaching.

I have this guy in my non-majors class. He is funny and good-natured and interested and all that. But dude is the quintessential "not good at tests." I'm serious on this - a lot of times someone who claims not to be good at tests is either dumb as a box of rocks, or is someone who would rather party than study.

But this student - you can ask him the stuff and he can TELL you it...but he kind of clutches on exams. He hadn't broken a 70% yet this summer but I know he was trying. Every exam I give and grade, I'm pulling for him. I really wanted to see him break that 70%.

Well, this week, he did. Made an 82% on the exam. I know he's going to be happy and that makes me happy. He may even do the "who's the man?" question, and I will grin and shake my head and say, "[Student], you're the man!"


I'm planning out classes for the fall, and once again, I find myself conflicted about something.

You see, our campus offers an "online presence" for courses that meet in-person. Note that this "online presence" is NOT the same as offering the course "online." Many, if not most campuses have this now - WebCT and Blackboard are the two big packages a lot of places use.

What it is, is a place for the faculty member to post announcements (v. useful if you have to cancel class on short notice), put up handouts (so the person who was out sick can get them without your having to lug the extra copies around forever), and put up course material like outlines.

And it's the last bit that I'm feeling the most conflicted about.

In most of my courses, I use Powerpoint for a lot of the stuff. It's useful to me because I can take graphs and charts - either downloaded, or grabbed off the CD that comes with most textbooks, or even scanned - and have nice neat depictions of research data to show with the case studies I discuss. Or I can put terminology on there. Or I've even done a few very simple animations in Powerpoint.

I like using it because my handwriting is poor (ask any of the students), and besides, our chalkboards are gray. Yes, they put pale gray chalkboards in our classrooms. It's horrible because white chalk really doesn't show up on them, and with yellow chalk you have to write HUGE and be sure all the lights are on and have the blinds drawn over the windows. And even at that the students in the back can't see the board all that well.

So I use Powerpoint, which has the drawback of being "canned" and not being something you can add to on the fly in the classroom (we are SUPPOSED to get those "digital blackboard" things you can write on and have it projected, but I'm not holding my breath).

Anyway, when we started using Blackboard (the computer program, not the crummy gray blackboards we have), students asked me: Are you going to put your Powerpoints up online?

And at first I thought: what a great idea! I would have loved that when I was a student!

One of the things I remember from my TA training was this: it is the atypical students who wind up as professors.

So my interpretation of Powerpoints online would have been: Great! I can print them out and bring them to class with me and take notes on them!

So I put the Powerpoints online.

And I began to notice something.

My attendance levels were lower.

Not just in the non-majors classes I teach (where crap attendance is often the norm), but also in my Majors classes.

Okay, first an aside: I do not like the idea of mandatory attendance. I don't like the idea of taking off points for poor attendance for a couple of reasons.

First of all: these people are adults. They should be able to realize the importance of coming to class without being forced into it.

Second: it's actually a problem that kind of "takes care of itself" in that most of the people who fail, and I mean Epic Fail (like get 30% and such) are the people who chronically skip. The people who attend every day or nearly so? They AT LEAST pass. (I will give an example in a moment).

But third, and most importantly: I do not want the paperwork. I do not want to have to deal with the myriad doctor's notes, and letters-from-lawyers verifying that said person was testifying on said day, and the obituaries listing them as a pallbearer and all that sad detritus. Because I am not that organized. And it chafes me to think of spending even 15 minutes a day having to do that kind of clerical work (and it would more likely be 15 minutes per class, or 45 minutes to an hour a day).

HOWEVER, often when people skip class a lot, it's partly because they're immature. And the problem with immaturity, is there's the tendency to blame others for one's own failures.

Hence, I have the problem of people showing up all sad to my office at the end of the semester (when I'm already stressed, trying to grade and write exams and plan to maybe get out of town for a few days of R & R once the semester is over). And they want to know why they are failing. And they want to know if there is anything they can do. And they want to know if I give extra credit assignments. And then they want to know just WHY I am so mean as to not make extra credit available.

And it is something with which I'd rather not deal.

I have the situation in one of my classes this summer - the vast majority of students are polite and funny and nice and kind and they show up to class and of the ones who show up to this class they are averaging (AVERAGING) 85% on the tests.

But there is one guy who never comes. Except on test day and on lab day. I guess he's figured it's not important to him. He is averaging a 50% on the tests.

But what bothers me more than that is his attitude.

The last lab - which was a field lab - he waited outside in the parking lot while I explained to the class the sampling method they were going to use. (I had assumed he was skipping, since I didn't see him in the room). As we were leaving, I said, "Is this everyone that's here today?"

One of the young women said, "Oh, Jack's here. He's waiting outside."


"So, he won't know the sampling techniques, then" I muttered to myself. And true to form, Jack didn't. He had to ask for help, he had to "mooch" off the knowledge of the other people in his group (and why they let him is BEYOND me. He never pays attention, he rarely does much of the work...and yet they let him. I've made some little comments here and there but I'm not aggressive enough to go "Jack - you need to get on task. You need to stop being a sponge.")

And then? Jack complained that there was poison ivy at the site. (Well, duh. This is the South. Alllllll of the forests around here have had disturbance. It is a fact of life.)

"I didn't KNOW" he whined. "I have medication I'm supposed to put on when I go out in poison ivy!"

I was fuming at that point. I didn't trust myself not to say something really regrettable, so I refrained from commenting, "I MENTIONED EVERY DAY THIS WEEK AT THE START ***AND*** END OF CLASS THAT WE WERE GOING OUT IN THE FIELD WHERE THERE WAS POISON IVY!!!!" But it's true; I did. One guy who had a high level of sensitivity to it brought a set of coveralls with him and put them on for protection. The other students - most of whom come to class in shorts- were all wearing jeans and boots that day.

So I was not happy with Jack. And if he got poison ivy and bitches to me about it next week, I'll just happen to mention that I announced it, and it's not my responsibility if someone's not present to hear the announcements.

(Interesting that he can mooch off of his labmates for everything else, yet they didn't bother to tell him about the ivy...or maybe he wasn't listening).

At any rate, this long complain-fest has as its upshot: I am thinking of not doing the WebCT thing this fall. I am thinking of NOT posting content online because it seems to enable people who want to skip class to do so. And then it makes headaches for me - both in dealing with their 'tudes when they don't get some important announcement, and in dealing with their sadness and anger when they earn a poor grade because they missed most of the discussions in class. (And missed the new material I bring in - I'm always reading and if something comes up in the news or journals that pertains to class material, I make a point of discussing it. Even if it's not on the Powerpoint.

The thing is, though - and this is what stays my hand from completely deciding to drop the online presence of my courses - I've seen some of the better students in the class show up with printouts of the Powerpoints. And seen them take notes on them. Just like I would have done had they been available in my day.

So on the one hand, I'd love to save myself headaches from dealing with the students who somehow believe they're entitled to an online course even if it's not really offered as an online course, but on the other, I don't want to penalize people who are using the online stuff as it was intended to be used.

And I have to admit that not having to carry old handouts to class with me is nice; it's good to be able to tell people who skipped (or were out sick), "Go to the Blackboard site to get the handout" instead of having to lug folders of stuff with me to class.

So I don't know. I suppose I will continue to do the online stuff, because I hate it when a few rule-breakers spoil something that the rule-abiding people benefit from, and that happens way too often. However, I'd like to be able to enforce something like a "If you don't show, you can't whine" policy. Because really, I think someone who's present at 1/3 or fewer of the classes has abrogated their right to complain that I am a "bad" teacher. Especially since the people who are always there do well in the class, and many of them at least give me the impression that they think I am a good teacher.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fragments: "reflected fame"

(First of all, an explanation to newer readers: once in a while, I like to make up stories. I haven't done it in a long while, haven't had any ideas. I like to post some of the better ideas I have here, just for the heck of it, seeing as they're really not long enough or detailed enough to flesh out into real stories but I'd like to record them somewhere a bit more public than the hard drive of my computer.

Oh, they're mostly non-autobiographical but a few of the minor facts of this one sort of are autobiographical, even if the narrator is the opposite gender from me).

...I was tooling down the highway, in the field van. The students had finally persuaded me to let them turn the radio on. Normally I don't; I don't drive with the radio on in my own car because I find it distracting, and driving the superannuated 15 passenger vans my department provides for our conservation students requires every bit of concentration I have. But it was a warm day, exams were coming up, and I figured it was best to be a little nice to the students.

They tuned it to one of the college-rock stations - the kind that play a mishmash of stuff, some old Clapton, some weird alterna-bands I've never heard of, some really poppy stuff. A woman comes on, singing in kind of a folky style. I think I know her voice but don't say anything until after the song ends.

One of the students - Bill - makes the comment about Desiridata's hotness, about what a great singer she is. A couple of the other guys chime in and a few of the women in the class express a certain envy for her lifestyle.

So I decide to drop the bomb.

"I knew her in high school. She went to high school with me."

General sounds of disbelief from the class.

"No, really. She was called Margret Enderby then. When we were in school I thought she was interested in going the pre-med route in college. I guess that changed when someone told her she could sing."

"But....she's like 25?!?" Chase exclaimed.

I made a dismissive sound with my lips. "Please. She would have had to have been an infant prodigy. She graduated the same year as I did, and I'm almost 40."

Groans from the guys in the bus. Another fantasy destroyed, I suppose. Perhaps it was mean but there really wasn't any going back now.

"Are you sure? I mean, couldn't there have been some girl at your high school that you just thought became her? Or maybe Desiridata is her daughter?"


"No, they had a big article on her in the alumni magazine a couple years back..."

The kids start exclaiming and asking about "alumni magazine." Well, crap.

"Yeah, my high school has an alumni magazine." I added, more softly, "I went to prep school and the alumni are scattered all over the nation."

I don't like to let that fact out; I know enough of the tougher conservation guys already regard me as somewhat of a pansy-ass given my background and the fact that I don't discuss my romantic exploits. But I couldn't just stop; I had gotten so far in my explanation of how Desiridata was actually a remarkably well-preserved middle-aged woman. Like Madonna, you know?

For that matter, I've had students express disbelief that I'm nearly 40. And I admit there's a certain fun in proving to them that I am. I suppose a lot of them - coming from the backgrounds they do - see guys who are completely burned out and beaten down by life by the time they hit my age, and I'm kind of just now hitting my full maturity. (I've claimed to students who wanted to know how I stayed so young that it was because I never married or had children. I think some of them may see me as somewhat of a libertine for having made that statement, though their assumption is pretty far from the truth - I live a damn near monkish life, and frankly I like it that way).

"So Dr. Holcomb," Chase said, leaning over the front of the seat, "What was she like in high school? Was she hot then? Did you like her?"

"Did you ask her to the prom?" called one of the women in the back and the bus erupted in laughter.

The truth is, I didn't know Margret that well in high school. She was way beyond me in looks, and true to the old saying that girls mature faster than boys, she was already essentially an adult while my friends and I were still swapping Spiderman comics and trying to imagine the grossest Slurpee flavor possible. So I decided on the truth:

"Margret was a very beautiful girl in high school. She was kind of distant, the sort of person you didn't approach. I wound up asking Pam Butzler to the prom - she had braces and glasses and was the only girl I thought would go with me."

"So did you make it with Pam Butzler?" Leave it to David to immediately go the most inappropriate place possible.

But what the hell. Again, I could tell the truth: "No. It turned out one of the things in the punch at the after-prom was something she was allergic to. She started throwing up and I had to drive her to the hospital in my dad's old Crown Victoria. I wound up sitting in the ER with her for a half-hour before her parents could get there. Then I just went home."

Some of the guys groaned. Some of the women made that sound - that sound where you know you've done something OK in their eyes, that you're not a total cad or loser.

"Would you ask Desiridata out if she were around here today?"

"No. No, I have no desire to try to make high school the way I wanted it to be by reliving it." I realize some of them don't understand that yet, but they will.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


This is a question for parents of toddlers.

One of the toddlers in church this Sunday had a pair of those shoes with squeakers in the heel. I found it incredibly amusing to watch the little guy running around, and with every step there was "Squeak! Squeak!" It was almost like a cartoon.

But I got to thinking - wow, that could potentially get on a person's nerves if they had to listen to it all day.

But then I thought again - but if I were the mom of an active toddler, wouldn't it be useful to know exactly where he was running around if he happened to run out of my sight, like into another room? And if the squeaking stopped, I would know there was trouble? (like he had fallen down or something)

So this is a question for the moms and dads: Squeaky toddler shoes:

Cute and funny?
Useful tool?

Some combination of the above?

Monday, July 07, 2008

An open letter to NBCU

Okay, so now you own the Weather Channel.

As a long-time viewer, and die-hard weather geek, I'd like to offer you a few suggestions.

A. Stick to what the Weather Channel does best. In other words: reporting the weather.

There are many reasons why the narrowly focused approach succeeds, in my opinion.

First of all - when people know that they can surf over to your channel and be sure of finding weather reporting, they will do that. (With the proliferation of programs - the "It Could Happen Tomorrows," the anti-global-warming stuff, the recounting of some weather-disaster that happened in 1967 - not so much).

It is frustrating to want to know what the weather is, and to find that your channel is playing some program about a big snowstorm that happened in 1932. Most of your viewers weren't even born then!

Second, and I realize this is a reason personal to me - but there is something comforting about wall-to-wall weather information. You see, I suffer from insomnia from time to time. And one of the few things that helps is getting up and watching something sort of slow-moving, sort of big-scale, something I don't have to (and in fact, can't) do anything about. Watching the progression of fronts across the continent is strangely soothing to me (as I said: I'm a weather geek). I do not like to flop down on the sofa at 2 am and see P. Allen Smith's face, or some re-run of a show about what might happen if a megatornado hit Dallas.

The other channels run infomercials at that time, which actually make me angry, so your channel is one of the few I could count on.


B. Dump "It could happen tomorrow." It's fear-mongering at its worst. It's basically climate p0rn. Also- hubris may have been a concept that went out with the ancient Greeks, but do keep in mind that one of the earliest episodes - which wound up having to stay in the can - was about a giant hurricane hitting New Orleans. And Katrina happened not long after the episode was completed (necessitating its staying "in the can," as I said).

Oh, I'm sure there are people who like that show. I just don't know any of them. I'd guess they're also the kind of people who like shows like "Nanny 911!" and other "reality" programming that features dysfunctional people and lots of yelling. Ask yourself: is that the audience we really want?

C. Limit the global-warming/climate change stuff. You're the WEATHER channel, not the CLIMATE channel. We already have one sucky network ("Green" tv or whatever the hell it's called - it used to be Discovery Home) that devotes its entire day of programming to trying to make people feel bad for living in a post-Industrial Revolution world. If you're so very concerned about pollution, go dark for part of the day. Shut everything down. Or something. But don't tell people in the middle of a heat wave how much damage their air conditioning is doing to the climate, because that will just piss them off.

Oh, and don't fire people who challenge the "party line" on global climate change, either. Let them speak. There's more debate allowed on the airwaves on the divinity of Jesus, for goodness sake, than there is about climate change.

D. If you do feel the need to show "programming" (other than reporting the weather), limit it. You know how people joke about "Remember when MTV used to show music videos?" Don't fall victim to mission creep.

If you do show "programming," I have a couple of suggestions.

First, in-depth factual programs about how the weather works. Explain how a cool front can turn into a stationary front. Talk about the El Nino cycle and why it matters. Inform people. (But please - be factual, don't be all hype-y, and please don't mention anthropogenic effects contributing to things unless there's clear evidence).

Second, the weather-and-history program is OK - but don't run the same one fifteen different times in a week.

Third, maybe some kind of short (like 15 minute) "practical advice" program on dealing with aspects of weather - what heatstroke is, how to prevent it. What hypothermia is. Normally I'd say the audience is too smart to need this, but from what I've seen happen to people around where I live recently, maybe not.

E. If there is severe weather ANYWHERE in the nation, suspend or at least break into regular programming to give updates. There are people in this country who live in areas with few local channels (or in some cases, no local channels). And those local channels can get knocked off the air during severe weather - I've seen it happen.

It is simply infuriating to turn to the "Weather" channel during a large outbreak of severe thunderstorms-with-possible-embedded-tornadoes and find they are playing a program on a blizzard that happened in Maine in 1934.

Again: avoid mission creep. You are the WEATHER channel.

I don't suppose you'll take my suggestions, as a single lowly consumer. (And as a single lowly consumer in the unmarried childless female over 34 age group, I may as well be invisible). But I do think there are some things that have happened to the Weather Channel in the last five years that should be reversed and undone.

Thank you for listening.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Seventy-six trombones...

Well, I did do one thing kind of special for the Fourth.

(Minor spoilers ahead, but I suspect most people have either seen some version of the movie/play or, if they haven't, wouldn't care too much about spoilers...)

I watched "The Music Man." (The original version, the one with Shirley Jones and Robert Preston). I love the movie; it's got to be among my favorites. I remember being mildly obsessed with it when I was about 16 - I taped it off of the television (I think they ran it on the local PBS channel) and I watched it over and over again.

Part of it is that it's good and funny. But part of it is that I think I represents the sort of fantasy-world I would like to escape to, especially the sort I would have liked to escape to at 16. Things are a lot simpler. The 1912 Iowa of the movie is all pastel candy colors. Girls are only expected to give up a "kiss" on their third date (true, there are subtexts galore in the movie - some of which I see now at 39, but at 16 I was a lot more innocent, and I was able to sort of willfully ignore the fact that traveling salesmen did more than 'kiss' the girls they visited in all those towns). There are "sociables." People randomly break into song and dance. It seems a happier world - a simpler world.

I think perhaps I was drawn to the small-town River City because I was growing up in a small town, but one that, by the 1980s, had lost a lot of the community things that made it nice - when I was a small kid, there was a summertime ice-cream social where people actually brought cakes and pies, but that went by the wayside at some point because of concerns about food-safety and who-knows-what-they-might-put-in-that-cake. And also, I think I was beginning to recognize that the world was a bigger place than I had thought, and a more dangerous place, and that it was actually pretty hard to find friends or even kindred spirits at times.

But in 1912 River City, it seemed simpler and perhaps kinder.

Everything is kind of pre-ordained: you know that even though "Harold" Hill (whose name is, apparently, really "Greg") starts out as a rounder, he is going to actually fall in love with the girl (who he originally intended only to exploit) and some miracle is going to occur so that he won't actually have cheated the townspeople out of their money.

And at the very end of the movie, you can imagine "Greg" thinking, that for the first time in his life, he's done something worthwhile, and heck, he might as well abandon that old persona and BECOME Harold Hill and stay there and marry the librarian and....well, I'm not sure how he'd manage to make a living but at least that's what I imagine - that he finds some honest employment and marries Marian and settles down, but that the town is better for his presence.

Part of the fun of the movie is the townspeople. Some of the casting seems pretty near perfect to me- Paul Ford as the bloviating small-town mayor, Hermione Gingold as his "I'm bringing Cult-Char to this town if it kills me" wife (who of course expects to be referred to by her full name). All of the "pick a little" ladies.

I will say there's one moment in the movie where, now that I over-think some things, I was a bit uncomfortable with how close it comes to modern attitudes. This is almost at the end - where "Professor" Hill has been caught and handcuffed and is being subject to a sort of kangaroo court. And the marching band (in their new uniforms) march in, and they line up. And Marian encourages Hill (still handcuffed) to lead the band.

And they try to play that Beethoven minuet. And they are TERRIBLE. But then, parents start jumping up and exclaiming, "That's my boy!" and the like - the parents are entranced by their kids' playing, no matter how bad it is, how off-key or off-time. And while I suppose parents have always been such, it seems to me a bit uncomfortably close to the "Everyone's a Winner!" high-esteem mentality. Or at least it does to me, perhaps because I deal with the aftereffects of kids going through the "Everyone's a Winner!" programs on a more-or-less regular basis.

(But whatever, it's redeemed by the "magical" transformation right afterwards - where the dingy uniforms become new and spiffy, and the instruments become fresh and new and the kids can actually play them).

But there's sort of an innocence to the world of the film (even despite the traveling-salesmen and the jokes about going-steady-and-we'd-rather-do-it-behind-her-father's-back). And there are the soft colors and the music and the edges of things seem softer, somehow. And it makes for a nice escape.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, USA!

On a happier note:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Others have said it more eloquently than I could, but our Founding Fathers were genius.

I would hope that everyone working in government regularly re-reads this document, as well as the Bill of Rights (I'd like them to read the whole Constitution but I suppose I must be practical). The fundamental ideas of those two documents, in particular - may we never forget them. May we never decide we'd rather have perfect security than liberty. May we never decide we'd rather sit and be entertained than work to protect and maintain the rights named above. May we never choose to abolish democracy in favor of some more-restrictive but (apparently) easier form of government. (As much as I joke about being a closet monarchist, I really am not).

And may others around the world suffering under unjust governments, where the leaders are as given to whimsy and arrogance of their subjects' needs as George III was, read these documents, come up with their own version, and try some form of the "American experiment" in their own country.

I'm not doing much to "celebrate" today - I didn't inherit the "fireworks gene" that runs in my family (the gene that makes you want to shoot off fireworks, even if it's just bottle rockets. And I think that must be a Y-chromosome-linked gene, given how it operates in my family). I'm not big on cookouts. And, in fact, I need to get some work done on a research presentation I'm giving in a few weeks. So I am going in to work today. But then again - that's exercising my freedom; there is no one saying I must (for example) spend the day bowing down to a portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

But still, I felt I had to mark the day somehow.

This is why I hate medical "reporting."

A medical story being pimped on the local news:

"Neurofibromatosis: the rare genetic disorder that may affect your family!"

Arrrrgh. "Rare" and "may" are the keywords here.

The incidence of NF, depending on the type, is either 1 in 4000 or 1 in 50,000 (there are several different types). According to this website, about 100,000 people in the U.S. are affected. (Which, yeah, is still "rare" considering there are 300 million in the U.S.)

However - the disease is almost always inherited (only vanishingly rarely is it a mutation). It is an autosomal dominant. So people with NF in their families ALREADY KNOW ABOUT IT. A child affected with NF will *almost always* have a parent with it.

I HATE the way my local news channel reports this stuff. I can almost hear the scare-waves going out from the set. (I wonder how many families got worried by that header and started calling their doctors).

How would I present the story? I don't even know. If I were a news director, I'd probably only choose to run the story if (a) there was new information out on treatment/surgery for it or (b) there happened to be a couple families in the area we knew were affected by it, had school-aged children, and wanted to educate the public so that the families weren't shunned. (And even then, I'm not entirely sure that's part of the mission of a news program).

But I hate the trend of Scare Reporting! that comes with medical news. This often seems to center around stuff you eat or drink (just this morning they were telling women to "put down the coffee!" for some reason), or childhood pastimes that are normally safe but maybe one out of 10,000,000 times have some kind of injury ("Next: Killer Playground Slides!"), or talking about how some perhaps-unavoidable condition is going to make you Die Real Soon! ("How having blue eyes increases your risk of Deadly Eye Cancer!").

I'm sure part of it is that without larding the local news with these stories - and their stupid "Relationship Corner" and their recipe-segment and all that junk - the local news would be about 15 minutes long, rather than the 2 hours they stretch it out to every morning. (5 am to 7 am).

And you know? I'm not convinced that 15 minutes of news, and an hour-45 of something else (maybe show old Bugs Bunny cartoons?) would be such a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Alzheimer's can FTFO...

I'm kind of sad today. I'm sure part of it is that I'm in the "Groundhog Day" part of the summer, where every day is 97*, killingly humid, no rain in the forecast, and I'm at the midpoint of the semester, when I usually run out of steam.

But I have another reason.

I found out last night that a family friend - a retired minister - is suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's. My parents hadn't seen him and his wife in a while, and they saw them somewhere and got to talking. The wife passed on that she was taking her husband around to all the churches he had either pastored or done an interim ministry in (the implication being, "for one last visit"). My dad said that the man's long-term memory was OK, but some of the things he said didn't make sense 100%, and his short-term memory was pretty much gone. (He remembered my parents - having first met them some 15 years ago - but he couldn't remember what he had ordered at the restaurant they were eating in).

Alzheimer's is such a devilish disease. In its worst stages, it steals the very essence of the person - they "check out" long before their body does. In some cases the person gets fearful (I've seen that with someone I know from here who developed the disease; she is now in a nursing home up where her children live - her disease progressed very fast) or they get hostile. And that makes it incredibly hard for the caregiver. I can't imagine how hard it would be to keep caring for a spouse that didn't remember me, that treated me like one of the "help," or that demanded to know why I was there.

I wonder if people with Alzheimer's realize it. I suppose in the early stages they do. And I have to admit - the only situation I can see where I would, personally, to myself, justify the "escape hatch" (suicide) would be in a case where I had been diagnosed with that disease, there was really no treatment, and all I had to look forward to was a long slide into unknowing. It would be very hard not to make the decision to forcibly "check out" physically before my brain had a chance to.

And I have to admit, Alzheimer's is one of my fears. Probably not a rational fear; there is no family history of it (my oldest relative made it to 101 and was still arguing lucidly with the nurses about his medications at the nursing home the day he died). And I do other things that are thought to be preventative - eating all those damn vegetables, for example. And exercising. And the fact that I'm fairly highly educated is supposed to be a preventative (though it didn't seem to help in the case of my family's friend).

But still, it's something I fear - having my personality and ability to care for myself stolen, becoming like a baby again.

And it makes me angry when I hear of someone's last years on this earth being stolen by it. Granted, the man I'm talking about seemed fairly happy (or so my parents related) and untroubled by the fact that he had the disease, but it still makes me angry - his wife said that he could no longer read the Bible because he couldn't follow the thread of it and would lose his place. And I know of other people who had fun retirements planned - and then didn't get to do a lot of the stuff, because they got the disease.

And I have to admit, I can't think of any disease I'd rather get Alzheimer's than. Not heart disease, not some autoimmune disorder (as miserable as they can be), not even cancer. Because with those diseases, while they do have mental and spiritual effects on you, it's not the same - not the same as having your memories and ability to function as a Homo sapiens stolen from you.

I hope they come up with a treatment (or better yet, cure) sometime for this. Or some kind of vaccination people can take that will keep them from ever getting it.