Thursday, June 30, 2011

Makes me furious

This kind of think makes me positively crazy: Man boards plane without boarding pass (and now they're saying, without identification.

Especially in light of the fact that a woman dying of leukemia was asked to remove her adult diaper so she could be screened better.

(I wonder: what about a woman who is having a very heavy menstrual period and is wearing a large pad - would they be pulled aside and subjected to that kind of humiliation?)

Something is incredibly, incredibly broken here. To me, it smacks of something I sense going on in general in our country: that the rule-abiding people, the ones who would not break the law, get extra scrutiny, extra harassment, and sometimes, truly inhumane treatment...and the lawbreakers just go on their way. And of course, the response to someone being caught breaking the law is often to impose MORE laws on the law-abiding people.

I have already decided that as long as the TSA is in force in this country, I will not fly again. Sure, that means I will never see the ancestral homelands of my relatives, it means I may have to skip certain faraway conferences I'd like to present at, and I may not have the chance to say goodbye in person to a relative (though depending, I might subject myself to the TSA groping inspection for that one).

But, it just disgusts me, knowing that kids are being touched in ways that would trigger all their "stranger danger" fears, makes adults of both sexes feel violated, and people with disabilities are being taken aside because their wheelchair or canes or whatever makes the screening "more inconvenient" for the agents...and yet, people still manage to sneak through.

We've given up some liberty, and a lot of dignity, and for WHAT?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

News stories I am tired of.

1. The Casey Anthony trial. Look, it's horrible, it's unfortunate, it's sad. If she killed her daughter she should go away for a long, long time. BUT I DO NOT NEED TO HEAR UPDATES EVERY FIFTEEN FRICKING MINUTES. This is like the dang OJ trial all over again. I don't know why the news takes something like this and pleasures themselves over it for so much time, when there are real actual problems that many if not all Americans will have to deal with. The Anthony trial affects me not at all. The fact that our economy might blow up will affect me enormously.

2. Stories about how the price of everything is going up. I KNOW they are. I go grocery shopping. I've watched with alarm as the bill for the things I usually buy has crept up by about 25% or a third over what it was last year. Hearing about how pasta and coffee and chocolate and God knows what else is going to become more expensive just begins to take on a tone of "take all our comforts away from us, why don't you." I could survive on dry beans and cornmeal like the Ingalls family did, but I really don't want to have to try.

One thing I've noticed that's not much talked about: cotton. Quilt fabrics now sometimes top $10 a yard. I remember when $6 a yard was considered a high price. That would make me more sad if I didn't have tons of fabric ahead that I had bought over the years and now am slowly trying to use up.

3. Angry chanting people who are upset because their entitlements are going away. Because it will be a lot worse if the country goes broke. It will be a lot worse if everyone's taxes have to go way up. I guess there really are people who don't understand that "government money" is actually money that came through the hard work of the populace.

And I really, really don't want to see us be like Greece. Or heck, like Vancouver after the hockey team lost. I don't want to see cars burning on American streets but I'm afraid it's coming.

I suspect this is going to be a summer of me WATCHING very little news but trying to find reliable sources I can READ news from. Somehow I find printed words on a page (or a screen) easier to take than a talking head and video.

Antisocial Me.

People often ask me why I don't go out more, why I don't do all kinds of stuff with close friends - or why I don't seek out more friends than I do.

Well, people mostly make me nuts. I have a few good friends but many of them live far away from me now (one of the closest ones is about 4 hours away and she and I do try to meet up in person a couple times a year to catch up and hang out).

But I've also seen the kind of "familiarity breeds contempt" drama that sometimes happens among friends. And I don't like that, although most of my friends are pretty low-drama people and wouldn't go all ape on something I said that was innocently intended.

I was at a meeting at church this week. It was a meeting of the group of people interested in youth groups and childhood education at the church. (There was a grand total of 7 of us there; I was the only one without kids). I attended because even though the high school youth group did not meet all of last year (several people moved away, several graduated, and the one real stalwart remaining member was in his senior year, and was very involved with extracurriculars and college applications, so we decided to disband). I figured it was important to be there, and that "people might think it was strange if they called a meeting about the youth groups and one of the recent leaders wasn't there."

Also, a couple of the girls are approaching high school age, so eventually we will be starting the group up again. As always, if someone else wants to take it - especially someone more qualified than I am - I will happily step aside, but I don't think there are any takers.

Anyway, the meeting started out well enough, I have a new co-leader for the youth group and we've decided to do a combined middle-school/junior high youth group together until some of the kids age up to high school, or until more people join. We talked about curricula, it was all very positive.

But then things took a turn. The topic moved to Sunday school teachers. I'm out of that loop, being a teacher in the adult class, but apparently they've had some trouble covering the various groups of children. (One of the problems, I am sure, is that it's unpredictable week-to-week how many, if any, children in a particular age group will be there. We are a very small church and sadly a lot of the members work careers where they are sometimes expected to work Sundays).

The person who coordinated the Sunday school teachers for the kids expressed some frustration, and commented about how "one of the teachers hadn't shown up for six weeks."

One of the other women suddenly got very upset, made some comment, and stormed out. Apparently she thought the remark was directed at her (it actually was not, but still). The volunteer coordinator made another comment at her back that was kind of uncalled for.

And then it was like the dam broke. Another person talked about how the nursery was unacceptable because the children were shown videos instead of being taught. And lots of other stuff. And, I don't know, but we don't have funds to pay a whole lot to the nursery worker...and again, you never know from week to week hoe many children will be there...and I don't know, I thought the videos were Bible-story videos and Veggietales and stuff...but as a parent, I decided I was unqualified to comment.

And another person commented on how people had "complained at" him about certain little things, and how he was thinking of picking up his family and moving churches.

And what really killed me? I DIDN'T KNOW THERE WAS ANY OF THIS KIND OF TENSION GOING ON. It reminded me a lot of the church-split I lived through, where I really didn't know there were factions until the one group picked up their marbles and went home went to found a "new" church. And suddenly, I was scared: I don't want to go through another split. We can't SURVIVE another split. And: "Okay, if we split again, that's it. I'm done with being a churchgoer." (Yes, for a moment, I could see the argument of the people who don't go to church any more, even though they love God, because the people become so intolerable).

But here's the thing: complaints about petty stuff are a part of life. If you are doing ANYTHING other than just sitting there inert, there is going to be someone who can find a way to complain or criticize.

I remember when I first started with the youth group, wow, there was all kinds of stuff: they weren't taking the trash out at the end of the night. People were leaving cups of pop in the kitchen. Someone spilled kool-aid on the counter and it stained and oh noes, the custodian had to get out the cleanser-with-bleach the next day. Their tennis shoes scuff the linoleum in the Fellowship Hall, can't you ask them to wear dress shoes (Um, no, for three reasons: 1. that is a degree of micromanaging to which I will not go. 2. Some of these kids may not HAVE a pair of dress shoes and 3. If we're going to go out and shoot hoops after the lesson, they kind of need to have their tennis shoes on.)

And yes, it was annoying. And yes, sometimes it made me feel like a failure. But ultimately, I learned that some complaints you just have to let roll off you. That there are people who will complain and criticize, and they often never lift a finger to help out.

And in other cases, I just learned to be hypervigilant and not allow things to happen that could make us look bad - for example, after I got yelled at for leaving a door unlocked (even though we were NOT the last group to leave that night, and I locked the doors when we left), I just took to either staying until everyone left, or coming back later in the evening and checking the doors. And I made a sufficiently big fat hairy deal about the trash that a couple of the more mature boys took it upon themselves to empty all the garbage cans in the building - even ones we had nothing to do with - and take the trash to the dumpster.

So I get annoyed at people being butthurt over petty complaints. Sometimes you just have to realize it's not about you, and that what you're DOING is more important than what you're FEELING sometimes.

I will say the whole volunteer mess, I can see both sides of the thing. On the one hand, being a volunteer coordinator: been there, done that, never want to do it again. You get people bailing on you, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad reasons, and you either have to pick up the slack or find someone else to take over for you. (In one of the groups I belong to, the year I was President, I instituted the rule that "if you sign up for volunteer time, and you can't do that time, it is on you to find a substitute" because I had people calling me at the last minute going, "You're the president. Find someone to work my time.") Or you have people who agree to do stuff and never, ever show. And when you ask them about it, you get some excuse like, "I was tired." Okay, "tired" works if you have a chronic illness. Or are going through chemo. Or are heavily pregnant. Or are a single parent with several young children. Or are the sole caretaker for a very sick aging relative. But when you are in NONE of those categories: well, we're ALL tired. Dangit, I'm tired a lot of the time. Suck it up and do what you agreed to do.

It got to the point that when someone got all excited and volunteery about a project, I'd just smile, say "Great, I'll see you at [time]" and then just plan on them never showing - because if they did, fantastic, I could delegate some of the work to them. If not, at least I wasn't disappointed.

(And this is what makes me crazy, that I even have to do this. I never agree to something if I don't think I can do it. I may say, "I'll show up if I possibly can but I doubt that I will" and then later make the time and show up. Or I'll outright say "No" if I know I can't. But I won't agree to something if I think my enthusiasm is outpacing reality. I really genuinely think there are people who think other people love to hear them say "yes" to volunteering but who then don't care if they don't show. And that's one of the things that frustrates me THE MOST)

But on the other hand: the person who took issue, who the comment wasn't even directed at, they have issues, too: several small children at home, a husband whose work often takes him out on the road for days at a time, and a parent with a serious chronic illness (they are not that parent's caretaker, but still).

But the whole thing was just sad and ugly. Part of it was that I think a lot of people were stressed to the limit and things just snapped. Part of it may be that a couple people involved had thinner skins than they might have had. I don't know. Part of what was said may not have been said in seriousness, it may either have been said out of frustration or as a way of getting sympathy. I don't know. But it's drama, and I hate drama, it wears me out.

Part of the issue I have is that in my family growing up, if we said stuff, we MEANT it. If my dad said he was angry with one of us because of something we did, he really was angry and we had better apologize or try to make the situation right. If my mom cried, we knew that it was that something really bad had happened and she was very upset.

So I tend to interpret expressions of anger or tears as, "oh no, there's something really big going down" and not a "oh, that's just how the person is."

I will say I was expecting a call from the minister the next day, that X had resigned their position in the church after the meeting last night and would I pick up the slack they were leaving? Because that sort of thing happened before, during the split: the "leavers" just picked up and left and en masse delivered a letter of resignation on a Wednesday night....leaving everyone hanging for Sunday. (And the minister at the time was included in that group.)

Part of the reason I was appointed elder, I think, was that I was one of the relatively few people who was articulate, comfortable with speaking in public, and had the...I guess you'd say, moral?...qualifications for the job. Don't get me wrong, it's been an incredibly valuable learning experience and I've found doing it very's just, I wish I had been asked for a different reason.

So I don't know. The stress of dealing with other people and their problems just gets me down. I think that's why I prefer working with plants or soil or doing embroidery or cooking or things like that - because if you boil an egg the same way every time, it will turn out the same way. It won't suddenly decide to explode or not-cook or turn a funny color.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

At the store

I have tried, of late, to avoid peevey posts on here.

But you know, there are some things I just hate about grocery shopping.

In my town, there are essentially two grocery stores: a small, family-run one, which is nice, but lacks some of the items I regularly buy, and then there is the wal-mart.

I try to patronize the family-run place, both because I want to see them succeed, and also because I don't feel all stabby when I walk out of there (as I sometimes do with the wal-mart), but sometimes, I just have to buy certain things, and that means a trip to the wal-mart. (Also: the family-run place is a matter of blocks from my home, and the wal-mart is across town. Which isn't that far, really, except that it sometimes feels like it is.)

I try to go, when I go, early in the morning on a weekend, because that's when there are likely to be the fewest annoyances.

I've also learned not to go on the first of the month, or right after a payday. While I have a budget, I also don't live paycheck to paycheck, and so the avoiding-the-first-of-the-month was not obvious to me, until I forgot, and went a couple of times on or around the first of the month. Ugh. The place is full of people, certain products are totally gone off the shelves, there are people there who, to put it politely, don't seem to have as much practice behaving themselves in public, sometimes people bring their entire families and walk slowly down the aisles in flying wedge formation, blocking the progress of anyone else.

I know, I know, they're my neighbors and I should love them. But some of the things they do annoy me.

I also avoid the store any day they are giving out free food samples. In fact, if I walk in, see the sample stands set up, I may well walk back out. Because somehow, "free food!" passes through the community and it attracts so many people. And I don't like crowds, and I especially don't like crowds who are blocking me from, for example, getting to the case that has the eggs when I need to buy eggs.

I also try to avoid going at the end of the day if I at all can. Because at the end of the day, you have people tired and annoyed from work, you have people on cell phones with their spouses/children (often yelling at them about something), you have the tired, stressed-out afterdaycare or afterschool kids (the worst kid meltdowns I've seen at the wal-mart have been around 4 pm on a weekday). And you get stuff like people getting into the "20 items or less" lane with large quantities of stuff, and then justifying it as "But I'm in a hurry." Oh, and I suppose that I, with my carton of milk and head of lettuce, am not?

Even going early in the morning you get some annoyances. They restock in the mornings (I couldn't get the scallions I wanted today because that bin was empty, and the woman restocking produce was moving so slowly that I didn't feel like waiting around to see if they even had scallions). They use huge, propane-driven (I'm not kidding; I've seen the canisters on them) floor-cleaners that are noisy as heck and hard to work around.

And once in a while you get the early-morning cell phone talker. Either the person who can't be troubled to make a list, so they call their spouse/housemate/parent/kid/whoever shares meals with them and ask them about every product as they go down the aisles. Or you get the person who's having a convo with their BFF and can't be bothered to stop just to buy groceries. (I admit it: I don't really "get" cell phones. Oh, I carry one, and it's nice to have if your car breaks down or if construction on the road is going to make you late for a meeting or something. But I do not have that much to say in a given day that I can imagine walking around with it stuck to my head.)

But one of my biggest grocery store peeves happened this morning: the leaner-over. This is when you're checking out: you put your stuff on the conveyor belt, the cashier rings it up, and as you're paying, the next customer starts edging in, leaning over you, wanting to be rung up. This morning, it was some guy buying a tin of Gatorade powder. Dude, if you're in that big of a hurry? Ask me if you can go ahead of me. But don't breathe down my neck when I'm running my credit card through the machine - that makes me suspicious. And that's why I leaned over to body-block you from seeing my signature on the little machine - I don't always know who's just an impatient guy and who might be trying to steal a credit card number.

And it's not like I was being SLOW. I am the kind of person who has their credit card out in their hand as soon as the last grocery item is out of the cart and on the belt. And I don't use coupons. (I know, I know: it's a good way to save money. But dammit, I feel like my time is worth more than the effort of cutting them out, toting them around, buying products I might not buy otherwise...all of that to save a quarter or so. Also, I don't take a newspaper any more, so it would take actively searching out coupons and stuff). And I also never write checks for groceries; I admit to groaning inwardly more than once at the person who, after their 52 items in a 20 item lane, and their wad of coupons, says, "Oh. I want to write a check" and winds up digging in their purse (Her purse. I've never seen a man do the "oh, by the way, I want to write a check..." thing).

I just get bugged in general by people with a smaller concept of what's normal "personal space" than most people. But I really hate it when they do it in the grocery line.

A couple of other minor peeves: it seems that wal-mart is going more and more to featuring their "house brand" (which is ok for some items I've tried, and not so ok for others) and, I guess, dropping national brands. This is the kind of thing that makes me twitch. I ALREADY feel like the economy is never going to get better - I've seen a few small businesses I used to patronize go out of business, there are more empty storefronts of late in Boutiqueville (which I would have thought would have been insulated somewhat from bad times), and now this. I still remember as a kid seeing the people waiting in line for many hours for bread or onions in the Soviet Union, and I admit my mind sometimes flashes to that, especially on the first of the month when some of the shelves at the store get a bit empty. (I wonder: how did unmarried people without families manage? Did they pay someone to get their food allotment for them? Did they spend their entire day off from work each week in line to buy food?)

I don't know. I don't generally like grocery shopping and all the little annoyances add to it more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Now I feel kind of dumb.

The meeting I was so freaked out about, where I speculated that I had done something "wrong" in the eyes of the dean without my fully realizing it?

It was actually a meeting to find out who I'd nominate as the next department chair. The dean is meeting with everyone in my department. However, my last name is near the front of the alphabet so I was the first person called in.

Yeah. Duh. But I'm relieved it was nothing bad. I just wish I hadn't wasted several days worrying about it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Living in the South

It's interesting how a place works on you when you live there a while.

When I moved here, some ten years ago, it was during a drought, mid-summer. It was hot, the cicadas sang endlessly, there were no clouds in the metallic-looking sky.

I was miserable. And it wasn't just the weather. I was far, far away from family. Far from friends. I knew almost no one, outside of the colleagues in my department (and I had met them only briefly during my interview) and the people I had met when I visited the church that I ultimately joined.

I would sit in my ugly little apartment (seriously: every apartment in this town has the same nasty tan-and-brown "Berber" carpet in it. Mine had nail polish stains on it in the middle of the living room floor - which I duly documented before move-in, so I would not be charged with having caused them later) and look out and what seemed like an inhospitable landscape (I had never lived ANYWHERE where it got over 95 for more than a couple days at a time) and cried.

It wasn't just loneliness; it was the strangeness and the upheaval of everything. People talked differently from me. I was obviously "not from around here." (Gah, how I grew to hate that phrase; it always seemed vaguely to hint of suspicion to me, to remind me I was an Outsider.)

I was also miserable because the town was so small. I had moved from a large, "twin-town" situation, where, both towns together numbered some 100,000 people. There were two malls. There were probably eight or ten grocery stores. There was everything a person needed right in that town.

Now, where I lived, there was a Winn-Dixie, a dodgy sort of warehouse-type grocery store (I was warned about it - that they didn't always check the expiration dates on foods) and a wal-mart (not a SUPER wal-mart, a plain wal-mart, with a sad little case of milk near the front door - a convenience for anyone running short on time - and things like cereal and crackers, but no produce, no meat, no frozen goods). The downtown was mostly shuttered businesses. People drove the half-hour to the next nearest city to go to the mall...and it wasn't that great a mall at that, in my opinion.

I started filling out applications. I wanted to move away. I wanted to move back to the upper midwest where there weren't giant grasshoppers flying around in the air (I had one land on my leg one day as I was walking out to class; its legs tore the hose I was wearing). I missed my family. I missed cooler weather. I missed being able to find everything I wanted right in my little town.

I remember I ordered something from a website that used FedEx Home as the delivery service. They added a $5 surcharge because I lived in an "inaccessible rural area." That made me feel even more I was living at the ends of the earth, in some outpost of civilization in the wilds.

But gradually, I adjusted. (None of those applications I mailed off came through for me; I didn't even get an interview with any of the places I applied.) I made it through the first year (I think the first year of a new prof's life is the worst are trying to stay at least a few weeks ahead of the students, you don't have the whole semester prepped yet, it's a terrible insecure feeling, like you're one bad bout of stomach flu from being NOT caught up).

The second year was a bit easier as I had stuff prepped and things started to shake down a little.

I began to think about buying a house - some aspects of living in an apartment began to be untenable (noise, cigarette smoke from neighbors....). I found a house that I liked and could afford and bought it. (And had my eyes opened to how some of the old-school lawyers here I started to work with on the process actually acted as if he thought it was somehow wrong for a single woman to be buying her own house.)

I moved to the house, felt more settled. Also, the town began to grow a bit and change...a few new restaurants. Finally we passed legislation saying it was OK to sell wine and spirits by the glass in restaurants here (so we got more nice restaurants). They built a new super wal-mart, just in time, because the Winn-Dixie went out of business (Actually, there were a few weeks one summer I was making weekly treks to the next city over, to go to their Albertson's, because I didn't like the other grocery choices in town once the Winn-Dixie closed).

One of the old, long-time groceries renovated and is much nicer to shop at now.

Our downtown started growing again, once a couple of restaurants moved in to attract people there. We now have a quilt shop, which is a giant wonderful thing for me. We have more businesses in general. Which is nice. Because sometimes I like to be able to shop without having to plan a trek out of town for it.

I've also adapted to some of the cultural differences. Making friends helps with this. I now have people who know me from church commenting that I "sound so cultured and educated" (by virtue, I guess, of my "golden triangle" (I grew up in NE Ohio, the dialect of which used to be the "received pronunciation" for newscasters and such) instead of having people look at me and going "You talk differently." I mean, both comments mean kind of the same thing, but being told I sound "cultured" or am "easy to listen to" is a lot nicer than being told my speech is "different."

I will say I've picked up a few vocal mannerisms from around here. I don't think I'll ever actually develop an accent - I tend to not have that happen, and also, I was 30 when I moved here - but I have picked up some terms, some turns of phrase. My parents laughed at me over break when I commented, "I got the clothes that need washed." Yes, it's nonstandard grammar, I wouldn't do it in formal written communication, but in very casual conversation it seems OK to me. (People around here say "need (verbed)" sometimes).

I also remarked, when my mom was sort of surprised over Paula Deen saying "might could" (instead of "might" or "may") that people around here say that too. I don't think I've ever said it, but it doesn't sound that odd to me now.

Also, another thing people say is "fixing to" or "fixin' to." I've said that a few times, mostly jocularly, but again, it doesn't seem so odd or out of place to me.

(And I know people who call what I would call the "burner" on the electric stove the "eye," just like Paula Deen does)

And the different foods, I've adapted to. (I still don't like fried okra, but that's OK, a lot of people here don't eat it, either because they don't like it or because they've stopped eating fried food). I actually prefer beans the way they're prepared in the south - usually only seasoned with an onion, garlic, cumin, and maybe a ham bone or ham hocks. (I'm guessing the garlic and cumin are southwestern influences. And at any rate, that's how I make beans, I think other people may leave out the garlic and cumin). Up north, beans are much more commonly prepared with a sweetener of some kind and maybe tomato sauce (usually ketchup), and I just don't like the sweet "baked beans" as well as I like the plainer "southern beans."

And I like sweet tea now. I never used to like iced tea, but that's because up North, they don't sweeten it, and it seems very bitter to me. But mix it with a sugar syrup, and it's much more appealing.

I thought of all these things as I was coming home from my last break. While driving home, I stopped for lunch at one of my favorite barbecue places. One of the choices of side dishes (you get two: meat and two veg, as they'd say in Britain) was black-eyed peas. Which I got, because I really like black-eyed peas. I never ate them before I lived here but I like them. And I think - I could be wrong on this but I think - north of the Mason-Dixon line, the only place you'd find black-eyed peas as a side dish would be in a "soul food" restaurant. Here, they're often just seen as a "normal" accompaniment to barbecue or other meats.

As I took a bite of the black-eyed peas, I thought, "I'm home again." Even a short decade ago, I would never have believed I would have felt that about this place.

I still don't like the hot dry summers much, though...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

some little news

Depending on some little news I get next week, this blog may or may not be going away. I've been invited to a meeting with a higher-up and while it's almost certainly nothing related to my online activity, still, now, I'm worried. I don't expect a cease-and-desist, but one never knows. I tried to anonymize as much as possible and be positive as much as possible. I really hope my keeping this blog won't come back to bite me; it's hard for me to tell how much I have to censor my personal life and how much freedom I have. And I still fear that Permanent Record. You know, the Permanent Record that everything you do wrong is supposed to go on when you're in school?

So I don't know. I admit I briefly considered deleting the blog altogether but if the problem is the blog, the damage has been done and deleting it will just be a useless move.

I think (I hope) the meeting is one of two things: a post-mortem of the promotion process (successful for me) of the past year, or a discussion of some of the shake-ups that are happening in my department (for one thing, our chair has decided to step down).

I would hope if a student had filed a complaint or something about me, I'd have heard of it before now, that I wouldn't go in and be totally blindsided by the problem, because it seems that would not be fair. And the fact that the message said the person would "like" to meet with me - not that I need to meet with them - and that a range of dates to meet were given (and not a "you must be in here at this time on this day), I hope that means it's something innocuous.

I don't know. I won't rest easy until the meeting though.

Upon further thought: A lot of the really "bad" things, I think I'd receive some kind of warning letter first. If it were a student complaint against me, I'd think I'd get some prior notification so I could plan a defense (and also, I don't think this particular higher-up would be involved). If it were internet usage stuff...well, I'd think a letter would be sufficient. (Though then again - and here's where my brain defeats me so badly - I'm thinking, "maybe they want to avoid too much of a paper trail."). If it were most bad things, I think my immediate supervisor would be talking to me about it first? Maybe it's nothing bad after all and I will be worrying for nothing.

But golly, it would be nice to be told what the meeting would be about. I'm sure not being told was an oversight/timesaver thing, but it still makes me worry.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Oh MAN, I'm tired

The first full week of summer research has concluded. (I told the students we weren't going to work today - I need to take care of some stuff, and also, I'm really, really tired.)

And I'm dealing with yet another difficult person. This is someone who is happy to tell me what is wrong with everyone else around them. At first, I thought, wow, this person is just really lousy at choosing co-workers. But now, I'm coming to realize that this person just has little tolerance for the stuff that may be going on in people's lives....if the person is not as punctual as they are, or as dedicated, or whatever, there's something WRONG with that person.

And you know, meh. I used to be kind of like that in my attitude (but I kept it to myself), but over the years I've seen enough stuff to be able to sigh, remind myself that "everyone is carrying a heavy burden" and let some stuff go.

I mean, yeah: if someone is late for every single meeting we have planned, I will say something to them. I do not like having my time wasted. But if someone is late once, and explains that they couldn't find their car keys (it's happened to me), or their kid had some emergency, or whatever, I'll be fine with it.

But this person I'm dealing with is super-critical. So I've decided that I have to take their assessment of any person with a grain of salt.

This person also can't understand how some students are less-than-devoted to their education. Again, meh, it happens: I can imagine if you have a spouse and a child and maybe an aging parent or grandparent to help care for, your attention would be somewhat divided. Heck, there have been times in recent years - a close family member with a cancer scare, a close family member in the hospital with pneumonia - where I wasn't on the top of my game because I was thinking about that person and concerned about them. Or I get distracted when something else is going wrong in my life. So I try not to judge the people too harshly when life interferes.

I mean, you make your priorities in life. I've had students who have been abundantly nice people, interested in the classwork, but who earned low Bs or Cs because they had other stuff going on, sick kids, emergencies at work, getting foreclosed on. My attitude is, if they're OK with it, I'm OK with it. It's like the old saying: What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his medical-school class? Doctor. Many of the students we graduate aren't necessarily looking toward grad school - in fact, many of them have jobs already that they can continue in with or without the degree.

On the other hand, I don't have a lot of tolerance for people who slack off in class and are lazy and have bad attitudes about it - if you don't want to be in college, don't go. It's hard for me to work up a giant pot of sympathy for the student who drove all night long out and back to go see some band they like, and then want an extension on the homework. Or the person who rolls their eyes and groans melodramatically over a class activity.

It's hard for me to explain, I guess, but I can deal with the student who comes to me and says, "My kid has to have an operation, I'm sorry, but that's why I'm not giving 100% in class" and I can tell him that I'm fine with that, I understand, and that I hope everything goes well. But it's different dealing with the student who wants an active social life and figures that I should rearrange my teaching or exam schedule to accommodate that. (I had one student last fall who would regularly skip my class - several reliable people told me he partied a lot - and then would come to my office hours fifteen minutes before class on Monday and expect me to "recap" the past week for him. Sorry, I can't do that.)

Also, usually, the people with life-issues (like a sick kid) tend to take responsibility in other areas, in my experience: one of the students I had who had a child who had to have an operation, assured me, "I've spoken to my lab partner. I know she takes good class notes. She's going to let me copy her notes for the days I will be absent." They've taken care of it. I guess that's the difference: I can understand and deal with people who have problems in their lives, but who manage and who don't expect me to do "clean-up on aisle five" for them over everything.

But the people who either have or let their lives fall apart, and then come to me (sometimes at the last minute) and want me to FIX EVERYTHING NOW, I have a hard time with that.

I have occasionally thought, in response to a student like that, "If I had wanted children, I would have adopted one." I don't need a 20-year-old "child" who wants me to mop up everything after them (and at any rate: if I had a 20-year-old child of my own? And they had problems? I'd probably do largely what my dad did for me, which was say, "You're smart. You can figure this out" but stand by with some minimal assistance (like a loan or something) if things really go pear-shaped.)

So I don't know. Perhaps I'm more bugged by the person I referred to at the beginning - the one who has criticism for anyone who's not 100% dedicated "to the cause" for whatever reason, because I sometimes feel that way a bit myself. (But I maintain, there's a difference between having logistic issues because you're raising a child alone, or are caring for an ill elderly relative, or have some kind of issue like dealing with identity theft, than with things like "I want to be able to have a Mullet Life: business in the front, party in the back" or following the Dead (do people still follow the Grateful Dead?) or whatever. I realize those are life choices as well...but they're life choices where others are not necessarily depending on you.)

Monday, June 06, 2011

I don't keep up with the news these days.

(What I have seen of late, has mostly been the Anthony trial. I don't know. I have no interest in it. It's sad, if the woman killed her kid she should be put away for it, but I don't want to hear the details).

I had heard a little about the Weiner affair. I don't know, I reserved judgment, not knowing the details and having known people whose e-mail accounts got hacked.

But my mom called me - knowing I had been involved with research all day and had avoided the radio or television - to tell me that apparently it was his dongle in the photograph, and apparently he was the one who sent it, and now he's confessing, and, I hope, apologizing to the people that he smeared in the process.

In case you were wondering about my response to what he did, here it is:

"What an idiot."

Seriously, what is it about power that either attracts people who have problems keepin' it in their pants - or causes people who might be OK otherwise to lose control? John Edwards, the IMF guy (I hear that his lawyers are going to try to claim the sex was consensual. Well, I don't know that for sure but based on what I've read about the victim, I have an opinion on it, and it's not in line with what the IMF dude's lawyers are gonna say). The "wide stance" guy in the airport bathroom (The names I forget. The things that I, having been relatively sheltered and innocent in my life, have learned about human sexuality, I don't forget). The governor who claimed he was off on fact-finding trips when he was really diddling his mistress. And of course, President "I did not have sex with that woman" Clinton. All of them. What's up with it? I know humanity is flawed and often does what's wrong, but it still distresses me to see so MUCH of it.

I may dislike Obama's politics, I may hate many of the things he is wanting to impose on our nation, but AT LEAST he is faithful to his wife. You can say that for the guy, no matter how much, as I said, you dislike his politics.

But, I don't know. It's so sordid, and so ugly, and so much like the plot of a Porky's movie, that some congressman sees fit to send a photograph of his erect member to a co-ed, and then lie when someone else calls him on it. (And you can say what you want about "people have private lives" - you don't send sexy pictures as a twit-pic picture on the internet if you're a public figure.)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

It's gonna be weird.

Not teaching this summer, I mean. I've taught every year I've been employed up to now. I decided to take the summer off because I have a large research project (well, two, really, but one is already underway) that I want to work on. If things go well I should be able to complete the data collection this summer.

But it's strange not to be worrying about the academic calendar. Not having to have syllabi made up. Not be gearing up for classes to start on Monday.

It's nice, though. I will be able to schedule time to go grocery shopping that is NOT the 4 pm rush, where there are frazzled people coming home from work, screaming kids fresh out of daycare, everyone tired...(I made the mistake of going to the local wal-mart on the 1st of the month. Even though it was 1 pm and I figured the "rush" would be over (and the afternoon rush not yet started). I hate to say it but there were an awful lot of people in the store that day who don't really know how to act in public - a couple in a screaming fight with each other, a small child running up and down the aisles unattended, people parking their carts diagonally in an aisle to talk with a friend (meaning no one can get through the aisle without asking them to move), people pushing, people arguing with the cashiers over "what do you mean that coupon has expired?" all that kind of stuff. Makes me hate humanity.)

I have decided I can't let this summer slip away too much - first, the aforementioned research will be starting up at 8 am Monday. And second, I'm going to revamp some of my class stuff for the fall. It's a lot easier and more appealing to do that when you are not in the thick of classes.

I have, however, also decided I am NOT going to work Saturdays this summer unless it is a rare case (like, the fieldwork gets rained out during the week). I push awfully hard during the regular semester and I think I do burn myself out a little bit, based on how tired and running-out-of-patience I am by the end of the semester.

I have a bunch of long-term craft projects (some embroidery, a quilt) that I really want to get done - so that's also going to be part of my summer. And working in the garden - my garden really got overrun last summer when I was teaching an overload and dealing with two research students who turned out really NOT to like each other. ("You don't have to like each other but please refrain from talking smack about the other person to me.")

But it is going to be strange to be unmoored from a strict schedule.