This time tomorrow I will be on a train bound for my parents' town. I have a sleeping compartment, which I have concluded is the BEST way to travel, especially if you are traveling alone.
For me, driving is out of the question - it is too far (it would be a two-day drive for me as I'd be doing it all myself). Part of the logical route would be through a major city that I would rather not drive in. And one of my friends who has taken a similar route has told me a few hair-raising stories of things other drivers have done, including try to run her off the road.
And flying...in my experience, flying alone is a misery. It's not so bad if you've got someone traveling with you, if there's someone else to hold your bag while you surrender your various forms of ID. Or to be another pair of eyes as you go through security or to watch your bags when you go to the washroom (not that I carry anything very valuable when I travel, anyway. My brother is scandalized that I don't travel with my laptop but meh. If I have a paper I want to work on I save it to a flashdrive and borrow my dad's. And I'm a Luddite who doesn't own an iPod or a portable dvd player. I tend to carry books to amuse me. And knitting on the train - that's another issue; whether or not you're permitted your needles in a carry on on the plane is apparently up to the whims of the specific TSA screener, and it would be frustrating to get someone with issues who would confiscate all your needles and leave you with an unraveling project stuffed in your bag).
And airports are, I think, after hospitals and car-repair-place waiting rooms, one of the most depressing places on earth. Even when I've been going on vacation with people I love I find the airport depressing.
At least with the train, there are minimal security checks. I suppose someday that may come back to bite us, but I do think the train in the US is much lower profile than other means of transport, and therefore (I think, or perhaps I hope) much less likely to be attacked. I can carry my knitting needles and even my little scissors on. I can carry on water in a bottle without being asked to "prove" it's not some kind of dangerous substance.
And with the compartments, you are blessedly alone. No need to talk to anyone. No need to smile and put up with the sad-sack sort of conversations I seem to attract, where some woman feels the need to reveal to me that the child her husband thinks is his is actually his brother's. Or I hear great detail of all the medical procedures someone's had in the past year. And perhaps I'm excessively polite, but I do not know a non-churlish way of saying, "This is making me sad and twitchy; can we please talk about something else, or better yet, not talk?" I have, at times, used the ruse of carrying on a book that was at least marginally related to my field and to make noises like I "needed" to read it for work, but sometimes that doesn't even help.
(Yes, I'm sure that many people have wonderful experiences with lovely people on the train; perhaps romances have even blossomed. But I seem to wind up with the embittered 75 year old woman or the multiply-divorced, multiply-fired-from-job 40 year old who can't understand why nothing goes well for him)
At any rate. In the compartment, I can sit down and close the door. No one but the car attendant will speak to me. I can pull out my book and read, or pull out my knitting. Or I can sit and look out the window. And I have this cushion of peace all around me - it's quiet, I'm safe, I don't have to paste on a smile and make vague neutral noises about someone's sad life story.
And I have a reservation in the dining car for dinner. And then, after dinner, the car attendant makes up the little hard bed in the compartment (I won't lie to you; the beds are not very comfortable but they are better than the coach seats for sleeping). I brush my teeth and braid my hair (I have long, long hair and I braid it at night so it doesn't tangle) and wash my face. And then in the compartment I pull all the drapes and get out my pajamas and make sure they're all turned right-side out before turning out the light and quickly changing in the dark.
But I don't try to sleep right away. Because, for me, the best part of the trip is propping myself up in that little hard bed on the pillows, and pulling back the window curtain a little so I can see out - and with the lights still out in the compartment, looking out at the dark world. For long stretches there may be nothing but darker tree branches against a dark sky (perhaps with a few stars if it is not cloudy). But there are also numerous small towns. And there's something kind of fascinating to me about traveling through those small towns at night - passing the "main drag" and seeing the McDonald's or the Sonic or the dollar store, still lit up for the night. Or traveling past houses and seeing that there are lights on behind the drawn curtains, and thinking about all those lives - the hundreds of independent lives out there, none of them people I know, none of them that know me.
In a strange way, I find that kind of comforting - thinking of all those people out there on the dark plains, going about their lives - putting their children to bed, or listening to the news on the television, or doing the last of the dinner dishes in the kitchen. Thinking about the next day at work. Wondering if they should call their parents. Talking things over with their spouse.
And few of them give much thought, I think, to the Amtrak train sliding past their town in the dark (at least, I know, I don't think much about the freights that pass through my town; I hear them and think, oh, yes, that's the 4:15, but I don't really consider the men driving them or what they are carrying or where they are going).
And eventually, I start to feel tired and bored of watching the world slide by outside my window, and I try to sleep. I find I am getting better at it - the first few trips I made, I did not sleep at all; I could not get used to the rocking and the occasional noise. (I do carry earplugs and an eyeshade but they do not block things out perfectly.)
I wake up a few times during the night - check my watch, maybe peer out the window into the darkness. Eventually it is close enough to 6:30 am (the time they start serving breakfast) to consider getting up. And again, I repeat the dress-in-the-dark ritual of the night before, just in reverse. And I go to the washroom and brush out my hair and put on a little makeup, and head down to get something to eat.
And if all goes well, it's not too long after breakfast that I get off the train, in my parents' town.
Oh, you do have to be able to deal with lateness - it is not at all unusual for the train to be an hour or two late, on some occasions it has been considerably more than that. But I have no connections to make, I am on vacation, I have a stack of books and some small project I can work on, so I am usually content until I arrive at my destination.
Yes, it takes longer than flying does. But I prefer it so much to flying that the extra time does not really matter.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
This time tomorrow I will be on a train bound for my parents' town. I have a sleeping compartment, which I have concluded is the BEST way to travel, especially if you are traveling alone.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Some of my colleagues kind of roll their eyes about all the stuff surrounding graduation - the pomp, the ritual, all of that. I frankly kind of like it. I like it the same way I like the liturgical stuff we do at church - it is as if it gives a framework to the year, there's a backbone there.
Even though there can be changes - sometimes scary changes - going on in the outside world, graduation (and the liturgical year) remind you that there's a basic continuity to things. That even though bad things may be going on "outside," there are still good things that happen.
Our speaker this year was better than most - a retired Air Force Colonel. He spoke about a variety of things, the typical "you make your dreams come true by setting goals and working toward them" statements (well, that IS true. And I do think people need to be reminded of that; it seems these days there are an awful lot of people who have lofty dreams but either don't know how to or don't want to build the ladder, so to speak, that they can climb to reach those dreams).
But he also made another comment that struck me - he was in the military during Vietnam, and so he knows whereof he speaks - but he mentioned that he thought his dreams as a young man might not come true because of "war, an energy crisis, a recession, and social unrest. Sound familiar?" He also remarked that the fears and hopes of the graduates today are probably very similar to those of graduates in 1915, 1933, 1942, 1952, 1968...that we have survived WWI, the Depression, WWII, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Vietnam...and through all that, though outside circumstances might make attaining dreams more DIFFICULT, it did not make them IMPOSSIBLE.
And then there was the long list of graduates going through. There is always at least one funny/cute/touching moment during this, and this year did not disappoint: a young woman, crossing the stage, had her family clap and cheer. Then, a millisecond after the clapping/cheering ended, a woman yelled out "That's my BABY!!!!" Hahahahaha. We have a lot of students who are "first generation" college students, that is, they are the first ones in their families to earn a college degree. So the parents get really excited and involved at graduation and it's lots of fun.
I will say there were air horns again.
Please, please, please, please: if someone in your family is graduating, especially if it's an indoor graduation in an arena, please resist the temptation to bring an air horn and shoot it off. I know I gripe about this every year but it really is kind of painful for some of us sitting down on the floor. And it's kind of tacky. (And not tacky in a good way.)
The other thing that bugs me - once again, the Dean of Students had to stop and wait in a few cases for the noise to die down before she could read the next name. And that's kind of rude, for people to do that. Oh, I don't mind the cheering and clapping - in fact, I would be very sad if someone went through and NO ONE clapped or cheered for them. But I am talking about cheering, hooting, whistling, screaming, setting off air horns, and stomping that lasts for two or three minutes after the name. That is just rude to the next person in line who deserves their moment in the spotlight.
(I will say with a bit of pride that NONE of the Arts and Sciences' graduates families/friends did that. It was actually mainly the B-school people's friends (I assume it was friends; it was mostly 20-something voices doing the screaming). I don't know. I understand the joy, I understand the relief if it's someone who almost didn't make it...but still it seems wrong to me for the next person in line to have to wait extra long so their name won't get drowned out in the din.)
The other thing I have to say? I've been through four graduations, if you count high school as well. In no case do I specifically remember the applause or cheering - I was far more concerned with (a) juggling my diploma cover and whatever awards I was handed (and the flowers my dad handed me at my Ph.D. graduation - he was on the podium as a department chair and had arranged to be allowed to jump up and hand me a bouquet of red and white flowers [the school colors] as I was crossing the stage) and (b) composing my face for the obligatory photo so I was neither scowling nor grinning like a fool. (I do not photograph well so I always have to think hard about my expression before being photographed). So I remember going through graduation, but I don't remember the applause at the moment as much as I do people coming up and congratulating me afterward.
But still. Even with the horrible air horns and the ill-mannered people, I enjoy graduation. I enjoy being able to applaud for the students our department graduates (and there were a bunch this year, including a young African man who has hopes and dreams of getting his MD here, and going back to Africa to serve as a medical missionary. I hope he achieves that dream.) And I do kind of enjoy the formality of it. There is so little left in academia that is formal and kind of ritualized, and I have to admit I think a little formality is a good thing.
And also, graduation is a nice ending point for the semester - you can forget all the exam questions that you read students' answers to and went, "The heck? They didn't even answer what I asked!" or you can put aside the people who came at the last minute with problems (one of my colleagues said she had people crying in her office every day this week. She teaches Genetics and Cell and Molecular Biology, two of the tougher courses, so I guess she does get stuck with people who are unhappy at times). You can put all that aside and enjoy the fact that there ARE people who have succeeded, who are graduating, who are going on to medical school or grad school or to jobs or (in a few cases) back home to raise their kids (because that's what they want).
Friday, December 12, 2008
I am trying to rewrite that paper that was rejected like back in October or so. (I started on it, then I got sick, then work a-sploded, then it was Thanksgiving, then it was exam week).
Ugh. I hate rewriting, have I said that before? I just like being able to mark stuff as "done" and when you're rewriting, it is never really done.
I want to be packing. Because packing is the symbol that I will be on vacation soon, I will be able to relax soon, I will see my family soon.
And one thing I have to pack is PROJECTS. I am going to be gone nearly 3 weeks which means I need a lot of stuff (well, other than this damn rewrite) to work on. Fun stuff, I mean. I have the books lined up that I want to take.
I also have a little hand-piecing project I MIGHT take, I haven't decided yet.
And the knitting: I have a couple small on-going things (including a scarf I totally unraveled last night and started over because I made a mistake many rows back that made it ugly) that I plan to take, but I'll finish those, so I need yarn for new things.
(Yes, there is a yarn shop in my parents' town, but I want to have projects that I know I want to work on).
So I dug through my box of sock yarns. And I pulled out one I bought earlier this fall that I think it is time to start on.
There is this sock yarn company in Germany, right? (They are called "Opal"). And their thing is that they make these yarns that are printed so if you knit them to the conventional gauge (number of stitches per inch) that you would do a sock at, it makes stripes or lines or different simple geometric patterns. It's kind of like magic and I love the yarns and I have way more of them than I probably need.
(And some of the Nuffers of the knitting world sniff at this stuff: "Fair Isle for idiots" they say. "Fake Fair Isle." "I only do REAL colorwork." Well, good for you, Nuffers. But I think you have less fun in your superiority than I have in looking at the self-striping yarn I am knitting up and chuckling and going, "that's so cool; I still can't believe it works")
Anyway, they came out with a line of yarns to advertise the new (and apparently now delayed) Harry Potter movie.
Well, while I guess I would say I am a fan in the sense that I like the books and movies, I am not a rabid fan: I have never dressed up as a character, I have never done the midnight-opening thing. But I did look at the yarns when they came out, just to see if there were any I liked. (No, they didn't do "house colors." They came up with colorways that were in some way suggestive of characters - Hedwig's is mostly grays and whites; Tonks' has a lot of pink in it).
I particularly liked the one for Dumbledore - it's kind of subdued, there's a bit of pink in it, but it's mostly muted colors. So I decided to buy the yarn.
And darn it, if I didn't start thinking about the yarn as being for my "gay dead wizard boyfriend" socks (original reference here).
Dumbledore always was one of my favorite of the wizard characters. Unlike a lot of women, I never was a Snape girl - I can't stand people in real life who have that kind of pointed, borderline (or overtheborderline) mean sarcasm. So he never appealed to me. And in the movies - and I realize a lot of women will disagree with me on this - but I was just like, "wash your hair once in a while, man!" His hair just looked kind of greasy to me.
And yeah, I know, even if Dumbledore weren't dead, and gay, and (most importantly) imaginary, he'd be far too old to actually be my boyfriend. But whatever.
(And probably the wizard-Muggle thing would present some problems).
But anyway. My dead gay wizard boyfriend socks. I just have to figure out if I want to do any kind of a fancy rib pattern on the cuffs, or just do them plain.
So you see, I have more interesting things on my mind than rewriting some dumb journal article.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
I stayed a little longer.
One of my very gung-ho students (who is grad-school bound) stopped by to look at her final. I didn't think she would, as she got a 149/150 on it and I posted the grades on the online site - I figured she had seen it and wouldn't bother. But she did stop by to look at her final.
Obviously she hadn't seen the online grades, because she looked at the grade of 149/150 and laughed and said, "Dr. Ricki, are you kidding me!?!?!" I told her that she had earned the couple of extra credit points on the exam, and only missed one thing (and she knew already which one it was, she went, yeah, it was THAT topic.)
So I guess she'll be happy when she sees she earned an A. (I also told her that once she got to grad school, if she ever wanted "another pair of eyes" to look at her research proposal or stuff, I'd be willing to do it if she e-mailed it to me. Her interest is in an area I know something about so I feel like I can kind of do a little service by offering to extend my advice to her. I know grad school can be kind of brutal - especially to people who are, like her and like I was, perfectionists who are used to getting perfect scores on things. She commented when I handed back a paper to her, "Wow, I didn't do very well, did I, there's stuff written all over it" and I told her she actually did very well (the second-highest grade in the class) but that she just needed to get used to the fact that in higher levels of education, you get LOTS of feedback, and not necessarily when you've done something wrong.
And perhaps part of the reason I'm willing to help her is that I can look at her and see myself 15 years ago...)
My office is about 62* F right now - apparently "they" have turned the heat off, or it broke again, or something. I came in originally to accept my research student's paper (which has been turned in, read, and graded. Alas, not quite good enough for an A but she does earn a B) and work a bit on rewriting a paper myself.
But dammit, it's COLD in here. And I am wearing a wool sweater, with my wool and mohair scarf wrapped around my neck (luckily it matches) and a pair of fingerless gloves (which I have to take off to type or I make too many typos).
So I have to decide: do I stay here until noon as planned, running down to the secretary's office (she has a technically-illegal* space heater going) to warm my hands every half-hour, or do I bail early?
(*And I'd love to see what would happen if the Powers that Be came and told her to turn it off. Considering it's like 62* in her office, she's expected to be there until 4, and she's expected to sit at her desk until that time...)
I was thinking of running to Next Biggest Town this afternoon; a couple quilt tops I took in to be quilted are done and I want to pick them up. And I may take myself out to lunch. And I have a good coupon for the craft store. And one of those 10% off certificates for the Target. (I need a few things, detergent and stuff like that, and I might just pick up a toy for Toys for Tots while I'm there...)
So now I have to decide: do I stay here until closer to lunch, as I had planned, then go down there, eat first, then do my shopping? Or do I bail out now, shop first, then eat right before I head to the grocery store (my last step before coming home).
I hate that I even have to decide that because of a cold office. I really wish the HVAC people could get it together on this building, or, if not, throw up their hands and say, "You really need a new building as we cannot fix this." I am growing weary of my office getting over 82* in the summer and below 65* in the winter, and my never knowing in advance so I cannot plan for it.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
There's apparently a PSA running, where some female actress (I presume she is an actress but I don't recognize her) suggests that what women should get their husbands for Christmas is an appointment for a prostate exam.
Now, don't get me wrong: I had a relative who had prostate cancer (luckily it was found VERY early and he is OK). But I wonder at the appropriateness of this as a gift. Sure, fine: schedule the man for an appointment in January (that is, assuming you buy into the stereotype of No Man Will Go To the Doctor Unless A Limb Is Severed And Bleeding). But for Christmas? Really? Does that seem appropriate?
They could at least have gone another direction and made it cheeky and funny, maybe with a tight shot of Santa's face, with him going, "Ho, ho, HOOOOOO!" and then reminding men they need to get checked (and making some comment like, "I hope YOUR doctor has warmer hands"). Or maybe something with a melting Frosty, and some comment about "Do you seem to be losing more water than usual? Maybe it's time to have your plumbing checked" or something like that.
I don't know. Do they suggest giving women certificates for free mammograms for Christmas? Giving immunization-packages to children?
I know the economy's in the crapper, but really, I think even socks and underwear would be a more appreciated gift.
And as I said: don't get me wrong. If you're a man of a certain age, you need to have that thing checked out. But I just don't think it's the ideal thing to discuss at Christmas.
Okay, here's the 'Cos I'm Evil update: my own version of a Merry Christmas Prostate PSA:
Opening shot is a head and shoulders view of Santa in a doctor's office. He should be wearing his red hat but I suppose he will have to be in one of those gown thingies.
Santa: "Gentlemen, when we get to be a little older, there are some things we have to think about to stay healthy. Things we might not have had to think about before. Your prostate is one of these things. It's important to both your urinary health and your sexual health, and I KNOW you don't want either one of those going bad.
"So call up your doctor and arrange to get a prostate exam. It doesn't take much time."
(Off camera nurse's voice): "The doctor is ready for you, Mr. Claus"
Sound of a door opening. Unseen doctor greets Santa and says he just has to prepare a bit. Camera pans in tighter on Santa's face
Santa: "One thing you have to watch out for is prostate cancer, which affects more men in the US than any other cancer. It kills some 30,000 men every year, most of whom are diagnosed too late. So be around for many more merry Christmases with your family..."
(Unseen doctor: "Mr. Claus, I'm ready to start the exam)
Santa: "Because you want many more years of, 'Ho, ho HOOOOOOOO!" (Santa's eyes bulge out slightly)
(Unseen doctor: "Everything looks healthy, Mr. Claus.")
Santa: "So take it from me. It may not be fun, it may be embarrassing, but get it done. Or you'll be getting coal in your stocking from me!"
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Monday, December 08, 2008
I actually think the person who made this up was NOT a prof, because:
a. The "come crying to prof" section should be bigger
b. There should be a "when he/she doesn't have posted office hours, and I am angry that he/she wasn't in even though it's 7 pm on a Wednesday"
c. There should be a "On the very last day of the semester to ask for extra credit" section.
I should probably make an emended one and post it on that site, but it would probably never get up, and anyway, I still have 12 finals to grade today.
Friday's "Epic Win" (a new site from the I Can Has Cheezburger people - it's called "Nostalgic Win" or somesuch and is aimed at gen-xers and the generation a half-generation behind us).
It was the Fisher-Price farm set. As I said earlier, I owned one of these (so I bought the little ornament of it).
We had lots of Fisher-Price stuff in my family. I had a bunch of stuff, and later on, when my brother came along, we got more. I'm talking the "Little People" stuff here - we had other things like that "chatty phone" or whatever it was called, but it seemed like we played the most with the Little People sets.
I know I had the farm. And the town, which was cool because it was a whole bunch of buildings with a sort of arch-shaped thing (WITH a "stoplight" in it, even) to connect the two sections). And you could sort of latch the whole thing up and carry it to a friend's house.
And I had the castle, which was one of the best Christmas presents ever, and it was one of those "I really really really really want this Santa will you PLEASE bring me this it is the only thing I really want" gifts. And I got it. And I think every kid should experience that once in their life - wanting a toy so badly you can TASTE it, and then waking up Christmas morning (or the morning of your birthday) and finding out that you GOT that toy.
And even better, the castle was as fun as it looked in the Sears catalog. I played with it a lot.
We also had the schoolhouse. And the bus (I think that was my brother's). And I had an "A Frame" house, which was also a lot of fun - it was a two-story dollhouse and it came with two very important things: first, a ladder to connect the two floors. I know I was too much of a stickler for authenticity but I kind of hated it when a dollhouse-type toy had multiple floors and no way for the dolls to GET between those floors. Oh, sure, you could pretend your hand was an elevator - but really, how many houses had elevators? (especially in the shape of a giant hand). So the "ladder" was an important thing.
The other nice thing about the A-frame was that the ends were a sort of plexiglas material - they were clear - and they had little sliding doors in them. So there were doors leading out to the patio and to the balconies on the upper floor and they really worked like real doors AND you could see through them.
And again, the A-frame had the cool feature (common on most of those Little People toys) that you could put the whole family and all its furniture (and I think the ladder too) inside the house, and you could latch it up, and you could carry it with you - so it was easy to take to a friend's house, as I said, but it also made cleaning up the toys easier, because you could put everything where it was supposed to be.
Another thing I liked about the Fisher-Price stuff - especially when my brother was little - was that it was all kind of on the same scale. So you could line up the town and the schoolhouse and the A-frame and the farm and you could have the Little People go between all of them - the school kids could go on a field trip to the farm on the bus. Or the kids from the a-frame house could go to school, and the mom and dad could go into the town to work or shop. It was a whole little world and I was into little worlds like that when I was a kid.
(And even not-so-much of a kid. My brother is five years younger than I am, and so I had a wonderful excuse to keep playing with stuff even when the kids at school would have made fun of me for being too old: "I'm just babysitting my brother" or something like that. Oh, yes, I was really playing. But I was able to save face by claiming I was just "watching" him or something).
Later on, we had a Sesame Street playset, which was nice too, but, like the castle, it didn't mesh very well with the "every-day-ness" of the other Little People sets - somehow it seemed weird to have this big medieval castle sitting next to the A-frame, or to think of Bobby and Jenny from the A-frame house visiting Grover and company....
The Fisher Price Little People stuff were some of the best toys we had as kids.
I actually have one of the horses - the kind that came with the 1970s farm set and with the castle (they have a different style now) sitting on one of the bookshelves in my bedroom. I found it at one of those "antiques, vintage stuff, and old junk" stores around here. It was like a buck and it was in good shape so I bought it, just for old times' sake. Those Fisher Price horses - they had jointed legs and a head that would go up and down - were some of my favorite things about the playsets. (The castle came with a black horse and a brown horse. The brown horse I had broke one of his ears at some point which always made me sad). The farm set also had a horse, and a cow, and a pig, and a dog, and a couple of chickens. And they were all fully jointed, kind of chunky animals - they felt good in your hands and they were fun to move through whatever little dramas you imagined for them. The people were fun, too - and our Little People kind of straddled two eras. Some of the ones from the sets I had were wood; the ones from the later sets were plastic. (And again - the modern Little People are a slightly different shape, a little chunkier). They were simple so you could project whatever personality you wanted on them - the kindly schoolteacher with her blonde bun, the little kid who always got in trouble....
They were good toys. Or at least, they were good toys for my brother and me, because a favorite way to play was to make up little stories and move the figures through them.
Another group of toys (where I can't really say where "mine" ended and my brother's began) was Lego. Lego bricks are, I think, one of the more brilliant toy inventions out there. You can make anything you want (pretty much) out of them. My brother would build spaceships and cars and stuff; I would build houses for my tiny dolls or plastic animals. (No, our parents didn't try to gender-track us, it just seemed to happen). My brother and I didn't always get along - in fact, we often argued in the way kids do. But dump a big box of Lego bricks on the floor in front of us and we could sit for hours and not bug each other.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
...sometimes you just gotta use the real stuff.
I'm cleaning house this weekend. Normally I do this before I leave on break anyway, because I tend to feel like the house is less likely to be invaded by mice if it's all clean, and also when you come back in January it's nicer to come to a clean house than one that's all grubby and horrible* because you were mired in grading.
So I generally take a weekend day sometime between the end of classes and my leaving town to clean.
(*This is a relative term. I cope well with clutter, but let there be one spot on my kitchen counter and I start to twitch and feel like my home is UNHYGIENIC!)
I'm doing it a bit early this year because Monday I am having workmen in, and I cannot stand for my house to be a mess when people come in to work on it.
(I also brush and floss like crazy before a trip to the dentist).
Part of it is courtesy, but a big part of it is I hate to imagine that the workers might talk about me behind my backs later - to roll their eyes over what a filthy house I have, what they found in the cabinets when they were working, how grotty the floors were.
I realize, this is very much what a friend of mine used to call a "my sh*t" issue - as in, it's something I deal with that's really not relevant, and it's related to stuff in my past and my personality. Back in high school, I had the misfortune to hear a couple of the "populars" talking about me behind my back. Oh, I called them on it. I stepped forward and let them know I had heard. And they tried to backpedal, to make nice, all that. But the damage had been done.
And of course, I wasn't full enough of self confidence to say to myself: "Well, that's just their opinion. And they are jerks anyway to talk about people behind their backs like that." So ever since then, I kind of go into panic mode: must not give people grounds to say rude things about me. Must be as close to perfect as possible.
So, when workmen are coming in, I clean.
And true, they probably HAVE seen far far worse than what I consider "filthy" for my house. And they probably don't care. But I do.
Workmen around here are not like Tracey's TLUF. They fall into four basic categories:
1. Tall skinny cowboy types who are unfailingly polite but don't talk much otherwise. They are generally good workers because they're not talkers.
2. Chicano guys who usually come in groups, who chatter amongst themselves (sometimes in Spanish, which makes me a bit nervous: did they just say melones? Could they be making rude comments about me in a language I don't really understand? Most of them are nice guys, though, and they work fast and are usually pretty polite.
3. Big chubby good-ol'-boy types, who will regale you with stories while they work if you let them. Usually they're pretty harmless and if they happen to say a rude word or get into a story that's a bit off-color, they blush and apologize to you for forgetting you're a lady. (If you saw the Dirty Jobs episode where Mike worked with the plumber in Oklahoma, you pretty much have seen this type). Sometimes they have to bring along one of the skinny cowboys if it involves things like working on a hot water heater that's back in a closet, or going into the tight crawl space under the house.
4. British or Scots ex-pats, oddly enough. Generally they don't talk much. Sometimes they're almost a little curt, especially compared to the Bubbas who will tell you all about their kid's football team. However, they tend to be the group most likely to give you an accurate estimate of what the work will cost, and they tend to have the most detailed invoices and receipts.
So I don't think any of those people would talk about the (imagined) "filth" in my house if I didn't clean: the cowboys would be too polite to mention it, the Bubbas would have seen far worse and are willing to cut people a break, and the Chicano guys are too busy working to notice. (The Scots ex-pats MIGHT make a tart comment to their business partners or their spouses later. They'd probably be the only ones to really care. And I can say that because I am at least 3/8 Scots.)
So anyway. Cleaning the kitchen, I got ready to do the sink. (Yeah, I know: horror of horrors, I don't scrub my sink every day*). It had gotten a bit dirtier of late, and I decided that the earth-friendly rainbows-n-unicorns cleaner I had been using just wasn't cutting it.
(*Flylady, which I KNOW some people love and use but which would be a little bit too controlling for me - apparently they even send e-mails out to tell their people when to go to bed - talks about "shining your sink everyday." And because I really do have kind of a dirty mind at times, that makes me snicker, because "shining the sink" sounds like a euphemism for something else...)
So I got out the Comet. I had had a can on hand from a couple years back, when one of the Cowboy-types came to do some work in the bathroom - he asked me to have some Comet available so he "could clean up properly" after the work was done. (And he did).
After a quick call to my mom (who knows more about such things than I do) to make sure it wouldn't ruin the stainless steel sink, I tried it out.
It made a big difference. Not only was it easier to get the sink clean than with the rainbows-n-unicorns cleaner, the sink was cleaner overall.
So, sigh. No more lavender scented earth-friendly cleaners for me, I guess. Because the industrial ones seem to do a better job. (Or at least I reserve the right to use the industrial stuff a couple times a year when I really need to get things clean).
Another thing about cleaning house - why I go all ballistic when I hear someone's coming over and rush to clean the house, or at least swoop all the unsorted mail and half-knit sweaters and junk into a back room they won't see, is that I have "pretend grownup" issues. As in, I'm afraid someday people are going to decide that, because I didn't marry and have children, I'm really only pretending to be a grownup. And someone will come to me and tell me, "Adulthood: UR Doin' It Rong!" and make me give up my job and house and go back to high school.
So for me, having a clean house feels like I'm showing the world that I am a REAL grownup, that I can manage to keep my house clean and that I don't really need to go back for remedial training. And I realize that again, that's very much a "my sh*t" sort of thing, that no one is REALLY going to claim to my face that I'm not really a grownup (and if they did, it would be extremely shabby of them to do so). But still, I feel pushed to clean my house even if someone calls me and says, "I have some AAUW paperwork to drop off, I will be there in 10 minutes" - I go into a 10 minute fury of cleaning the living room and perhaps even the bathroom (because you never know when someone's going to ask you if they can use your facilities).
The good thing is I get a clean house, though.
So now I have to go back to work - I need to sweep the dining room floor and change the tablecloth, sweep the living room, and finish cleaning the bathroom. (The kitchen, thank goodness, is done).
Thursday, December 04, 2008
A few years back, a couple of the radio guys I listen to played this song.
Now, I cannot hear "Winter Wonderland" without mentally substituting the chorus from this song in the place of "Walkin' in a winter wonderland."
Oddly, that mustached guy reminds me....of someone I know (and yet don't know IRL)...
Yeah, so everyone and their brother's done this, so I'll do it too, instead of typing the exam I should be typing. I'm gonna add commentary as well:
(You know the drill: bolded means it's something a person has done)
Started my own blog
Slept under the stars If you count being in a tent. I camped a few times as a kid. I do not camp as an adult and actually strive to avoid it as ardently as possible.
Played in a band Junior high band, yeah. Not the cool kind of band, though.
Watched a meteor shower Heck, I've watched a meteor shower IN Hawaii. (It was the Perseid time)
Given more than I can afford to charity - not quite.
Been to Disneyland/world World but not Land.
Climbed a mountain - I did climb a SMALL mountain (well, they called it such) on a visit to Hot Springs but I'm not going to count it because it didn't require training or gearing up.
Held a praying mantis. I've also held stick insects. Funny story: there was one of those "cool" guys from the wealthy Chicago 'burbs in my ecology class one semester when I was a TA. He was almost a little bit like the stereotypical "guido" only higher-class and marginally less annoying. Well, one day a stick insect landed on him and he Freaked. Out. Started screaming "Get it off me! Get the ****** off me!" So I walked over, calmly picked it off with my bare hands, and proceeded to show it to the class and explain their role in the ecosystem. It was one of the sweeter moments of my TA career. Guido treated me with more respect after that incident.
Sung a solo - Nope.
Bungee jumped - Hell no! (As Maggie May said)
Visited Paris - Not even Paris, Texas.
Watched lightning at sea
Taught myself an art from scratch Most of the stuff I do I had help with but I did learn thread crochet from scratch using a book.
Adopted a child
Had food poisoning Crikey. Who hasn't?
Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
Grown my own vegetables . Yes. I try not to tally up what they actually cost me per item in terms of effort, irrigation water, and fertilizer.
Seen the Mona Lisa in France -
Slept on an overnight train - I do this (well, I HOPE I sleep) every time I go to visit my family
Had a pillow fight - Why do people think women are all about this? I have never participated, not even actually seen one
Hitchhiked - Oh hells no. I value my life too much.
Taken a sick day when not ill - it's hard for me to do it even WHEN I am ill
Built a snow fort Yes, yay! And even when I was a not-so-little kid: that's one of the joys of having a younger sibling; you get to do stuff you might be deemed "too old" for in the name of "I'm just helping him."
Held a lamb
Gone skinny dipping - Far too many body issues for this
Run a marathon
Ridden in a gondola in Venice -
Seen a total eclipse - Not in person, no. I've seen them on tv.
Watched a sunrise or sunset Yes - I've both sat and watched (usually sunrise) and noticed-in-passing (sunrise as I'm driving to work
Hit a home run - I am so not athletic.
Been on a cruise
Seen Niagara Falls in person Yup, twice. It's pretty cool.
Visited the birthplace of my ancestors - Depends on how you define it; recent ancestors (like great-greats) yes (Massachusetts), more distant, no (Ireland, Scotland, and Germany)
Seen an Amish community I've eaten in Amish-run restaurants.
Taught myself a new language - I speak French and a wee bit of German, but both of those were taught in a classroom setting.
Had enough money to be truly satisfied Pretty much have it now.
Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
Gone rock climbing - No, but I would like to someday. I'd like to have access to one of those rock-climbing gyms to train; I'd love to build up my upper-body strength more.
Seen Michelangelo's David - Not in person
Sung karaoke - No, I have too many dignity issues
Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt - No, actually never have been to Yellowstone
Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant I figured that was better than giving the guy cash as a handout
Visited Africa -
Walked on a beach by moonlight
Been transported in an ambulance - Not that I can remember
Had my portrait painted - Nope
Gone deep sea fishing
Seen the Sistine Chapel in person -
Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris -
Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
Kissed in the rain
Played in the mud all the time as a kid. My mom used to have to take the hose and blast the excess mud off of me in the backyard (in my play clothes) before she'd let me come in the house.
Gone to a drive-in theater - I don't remember ever doing this. Maybe when I was a tiny kid for one of my parents' "Date nights"
Been in a movie - Not an "official" movie but my dad took a few old Super 8 movies of Christmases from when I was like 6 and 7.
Visited the Great Wall of China -
Started a business
Taken a martial arts class -
Visited Russia - Gosh, there are an awful lot of travel questions in this.
Served at a soup kitchen
Sold Girl Scout Cookies Which is what made me quit the Girl Scouts. I hate selling things.
Gone whale watching -
Gotten flowers for no reason - Waaaah! No.
Donated blood, platelets or plasma And it's about time to do it again.
Gone sky diving - No, but maybe someday.
Visited a Nazi concentration camp
Bounced a check - No, I can say with some pride.
Flown in a helicopter
Saved a favorite childhood toy More than one, in fact. The one thing I would grab if my house were on fire is, in fact, an old childhood toy I have saved.
Visited the Lincoln Memorial - Yes, but I was four, so I almost don't remember it.
Pieced a quilt Yup. In fact, I have one in-process right now.
Stood in Times Square -
Toured the Everglades Spring break circa 1980. Trip with my family.
Been fired from a job -
Seen the Changing of the Guard in London -
Broken a bone - Broke my elbow about 15 years ago. Luckily it didn't go out of place and so all they had to do was slap a cast on it and watch it.
Been on a speeding motorcycle -
Seen the Grand Canyon in person North Rim, 1995.
Published a book - No, but I have had a few scientific journal articles published.
Visited the Vatican -
Bought a brand new car - Not, I admit with embarrassment, with all my own money. (My dad helped me out.)
Walked in Jerusalem - No, but I'd like to see it someday. If it doesn't get all blowded up and stuff.
Had my picture in the newspaper - Spelling Bee, seventh and eighth grade. Yes, I am a big big geek.
Read the entire Bible - Probably not in its entirety. Most of it though
Visited the White House -
Killed and prepared an animal for eating - I am grateful that I do not need to do that.
Had chickenpox Yes, and I missed the ONE field trip my fifth grade class got to do that year. Thanks a lot, little brother!
Saved someone's life - Not that I'm aware of. Possibly some of my past blood donations did, but that would not be entirely thanks to me; the doctors would have to get most of the credit
Sat on a jury - No, but have been on duty.
Met someone famous - Not that I can think of. No, wait. I met Earll Kingston (probably most of you don't know him) once.
Joined a book club - Yeah, but it wound up to be more of a mommytalk session so I dropped out.
Lost a loved one That was kinda the theme for 2008.
Had a baby
Seen the Alamo in person -
Swam in the Great Salt Lake - I've seen it but not swum in it
Been involved in a law suit - Only those class-action things, like I got some of my money back from the Worldcom stock crap-out.
Owned a cell phone Yeah, but I don't treat it like an appendage.
Been stung by a bee Again: who hasn't?
Ridden an elephant - I would totally love to someday
Read all three volumes of the Lord of the Rings - I bogged down in Book Two. Too many battle scenes.
Visited the Taj Mahal - No.
Performed in a dance recital - That is like one of my nightmares. Think Hyacinth Hippo, only less graceful.
Been on horseback while the horse jumped over something
Won an athletic competition -
Gotten a straight-A report card
Prayed to Zeus - What? Are we in 650 BC all of a sudden?
Watched news coverage, rapt, to see what was going to happen - More times than probably is good for me. Most recently the attack in Mumbai. (I have friends who are Indian, and though none of them were there of course, I still felt kind of sad for them.)
Gotten lost in a building more than 500 years old -
Kissed somebody milliseconds before bells started to ring - What? Is that supposed to symbolize something?
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I have to say, this is one of the best ecology classes I have had. Two people so far (there are a couple to go) have earned perfect scores on their research presentations - that nearly never happens. They're good. Maybe not ESA good, but certainly regional-level meeting good, which is better than I usually expect. (These are undergrads, mostly juniors, a few seniors or sophomores).
And even better, some of the projects have generated good questions and discussion from the "audience" (the other students in the class). I'm always happy to see that because that means the other students are paying attention and are engaged with the topics.
I think part of this may be because a number of the students chose more "innovative" projects - not the same old, "what time of day do deer move the most" or "how do different soil amendments affect plant growth" or "what form of sugar attracts the most ants" that some people choose (and I try hard to steer students away from). I think also a lot more people took real "ownership" of their projects - it was more an "opportunity" to learn or to answer a question they were wondering about than something they just "had" to do, and did grudgingly - a couple tailored their projects to subfields they are thinking of going into, a couple people did research on land their families owned where they had noticed and wondered about things (patterns of hog behavior, for example) and used the project as a chance to answer that question.
So I'm pretty happy. It's been a lot more interesting to grade these and I think the students are finding the talks a lot more interesting to listen to.
This is a semi-serious post, for a change. But it's something I've been thinking about since Darren posted the question (originally from Instapundit):
Will higher ed be the next bubble to burst, with student loans providing the easy credit that inflated it?
That got me thinking. I think there would be a number of short-term bad impacts, but there might be some longer-term good changes, IF colleges are intelligent about things.
The bad, first:
1. A certain number of students would find themselves unable to go to college - students who want to go but whose families don't have the money. This is probably the worst impact, but then again, it might open up the market for smaller, less expensive schools. Or it might encourage some kind of flexibility, like the night-school programs many places have for MBAs and such. (I have no idea how good those programs are; all I know is some of my students have said that online programs - like University of Phoenix - vary widely in their quality. And I suspect that taking a degree online shorts a student in the human-interaction side, and perhaps to an extent in the problem-solving side. Certainly, it's hard to do lab science well if most/all classes are online. And arguably impossible to do lab science well if course delivery is 100% online).
There would be a period of "retrenchment" where people who could not afford college and could not get loans would have to figure out a plan B.
2. On campus, some of the systems that are suffering right now (libraries, perhaps landscaping, "deferred maintenance") would suffer more. I worry what would happen to my campus library under severe budget cuts; having served on that committee I can see how close to the bone they are operating now. Probably most journal subscriptions would have to be dropped. (Which might actually have a beneficial ripple of forcing the journals to drop their prices, or do away with the annoying "library supplement" that doubles or triples the price of the subscription for libraries).
3. Non-tenured folks on campus would be let go. This would be another potentially bad impact - it would be difficult for years thereafter to attract quality people, at least in any discipline that is "marketable" outside the academy. We have had a hard time keeping geneticists because industry tends to hire them away from us.
I also fear, if things got really bad, there'd be RIFfing - Reduction in Force, which is a legal way to fire tenured faculty (who are otherwise performing OK). I don't know how they'd do it for sure - if it would be seniority based (which would mean at my school, I'd be third or fourth in line on the chopping block) or if it would be based on "duplication of effort" (in which case I'd be safer, as there are two courses I teach that no one else could, and a third that I co-teach with the only other person on campus who could teach it).
I do think the sciences would likely be safer than some of the humanities; we still need doctors and engineers and nurses and soil scientists and such even in bad economic times. (Or at least that's how it would look to administrators)
I also suspect that the Rise of Adjuncts will continue; there's an army of poorly-paid, non-benefit people mostly teaching intro-level classes, especially on campuses without much of a graduate school. And I do not think this is a good thing; you cannot live on adjunct pay and often adjuncts are working more than one job.
4. There might be pay cuts for faculty. I could deal with that IF I felt they were justified, and other cuts had already been made (I would be extremely angry, and seriously consider quitting, if, say the college president continued to receive a $300K salary while the faculty are being told to give up $10K or more each per year).
5. There might be benefit cuts. Again, I wouldn't have too much of a problem with that - though I wouldn't want to see medical (at least not MAJOR medical) insurance go away for us.
6. Outreach to the community might decline, which would probably be bad long-term. Pressures for "giving" would probably go up, which would be annoying. (Already alumni get dunned way too much, IMHO).
7. Some universities might decide to drop the charade of undergraduate teaching and become solely research based institutes dependent on grant or industrial money. Not sure if that's good or bad; certainly there are some schools you don't want to go to as an undergraduate because despite their good names, you will be taught nearly always by TAs and you will be a number in a multitude of numbers.
Other schools might go the other way - grind the effort of research to a halt and become more like the old "Normal Schools" - where teaching, and especially education the next generation of educators, is the main mission. Again, I'm not sure that's an entirely good or entirely bad thing.
So that's the bad, as I see it. There might be some neutral, or even good, outcomes, if the universities are intelligent about things:
1. One way money could be saved would be by trimming and flattening administrations. Most campuses I've been on have pretty bloated administrations - lots of v.p.s that do things that may be important, but which campuses seemed to get along without 10 or 15 years ago. Sometimes campuses "kick people upstairs" they want out of the classroom for whatever reason (but can't fire because of tenure). Possibly, altering tenure to include a "If you are demonstrably offensive to the students, if you teach from 30 year old crumbling notes you have not updated since the Reagan administration, if you can't speak English, or if you have demonstrable conflicts of interest, we can fire you, tenure or no tenure" clause might help with this. I'd also like to see an end to the "let's reward him with an administration post" dealings - too often in that case, good people get yanked from the classroom.
2. As I said, I think the sciences will be pretty safe, as will the "core" disciplines like English and Math. However, some of the more fluffy of the majors - the Various Studies majors, the Pop Culture majors, some of the edgier art stuff - may go away. I'd hate to see art and theater and music go away, because they are an important part of the university, but I think there's a difference between providing Art History classes so people are well-rounded and allowing someone who COULD be out in the "workforce" making and trying to sell his art on the open market to do endless years of graduate work under the university's "protection" so to speak.
I think also perhaps education departments could be re-thought. Require to-be-teachers to major in an actual discipline - be it math, biology, English, Spanish, History...and have them get the same background as the actual majors. Do away with some of the more theory-based Ed classes. And let's please not turn out any more math "teachers" who don't know fractions or algebra, please.
I would also like to see the more politicized of the majors go by the wayside, but I'm not sure that that would happen.
In a very draconian system? Maybe departments could "justify" their existence based on the percentage of their recent graduates who are in or working towards (like are in dental school) a job related to the major. Those that seem to be turning out a lot of 7-11 managers might want to consider how they could better serve the students.
English departments will always be needed; we need to teach people to write and to read literature intelligently. I think music and theater departments are needed because as a people, we need art and entertainment. I'm not so sure that some of the departments where they train the next generation of activists are so necessary; that seems that that could be on-the-job training.
(And yes, yes, I know: I'm doing something I hate right here: being coldly pragmatic. Yes, college should be a time when you can go and learn about stuff you may never use again. Yes, there should be lots of options there. But in a horrible economy, where it's hard to get a job to begin with, you don't want to be selling a major to a student where it's very unlikely they will ever get a job. I LOVED my linguistics classes and briefly considered majoring in it, until I realized the ONLY real employment would be as a Professor of Linguistics, and I worried how many departments of Linguistics might exist in the future)
3. Perhaps we as a culture may rethink what a college degree means, or what a degree is needed for. I could see how someone with, say, lots of natural talent at playing the violin, who has worked with masters for years, could go straight into performing without a college career. Now, true, it might help for them to have some "performance" classes or to hone their talent further - and it might help them to have some business oriented classes so they don't get screwed by some agent - but I do see a lot of things you probably don't need a degree for. And unfortunately, in this country, there are two classes of people who didn't attend college: the "rare genius" like Bill Gates, and "losers." And that's not true at all. There are a lot of people who can have good and important careers without a college degree (as I often point out: you don't need a B.A. to be a good plumber). While, again, some courses might HELP (I can see where business and bookkeeping classes could be very important to someone in business for themselves as a plumber or roofer or something), people who know they want to do skilled trades probably are not best served by whiling away 4+ years on a campus - unless they really WANT to.
4. And that brings me to another issue: the young person who is sent to campus because it's status for the family. I've actually had an occasional student admit to me that they were "trying" to flunk out because they didn't want to be in college, but they felt they had to "prove" to their parents they didn't belong on campus.
And that's sad. That wastes the kid's time. That wastes the parent's money. And it can - if the student just crashes and burns without any mitigating explanation- help lead to professorial burnout. (I still take it kind of personally when what I see as a "smart kid" fails in my class. I know, I know - they failed, not me, but still).
5. Perhaps some of the grandeur and pomp, especially as befits the administration, will decline. (Honestly, the difference on some campuses between faculty and administrator offices is a little shocking - the faculty have pressboard desks and 20 year old indoor-outdoor carpeting, while the administrators have custom-made furniture and Persian rugs. And it's a little bit demoralizing, I think, for faculty to go to a meeting in one of those offices and get the feeling of, "Oh. So that is a marker of how our relative value is seen.")
So, I guess my conclusion is - not all restructurings are bad. There could - if colleges choose to be intelligent about it- lots of good that comes out of it: smaller leaner campuses, perhaps a cheaper way of doing college (maybe less grand fancy student unions, fewer Persian-carpet-lined administrative offices). Hopefully more of an emphasis on what makes college college: learning, preparation for a career, focusing on the enterprise of teaching and research.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
This guy isn't one of my students:
That said: I hate pie charts. I wish they had never been invented. Nine times out of ten - no, nine point five times out of ten - there is a better way to show the data. I think people like pie charts because they are "cute" and because they are an option in Microsoft Excel, but I tend to prefer the good old bar graph to them.
Monday, December 01, 2008
I graded 18 student research papers today. (That does not count the four that are apparently late. Even though I made it abundantly clear that late papers would make me unhappy* and also would cause me to deduct MASSIVE POINTS from them. Because as a prof I can do such things.)
(*Ricki's rule for successful college-ing #1: Do not piss off the person who is grading you.)
I hope I can shut my brain off so I can sleep. That's sometimes a problem when I work late into the evening. I hope I don't have the there/their/they're triplet and the your/you're duet dancing in front of my eyes as I try to sleep, or dream dreams about Sasquatches who misuse the phrase "due to." And don't get me started on its/it's. One of my colleagues admitted to me the other day that he screws that up regularly and I have to admit a bit of my esteem for him died in that moment.
I hate sucky grammar. I especially hate it from people who are supposedly good students bound for grad school or med school.
Heard this one on the radio - apparently this is a real, serious news story:
with the economic downturn, Britons are turning to cheap forms of entertainment. The favorite one listed?
Yup. The Nasty. The Beast with Two Backs. Wink-wink-nudge-nudge.
First: that's great if you're married or in an otherwise highly committed relationship, but there ARE those of us out there who aren't. (I guess we're the ones checking books out from the libraries or going on hikes. Except going on hikes by yourself kind of sucks and can be dangerous depending on where you are).
Second: the news announcer pointed out that this news came out on World AIDS Day. The point being, I guess, you can have fun having sex but be sure it's with someone who's been monogamous with you for a long long time, or else (as one of my friends says), "wrap that rascal." And it strikes me that that message is not at all unlike the Hallowe'en/Thanksgiving/Christmas food messages that come out: "Oh, the food is so good! And it tastes so wonderful! But don't you DARE enjoy it very much because it's BAD for you!" Once again, the nanny-ers are talking about something that is fun (or, ahem, so I've heard) and using it as a platform for reminding us how very, very screwed we are, because everything that is even allegedly enjoyable carries Serious Dangers and we probably really shouldn't do it anyway.
(And before anyone flames: Yes, HIV is extremely serious and people DO need to be aware of it. But I think this story is perhaps the wrong way to go about it.)
I wonder how soon they start talking about the dangers of reading library books? They could carry germs, I suppose...