Monday, December 14, 2009


Just a few more days - during which I have nothing of consequence I have to do - and I get to go see my family.

I'm practically vibrating I'm so excited to have the time off and to get to see them.

As I was leaving after Thanksgiving, I said, "I'll be back in just about 2 1/2 weeks." But DANG, those were a long couple of weeks. I'm really tired and I really need the time off.

A blessed Christmas to all who celebrate. I know I am very much looking forward to mine - to decorating the tree, to seeing people I don't get to see often, to laughing with my family, to eating my mom's good cooking, to having time to relax, all of that.

I wish everyone had as great of a family as I have, and could enjoy spending time with them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I can't quite believe it

But this semester is over. I turned in my grades Friday (after dealing with a few of the standard, "Can't you do extra credit just for meeeee? I won't TELL anyone" e-mails. And at that point I'm not concerned about hurt feelings any more as I won't have to see these people (well, most of them) again, so I just sent a flat, "No. I can't do that." to them.)

I did make an error on totaling the grades in one class but fixed it after a student very politely called me and said, "I totaled up my grade and it shows me with a 70% but your total shows a 67%. I know I did poorly on one of the tests but I didn't think that was bad enough to drop me that many points. Would you please explain how I calculated wrong" I recalculated her grade and found an error, told her that yes, she had earned the C, and that was what she was getting, and then went back and recalculated all the grades. Turns out I had left one paper out of the accounting, so many of the people who did that saw their grade go up (there were a lot of people really close to a borderline and this paper was worth a fair amount.) The people who didn't do the paper - too bad, so sad. Better luck next time. But how much more likely was I to consider her request because she said "please" instead of going in, guns blazing, telling me I was WRONG from the outset (even though I was WRONG. And I told her I was, and thanked her for the heads-up.)

I wrapped up some research stuff that I wanted to get done - didn't NEED to get it done, could have waited until January, but I decided it was better to get the data collection done now.

This was, as semesters go, fairly hideous. It was saved by my having a good ecology class (and NO plagiarists for a change in that class). But my other classes had all kinds of either whiny and immature, or bad-attitude-followed-by-whiny-when-they-found-out-skipping-assignments-earned-them-a-D, or bad attitude in general, people.

I hate to say it but judging from my "service" class, the caliber of college students in this country is going down. Oh, maybe not the smarts, so much (but maybe that too), but the sense of responsibility and the sense of independence. I had people I practically had to hold the hands of the entire time. Which is effing exhausting. And which makes me realize that I'm glad I never became a mother because I don't think I could TAKE someone needing me like that 24/7.

(Though then again: I'd probably have wound up with a child like what I was, where if you gave her some crayons and a stack of paper, she would occupy herself happily for several hours. I was a pretty independent kid and remain an independent adult, which is why I think the level of dependency demonstrated by a few students irritates me so much. Being independent is Not That Hard.)

And actually, to tie this in to what I will be doing in the coming days: I think in general there's either an assumption or a reality that people have become less capable of taking care of themselves. When I take the train, I have noticed in the last year or two, they have become much more insistent and paternalistic with their announcements, like Do Not Smoke in the Lavatories than they used to be. Or if the dining car is running late and reservations are being called in late, they have to announce at every "time" there would be reservations coming up, "Please wait for us to call you; we are running late" even if there have been NO stops with anyone getting on between announcements. It's like people are becoming more like children, and not in a good way.

Me? I just need to be told once and I get it. (And I wouldn't smoke in the lavatories anyway, even if I did smoke.) And I admit a tiny bit of annoyance at having to hear the same dang announcement ten times because some person obvy wasn't paying attention and is now harassing the conductor.

(Actually, on my Thanksgiving trip I saw this. I had Special Snowflake woman in the next compartment - first of all, she and her (adult) son got on, and she got all cranky because the compartment they bought was a "roomette" meaning one of them would have to climb up into an upper berth. Well, that was just UNACCEPTABLE because she was an old woman and her son had back trouble; couldn't the car steward just give them a second compartment? Well, he sold them one, for part of the way, but told her, "When the people SCHEDULED to use this room are supposed to get on, you will have to vacate and let me clean it." And then she demanded the beds be made up early. Then she demanded extra pillows and blankets and sent the steward off to search for them. Then, she and her son missed their call for dinner, and the steward had to get them a later reservation. Then, the next morning, they apparently missed the three calls for breakfast, and were **very upset** with the steward for not coming and PERSONALLY inviting them to breakfast. And that he would have to bring them their food because the dining room was full and was taking no more people on the waiting list. And then when he did, he'd have to make up the room, because there was no way they could eat in their beds. And then, complained that the food was getting cold while he was making up their room.

I hope to heck she tipped him well, but I bet she didn't.

I always was kind of surprised when people who have manned the train when I've been on it before remember me - surely they see hundreds of people in a week - but it may be they do because I'm quiet and say "please" and "thank you" and tip them and just kind of "roll with the punches" of stuff that happens in travel (like delays) and am just generally not a Special Snowflake. Funny, I never thought that kind of thing was rare - I just thought the way I behave was Expected and Typical, but maybe it isn't so much any more.)

But anyway. In a few days I get to get on the train again - this time, at a time it is less likely to be super-crowded with people who don't travel often and who have the Queen Mary mindset about traveling. And then I get to see my FAMILY (not a Special Snowflake in the bunch) and have TIME OFF to RELAX and maybe I'll get to see some real snowflakes.

I really, really need this break. It's been a brutal semester.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A moment of silliness

From Tom Lehrer and a YouTuber who decided to add pictures (I LOLed at the Weasley twins becoming twine)

I remember this from my childhood - a bit of Google searching turns up that it was a bit on Electric Company (in its first run); apparently the producer of the show had been a classmate of Lehrer's at Harvard.

I never realized until now that Lehrer had done that song; that's pretty wonderful.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A question

I don't mean this to be snarky - I genuinely don't understand or know. And I'm not a fan of the BCS system of college football.

But why is Congress taking upon itself to abolish BCS? Where do they get the authority? Is this some kind of "interstate commerce" thing?

It just seems so random to me, in the middle of a war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a horrible economy, and the whole health-care mess, that they're trying to deal with how the "best" college football team is decided as well.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

It's the code....of the West.

I first saw this over at Joanne Jacobs'.

A teacher is trying to get his students to be more ethical - to, I would say, be more manly - by using a series of ten "ethical commandments" that a man named Jim Owen came up with. Supposedly this is a Cowboy Ethics Code (let us set aside any quibbles about historical accuracy. If students want to follow this code partly because of the "cowboy" tag, all well and good):

1. Live Each Day with Courage
2. Take Pride in Your Work
3. Always Finish What you Start
4. Do What Has to Be Done
5. Be Tough, But Fair
6. When You Make a Promise, Keep It
7. Ride for the Brand
8. Talk Less and Say More
9. Remember That Some Things Are Not For Sale
10. Know Where to Draw the Line

These were developed by a person interested in teaching ethics, particularly to Wall Street types.

But I think the codes fit pretty much anyone.

Live each day with courage = no whining. (And yeah, I admit it, I whine sometimes. But usually not to my students or colleagues).

Take pride in your work: by golly, what a nice place this world would be if everyone took pride in stuff. Especially if they did for the "just little" stuff. I have some students who are like this - who take pride in their work and strive to make even the low-stakes assignments good. And they learn a lot. And they are the ones who go off and get exciting jobs or good grad-school places.

Always finish what you start - that kind of goes without saying. Or, perhaps another way of saying it: don't start something you are unwilling to finish. Or, perhaps more crudely: don't write a check with your mouth that your ass can't cash.

Do what has to be done - sometimes you don't LIKE doing something. Sometimes it should not have to be your job. But sometimes it has to be done.

Be tough, be fair - I think all good teachers exemplify this. I probably haven't been tough enough this semester. But that can change with next semester. (The challenge is that there are people who believe that no matter how fair you are in reality, that if you are at all tough, you are being "unfair" because you are not cutting special slack for them).

When you make a promise, keep it. On one of the Internet boards I "socialize" on, people use the word "THIS" in all caps to indicate, "I strongly and heartily agree with the above statement." So for this one, I will just say, "THIS."

Ride for the brand: I take this to mean, "don't run down your place of work publicly, even if there are problems or things wrong there." Don't air the dirty laundry of work (or home) to people who don't need to know about it. Even when there have been problems at my campus, I have, when people have asked me questions, either said that everything was fine from my perspective, or I have worked to deflect the question.

Talk less and say more: Good advice for writing as well as speech. I do mark students down when they get too wordy in what seems like an attempt to pad lesser work. I think also in life - I am actually not a very talkative person in real life, I prefer to listen and then to say something only when it seems necessary. But there are an awful lot of people who seem to need to talk, like it's a nervous habit, and not only does it wreck others' solitude (I guess some people don't care for solitude any more?), but sometimes people wind up revealing things they probably are better off not revealing.

Remember that some things are not for sale: I've had students ask me to severely bend rules for them. I've never been out-and-out bribed but I've had people offer to do things like wash my car or take me out to lunch. And I ask them: do you think I am that cheap? They are often a little taken aback. But yeah. Once you compromise certain things in your ethics, it is a slippery slope, where if you compromise for X you might as well do it for Y and Z...and then, over time, your word comes to stand for less and less.

Know where to draw the line: I need to work on this, at least in the interpretation of "sometimes you need to say 'no' to taking on more tasks and responsibilities." And also on listening to student sob stories. And other various things.

I think this is a pretty good code. Maybe not the Ten Commandments, but in the pluralistic society we live in now, if we can at least get people to follow the Cowboy Code, that would be an improvement.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

You know what

This is why I am glad I am a reader: you think of different characters and their way of reacting to the world, and it gives you different ideas.

I was thinking this morning of Scrooge's nephew (I can never remember his name but Google tells me it is Fred. Last name I do not know, as he was Scrooge's sister's son and would have the surname of her husband).

But you remember Fred's response to Scrooge's declaration of "bah, humbug"?

He went on celebrating Christmas, he wasn't let down or discombobulated. (And in some movie versions I've seen, he snags a few coals and throws them on Crachit's fire so he won't freeze in the counting-house). He keeps his Christmas, he remains merry despite Scrooge's deluge of cold water.

And I need to keep that in mind. Even surrounded by people who seem to roll their eyes at the very idea of celebrating, or who act offended that the word "Christmas" is being used in a public, tax-funded situation.

And I think I'm going to exercise part of that, either today or tomorrow: I have to run to the wal-mart for some stuff, so I think I'm also going to go to their toy department, pick out and purchase a toy I would have enjoyed as a child, and drop it off for Toys for Tots.

Toys for Tots is just another reason why I love the Marines and think they're awesome.

(This is actually not an uncommon reaction of mine, when I see someone cranky or nasty or selfish: to try to be more helpful and unselfish myself. I don't know if it's an "I'm not like that person" reaction, or if it's an attempt to cosmically balance things out - if one person is going to be crabby, then one person can damn well be nice - or what).

Monday, December 07, 2009

Aw, my friends are the best.

Just had a back-and-forth exchange with a couple of friends about the people-with-problems-and-issues I am having to deal with.

What they said - mostly just listening and sympathizing - made me feel better.

I don't have a LOT of friends, but the ones I have are quality.

And they're right. Everyone around me is seriously panty-wadded right now and they just need to take a breath.

Someone hold me...

I'm losing my Christmas spirit again.

Already today, I have had:

one colleague bitching loudly and long about how the school is having a "Christmas" party and calling it that. And how we are in budget retrenchment mode and money should NOT be spent on fripperies, especially using the name Christmas. (Guy is, as far as I can tell, a former Christian. And very bitter about it). And how the supreme court declared it "illegal" to use the word "Christmas" in and around a public university. (No idea if that's actually TRUE). And went on to rant about the invocation before commencement and other things.

And another colleague joined in with him. I just went back in my office and (mostly) closed the door under pretext of having to update my online grades.

Look, I'm sorry it wadifies your panties. But it IS Christmas time. Call it "holiday" if you have to. But if you're so upset about it, why not offer to come in and work on the 25th.

I have had friends who were Jewish. Friends who were Hindu. And they still wished me a merry Christmas and my Hindu friend commented that "a lot of the stuff we do for Diwali is not all that different from some of the secular celebrations of Christmas" and so seemed to think it was OK to enjoy.

I get sick of people who have to agendize everything. If I taught at a historically Jewish school (Brandeis?) I'd participate in Purim and the Seder and the other various celebrations that non-Jews are welcome in.

If, in 20 years, I am forbidden from having a tree in my house, or forbidden from using (gasp!) the public mails to send cards, or forbidden from any of the other Good Things about this season, I will FIND this person who bitched back in 2009 and kick him in the 'nads.

And as for "money spent on fripperies" - There are far bigger wastes of money at this school beyond trying to make the faculty and staff a little happy. I'm sorry, but "cutting back" should not have to mean "cut out all pleasure."

Second: my "two amigos" in one class BOTH handed in late homework - one piece that was due in September, one that was due in early October. Both came with marginally literate notes begging me that "some points are better than none." Yes, that is true, but seeing as the homeworks have been handed back to the rest of the class for a good two months, and you could have very easily have copied them, AND I gave a classmate of yours pulling the same stunt zeroes....

Grr. Just, grr. I need to get the heck out of this place for a few weeks. I need to go somewhere where I'm not surrounded by people who either demand far more than their due, or who get upset over every damn little thing.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Eh, forget it.

Forget the cranky people.

Silly YouTube clips help.

From one of my all time favorite movies:

That said...

when you do something because you are trying to be compassionate person, and someone else decides to poop all over your compassion, it's hard not to lash out or get discouraged.

Maybe I need to go listen to more Christmas music. And try to ignore the people who have chosen to be cynics.

Thank God it's Christmas.

Last year, when I first put on the Christmas music I listen to every December, I had to sit down and cry. I was sad - sad because I had lost several people I cared about over the course of last year, and sad because several more people I cared about had moved away.

This year, I pulled the CDs out this weekend and put them on.

And I found myself crying again, but for a very different reason.

I was grateful that it was Christmas again.

Grateful that I have a little time to take a breath. To look at lights and the decorated church, to see the Angel trees in some of the local stores, to dump the change at the bottom of my purse into the Salvation Army kettles.

I now feel - upon having found and recovered my Christmas spirit - almost like I lost my way a bit this fall, like the funny and compassionate person that I really am kind of got hidden under a bitter veneer. I don't know if that's due to excessive worrying about what is going on in the world, or having listened too much to an embittered colleague, or having dealt with too many demanding and ungrateful people, or if I merely focused too tightly on work-stuff, and didn't think about the bigger, larger world.

Because work stuff can get pretty stifling at times, pretty close, like being inside of a small sealed room, and the air gets kind of stale and smelly, figuratively speaking. It is almost as if I forget about the bigger wider world, and I can only see the problems I am having at the moment.

But my Christmas spirit is pulling me out of that. Already I think I have laughed more in the past several days than I have in a long time. I've made food for people I care about (the various social groups I belong to are having their annual parties). I didn't cook much this fall, because I felt so busy - and honestly, a lot of the time, I'd go into the kitchen TO cook, and then decide I didn't feel like all the bother. (There have been a lot of things I normally do for myself that I haven't done this fall, because it seemed at the time like "too much bother.")

I've made a few small gifts for friends - just simple stuff, but things they will enjoy. And doing that makes me happy.

And seeing the church decorated today made me happy. And the bell-ringers at the grocery store. And even some of the dumb Christmas ads on television. All of it. It as if I can laugh at things again instead of being annoyed by them.

I spent too much of this fall being annoyed by stuff. I lost a lot of my natural tolerance for some reason. I don't know if it could have a physiological cause - allergies, maybe, or that I had a badly pulled muscle in my shoulder that just recently healed up, or even if, for some unexplained reason, I could have been a tad depressed this fall.

But I feel better now - more like myself. And I'm grateful. And I'm especially grateful that in about another week now, I will get to go see my family, and take a long holiday time off, and get to help my parents put up and decorate the tree, and do the fun silly holiday stuff we do - going out and driving around in the evening to try to pick out the best "Griswold house" Christmas light display, or watching certain movies that come on every year, or just sitting around the dinner table and telling funny stories and laughing.

I will have to work in the future not to lose who I am again. To remember that I'm a resilient and compassionate person whose major way of dealing with the stupidities that happen in life is to laugh at them and shrug and go, "life is funny" rather than, as I had been doing way too much this fall, taking it personally and being annoyed.

Thank God it's Christmas. Thank God it's Christmas.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

That time of year again...

Driving out to the grocery store this morning, I see people have been putting up Christmas decorations. Including those lighted deer. You know what I mean? Wire frames in the shape of a deer (usually painted white) with small white bulbs on it? Very pretty, especially at night.

And local pranksters are at it again, I see: repositioning the deer so one is, ahem, "on top" of the other in a suggestive pose.

And I admit sometimes I'm way too much in touch with my inner 12-year-old; I always snicker a little when I see that. (As much as I hate the people who mess with Nativity scenes, I can't help but laugh at the deer repositioning)

(Last winter, someone did that in my parents' neighborhood. My mom and I had gone out early one morning to drop something off at a friends' house, and coming back, we saw the deer, and my mother was all, "Am I seeing that right? Have they been positioned to look like they're mating?" and all I could do was laugh).

Friday, December 04, 2009

A happy

I know a gripe a lot about students on here. I think it's the old "bad news gets noticed" thing - the students who do what they're supposed to don't really draw my attention most of the time.

But I do have to talk about one student today, because I'm so proud and happy for him. This is a guy I've had in all of my classes so far...he didn't do so hot in the first one, but I found out later on why: he was battling back from a drug addiction. And then, the next semester, he came and told me he had been diagnosed with OCD, they were trying to get his medications regulated, and he was having a hard time. I gave him some encouragement and allowed him an extension on a project because it seemed clear to me that (a) he wasn't playing me and (b) he would really be helped with it. (And he was).

Now, this semester he was in the most advanced of my classes. And I have to say, a lot of the other students are lucky I don't curve, because it would be this dude and another guy (who is super competitive) setting the curve, and then everyone else lagging back - the next highest grade after their two would be a very low B.

This student got back into the honors program on campus after having had his problems; as part of the requirements he has to do research papers in classes of certain faculty (I am one). He handed the paper in today.

It was freaking amazing. Really well done, he went to the best possible sources (rather than just the most easily-found sources), it's really well written. (And no, before you ask, I KNOW that he did all the work himself. He's that kind of a person.)

I was so happy reading it - I could tell he had enjoyed the project from reading it, and I enjoyed reading what he wrote up. And it made me all the happier to think that this was a guy who had been struggling to make it in school a couple years ago.

So, he's getting his A for the honors project. (His final project paper - the basic class requirement - was also by far the best of everyone's in the class. I can tell he really loves writing; I think if he comes looking for career advice I'm going to suggest "science writer" because I think he'd do well at it). I wrote on the paper that it was well written-and researched and an excellent paper (really, it's the best of these honors papers I've seen, I think). But I'm also going to tell him when I hand it back that he writes well - very clearly and in a way that is interesting to read. I think he probably already knows that - he won an on-campus essay contest earlier this fall - but I also think it's always good to let someone know when something they do is genuinely good, that kind of encouragement makes a big difference to some folks.

People like him are the reason I went into teaching, and the reason why I stay, despite all of the 'special snowflakes' I complain about.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

gol dang

Obama's speech tonight is pre-empting A Charlie Brown Christmas. (Has there been a president who's been on TV more?)

SRSLY, Mr. President? SRSLY? It makes me sad that we live in a world where war talk has to bump what I consider the most perfect Christmas special ever off the television.

I HOPE the special is on at another time. This is one thing I watch every year and I would be angry if the President (ANY president) bumped it off the air totally for a season.

I know it's available on dvd and all that but I'm kind of a Luddite in that I like to see specials BROADCAST and like to have the ritual of the annual viewing as a broadcast. (I grew up in the pre-vcr era).

Well, at least the best part is available on YouTube. This ALWAYS makes me tear up a little, no matter how old or how jaded I get:

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

No more Ms. Nice Lady?

I don't know. I'm wondering if maybe being tougher than I was in the past is a good way to be. Two separate incidents:

Guy comes into my office. Guy is a decent student but is partying a wee bit hard this fall (I teach an early Friday class and many weeks he's come in looking really painfully hung over). Guy asks, "Are we doing anything in class tomorrow?" (I wish the students know how much the profs hate that question).

Because he is in what I have dubbed the "class full of whiners," where people have skipped on important days and then come back to complain at me because, apparently, I didn't cancel class simply because they were absent, something in me snapped a little bit.

"Yes, we are. I am covering something that is not really covered in the textbook that will be on the final exam. You will have a hard time with that section of the final if you skip."

(And I know for a fact that not enough people in that class take decent notes that he could even get notes off of someone).

And he was there. And apparently not hung over for once.

Then, another student came in: he had done poorly on a short paper assignment, mainly because he failed to follow the instructions that I had GIVEN THEM ON A HANDOUT **AND** POSTED ON THE COURSE WEBSITE.

He wanted to know if he could redo the paper for better credit.

As I was, at the moment, trying frantically to grade papers for yet another class, I looked at him and said, "No. You had the instructions. You have one more paper to do for the class; do this one following the instructions. I do not have time to do re-grades or extra credit work."

And amazingly, in both cases, the students accepted. They didn't fuss, they didn't try to argue me down (as some people have in the past). I have a friend who told me that one of the perks, she found, of getting into your 40s was "people start to actually take you seriously." So maybe that's happening.

But I do need to be tougher. Partly for my own sanity, but also partly because these "kids" need to learn to grow up a little - to take responsibility for the first time, to know that life isn't always going to hand you a mulligan when you don't do things right the first time.