Tuesday, August 31, 2010

One of these days...

One of these days a student is going to show up to my class with a loose handful of papers (their assignment), smile sheepishly at me and say "I don't have a stapler, and I couldn't find one. Is that OK?" and I'm going to flip out and say "NO. No, it isn't OK. I've brought three separate staplers to class and lost every one. I grow weary of having to go down to the departmental office to use THEIR stapler to staple the student papers. I'm sick of me wearing the same pair of shoes I wore last year while students who claim they can't afford to buy a stapler have the newest, fanciest cell-phone with an unlimited texting plan...."

It hasn't happened yet, but I fear eventually it will.

Not a "vintage" I want

Let's see:

Unemployment is high, possibly going to trend higher.
Banks are failing (still) and stores and restaurants are closing down.
Bedbugs are making a resurgence
Whooping cough is once again a health problem to be worried about.
Poor sanitation at food-producing plants (eggs) is in the news.

I don't think we're reliving the 1970s, as I claimed earlier. I think we're reliving either the 1930s or the 1910s.

(Though if we're gonna relive the 1930s, could the women's fashions have, I don't know, a little more panache? I went shopping over my between-semesters break and bought NOTHING because everything was so ugly - dark, drab, muddy colors, blobby, tentlike shapes.)

At least I haven't heard any cries in favor of a neo-Prohibition lately...

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I was thinking about it (it's hard not to, given the news focus) Hurricane Katrina this morning, and I also see Dave has a post up about it. And Rob is linking to the posts he wrote five years ago, as he rode it out. (I remember reading those back then and praying for him and his loved ones, that they'd be safe and OK.)

This is a tough time of year. It's the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and then a couple weeks later, the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I find I feel similarly about them, in some regards: my main feeling at the time of the event was a sort of astonished helplessness....I don't mean "helpless" in the sense that I was ever in any danger (I am at least 1200 miles from NYC, and I am far enough inland that the worst I ever see of hurricanes is heavy rain). What I mean, is I felt like, "There are these terrible things happening...and there is nothing concrete I can do." I find I have turned out to be a "fixer." I want to step in and DO something when stuff is bad. I suppose that's a very natural impulse. And when you can't...when going to the site of the problem would make things worse (I'd have had to be housed, fed, and protected, and I had no training like the firefighters or EMTs who went down there did).

I guess in a way, the initial "hit" of Katrina wasn't as bad, in my mind...it was what happened after that was so horrifying and hard to hear about. The idea of humans being inhuman to other humans. (Though a lot of the stuff that was reported for the Superdome - the real Lord of the Flies sounding stuff - turned out to be overblown). The people who were lying out on the street, unable to go any further. The people who had to cut through their roofs, and climb up on the rooftop, because of the flooding.

I know, on some level, this is one of those "it's no one's fault because no one can control the weather" things. Maybe the levees could have been built better. Maybe the evacuations could have been started earlier. I don't know, I wasn't there, and, thank God, I wasn't someone who had to make decisions in the thing.

I remember seeing a lot of the stuff on the news - the people being herded onto buses, with the hope of getting them out of there, somewhere, somewhere safe where there were services that could help them. The families that got separated. The kids crying. The people walking on the deserted highways, accosting the news crews, pointing out that they had no food and no water and couldn't keep going much longer.

It was the kind of scenario that sometimes plays out in my nightmares.

And then the blamestorming began. I remember thinking at the time that it was unseemly to point fingers while people were still in shelters, and there were still people unaccounted for.

And today, I think it's unseemly, the level to which some of the news outlets are replaying some of the saddest of the footage - where they stuck a camera in an old woman's face and asked her about her house that had blown down. Or footage of a disabled person lying on a sort of pallet on the street, being tended by her children, unable to move any further. Or the people screaming at the camera that they had no water, no formula for their infants, no food....I know it happened, I suppose it's part of the history, but somehow, to me, some of the stations and programs showing it - it almost borders on a form of pornography at this point, showing human misery in that way.

I have a friend who often points out that in disasters, God is not those situations - God is in the people who come to help. The Baptist Men groups from a number of states, who quietly loaded up trailers with chainsaws and tools to try to clear roads. The Salvation Army people who went in. The companies who donated bottled water and other necessities. The people who gave money to try to help out. The EMTs - we even sent a few from my community - who went down there to just try to help if they could.

(I think that's what should be focused on - the people who did what they could, who tried to make things better.)

I will say that the event sort of crystallized something that I knew in my mind already - that you have to do what you can, if you can, to help yourself. Even the best government in the world can't always move fast enough. Even disaster-relief organizations can't always get in to you. It was after Katrina that I made absolutely sure to have, in addition to the canned food I always kept on hand, enough bottled water to keep me going for at least a few days (Actually, I need to restock that sometime soon). And a "secret stash" of money in small bills in case the banks have to close for a while. And several flashlights, both battery powered and crank-powered. A battery-powered radio (And I keep thinking of buying one of those ones that has a solar panel and a crank on it...just in case you can't get batteries). And I keep my car gassed up, I never let it drop below 1/2 a tank.

I don't know what kind of disasters we could suffer...probably the most likely right here would be a tornado or an ice storm (We've had a few ice storms in past years). With an ice storm, for me, heat would be the greatest issue, as my gas furnace has an electrical igniter, and AFAIK, it can't be defeated and hand-lit like furnaces of old. (I might be able to manage, shutting myself up in my bathroom, with enough candles burning, to stay warm. Or I keep looking at the oil lamps in the Lehman's catalog I get, and thinking that maybe the "Jupiter" model (which they say can actually be used as a supplemental heat source in greenhouses) and a case of the lamp oil might be a wise investment).

Of course, if I had fair warning, my first thought would be to bug out - to go somewhere unlikely to be affected by the storm, or at least somewhere (like a colleague's farmhouse) where there's a fireplace and enough wood. (I THINK my colleague and her husband would take me in in that situation. I'm pretty sure they would...especially if I brought extra canned goods and such).

But anyway. I just decided that "sometimes even the best responders can't get to you that fast in a real emergency" and tried to make a plan to survive myself. (Oh, I know - there are some situations that even a huge stock of canned goods and lots of candles won't let me survive, but those are relatively rare.)

Another thought: people are still rebuilding. There are still places that are suffering, even five years later.

Another story: A pastor I knew took a mission trip to Mississippi about 8 months after Katrina. He and his group wound up working with a mother of two kids. She was divorced mom of 2, but had a decent career, and would have been considered middle-class, socioeconomically. She had a lot of problems getting her house fixed up - it wasn't totally a loss, and because of her status she was less eligible for help than some.

She had had great difficulty hiring workers - workmen were in short supply (the professionals, the pastor said, had mostly been hired to repair the casinos. I don't know if that's true or not but it was his assertion). She had hired a couple people who took the money and ran, and others who did substandard work. She could afford the supplies with her insurance money, but could not get help to rebuild. So this mission group started helping her.

And one man in the group was kind of...unhappy? about it. "We came down here to help The Poor," he said. "This woman is the same group as I am. She can help herself."

Except, at that point, she couldn't. And I have to admit, that story, that man's attitude, makes me a little angry. The woman seemed to me to be at the end of her rope - as much as people to work, she needed convincing that people weren't just all jerks who'd take her for what they could get. And to have someone grumbling that because she wasn't The Poor, she didn't deserve help...well.

Later, he softened his attitude when another group member talked to him, talked about how grateful everyone seemed for the help...and said something along the lines of, "If you were in this woman's position, wouldn't you long for someone to help you?" (Also, most of the really poor people, the type I presume he thought he was there to help - they had either left town or had been eligible for FEMA trailers, which, while they pretty much sucked to live in, were at least an intact housing, whereas this woman DIDN'T have intact housing. And, as the pastor pointed out: she could afford to buy supplies and just needed someone to do the work, whereas the truly poor, had no money at that time to buy supplies...meaning there was little the mission group COULD do for them, seeing as they had few funds themselves. Some of the members did go and provide childcare while the parents were out trying to navigate the red tape, and they did little things like planting flowers and cutting brush.)

I do think sometimes people - particularly Christians of a certain stripe - do get all hung up in Helping The Poor and forget that sometimes other people need help. And that help takes different forms - really and truly, sometimes the "help" a person needs is more encouragement, more a sense that they're not forgotten and not left totally on their own, as much as they need the actual, material help.

I hope we never see another storm like Katrina. (We probably will, but perhaps somewhere else). I hope in future disasters that human suffering is kept to a minimum and real, tangible help is forthcoming - something to show people that they're loved, that they're seen as fellow humans, that they have value.

Friday, August 27, 2010

makes me smile

This is from an e-mail from a friend: "God is so big that His love can blanket the world, and so small that He can curl up inside your heart."

I LOVE that image...the idea of God curling up inside people's hearts. It makes me feel warm thinking about it.

I hope my heart is a welcoming place.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aw man

Another student with a DUI and with issues. She caught me in the hall this afternoon. She's trying to get into the dorm so she doesn't have to beg people to drive her, but because of the DUI, they may not let her have it.

(And she has a long commute...it's like 45 minutes).

I don't know. I try not to be all Judgey McJudgersons but you know...when you're an adult...you should be sufficiently with-it to realize that getting into a car impaired is a REALLY bad idea, and not just because you might lose your license. And if you can't arrange for a ride home, or a cab, or whatever, you don't drink.

And even if the person "only" gets caught (and doesn't kill someone), it has a ripple effect....people are having to drive her. She is going to have to get a buttload of makeup work from profs. (At least she seems not-snowflakey, she didn't approach it as OH HAI I HAD DUI YOU GIVE ME MAKE UP ASSIGNMENT NAOW).

But I don't know. I get so worn down by the bad choices other people make, bad choices that then lead to more work for me or my colleagues or more work for the other students. Or something.

I know I'm supposed to be forgiving and tolerant and loving to other people...but sometimes seeing what happens to people and, from my perspective, it looking like what happened was the consequence of a behavior they could have chosen not to do....well. It's hard to feel like I should allow someone to hand a paper in a week late or something because of it. (Or maybe it actually is being more loving not to - offering Tough Love.)

(I really think, perhaps more people in our society would benefit from a little Tough Love rather than always being picked up and having their boo-boos kissed and an ice cream cone bought for them. But that could just be me being bitter because when I did something wrong as a kid, my parents let me experience the full consequences of it, whether it was having to clean up a gigantic mess or lose my allowance for weeks and weeks to pay for the thing I broke by being careless, or whatever.)

Now this movie, I'd actually see....

(I actually started reading the book that other movie is based on. Wound up throwing it across the room.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I know, a lot of television ads are horrible (there is one local ad in particular, for a furniture outlet, where the guy just stares into the camera and SCREAMS about the store for 30 seconds). But some are really clever or funny. (The much-parodied Old Spice ads, for example. And I also like most of the Geico ads, especially the one with the serious-looking guy who winds up saying something like, "Does a former Drill Instructor make a terrible therapist?"

And I saw this one for the first time last night. I swear, it made me giggle for five minutes:

"I have no idea what this is." hahahahahahaha.

(If they didn't explicitly say what he was advertising, I'd never know - but actually, that seems to be true of the most entertaining ads.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

And so, the blizzard begins

The blizzard of Snowflakes.

So far, I've had:

- One person call me up with some shockingly TMI medical stuff to explain why they were missing class. (And I don't shock easy, let's just say that color and consistency were mentioned). Then they called me up another day they missed to explain that they were in the Registrar's office for some reason and would have been late, and figured it was better not to show up. This is a class that has met a total of four times.

- Two people writing me complaining/affronted e-mails that I reported them for non attendance (as I am supposed to do) because they had REALLY GOOD REASONS for missing more than one of the four class meetings so far.

- One person who is not even a student try to engage me in a long, sad, "look at me, look at poor me" conversation.

- One pre-med demanding something registrar-related that I cannot provide, and who was probably past the deadline for doing it anyway. It took four times of me explaining it to him before he realized that I couldn't click my heels three times and make his transcript perfectified.

- One person in one of my classes asking if she can tape-record it (fine, I have no problems with that, though I realize that sometime the taped lectures could be misused). Then she puts the tape recorder on my desk and asks me to turn it on when class starts! (She DID stay for class, but sat in the back row. Um, if you want to tape, could you sit in the front and control your own tape recorder?) I thought that was one of the more presumptuous requests I've heard.

- One guy who enrolled late, has not spoken to me, has not shown up for class. This is someone who took this class before, never showed, and earned an F. Did the same in another class of mine, but that time gave a very hokey sob story as to why I should grant him an I instead, even though he had done none of the work. (Didn't work.). The secretary and I looked over his transcript and we have a suspicion that he may be one of the financial aid scammers - the people who stay in school as long as they can, enroll every semester, take the check, never go to class, and don't worry about the Fs until the gravy train cuts off. This is FRAUD, pure and simple, and if this student is doing it, I hope he gets caught and made to pay back every penny. (Especially since one of our non-trad students was harassed by Financial Aid because she had a wonky combination of classes this semester: taking several upper-division classes but also fulfilling a couple delinquencies she had. I had to write a letter to Financial Aid verifying that I worked with her and that she was on track to graduate in the spring. And I know she is. But they were going to deny her her Pell Grant, I think.)

It's kind of like a circus, only with no acrobats, more clowns. And lots and lots of poop.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Not a valid diet tip, IMHO

"USA Weekend" magazine should stick to fawning over celebrities or offering Sudoku games, I think. This was a "quick tip" from this week's issue:

"Most apples, bananas, oranges, and peaches are larger than one serving size. To control your portion size, buy smaller fruits or split larger ones."

Okay. This is the kind of "diet advice" that makes my head explode. For one thing: We have nutritionists yelling at us to eat more fruits and vegetables. Pack in those antioxidants! Get that vitamin C! And now you have other ones telling you to limit your fruit intake, because some fruits are "larger than one serving size."

The biggest objection I have is this, though: If I really needed to strictly limit calories in my diet (or if I were choosing to), I would NOT do it by either buying "smaller fruit" (which sometimes are not as good, because in some cases they're underripe or had some accident of development). I'd do it by limiting calories somewhere else.

Telling me to cut any of those fruits is kind of counterproductive - one of the reasons I LIKE those fruits is their portability. I can toss an apple or an orange in my lunch and it's portable. If I had to also bring a knife to cut it with, and plastic wrap (and ascorbic acid powder for the apple, so it wouldn't get quite so brown and slimy), that's a whole extra mess of steps that may make me NOT bring the fruit.

(And for how many years have the told us to eat fruit "in place of dessert." So now instead of a nice orange, we get a half an orange. Lovely. I don't like feeling like I'm living in Ration-Land.)

I don't know. I fear that the "portion control" mantra is going to, like so many things our society does, get out of hand. Cut your fruit in half and only eat half. Limit orange juice to four ounces a day. Water down the juice you give to kids. Hell, probably water down the skimmed milk while you're at it. "Eat this, not that."

And I saw a feature - I was only half-watching - on the "new" cafeteria meal at Wellesley. While a lot of the food they showed looked more appetizing than the cafeteria food I remember (lots of salads and noodle dishes), they showed the portions - and they were tiny.

I don't know about you, but when I was in college, I had lots of afternoon labs. Labs that ran from 1 pm to 5 pm or even later. And in a lot of cases they were outdoors - in Michigan, in the fall, when it was cold and rainy. If I ate my little 200-calorie, portion-controlled dish of noodles and edameme, and washed it down with a big calorie-free water, I'd be hungry - and very likely, shaky - before lab was over. (And while in some cases, dragging a granola bar along would be possible, for the laboratory-based labs, it would not: no eating in lab.)

I wonder if some of the students ever pass out after their portion controlled meals? Or if they get hungry and grumpy and unfocused? (I've also heard of a study that said people whose brains were deprived of glucose - from fasting - were more likely to make poor decisions.)

Don't get me wrong: you don't want to go overboard on lunch in college; it's as bad to be sleepy in lab because of an overload of spaghetti and garlic bread as it is to be hungry. But there's got to be some kind of balance, and it seemed to me the "nouvelle" cafeteria meals were going too far on the small side. Some of them looked like they consisted of maybe a half-cup of food. I know, I know, most college students are pretty sedentary - but there's a point where people need to just be able to eat.

I usually made a dormitory lunch of yogurt (I usually disliked the "hot meal choices," which tended to be things like "meatless jambalaya" (combine the leftover veggies in the fridge) or meat-patties in sauce.) And I'd have some fruit and maybe a piece of toast or some crackers with peanut butter. And a glass of milk. Or, I'd have a salad in place of the fruit. And I did OK. And I didn't really gain the "freshman 15." (An added thing: many campus cafeterias have reduced hours on the weekend. I know on Sundays if I went to church I missed the one offered meal. A meal for which I had already paid.)

I admit, this is one of my hobby horses, one of my worries. I can just see a future where people are so afraid of getting fat - or so afraid of being unhealthy - that they become willing to let someone else tell them what to eat. (Millions of people do this already, see all the rigid diet plans out there, especially the "meal replacement" plans).

And the thing is: one-size-fits-all solutions, which any large scale "Tell us what to eat" situation would be, generally fit most people very badly. So you have some active folks not getting enough calories, and they get grumpy and hungry in the middle of the day. Or you have people who have some kind of allergy or intolerance to some food, and they have to fight to get a plan with a substitute. Or maybe there are some people whose genetic make up requires a higher-protein, lower-carbohydrate diet, and other people who need more carbohydrates and less fat - but everyone will get the same plan, because that's easier, and that's "what's best for them."

And the other thing - so much of the diet industry, so much of the "nutrition" industry, and even some of the cooking magazines now, seem to have the side effect of sucking the joy out of eating along with trying to promote health. Have you tallied off ALL your vegetable servings for the day? Hey hey, ho ho, white bread has got to go! Are you REALLY going to put sugar on that fruit? I don't care if it tastes sour, sugar is unnecessary calories! And don't forget to eat local! Oh, and don't eat ALL of that apple, it's just FULL of calories!

And it's tiresome and maddening. Don't tell me to cut my apple in half, dammit, USA Weekend. How about, instead, just shutting up and letting ME decide if that extra 45 calories or so is going to kill me?

Incidentally, here are some counts, this is from a "living with diabetes" type website so I assume they're fairly accurate, and they jive with what I learned years back in Health class:

Apple: anywhere from 50 to 80 calories depending on size
Banana: in the vicinity of 100 for a medium-sized one
Orange: from 60 to 80 depending on size
"Medium sized" fresh peach: about 40.

Seriously, USA Weekend. SERIOUSLY? Fruit is not a Big Mac. It is not even like a fruit pie. Telling me - if I, by some miracle of marketing, manage to actually buy a peach that TASTES like a peach, that rather than eating and enjoying all of it now, I must "save" those 20 to 40 calories by CUTTING IT IN HALF and putting the rest of it away? Forgive me, but that seems to be encouraging eating-disordered behavior. ("Always leave some food on your plate.")

As I said: If I'm going to consume that "whole" 40 extra calories by eating an entire large apple, if I really need to cut that much out, I'll cut it somewhere else, thanks so much. (The other thing? Fruit has fiber, which helps keep you full. I daresay eating 40 or 50 calories of an apple will keep you fuller longer than an equivalent amount of calories from - I don't know, what is it that's OK to eat now? Lean broiled chicken? Poached fish?)

Also: I seriously doubt people who are big fruit-eaters are the people who are really having problems with nutrition and health. But I guess the nanniers have worn out their interest in wagging fingers at people who eat fast food and now they're going to move on to harass people who might actually be trying to eat healthy. What's next? "Too much salad can slow you down"? (I remember years back, I read a novel about a girl suffering from anorexia; she would periodically spout off "diet advice" - that line being one of the pieces of twisted logic she had in her mind).

Frankly? I just want to be left the hell alone. Let me eat my damn fruit in peace.

Friday, August 20, 2010


That's just it, *sigh*. I've mostly been avoiding much news or commentary of most sorts. Because it just makes me sad and tired and makes me ask, "Dude, where's my country?" Because that's what I feel like.

You know the old ads for some kind of freeze-dried coffee stuff, how they claimed they were in some ritzy restaurant, and they had "secretly" replaced the real coffee with the instant stuff. And all the people in the ad were raving about how fantastic the coffee was. The upshot was, supposedly people couldn't tell the difference between freeze-dried and real coffee.

And I always suspected that there were a lot of folks - probably quickly hustled out the back door, and not shown in the ad - who went, "Wait, this coffee tastes like dishwater. What have you done to the coffee here?"

And that's how I feel about things now. That there are a lot of people smacking their lips over the new way government and society works, and the people who are going "Wait a minute...this isn't right" are getting the bum's rush. Or they're getting called crazy. Or told they should be drug-tested.

I don't know. I also feel like this whole mosque controversy is a smoke screen, a red herring, as the economy continues to hemorrhage jobs and more and more people are talking about having to try to live off the land or some such thing.

Does a landowner have the right to sell land to an Islamic group? Yes. Does a group that owns land have the right to build a mosque on it? Yes. Is it a kind, loving action, sensitive to other people, especially those who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks? Hell no. Is it very likely intended as a poke-in-the-eye, a dancing-on-the-graves-of-those-who-died? I kind of suspect for at least some involved, it is.

But: the government continues to spend frightening amounts of money, and the job situation gets no better. I care less about a mosque at Ground Zero than I care about the possibility that 10 or 15 years (or less) down the line, we will not have an economy in this country - that we'll have Zimbabwe-level inflation, or that we'll all become indentured servants of the government, just to pay for the bailouts now. People aren't hiring in part because they're afraid of what new taxes may be down the line. People (like me) aren't spending money because they're either fearing their jobs may go away, or because they suspect that higher taxes are coming, and they better save up money to pay the IRS man. Banks aren't lending. Everything's stuck and stopped and stagnant. And there's a definite sense of unease - even among friends of mine who voted for Obama. There's a sense of "why haven't things got better?" (Well, this is one of those cases of "If you mess with something too much when it's working suboptimally, it gets worse.")

The other thing that makes me pessimistic is the fear that there are individuals who will do everything in their power to discredit or destroy good people who might choose to run for office - to make them look crazy or stupid, to spread distorted or outright false information about them - and so either the people of goodwill give up in disgust, and only the scoundrels run, or, because of misinformation, good people won't be able to win.

I hate to say it, but I doubt we will ever have a truly "great" president again, at least not in my lifetime.

So again, I feel like closing off in my own little box. Doing what I can to teach students (at least until the "college is a monumental waste of money" meme spreads to the point that I'm out of a job), doing what research I can, tending my own garden. If it all goes TOO bad, I've decided - I have a strong back, I'm not afraid of work, I'll find someone with a small farm and sign on as a laborer - in return for food. (I think there are enough small-scale hobby type farmers, or small organic farmers, who need the manual labor). And yeah, it would probably suck a lot of the time, and I'd probably be hard-pressed to pay utility bills and the taxes on my house, but you know? It might suck less than still being part of the rat race.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Several things I have to remind myself:

1. Sometimes when people treat other people in a thoughtless way, it is because they are ACTUALLY NOT THINKING. In other words, they're not planning on being a jerk, they're not doing it intentionally to hurt the other person - it just happens.

2. Lots of times people are so caught up in their own maelstrom of stuff that some of the problems they're having wind up rubbing off on other people. When someone gets angry over a truly minor event, it's likely that something else was actually the trigger and the event was just a catalyst.

3. People aren't always actually talking about what they are talking about. Even sometimes when they think they're talking about that thing.

4. It doesn't matter that the high-muckety-mucks don't see a lot of the good I do. What is important is that I do it to help the students.

5. Having one person think I'm an idiot doesn't make me an idiot.

This is not shaping up to be a stellar week :(

Monday, August 16, 2010

Holy cow, this is amazing.

I love this. (I just, in general, seeing how other people live with book collections)

Book-lined London staircase (in case the perspective in the first photo seems weird to you, it is looking DOWN the stairs).

The architect built a little loft bedroom and then on the stairs leading up to it, constructed them so an enormous book collection could be shelved there. (I like how the stair treads, viewed from above, also look like file folders in their shape).

I can imagine climbing those stairs...grabbing a book on my way...stretching out on the daybed...and reading in my own private sanctuary. Awesome.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Susan Branch

I have a few of her cookbooks on my shelves. She is an author who publishes these books - they are sort-of cookbooks, sort-of entertaining books, sort-of books of craft ideas, but they also have an element of the Commonplace Book to them, as she puts in quotations or stanzas from old poems that she likes, or that are appropriate to the topic.

Everything is handwritten (or set in a typeface that looks remarkably handwritten, though I really do think she handwrites everything and then lets the publisher set from her artwork pages). She has drawings on nearly every page - little birds, or flowers, or steaming pots of soup.

I've made a few of her recipes; they're not complex, but they're good and often use seasonings in unexpected ways.

I love the books. They are one of the things I look at when I start to feel my world getting small and constricted and unhappy. When I start to feel like whatever stress I'm under, whatever bad news I'm hearing, is beginning to take over my brain.

I particularly like the quotations. I keep thinking that I should get back more to doing embroidery, and that I should start keeping my own sort of commonplace book of short quotations I would like to make embroidery designs off of. (And, vaguely, in the back of my head, thinking, that if I can re-awaken my ability to do calligraphy and neat penmanship, and if I could swing doing it, and enough people liked the designs, actually selling them. Though it might be more work than what I'd get out of it). And her books are a fertile source of interesting quotations.

Her work (you can see some of it on her homepage won't be to everyone's taste; I know I have friends who would look at it and roll their eyes, or dismiss it as "housewife cutesy." (I guess she's a homemaker, though she does write the books and do illustration as a career. I know I have some friends who are not fond of the "domestic arts.")

The thing is - as much as I work outside the home, as much as I was kind of a tomboy growing up (in a lot of cases, my best friends were boys - I often found boys to be more direct and less likely to stab you in the back than girls) - I still love all the "domestic arts" stuff. I like being able to cook. I love the idea of decorating my home "just so," of going antiquing, of being able to do stuff like embroider or make centerpieces for the table. (I just don't want to build an empire of it, like Martha Stewart. And I'm not "perfect" the way Martha projects herself as being. My style is more "funky cottage" than it is "elegant home living.")

For me, it's an escape. There's something about being able to make a nice autumn bouquet of dried flowers for the mantel...I think part of it, for me, is that it gives me a sense of control over something in a world that I often feel is going to pieces around me. Where bad stuff happens to people I care about, where bad stuff happens in the world at large.

I don't know. Maybe it's very small and self-absorbed to want to focus on embroidering pillowcases or tending an herb garden in a falling-apart world. But again: it's something I have control over, something that makes me feel comfortable and sane even when the outside world isn't.

(Another vague thought: starting a lavender farm. I doubt a person - a single person - can run a farm, that I'd need at least employees and maybe a business partner, but it's something I daydream about from time to time.)

But looking at her books - reading her list of lovely things to put in a guest room to make guests comfortable and welcome (good old mystery novels, a carafe with water and a glass, extra soaps and things, space in the closet, a small blanket to wrap up in while reading...), there's a graciousness about it and a comfort. Perhaps part of it is the idea of being aware of other people's comfort and happiness, of caring about it. (That's what being a homemaker is, when it's at its best - you are caring for and about other people).

So in a crazy world, it gives me comfort to look at those books.

I kind of had a suspicion...

You know, when the Wikileaks stuff came out, I turned to my dad and said, "How long before he starts suggesting 'this can all go away' if they give him one billion dollars or something?"

I don't know if this report is true or verifiable as such, but if it IS true...well, the guy needs to be grabbed and locked up. Preferably for a very long time, and with no internet or cell phone access.

You know who Assange reminds me of? Mr. Mxyzptlk. Except for the cigar, he even looks a bit like him.

It's just too bad we can't trick him into saying his name backwards and imprison him in his own demented dimension for three months....

Friday, August 13, 2010

Deploying the chutes...

And so, the weird world of news rallies on.

(I know, the story's got a whole lot muddier, with passengers now claiming he instigated the fight and was cussing them out first, rather than his responding to a passenger's rudeness).

I don't know. I don't condone what the flight attendant did. But you know? I don't vilify him either. I've already read a couple editorials essentially implying that the "true heroism" would be, apparently, for him to continue to suck up the bad behavior of the public, allow people to treat him like a slave, and to just smile and eat the crap people dish up.

And you know, I'm not sure I agree. Yes, there's something to be said for serving the public. And yes, people can have bad days, or be upset over something and have that upset come out against another person. But, I don't think it's right that someone, even a "service" employee, should continually have to take the garbage people hand out.

I've seen it happen. I travel by train a lot. I've heard people cuss out the conductors for asking them (for their own safety and hygiene!) to put their shoes on and not walk in the train barefoot. Or I've seen people who demanded the moon of a waiter or waitress, and then either left no tip, or left a very stingy tip. (And yes, the whole thing of "having" to tip is another issue, but since most people who wait tables depend on tips to make a salary that's more livable...)

And as a prof, I've had my share of bad-people experiences. The guy who went ballistic in my office and started screaming at me that I was unfair on my homework because I was asking him to do a genetics problem unlike any I had worked in class, even though the very type of problem was shown in detail in the book. The student who cussed me out when I busted him for plagiarizing. The students who sit in class and text, or pull out their big elf-sex book (fantasy novel) and read it during class discussion or activities. The eye-rollers. The people who get up and leave from class when they decide they've had enough. The people who sit and talk and snicker (You tell yourself they're not laughing at you, but you still find yourself surreptitiously checking to be sure your fly is zipped or that there's nothing in your teeth). The people who come in angry over earning a poor grade, who threaten to go to the dean, who tell you their parents give money to the school.

There's just so much rudeness, so much self-centeredness in the world. I know, you should let it run off your back - but there comes a time when it doesn't, any more. It's a collective thing - it builds up.

And I don't know what the best option is. Obviously, it's not dropping the f-bomb over the intercom, grabbing beer, and sliding down the exit chutes. But there needs to be some way to teach people that it's not acceptable to treat other people like dirt. In an ideal world, doing something like, "I'm sorry, but I can't help you when you are talking to me that way" would work, but I think in a lot of cases that would make the entitled behavior even WORSE.

(Coming back on the train, I wound up eating dinner with a woman - well, for one thing, she dropped a "big cuss" about every other word, which I admit, makes me judge her a little - but she was complaining about how the waitress on the train was "rude" because she directed her to sit in a particular seat, rather than the "better" seat she wanted. Um, that's how the dining car on the train works? They have to fill it up in a certain order so it's efficient? And she was griping about how "rude" everyone was to her. I've not really seen that. I've occasionally had people be a bit brusque, but when you're busy, you're busy. I understand that someone who is involved with waiting on fifteen tables doesn't have time to spend on a lot of chit-chat with someone at a table. Or to be running back and forth five times for five different things ("I need a new fork." "I want more water." "Can't you check and see if there are any different kinds of salad dressing than these three choices?" "When do I get my coffee?" "My steak is undercooked, I asked for well-done and it's still pink inside.")

So I guess I'm saying I can see how having a critical mass of difficult people can lead someone to snap.

And the whole "keep sucking up the bad behavior of the public" attitude? It puts me in mind of someone telling a woman with a verbally abusive spouse to "stay for the sake of the children."

The sad thing is, you can quit a job - but I suspect flight attendants almost everywhere have to put up with the same junk. Retail employees everywhere by and large have to put up with the same stuff.

I think a lot of this comes down to the good old Golden Rule. And to the idea of seeing other people as *people,* not just seeing them as some sort of an obstacle to your happiness. And also it comes down to seeing rules and regulations (like, not walking barefoot on the train> Or, like, not getting up and grabbing your luggage as soon as the plane touches down on the tarmac) as something necessary for the community to work or to be safe - not something dreamed up specifically to thwart your happiness and comfort.

And I don't know how we get back to that. I know some parents are good at teaching their children to behave well, to treat others with kindness - but it seems that there's such a critical mass that have not been taught, or who have forgotten the lessons.

I just throw this out as a sort of a question - what is to be done? What is the appropriate and instructive response to a student who's in your office yelling at you because you busted them for plagiarism? Or who snorts and openly declares the instructive exercise you've planned for class "stupid," and refuses to take part? Do you really have to just smile and put up with it? Or is there something that could be done and said? Because I worry that we're lurching towards a society where most people are rude and grabby and pushy, and I don't want to live in a society like that.