Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Tuesday Too # 27

1.) Are you dreaming now? How do you know you are, or how do you know you're not?

No, because I am too aware of deadlines, my to do list, and time to be dreaming. I rarely - or never remember anyway - dream about working at my computer in my office.

2.) What's going on that really makes your life a source of wonderment?

At the moment, something very small, that to me is profound - the colander full of fresh organic produce that I harvest every day.

3.) Why do you think you're here, and where is "here" anyway?

Here is a lovely place we call upstate New York, in the year we label 2002. Why am I here? Because this general region has always been my home, because my ancestors settled here, a few were already here, my immediate and much of my extended family stayed here, and I chose not to stray too far away. I think the "big picture" reason is a learning process that unfolds throughout one's life...is it ever definitively answered, for anyone or everyone? Yes. No. Maybe. Ask me again sometime.

Friday, August 23, 2002

I have to make this snappy because there's much to do before we head for Samsonville. I was interrupted with a phone call this afternoon, as I worked on my class. I'm not a phone person, and in fact during non-business hours I rarely answer it, and I almost never check the answering machine. It was something of a shock, and a difficult call, from a troubled (ex?) friend. If I knew who was calling, I probably would not have picked up. I do have caller ID, but the box needs batteries (there's a lesson there somewhere). I have already written several fiction pieces based on this relationship; it might make a book, but then it might be too likely to hurt. But I will write a bit more about all of this here, later.
It's 70 degrees today and that almost seems cold. I had a grilled cheese and tomato for lunch; if fresh tomatoes aren't one of the best things about August, then whether the sky is blue is also debatable. I am getting ready for the semester. I am taking the opposite approach from what is the norm; I am transforming an online course into an on-campus one. It's an interesting, creative process.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Whipped up a dinner of roasted corn, cucumber salad, grilled zucchini, and I picked my first tomato today. It is very late for the tomatoes to just be starting to ripen; the plants are gorgeous, but the tomatoes stay green. The green bean crop is about over, it was cut short by an animal that decided to feast on the plants a couple of weeks ago. I figured it for a woodchuck, but then this morning there were the culprits, plain as day: a doe and a fawn were in the yard! Not a strange sight at all in Samsonville, where tall fences surround all gardens, but unheard of in Castleton. Sigh. I guess the hounds were off duty. Does this mean that next year I'll have to fence my veggies here too?
The answer to my "what will I choose" question from yesterday turned out to be (1) taking a nap; (2) writing out bills; and (3) a small amount of straightening up. Yes, I did some surfing - as always it is hard to make generalizations about such a huge population, especially without scientific design, but something has continually nagged at me since I discovered the world of blogging; that not only is it often another forum of ignorance, it is also extremely "cliquey," in a tunnel vision, incestuous kind of way. Add one more group to the tired jocks-greasers-freaks-geeks-whatevers. And, of course, only our erudite clique of knows all, sees all, reports all first bloggers, wink wink, has the truth on [fill in the blank: most commonly something to do with media, the US president, another politician, corporations, law enforcement, constitutional issues, international affairs, religion, the Internet]. Anyone who disagrees with us, is [pick one: clueless, pathetic, ignorant, deluded, evil].

My favorite posts tend to be personal; what some would call "banal." I make no apologies for disliking the fake journalism, the political, the rants on various subjects. To me, the profound is the stuff of daily living; the important questions have more to do with the way one lives life, the way one treats others, the beauty in the joy, the pain, the ordinary and extraordinary experiences, and what this moment in time, and space, means in the scheme of things. I don't want to be bombarded with a written version of cable news, that is even more one sided and narrow minded. I don't see much good in disliking an individual, or a group, over something as insignificant and petty as their party affiliation. It strikes me as immature and silly.

However, on occasion I stumble across something irritating enough that it forces me to not ignore it. At the moment, lots of folks are pretty worked up over a letter to the editor, critical of the US, written by someone self-described as a Canadian. I'm not bothering to link to it, because I don't feel like promoting such hostile stuff. The clique members are obsessed with various methods for tracking links and hits in search engines and that sort of thing, and that's a party I am not going to join. [email me if you must have the link.] My experience is that anything that is labeled an "Open Letter to..." is generally very self-important and only worth reading for comic purposes. The writer could use many hours on the couch, to deal with "issues." And maybe envy might be one?

Naturally, some of the responding commentary is very defensive; there is a big struggle to be a card carrying member of the group "I hate the US even more than you do, I'm not responsible for corporate and government actions, I am an American citizen, I try to be an activist, don't blame me for all the cited things about my culture that are true, but are not my fault and are not to my liking." A significant, and often pretty loud, segment in this land of cliques has little historical context, and so, at this millennium, the sky is falling! "A decade does not an era make," a history professor, wiser than the writer, once said in class.

A bunch of random, but connected, thoughts come to me as I follow the debate. I know it is in fashion, in comtemporary times, to bash the USA, from both within and without. But I usually don't care for what's in fashion. I'm not seeking to join the "I hate the US more, but I am personally offended by the letter writer" group; I don't support the letter, either, and at the same time, I am not a "rah rah" defender of a plastic-sitcom/reality television-fast food lifestyle. Some promoters (often also not Americans) of the letter are gentler, but claim that detractors (from both the "I hate the USA too" club and the "rah-rah" club) haven't articulated good rebuttals to the points in the letter. I say, why bother? Bluster is best met with a smile.

I'm proud to be American, a native New Yorker, and from a rural area. So there. I have just short of 41 years of experience in this role. My lack of shame isn't an insult to others, its a compliment to my family, my friends, my teachers, and my heritage. Roots are important to me, and mine are deep. Some of my ancestors came here from the Palatine in 1710, from Ireland in the mid-1800s, and from Italy in 1912; a few were already here. I am thrilled that this assorted collection made my life possible. I refuse to let someone else define me, or my experience of my home, my nation, my community, and my culture.

A few weeks ago, I could barely breathe for several days, from smoke that drifted over the Catskills, created by a fire that was burning in Canada. The tortured Premarin foals are in Canada. And, one cause of the pollution cloud in the news recently is the Eastern practice of burning dung as fuel for outdoor cooking pots. Yes, Virginia, we are interconnected, and the relationship is a complicated one. Should I write nasty attack letters to the editor? Well, I could, I suppose, but I believe that anything that decreases civility (road rage, lawsuits, bad attitudes) does nothing to advance leading a healthy life.

I always wonder, when I read this sort of thing, how the writer actually lives on a day-to-day basis, that is, when not spewing with a poison pen. I mean, it is pretty lame, I think, to get so self righteous about the big picture when your little picture is all screwed up. Does s/he consume? Use electricity? How about water? Are organics composted, or thrown in a landfill? Does s/he drive a gasoline powered car? Alone? What's for supper tonight? Is that an air conditioner? A heating system? What kind of person are you, as a neighbor, co-worker, family member? Here's a news flash. What the author labels with frustration as blind ignorance might really be self-actualization. There's wisdom in that placid demeanor, baby. Or are you too busy crafting fighting words to understand?

A closing note on this subject, regarding the common practice of using lengthy excerpts of other's works in ejournals. I see song lyrics, poetry, prose quoted everywhere. Not plagiarized, but also not paid for. Is there no "fair use" rule? Or is that another facet of the various fights about "control" in this wild, wild west of the Internet? Hmmm. Another example of the electronic world's troublesome nature for a writer; it is good, and it is bad. I mention this because the sentiments in "Open Letter" called to mind Fire and Ice by Robert Frost. Now, I know that's from 1920, but I still think you should go and consult the printed volume on your shelf. (Here's a Frost site if you can't do that.)

Something more interesting than any of the above is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, which will be held September 21-28, 2002. Groups and individuals on the fringe, both left and right, and neither left nor right, mount challenges to books in schools and libraries. In my class this summer, I had a few individuals who supported parental involvement in curriculum to a fault. I don't believe in stifling unpopular views in class, because my status as instructor makes the relationship unequal, so I let the students debate this one. My intervention was only in providing a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books, so that all the extremists could see their favorite works are often the ones targeted, right along with whatever book they feel should be removed. Anyway, my message here is simply this: Reading is Good.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Two weeks until the semester begins, one week until the online course must be ready. I've committed to a "third course," but it will be composed of administrative work in graduate admissions and advisement for the department, not teaching. So, adding in the graduate student mentoring, and the (potential) contract writing that I already expressed interest in when I submitted my last brochure in June, it looks like my time is filled. The good part is that it means no anxious, hungry scrambling for work; the bad part is that it leaves little time for creative freelancing. If the book contract comes through, I'll be writing in the wee hours to make the deadline. If it doesn't, I'll have to be very careful to not put the project aside for a few years. But, I always accomplish more than expected when I am too busy, and find myself tearing apart my head when I am not.

So I have a few days until I have to post the online course introduction, and the weather, while still on the hot side, is more pleasant today - opening up many options. I should clean, the house surely needs it. I should write up some checks and mail bills. I should do some yard work. I could take a nap. Or write. Or surf. Or cook something special. Or brush the excess hair out of Rudy, and get the mats out of Edna (Sophie still has little hair, although she could use a bath). Rudy loves it, Edna does not. Sophie watches warily. Does she wish for hair, I wonder, or is she hoping to not be the next to be groomed? Anyway, the question is, what will I choose?
As an "Independent," I have started to get bombarded with mailings from candidates. The governor's race in particular is sending me a lot of junk. I like the idea of third parties, and I dislike third party endorsements of one of the major two party candidates; in other words, I believe this is hijacking the idea of a third party, and that they should run their own person. The mail carrier might just as well throw the circulars directly into my paper recycling bin, and save me the trouble of sorting.

Tuesday Too #26

1.) Here's something to RANT about: "Nigerian woman loses battle..."

In the past, I had more clear views on such subjects...it was all academic. Kind of like debating whether standardized testing is a good or bad way to assess student achievement. Interesting, important, but also dry, distant stuff. Now, since 9/11, things are different. Now I can't even articulate how I feel. How about "sad?"

2.) After reading the above article, most questions seem trivial; however, isn't something like this beyond toleration/acceptance of "other cultures ways of doing things?"

I think so.

3.) Explain your yes position on question # 2, and tell us what should/can we as individuals, or nations do about it? If you answered no to question # 2, tell us why we should should close our eyes to injustice in other nations.

See my answer to #1. What can I do about it? Try to live my life the best way I can, and be thankful, but realize how tiny it is, in the scheme of things - I mean, over time and space. And pray!

Monday, August 19, 2002

I am seriously upset tonight about the tapes of dogs being tortured and killed with nerve gas that are everywhere on the news. I can't switch the channel fast enough, because I can't have those images carved in my brain. I hate people who are cruel to animals. I mean I really, really, really, really hate them, and I have no apologies for these feelings. None. My beloved dogs!
Spent all weekend swimming, and visiting, leading to another tired Monday. From the pool, you can look out across the big (hay) field toward the road, and in the evening there are deer scattered about, grazing. It's a beautiful sight. I think I have really mastered grill cooking; in this never ending heat, I refuse to turn on even the surface burners of the stove. I roast foil-wrapped corn and beets this way, and make other veggie combinations in a cast-iron frying pan on the grill. All the goodness, flavor and nutrition-wise, stays in, but the extra heat stays out.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Just took my first swim...it was heavenly. I also located the old book I mentioned on Wednesday, and it is called simply Mother Goose. The inscription "to Florence from Grandma" is dated 1939, and the condition of the book, while fragile, is better than I remember. The rhyme is as I remember it; "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride; if turnips were watches, I would wear one by my side." The rest, from Abby, is not in my version.

On the education front, here's a very interesting issue of Daedalus, with some articles online.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Dancing around, reminiscing about childhood. In Dear Abby recently, someone wrote in to ask what is the next line in an old nursery rhyme they remembered. Yesterday and today, response letters were printed. I didn't recall the quoted fragment from the earlier letter, "if "ifs" and "ans" were pots and pans," but a reader yesterday said the following line is "there would be no need for tinkers." They also reported that the beginning of the poem is "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride; if turnips were watches, I would wear one by my side." That part rang a bell, and got me hunting for an old book. (Yes, hunting, not looking.) Most of the people who wrote in to Abby probably are older than me, and they recalled their mothers or grandmothers quoting the verse to them. The book I am seeking is called something like Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes, and I think it was second hand at the time it was given to my mother by her grandmother. This is not precise, because the hunt was stalled by the sudden memory of the book on a bookshelf at the other house in Samsonville. As I recall, it was in need of TLC even before I read it many times as a kid. And even then I knew that a few of the rhymes were not PC (we didn't call it that, though). Anyway there's something else I will do this weekend besides swim!

Tidbits on BlogSisters about children's freedom and safety in the past and today; about playing sports as a girl; also about children's fantasy stories in books and popular movies. Then, Elaine wrote a couple posts on related subjects - vintage copies of children's literature, and the innovative sharing of books. I love everything about the idea of bookcrossing.com, but my attachment to my volumes makes it hard to part with all but duplicate copies (except for Mark Twain, where I jealously guard the dupes too), even if this obsession makes it hard to fit anything bigger than a loveseat in the livingroom (it's tight, but two humans, two canines, and a feline manage fine). Unless I weeded books I didn't care for much; but who wants to spread those?

Anyway, I expanded my hunt somewhat and came up with five children's books from days gone by. Three my mother gave me as a gift for my birthday last year: Little Pets Pleasure Book (n.d.), The Three Little Kittens (1922), and Noah's Ark (1889). The latter belonged to Edna Merrihew, a distant relative that we discovered by accident in our genealogy quest. Some papers of hers were among the contents of an old house that my cousin, who sells antiques, acquired. The illustrations are gorgeous! A fourth is Peter and Polly in Autumn (1918); this is a book that my mother and her brother read at the Bushkill School. It is for more advanced beginning readers and I liked it a lot when I was a kid, too. The last is from my own carefree, headed to the general store on a spider bike without a helmet days as a supremely "non-jock," also "non-girly" girl, and it is Pinocchio, a very brief, but wonderful living story book version from 1960.

I don't know what became of the longer Pinocchio story that my father read to me over and over when I was small, but last year I bought a 1986 English translation of the original and read it through. It had lost none of its charm. I am remembering the pair of marionettes, Pinocchio and Gepetto, that Daddy would dance around, acting out the story and other adventures. How much I protested when they had to go to sleep in their shoe box home, to have their strings untangled the following day. They now are suspended from the rafters in the garage at my parents' house, and over the years those two have acquired some peers in a pair of puppets my brother got in Mexico, and a space man complete with green lightbulb head that my father made as part of a Halloween costume. The puppet who wanted to be a real boy and his woodcarver father, after a long break, expanded their repertoire a few years ago, and in the company of the other marionettes (sans the space man, however) they made a couple of appearances on a cardboard stage that once was a washing machine box, taking part in a parody of the puppeteer's favorite show on the Nashville Network.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Finished adding all the pinback button images to the Virtual Museum. That makes the July/August exhibit four pages long! (Maybe it will serve for September too.) Now I have to take the 22 sheets of poster board and figure out how to re-display them in "reality."
Tuesday Too # 25

1.) What is your favorite freeware program?

Adobe Acrobat Reader is hard to beat, but in terms of less known, Print Screen Works.

2.) Do you think the way the internet has changed the world is essentially a good thing? Why or why not?

Like most everything, it has bad elements, but definitely yes, I think it has been a very good thing. It has increased access to shopping, information, and education. It has made it easier to communicate at work, and across distances, with all sorts of others: family, friends, peers, strangers, vendors and providers.

3.) Is there something that's really bothering you these days? It might be personal, political, scientific or just downright kinky. What is it?

The main issue that has preoccupied me, since I was a teenager, is death.

Monday, August 12, 2002

It is so hot! I worked on staining the fence for our retaining wall project today, but just for a short time. Even with a straw hat the sun is too strong. I can't wait until the weekend, so that I can swim. Ma reports that the pool is 3/4 full, and that she and Daddy went swimming today. But as she would say I shouldn't wish my life away. I did order a new bathing suit from Land's End in anticipation, however.

In a day or so I have to return to curriculum, getting ready for my fall classes and mentoring a graduate student. Until then, I am "stealing time," and I have a full to do list in the works. In an effort to finish up my pinback button project, I scanned all 22 sheets of buttons. Tomorrow I will add them to the Virtual Museum. I received a newsletter in the mail, from the Small Publisher's Association of North America (SPAN). It is a complimentary copy, sent to me because of my membership in NAWW. I am not quite ready to go that route yet - although waiting to hear from Black Dome Press is excrutiating - but it got me thinking.

The jury's still out on this ejournaling endeavor. I went this route so that my website would have some content updated regularly, to spark me to write more, because I have always liked journaling, and doing it this way sounded innovative and fun. I did not really pursue this because I wished to join an online community. I did establish a web presence for networking purposes, in the sense of marketing and publication, but I guess I never imagined the Blogger world, where the homepage reports that in July, there were 1.5 million posts per minute, on average. That's incredible.

So, it has been sucessful in serving the functions I envisioned, and I am satisfied with that. On the other hand, there certainly are enjoyable aspects of the community; it is fun to surf around, read, and occasionally participate via comments, but my goals here had little or nothing to do with that part of the experience. Posting is not a problem, but without discipline, the community part can be a significant time waster. And although there are many, many gems among those mind-boggling 1.5 million, there is also a vast forum of ignorance operating. That's one more forum of ignorance, when in my experience, already there were too many. Filtering can be an exhausting, and very time consuming process. Irritating too. Some argue about the merits of web logging v. traditional journalism. I don't know whether that is an interesting or worthy debate. Since when did journaling become the same as journalism? Would that be the same time as when shouting heads on cable became news? All I can say is that apart from Saundra Smokes, I don't have much affection for print op-eds, either.

Anyway, SPAN's newsletter came - traditionally via the USPS - and as I scanned it I thought, I should work on my Mimmie book, because regardless of how it makes it to print, it sure will make it someday. (The fuel provided may be worth the price of membership?) Another incentive was provided by my mother, who sent me a Paypal donation yesterday :-). The proposal is three chapters; the remainder of the book is a work-in-progress, so today, in this heat, music off, fan whirling, dogs asleep, I resisted any surfing in the world of blogs (that's what other people write; me, I still journal) or other net temptations, and made one more small step toward realizing the dream that has been guiding me since 1996.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Yesterday we spent the day at the Cobleskill Sunshine Fair. It was a very hot day, but it is such a beautiful ride, through a region that I really like. I always enjoy county fairs; I like to look at the animals, especially the goats, although I walk through every barn and admire all the livestock. It is fun to view the other agriculture, and to compare the produce to the things I grow. I can't eat as much junky food as I did in the past, but I had a soft ice cream cone from a local vendor. I don't care for the midway, or the carnival aspects, but that part is not overwhelming at Cobleskill. We may take in a couple of other fairs before the season is over.

Friday, August 09, 2002

Today's headline for "family" link in AOL: "TV Violence, Mean Kids Linked."

I guess that must be from a study in the incredible and impressive scholarly journal Duh.
Yea! Finally...Here's the Tuesday + More Than Two

1.) Is honesty always the best policy? Relate a plausible scenario where this might not be the case.

Yes, honesty is the best policy, always, so I have no other scenario. But it is important to keep in mind that "honesty" is not the same thing as "tactlessness." So, for example, when my trying alcoholic ex-friend said to me, "are you avoiding me?" My answer could not be, "yes," which perhaps was the truth, but it was also unkind. My response was honest, however: "I can't deal with you when you are drinking." In some ways, that is harder than fibbing, or tactlessness. Also, not volunteering information isn't the same thing as being dishonest.

2.) Are you someone of who can't say no? If you're not, tell those of us who are, how to overcome the yes syndrome.

I've learned the importance of saying "no." It is difficult, but the alternative is worse. Some people still will push it, even when the answer is "no," and they will coax and prod. They are manipulative, and they try get a yes instead, or at the very least, a maybe. But in my experience, saying "yes," or "maybe," when the answer should be "no" generally translates into doing something and feeling resentment that builds over time, or when the time rolls around to keep your commitment, blowing it off and avoiding doing it. This disappoints the other person, and leads to hard feelings. So it is really better for everyone to just say a firm "no," mean it, and make no excuses or apologies. Whether the answer is "yes" or "no," keep your word happily, and this approach will lead to lots of respect. Seriously, it gets easier over time, so practice!

3.) What's your remedy for sleepless nights?

It depends what ails me. I always take a long time to fall asleep, and usually I toss and turn for a while. If it is a headache, I take Tylenol (actually I buy the generic). If it is joint or muscle pain, Motrin (again, the generic version). If it is my stomach, I try Brioschi (? not the generic, but I don't know how it is spelled). If there is something on my mind, I get up and read, write, do work, or surf on the computer. I try to get tired. I think, and attempt to work out the problem that is bothering me until exhaustion takes over.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Two brutal days of work in the hot sun, and the pool is up! It now has about a foot of water in it. And it has turned cold. Having trouble getting jf's site to load - so the Tuesday Too may have to wait 'til Wednesday.

Saturday, August 03, 2002

A while ago I posted on BlogSisters about my feelings on the past, and I followed up here with something lighthearted. I enjoy researching family history; sometimes I hear from people all over the country who have encountered my name in their own searching and wish to make a connection. Most recently someone related to my grandmother Mimmie's family contacted me, and since I have spent since 1996 writing a book about Mimmie, this was especially thrilling.

Also, I am interested in U.S. history in general, and I subscribe to (and love) American Heritage magazine. In the current issue, a letter to the editor about an article from the October 2001 issue on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the author's response, sparked me to hunt through my magazine stack (one more time I was glad to be a packrat, and yes, I do have to "hunt," rather than "look") and read the story in question.

It is kind of surprising that I didn't read the story at the time. Also back in October a person researching genealogy - this time on my grandfather's family - got in touch with me. Recently they emailed me again and I had to go through my records to figure out who they were! This would be no big deal except that I am blessed with a really great memory. But, I guess after 9/11 things were blurry for quite some time. (No, it wasn't because of turning 40!)

Anyway, back to September 1857. The American Heritage story has been haunting me for days. Then, yesterday I discovered that the article has also been posted on the Web here.

Friday, August 02, 2002

Last day of class. The papers are pouring in. The university's deadline for grades is August 8, which is a bit better than during a regular semester. Sunday we are going to put up our pool, and I never get a lot of work done when I am at the other house. Although I will have to spend some time grading while I'm there - we are staying through August 7, making it inevitable - I am hoping to make a significant dent in the electronic pile today. I have been trying to stay on top of the class up until now, because I wanted to avoid the usual end-of-semester crush. It is great to work at home - but schedules and vacation don't have the same meaning as in the flashcube world.

Something I have been doing in my "spare" time is organizing and re-displaying my pinback button collection. A very few images make up my current virtual museum at Gully Brook Press. In the process of doing this, I came across this great site for collectors. Also, in re-acquainting myself with my pins, I remembered that I have one from 1932 that I cannot identify. The guy who has the button site had never seen one before either, and so he is going to put it in his mystery buttons section. My brother found it about 20 years ago in his first circa-1920s house. Anyone have any ideas?