Tuesday, June 30, 2009

please, people, please

This is one of those issues that I don't know if it's just me and I'm a Bad Person for feeling unhappy/put out by it, or if on the other hand I'm too nice for not saying something about it.

I have an acquaintance. I won't quite call her a friend. She and I have to work together in a volunteer capacity.

Earlier this week, I was involved in a volunteer-group meeting where she was present. I was told, "plan on the meeting being no longer than an hour" which was fine with me, seeing as it was coming at the end of a long day of teaching and research work.

Except. My acquaintance (Let's call her MA just to make it easy) decided at the end of the meeting she needed to "share." She brought up an issue that was IN NO WAY related to the topic of the meeting. (It was about a rather horrifying medical procedure she'd been through, and the aftermath).

Hand to God, it took her 45 minutes to spin out her story.

All the while I was sitting there, thinking:

"shutupshutup please finish up let me go home I'm tired I have to do my piano practice for today I need to wash my hair I'M TIRED I really don't want to be hearing this it's icky and sad and it's making me sad and please please please shutupshutup"

No one else was saying/doing anything, so I just sat there, feeling stricken, occasionally nodding and making little neutral sounds while my mind frantically tried to find one of its happy places to go to.

(This was a very horrifying and graphic description of a botched surgery and its aftermath).

And after I got home, I was sad and twitchy the rest of the day, thinking about the stuff that person had been through. Felt kind of depressed all evening (though that could just be because it is OH MY GOODNESS HOT here right now, and because I'm watching some of the new legislation ram its way through Congress and I'm fearing that next summer, I won't be able to even cool my house to the really-too-toasty-for-me 76* I currently keep it at.) And I had bad dreams - like really bad dreams, like the kind where you call up the people you love next morning just to convince yourself that it really was just a dream and they are in fact still alive, kind of bad dreams.

And I blame my unhappiness partly on this person's frantic need to SHARE.

Look, I don't want to know those kinds of stories. I will ask if I want to know. I feel somewhat offended and taken advantage of that this person used what was supposed to be technically a business meeting to seek attention from others. And to bring the whole room down.

And I never know how to respond to these things.

And I never know if I'm over-reacting to the oversharing. Oh, I never SAY anything, but I sit there feeling overwhelmed and sad and not wanting to listen and wishing I could run far, far away.

And so, here is my question: Am I too selfish with my time, to feel imposed upon because MA needed to tell everyone in the room intimate medical details? Am I being insensitive or unsympathetic? (I wonder at times - and I say this with some trepidation because I know there are people who read this blog from time to time who have relatives who have actually been diagnosed with this - if I could maybe be a wee bit farther along the Asperger's Syndrome spectrum than normal people, because I can't seem to feel content to sit there and nod and smile and tell myself, "Bless her heart, she just needs to share" when someone pulls this. No. I want to stand up, say, "This is making me sad and I don't want to hear it" and walk out and go home instead. But I don't, because I'm a big wussy in some ways.)

Is it normal for people to want to share sad gory details of their life?
Is it normal for other people to willingly be an audience to that?
Am I weird or messed up in the head for being unhappy over that, for feeling like those 45 minutes of my life were stolen from me, for feeling like I have lots of tough stuff that goes on in my life that I NEVER tell ANYONE because I think if I told someone I'd feel like I couldn't handle my own stuff.

Is it wrong for me to feel a little envious of the attention the chronic sharers get? I'd love to have people listening that raptly to me, but....I just can't do that. I can't share all the deep dark stuff in my life.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Oh noes...

Billy Mays is dead.

I know he annoyed the heck out of a lot of people, but there was something (I think) oddly endearing about his crazy, over-the-top sort of pitchman behavior.

The world will be a little less weird (in the good way) without Billy Mays in it.

And here's a comic memorializing him.

(Gale Storm is also dead today. What is going on? If I were a famous person I would be VERY AFRAID right now.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

I can has!

...new storm door.

Yeah, the installers showed up early this morning (45 minutes earlier than they originally told me; luckily I was already up and dressed but had not eaten brekky yet). It was the same couple that installed an appliance for me last winter so I knew they were good. They took great care to do it right, leveling the door in the poor old settled-foundation doorway.

There were a few loud moments - they had to drill out for the lock set (apparently these things come with a couple options. I took the standard key-lock. There is a newer, push-button thing, but it calls for batteries, and I can just see the batteries expiring while I'm gone on vacation and then I can't get back into my house).

I sat and graded this week's papers (and NO PLAGIARIZED LABS, yay) while they worked.

When they got done and had me sign the paperwork, the woman gave me a list of the other things they do.

WINDOWS! They install new windows! So there are people I trust - that would not freak me out to have inside my house (that's a big issue with me) could come and do windows. She said it might take as much as 2 days once everything was ordered.

(It's kind of a pity I made my travel plans already; I might decide to change my train tickets so I come back a little earlier, if I can - and then try to schedule new windows for those couple days before classes start. Or failing that, I have a brief "fall break" in October when it would actually be cooler and would probably be nicer for them to be working).

But anyway. It makes me happy because I had kind of given up on getting new windows, having visions of creepy guys with straggly hair telling my I have pretty teeth or something while they worked. (We have some very odd workmen around here.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Banish 'em all...

..that's my reaction to Jon Minus Kate Plus Eight Sad Children, the South Carolina Governor, and everyone else who has a position of power, who makes a lot of money, or who gets a lot of respect, who then screws up and melts down on TV and is all "I want everyone to feel SO SORRY for me because I really have such a crap life."

I know, as a Christian, I'm supposed to be forgiving and all, but this kind of crap is starting to make me ill.

My parents have been married 50 years. In that time, neither one ever strayed. Are they that unusual? Are they saints? No. They just figured - I expect - that they each had a good thing and didn't want to screw it up.

I'm not married and I have to admit every new "straying" story makes me sad - makes me wonder if maybe my parents ARE freaks or saints or something else, and it makes me wonder, if I had married M., or D., or any of the other gents in my past, would I be sitting in the shadows crying as he explained how he just "needed something new?"

What is it, people? I realize I have very little experience in this thing called romance, but I don't quite understand how, when you have someone who loves you, that you can hurt that person so badly. Because it seems to me that having an affair behind the person's back is about one of the worst things you can do in a relationship.

I don't know. Once again, I do not understand people and I am probably better off alone.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Something happy

...though in a twisted way, the post right before this one could be classed as happy.

I missed posting this on Father's Day, but that's OK; part of it was that I was on the phone with my own dad. But I do want to share this story; it's one of my favorite memories from that time of my life and, I think, proof of Why My Dad Is Awesome:

I attended one of the "Public Ivy" universities. My dad taught at a much smaller school - it was kind of one step above a community college. I could have gone there for free but he encouraged me to go to the (expensive) "Public Ivy" because they had a much better biology department.

But to try to save some money - and also get done faster - I took a lot of the distribution courses and cognate courses over the summers from his school. They were free, and also they allowed me to get things out of the way.

One big one was Physics. Everyone who knew anything about majoring in science told me "Do not take physics and organic chemistry at the same time; it will make you crazy because of the workload."

So I decided to take Physics in the summer at my dad's school. Physics I one summer; Physics II the next.

Physics I went really well. The teacher was older - I think just a few semesters from retirement. He was a good teacher, and he was easygoing and had a good sense of humor. Also, the topics - vectors and electricity being two I remember - made sense to me and I did well in the class.

Physics II was the next year. This was the year my dad took early retirement, and he had hired me (once my class was out for the day) to help him for a couple hours each day to pack up his office, to pack up the stuff he had bought on grants that was his "personal" lab equipment he could take with him, and also to clean up/clear out the research labs so the new guy would have an easier time setting up. So every day after Physics I went over there, we worked for a while, ate lunch together, and then when he went home, I rode with him.

Well, the first day of Physics II, the prof walked in the room. He gave us all (it was a pretty big class, in one of those big auditorium like halls) the stink eye, and said:

"I know why you're here. You're here because you can't pass Physics during the regular semester, and you think it will be easier in the summer. It. Will. Not. Be. Easier."

Now, first off, that statement is full of fail in at least three ways:

1. My experience with summer students is generally the opposite. Students take summer classes because they want to graduate early. Or because they are working and know that a lighter class load in the fall makes life easier. Or because they can go for free at their dad's school and get the distribution courses out of the way.

2. Even if you believe that your students are slacker idiots, you don't SAY that to them. Because it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. Even if 1 and 2 don't matter, saying something like that to your students will make them hate you. I know I disliked the guy after he said that.

So anyway. He started in.

It was Optics. I am not so good at Optics. Optics confused me.

I tried my best, but when the first test rolled around, I knew I didn't really have it. (Also, the test was different from what I expected).

The next day in class, he handed the tests back. I earned a D. That was really hard, especially considering that I was a (mostly) A student. I guess lots of other people did, too, he proceeded to berate the class for being 'stupid' and for not studying and similar things.

He finally said, in frustration: "Okay. You need to go and get tutoring. The tutor for this class will be my wife. Tutoring sessions are $8 a half-hour."

That was twice the going rate for the graduate student tutors in other classes. And more than twice what I asked for when I tutored one of the neighbor kids in French.

And it irked me that he was hiring his WIFE - first, he makes a test that might just be a wee bit TOO hard, then he yells at us, then he tells us, "Pay my wife and she'll help you get a better grade.

(Later on, a couple of the other students went and complained to the dean. And he agreed that it was a conflict of interest and told the guy to stop and to hire a grad student instead. And the prof yelled at us for that).

Anyway. The class went on, but I didn't hear much of it. I was upset about the D, and also upset about the way he was treating us.

Walking across campus to my dad's building, I kept thinking about it. I couldn't drop the course, and I couldn't fail it. Doing either would mean I'd either have to take Physics II with organic in the fall, or I'd have to delay my graduation by another semester - neither of which seemed desirable. And I kept thinking about it, and worked myself up into a state. (I am good at doing that, even still).

By the time I walked into my dad's office, I was in tears. He asked me what was wrong. I think I got it out in one of those long, don't-take-a-breath-in-the-middle sentences that you sometimes do when you're crying and are afraid you're going to sob in the middle.

He looked at me for a moment.

Then he hugged me. Now, in my family we have never been real big huggers. We are kind of standoffish and shy, physically speaking. We love each other but we express it in different ways. So it wasn't like some of my friends where everyone was always grabbing everyone else and hugging them.

And then, he whispered in my ear (very quietly because there were other people in the office and I don't think he wanted them to hear):

"I'm sorry you got the asshole professor."

HAH hahahahahahaha.

That wasn't a word he commonly used - at least not around me. And it had two effects: first, it startled me a little and I stopped crying (as I said, not a word he commonly used). And second - and I realized this as the semester ground on - that was really the only appropriate descriptor for the guy.

My dad did know the professor - he hadn't said anything about him to me so as not to prejudice me - but later on I learned that he had served on committees with the guy and had a low opinion of him (seems the guy was the kind of person who needed to air every grievance he ever had, whether it was the right forum or not).

The biggest thing was that it made me feel validated. Like I wasn't just being a whiny baby complaining about the guy. Or that I wasn't "that student" who does poorly on an exam and cries, "But I get As in all my other classes, honest."

That it wasn't me, it was him.

And then, after that, my dad took me out to lunch. And we figured out a plan. One of his friends had a son who was an engineer with the Navy, and Art was on leave that summer. So we hired him to help me with optics (figuring if anyone could do it, a Navy engineer could). So Art helped me, I figured out what I needed to know, I worked hard, I did better on the tests.

I ultimately earned an A in the class. And I felt like I won. And I realize that the "asshole professor" probably never even cared that I earned an A. But it was important to me. And I like to think that it made my dad a little proud, too, that I fought my way back from that initial D.

So, a belated happy father's day to all the "good dads" out there.

Bustin' makes me feel good.

So I walk into class this morning, with the graded labs. Before handing them out, I start talking to the class - I started off with how I "knew" none of the other profs in the department allowed people to hand in identical labs, so I knew they knew it wasn't OK, I talk about how I expect that each person will do their own lab write-up, that's why I give a week's time to do it. That I expect the data will be similar/the same within a group, but that I want to see each person figure out the interpretation and answer the questions on their own.

I explained that my SOP when I got labs that were identical, was to give each member of the collective a fraction of the points corresponding to how many people colluded.

As I'm saying this, I'm keeping the Gang of Three (which is now how I think of them) in my peripheral vision. At first they looked a bit surprised. Then they looked guilty - the whole sh*t-eating grins, dropping their eyes so I wouldn't inadvertently meet them, all of that.

They were busted. They KNEW they were busted. And I could tell from their expressions that they KNEW they weren't supposed to hand in lab reports that were identical clones of each other, but they had gone and done it anyway.

The thing is? This is a class of like 12 people. Did they really think I'd miss it when 1/4 of the reports were exact copies?

So I handed the reports back - no howls of outrage, no demands for why they got a 3/10.

It was pretty sweet.

Oh, I know, I'm evil for saying that, but it WAS.

I had sweated about this for several days, not knowing what to do - mainly because I HATE conflict and I HATE people claiming I done them wrong - and here it came out the best possible way. I had won.

After class, the one girl who had handed in a lab with the other girl's name on the top asked me why she didn't get a lab back. "But I didn't get a lab from you" I protested, "I got 2 with [redacted] name at the top, but none from you for that lab."

"But I handed it in!" she said.

"Yes, you handed in two labs: one with your name, and you got a grade for that one. But lab 2, you handed in a lab with [redacted] name on it."

She asked me: "Can I go print out another copy right now?"

Um, and put your name at the top? No, I don't think so.

Later, as I was starting my next class (and grr, I hate that. WAIT for me to be in office hours before confronting me, please) the "spokesman" of the group came to me and asked me: "So, can we redo the labs?"

Well, let's see.

Number 1: you blatantly did something you knew you weren't supposed to do.
Number 2: you are asking me to make more work for myself during the already-busy summer semester.
Number 3: you are trying to beg me for something when I am TRYING to talk with my next class.

I looked at him, and said simply: "No. Sorry."

I'm thinking I should probably buttonhole my department chair as soon as she comes in and apprise her of the situation, seeing as these guys are all pre-meds and they are likely to come to her with the "she ruined our lives, wah, we won't get into med school now!" cry. And while my chair is a very fair person, I want her to know my side of things first.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

some better

It's Saturday.

I went out and did grocery shopping and this time planned/forced myself to buy food that will actually bring some variety to my eating life. One thing I'm going to try is a tomato egg-drop soup I saw in one of my cookbooks. It's pretty simple -you can guess what it is from the name. Chicken broth, mashed up stewed tomatoes, thickened with cornstarch slurry, and then with eggs added. And at the end you chop up a few scallions on top. (I also bought a few mushrooms to add - thank goodness now the Wal-Mart has "bulk" mushrooms so I can buy the five I want to use as a garnish without having to buy a whole giant package and try to figure out what to do with the rest of them).

I think part of the problem is when I'm doing the "grab and go" (either salad, or yogurt, or crackers and cheese), I get bored and feel like I'm not taking care of myself - like I somehow don't merit cooking for.

I also mowed the lawn last night. Even though it was hot. This time I didn't feel like OH NOES I'M GONNA DIE HEAT EXHAUSTION afterward, I think perhaps it was either less humid last night or I'm slowly acclimating to the heat.

And I decided - after arguing about it with a colleague (and really, arguing with myself) that I'm gonna give the "it might be plagiarism, it might be an honest assumption that it's OK to collaborate even though they got all the same answers down to the word" people partial credit (1/3 each) because, after all, some of the other students in the class worked together to get data but then wrote their own lab reports with their own insights in them - and they shouldn't be penalized, I think, for doing their own work.

The other thing is, I just need to refocus. As I've said before: I need to concentrate on the 10% who give a damn. And luckily, in one class, I have that. One is an older student (call her B) who is returning to complete a degree after raising kids. She's super-interested in conservation and asks all kinds of good questions (some which I have to say, "Let me look that up and get back to you" on) and has good things to add to the discussion.

The other one (call him H) is returning to school after a few years in the workforce. (He is currently working at a bank but confided one day that his "boss lady" was crazy and that he was thinking of quitting, now that he had some money saved up he thought he could swing going to school without having to work). What I like about H. is that he is just NICE. He is a genuinely nice guy - he is friendly and helpful to the other students in the class, he's polite to me, he's just affable and good-natured. And that makes a giant difference in my world. I would much rather have a classroom filled with people like H. - who are not really super-star students (though he does do OK and if he doesn't get too hamstrung by crazy boss-lady, he could probably earn a B) but who are just decent people who treat those around them well, than a classroom full of brilliant folks who are either distant or who are unpleasant (and I have known some very brilliant students who were just bears to be around).

H. said to me, leaving class the end of this week, "Have a good weekend!" And I could tell from his tone and manner that he meant it - it wasn't just someone sucking up to the prof, it wasn't just someone saying an empty nicety.

And that makes a difference. It makes my week better and I am grateful to him for it. (Same old truth stands: you never know what "little" thing you say to someone may make a huge difference in their life.)

I don't know if H. is former military or not - he hasn't said anything about it but something from his bearing and his respectful manner almost make me wonder if he is. (I've had a number of former military students over the years, and the vast majority of them have been really good people - in some cases, people who "pulled up" a class that was otherwise slack-y and not so good - that their discipline somehow got the rest of the class to act better. I always like to get folks who are former Army or Navy (the most common veterans I get), or whatever service.)

I also had a good piano lesson yesterday and that makes a difference. My natural perfectionism works both in my favor and against me with this. It works in my favor in that I work hard on each piece until it is as good as I can play it, but it works against me because I find myself apologizing to my teacher for every little mistake, or feeling like I need to start over when I make one.

Though I guess I'm doing OK. She commented that because her other career (she also works in one of the university offices) is going to be more involved this fall, she's going to have to limit herself to a dozen students - she was going to rank people based on how regularly they showed up, how well prepared they were, etc.

I made some comment along the lines of "I hope you'll have room in your schedule for me" and she kind of chuckled and said, "Oh, you're one of the ones I plan to keep."

Still, it does blow my mind a little - you are (or your parents are) paying for lessons - not showing up UNLESS you are sick or something seems kind of foolish. As does continuing the lessons if you're not going to practice. I suppose it's different from an adult perspective. (When you've made and gone to your own dental appointments, when you've done your own taxes by hand, when you've worked for a living, practicing piano does not seem like such a chore).

But I always do take a little pride in being able to show up and play well and have her tell me I did a good job. Because that's something I crave, and something I don't hear often enough - the simple fact that I did a good job at something.

And now I'm home. I'm trying to write a Sunday school lesson (there is surprisingly little out there in the way of commentary on Exodus 5). This is an adult Sunday school so it requires a level of scholarliness beyond what I'd do for, say, a group of 6 year olds.

And then, I'm going to stay home. Not go over to the office, not sit and sift through the research material that I have to work on that will still be waiting for me on Monday. I can do it then.

I do have a bunch of scientific journals stacked up, plus some articles ordered through "official" interlibrary loan (as well as "unofficial" - that is, ask my mom, "Hey, if you're running by the University library up there, would you find this article for me?" - their library is much better stocked than mine and if I really need something, she can usually get it faster for me than the ILL). So I'm going to make my bed (I've already cleaned the bedroom) and sit on it and read with my nice big ceiling fan going over me. And it's going to be quiet and nice and I won't have to DEAL with anyone else.

Friday, June 19, 2009

things this week

...off that can fornicate. (to keep to both my rule of not using the "big one" on this blog, and also not ending a sentence with a preposition.)

...the neighbor's dog which WILL NOT STOP BARKING
...the heat
...the humidity
...the high pressure and lack of wind which traps every stink close to the ground. I live about four blocks from a Dairy Queen/Brazier and I can smell their grill. And it's not good.
...people who think that carrying on a 24/7 conversation with their Significant Other is more important than everything else
...people who are just rude to other people.
...the fact that none of the people I normally use as sounding boards, who normally act as cheering sections/balance-restorers for me are around this week. Summer is very lonely on a college campus.
...knowing information but not being able to share it with other people because you're afraid it might somehow come back to hurt you. So you have to sit and listen to people repeat unfounded rumors and all you can say is, "Well, it's not QUITE like that" but not being able to say any more.
...all the things the Administration is talking about doing
...the Press Secretary for commenting last night, "We won the election. So if you disagree with what we're doing, STFU. WE. WON."
...all the people in the news media who fawn over the president, to the point where they're moving from news-reporting into editorializing.
...all the paranoia I am holding about the future, and about how I may find my paycheck being sucked away even more by taxes and my freedoms being abridged even more.
...the fact that there are people out there who hate me simply because I'm larger than they are and don't share their disordered view of eating.
...spinach salad. It's the only thing I feel like eating these days but I'm also sick of it.
...the wasps that have invaded my classroom building
...people who drive loud diesel duallies and then gun the engine while they're waiting at a stop street late at night.
...people who have apparently selected the "a-hole option" when they bought their cars.
...people who kill their own kids. (There's a story a few cities over about a couple of s***stains who apparently got tired of having to care for a baby, so they killed it.)
...the Al Qaeda members who are thinking about strapping explosives to horses and using them as suicide bombers. It's bad enough they're seeking to kill innocent people with their bombs, now they're going to make horses do it for them. Talk about cowardly.

So, pretty much the whole entire world can FTFO at the end of this week. I think what I need to do this weekend is not watch any news, perhaps not even watch any television, and work on projects.

I saw the last part of "Citizen Kane" the other night, and was struck by this line: "He was disappointed in the world, so he made his own."

Sometimes I wish I had enough money and was arrogant enough to do that. I'd love to tell the rest of the world to go hang and go do whatever I wanted. And it's definitely because of disappointment, though perhaps not the same sort of disappointment Kane felt; my disappointment is more along the lines of "people COULD be better than they are; why aren't they?"

Thursday, June 18, 2009


In one of my summer classes, I have a "mating pair."

I HATE this. I HATE it when a boyfriend/girlfriend (or, I suppose, boyfriend/boyfriend or girlfriend/girlfriend, but I've not had either of those yet) take my classes together:

they sit, heads together, and coo and giggle during class. I stop talking, look annoyed at them, they shut up. I start working the equation again. They start talking again. I remind them that one of the class policies is "please do not talk when someone else is speaking." They shut up for a while longer.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Well, now I got lab reports from them. Three people - the couple and a third friend - worked together. While I did not EXPLICITLY say "write your own damn answers to the questions," I do also have a "do your own damn work" policy in my syllabus.

So I get three identical labs. My suspicion is one person - probably the odd girl out, based on another bit of evidence I have (one person forgot to change her name at the top of the lab) wrote the lab writeup, typed it up, then either e-mailed it or made copies for everyone else. They are word-for-word identical.

So what do I do? My gut feeling is to give each one 1/3 the credit: three people, one lab, ergo 1/3 the credit.

But then again: the few I've been able to solicit advice from say, "But labs are a GRAY AREA." Meaning, because I didn't TELL them "write your own damn answers," they are probably somehow justified in their belief that they can be three people with one brain.

I hate this. I hate judgment calls. On the one hand, if I give them the 1/3 credit, I will probably have griping to deal with. And very likely the "Tsch-ah" response of the scorned female student here (at least from the two females). On the other hand, even if I tell them NEXT TIME WRITE YOUR OWN DAMN LAB YOURSELF, giving them full credit just rewards them.

I don't know. I'm at such a point where I cannot decide - where I am so dragged out from this week that I really can't see a good course of action either way. Either way I'm going to have crap to deal with, and my MO for surviving this summer is going to have to be "minimize the crap."

I don't know.

I do know I will become a screaming witchbeast if I have to keep stopping Jack and Jill every class day to break them up and make them stop talking and giggling. Dammit, they are like 20 years old! This is NOT freaking 5th grade where kids are just starting to find out that the opposite sex isn't icky (well, 90 to 98 percent of the kids, depending on whose statistics you believe).

I feel disrespected. Yes, I do. It may not be valid to, it may just be the price of being a professor, but I DO feel disrespected when I am trying to teach a class and I am having to compete with "A Summer Place" going on in the third row.

something that did make me laugh

There are a few bright spots.

On the test I gave today, I had asked students for an example of a species choosing unsuitable habitat. I had talked about how roads often acted as barriers or "sinks" (because lots of animals get killed crossing them) and how sometimes ectotherms will "sun" on blacktop roads in the spring and get hit by cars.

So for the answer to the question, one student put, "Snakes on a highway"

Coming soon to a multiplex near you? Starring Samuel L. Jackson's less-famous cousin?

(Sorry. I have to take the laughs where I can get them these days. And at any rate, the student got credit - it is a correct answer)

holding on to that knot

You know how they say when you're at the end of your rope, you're supposed to tie a knot and hold on?

Damn, I hope the knot holds.

It's just been a mix of things this week. The heat is only one of them (though now I think I realize how "Southern Gothic" came to be "Southern Gothic" - in the era before air conditioning, or even before people really having much in the way of electric fans, people probably went kind of crazy in the heat. I know I am, and I spend much of the day in an air conditioned building. Sadly, my "crazy" is not the romantic sort - I do not try to develop inappropriate relationships with young men, nor do I communicate from my bedroom by rolling red tennis balls down the hall. It's more the weepy/irritable sort. So I have to make what feels to me like a Herculean effort to be nice and to be agreeable in public, and only melt down when I'm alone. This morning I cursed extensively - and almost cried - because I wanted toast for breakfast and found that the bread had gone moldy. $%*&$# climate. It's hot and it never rains but it's still humid enough that non-refrigerated bread will mold almost overnight)

I think it's also that most of the people I interact with on a daily basis - the ones who keep me grounded - are off doing other things: at conferences, on vacation, out doing fieldwork. So most days I only speak with students, which is fine (my summer classes are going OK) but it's not the same as someone you know well, someone whose judgment you know you can trust.

I think it's also that I have this horrible feeling of waiting for shoes - many shoes - to drop. I have a feeling of something like dread, and I can't tell if it's my reaction to the heat and my allergies or if it's something real that I can trust. I dread what's happening in North Korea. I dread what's happening in Iran - now, granted, a revolution there could improve things, but I can't be optimistic about it. I remember 1979.

On the home front, I'm really concerned about the coming new health-care plan. And in my bleaker moods, I wonder: will I, as a "fat person," be told I MUST lose weight if I want health care? Or will I be sent to "fat camp" to be made to lose the weight? I realize that's being very apocalyptic but it doesn't help when you hear people like MeMe Roth spouting what THEY would do to fat people if THEY ran the circus.

It doesn't help that the whole time/distance/calories burned readout on my new cross-country ski simulator is apparently lying to me. The old one, on the old machine, claimed I was burning 600 calories in an hour of working out. Which I'm sure was inaccurate. But this new one says that after an hour's hard workout (I've been pushing myself), when I am aching and have sweat running over my body from every pore, that I have burned a grand total of 125 calories.

Thanks. Thanks so much. So now I am entitled to eat a slice and a half of bread over and above the baseline number of calories I "should" eat in a day. Hardly seems worth it.

I know both of them lied to me, but I was happier when the old one was lying to me.

(Seriously? 125 calories? Don't some people burn that in an hour just sitting still?)

So if there is some kind of horrible dystopian plan comes in, where BMIs must be below a certain value to qualify as a person for health care, I will have to either starve myself or have a limb amputated. (And don't, for God's sake, suggest the weight-loss surgery. I'd rather have a limb amputated, based on what I've read can be the after effects of it. Even in "good" outcomes it looks like people are at greatly increased risk of osteoporosis: something I have a family history of anyway)

And there are other areas where I see our freedoms being taken away, or increasing restrictions placed on what we can do. And it just makes me sad and scared and wonder what joy will be left in this life.

So I don't know. I come to school and I teach and I work on my research and all of it. And I'm fairly happy while teaching...but I think I'm alone too much right now, and my brain kind of becomes an echo chamber of everything that worries me and bugs me. And I don't know how to fix that, this community really is in some ways pretty closed - outside of church and work I don't have that many contacts.

I'm sure a big part of this is that I feel like every day is the same: it's hot, it's humid, I even see the same damn truck carrying squashed cars from a junkyard pass me as I drive to work. It's like frickin' Groundhog Day, where I'm stuck in some kind of a loop I can't break free from.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Aw crap

I'm having a low-interaction day. Or whatever you want to call it: a day when all the stuff you say seems to be misunderstood (which I assume is my own fault. Maybe it's a Communication Challenged day for me). I'm just not doing well.

It's because it's so damn hot. I didn't sleep hardly at all last night. I can't turn the AC any lower; it's an old system and I'm praying it will make it through the summer as it is (yeah, yeah, Spider, I know: I should have bought a new one over the winter. Though when the guys came and checked it out, they said it was all good, but it seems like it was running an awful lot all weekend).

So I'm tired, in that weird insomnia-mode where time seems to drag by, kind of weepy, and my appetite has gone AWOL. I ate almost nothing yesterday because I was not hungry at all, and nothing appealed to me.

I really freaking hope nothing goes bad today, no one tries to argue with me in class about something, whatever. Because I am THIS close to tears and I do not want to be pushed over the edge.

F***ing hot weather - I hate it SO much.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

less frequent posting

1. It's hot. Oh dear lord is it hot. We are having the type of weather typical of late July in mid-June. And it doesn't look like it's going to get better.

You know how Churchill (and also James Lileks, copying him) talked about the "black dog"? I get one in the summer. I am sure it is the heat, the humidity, and also the feeling of being trapped indoors by the same. I can feel that black dog whuffling at my heels, its damp smelly breath on the back of my legs.

Have you ever felt irritable and KNEW you were irritable? And knew that meant you had to make an extra effort to be agreeable? And been irritated by that? That's how I was today. Oh, I was nice - I didn't snarl at anyone at church or anything - but I could tell that EVERYTHING was annoying me - certain people's odd patterns of speech, the way one of my ceiling fans squeaks, the ants that have invaded my bathroom - everything.

2. Summer classes are tough. I always forget how hard I work for these. (Maybe it's like they say about childbirth - you forget how much it hurts so you're willing to do it again?). I have the added challenge that I have a blind student this year (fortunately it's in the non-majors class so I don't have to concern myself about lab exercises and just what do you do when you're working with a microscope and you have someone who can't USE a microscope?). I do, however, have to have all handouts ready a day in advance so I can send them over to the office that Brailletizes them for my student. I'm happy to do it, but it's another thing to remember and plan for.

3. I have an unprecedented number of people in my summer class having emergencies causing them to miss class. So far: student having staples removed following a surgery earlier this spring (and the doctor FORGOT one of the freakin' staples so she's gonna have to go back), someone having to testify in court, someone with a family reunion, someone with a sick child, someone having to take a grandmother to the ER...it never stops. I try to be compassionate because nothing is really the person's fault...but it makes things harder, it puts an added burden on me to arrange for make-up labs or tests to be taken at alternate times or something.

4. Along with the heat-and-humidity induced "lowness," I have this awful feeling of dread. Something bad feels like it's going to happen. Something bad in Iran, or in the Korean peninsula. I actually said yesterday morning, upon hearing of the little crazy guy in North Korea (I can never remember his name) talking about a nuclear war starting: "OK. If the world is going to end this year, can it please end NOW instead of at the end of the summer so I will at least not have to put up with so much heat?"

Or, as another blogger commented, on the home front: I feel as if this summer is going to be the last summer I get to enjoy certain things. Like the last year I'll be permitted to eat ice cream sundaes. Or go out for a drive in my car "just because." Or run the air conditioning at a temperature that is comfortable for me. Or read whatever I want on the internet. Or something. (And then of course we are exhorted to fly the flag and say the pledge of allegiance as a symbol of our freedom. Well, I'll fly it and say it but not because YOU told me to. I'll fly it and say it 'cos there are men and women out there with enough guts to sign up for the military to go and protect the rest of us, 'cos there were people in the past who figured out how to make this country work...)

So I don't know. I can't tell how much of my feeling of impending doom is just my usual summer dysphoria, or how much I'm connecting dots that don't need to be connected, or what.

Friday, June 12, 2009


So, a colleague and I were talking, and the topic gets on to the whole "Twilight" series.

My colleague asks me if I've read it. Going into indignant-book-snob mode, I glared at him and said, "Do I LOOK like a 16 year old girl?"

And then I realized I was wearing capri pants from the Old Navy, a t-shirt with a kitten on it, and I had my hair in a ponytail.

Um, yeah.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A friendly note...

...to the 20-something woman walking SLOWLY through the wal-mart texting this afternoon:

You know, when it's 4:30 pm, and the place is cram-jammed, and most of the folks there are just desperate to grab their boxes of pasta or cartons of milk or whatever, and pay and scram, probably it is not a good idea to walk slowly around that blind corner out of Frozen Foods with your eyes focused only on whatever you are tapping into your little Borg-screen.

I didn't appreciate having to stop short - in HEELS no less, which I had been wearing since 6:30 am - while trying to negotiate my cart around the approximately 580 other people in the aisle.

Seriously, whatever it is? I'm quite sure either it can wait 'til you're done shopping, or your shopping can wait 'til you're done texting? 'K?

Seriously, I am beginning to think they should make the noon hour and from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm "Distracting Electronics Free Hours" at the wal-mart - so that people can, as I said, get in, buy their box of pasta and carton of milk, and scram, without having to deal with traffic jams caused by people who are allegedly multitasking.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

cosmic joke

Don't ever let anyone tell you God does not have a sense of humor.

Today was Bring-a-Friend Sunday at church; they had a brunch afterwards. (There's a big push to try to grow the church right now; we are trying to get a new minister and I think they're worried that we're not big enough as we are to support one).

One of my friends at church is a lady who's been the police chaplain for years. (So long, in fact, that most everyone only knows her as "Chappy")

So I saw her, and there was a seat left next to her, so I sat there to eat.

And she introduced me to the "friend" she brought - a young man who is new to the force. And his girlfriend.

And do you know who that might be?

None other than my plagiarist.

I tried VERY hard to be friendly, to not be uncomfortable, to smile, all that good stuff, to make it clear that it was behind me...but I have to admit, it really isn't, and I was kind of uncomfortable. (And she's probably coming to the women's league meeting tomorrow night. Well, at least I'll be prepared for that...part of the discomfort was that I was caught by surprise).

Walking out after the brunch, as soon as I was alone, I kind of looked heavenward and muttered, "I hope You got a good laugh out of that one."

Friday, June 05, 2009

Bring out your dead...

My new cross-country ski exerciser came today. I was relieved when I got an e-mail a couple days ago indicating UPS was going to deliver it; originally the company selling it claimed that a freight company was going to deliver it and I would have to "contract" with them for a time-of-delivery. (My experience is, the more different parties you have to deal with, the more likely something will get badly screwed up).

And I have a pretty good UPS guy. He hauled it up the front steps (it weighs something over 65 lbs) and asked me where I wanted him to set it. I had him just leave it in the living room (right inside the front door) as I wanted to put it together there (so it would be easy to move the box and packing) and I'd need to get the old one out before putting the new one in place.

Have you ever had one of those days where you feel Murphy is laughing at you?

This has been one of those days. I got the thing out, unpacked, started putting it together. Seemed that two of the bolts were missing (&$*%#^@$). So I called the company. I had to pass through the forest of "press 1 for English, then press 2 if you are calling about something you've already ordered, then press 2 again if you want to sit and wait to talk to a really real person instead of pushing buttons forever...") I told the guy the bolts were not in the bag indicated. So he said, "OK, I'll send a set out Monday."


Then, going back to the thing, I noticed that the bolts, rather than being in a bag as the instructions implied, were already on the machine. Frack. (I didn't call the guy back. So they spend $5 to send out a new set of bolts; serves them right for having unclear instructions). So I kept working.

Then it turned out one of the lockwashers that held on a vital part was broken. Frack. I thought about calling them back, but crap, I want to be able to use this thing some time soon. So I looked at the old machine - yup, four lockwashers, and they are all accessible/removable.

First one I pulled off catapulted away and I can't find it.

Second one, trying to force it on the new machine, it popped out of my hand and went down the heat/air conditioning register in the floor (Frack.)

Number 3, I got it off, and got it on the new machine. (thank goodness). The rest of the put-together wasn't too bad.

So then I took apart what I could of the old machine (feeling like I should be humming The Dead March or somesuch) and carried it out to the curb. Yeah, I missed the bulky waste pickup for this month, and the dump doesn't re-open for drop-offs until Monday. So I'm leaving it at the curb. I don't care if that looks a little trashy over the weekend. (Frankly, I'm hoping one of the avid recyclers/thing-takers that exist in my town will remove it. The frame is some kind of metal (it's too sturdy to be aluminum, but I'm not sure what it is), so maybe someone could get a few bucks for it. Or maybe someone will "steal" it like they stole the $9 sprinkler I had in my yard a couple years back.)

Anyway, the rest of the day was kind of a Murphy-and-his-horse days ("F Murphy and the horse he rode in on"). First off, a trip to the pharmacy for a prescription I've been taking for YEARS - it isn't for any lifethreatening condition but I'm not as healthy or happy without it. The pharmacy dude acted like he didn't know what I was talking about. He acted like I had no prescription with them. I was bracing for him to ask, "Are you sure you dropped it off here yesterday like you said?" in which case I was planning to say, "No, not really. See, I have multiple personalities and one of the other ones was in charge yesterday." Of course, knowing pharmacy dude's general wattage, he'd probably take me literally.

But finally pharmacy dude figured it out (they "owed" me a month's worth of the script, thanks to their having had limited stock the last time I refilled).

Then I went to the post office.

You know what I hate about small-town post offices? The fact that they usually have one window open, and that people who drop in, if they know the clerk (and this being a small town, they usually do), feel like they might as well stick around and chew the rag for a while. As a line forms behind them. I had to mail a package or I would have left. Anyway, I hate that. I think it's the height of rudeness to obliviously carry on a conversation that has NOTHING TO DO with the service you have already had completed as people are waiting.

Then, to Lowe's, which as it turned out completed the Trifecta of Stupid.

I had ordered a new screen door. The couple who are installing it had come out and measured, they had reported what size was needed, I had told the Lowe's people what model and color I wanted, and supposedly they had the whole price quote ready.

Problem was, the guy who called me to tell me it was ready - the guy who knew what he was doing - had gone home for the day by the time I got there. Instead, I got Moe, Larry, and Curly, none of whom apparently knew how to retrieve the invoice from the bowels of the computer. Finally, after calling in a fourth (Curly Joe?), they decided they had it sorted and told me to go up to the checkout, that they could print it out and charge me there.

Nope! No go. The tattooed guy who tried to help me couldn't get it, the woman he called over to help couldn't. Finally, I left in disgust, making the comment of, "I'll come back later." and thought the addition "when someone who knows jack is working"

Later, I got a call from a guy from Lowe's - yes, he could get it all sorted, yes, he'd be there until 10 pm. So after my piano lesson (the one spot of non-stupidity in my day) I went out there. The guy (once he showed up at the desk, after my being told, "Oh, he'll be right there") managed to get it taken care of while copiously reminding me that I should only sign off on the final paperwork AFTER I was satisfied with the workmanship. (Seeing as it's the folks who put in my dishwasher, and seeing as it's replacing a storm door with one the same size and made by the same company, I expect there will be zero problems).

And then I very nearly got into a car accident on the way home because someone decided it was a good idea to pull into my lane as I was coming. They saw me but I presume that they figured because the universe revolves around them, the power of their own importance would keep my car from hitting theirs. Well, my foot on my brake took care of that. Not because they're so very important but because I didn't relish having to have bodywork done on my car.

In between all those things, I cleaned house and cleared out several months' worth of cardboard boxes I'd been hoarding -first, because a friend was moving (she didn't need all the boxes) and second, because I do order quite a bit from Amazon. And Stash Tea. And Superbuzzy. And Elann. And Vermont Country Store. I had broken down all the boxes and was saving them to recycle - yeah, yeah, I know, but it's my understanding that cardboard recycling is actually one of the more cost-effective ones. And besides, I don't always have space in my smallish roll-cart for all the boxes, and they fine you if you have stuff outside the rollcart.

So I drove to where the recycling bins USED to be.

Nope, none there.

Drove to another place where I had known them to be in the past.

Again, nope.

So I went back home, with a backseat full of stacked cardboard (you don't want to leave cardboard for long in an enclosed car in warm weather; it fast develops a smell not unlike spoiled milk).

Called the Solid Waste department. Asked where the bins were at these days. The guy started slowly listing them, finally as soon as he said, "At the wal-mart" I cut him off and said, "That works for me."

So I drove over there. Could not see any bins. Drove around the whole dang store. No bins. I'm on the verge of hunting down an employee but figured they'd give me the patented "not my department" stare. So I started to drive off, figuring, well, maybe I can take them down to the waste transfer station.

Then I saw the bins. In a distant corner, almost as far from the wal-mart itself as it was possible to be and still be on wal-mart property. So I shed myself of several months' accumulated boxes (plus a stack of newspapers) and went home again.

In the end, I finally hopped on the new exerciser. I was only able to do about 15 minutes, partly because I've been away from it so long (being on vacation plus the old one finally broke only a day or two after I was back) and also because this new one is tighter - I kept having to adjust things to make it feel right - and the new handgrips are a LOT heavier. Which is probably good in terms of a workout but it means I may have to slowly build back up to being able to do the hour I did in the past.

But crikey, what a day. I hope this means that all of my dealings with stupid and/or lazy people are done for a while. I'm beat. I find that dealing with "dumb" really gets my goat. I can deal with problems - I understand that lots of stuff that goes wrong is beyond someone's control. I can deal with stupid bureaucratic rules where Someone has to sign off on Something and that Someone is not readily available. I can even shrug and smile in the face of certain balls-ups and say, "Stuff like this happens."

But when someone just stands there, mouth hanging open, not knowing what to do - and not even wanting to TRY (that's what really gets me - not the ignorance but the laziness) and makes whatever I am trying to get done take far, far longer than it should because they have really no interest in either making the situation work or finding someone who can make it work - that's when I start to fume.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

"Eve and the Fire Horses"

Once in a while, I tend to flip away from the channels I usually watch, and once in a while I'm rewarded.

This movie was on the Sundance channel last night (I think that's what it was - it was one of the "high number" digital cable channels that shows movies).

There will be spoilers here. The one big spoiler at the end I'll try to put in white text (so you'll have to highlight over it to read it) but I don't think I can avoid some of the lesser spoilers and still talk about the movie.

It's a movie about a Chinese family living in Vancouver. The parents are from China, the children born in Canada (as far as I could determine - I missed a few minutes towards the beginning). It starts in the late 60s/early 70s and tells the story mostly from the point of view of Eve Eng, who is somewhere in early childhood when the movie takes place (7 or 8, maybe younger? I can't always tell with kids).

It mainly focuses on the differences and the conflict between "keeping tradition" and "assimilating."

The children's grandmother (there is Eve and her sister Karena, and then what I assumed were a set of cousins - an older boy and girl) is the big tradition-keeper. She has a small shrine in the house and every morning pours three cups of tea "for a god who never seems to be thirsty" as Eve comments in her childlike way.

We see family celebrations - Ma Ma (the grandmother) has her 70th birthday. Eve dresses up and dances a traditional dance for her; Ma Ma is thrilled (this is partly to establish the good relationship between the two for a later scene). The family enjoys "long life" noodles and other foods. (There is some conflict; the know-it-all teenaged cousin points out that putting food aside for a god is "stupid" when there are people starving in the world - this breaks a big family tradition that you should NEVER say anything unpleasant at table. It's not clear if this is a Chinese tradition or just one for the Eng family, but at any rate, it's sort of a typical modern-teenagery thing and just shows some of the conflict between tradition and modernism).

One of the interesting aspects of the movie is that the children speak to their parents in English, but the parents speak to them in Cantonese - it's clear that each understands both languages (though from one scene it's not clear how well the mother speaks English). It's an interesting aspect because growing up, I knew two families of immigrants where that took place - in one case, the parents spoke to the kids in Hindi, and the kids spoke in English to their parents. In the other case, it was (I think?) Polish - maybe one of the Slavic languages (I was too shy to ask). In both those cases the parents asked the kids to 'translate' for them - for example, when my Indian friend's mother was speaking to me - they spoke the language but were so shy of their accents that they didn't want to speak it in front of a comparative stranger. So that part rang true, and it really wasn't intrusive (they had, of course, subtitles for the Cantonese parts)

The girl's mother conceives another baby - they "learn" it is a boy using the tradition of a ring held over her stomach - but then loses the baby in a very graphic miscarriage scene (standing at her sink) after chopping down a tree.

(The family is scandalized by it - both that it was an unladylike thing to do, and also, cutting down a tree was believed to "cut the cord").

After that, the girls' mother sinks into depression and often won't leave her bed. A pivotal scene early in the movie shows Eve getting ready for "picture day" at school (one of the things I like about the movie is how those little moments - like "picture day" are so reminiscent of the early-1970s school experience. I am sure part of it was to show the absolute everydayness of Eve's "outside" life, as compared to the tradition of her family and her imaginative flights of fancy).

Anyway, she wants her mother to braid her hair. But her mother is still depressed, and Eve's father won't let her in to see her mother. So Ma Ma insists on braiding Eve's hair...she does it very lovingly and sweetly but Eve (and oh, how this is typical of being a child) wants her OWN mother to do it, so Ma Ma doing it is Not Right and she can't smile or be happy...even when Ma Ma offers to go and do one of Eve's outdoor chores for her. (Later, we see Eve pouting as the photographer takes her school picture).

This is one big spoiler for the movie (if you really hate spoilers, stop reading now, though I will say it's not so much a spoiler in the sense of telling you the end of "The Crying Game" or "The Sixth Sense" as it is a somewhat natural and not unexpected part of the plot. But I'll leave it to you. I don't think the movie would be ruined for you knowing the spoiler here, but if you think it would be, and you are planning on seeing this movie, like this week, you might not want to keep going. But whatever.)

Spoiler ahead

In the course of doing the chore, Ma Ma has a heart attack, or stroke, or some other medical emergency (it's never really discussed). She's taken to the hospital. She lives long enough for her son (the girls' father) to take them to stand outside and wave at her (another 1970s memory: not being allowed into the hospital to visit people if you are a child - having to wave at their window from outside).

But Ma Ma ultimately dies - as the girls learn one day coming home from school.

There is an elaborate period of mourning...during which the girls' mother rouses herself from her bed, walks to the shrine, and pours the three cups of tea.

It's a little scene, but it's meaningful - a torch has been passed, the mother realizes she is now the matriarch in that house, she now has new responsibilities, it is time for her to stop mourning the loss of her unborn son.

Eve feels sad and guilty - she thinks she's responsible for Ma Ma's death, since Ma Ma was doing her chores (and she was rude in her last interaction with Ma Ma).

The girls are taught that Ma Ma could be reincarnated - as a goldfish, or a bird, or a flower. (I don't know enough about Buddhism - I think the family is at least nominally Buddhist? - to know if this is a typical belief).

Eve has a vision (I think this is the first of them) - she thinks she sees Ma Ma down in the basement laundry room. But Ma Ma walks past her, won't acknowledge her presence - which adds to her sense of guilt.

Later, Eve gets a goldfish and envisions it singing Chinese opera (there is a story that her grandmother sang opera for the Emperor. It is not clear if this story is true or one of Eve's embellishments).

The father goes off to China to bury his mother and for an extended visit (his brother - the father to the cousins - cannot travel because of a kidney condition)

During this time, Karena gets converted to Christianity and becomes a Catholic (but, I would argue, she gets it wrong - she believes that she can win paradise for herself - and, more importantly, it seems - for Ma Ma by "being a good person" and "winning people to Christ."). Karena becomes VERY strict and pious about her belief; Eve is more of a syncretist. (There is a scene - it's not as twee as it sounds - where she sees Jesus and the Buddha dancing in the living room - just as she had previously seen the Chinese goddesses "dancing with wild abandon").

Also, the girls' mother decides to become a more strict Buddhist (or to take up Buddhism; as I said, I don't understand Chinese religions well enough to know if they were Buddhist to start with). She starts meditating daily and will not eat "things that bleed" on the first or 15th of the month.

(When the dad comes back, he remarks: Just how long have I been gone?)

Karena decides that they have to become even more pious, for the sake of Ma Ma's soul - she makes up the club of Sisters of Perpetual Sorrow and sets rules for how she and Eve must behave - most importantly, they must convert people. (There's a funny-uncomfortable scene when Karena invites a boy she likes over for an "afterschool event" where she tries to convert him - the audience already being aware that he is Sikh, and, as he says, doesn't "go in for that Jesus stuff")

Eve invites the blonde girl next door (whom Karena had, earlier in the movie, dismissed as PWT - "poor white trash") to come to Sunday School class with her - and the new girl winds up being more popular and fitting in better than Eve, whose flights of fancy give the nun teaching the class fits.

One of the more memorable scenes of the movie - because it rang so true (how psychologically brutal little girls can be to each other!) showed the girls (with PWT girl being part of that group) ganging up on Eve - and making her swear on the Bible not to "lie" any more (Eve had spoken, with typical childhood embellishment, about her Ma Ma's opera singing, and about how her dad escaped a car wreck).

"It's for your own good, Eve!" they tell her (Oh, gosh, I remember that tone - that horrible, smarmy, "I'm more grown up than you" tone. I once had a couple "friends" take me aside and tell me a list of what they perceived to be my "faults" - "for my own good" they said. And I also remember my two "best" friends ganging up and telling me that NEITHER would be my friend any more unless I picked - and told them - which one was my BEST best friend. Even at 8 I could recognize a Hobson's Choice - I could lose one friend permanently, or risk losing both, though that maybe temporarily. I chose not to choose - they didn't talk to me for a couple of weeks but eventually both talked to me again.

Yeah, I wouldn't be a kid again on a bet.)

Anyway, they pressure Eve into swearing on the Bible never to lie again, lest she die next year "starting in February" (Chinese New Year, not the Western calendar year).

And so life continues. The uncle's kidney condition gets worse; the girls' father agrees to be a live donor at considerable risk (this is still the 1970s) to himself.

After the operation, the girls' mother is called to the hospital, late at night.

And then, Karena makes an important decision. This is the Big Big Spoiler, the one I'm going to speculate about how it affects the end of the movie. Read on if you dare. Highlight to read; font is set to white as a default.

Karena decides Eve needs to be baptized, in order to protect their father. So she fills the tub, makes Eve get in - and tells Eve the longer she stays under, the better.

This leads to the main conflict and ambiguity of the movie - Karena holds Eve under the water. And later, you see Karena (alone) being baptized the "traditional" Catholic way (sprinkling) in church. And Eve makes the comment that she "died" that night.

And it is not at all clear if the death is symbolic in the way that every baptism is a symbolic death - or if she literally died for a second or two, but then revived once out of the water - or if she is in actual fact dead, and visiting the family as a spirit.

On the IMDB boards this is debated, with the conclusion being "she's not really dead" - because her mother looks at her and smiles.

And yet, I wonder about a couple things - first, why would Karena be baptized alone? Would not both sisters be baptized at the same time, seeing as they're being baptized as children, not as infants? (If you're Catholic and reading this and have insight as to why, please comment). And second, the whole "If I tell a lie may I start to die before February of next year" seems almost a bit foreshadowy on second thinking.

And at the very end, Eve sees her Ma Ma again - in the same place as she last saw a vision of her - but this time, Ma Ma smiles at her - all is reconciled.

So I wonder. I think perhaps the ending is deliberately left ambiguous, even though I (like, I think, many American film-viewers) don't particularly deal well with ambiguity - we want ANSWERS. But maybe we have to be content with the slight ambiguity of the ending. I don't know

At any rate - it was a very good movie. Probably not the best for wee children - it's pretty philosophical in parts (boring to small kids), and the miscarriage scene is pretty horrible (I had to look away). But it does give an interesting insight into Chinese-Canadian culture, and assimilation vs. tradition.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Never a dull moment

So, I am sitting down in my office to start on my day's work, when I spot something moving out of the corner of my eye.

I look over, and see a mouse on the floor. A white mouse. (So I knew it wasn't just some random mouse that wandered in from outside, unless there's some escaped population of labmice around).

I am not really afraid of mice, but I don't like to get too close to them; years and years ago, one of my grade-school classrooms had pet mice and I remember one day the teacher let us hold them and one bit me. Yeah. (It didn't break the skin but it kind of hurt all the same).

So I stood looking at the mouse in brief amazement, and then thought, "I should capture the little booger and return him to whomever he belongs to."

(Then I remembered that one of my colleagues had had a couple white mice as "demonstration" animals for a class he was teaching in the interim - it's one of those classes for teachers who want to goose up their qualifications and learn how to do experimental science in the classroom).

Fortunately, I had an empty coffee jar on my bookshelf - one of my colleagues had been saving his instant coffee jars for me to make kill jars out of for capturing bugs (yes, I know, it's complicated...). So I grabbed the jar, dumped out the tiny bit of residual coffee, and with a little effort, popped it over the mouse.

And then I went down the hall and found Colleague, and asked him, "Have you had an escapee in the past couple days?"

He was kind of embarrassed - yes, he had, but apparently had not seen fit to WARN us (like I said, I'm not afraid of mice but some people might be). So he came down and retrieved it.

But yeah, never a dull moment at my U.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Gob. Smacked.

I learned a piece of news last night - and had it verified for me this morning - that utterly blows my mind. Because it seems to me - on the outside of it - to be such a monumentally stupid thing to do. One of those "how could you think that would be a good idea?" situations.

Someone I know (at best an acquaintance; this is not someone I would really consider a friend) who was in a position of considerable power (and a six-figure salary) has been fired...apparently for Financial Misappropriation.

(As my verifying source said: "He must have really sucked at it...they found him out in less than a year").

But anyway - if this person is guilty, his career is destroyed. Gone. No one would ever hire him again for a position even several rungs below the one he occupies now.

I guess greed makes people stupid? This guy had, as I said, a six-figure salary, use of a nice house, use of (I believe) a car provided for him, decision-making power - all the stuff that is kind of even beyond the American Dream, maybe the American Dream on steroids.

I couldn't see EVER doing something like that myself. (I make a mid-range five-figure salary - not huge, but certainly enough to be comfortable on, especially when you're kind of stingy like I am). Even totally beyond the "I am doing something that is wrong and I am not the kind of person who does things that are this wrong" discomfort, the fear of getting caught - and the consequences that would deservedly bring down on my head - would prevent me from even being tempted.

Maybe the being-able-to-foresee-consequences is just part of the makeup of people who DON'T do that kind of thing. I've mostly managed to avoid trouble (and have managed to avoid all BAD trouble) as an adult because of my highly honed ability to anticipate consequences. (On the flip side, it makes me more cautious about other stuff - part of the reason I am still single is that I am too good at seeing the "downsides" to trying to forge a relationship with this guy or that guy)

The way I look at it is this: I have a decent five-figure salary. I have tenure. I have a fair level of job security - probably greater than 90% of Americans. If I don't screw up, if I keep doing my job well, if I keep doing research, if I don't do something monumentally stupid like having an affair with a student or stealing money from my department, I keep my job as long as I want it.

In other words, I have a Golden Goose that will keep laying nice monthly eggs for me, as long as I do what I would be inclined to do anyway. And I have a very strong interest in keeping that "Goose" healthy and laying.

I could not see going, "Now, if I were to cut this goose open, I could get all the eggs at once" - which is what I figure this individual I'm referring to tried to do.

I wonder what his "exit strategy" was - was he going to hope that what he did (if he actually did it; I don't think that's been proven yet, so he's only "alleged" to have done what he did) would not be found out? Did he plan on resigning his job and going far, far away before people found out? What?

I'm trying to have some sympathy here. Maybe he needed the money for some reason other than greed - I don't know. Maybe someone in his family was very sick and needed experimental treatment that their insurance didn't cover. Maybe he had gambling debts. I don't know. I'm trying to be sympathetic even if I can't excuse what he did.

When I was in grad school, a woman who was one of the departmental secretaries was caught embezzling. She took the money because her daughter had cancer. Ultimately, the department fired her, but didn't press charges on the condition that she paid the money back (which she ultimately did). I suppose I can understand the desperation of having a sick child and not being able to pay for the treatment - but then again, as I said, this guy had a six-figure salary and primo health insurance for himself and his family.

I'll probably never know why he did it. But it makes me sad that he did.

Just another lesson that people who look like they have it made in the shade may really not. And another lesson to myself to be grateful for the Golden Goose that I do have, may it always be healthy for me.

Summer of Spending

I've decided to let it be that.

Yesterday, I went to Lowe's (I needed a particular garden tool) and while there, made arrangements for someone to come and measure for a replacement storm door. The one I have is one of those metal-clad over plywood ones; it's quite old and the metal has started to corrode and expose the plywood. So not only does it look ugly, but when we get heavy rain, the plywood gets wet and swells up, making the door hard to open and close. And I'm sure it could be growing mold.

As fixes go, this one's fairly cheap; I think I'm looking at about $300-350 all told.

I did also look at the Pella windows in Lowe's; they're expensive but not as expensive as I thought. If I'm eligible for the "pocket" replacement (I don't know if I am; it depends on if the sills are still fairly sound) it would be within the mental budget I set for replacing them. Depending on labor. I know they say that someone who is a "competent" DIYer can do the pocket replacements themselves, and I'm arguably probably at least "competent," but it's a matter of having the time to do it - I think I'd rather pay an expert to do it (especially if the windows have shifted off true as the house settled) and then I don't have to worry about what happens to the old windows - they get hauled off for me as part of the installation fee.

And I have to admit, if new windows are more noise-deadening than the old, single-pane (or rather, multi-pane-glazed-into-a-wood-framework) windows, that would be welcome. It seems my neighbor is fostering a new dog (he's a cop and I think sometimes he "adopts" dogs that are involved in neglect cases) and it whines all the time. At least at night they take it indoors, but still, the whining gets hard to take even during the day.

So that's something else I might look into. And I would get the low-e glass, which would have the added benefit of letting less heat into the house in the summer.

I'll just have to look into it more. This is frankly something where I'm willing to pay extra to get reliable workers - a lot of my friends "know a guy" but usually when pressed, they admit that their "guy" will come and partly finish the job, then disappear. And I most definitely don't want that, ESPECIALLY when it comes to a job where they are removing a part of your house that provides protection from the outside world.

I'm thinking maybe, if I do it, I will schedule it for the time in August when classes are out, so I can be home while the workers are there, just have a couple days' block when I will be around (and also be available to move furniture and stuff; it seems like they have to be IN the house to do the window replacing, which I admit skeeves me a little bit; I don't like people tramping around my house that I don't know.)