Thursday, August 30, 2012

I hate this

So, last night, on the local news, they noted that there had been an "assault" (really, an attempted rape, but the woman fought back and at least avoided being raped) at an apartment complex here. And they had the obligatory footage of some people saying, "I don't believe it could happen here" but there was also a couple who said, "This is it. We're moving out. This place has gotten really bad. There's lots of crime, lots of drug-dealing. We don't want to live here any more."

They didn't NAME the complex or give its address. They had a brief camera-flash of the complex's sign and the number (but not the street name). I don't pay attention to the complexes here in town...I used to live in one but moved out over 10 years ago. There have been several new ones built, and there are a number of smaller, run-down complexes (places I was told, "You probably don't want an apartment there" when I first moved here).

So I got to wondering: Isn't that name the name of the newish complex they build on land right next to my classroom building? (There was, in fact, a murder there shortly after it opened. But that was what they call a "domestic" - adult son went bonkers and killed his mom)

So I tried to find the name in the phone books. Couldn't find it. Thought, Well, damn, if it IS the complex next to me, I am not going to come up here at night to work any more. And I'm not going to come in crack of dawn on Saturdays when no one else is around. And I'm going to get the colleague I teach with after my night class to walk me to my car. (Granted....I'm a fairly big and tough woman, and if someone tried to attack me, provided he wasn't armed, I could probably drop him, but still - safety in numbers)

But this is what I hate. How there are people in the world who think it's OK to assault someone, who think it's OK to take a woman by force for whatever sick reason. (And yes, I know: If I were armed the chances of it happening would be a lot less likely. But I couldn't carry on my campus, so that's kind of a moot point.) I suppose it's always been so to a certain extent, but it bugs me that in peacetime, in a small town, I still have to look over my shoulder and do all that long list of things that is often published in College Orientation 101 on "How not to be raped." Even down to considering what kind of shoes I wear, whether I could run in them if necessary.

However, I did look the complex's address up online. They're on the other side of town, in an area that frankly is kind of known for drug dealing and other petty crimes. And this morning, the cop they interviewed on the news seemed to imply that this may have been a case, not of stranger rape, but of someone stalking the woman and planning the crime...I hope they catch the bastard and lock him up.

The other thing that frustrates me: Why NOT give the address of the complex? I suppose there's some kind of legal thing tied up in that, some kind of "The owner of the complex might take it as slander." But I do think people should be allowed to know where crimes are being committed in their town....when there was a "domestic" (between two men) a few months back, they prominently showed the sign for the street intersection near where the incident happened. But just the vague, "Hey, did you know there was an attempted rape in your town" doesn't help me much.

I mean, I still take precautions. I park as close to my building as I can for my night class. If I'm in early in the morning and am the only one here, I don't unlock the outside doors. But I hate that I have to do that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


The other day, hunting around, I happened on the "State of the Profession" page on the Chronicle of Higher Ed webpage. I read what I could of it (I don't have a subscription for "premium content." My library on campus probably does, but right at that moment I didn't feel like calling over and asking if they had a password).

But this struck me.

I'm a full professor. At a four-year institution. All I can say is there must be some folks earning close to seven digits for the average "full professor" salary to be $130,803 a year.

IF I teach summers, I make about $5000 under HALF that for a year.

Granted, yes: I teach at a small, regional, state school with a teaching focus. And yes, I am in a low-cost-of-living part of the country: I probably paid less than a third of what I would on either coast for my house. And granted, yes, I can live pretty comfortably as a single woman with relatively few needs on $60K or a little less....I probably couldn't if I had kids or was trying to help support a spouse who was unemployed or attending school himself.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not really envious, but that now I see the source of the "overpaid professor" meme.

But, boy damn....I'd love to see the frequency distribution of professor's salaries.

(I actually made an object lesson of this in my stats class....and got a laugh out of the students who know that our pay is NOWHERE near that. I gave an example of how a median is sometimes better than a mean...and to be honest, I'd like to see the MEDIAN full-professor salary in the U.S.).

And yes, I get that law schools and med schools and such have to pay more in order to retain "good" people, but....for the average salary to be well over twice my annual salary, I'm pretty gobsmacked by that.

I also hope that VP Biden doesn't get ahold of that figure....according to this site, he believes we're all overpaid: "V.P. Joe Biden, a few months back, said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty"

(I have not read all of that essay, it's pretty damn long, but what I've read rings true. And I have no idea if the Biden quote is accurate but I'm going to assume that the writer isn't misquoting).

One thing I will say that I thought about, which gives me some comfort: when the higher-ed bubble bursts, those of us who are fairly 'cheap' may actually be the ones who survive. When some of the gigantic state schools have crashed and burned, when some of the private schools have found themselves unsustainable...maybe those of us who have already cut to the bone and beyond will be able to survive...and maybe even later on, thrive, in a marketplace that's been somewhat gutted. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that.

I do know the only things I really have control over are (a) to teach my students the best I possibly can and to make myself as un-firable as possible (even with tenure, it's possible to RIF people during budget cuts) and (b) sock away any extra money against future bad times.

Monday, August 27, 2012

I may have spoken too soon

I've been fielding e-mails from someone re: the project they're required to do. I get the distinct feeling what this guy is asking me is, "Plz plan my project all out for me and tell me just how to do it and where to find all the sources, k thx."

I've been "playing dumb" (in the sense of giving minimal direction and guidance) but I'm afraid this is going to be my demanding student for the semester. I haven't even answered his most recent e-mail as my office hours are technically over and I have a headache and don't feel quite up to figuring out how to respond while keeping it clear that my help is at arm's length, that I'm not going to plan this guy's project for him. I'm not QUITE rude enough to e-mail back, "JFGI," but that's kind of how I feel based on the most recent request...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

School has started

Boy damn, last week felt like it was about a month long. (And the week before that was a mountain of meetings. Many of which were kind of useless. We were made to sit through a forty five minute long talk on how to write a syllabus. EVERYTHING the "experts" suggested were things I already do, and some of the things they pointed out, I was like, "You'd have to be a real idiot to leave that off your syllabus, because it would open the door for students to lawyerball stuff")

But hopefully things will have settled down by next week.

I seem to have a critical mass of either non-trad students or international students this fall. And while either group can have their share of problem people, I generally tend to find that the non-trads tend to have their heads screwed on straighter (because they're older and most have been in the workforce, they tend to get that "I'm a special snowflake, unique and deserving of all the rules being bent just for meeee" attitude beaten out of them before they reach me). And the international students often come from more rigorous and less-self-esteem-enhancing schools than our local students. So maybe I'll have a calmer semester than I did this past spring.

Oh, I did learn something in the endless hours of meetings: if a student with a Disabilities Concern has unacceptable behavior in your class, you can call the Student Support office and ask them to have a meeting to put together a behavioral contract. (Or at least your request will be entertained. I never ever got that word earlier, and I put up with things at times that maybe I didn't have to. Like the guy who didn't trust his note-taker to take good notes, so he would stand up and photograph the chalkboard every time I wrote something. It was completely unsettling and more than once I scuttled fast to the side so I wouldn't be in the photo...because God only knows what he might do with them after the semester.). I don't know how far they'll accommodate the prof (this guy also used to mutter stuff under his breath in class, which was also unsettling, but maybe he had no control over that), but at least the fact that they're willing to listen to us...

I also have to say for ONCE I am not teaching an overload. We finally caved and hired adjuncts (a couple of our own Master's-level graduates) to take over some of the heavy lifting of the basic-classes labs. It's surprising how freeing it is to have one more afternoon open a week. And I guess I didn't realize how beaten down we all were by regularly carrying 14 or 15 hours, instead of the 12 that is supposed to be the maximum (And we get one contact hour for every 2-3 hours in 14 contact hours can mean 20 hours of instruction time, not counting grading, prep, lab clean-up, etc., depending on what you teach.) And yes, we (mostly) do all our own grading. (I wouldn't have it otherwise; most of  my lab reports include a short essay for the "discussion" and my exams tend to include essay sections, and I feel like I need to read and grade those, because I know what I expect).

And I think most people who teach college will tell you that grading is actually the toughest part.

I'm still trying to figure out how to schedule the "outside" stuff. Tuesdays I teach an early morning class and an afternoon class, so I plan to go home for lunch that day, but I think I'll bring my lunch on other days and plan to do research work (I have so much data stacked up that I need to enter into my databases, it's not funny) and I also want to do some background reading for a project to be begun this spring. I hope I can keep up my motivation for that, not having a couple of intro bio labs to deal with should help. 

Monday, August 20, 2012


If I were a state of California taxpayer, I'd be ticked.

Cal State schools are threatening to disallow admission of in-state grad students (because out of staters bring in more bucks in terms of tuition, and they "can't afford" to serve the in-staters any more. Or so it's claimed).

Um, wasn't the reason a state university system was set up, was to educate the residents of that state?

And at any rate: if I were a prof in a department and was told, "We don't care how qualified this person is, and how good they'd be, you can't bring them in because we won't make enough tuition or fees off of them," I'd be seriously considering another line of work. Or at least another university system. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Alumni magazine thoughts...

I got the alumni magazine from my grad school the other day. I read a bit of it while waiting for dinner to cook.

I was struck by an article about a woman who provides dental-care for low-income children. That is commendable. But that wasn't what struck me about the article. What struck me were two comments she made:

First: when she was handing out free toothbrushes to children, a girl came back the next day to ask for another. Because, she said, her father took hers.

Now, I know there are probably different motives that could lead to a father taking his daughter's free toothbrush ("not wanting to take charity" being one). But I'm going to assume that he took it as he did not have one of his own.

Okay, that's sad. But. How much does a toothbrush cost? (Honestly, I don't remember: I bought a multipack a year or so back, and also, my dentist hands them out at the every-six-months checkup, so it's been a little while since I bought one). But I'm guessing they're under $5? Maybe $3?

While I suppose there are people out there for whom $3 is a really big deal...sometimes I wonder if some of what we are told is abject poverty where someone cannot get the basic necessities of life, is actually a difference in priorities. I know I have a lot of students who claim they are "too poor" to buy the textbooks listed for my class, but then they whip out a fancier newer cell phone than what I choose to have, and start texting on it. If you can afford the latest iPhone and a data plan and apps and many text messages, you can afford textbooks...maybe not both...but you have to decide what's more important. (Yes, I get that for some people a cell phone is a necessity. Well, I have one with a very basic plan that's like $25 a month. My cell phone does two things: It makes and receives calls, and it can receive and send texts. It has no apps, it has no camera, it has no games...)

I don't know but I admit I kind of object to someone claiming they need me to "find a cheaper textbook option" or not use a textbook at all, when they are spending money on something that I have chosen not to buy for myself....

I realize that sounds heartless, but you know, my mom grew up poor. Her family didn't take much assistance (towards the end of my grandmother's life, she did accept some of the "commodity food" that was given out, to make ends meet). But my mother's parents set their priorities: first priority, keep a roof over their heads. Second priority, see that the kids had nutritious food. Third priority, see that the kids were clean and equipped for school, and that they went to school. Toothbrushes and soap and that one good solid pair of shoes came before entertainment.... Growing up, my brother and I were considerably better off but still we got that same mentality taught to us: No, we won't take a vacation at Disneyland because the car needs to be fixed so your dad can get to work. No, we won't go out to eat every week because it's more economical to prepare food at home...

The other thing that struck me was the dentist's  comment that she sometimes saw children with sippy cups full of Mountain Dew, and whose breakfast was a bag of chips. This kind of thing makes me crazy. It's that kind of thing that will eventually lead the health fanatics like Bloomberg to ban sugar and salt and everything else: because some people can't take the responsibility to feed their kids properly. (Oh, I SUPPOSE some people are ignorant enough to think that Mountain Dew is equal in nutrition to milk...) And yes, again: maybe people can't afford better. But that's why we have WIC! I have a friend who was on WIC for a while (long story....her husband left her, she had some health issues...). Yes, it was a pain in the neck to figure out what was eligible and buy just those items - but she did it. And she and her kids got basic nutrition as a result.

Yes, all those things take effort. It takes effort to go and apply for aid if you need aid. It takes effort to look at your paycheck and go, "Dang, I only have $50 this week to spend on food for my family, how am I going to make that work?" But I'm starting to get tired of the people who seem to me not to want to put any effort in, and who just take the easiest road out. Because I know people who are faced with problems in life, and instead of sitting down and going "I need someone to fix this for me" they say, "Now what do I need to do to start getting this fixed?"

It strikes me that maybe the way out of poverty, or if not "poverty," having a lower socioeconomic status than you really want, is partly related to an ability to delay gratification (like: "No, we can't go to Disneyland this year because") or to prioritize things ("We need to buy you good sturdy school shoes. I'm sorry we can't get the fancy tennis shoes right now.")  But it seems that that's a hard lesson....and a lesson that may not be being reinforced in our culture like it should be.

Another thought on the "Mountain Dew in a sippy cup...." I remember seeing a young boy, maybe 18 months, whose parents gave him a Pepsi....and he freaked out after drinking it, got very hyper, they had to pick him up and carry him out of the restaurant because he got so disruptive. I wonder how many of our kids have caffeine (and possibly, high-sugar) habits as a result of heavy soda consumption, and that's affecting them in ways that might just be diagnosed as ADHD? When I was in charge of helping organize the meals for youth group, I PLEADED with people NOT to bring caffeinated pop, as some of the kids were clearly sensitive to caffeine but didn't have he self-control/ didn't want to look "weird" to the other kids by declining the caffeinated pop in favor of water or a caffeine-free alternative. There were always a few people whose behavior seemed worse to me on nights when they had caffeine as opposed to nights they did not. Now, I may be prejudiced in that, as I know I am quite sensitive to caffeine (I don't really get hyper, but I get shaky and anxious) and I also know my parents were very strict about no caffeinated pop for my brother or me until we were over 16 or so. But it does make me wonder what a couple of full-caffeine sodas a day might be doing to the brains and emotions of kids who are not fully grown yet.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was raised to be a responsible person, and it frustrates me to see people who are not responsible, and then in some cases, others are expected to pick up the slack/help out/put up with the consequences of bad behavior/whatever.

Friday, August 17, 2012

"Writing across the curriculum"

This is a new push on my campus. And I mostly agree with the idea. The more writing a student does in ALL areas, the better his or her writing is going to get. Provided, of course, the people teaching the students are capable writers themselves and that they take the time to grade well.

Unfortunately, a lot of our intro comp classes are heavily adjunct-taught. Which means there's a wide range of commitment: from people who work hard and bust their butts to teach the students to write, even though they are working under poor conditions (low pay, no benefits, large classes, and a student pool that really doesn't have much writing experience), and then there are others who just phone it in.

I have writing assignments in all the classes I teach, ranging from short "positional" papers in the non-majors class to a large research project in my majors classes. I also have critiques of journal articles that several of my upper-division classes do. Generally, the upper-division students are pretty good: they usually come to me after having one of the two real hard-ass people in the department who hammer on them until their writing improves. In those cases, I don't have to do too much other than not allow the students to get lazy.

Sometimes I get people in my upper-division classes who are getting me first, before either of the hard-asses. That makes my job a bit more involved. In some cases, I think it's laziness: students want to see what they can get away with. I've once in a while gotten a paper with text-speak in it, and I've really graded that down harshly: you need to be able to communicate in a way that is accepted by a majority of the population who will be reading what you write, and I'm sorry, but text-speak is NOT YET ACCEPTED in the vast majority of workplaces.

One thing I'm going to increase emphasis on this fall is: know your audience. Think about the audience for which you are writing. There are many styles of writing, even within scientific writing: you will write differently if you are writing a manuscript for a national journal than you would if you were writing a report for the local highway commission. You will write differently if you are writing for other scientists than you would if you were writing for the general public. You will write differently if you are writing up your own experimental research than you would if you are simply doing a review of the existing literature.

Also, in my non-majors class, I'm going to remind them about considering their audience. And that these are positional papers and not opinion papers: what is important is the quality of your argument and the quality of the sources with which you support that argument. I had a few instances this summer of students writing papers that essentially said, "I believe this is the correct opinion so I'm saying it" and they didn't bother to find sources. They got graded down quite a bit for that.

I did also have some very good writers; I hope they have not spoiled me for the fall, especially seeing as I had a class of 18 this summer and will have twice that this fall. One of the real frustrations I have is just the whole process of slogging through. (I know: English teachers have it much harder, because their students write more and the papers are longer). But it's so discouraging to get the fifth paper where the person doesn't get the difference between their/there/they're or something. I've threatened to have stamps made up explaining:

its/it's (I know that one is more subtle and easily missed, and occasionally I have to stop and go back and correct myself when I'm writing. But still.). 

Also, I want a stamp that explains that apostrophe-s is how you make a POSSESSIVE, not how you make a PLURAL. (I'd get the Bob The Angry Flower Poster that refers to that, but I'm afraid certain of TPTB would interpret it as "too mean and demeaning to the students," so I don't).

These are the largest things the students screw up. I have fewer problems with verb agreement (though sometimes people mess that up, especially if they have a long sentence with funky clauses in the middle of it, and they lose their place, and they forget what the subject was). I have a few problems with the totally wrong word being used. (Best example ever: the student who said "boneified" in a paper when they really meant bona fide).

I have LOTS of problems with plain old awkward writing. I tell the students, "Read your paper out loud to yourself. If it sounds ugly and clunky, rewrite the part that sounds ugly and clunky." But I don't know. Maybe some people can't "hear" clunkiness like I can?

I also occasionally get people who do sentence fragments. Or who do big giant run-on sentences with way too many clauses. I'm actually sometimes guilty of that but at least my run-on sentences stick to a single topic. (I jokingly blame my long, many-clause sentences on my part-German heritage).

I don't often get someone who "doesn't know what a sentence is" (one of our English profs claimed this was the case with some who came through his classes). But I do get people who can't spell, or who think that they can just put a word in the paper that they heard somewhere and never saw printed out, but that they kind of sort of think they know how to spell it, and how it's used. (I get some people who use badly wrong words in the hope of looking "smart.")

I don't worry so much about passive voice, though few of our students have that problem. I also don't harp as much - at least in the non-majors class - on split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions. (Though I will say I've also seen it argued that both of those are outmoded rules, and that they are actually "ghosts" of people with backgrounds in some other language - Latin, maybe? - claiming things about English syntax that are not necessarily true. I don't know enough to be able to argue one way or another, but in my formal writing I do try not to split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions, just in case my reader is one of the old-school types who has a real problem with that. I admit in my grading I'm mostly happy if people can write coherently and have the important information in their paper, and what I view as smaller "stylistic" touches I'm less likely to note.)

One of the bigger issues I have with some of the research papers - and this may be partly a laziness issue, and an unwillingness to dig as deeply - but a lot of times I get students putting in all kinds of irrelevant information. Meaning, "I found an article on my topic but it's not really on my topic but I need a citation so I'm going to use it any way rather than searching more." So I will get a long discourse on leafcutter ants in a paper that's really over one of the local ant species or something. And I find that some of the students are a little stymied or upset when I grade them down on that and tell them the information is "superfluous." I'm not sure best how to counteract that. I know that writing is a very experience-oriented thing, and knowing what information is "right" for a paper, versus what is unnecessary or "too much" or "too off topic" is something you kind of have to just learn for yourself by working. I don't know.

I will say I think my colleague who threw a hissy a couple years ago over some plagiarized papers in his class - and stopped doing them - is having to start doing so again because of this new WATC project. I have to admit I'm kind of gratified by that, in a schadenfreude type of way, because he kind of smugly told me one day, shortly after he decided to stop doing papers, that he was "glad" I still did papers in my classes, because "The students still get writing experience without my having to offer it." Seriously, man, seriously?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Entitled couponers

I often wondered, once a bit of light was shone on "extreme couponing," what would happen in my little town if a couponer got in one of the (few) open lines at a store and gummed up the works.

Well, I saw it yesterday. I had to run to Walgreen's for a few things...mainly a birthday card for a woman at church who is celebrating her 90th. Got my stuff, got in line, realized it wasn't moving.

The woman at the head of the line had  a few items and a stack of coupons, and she was arguing with the cashier. The argument centered around three things, apparently:

1. She wanted to be able to use four coupons on an item; the cashier told her store policy was to allow two (also, it's possible two of the coupons were duplicates).

2. She wanted to apply a coupon for hairspray to a bottle of shampoo, with the argument that the same company made them, so why did it matter?

3. She believed she was due money back because her (multiple for each items) coupon values should exceed the sales price.

And she wasn't nice about it, either. On the rare occasions when I've used coupons, if something went wrong (like, I hadn't read carefully and it was for an item other than what I had), my reaction is "Oh, sorry! Never mind, just ring the thing up at the stated price." I wouldn't think of harassing the checkout person - who usually is in a fairly low-authority job. But this woman did.

The checkout person called the manager, but apparently he either wasn't in or wasn't leaving his office because he never showed. The woman continued to argue: she was DUE these things. It was her RIGHT.

I stood there, feeling sad that I would grow old watching this argument. Under other circumstances, I might have gone and put back the items I was planning to buy and just left, but I really wanted to get that card out.

Finally the person at the cosmetics counter opened her register and the rest of us who were waiting trooped over there. The woman with the coupons was STILL arguing with the cashier after I had paid and was walking out the door.

Look: I have no problem with couponing. I don't do it because I don't take a newspaper (and our local paper stinks, anyway) and also most of the items I've seen on offer for coupons are things I don't buy (convenience foods, kid's cereals....). And I feel like my time is worth more than the thirty cents or whatever I might get back. But I get that some people treat it as a hobby, or as a way of "supplementing" family income without having to work outside the home. And good for them.

But please, please, couponers: don't be a jerk about it. If the store has policies limiting coupon use, don't berate the cashier, who probably didn't make those policies. Don't try to get money off on stuff you don't have coupons for. And try your best NOT to tie up the lines so everyone else behind you is greatly delayed.

I don't know. I see an awful lot of people in my daily life who believe they are "special" to the exclusion of everyone else. It makes living in community harder.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The lone giraffe

I left yesterday afternoon from "home" and got home (the home where I live) today. It's too far to travel to see family; I wish they lived closer or I did. I find myself a little lonely; I have TCM on in the other room just for the sound of another "living" being)

(But not TOO much closer, not like on the same block...I don't know if I could take all of us being all up in each other's business all the time. I find I get overwhelmed too easily by too much stuff going on. And at big family gatherings, I find I wind up just clamming up and not voicing my desires in re: what restaurant to go to or what to do, because not being part of a couple's united front, I usually get voted down, and it just adds to the time it takes to plan anything. My family is not so good at making decisions...)

I will say as one of the few of the "younger" generation who is not's a little different. A little strange. I realize now that I don't count for as much, in a way. I guess that's OK. Still, it's aggravating when I'm hungry and tired and just want LUNCH and it's 1:30 pm and people are still discussing what to do - and it's not my house so I can't just stalk into the kitchen and make a peanut butter sandwich or something.

I don't know. It's been a while since being single hit me this hard. ("The lone giraffe" is how I used to describe it - meaning, that spare giraffe left behind after the Ark departs, because it didn't have a mate). Part of it is, I really don't feel like I have a template to base my life on. All my childhood, I grew up seeing television shows and movies and reading books about families...mostly a mom and a dad and a couple (or more, if you're talking the Waltons) of kids. It was kind of understood that grown-ups were married and had kids. I don't know what one is supposed to do as a single, especially a single without prospects. (The sitcoms now will feed you plenty stories of singles who have friends-with-benefits and such). I admit it, not having been more social, not having tried harder, is one of my bigger regrets. Part of it was that I was awkward and uncomfortable and I always thought I was unattractive and weird and that guys wouldn't like me...

But I got busy in college, planning ahead for my eventual career. And where I was at the time, and what I was involved in....the social opportunities were not appealing to me - go to the bars, or join a sorority (not that I would have been likely to get in one), or be part of the casual "hook up" culture that repulsed me so much. In retrospect I probably should have worked harder to seek out the Christian groups on campus, but the one I tried going to a meeting of...well, they were very theologically conservative, and as a biologist, I didn't feel like having to explain again and again how it really was possible to accept evolution and still believe in God.

By the time I was in grad school, most of my colleagues were married. And of course now, the guys in my age group are mostly multiply-divorced guys. Not that that's such a huge red flag (though a guy who has been through three divorces in twelve years, yeah, that's kind of a red flag), but one guy I started out hanging around with, I soon realized he wanted a woman in his life mostly to be a stepmom to his kids and a housekeeper for him. And while I would have nothing against being a stepmom, and I have nothing against pitching in on housework...I don't want that to be the primary reason someone's interested in me.

So, I don't know. What do people who are in their 40s and 50s do on holidays? I don't think I'm going to be able to travel home for Thanksgiving this year because of how my schedule goes. I don't like the chirpy "brave" suggestions that some magazines make, about rounding up a group of similarly-situationed friends and having Thanksgiving together....I really only know one other person who is unattached without close-by family, and I'm not sure I'd be up for cooking a big dinner with him. Or spending an entire afternoon with him.

For that matter, I'm not wild about the suggestion of going and working in a soup kitchen or somewhere on the holiday. For one thing, I know lots of local families that do would just remind me more of my aloneness to be one of the few singles there. And also, the local place has turned away volunteers on holidays before - because there are too many. That's a good thing, but I think it would kind of hurt to show up with that as your only plan for the day and to be told, "Sorry, we don't need you."

The question is how to find a way to "do" the day without risking falling into self-pity. I know one year when I thought my travel plans were going to fall through that I figured I'd just make a big thermos of soup and stay in bed reading most of the day. (But that borders on self-pity).

The bigger fear that all of this is a stalking horse for, is what do single people do after their parents are gone, if their siblings live too far away/are too involved with their own lives? Do they just get used to making a turkey sandwich for Thanksgiving or going and working at the soup kitchen on Christmas? How long does it take a person to get used to having no presents to open on Christmas morning? (Yes, I realize, it's childish, but - I like having at least one present to open that is NOT something I bought for myself).

I don't know. I do great during working hours, during busy times - in fact, I often find I wish I was around people LESS than I am some days - but during the quiet times, the long weekends or the holiday times, if I don't travel to visit family, I can get kind of lonely and stir-crazy. Yes, I have friends - but most of my friends are part of a larger family and I don't like intruding on family time (I'm sure some of them would say it wasn't intruding....but then again, sometimes even in my extended families I feel at times like an intrusion). Or I have other friends who are kind of flaky about planning and schedules and who do stuff like say "We should get together!" but then can never settle on a time, or who back out at the last moment. And there's only so many times I can be thrown on my own devices before I stop asking those friends. (Am I the only person with flaky friends? It seems there are a lot of people in my life who just can't be on time/keep appointments/not change plans at the last minute).

I know this is one of the ways in which I am selfish: I want my time alone when I want it, and yet, I also want people to interact with. I'm just not very good at going about it.