Thursday, July 29, 2010

Probably a good thing I'm leaving town

I'm leaving for a short break to visit family and do the meetings thing.

Probably a good thing, one of my research students wound up earning a C (the research work was good but the paper they wrote was awful) and they are someone who is not shy about making hurt/displeasure felt. Even though I can totally justify the grade based on the comments I wrote on their paper (They left out major chunks, misapplied statistics, and didn't really address one of the questions).

The other one earned an I, because of all the craziness that happened about data being withheld/DUIs/other issues.

It's going to be a while before I voluntarily do research with undergrads again.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Yeah, this is kind of like that Susan Estrich/Carol Channing thing

I was watching some news program with Dennis Kucinich speaking. (He's STILL in politics? I remember him from Ohio politics when I was a kid. And I'm OLD.)

Anyway, I thought, "He reminds me of someone now."

And then I realized who. (Except Kucinich looks more like the guy does NOW, not in this photo from the 70s)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Music to my ears

My summer classes ended today.

On the way out of gen bio, one of the guys stopped and said to me "Thank you. Thank you for giving us every opportunity to do our best in this class."

He gets it. It makes me happy to hear someone who feels that way. (I don't THINK he's quite earning an A...but he's definitely going to pass.)

We need more students with his attitude: that it's in large part THEIR work that leads to their success. I do my best, but there's only so much I can do in a class.

Also, to me, it sounded like he was also saying, "You're fair, and I appreciate that." I may be tough but I do work hard to be fair. ("Fair" in the old sense of giving everyone an equal chance to succeed, not "fair" in the new sense of listening to every trembly-lip story and patting the person on the head and saying "That's OK. I will pass you anyway because Your Life Is Hard.")

I will say I'm glad to be done. This has been a tough, tough summer for me, in part because of doing a couple of extra "overload" things that took a lot of time, but for which I saw no actual compensation.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I have a bad feeling that fecal material is about to hit the fan where I work.

I am not in direct line to suffer; it is not anything I have done (if anything, I'm one of the ones held up as a good example). But apparently one of our newer hires is not working out well. Two of the other individuals who have responsibilities that overlap with this person had a long, semi-hushed (I overheard some of it from my office, although I was trying specifically not to listen in, to the point where I turned on the Internet radio so I didn't hear so much) meeting, which then led to a meeting with the department chair.

It sounds to me like either (a) the person is in pretty serious trouble in re: how they teach and will need a come-to-Jesus meeting or (b) they're not getting their contract renewed or (c) they're not coming back. As I said, I was trying not to overhear so I just know who the person is who's involved and that there's some general displeasure.

If it's b or c, we're all in trouble. I am already overloaded to the point (for fall) that if I am given another credit hour, they will have to pay me more (unless they claim super-duper financial hardship). I don't want more pay; I want the time free to advise students and work on research and maybe get home before 5 pm some days out of the week. But if this person isn't coming back, their 14 or so credit hours will need to be carried, somehow, by someone.

I don't know. I said a while back - back in January, maybe? that a lot of people are expressing dissatisfaction with their work because they feel like a lot of things have been removed from their control, and like they're waiting for shoes to drop. I think that's how it's been a lot of the year here. We've been told to expect budget cuts but never told how badly. I did see my next-year's salary and it's pretty much the same as it was. That's OK, it's not a cut. But I really hope they don't expect me to pick up another lecture section out of the goodness of my heart.

I'm glad I'm going out of town next week to visit family; if there is a storm a-brewin', I don't want to be here for the start of it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Voyage of the Dawn Treader"

I saw an ad for the movie of this (it comes out at Christmas) this morning.

Oh my gosh, I want to see it. It looks so interesting. (Though I will probably cry at the end, if they have the scene of Reepicheep paddling off in his coracle to try to find Aslan's Own Country.)

I haven't seen Prince Caspian (I should probably rent it - I don't have a Netflix subscription, in part, because I'm often busy enough that even the dvds I buy go unwatched), but I have seen the first Narnia movie several times. I know the Narnia movies have been criticized by some, but, like the Harry Potter movies, I love them.

In part, I love them because they're so visually interesting. The screenwriters, working from the book, and the people who set the stages/do the green screen effects/do the CGI have put in so many fascinating things, have created a world so different from our own. And I love movies like that - where I feel like I'm going into a completely different world.

I admit it - I have little patience with the typical "meet cute" modern romantic comedy, or the comedy where a couple of people who are post-adolescent and therefore should know better are prone to increasingly gross slapstick or sex jokes.

Instead, I want to see movies about a different historical time period than my own.Or set in a different culture. One of the reasons I like "old" movies is that, in addition to actually watching the movie, I find myself paying attention to how people are dressed, how the backgrounds are set - and if it's a semi-realistic movie, what brand of soap powder is on the sink in the kitchen, or what is in the bathroom medicine chest.

(I have to say, I also have really been enjoying the current Mystery! versions of some Poirot and Marple stories, for some of the same reasons as I like the Potter and Narnia movies).

I think another reason I like some of the movies - and the Mystery! productions - is that they don't use well-known, big-name stars. I know, some actors are very good at subsuming themselves in a role, but all too often I will see a movie (or, more likely these days, a movie ad) and go, "oh. There's Brad Pitt's newest movie." Rather than reacting to the character, I react to the actor playing the character. In a lot of the British movies, I don't find that to be the case. (I recognize David Suchet but I so strongly think of him "as" Poirot, it doesn't matter). Also, it seems to me, that the people casting some of the movies I like, they're, how do I say it? Willing to cast people who are outside of the fairly narrow Hollywood beauty mode. They're more distinctive-looking to me - not "That's Pretty Lady Actress, but not that other Pretty Lady Actress" where maybe I forget the names or forget who was in what movie because some of them look kind of the same to me.

But even more than appearances, I think there's something about the movies - especially the Narnia movies, but also the Potter movies - about their plot, about the motivations of the characters. Stuff MATTERS in those movies. The characters ultimately wind up fighting evil - there is a good vs. evil battle, and they are directly involved in it. There isn't the same sustained pettiness of everyday life. (Oh, granted - the characters are at times quite petty to one another, but eventually they realize they have to drop that and actually fight evil). And that's what has been wearing me down - well, these past few years, I think. Partly the fact that some people can be just SO petty for SO long and they don't seem to notice how ugly it is, and how sad, and how small. And also the fact that what I'm doing, honestly, isn't that important.

I want to do something that matters with my life. I thought going into academia would do it, at least it would be better than sitting in a cubicle or an office filling out reports or inspecting other people's code or approving expenses or whatever goes on in the corporate world. And I started out feeling like I was going to do something that MATTERED. That I was going to teach biology to an Underserved Population, as our student body is often termed. That I was going to help people become doctors. Or go into conservation work and maybe prevent some kind of ecological disaster like another Dust Bowl. Or something.

But you know, more and more, I'm coming to feel like what I do really isn't that important. Part of it, I'm sure, is hearing some of the populist commentators implying that college profs are "parasites" (and profs at public institutions especially so), that we are people who should go out and get a "real" job.

But I think part of it is the "everybody lies" thing, and also the sustained pettiness of some people. I'm beginning to feel - at times, at least - like I'm just part of a big game that's being played. The students play the game, some of them, by either trying to cheat and not get caught, and thus, wind up getting a degree that (depending on the level of cheating) is basically a fraud and a parody. And the administrators and other faculty play a game, both the sort of petty pissing contests you see everywhere, but also a game to convince themselves that what they're doing is Important! and Valuable! and More Deserving of State Funds!

In reality? If we really faced economic hard times? Shutting universities down for a few years would probably be an easy way to save funds. I hate to say it but there you are.

In a lot of cases, education has become so debased. We sometimes wind up teaching students the reading and math - in our remediation classes - that they should have known as high school freshman. We regularly have to "reassess" what we teach and cut out topics that are deemed "too complex." Even with that, I get complaints on my evaluations that I'm teaching stuff that is too hard.

And in with all of that - with feeling, at times, like I'm operating in a dying industry - there's the feeling that nothing I really do is all that important. Maybe this is what a mid-life crisis feels like.

Sometimes I get the sense that what I should do instead of teaching college is join up with some missionary group, and go to Africa or somewhere, and dig wells or hand out mosquito nets. That's something that would actually make a difference in someone's life, not standing up in front of a room and nattering about predator-prey relationships to increasingly bored students who are interested in getting a degree with the minimum work possible, so they can get out and do a job requiring the minimum work possible.

Oh, yeah, it's true - you get motivated students, students who care, who will go the extra mile. But more and more I find it hard to let those make up for the people who cheerfully say "D is for Diploma!" and then go around talking smack about our program when they can't get a job in the field with their 2.1 GPAs.

I think the other thing is the whole "fighting evil" issue. In the Narnia movies, you see evil - you pick up your sword and fight it, and hopefully slay it. Here in the real world, "evil," or what you might call evil, is not often something - at least on these shores - that you can go out and slay. (And even if you were to shoot a serial rapist breaking into your house, his family would probably take you to trial and make your life miserable for a couple of years at least). I think that's something else that frustrates me. I see things that are wrong, and so often, all I can do is speak out against them. And in some cases when you speak out, you even get shot down - I've heard of cases where faculty brought fairly well-documented cheating charges against a student, and because his or her parents were big donors, the charges were made to go away.

I don't know. I sort of long for a world where things were more black and white. Where having money or power didn't mean that people could get away with doing things that were wrong. Where people grew up when they grew up and didn't spend hours of other people's time talking about how all the bad things going on in their lives really aren't their fault, despite the fact that they were the one who did a lot of the things that brought the consequences down on them.

I don't know. I'm just tired and sad some times these days. I wonder if things are going to get better, or if I'm just going to have to tell myself that I'm part of a "game," and I might as well get used to playing it. Or if I really will bug out some day, leave my job (my secure source of income, health insurance, future retirement) to go do something like dig wells in Africa because it gets to the point where I can't stand the damn game any more.

Friday, July 23, 2010

I can't wait for this week's FFOT

So here goes.

Students who slack off, who do foolish and dangerous things that get themselves in trouble, who can't be bothered to show up to meetings on time, and who THEN blame the professor or the other students in the class for their failures, can heartily sod off.

Students who write long, complaining, whiney e-mails to faculty about how they've been "screwed over" by the system, when actually it was their own inattention or lack of concern, can go soak their heads.

In general, people who mess their lives up in ways big and small, can't see that their previous actions were what brought on the bad consequences, and then spend copious amounts of time complaining to other people, can just jump off a log into deep water.

ESPECIALLY if the person they come whining to is someone who is working their ass off in order to keep their OWN shit together.

Why can't we take the people who can't get their stuff together, and can't see that it's their own fault when they mess up, and just send them all to a deserted island somewhere? It would make life so much nicer.

I'm also having to dream up a way of telling this person "Do not come to me seeking a recommendation for a job because based on what you've done this summer, you will not like what you will get" without causing howls of upset, disapproval, and very likely the person's going to the Dean with the complaint that I am "mean."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

escape fantasy

Where I drive to work, the road I take partway eventually becomes one of the major north-south routes in my state. I turn left to get to my campus before it becomes the highway.

Once in a while - it happened again this morning - as I was driving to work, I very briefly imagined (while I was waiting for traffic to clear) just keeping on driving north, not turning, not going into work, just keeping going, driving up the highway with the air conditioner blasting on me and my music playing, instead of going in to my chronically overheated office and from there, to the stuffy classroom.

But I didn't. I didn't, because I have to give a test today. And I know people would wonder and worry where I was. I am so predictable, apparently, that if my car's not in the lot at 7:30 or so when the secretary arrives, she calls my house to make sure I'm not sick.

And also, of course, all I had with me was my purse and my textbooks and the lunch I packed. If I drove far enough - as far as I really wanted to - I'd have to stop and buy things like a toothbrush and pajamas and clothes for the next day.

But I have to admit, I'm tired enough and burnt out enough that just driving north, relentlessly north, and just leaving everyone and everything that has a pull on me here behind, was fairly tempting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

"Everybody Lies"

So says Greg House (at least, he was fond of saying it in the first few seasons.)

Lately, I don't know. I'm beginning to feel like the lying is becoming more blatant, or more poorly-done, or maybe the liars just don't care any more that some people don't believe their lies.

I feel very much - both in my personal life of late, and in what I hear in the news - like I'm constantly being lied to. And it frustrates me. And it makes the life of a hermit look ever more appealing.

People say stuff in the news that's demonstrably untrue, and they keep on insisting it, even when their opposition points out that what they're saying is not true. Politicians fudge all over the place, throwing out numbers, claiming "It was the eight years before this administration" or whatever.

I don't LIKE the idea of becoming a cynic and refusing to believe anything I'm told, but on the other hand, I don't LIKE the feeling of warm rain on my leg and looking down and realizing that someone's actually pissing on it. Which is how I feel, a lot, of late.

I keep telling myself I need to stop 100% watching the news. Stop even listening to radio news - the other day, even the fairly right-leaning station I listen to was perpetuating something later shown to be a lie. And to have been the result of someone lying.

And you know? Think back. Think back three years. Do you remember - honestly remember, without Googling it - what was the big issue on this day? What were people all het up about on July 21, 2007?

Yeah, me neither. I'm thinking maybe reading books about history and culture instead of reading the news makes more sense these days. It's like I tell my students about climate and weather: weather means nothing. It's day to day fluctuations. You have to look at the overall pattern, preferably across 30 years or more, to understand climate.

Because I don't understand the news any more. It seems like more and more nonsensical stuff is being thrown out to see what sticks.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fairy stories

I thought of these this morning.

On my way in to work, I stopped to buy gas. There was a woman at another pump - a slightly older woman with an older model car - and she was having a hard time getting the gas cap to go back on. I went over and helped her and she thanked me.

And it reminded me of one of my favorite themes from a fairy tale when I was a child: the person who helps out a stranger, but it turns out that stranger is able to reward them for their good deed.

The formulation I remember best (there are others) are the miller's or woodcutter's daughter going out to the well to draw water for the family. And she finds a little old woman there. The woman asks her for a drink, and because she's a kind person and is well-brought-up, the girl responds politely and gives the woman water. (In fact, in the story I know best, the writer makes a point of noting that the girl rinses the dipper and makes an effort to take the water from the clearest, cleanest part of the well.)

Then the girl is rewarded, because the woman is actually a powerful fairy in disguise.

In some forms of the story, then the mother (or stepmother) sends out her "favored" daughter - who is a slattern and rude - to the well, figuring she might as well get some goodies for the preferred child. But this daughter meets a young princess, and she takes the attitude of, "Why should I serve this person? She's a princess!" And she's rude, and refuses to give water. And the princess is that same fairy, and the rude daughter is punished.

I always found those stories satisfying as a child. Part of it was, I think, the sort of primitive-justice idea (the most common form of the story I knew had the kind daughter changing so diamonds and pearls fell out of her mouth whenever she spoke, and the rude daughter had snakes and toads. Though I think having diamonds fall out of your mouth would get very tiresome after a while...) My parents tried to raise me to be kind and polite, and I liked the idea that doing a good deed (which I knew I should do ANYWAY) might someday be rewarded.

Of course, as I got older, and I realized that fairies probably didn't exist, and that they would be unlikely to be in the vicinity where I was (and besides, we didn't draw water from a well), I decided that whatever rewards would happen from being kind and polite might be more intangible.

And still later, I realized that those stories were in part, a cultural thing: teach the kids when they're young to treat little old people with respect and kindness because they might be rewarded, and when the child grows up, maybe they'll have that habit ingrained in them.

But I still remember that. And I still think of it when I have the opportunity to help someone. (And secretly? I still hope - maybe the modern formulation of a fairy tale? - that the person asking for help is actually part of some new television show, or something, where they look to see if people will be helpful, and the ones that are, I don't know, get gift certificates to or something...It's never happened that way, but you know, it *could*)

I wonder, are those stories still taught today? I had-read-to-me and later on, read myself, lots of fairy tales, including lots from the old Andrew Lang "various color" Fairy Books. (I had the Red Fairy Book and I think I checked some of the other ones out from the library).

Friday, July 16, 2010

The people who cried "wolf"

...or something.

It's rare that I ever agree with Geraldo Rivera on something, but he made a comment along the lines of "The NAACP is wanting to call the Tea Parties racist. Well, when you use that term, you are spending credibility, so you better be sure what you're spending it on." Or something like that.

I don't know. I think we need a form of Godwin's Law for the "racist" card; all too often people or groups seem to use it to try to censure something they disagree with, figuring that the label is such a dirty and sticky one that it will immediately make the thing they are labeling suspect.

I don't know. I realize that name-calling and such is a long term part of American politics, but I get very tired of it. And some days when I watch what passes for "discourse," I find myself wondering if we are headed for another civil war. (And I don't mean a "cold" civil war. I think one is already going on. I mean a "hot" civil war, with shooting and people getting killed and families being rent apart across political lines).

Also: the whole voter-intimidation thing coming up again. If someone were to try to intimidate me out of voting, I'd go vote anyway. I know large men with paramilitary clothing can be very threatening, but I bet if they even raised a hand to someone, either the cops would be out, or there'd be enough citizens willing to defend the attacked voter. But I will say it's chilling to think that there's a group that feels it's their right and duty to try to scare away people from the polls.

I don't know. My life, the little one-inch frame I live in, is pretty good and pretty stable, but what's going on out in the wider world scares the hell out of me a lot of days.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Just busy

Summer classes and research are just keeping me busy here. I guess that's a good thing.

One thing I will note about the summer classes, something I've noticed over the years: the students, by and large, are more POLITE than during the regular semester.

I don't know why that is. I don't know if it's a different sort of person who takes summer school classes, or if it's just that the classes are smaller and it's harder to be an anonymous face in the crowd. (I actually lean towards the former explanation; I think summer students are often more diligent and mature students and that might also influence other areas of their behavior).

Anyway, they're just nice. Polite. They're kind to one another in class, they help each other out. They're nice to me. When we go out in the field for lab, they see to it that I don't wind up carrying any of the equipment - and they don't leave equipment behind. (And yes, once or twice I've had to go back and look for something where everyone did the "I thought George had it" thing when we got back to campus).

And they also talk to me more. They wish me a nice evening at the end of lab class. Or a nice weekend on the last class of the week. And it's such a little thing, it seems like - but it's really not. It's just so NICE to have someone say something like that to you, it's like "hey, they recognize I'm a human being too!"

I can't completely explain what it is about it that's so nice, that makes me almost kind of relax a little bit - breathe a grateful sigh - to have students like this. But it is good. I wish the students were like this all the time.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Freedom of speech on campus?

If this is true, and if it's as simple as it sounds, this is kind of scary.

Apparently, he stated that homosexual acts (but not necessarily inclinations) were wrong, according to Church teaching, and that he agreed with the Church's teaching.

This was in a class about Catholicism.

If it's as simple as the link above stated - then it's scary. I mean, on the one hand, if he was singling out students in his class who were "out" and harassing them, that's jerky behavior and is not right. On the other hand, if he's stating what's been Church teaching for I don't know how many years, and happens to say he agrees with it - well, then, I don't think people can be offended. Or rather, they can, but I don't think it rises to a firable offense.

People are FAAAAAR too sensitive these days. All through my college experience, I heard profs make rude comments or jokes about Christianity - far worse than what this man apparently said on the other side. I've heard crass comments about conservatives, or people who are even slightly to the right of the speaker.

But you know what? It's their opinion. I disagreed with them. Their making rude jokes about my faith didn't lessen my faith any; I didn't feel the need to become an atheist in order to become one of the "cool kids."

You should be able to believe what you believe without feeling "hurt" by people who are going to say things that disagree with you. You should also be adequately able to defend your beliefs - as I saw some of my braver fellow students do with some of the profs, arguing Christianity with them.

What the adjunct fired over the "moral teachings of Catholicism" said was much more fact-based, and much more neutral than rude jokes about Christ or people who follow Him. (And frankly: if you're taking a class on Catholicism, shouldn't you EXPECT to hear the teaching that the church opposed homosexual acts? And, for that matter, sex outside of marriage? And birth control?)

I don't know.

I would also observe that this is why we need NOT to let tenure die. Yes, there are a few very obvious people out there who become "dead wood" after getting tenure - and that's unfortunate. But, just as tenure protected those who leaned left in the 1950s, it should today be there to protect those with "unfashionably" conservative beliefs.

Also, it could lead to professors who are "crustier" or who say things in a more blunt way being hurt by that bluntness. And frankly? A lot of us who are in the professoriate are here because we don't always have the same ability to smile and say what we think people want to hear. Some of us are pretty damn blunt a lot of the time. And if we're going to have to start walking on eggs lest we be fired because a sensitive student complains...well, the Ivory Tower will empty out, just to be refilled with Stewart Smalley types who want to make everyone "feel" good. Even if it means they don't learn crap.

What the adjunct said, apparently that homosexual acts "violated moral law."

I don't know. I admit I tend to be laissez-faire about it; I don't care what consenting adults do in their bedrooms provided I don't have to listen to them do it (or have them tell me about it afterward). But isn't that kind of church teaching? I mean, I'm not Catholic, but I know people who are.

And anyway, in college, isn't that where you ask the hard questions and have the difficult discussions? If a student who is gay is hurt so badly by being told, "This major world religion disapproves of how you get your rocks off," then they must have had a very, very sheltered life up to this point. (I know, I know: it's hard for gay people. But I would argue it's also hard for egghead kids in a school system where the social system rewards the kids who pull Cs with minimal effort and party, or women who are bigger than a size 8, or people with disabilities, or or or. Plato said, Be kind for everyone is facing a hard battle, but I don't think that means we need to zip our lips and not discuss anything that might get somewhere near offending someone.)

Makes me kind of wonder what would happen if it had been a Muslim scholar teaching a class on Islam...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

wait, what?

I heard a clip of some NASA guy being interviewed on (I think it was) Al-Jezeera this morning. (The clip was replayed on the local radio news/talk).

The guy said one of the new "missions" of NASA was outreach to the Muslim world, to make them "feel good" about the scientific and mathematic and technical advances they had in the past.

Dammit, no. Even all the stuff about some branches of Islam being crazy and horrible and doing crap like stoning women to death on suspicion of adultery aside, THAT IS NOT NASA'S MISSION.

I'm so sick of a world where everyone* has to be appeased, where everyone has to be made to feel good about themselves, where everyone has to be patted on the head and patronized.

We won't be going back to the moon, 'cos it's not worth it, but we do need to do "outreach."

If I worked for NASA I'd be polishing my resume and wondering if there was somewhere in private industry I could get a job.

(*Everyone, it seems, except the people who really do deserve an "attaboy!" or an "attagirl!" once in a while. We don't DARE publish the names of honor roll kids, because that might hurt the feelings of the underachievers.)

Seriously, I'm about ready for this joke to be over. Where is the Candid Camera poised? When does Alan Funt walk out and give me my year's supply of Rice A Roni as a consolation prize?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no

So, Coworker 2 failed to show up yet again.

And then I get an e-mail from coworker 2. They were apparently "picked up" over the weekend for DUI. And their car is now impounded. So they can't drive.

I'm done. I'm done. I can't deal with this any longer. This person also e-mailed me their phone number with a thinly-veiled request to "call and remind them" before a workday.

No. I won't do that. My momma didn't raise me to be someone's "Minder." At least not an adult someone. If I wanted to raise a kid I'd get a kid of my own.

What frustrates me, I guess, is that people see my outside. They see someone who appears to have all her stuff "together," and so they assume it's easy for me, and that I should help them keep and/or get their stuff "together."

What they don't see is the huge effort, the force of will, that it takes me every day to KEEP my stuff "together." That I'm worn out when I get home because of the effort of making sure everything works and I'm prepared and I get the stuff done I need to have done.

And I sure as shooting don't need another person's life to keep together piled up on top of mine.

I just sort of wanted to cry when I read coworker 2's e-mail today. I don't know why I seem to attract people who have strange bad things happening in their lives, but it seems like they do.

(Also: I admit a certain frustrated anger. It was FOURTH OF JULY FREAKING WEEKEND. Like, the second biggest weekend of the year they're going to have police patrols out looking for people driving impaired. It was even on the news that they were doing that! Even beyond the stupidity of driving impaired (this person is damn lucky they didn't get hurt or hurt someone else), it's really stupid to do it on a weekend when there is a cop like every 2500 feet on the highway (and there was. I went out to an event with a group from church and when we were driving back, seriously, there was a cop sitting there every half mile on the highway, just waiting)

I haven't e-mailed coworker 2 back yet; I'm trying to figure out something to say that's not going to be unnecessarily harsh.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Low tech

I'm writing a manuscript for a (hopefully) journal article.

I've gone back to doing things the way I used to do: instead of composing at the computer, typing on the blank screen, I'm using a legal pad and a pencil.

This is the way I used to work, years ago. I had kind of gotten away from it but I think it is a better method for me. It's slower; it moves more at a pace I can think to. There's also something satisfying to me about seeing the page slowly fill up with my (admittedly messy) handwriting; I suppose it is that it seems more personal to me, more like something I've crafted than those words made of an anonymous typescript on the screen.

I also think the slower pace works better for me. I've noticed sometimes with the computer screen, there's almost an insistence there; I feel like I can "hear" it yelling at me: "FEED ME. FILL ME UP. I NEED WORDS, MORE WORDS! DON'T WORRY ABOUT QUALITY, DON'T STOP AND THINK, JUST TYPE!"

Whereas, with the page, I feel more like it's sitting there, waiting on me. Waiting if I need to go and look something up, waiting for when I have to stop and consult my note cards, waiting while I choose the right word. It seems more patient, somehow, than the computer - which sits, sulking and rejected, over on my other desk. (Oh, I'll type the paper eventually. But I prefer to handwrite it longhand for now).

This is one of those "the same solution does not work for everyone" things. I know people who can write really well at the computer. Or for whom a legal pad presents a blank taunting challenge similar to what the computer screen does for me.

But for me, the legal pad and pencil work best. They are comfortable, they seem to be the pace at which I like to think for this kind of writing. I can actually seem to use two parts of my brain at once, writing this way: part of my brain is composing what I am writing as I write the words on the paper, but another part is silently organizing the upcoming sections, getting lined up what I am going to say next, where I am going to take the paper after this paragraph.

It works at the same pace that my brain seems to work when I am writing, and that helps (I think) to make me write better.

I also find it sort of comforting to work slowly and carefully, to take the time to choose my words, to refer to things, to stop and contemplate what I'm going to say next and how. Oh, I know, I could do all of that at the computer, but somehow, it's more comfortable with the legal pad and pencil.

Some of my friends and colleagues are mildly aghast that I still write this way.

Friday, July 02, 2010

"Jackwagon!" Hee!

I love R. Lee Ermey. I haven't seen this commercial on teevee yet but I know a lot of bloggers have linked it.

There are days I have to work really hard to avoid going all R. Lee on some whiny person who probably deserves it, but would get me written up for being "mean."

A solution to a problem

I've spoken several times on here (and as comments elsewhere) how I sometimes get irritated by the "protestor mentality" - the people who sit around and demand that something be done.

I think that's because of my own mindset - I prefer to see a problem, figure out what I can do to make it better, and then do that.

Well, one of the campus student groups took that tack as well, and it worked out really beautifully.

Our horticulturalist - who was wonderful - wound up getting hired away. We still have a grounds crew, but either the new horticulturalist isn't interested in going over and above the bare minimum, or we don't have a new horticulturalist yet.

There was a small garden area in the back of my building. It had been neglected for quite some time and had grown up with weeds. One of the student clubs saw this, decided they didn't like it, that it promoted a bad image (especially for the biology building) and that there could be something better there.

So they came up with a plan. They enlisted the help of those of us who know plants, also enlisted the help of someone who had worked as a landscape architect, and they planned out a butterfly garden. They figured out a tentative budget, and a list of what they needed (as a bare minimum) and what they wanted.

They also figured out the amount of labor that would be required, both in the construction and the upkeep of the garden, and got commitments from students and a few faculty who wanted to see it work.

Then they went to the administration with their plan and asked for permission to replant the site.

After getting permission, they had some fund-raisers and also solicited a few local businesses for donations (and I think the former landscape architect made some donations of plants as well).

They had several workdays to put the whole thing together, and they have an ongoing schedule of people who go out periodically and do what weeding is needed (on the landscape architect's insistence, they got and put down mulch, which makes a big difference in how much weeding you have to do). They don't have to worry about watering because there's an automatic sprinkler system.

They have a birdbath, and stepping stones set into the ground to make a path, and a little pile of rocks near one of the sprinkler outlets that collects water - so the butterflies can drink.

I've been out there quite a few times. There are far more butterflies than I've ever seen around the building before, and there seems to be more bird activity. It also seems to be cooler in the area, that might be because the sprinklers are actually running periodically (they were not when it was just a weed patch). It took something that was frankly a bit of an eyesore - just a place where students who smoked stood around to grab their cigarettes - and turned it into something pretty and nice (There is still a picnic bench out there, with a metal bucket full of sand sitting on it, for the smokers.)

The thing is, they saw a problem - or at least, something that was less than it could be - and they realized they could do something about it. And they came up with a plan, and they did it. If, instead, they had, I don't know, staged a sit-in in the president's office to demand that the garden be replanted, it would almost certainly still be a weed patch, and probably the administration would have a bad feeling about the biology department ("Bunch of troublemakers!")

And yeah, yeah. It's not curing cancer or fixing the economy or even fixing the roads in my town. But it's something, and it made things a little bit better. And I think the students also have a real ownership of the garden - they're always going out and checking on it, looking to see if the plants are healthy, seeing if anything more needs to be done.

I guess I've always taken an attitude similar to the old Serenity Prayer, wanting to try to change the things that CAN be changed, and try not to worry too much about the entirety of things that cannot be changed.

At any rate, I applaud these students for their energy and their planning; it seems to have worked out really nicely.