Friday, February 28, 2003

Spring break is next week. This means the on campus class doesn't meet (after being cancelled last week due to snow), but the online class chugs along as usual. When I attended training classes to learn how to teach over the Internet, we were advised not to go on hiatus, since some students attend campuses that do not have the same schedule, and also because students usually appreciate being able to focus on the course while their other classes are not in session. Also, the nature of the delivery method means students can access it from anywhere, whether it is the beach at Daytona, their parents' livingroom, or a Kinko's somewhere. This is my ninth semester of online teaching, and it has never been an issue before, so I figure that the trainer was correct in that advice. Then comes this semester, where a handful of students are really, really pissed. Maybe because it has been a long winter?

We are studying the philosophy of education in both sections right now. It has never been my favorite subject, because it involves some pretty dense lecturing to get the material across. However, this year I am using group exercises in class, and the online groups' assignments are to come up with discussion questions based on the themes of the class. (The on campus groups make presentations at the end of the semester.) Because of student feedback from last semester, I have been putting a lot of effort into the online group activity. The philosophy of education group came up with interesting questions that focused on preferences regarding personal teaching philosophies.

I was thinking about their questions, about how non-authortarian student-centered methods sound so appealing, but how a lot of the time authortarian teacher-centered methods wind up winning out. I really struggle with this. I much prefer, when teaching in the classroom, the formal organization of rows with me at the desk or lectern. Oh, I make an effort to walk around a bit, but mostly in the front of the class. I'm not a big status hog, but for some reason I've never liked the sitting in a circle approach, not now, not when I was a student. It is a trivial example, but it illustrates what happens much of the time, the lecture, or as we say, "chalk and talk." Me getting a sore throat and them filling up notebooks. I guess I'm not great at facilitating discussion, although when my evaluations come back that isn't what they say. Students think we discuss more in class than in many of their other classes, which really shows the in general emphasis on lecturing.

On the other hand, although I control the organization, the online class seems much more student-centered, perhaps because of the type of student who signs up, and also because of the delivery method. The discussion in online learning is greatly enhanced, in spite of losing the body language aspect. Everyone contributes, which most definitely does not happen in the classroom. Students are much more reluctant to speak up in class. I know I always was, even if I had something good to say. Lots of students simply are not glib, and a few dominate.

Interesting, the most student-centered activity in both classes - the group - is favored by most students in the classroom, and hated by many students in the electronic section. This is probably because the on campus students are more social, and it is a nice break from teacher-centeredness for them. Also because the preference is for independent, self-directed learning among the online cohort, and a bit because of the difficulty of "meeting" using the electronic delivery method.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Saturday will be the one year anniversary of this website and ejournal.

It has been an interesting year. I get occasional emails from folks who stumble here. The majority are genealogy inquiries. Among the non-genealogical, the one that stands out was from Officer David Lim, because of my story about Sirius.

There are so many electronic journals on the Internet, and more now than a year ago. It is hard to make generalizations about something so huge. In fact, that's about all one can say with certainty. But why should that prevent me from elaborating?

I’ve exceeded my expectations, in terms of maintaining the online journal. When paper journaling, I’ve always had gaps of weeks or months where I put it aside and didn’t write anything. That hasn’t happened here. But I do think, for the next year, I will make an effort to write almost every day, rather than once per week, which was my original goal. I update the remainder of my Gully Brook Press website, namely the newsletter and virtual museum, every other month, and so far that seems to be working. Originally I had planned on once per month, but I couldn't manage it. I think the March-April 2003 focus will be on historic preservation.

My ideas about electronic journaling have evolved, but some of my early impressions contained a bit of truth, too. There is an aspect that I noted early on, this is just another forum of ignorance, the kind of thing that makes me turn off the radio and television, that leads to flames on discussion boards, the sort of reasoning that I struggle to get students not to embrace. There are too many psuedo-journalism rants and not enough well-crafted writing. Everyone’s a commentator. I am reminded of a line of Kathleen Turner’s in “Peggy Sue Got Married;” she was under the stars with the rebel from high school, and he was showing off, trying to shock her, spouting crappy poetry. Her “yuck” is very elaborate, and then she advises him about his future career: “try to write something beautiful.”

I am struck by the anger. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as I have noticed it for about the past decade or more in other aspects of life too, there’s plenty on NPR and Fox News. Whether the media is influencing the culture or vice versa, I don’t know. But there are too many hateful lyrics in songs, too much sarcastic dialogue on television sit-coms, too much shouting in cable news. Sure, it’s all part of our rights, and it’s good to express thoughts and have dialogue. There is something exciting about communication, and how it has changed, and at the same time remained the same. (See yesterday's entry.) Personally, though, I am sick of loud, ignorant people on the so-called left and right. To me, this isn’t art, or even news.

Certainly there are way too many angry drivers on the road; this became more apparent in my quest to get a license. So I gave up. I think I’m just not mad enough to drive. Sometimes I click randomly at; I like the recently updated list because it isn’t sensitive to popularity. I find interesting things this way, often a lot more interesting than the usual suspects. But I find anger too. Do people only feel inspired when they are upset about something? Are they just spoiled? Or is being happy out of fashion?

A few days ago I was listening to the NPR station. Local commentator Paul Elisha was so angry I had to stop and take note, instead of tuning it out or turning it off, as I usually do when my private thoughts are more interesting than the speaker. Sparked by a pro-life rally in Washington, he argued in an editorial even more irrational than what’s now commonplace that abortion opponents are responsible for - well, just about every negative policy and belief in society you can name. One that comes to mind that made no sense at all was environmental destruction. I was speechless; too bad I can’t say the same for Mr. Elisha. At that moment, I resolved to never make a donation to the station again. We’ve never given huge sums but we do listen and enjoy some of the programming. We have contributed here and there during fund drives. So another place will benefit instead. My favorite charity - the Mohawk and Hudson River Humane Society - is more worthy anyway.

Part of the "shouting" problem may be the whole millennium idea; that people become obsessed with doomsday logic when centuries change - Y2K being even more scary. And there may be a tinge of the fear of death; the majority cannot imagine that times before, or after their own lives mattered as much. It is an unthinkable concept, that life goes on - do we matter?

Back to the Internet diaries, the whole idea of an A-list surprised me. That isn’t something I predicted. Again, I don’t know why, because why should the electronic world be immune to petty cliques and mob mentality? It’s only another social grouping, albeit using modern tools. Sometimes I amuse myself by thinking of the whole A-list concept, that I suppose it is payback time in a way. Seems to me that there are a lot of ejournalists who are or were geeks or nerds or whatever label is appropriate. Former dot-commers who now have a lot of time on their hands. Some consider themselves writers (which I mistakenly assumed would be the majority when I started) but many do not.

I think 90% of nerds probably were wishing to be included with the popular kids in high school, if only they had better clothes, cooler parents, a car and maybe tweezed eyebrows and a few less zits. They really weren’t above all that, most were as shallow as the jocks, they just had better grades. So now they are empowered by a keyboard, and well, it could be that aging has been kind (if not there’s always Photoshop). I'm not exempting myself from the nerd label by the way, although the truth is I've always been closer to that vast group that occupies the unremarkable middle, in spite of my being fairly studious. And not once have I wished to join a clique.

I'm still not sure about self-censoring, and how much is a good idea. The public nature of ejournaling makes that question even more complicated. I'm also not certain if the time it will take me to write here frequently would be better spent writing short stories, query letters and working on a book. As long as I remain productive, I have always thought journal writing is good practice, keeps the words flowing, and encourages more writing. So it will be important for me to keep track of whether that is true.

Another surprise, and my final thought on the year (at least for now), is that I believe I received more feedback when I sent essays via email to a group I called “test readers.” But using that method there were no anonymous visitors from Google. I dug out a bound journal that I bought at Borders & Books last year and have started to do a bit of writing in that, too. I guess some things lend themselves to paper.

Oh! My sister, maker of Annie McSpirit soap, has many talents. She sells some of the folk art she makes on ebay. Lucindy is one of her more ambitious pieces (I think the link won't work after the auction ends on March 6).

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Here I am reading a book of letters written by a Civil War soldier in 1863-65, fast forward to 2003 and this link, Lt. Smash, also written by a soldier. Wow. Sometimes the Internet still amazes me!

Monday, February 24, 2003

I finished The Blind Assassin a few days ago. Margaret Atwood's books are a little strange, but she is such a good writer. Also versatile. She may be my favorite contemporary author of fiction? Changing genres, I am now reading A War to Petrify the Heart, which is a collection of Civil War letters written by Richard Van Wyck, a soldier from Dutchess County, New York. I am up to just after the Battle of Gettysburg. Next up is the Delaney sisters' Having Our Say.
This is clever. (Thanks for the link, L.) There is a simple reason it works, but it is more fun not to know.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

The proposal is ready to be mailed. I can't identify how I feel, but it's neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I've been working on this for so long I guess I think wait and see, afraid to go too much in either direction.

We saw The Hours yesterday. I'm not sure whether I liked it. I guess I did, but maybe I'm not sure how much I liked it? It was a complex movie. The acting was great. The story was very interesting. Also sad, and I don't know whether it really added up. It was kind of Hollywood. What I mean is, as you watch it, you just know everyone will gush over it, it had all the necessary ingredients. American Beauty was like that too. Quality movies, but definitely not at all indie. Something that bothered me: it is a story that focused so much on women - and to me it was obvious it was written by a man. I'm not saying that a man can't write about women and do a good job, but there seemed to be something missing from this story. I was left thinking, this won the Pulitzer? Maybe the book was a lot better? Why not make something actually written by Virginia Woolf into a movie instead? Kind of ironic.

Part of my mood afterwards was influenced by going to a newish bar, Mad River, for a late lunch. I'd tried to go there three times before, each time unsuccessfully. The first time, for lunch, it was 11 am, they didn't have their act together and were very rude, so I ate across the street. The second time, about dinner time, there had just been a fender bender in front of the building, one of the involved parties was shouting the f-word and a variety of other obscenities, and it seemed like a good idea to go elsewhere. The third time, later at night, it was so packed there was no getting inside. Yesterday, we went to a matinee, then to Mad River. It wasn't crowded, several men were at the bar, and a couple of tables in the back were occupied.

Although completely renovated before it opened, the place had a look that said it would be better served by it being late at night and dark; a place where people do shots, smoke packs of cigarettes, talk in loud voices, and throw up in the bathroom. At one of the tables, there were three women and a little boy maybe 7 or 8 years old. At first I figured they were having lunch and a quick drink, but as our meal progressed, it became apparent that they were starting the night of drinking. They were very made up, hair permed and dyed, wearing evening clothes, drinking multiple rounds of Cosmopolitans. One had a shiner. I couldn't estimate ages - maybe around my age, maybe younger but showing wear. The snippets of conversation I could overhear surrounded vacations, partying, and passing out. I wondered if they had been home, or if this was merely a continuation of the night before. The only food consumed was one order of cheese sticks that they shared. I used the bathroom after one of the three women and was greeted by a thick cloud of perfume. The bathroom decor said recent, but it was already beat up, the door wouldn't lock, and there were scuff marks all over the door, I assume from using one foot to hold it shut.

They were still there drinking when we left. The depressing scene reminded me of my ex-friend, alcoholic D., in the days when she made the rounds. And the image of that poor boy, squirming in his chair, was with me all night. The kid had obviously spent many a night in bars.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Sophie is recovered, and I can put away the benedryl. It was caused by Mountain Fresh scent Tide! After the new washing machine was installed, we washed her futon, also several blankets. She's always either in the living room, on the couch wrapped in a blanket, or in the kitchen laying on her futon. Not a real active dog! I prefer Arm & Hammer laundry soap, but Bob likes Tide - so we usually have a jug of each around. Generally though we have the unscented varieties, since I am somewhat sensitive to perfumes and dyes. But not this time. So I re-washed everything in unscented Arm & Hammer. She still has some large scabby patches from where she scratched herself raw.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

For only the second time in memory, classes were cancelled today (boo hoo). And it is looking like no Tuesday Too again. So lots of things about animals today. (Also, I am now on the mend after feeling really miserable from running a 101 degree temperature. Oh, the new washer arrived pre-latest-snow.)

Since last evening, Sophie is having a terrible allergic reaction. More than her usual summer rashes, she is covered with dime-sized hives, and she's miserable. She can't sit still, and she spends her time crying/howling. She's on benedryl, and I guess it is helping, but not enough. I have no idea what is causing it, last time she had a reaction this bad it was to a bee sting - and bees, or really all bugs, are just a dim memory right now. Poor special needs hound. If she isn't better by tomorrow, I guess she'll have to go to the vet.

There is now so much snow that my fence looks like it is 12" high. I'll have to watch Rudy, because if we get an icy coating on what this last storm left, he'll be able to hop over it easily.

And in other news, Edna puked right on the bed yesterday.

Finally, I saw something in yesterday's paper that really, really irritated me. It was in both the New York Times and the Albany Times Union. Someone at the NYC anti-war protest on Saturday punched a police horse in the face. I can't think of a thing that would excuse such behavior. I hope the guilty party is held accountable as if assaulting a human police officer, because I doubt the infraction rises to the level of the Buster Law (and even if it did, that is never enough punishment anyway). In fact, generally I oppose the death penalty, but for this particular offense, I'll have to make an exception. (And in case you're wondering, I'm almost serious.)

Friday, February 14, 2003

I definitely have a cold, complete with sinus headache.

But on the bright side - I received a letter in the mail, from the potential publisher, saying yes, send the proposal! Yea! And so quickly!

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Sya has a fun link called Castle Arcana.

I think I am getting a cold. Ugh. One really great thing about teaching exclusively online is that there is no exposure to the hot bed of diseases running rampant on campus. This is the second semester I have been on campus - and just once per week! - and this will be my second cold. It's no wonder, the students are sneezing and coughing all over the place. And probably handing me contaminated papers. Before last semester's, I can't remember the last cold I had. I have not quite given up hope that the symptoms are merely a reaction to the brutal cold temperatures and dryness of the air, but that possibility is dimming. I am trying to overdose on zinc and Vitamin C. I also have a pot of turkey soup brewing. And a cup of ginger-lemon tea.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Myrtle McSpirit
SCHENECTADY Myrtle McSpirit, 98, died Saturday, February 8, 2003 at Kingsway Arms Nursing Center where she had resided since 1975. A former resident of Albany, she had worked as a seamstress and as a factory worker in a bottling plant. She had no known surviving relatives. A service will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at Zwack & Sons, 633 Central Ave., Albany. Interment will follow in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands. (Copied from the Albany Times Union, February 11, 2003)

Yesterday a new Chronicle of Higher Education came in the mail, and the cover story about disposing of old computers caught my eye. I thought it would make a good basis for a journal entry. But Myrtle McSpirit got in the way. I couldn't wait for Blogger; I whipped out my bound green volume (where I cheat on the ejournal) to scribble my thoughts on paper. Sometimes typing isn't quite the same.

I'd seen Myrtle's obituary in the paper yesterday, and I decided I would look up that name in Mimmie's genealogy notes. I vaguely remembered that Mimmie's brother had moved to Albany, and that Myrtle was his wife's name. I thought, after I confirm this, I'll send the obituary to my mother. And isn't it interesting, if Mimmie was living she would be 98, so she was the same age as her half-brother's wife.

As I re-read the death notice, it struck me: how sad. Not that 98 years is anything but a good long life, but the part about no living relatives, and the fact that the obituary was so brief, with no mention of Myrtle's mother and father, husband or daughter. Or even her birth date. Others on the obituary page have lengthy columns, mentions of churches attended, club memberships, hobbies, colleges degrees, names of beloved pets. And then there's Myrtle's: no relatives, she worked as a seamstress and as a factory worker in a bottling plant, and she spent the past 28 years in a nursing home.

I remembered the trip to St. Ann's Cemetery, sparked by finding Mimmie's genealogy notebook and by my sister's trip to Ireland, and the markerless graves. I had a good thought for my query, which must have arrived at the publisher by now. There are too many books and page-long obituaries on the Marilyn Monroes and Eleanor Roosevelts (though I mean no disrespect to either), and too few on the Mimmies and Myrtles of this world. I don't know a lot more than the obituary, but here is what I found in Mimmie's notes: Myrtle's husband was Lawrence McSpirit, who drowned in the Hudson River and is buried in Albany. Their daughter's name was also Myrtle.
This link, called Dirt Roads, is too charming to pass up. (Thanks, Ma, for the forward.)

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Here is a link to The Technology Revolution: An Interview With Frank Newman from Vision. (Thanks to David for the pointer; it is a good read.) More than a decade ago, either when I was in the master's degree program or shortly after graduation, I did some contract typing work. The university's chancellor knew someone who was doing research on higher education and he interviewed several noted scholars. I transcribed interviews, and as I recall one was with Frank Newman. I am thinking I have it on a diskette or the hard-drive of a relic somewhere. Or maybe I just kept a print-out. Yet another benefit of being a packrat (but does that outweigh having to walk around boxes?). I may try to locate it, although I can't use or share it, since it really isn't mine, but just for my own information. I remember it was very, very interesting.

Two websites that are great links for online learning:

Only A Teacher (from PBS)

Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives (from HBO)

I think the washing machine died. I suspected it was on its way out for a while. But then it has been living on borrowed time for eight years. That's the last time it broke, when Bob was in graduate school (do I always have to measure things in student intervals? Another option for marking time is by death date. I'll think, "Howie [my pre-Rudy dog, a precious, grumpy, super-smart beagle/schnauzer] was alive. So it must have been eight years ago").

My father came up and fixed it then. I'm not sure if it is really broken this time, or if it is a belt or something minor like that. The problem is the same as in 1995, it won't spin. That time, though, it shut off after it tried to switch to spin. This time it runs for the entire cycle, it just isn't spinning. We probably will have to get a new one, since it is 16 years old and what, today, lasts even that long? I am wondering how we, or rather the delivery people, will get a new machine into the house. There are high snowbanks, a thick snow and ice blanket covering steps and the yard, and a gate to the fence that is probably frozen shut.

I wrung out the wet clothes by hand. Not a pleasant or easy task, and my hands got very cold. That was yesterday. Today, I ran another load through, a light one, just so I could watch and see exactly what happens. Sounds OK, water fills and drains, but it doesn't spin. Wrung out yet another washer full. Thought of Cherry Hill, where we had a special exhibit a couple of years ago on laundry that fascinated me and the visitors. Doing laundry was a big drudgery for women in the past. (Despite the technological improvements, and men who lend a hand, sometimes I think it still is.) Even families who weren't wealthy often had help with laundry because it was such a chore. This provided a much-needed and legitimate job for many poor and/or immigrant women. And it was something of a social time, everyone did their washing and ironing on the same two days every week - and visited outside as they dumped water and completed the back-breaking task. The invention of the washing machine was certainly labor saving - but it also meant laundry remained in the home, rather than being a service performed by a business.

I thought of Mimmie, who at times took in laundry, and years later, still had a wringer washer at the old house. It was a big round white tub, with legs on casters. She dragged it across the room to hook it up to the faucet of her kitchen sink. In my mind's eye I see her, feeding one piece of clothing at at time through the wringer. It generally took several passes before it was good enough to be hung on the line. Each piece came out flat as a pancake.

I sure wished I had that wringer today.

Friday, February 07, 2003

I just spent too many hours tinkering with my computers so that I'd have close to the same level of functionality as before networking. I am at about 90% right now. There is always one more thing to buy, the computer habit sure isn't cheap. Connect the fax, check. Test it. Hide the wire somewhere. Upgrade Adobe Photoshop, check. Undo some big, scary problems with my online course, check. Forget sharing that particular file, local copies will be fine.

Next time I do something this drastic I will wait until summer; intercession is not long enough. Technical support for my out-of-warranty printer cost $25, and after paying I was sent to hold never-never land. The musak was so irritating I eventually hung up and figured out a solution myself. Either all the people who work there were in junior high when my printer was manufactured, or this is standard company policy. Collect the fee, transfer the call, snap on the musak, bye-bye.

I should be working on my classes - grading essays, preparing lectures, entering data in my evaluation spreadsheets. Or working on the Mimmie book, or making an effort to clean in preparation for Ma, Daddy and Hobo visiting on Sunday. Or even reading some of the wonderful books I have in progress (two are a book of Civil War letters courtesy of Black Dome Press, and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.) I have a a few things taped - the kinds of programs Bob doesn't enjoy (and he mostly controls the TV, since he has a much stronger affection for it than I do), but instead I am snaking cables around furniture and hiding them behind plants. If ever I needed a reminder, this is it. I don't miss those days of computer support at all. Although these tasks are a handy way to procrastinate, I suppose. UPS just brought the enhanced keyboard, time to add a new item to the list.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Bob is headed to Florida to visit his folks. I am remembering with some discomfort the last time he flew somewhere without me; it was September 9, 2001 and he went to Baltimore.

Maybe because of the Columbia and the focus of this week's Tuesday Too, I am remembering that I was awakened on 9/11 by the telephone. My mother called to tell me "terrorists have attacked New York City." I switched on the television and sat on the coffee table right in front of it, only inches away, transfixed. I can't remember going downstairs to get coffee. Or even to pee. I sat there for hours, maybe it was all day. Swirling around somewhere in my mind was that Bob was flying home. Several hours passed before he could call to let me know that he was OK, and would manage to get home at some (unknown) point in some (unknown) way. Several hours seemed like several days. Even with that happy news my horror was not diminished. Still isn't.

Although it is I who has always had dogs, insists on having dogs, and I got our two dogs at the pound, only Edna, our cat, favors me. Both dogs that we have now prefer Bob. Rudy's sentiment is not overwhelming, though; he can be happy with just me around. Sophie, on the other hand, worships Bob. She is sitting on the couch right now, her eyes glued to the window, waiting for him to come home. She waits for him every day, starting at about 6 p.m. I wonder if she will sit there, patiently staring at the empty spot where his car is usually parked, until he returns on Monday. There is nothing sadder than a sad hound dog.

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education has a cover story about the University at Albany, SUNY. It is by Sara Hebel and is entitled, "If You Build It, They Will Come: How SUNY-Albany shocked the research world and reaped a bonanza worth $850-million (and counting)." It has to do with Sematech and nanoscience research. The Chronicle is a subscription site, and this story is not part of their free content. I am clueless about nanoscience, and I'm far from an advocate of growth, which I fear will lead to sprawl, and I consider that a major risk of economic boom. However, seeing the cover story focus on the University and Albany made me feel good about being associated with both places.

I've spent a lot of years in higher education, more than 10 as an administrator, about three as an instructor, 22 as an on and off student. 100% in the public sector, I might add. If I collected a dollar for every time someone sniffed about his or her pedigree (and by implication, my lack of), I could afford the tuition at - well, you can fill in the blank. X = prestigious private well-endowed institution of higher learning. Those places where the graduates and faculty are entitled. And yes, cut from a finer cloth. Certainly smarter than the daughters and sons of Joe and Mary Six-Pack, first-generation students at those provincial, remedial, non-global places, you know - Local CC or State U.

So yeah, it felt good to see the splash. That's my alma mater (so what if it isn't my specialty?). That's where I work (so what if it isn't my department?). Finally, an article about something besides budget cuts and party school status. Validation, at last. You see, all those wrinkled noses, raised eyebrows, and rigid pinkies have never seemed anything but dull. In the article, a Stanford University professor is quoted: "for a mediocre university to start thinking of doing research for industry is probably not the wisest idea." If saying such a thing to a reporter demonstrates brains, I guess tact is an attribute of stupid people. The article explains that SUNY officials shrug off the criticism as "sour grapes."

Well, I don't like to gloat, but yeah. This is real sweet.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Tuesday Too or Not?

Maybe it's because I don't have a Gary Larson calendar this year, or maybe it's because... Anyway, here are some things to ponder on. Oddly, perhaps ironically sya wrote about how/why people remember where they were, and what they were doing on historically momentous occasions such as the Challenger explosion on lift off in 1986, only days before the explosion of the shuttle on reentry. If you haven't already done so, tell us what you were doing, and how you found out what was happening? If you've already written about your reactions to the accident, point to that post.

See below.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Edna decided to venture outside for the first time in months. She gingerly placed her paws, one at a time, on top of the snow. Since it has been warmer for the past few days, Rudy and Sophie sometimes break through, but Edna is much lighter. She stood there, looked all around for about two minutes, then came back inside.

Bob asked, "did she see her shadow?"

We'll see.
Happy Groundhog Day (yesterday, I guess, though for owls it was today).

Also Sophie's "made up" birthday, she is 4.

Oh, the groundhog saw its shadow. No surprise here.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

On the news today are constant reports of the fate of the space shuttle Columbia. I've never been a big space enthusiast, which is another of those things that makes me kind of provincial, I guess. I prefer to keep both feet firmly planted on Earth. But it's hard to look at those seven proud, smiling faces - all around my age - and not feel sadness and empathy, about both the loss of life, and the end of someone's dream. Maybe it was not my dream, but it was a grand dream, nonetheless, one that involved a lot of commitment and hard work. May they rest in peace.

Recently there has been much coverage of the Challenger tragedy because the anniversary just passed. I was thinking about what I was doing that day, and I remembered that I was working at the NYS Office for Aging. I was a clerk in the Budget Services office. Did I imagine that in 17 years I would be teaching at a college, and my PhD would be nearly three years old? Well, I guess it was a dream, but at that time it seemed almost unattainable. There was no television in the office, but we listened to the coverage on a colleague's radio. I remember how awful it seemed, a teacher waving goodbye minutes before the explosion. I thought of the many school children who were watching, how that horrific image would forever be etched into those kids' brains.

I was not quite 8 years old when we (allegedly, if you believe that Fox show from last year) landed on the moon. Space was a big focus in school. Now I know that was because of Sputnik, but I think another reason is that it did capture the imagination. I drew pictures of the event over and over again, cartoon images of Neil Armstrong jumping around near the lunar module. I used my sketch books, or sometimes those reusable palettes - they were made of a waxy black cardboard, with a filmy sheet attached, and you wrote with a red plastic stick, kind of like a pencil without lead. When you were done, you could erase it by ripping the film up. I can't remember what they were called, and I don't know if they are still sold.

But even considering the numerous pictures I drew, I wasn't as entranced with the space hoopla as many kids, either because even then I was provincial, or because I preferred English, history, art, and math over science (although I hasten to add that I much preferred science over gym).