Thursday, June 30, 2011

I'm trying to do some scholarly writing. It's like pulling teeth. (I did not just write that! My teeth are [almost] fine now, thank you neti pot.) BTW, if you have stumbled here from a search for neti pot and sinus infection, I encourage you to get over your reluctance and try it. You won't be sorry, it works like a charm. Cured me in a week. I did it every 3-4 hours when it was bad, then gradually tapered off to twice a day, then once, and now, not even that often. Not sure if I will stop entirely, probably, maybe just doing it rarely, occasionally, as needed. But if you are lingering because you are looking for's not the place. For those details, you'll have to go elsewhere. There is no shortage of sites.

Back to the scholarly writing. Aside from "cultural ties to the area" (an academic once asked me if that is why I didn't move), and a dislike for meetings...not feeling like churning out research for the publish or perish grind is a major reason why I'm happy as an adjunct. It isn't that I can't do it, it's that I would so much rather write in a different style.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I've been thinking about what a wonderful example the marriage equality debate, negotiation and legislation are for toleration class, because it combines all three types: political, moral and social.

It is important to keep in mind that toleration is not the opposite of prejudice. It implies an action, not a feeling. It is the opposite of discrimination. It involves compromise. It is important in a society that values diversity, peace, and equality. Also, it does not mean "celebration," it just means "putting up with," and demonstrating intentional self-restraint from persecuting.

Political toleration involves acts in the public sphere such as government allowing free speech and free assembly. Moral toleration involves acts in the private sphere, such as personal relationships and sexual behavior. Social toleration involves characteristics that one has since birth, such as gender, race and ethnicity, or has acquired during early socialization, such as religion and language. Toleration's roots are in religion (see John Locke's (1689) A Letter Concerning Toleration).

In this case, it was a perfect intersection of all three types of toleration: securing political toleration for gay people without infringing on political toleration for religious groups, and it involved moral toleration of private behavior, as well as social toleration of gay people and for religious practices. I can hardly wait to add slides to my presentation this fall...

Political toleration is often the easiest to understand, and since it involves government, it sometimes is considered the most important. Generally speaking, groups desire toleration to replace the opposite, intolerance, persecution and discrimination. However, once toleration is common, most of the time the object becomes political rights. Simple "putting up with" is no longer sufficient, the goal is securing rights. Political toleration can be thought of as a continuum: 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

More of my beautiful roses, wish I had a better camera:

During the summer we eat solely out of the garden as much as possible, and when it is hot I try not to turn on the stove at all. Last night I made a wonderful summer salad. It was gone before I remembered to take a picture!

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup fresh spinach, torn into pieces
1/2 cup alfalfa, kale, radish, broccoli sprouts (blend or any one or combination)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh curly parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 T lime juice
1 T olive oil
1 T water
1 t fresh garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

We ate it with Food That Tastes Good sesame chips, hummus, and plain Chobani yogurt. Yum!

This letter was in Dear Annie today:
I hope you will print my pet peeve so retailers will take notice. No matter where I shop, no one knows how to properly give change. If I pay $20 for a $15.95 purchase, the change is handed to me in a pile of coins, bills and a receipt. I have to fumble to count it.

I cashiered many years ago. I would give the customer the nickel, saying, "And five cents makes 16," and then count out the remaining four dollars, saying, "Seventeen, 18, 19, 20." Most cashiers today can't add or subtract without the register to do the thinking for them.

[deleted some stuff]

And last but not least, why is the receipt so long? Imagine how much paper could be saved if they skipped the surveys and advertising.
I absolutely agree with the letter writer. The over-reliance on technology for simple math has erased the ability to make change, estimate, and do calculations in the head. (I didn't agree so much with the deleted portion, which had to do with the greetings and thank yous offered by clerks. I don't mind someone saying "have a good one." Better than sullen silence.) And I too think the coupons etc. on the receipt are a waste.

This reminded me, over the weekend I was in Hannaford quite late one night. There were two teenage boys behind me, with a milk and a brown paper bag. I didn't have an overflowing cart, but I did have quite a few items. The packer said, "I can take you over here," to the boys, but they didn't make any effort to follow him to the next check-out line. It was taking a bit of time to take care of my order, and their two items kept getting mixed in with mine and had to be moved back several times. So eventually I said to them, "he said he would take you at the next line." They ignored me.

After we were done, Bob and I speculated that they were shoplifting something in the paper bag. He thought maybe the cashier at my register was in on it and they didn't want to risk the other line. I thought maybe it was drugs of some kind, don't kids snort some OTC things? Perhaps it was something expensive like batteries or condoms. Or maybe it was just a candy bar or extra donut. Still, they were so transparent.

Added: This TU note isn't true: "Within each category, blogs are sorted by latest posts. Blogs that have posted within the last 36 hours display a thumbnail image." 
I have written probably about 25 variations of the story in this and the prior post, starting in around 1980. I eventually turned the first version (may be lost) into a radio play (definitely lost). The short variant below is one of my favorites.

A Lovely Ghost Story

Standing at the side of the road you can see the notch. That's what it is called, a place where the mountains come together, not with their usual curvy slope, but abruptly, in a "V." Almost like a mistake, except that God doesn't make mistakes, even surprisingly beautiful ones.

Opposite the notch is a big, open hay field. The narrow road twists through it and over a little bridge where my brother had a car accident as a teenager. In the back of the field there is a hill, small compared to the mountains, and at the top of that hill stands the house.Beside the simple farmhouse is an old barn, and there is a magnificent oak tree between these two structures.  It has been years since this was an operating farm, but somehow it was saved, unlike so many others, from being chopped up into a housing development.  It was probably purchased from the distant relatives of the old gent whose family always owned it by a weekend resident from New York City, some advertising executive with enough money to afford to keep it intact. As a kid I dreamed that person would be me, and I would live there someday, except that even then I didn't plan a
career on Madison Avenue and I'm not from New York City.  But I was inspired by the idyllic setting, the perfect backdrop for the lovely ghost story I had heard about that place.

My grandfather played the fiddle when he was a young man at summer dances in the barn at that grand old farm. Young people came to hear the music and to drink hard cider. The couple who lived there at the time had some marital difficulties, and the woman was known to be having an affair with another local man. The husband was aware of these rumors, and at one of the many dances, his jealousy got the best of him and he put strychnine in his rival's cider. The woman's lover drank the poison mixture and fell ill at the dance. The town doctor was present, and performed an operation on the man, right in the barn. He removed some of his stomach, and buried it under the oak tree beside the house. This man lived for many more years, and that night the dance went on, even merrier than before the incident. When the husband realized his plan had failed, he vanished, unnoticed, from the festivities. As the party broke up and the revelers left the barn, they stopped in their tracks, staring in horror at the oak tree. There, in one of its massive branches, hung the limp body of their host.
If you stand near the road in front of that farm on a hot summer night you can hear the sound of violins wafting toward you in the air. Prompted by the sweet music, turn from gazing at the notch and look toward the barn.  Then you will catch the faint sounds of young lovers laughing and dancing.  Suddenly you will notice the majestic oak tree. And there in the moonlight, hanging from a branch, will be the figure of a long-dead, jealous man, gently swinging in the breeze.

The version below of this story was published in 1998 in a now-defunct online literary journal called Visions and Voices. (See the post above for more details.)

A Lovely Ghost Story

Ted parked the car at the top of the winding driveway. The massive oak tree between the house and the barn partially shaded the spot.  A loose shutter banged in the wind. Mrs. Welch, the realtor, started talking before I was out of the car. Obviously she was afraid we would be unimpressed by the farm.  I stole a look at Ted and could tell his thoughts by his expression. I stifled the urge to laugh and followed Mrs. Welch into the house.

We admired the gigantic open staircase, the lovely hardwood floors and the huge country kitchen. Mrs. Welch was babbling at this point.  Something about this place made her uncomfortable. Finally she paused to take a breath in her sales pitch about the investment potential of this handyman special. Ted seized the opportunity.  "We'd like to return to your office and make a bid." I spent a moment wondering why Mrs. Welch appeared to be surprised, then allowed myself to experience a feeling of perfect happiness. I knew that this farm was ours.

The whole place needed a tremendous amount of work and after we moved in, we began the endless job of clearing the brush from the fields, repairing the barn roof and making the house livable. Decorating was a few years down the road. One day Ted returned from a trip to the store accompanied by another young man.  "This is Joe," Ted explained. "He's our neighbor."

I stopped painting the kitchen windowsill and grasped Joe's extended hand. "Pleased to meet you," I said, then added "sorry," when I noticed that my handshake had left him with a streak of white paint on his palm.

"That's O.K.," he responded cordially, "I'm a veteran house renovator." We all chatted for a few minutes and finally I wrapped it up by inviting Joe and his girlfriend, Rachel, over for dinner the following weekend.  Later that evening while relaxing with a drink, I heard Kirby, my affable mutt, barking ferociously outside. I went to the door and called him.  When he failed to respond, I followed his growls until I discovered him. 

"What is it, Kirb?" I asked, looking around.  It was a beautiful night, and I paused a moment to admire the breathtaking stars. Suddenly, I heard someone behind me. Startled, I spun around. "Joe!"  I exclaimed. "You scared me."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Here's the 8 minute video that my nephew Tom created from the interview I did over Memorial Day Weekend. It's called "Guitar Maker." He'll be entering it in film festivals. I'll be writing an article (and using his stills). The full interview is more than an hour, and my angle will be different. We've been talking about doing this project for a while, so it was good to finally get going. Our original interview date after Christmas had to be canceled due to weather.

Tom was listing off all the other interviews we should capture. It's true, we have very, very rich resources to tap. I remarked to him, we could quit our jobs and do this full-time, we have so many wonderful subjects. But alas, I've learned (and it is not a happy lesson) that is an option only open to the born elite.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

We saw Tree of Life last night. It was an interesting movie, worth seeing. Certainly not something to go to if you are in the mood for trite or funny. I knew what to expect going in, so that wasn't a problem. There were some sections that were hard to watch (because the weirdness went on for too long) and other sections that were hard to watch (because the scene was highly charged). The first "hard to watch" is a criticism; the second isn't. Overall, I would say I liked the movie, although "like" isn't necessarily the best word to describe the feeling. It was a think piece, a movie that probably needs to be watched more than once to fully absorb all the nuances. An unqualified compliment: Good performances all around.

We rarely go to the movies so close to opening night (which was Friday). It was packed, something I dislike. I have serious personal space needs, even more so in the summer when I see fewer people. I prefer to sit in the front, but we weren't late and still we were forced to sit too close to the screen. Ow. (But the legroom was good for Bob.) When movies are packed at mall theatres (as is often the case), it is so unpleasant, because the level of rudeness is off the charts. That is a major reason* we rarely go to any theatre besides the Spectrum. As usual, the audience was serious and relatively polite, so talking wasn't a problem last night even with the crowd, once the movie started everyone was fairly quiet. I was nervous at first because the woman next to me had her smart phone out and she was texting like mad during the previews. She even did it a little at the beginning of the movie, but it was as bright as a flashlight - a beacon to all that she is a self-absorbed jerk. After trying unsuccessfully to hide it (and maybe sensing my look that could kill, even in the dark), she snapped the thing off. What a relief.

Once the movie ended, I heard a man exclaim "Thank God." Also there was a lot of chatter, as people were discussing the meaning. That's always a good thing, to me it means it was worth the price of admission. Although some remarks that I overheard were c-l-u-e-l-e-s-s! C'mon! [I'm in summer mode, and don't have to be the nice professor who says there are no silly comments or stupid questions...] Anyway, I interpret the man's relieved exclamation to mean he didn't like it - or maybe he was just expressing that it wasn't an "easy watch." (True.)

*the other three: 1) the movies are too d-mn loud; 2) they do not usually have "good" movies; 3) their overpriced popcorn sux.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Biscuits. Very funny post!

And there's this thoughtful and interesting piece. I was going to comment there, but decided I didn't feel like mixing it up with the usual anti-Catholicism and assertions (for instance "intelligent people walk away). Sigh. Everywhere I look there is a need for toleration. Why can't people express their ideas without resorting to stereotyping?

Added: Had to stop reading. Not the above linked posts, but some others, comments in particular. All I can say is: Wow, there are some catty people in this world. High School redux.

Friday, June 24, 2011

This story was almost lost! Thanks, J. What a relief.

Tacos, Anyone?
original drafts 2001-2011

On a Thursday night toward the end of summer, the phone rang. Gwen was sitting right beside it, so she did something that she almost never did; she answered it.

“Hello. It’s Sam,” said the caller. Gwen winced.

“Sam!” She tried to make her voice convey warmth that she didn’t actually feel.

“It’s so good to talk to you. Oh, I miss you so much,” came the reply.

She’s drunk, Gwen thought. But instead she responded mechanically, “I miss you too. I’m glad you called.” She was a bad liar and she knew Sam could probably tell that’s what it was.

“I’m not drinking. Everything is fine. I tried calling you a few times but you weren’t home and I didn’t want to leave a message.” It almost sounded rehearsed. Gwen could imagine Sam crying as she spoke.

Gwen wasn’t sure how to respond so she said, “oh.” She paused. “So what have you been up to?” She pretended it had been five days and not five months since they’d last spoken.

“Everything’s really good!” Sam hid behind a phony Valley Girl accent. “I met a guy! We’ve been together two months. He’s great, he’s really great.” I met a guy too, thought Gwen. We’ve been together 18 years.

But instead she asked, “that’s great, what is his name?” She wanted to ask his occupation too, but chickened out.

“Ken,” said Sam. “He’s really, really cute. He’s like, so funny.” She giggled. Oh brother, thought Gwen. Why did I answer the phone?

“That’s great.”

“Yah, it is.” More tears. “And I know he really loves me, but sometimes I feel smothered.”

Now it was Gwen’s turn to play Valley Girl. “So...what have you guys been up to?!”

“Oh, not much. I really, really miss you.”

“I miss you too” Gwen said mechanically. The conversation dragged on this way for a while; Sam alternately giggling and crying, Gwen playing with the telephone wire, trying to think of what to say next, and hoping not to seem too fake. She tried to figure out some way to get off the phone. “Why don’t we get together?” Gwen hoped she wouldn’t regret the impulse.   

“O.K.” Sam replied quickly. “There’s a free swing concert this Friday.” Gwen was surprised not just by the suggestion, but that Sam had any suggestion at all. Maybe this time things would be different and Sam did have her act together a little?

“That sounds great. We’ll meet you there at 7.” Gwen rubbed her ear after she hung up the phone. It felt hot.

Happy Birthday Anne! I know she's not a reader of GBP but I wanted to mention it here anyway. And not because she's 50 three months before I will be :-)!
Competing Conversations
original drafts 1999-2011

The window was splattered with mud; a thick, dusty, caked-on mixture of grime from the city streets and salt, signifying late winter.  Gwen stared at the glass anyway, alternately seeking patterns in the filth, the next moment looking through the dirt at the row houses as the bus rolled by them, and finally sometimes seeing nothing at all, not even the man sitting in the seat two inches in front of her, much less the splatter pattern or the street scape.  It will be O.K., she repeated silently, in her head.  Just a brief visit over a cup of coffee.  Nothing more.

I didn’t think you’d want to talk to me, suggested Sam.

Hearing was another matter.  There were sounds, but not the whining little child the woman up ahead was trying in vain to quiet, or the chatter of a couple of school girls, on their way to shopping at the mall. What she heard was in her head, and it was echoed by the drone of the bus engine and the din of the many passenger conversations.

I thought you hated me, accused Sam.

Gwen shook off the daze, tried to think of something else.  But her mind forced her back to Samantha, sullen Sam the little girl, silly Sam the teenager, stuck-up Sam the young woman, and then the S-words stopped.  Unless, she thought, she kept the alliteration but forgot about euphemisms and finished the sentence with Sam the souse.

You can’t save her, warned Father.

In her mind’s eye she saw the first day she’d become aware of Samantha.  Third grade.  Age eight.  The teacher, in one of those flashes of teacher ignorance, or maybe it was simply that in those days there were no blended families, no stepparents, no half-brothers, no life partners, or at least no acknowledgment of such politically correct modern creations, said, “go around the room and say what your father does for a living.”  They had been playing that game a lot in class; it was an exercise in math, one the teacher used to illustrate sets in probability theory.  Except that on the bus that day Gwen remembered in third grade it wasn’t called theory, or even probability.

It’s your cross to bear, observed Mother.

So the students would go around the room and say how many rooms there were in their houses, or how many pets they had, or the names of the towns where they were born.  That day most of the dads worked at IBM or were self-employed in some type of small business, Gwen being part of the latter group.  When they got to Sam, there was a pause, and then she blurted out, “I don’t have one.”

Nothing, said the teacher.

Thirty little heads turned to stare.  That day is probably not even a dim memory for most of her classmates now, but Gwen remembered.  She glanced at her watch, then recalled the batteries were dead and so her wrist was bare.  She rubbed the spot where it should be.  Wondered how different Sam looked now, after not seeing her for a few years.

They won’t let me eat until after they finish, confided Sam.

Probably still young, even after her years of hard living.  Gwen thought about the hours Sam spent fussing over her appearance in high school, ironing even her jeans, curling her hair.  Even when she only had two outfits to wear, in the days before she ran away from home and came to Gwen’s house.  Changing Gwen’s life forever.

Don’t make me go back, begged Sam.

It wasn’t until then that Gwen realized they really had nothing in common, and that Sam’s family situation and its results were more complicated than she could understand.  But how could Gwen hope to address that without seeming like an unfeeling bitch?  There was no easy way.

You’re a bad influence, screamed Sam’s sister.

They missed the bus nearly every day, Gwen because she slept until ten minutes before its arrival, Sam because of the hours she passed in front of the bathroom mirror.  But those were the good times, Gwen now realized.  Sam’s future was bright at that point, and her wonderful, irreverent sense of humor carried Gwen many times through what might otherwise have been a dull high school experience.

You’re so boring, sneered Sam.

What went wrong, Gwen wondered, but in her heart she knew the answer.  Years of bad living can’t be erased so easily.  There are reasons for trite cliches.  Apples really don’t fall far from trees.

It wasn’t my fault, Gwen told herself.

She remembered that awful episode, the night she cut Sam out of her life.  The night Sam demanded she choose between her friends. Why did she force the issue? How could she not know the choice Gwen would make?

If you were my friend you’d stay with me, pleaded Sam.

She remembered Sam drunk, crying, locked in the bathroom, screaming that Gwen should either stay and mind her own business or if she left, then they’d never been friends at all.  Remembered that she promised herself it was the last time she’d be there.  Remembered the feeling of freedom she felt as she ran down the stairs, away from Sam at last.

I’ve been sober for five months, announced Sam.

After seven years, Gwen knew it should have been a welcome phone call, but she had learned that alcoholism wasn’t Sam’s only problem. There was food.  And men.  She demanded constant assurances that she was pretty, smart, loyal, hard-working, loved.  Without the bottle to hide behind, Samantha would have to confront her problems.  She’d have to learn to cope.  She’d need support.  Lots of it.  Gwen knew relapses were common.  And it had been so many years since Gwen had been involved.  Too many years.  She recognized the splatter pattern on the window.  It was storm clouds starting to fill the sky.

We’re not in high school any more, whispered Gwen.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's no secret that I can't stand the political reporting at the TU or the (so called) political show on YNN, for lots of reasons, some that I have detailed here in the past. Both make my teeth hurt (again, hat tip to my old boss). Currently there are two things that are driving me crazy (aside from the usual - the in-general snarky tone, the total ignorance of far too many subjects including recent (to anyone over age 30) political history, blatant nepotism, and the hiring of someone who overlooks [ie, condones] plagiarism): 1) they have labeled the tax cap / rent control bill "the big ugly" (how completely lacking in charm and creativity) and 2) the level of impatience they display with getting the session over. What's the hurry? The legislature can work the entire summer as far as I'm concerned. In fact, why shouldn't they? Because it infringes on some smug newsie's vacation plans? You're supposed to be reporters, for goodness sake! Have some class and do your job with a smile...a real one, not a smirk.
The link is here for contacting the governor to tell him to sign this bill, which passed both the Assembly and the Senate.

So far, I am super impressed by the neti pot! It works wonders, way better than decongestants, NSAIDs, steroids, antibiotics. It's awesome. Keeping my fingers crossed that this will be the end of the additional dental intervention needed. Please.

I started to feel a lot better yesterday, jumped up, ran outside, weed whacked the grass and watered the plants. Picture time!

I grew everything in this delicious salad except the tomatoes!
My tomatoes are still a few weeks away
The beautiful "vintage" pink rosebush is blooming now though!
Every year I think the same thing: "this is the best garden ever"
The white wave petunias do seem to be especially prolific this year 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is getting a lot of attention. It would be nice if magazine staff and commentators had a rudimentary understanding of statistics. Here's just one criticism: A self-selected sample is not scientific. I'm not saying the article isn't interesting, but it is not a meaningful ranking. In fact, it reminds me of the college party school designation, which is based on students' voluntary participation. It might sell papers, but it doesn't have any other value.
I got a neti pot. Seems to help. (TMI?)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Had a great weekend, what weather! The animals are exhausted today. Bob checked Sam for ticks last night and found a beetle and a slug in his hair! Everything worked out great in the "grid" arena, I got the wireless working and now the lightening rod cable is disconnected. What a relief.

My summer class starts today. Enrollment is huge, but I don't expect it to remain that way. The summer online class is very intense, and students always drop when they see what is involved.

I have full-blown sinus problems at this point. Apparently, it is of dental origin. Thanks a lot! I am a miserable patient and will likely accomplish very little until it clears up.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I write from Samsonville, where the hydrangea is blooming, Teddy is thrilled to be outside, the internet is working...and the pool is a lovely shade of green!
I got so aggravated with the tooth issues that I said screw it with this least effective dose BS, I want a good night's sleep and I am tired of being preoccupied with the pain. I took one of the 600 mg ibuprofen that I have from when I had oral surgery two years ago. I slept soundly and took another when I woke up. What a relief! Apparently it might take a couple of weeks before my teeth settle down. My liver and digestive system will just have to be good sports. I am not having my weekend in Samsonville ruined by aching teeth.

I am not afraid of the dentist, and don't mind going. I have been going to the same one since I moved to the Capital District. I never had any major problems until I turned 40. Then I started getting sensitivity, and eventually needed a crown, followed a couple of years later by a root canal in the crowned tooth. The crown had to be drilled through since it was less than five years old. That started all sorts of problems, since pieces of the crown kept coming loose. Before it was replaced (five years to the day), a molar on the other side needed a root canal and crown.

During these various visits and procedures, a new dental assistant was hired. I had two especially bad experiences - both the dentist's fault, although one was caused by the assistant. (The latter post is long and details lots of dental events - to cut to the chase, she gave him the wrong compound for making an impression, they had an argument right in front of me, and my bite has been off ever since.)

Two years ago after lots of drama (described in the second linked post) I had to have that second crowned tooth pulled. I went back to the oral surgeon a couple of weeks ago for a consult and because I needed to talk to someone about how upset I am over my teeth problems. This specialist is extremely nice and easy to approach. Not that my own dentist is not nice. He is, but there is a lot of water under the bridge and I think he may feel a little guilty about my messed up bite. One time I even had to take a picture in of me that was taken before my bite changed to show him the difference, because he was insistent there was nothing wrong.

I never had any problems with my teeth, was kind of smug about it, in fact - and now here I am, with constant problems and dental visits that I dread. Before this cleaning, I seriously considered going to a different dentist, but after the consult (when the oral surgeon essentially told me that there was no way to get my old bite back), I decided to buck it up and stay with the practice. And what happens?! Another bad result. It's like I am jinxed or something, paying the price for all those years without problems.

When I search to see if anyone else has had this issue after a routine cleaning, all that comes up are people who have dental phobias and haven't gone for a cleaning in years and now need to have all sorts of work done, or else folks who need to have a periodontist do a deep cleaning. No-one like me at all, who goes for regular cleanings and suddenly has a major issue.

I am not sure whether to give the practice one more shot or if now is the time to go somewhere else. A minor pet peeve is that they always play the radio kind of loud while working - and talk to each other the whole time. I am a person who prefers natural sound, and concentration. I guess I don't mind the drill being drowned out by music, but the dentist and it seems all the workers have strong affection for Barbra Streisand and music of that nature. I am far from a musical snob, and will tolerate just about anything, but Babs falls into the category of "songs Gina hates" (Bob coined that one, and it's now a genre). Let me put it this way, it's about the last thing I feel like listening to when Novocaine has crossed over into my eye, and the dentist is fighting with staff about making a mistake (on me).

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Sweater

Samantha was wearing the orange cowl neck sweater the night she ran away. Gwen's mother had given it and a brown turtleneck to Sam for her sixteenth birthday five days before. Gwen handed her the gift after placing a small, homemade cake on the table in the downstairs cafeteria at school. A hundred other kids were swirling around the tables, fighting their way to the lunch line, but none of them noticed the birthday party.

No-one celebrated her birthday at home, either, because she was "on punishment." Her older sister, Sally, was a psycho bitch. They lived with one of Sally's boyfriends, a macho guy from the city in a house that had been Sam's and Sally's grandfather's. Sally got a monthly disability check for back injuries from a car accident she'd had a few years before. That money, plus Sam's Social Security check, allowed Sally and the boyfriend to sit around the house, drinking and getting high, watching television, arguing with each other and planning chores for Sam. Mostly Sam obeyed them, cleaning the house, painting the garage, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes and doing the laundry while they sat in the living room, which meant she rarely had time to go anywhere. She had no other place to live, and she loved Sally, even if she was crazy. Sam saw her father only once a year after her parents divorced during her infancy, and after her mother's death she didn't want to stay with him. He didn't outlive her mother by much anyway and now even her grandfather was dead.

So Sam did the chores and put up with the fights. She tried to forget that her front tooth was rotting and she needed to go to the dentist. Sally wore dentures and didn't think teeth mattered; besides, it would cost money and they didn't know a dentist. She didn't ask to go to high school events because they would have to drive her, and, they'd remind her, there still was more housework to do; the answer would be no. Every night, the boyfriend made her wait until he was done with dinner before she could sit down and eat. She never could have a piece of cake, because he loved sweets and didn't feel like sharing. She wasn't allowed to have company, but that didn't matter because she didn't want to invite anyone over anyway. Occasionally, if she worked really hard and got everything finished, they would let her go to a friend's house for the weekend. Sam used to have two friends who would invite her over, but Amy had moved away, so now there was only Gwen. But then Sally and her boyfriend started to pick on Sam more often, accusing her of stealing kitchen utensils and even the boyfriend's underwear. "As if I like touching that slime's underwear, "ewww," she thought. When she denied it, feeling guilty because although she hadn't taken the missing items, she had found ways to sneak food, they accused her of lying. She was grounded, and had to scrub the house immaculately. Clean the bathroom grout with a toothbrush. Move the stove and vacuum under it. She wasn't allowed to use the phone, and because the offense had been committed two weeks before her birthday, it would not be celebrated this year. Sam thought calling it sweet sixteen was pretty stupid.

But Gwen and her mother had remembered. Besides the two sweaters she got for her birthday, her entire wardrobe consisted of a pair of jeans, a pair of overalls, a pair of worn-out sneakers and a tee-shirt. The air was chilly in November and the sweaters would come in handy, but she'd have to hide them in her locker or Sally would take them away.

Five days later, her sister found out about the sweaters anyway. Sam was called to the principal's office because Sally was there and had told him that Sam had drugs in her locker. They searched Sam's locker and didn't find any drugs, but that's when Sally saw the sweaters. When Sam got off the bus that afternoon, Sally and her boyfriend were waiting. They insisted she had stolen drugs from them, and Sally gripped the sweaters, demanding to know where she got them. They cursed at Sam and got more and more drunk for a couple of hours, then finally passed out. That was Sam's opportunity; she took the sweaters from the couch near Sally, careful not to wake her up, put on the orange one with her overalls and tiptoed out the door. Once at the end of the driveway, she ran up the road.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I haven't been able to put my hands on this clip in a while - so it was nice to run across it while sorting in the office today! I call this story Christmas Paper, with no extra tagline. The editor made "paper" plural, and added "home for the holidays." I didn't mind. (That much.)
There is no better remedy for toothache than mulching the garden! Way better than ibuprofen. I don't have a toothache exactly, but it is more painful than simple soreness. This never happened to me before, I am not sure what is up. I guess I must have had some "deep cleaning" techniques, since I know that procedure often results in pain and senstivity afterwards. Anyway, I just came inside. The last gardening task is done - now it is just watering and picking (still some things left in S'ville, though). It is very hot in the sun! Everything is doing smashingly well.
I can't think of anyone more worthy of this honor.

Unrelated: And this is a tiresome story. I'm something of a detective, but without closely examining the photo in question and knowing the dynamics of the school relationships, I cannot tell whether this was a prank, or a mistake at the printer. It strikes me as much ado about nothing, however.

I know this article says the yearbook printer is absorbing the cost even though it wasn't their fault, but there were two other errors, at least one of which was definitely their fault: the name of the school on the spine of the book has an upper case letter where there should be a lower case one. (The other mistake was text printed over a picture.) So even without the altered picture, the printer didn't exactly do a top notch job. Interestingly, the article does not mention either problem, and simply continues the assertion that the photo was maliciously altered.

Cutting pictures out? Calling the police in? Ridiculous. I mean, I know bullying is awful (I wasn't exactly a member of the popular club in high school) but this is taking things to an extreme. Granted, these volumes were a lot cheaper in the past, but my last name was misspelled in my yearbook (with all those diphthongs it would have been more shocking if it had been spelled correctly). I don't remember anyone caring about that (even me). I saw the picture on a news report, and it might just be a printing error. It's very subtle for a prank.  But, I suppose that may be why it slipped through and the perpetrators knew it would. However, even if it was purposefully doctored, so what? Why the hysteria, the threats of lawsuits? "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" Film at 11. I'm reminded of my students complaining about the cancellation of Fountain Day. With wars, unemployment, a slow economy, tornado damage...this is what you get worked up about? Welcome to the real world, I say. Hothouse flowers need not apply.

Maybe that seems mean and uncaring. I know the political environment of school is no picnic, and also that schools are under the microscope about everything these days, bullying included. Maybe the girl is a likely victim, which is why they jumped to the conclusion that it was done on purpose, and there was no way they could hand them out without repercussions. (Why does the Steve Buscemi phone call in Billy Madison come to mind?) Even at that, this was completely mishandled. Why didn't they move to have the yearbooks (or just the page) re-printed before this hit the front page as a scandal, and schedule a signing day over the summer for the seniors?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I had my teeth cleaned yesterday and they are really bothering me today. (Tooth issues share the stage with reading glasses as one of the joys of aging - not!) Three guesses why this made them hurt worse. Here's a hint. It isn't the nausea-inducing smugness of the comedy routine. Oh, the irony.

Added: I have to give credit where it is due (even more so in this case). In another life, I worked for a man whose favorite line was "it makes my teeth hurt" whenever there was a problem.

Unrelated: I'm sifting out items in my office reorganization that I've had in here for a long time and don't want in the room any longer. It's a tiny room and some of this stuff has been stored in it for over 20 years. Some of it is good stuff, I just don't use it and also don't have any space for it. It's either me or the junk at this point. My mother has told me that sometimes she tells my father, one day she will walk into his garage workshop and find him tangled in a spider web, there are so many lurking among all his treasures. It's kind of the same thing in my office.

One thing that is taking up the area under my computer table is The Writer magazine. I loved that magazine. I subscribed for years and saved every copy. Then they sold (I think), moved from Boston and changed the format - result was that the new version sucked. I subscribed for a while to give it a chance, then dropped it. I also subscribed to Writer's Digest, although not for as long as The Writer.

Anyway, the old magazines take up a lot of space and I doubt I will ever look at them again. I can't stand having a yardsale, so I have been reviewing craigslist, ebay and freecycle to see if any of those would work for the type of stuff I have. Most of what I have to get rid of are books (publishers send me all sorts of review copies to consider assigning in my classes), magazines, and office supplies. I have tons of gently used notebooks, from when I assigned a paper journal to students.

I was surprised to see that the secondary market for The Writer might be more than I knew. I don't go to ebay as much as I once did (remember when that was the website everyone was always on, sort of like facebook now? We were in love with buying and selling stuff on our online yardsale). It seems The Writer and other magazines are items on ebay that are mainly sold in buy-it-now extended listings from used bookstores.There are very few auctions of bulk lots of the magazine, one I saw was $40 for 41 magazines.

The stores are using ebay sort of like a sales database. So it may take a while to sell the magazines, but they charge $7-$10 each. I'm not interested in selling individual magazines, don't care to become a long term ebay e-seller, but that they have more value than I figured is forcing me to carefully consider how to go about getting rid of them. Nothing is ever easy!

As for the other stuff, Bob says it is OK to throw good things away. I say it isn't. Not a surprise really, he was always pretty anti-recycling in the days when it was being debated and was optional and at first he endlessly complained about having to "wash garbage." But I will find a home for them, not to worry. Last resort, people will take just about anything out of a "free" box on the sidewalk.
For Sale
(original drafts 1997-2009)

Village 2-Story, 2 BR, 1 BA, New Vinyl Siding, All Appliances, $59,900 read the ad that was eventually placed.  The caravan of realtors came today, marching single file through the livingroom, down the stairs to the kitchen, then up those stairs again, and up the second flight to the bedrooms.  There was a little traffic jam on the landing that serves both sets of stairs, as the high heeled women, and one grey-suited man, navigated the steep turns.  In a grander house it would be called a spiral staircase.

When Uncle Bob visited, he said it reminded him of a boat. I try to remember why I liked this house.  The price, certainly.  It was livable, and considering the price, that was a miracle.  Plus, it was different.  When we finally decided to sell it, the realtor looked down his list of house styles and chose "2-Story," pausing for a moment to consider "Colonial."  I remembered what I learned in a class on architectural history and told him it was a Temple House, but that wasn't on the list.  Tall, with a tiny footprint, it is actually three stories.  It certainly isn't a colonial, though it is more than 100 years old, built, I imagine, for workers from the piano factory down the hill.  That factory thrived when railroads were king, sparking the construction of the bungalows, four squares and temple houses that line village streets.  The factory is long gone, but this house is here still.

We are eager to sell it, full of dreams about what our new place will be like: Two bathrooms.  A garage.  A real dining room.  An acre of land.  A swimming pool. Mountain views.  Space for a big vegetable garden, instead of the puny four-by-eight square where I manage to wring out a surprising number or tomatoes and cucumbers every summer. I imagine hardwood floors and a dishwasher and oriental carpets.  The new house is immaculate, for in my vision I have somehow purchased house cleaning skills with the real estate.  Of course, there's a spacious room for writing.

Tied up in that fantasy was always a drive to be a published writer.  But that desire could not wait, and so I spent many hours writing in the small second bedroom of the 2-Story, Colonial Temple House.  Surrounded by books, listening to music, quietly typing.  Initial inspirations come most often not in my third-floor writing area but in the kitchen, sitting at the table. In both spaces, my companions have been dogs, cats, and a fevered imagination.

When we bought this house, there were pennies in all the doorways.  Not a believer in superstitions, I removed them on the day we moved in.  In the ten years since, I've sensed nothing in these rooms but happiness and good luck.  "You have a lovely cat," said one realtor as she passed by me in the living room, where I was standing, restraining Rudy, my young hound dog, from jumping all over her Sunday best.  "I like your flowers," offered another.  "You've really fixed up this place nicely."  And then they were gone, in and out in less than ten minutes. 

I released Rudy's harness and relaxed.  My eyes scanned the room, trying to determine what the caravan might have thought.  I was scrubbing frantically until moments before they arrived, and barely had time to appraise the results of my efforts.  It looks good.  Shows well.  It is not bad for a modest little house that is just over 900 square feet. Then I notice a crack in one of the pine floor boards, and remember that it was caused by dancing. Dancing during one of the many parties of our twenties. 

I surveyed downstairs and decide I should have washed the bathroom window.  Then I smile as I recall the room's horrible state when we bought the house, and the two weeks we went without one while renovating it. There was no money for a contractor, so we did it ourselves for less than a thousand dollars, guided by telephone conversations with my father about plumbing. Outside, I am thinking of the family barbeque we had one year on Labor Day weekend when I see the scratches in the green paint on the bottom of the kitchen door. Howie's scratches.  Howie, my beloved fifteen-year-old dog died in this house.

A week ago, in the mail at this house, I received my first acceptance letter for one of my stories.  One piece of my vision unravels a little, and I see that I have already grasped it.  I wrote that story, ten others and a book in my small writing space without a mountain view, upstairs in this house.
I'm posting this link mostly because putting it here works better for me than a bookmark. I have a lot of things going on - including a massive reorganization and clean up of my office (way way way way way long time coming), mulching the garden (the only thing I want to be doing, and this weather is making it really hard to wait until tomorrow) and working on my study. So I can't immerse myself in this report, but I will - before I put the links and commentary in my summer class. I will have to do that by July 18, when we start to cover educational policy.

Just a couple of quick notes on it, though. First, it's great that some districts and parts of the state have seen an increase in high school graduate rates. However, just like with the "Did you know?" poster campaign, I have a really hard time not focusing on the remaining slice of the pie, the 27 percent who do not graduate! What is there today in terms of opportunity for young people without high school diplomas? It isn't like the early or even mid-20th Century.

Also - no surprises here. Working on college readiness used to be a big part of my life. That was the whole point of the program I directed back in the '90s (if you are wondering, "He Has a Way with Words" was not about that program). I found that 49 percent of SUNY students who participated and 59 percent of all students who participated (when they were juniors in high school) would place in remedial math in college.

Also, unrelated: S'ville house is back on the grid! YAY!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'd like to think it was my email that convinced him.
I just tried to go to this restaurant. It's a kind of a funky place, very cute. The food is great, especially if you like things like whole grains, hummus, interesting salads and bean soups, as I do. But about the past five times I've tried to eat there, it has been closed. Every time has been during regular business hours - breakfast or lunch, weekdays or weekends, and not five minutes before they close. Banners and sandwich boards are all on display. Sorry to say, I think that is the last time I attempt to go there.

Monday, June 13, 2011

He Has a Way with Words
original draft 1997

I struggle to get the look on my face just right. It's not a a friendly face when I am not smiling. I don't want to seem closed minded or judgmental but the only alternative, sucking-up, isn't possible. I fidget, rest my chin in my hand, try to appear attentive. The speaker is repetitive and never makes eye contact. After a string of these meetings his ideas are not new and I am thankful to at last be numb. The others around the conference table display a mixture of boredom and distance. We avoid each other's glances.

At today's session we have visitors, representatives from a vendor of standardized testing materials.  Occasionally I risk looking at our guests and notice they are uncomfortable too. I am relieved.  My numbness is punctured every so often by the sting of a word or phrase.  He describes the old trustees, those holding the minority opinion on our board, as dissidents. Says he wants to close doors of objection. Defines history as a subset of a broader context, the study of Western Civilization. Names geography, western civilization and economics as the three most important subjects to test.

I am reminded of colorforms. Recently I bought them for the birthday of my friend's daughter, and in my imagination his fine gray wool suit changes to a uniform, complete with a cap.  In this vision, he is not lecturing, but barking orders.  Those sharp words, which have torn my blanket of numbness, float in the air. Dissidents. I see each letter materializing before my eyes, hanging there, animated.

He pushes the sales reps and data analysts to promise to meet his ridiculous deadline. They are hesitant, but don't want to lose such a large account. I can see the argument playing itself out in their heads. "Thousands of students to test!" on the one hand; "our professional reputation!" on the other. "I don't care if it's sloppy," he tells them, waving. The words dancing before my eyes evaporate because there is a new tear in my blanket.  Instead I see a door, and me sticking my foot in it as it closes.

He has to leave before we do and the atmosphere in the room breaks just a little. The test vendors ask us if we have any questions. "You wouldn't do that, would you?" I want to know.  "What?" says the woman across the table from me. "Make a sloppy test?" "No." She vigorously shakes her head. The others nod in agreement. The door disappears and I settle back under my blanket.
I noticed this in the paper yesterday and I see it is in the blog area today. I am working on research for the Academy about this program and was at the show's opening a few weeks ago, it was the culmination of the fifth grade's unit. I think it is great that this was covered in the TU, but it would have been nice to see this article run before the show closed, don't you think?

I got another non-robo call (amazing again), this time from NYSUT, using the same tactic: "I'm going to transfer you right now to your state senator" but this time, the issue was the tax cap. I said no again. She was more polite, observed the social niceties, said goodbye before hanging up, the Miss Manners in me (perish the thought) was pleased. She's lucky I don't do phone advocacy, though, because I favor a tax cap (although I am not bothering to involve myself in pro- advocacy, so I suppose I don't care that much), but she didn't ask. I guess the assumption is that someone on NYSUT's calling list would never feel that way?
I've been using fresh herbs from the garden for a while, but yesterday I picked spinach! So today I decided to start a batch of sprouts. In a couple days I'll be able to make salad that is completely homegrown. Of course, it will have to be made only from greens since the tomatoes and cucumbers are a long way off, but still! The best thing about summer has arrived.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I've been attempting to reconstruct some of the things that are on the Iomega drive, and store them someplace relatively safe. Sure, blogger might betray me too, but it has been pretty good to me for over nine years, while hard drives, diskettes, zip drives, flash drives, writable CDs have at one time or another, often at the most inopportune moment, decided to fail me big time. So that's the reason for the series of recent posts with the "my writing" label.

Bus Ride
original drafts 1997-2007

The bus smells like pee. The driver recognizes me and smiles. "So we have two for Castleton tonight," he says. I take a seat near the back and begin my mental narrative. I want to write about Aunt Jean, and hope to use the ride to summon inspiration.

If funerals can be beautiful, hers was. Except for the singing. I think of the Reverend singing hymns off-key, of Sylvia's lovely eulogy, of the gentle breeze in the Bushkill Cemetery, of my cousins. But my mind keeps going to a name, Valentine Green. If I was an actress, I would use it as a stage name. Valentine Green was an attractive woman in her seventies, the wife of my writing tutor. When I met her during my college days, she told me she thought I was a dancer. Certainly not a singer, and not from a singing family, as those hymns at Aunt Jean's funeral demonstrated.

We cross the bridge over the Hudson, then pass the K-Mart in Rensselaer. By now I am lost in thought. Aunt Jean taught me how to type one summer, on her sturdy IBM typewriter, set up in the porch which served as the office for Uncle Bob's business. It was my first job. I typed "I" instead of "1," not understanding the difference, since the child's typewriter I used at home didn't have "1." She showed me my mistake but used the envelopes I had typed anyway. In later years, Aunt Jean was fascinated by computers, and I had the chance to compensate for the typing lessons by helping her to use email when she was in the hospital. Some of the nurses would have preferred my visits be sans-laptop; they felt the Internet might be too "exciting" for her, but Aunt Jean and I defied them. No regrets.

If I had to say just one thing about Aunt Jean, it would be that she loved to read. She gave me many books when I was a teenager, mostly Gothic romances by someone whose writing we both admired, Georgette Heyer. She got them from the rare books business where she worked at that time. Once I was finished reading them, I would pass along those old books to my grandmother, Mimmie, another avid reader.

The bus is mostly empty now, having dropped off many of its passengers in the 1940s development known as Hampton Manor. I realize the driver is speaking to me, but I have not been paying attention, and am sitting too far from the front to hear anyway. He repeats his question several times before I get up and move closer. "Is the air conditioning too high?," he wants to know. "No, it's fine," I reply, annoyed at the interruption, although I know he is just being polite. The only other passenger is a regular rider, a greasy-haired woman who always spends the entire ride in a conversation with whichever driver gets stuck with Bus 32. Except that it isn't really a conversation, since it's one-way. She never seems to mind that he doesn't answer. He couldn't even if he wanted to, since she never pauses.

The driver is once again occupied with her endless monologue, so I try to resume my thoughts. Valentine Green intrudes. I remember her shoulder-length gray hair and expressive hand gestures. She was a retired actress. Perhaps, I think, it is simply too soon to write about Aunt Jean. The bus stops to discharge the woman, still talking as she exits. She retrieves a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of her jeans, shakes one out, and gives a big wave to the driver. He asks me if I am getting off at the same stop as last time I rode the bus. "Yes, by the Lutheran church, where the street changes to one-way." "Well, then I guess I know which way I'm going," he says. On the Castleton bus, CDTA route maps are just a suggestion.

Back to inspiration gathering. When my sister was in the fourth grade, Aunt Jean volunteered to work at a book fair held at the school. Tables of books lined the hallway, and each class took turns going down to shop. After wandering through the aisles, Janette spotted a spiral-bound Betty Crocker cookbook for kids. Although the little book cost only $1.50, that was $1.50 more than Janette had, so she put it down and returned to her classroom. She noticed that all of the “smarter” students had purchased a couple of books, or at least one. Later that day she saw Aunt Jean, who presented her with a small package. Unwrapping it, Janette had to blink back tears. So Aunt Jean had noticed. Back with her classmates, she proudly displayed her book from the fair, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls. Just like the better-off kids. In the more than forty years since that day, Janette has baked every recipe it contains.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Fear of critters consuming my garden sprouts trumped mosquito annoyance, and the garden fence is up! On the first nice day (ie, not overcast, not raining, not 100 degrees) I'll mulch it. I'm thrilled to not have to worry about groundhogs, deer and rabbits, but considering how much bugs hate me, maybe I should have been more concerned by the parasites...hmmm...
Most of my adjunct responsibilities involve teaching, but part is administrative. I advise new and nondegree students, and I am the keeper of enrollment. Some courses are required in all programs and are much in demand, so they are by permission of instructor. In a time of shrinking resources when extra sections can't easily be added (and it would impact quality to allow a graduate class to be huge), I have to watch and manage enrollments carefully. Elective courses may be in jeopardy of cancellation while students are clamoring for one of the requireds, even though they have several semesters to take all of them and they need to take electives too. I try to guarantee priority students get into what they need, and to prevent cancellations from happening.

I like planning, process and policy, and you might say I am comfortable with some aspects of bureaucracy (gasp), so being the gatekeeper is an easy role. It's defensible and fair, and that appeals to me. For the past couple of years I've been relying more and more on electronic tools for the tedious paperwork and other details of my system, and it has greatly improved and become more efficient.

Recently I have been releasing the permission numbers to students for fall. I have lists of numbers printed on paper from the records system. This year, I issued a bunch of numbers to students for the first class I was releasing. Almost immediately, I received an email from one of them, reporting trouble registering. That isn't uncommon, students often make mistakes when entering the number, or have holds on their records, or I could have sent them a number with a typo. I looked into it, compared my email to my list, didn't see anything wrong on my end. The problem persisted, however. Eventually I realized my error. The course number was "673" and I had issued the number from the list for "623," and not just for this one student, but for every student on the list.

That was a long preface for my point, which isn't about advisement or enrollment or adjuncting or stupid lists of numbers, because really -- who cares? The mistake isn't a big deal, except that the reason I made it was because I really did believe the 2 was a 7. I'd been struggling with not just the class number, but with every permission number on the sheet. I was bound to make many more errors, even when it is the list for the correct class number, because those numbers are so tiny!

Two years ago I went to the optometrist and got glasses after a couple of years of noticing I needed them. I had bought a few cheap pairs of reading glasses in the drugstore maybe a year before going in to get prescription ones. I was told by the doctor that I have a slight case of age-related astigmatism, and also that I needed reading glasses, but could get by with the over the counter lowest level strength pairs I'd been using if I preferred.

I decided to get two pairs of prescription glasses: bifocals and separate reading glasses. I also have five pairs of reading glasses from the drugstore (as I mentioned). This way I don't have to hunt for them. I knew I would probably not want to wear the bifocals all the time, if ever. (And that has been true, I don't like the bifocals and use them mostly for reading menus in restaurants.) I have glasses everywhere - in every room of the Castleton house, in Samsonville, on campus, and in my pocketbook (the latter is where I keep the bifocals).

So the trouble with the permission lists isn't because I am not using my glasses! I have a pair, 1.0 strength, right here, near the computer. What I need now is a 1.25 pair. Luckily I also have access to the records system, so I have figured out a work-around that is actually more efficient! I copy/paste the number right from the system to my response email. Now there can never be a mistake, whether due to poor vision or not.

I think having to wear reading glasses is the most irritating thing about getting older. Sure, there are other physical changes that can be no fun either, but reading glasses are taking away some of my pleasure in reading books. I was thinking about this last night, when I was reading Mark Twain's autobiography. The typeface is so small in that book! I know it isn't just me. But back in my 20/20 days, I would have consumed that book voraciously, tiny font size or not. I've had it since January - it would have been finished before spring classes started. I am not quite half-done, and even though it is a page turner, beautifully written, a pleasure content-wise...I am finding it a struggle.

Bob had been doing some traveling for work (which always means a blessed television-free spell submerged with a good book for me) and when he got home late last night, I looked up from Mr. Twain and whined "why would the editor decide to use a typeface this small? I know the book is very long and there already will be multiple volumes, but I would buy even more volumes if only the font was larger!" He replied, "maybe they are trying to incentivize getting a Kindle? Then you could make it any size you want."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Sums and Differences
original draft 1997

This is a sad place. "Shabby" or "run down" do not begin to describe it. "Worn" is more like it. It must have been splendid in its heyday. The drapes, the wood, the magnitude of the space are testimony to a time when this was a fabulous vacation destination. Now the next generation flies away to an exotic tropical place for less than it cost Mom and Dad to drive here from the city.

"To the Association of Math Teachers" cries the DJ before playing Buster Poindexter's "Hot Hot Hot." The groups of teachers are giddy from escaping the classroom for a day or two, pumped up from the workshops and the textbook sales reps and the astronaut's keynote speech. They notice, but do not seem to mind, the cigarette burns in what was once a mod carpet.

A woman in the elevator confides that it is rumored that Donald Trump is interested in this hotel for casino gambling. My new friend from New York's North Country grumbles that the Superintendent hired a techie from Clarkson University to "do" the computers, and stuck him with elementary remedial math. He loves teaching, he assures me, but he wanted to "do" the computers, he says. I try to be sympathetic, but the feeling isn't genuine, so I do my best to lose him in the crowd, and I am successful. Another teacher tells me that there is a lot more food beyond the bar in the other room. I walk through a wall of smoke into that room and make a bee-line for the hot appetizers. Ten people ask me what each item is. Do they think I work here?, I wonder. Or is my culinary expertise obvious? Perhaps it is this stupid red "speaker" ribbon that I am wearing.

My dinner companions laugh because everyone thinks they are a married couple. She explains how funny this is since he is old enough to be her father, and the thought is revolting. I am surprised by how straightforward she is, but he takes her remarks with good humor, and tells me he is disappointed because the TV in his room won't pick up the Buffalo Bills game. Although I didn't think they were married and have no reason to suspect an affair, I do notice that they are very cozy about sharing their food. I tell them that I am not one to judge age differences, that my grandparents were thirty years apart and my nephew dates a woman who is fourteen years his senior.

She says she can't imagine how that works. I smile. I like her. He asks me how my family handles it, and I tell him that there are so many more important things to worry over. He says that is a wonderful attitude, and suddenly I can imagine him working at a Catholic all-boys prep school. I decide that I like him, too. They start to talk about geometry with great enthusiasm; I stare at my plate, then finally shut my eyes to hide my amusement at the irony of me in this place.

Later, in my room, I read two chapters of a book while sitting in one of the filthy lounge chairs and then skim the State Education Department's learning standards booklets. My mind is wandering and I promise myself a writing reward when I am done. I wonder about the vacationers who have passed through this place. The intrusive noise of a television comes through the wall from the next room. And I know that there will be at least two friendly faces at my session tomorrow, the '90s version of a May-September romance.
My sister sent me this video link. The title made me reluctant to click on it, even though she never sends spam email. Then on FB she linked it and wrote "Thunder got them out of the pool in a hurry and into the Dinomobile." Funny, that sounds like a Jumble! (My BIL loves the Jumble.) It's our parents, quickly leaving after their swim in her pool. My father is very fond of exotic motorized things.

I am trying to get one last task done today - my faculty activity report - so I can go outside, weed whack, and fence my garden. The seeds are all up and looking good. Very little hail damage in general, despite the storms being mean. At least I want to be able to weed whack, and keep my fingers crossed that the critters won't find the sprouts.

Added: I got everything done, and there was time to weed whack. Also to do tasks I hate (laundry and dishes). I checked the garden but didn't put up the fence. It was a productive day already. I was hot from weed whacking even though the temperature didn't seem that bad. But even if I had been inclined, the mosquitos were awful! Hopefully it will keep until Monday and there will be some good weather for outside work next week. I had the happy realization this afternoon that I have been so "on task" that next week is gloriously free -- I'll be able to put in some time on my research - and can also sleep in, stay up late, work in the garden, read, write, draw and cook to my heart's content!

On the agenda for this weekend: the pool and getting back on the grid!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

From the scholarly journal "duh."  And basing the piece on the experiences of a 32 year old couple? LOL. That's when the severe pressure to conform to social norms has just begun. The impertinent questions about being childfree only increase. They taper off quickly at about age 40, and are nonexistant by 45. (Something good about menopause.)
Ghosts of the Past
originally drafted 2001

I write from my new office. Finally. The view is dismal, not mountains or the river but a large parking lot bordered by the ugliest side of an abandoned gravel grinding business. Sigh. At least there are windows; at the Vo-Tech almost all offices were solid concrete block cells. In the distance, across yet another highway, up on a hill, there is one pretty spot: a large old white house with black shutters. The grandest classical architecture, all columns and pediments and gable ends, now surrounded by suburban sprawl of the WalMart variety.

Actually, train tracks are the true border of the parking lot, just beyond the weed-wrapped chain link fence – or at least I imagine those dead vines are weeds, as it is still too cold here for the growing season – and 10 times per day freight trains lumber by. The train must be my destiny, because in Castleton we have Amtrak, much louder and faster.

My neighbors – if you don’t count my secretary and a handful of teachers and students -- are a dot-com, a health insurance company and a vast expanse of emptiness. Behind the smoky glass of the other half of this flashcube*, and the entire one next door, are rows and rows of hallways made of moveable walls dotted by doors. Identical tiny office after tiny office with an occasional secretarial workstation, and in the building next door, a 1,500 seat cafeteria, now inhabited, I’m told by a friendly maintenance guy, only by an occasional raccoon or feral mother cat and kittens.

Where once an army of white-shirted IBMers toiled away at XTs, now there are only numbers designating locations in mod ‘70s type. It looks like they were golden parachuted, or transferred to Research Triangle North Carolina, just yesterday, if you don’t notice the weeds (make that potential weeds, maybe today the rest of the snow will melt) in the cracks of the parking lot.

This place tells the history of 20th Century America in a single square mile; economic boom circa 1900 meant railroads and Georgian mansions; economic boom circa 1960 meant cars and IBM; economic boom circa 1995 meant still more cars and WalMart.

The space we occupy is beautiful, and except for the bathroom, has been renovated to the extent that there is hardly a trace of its former inhabitants. 15,000 square feet and a seven year lease and a five year grant and four cars in a parking lot as big as an ocean. Something will have to give eventually.

*Just the other day (in May 2011), I said something about a flashcube and Bob replied that today's youth have no idea what that word means. Not only the actual technological thing that we used in the dark ages on cameras - but that metaphor for a typical ugly glass office building now has no reference point.
Due to my recent newspaper hiatus, I haven't been reading it very much when it does come on Thursday or Sunday, but this morning, I made sure to retrieve my $50 paper from the sidewalk. Turns out today this annual feature was published.

Last year I commented on the article:

The categories with TU wins last year made me uncomfortable, and this year it got worse. What will be added in next year? Oh, I know! Best Place to See a Concert: 1) Times Union Center; 2) Times Union Parking Lot; 3) Times Union Conference Room. Times Union rooftop came in a close fourth. I am not specifically criticizing the writers listed, and I have enjoyed Paul Grondahl’s work very much (although John Grey’s Wednesday column in the Troy Record should land him somewhere in the top three; on its own, it makes the subscription price for that paper worth it) but the print journalist, website, and blogger categories should be removed from the survey. It’s shameless.

It's pretty much the usual. Oddly chosen categories, lots of chains, and TU dominating the journalism and online categories. I wonder what motivates someone to bother filling out the survey when the responses are "Home Depot" and "CVS." Save your digits - or your ink. But it's the TU's fault, really. Naturally big boxes are going to win. Main Street Hardware's single location in some corner of the Capital District is not going to get as many votes as Lowe's with a presence in every town. The survey is so unscientific it's laughable.

Then, one of the winning pictures is of the circus. Bad enough that it is shameless TU promotion, but does the event have to be the circus! Why did I bring in this rag to assault me? Online, I likely would not have clicked through to see the picture.

To counteract the awfulness, go here and donate to a worthy cause! It's MHRHS' Paws in the Park. I am not walking this year (I did last year, and I was looking forward to doing it again. I was excited to meet Oliver) but circumstances have conspired to be otherwise. However, my nephew is an officer on the board, and he's walking. Sam and Sophie (and Rudy, from heaven) say thanks!

Finally, here's an article I might have skipped if I didn't have the "paper" today. I have a habit, or a characteristic (I'm not sure how to describe it) that is a feature (to me) or I'm told, sometimes a bug (to others): I don't perceive television commercials. I turn off both my vision and my hearing as soon as they come on. I don't shut down exactly, I slip into my own thoughts and can't remember a thing about the advertisement. They are completely tuned out.

The only time this isn't true is if the ad features a dog or cat, in more than a cursory manner. For example, currently I love the commercial with the wiry dog who puts a bone in a safe deposit box and can't stop thinking about it. I also always paid attention to the one with the lab puppy singing "I ain't got bugs on me." However, even for commercials such as those, I don't remember the product, or it takes many repetitions before I do. (Right now, I can remember they were for insurance and flea medication respectively, but I couldn't tell you which company or brand.)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Get Your Boots On
original drafts 1997-2005

"You know, you can hardly get me to go to a party.  I like to visit with you, I visit better I think with one person or two than with a whole crowd.  It’s terrible sometimes when you have to listen, and it isn’t a bit interesting to you." (Mimmie, 10 April 1981)

Mimmie preferred to stay at her home, even on holidays.  She did join us at our house a few times for Christmas or Easter dinner, but more often she cooked for herself and Uncle Bud.  Before Grandpa died, sometimes we had holiday dinners with them at the old place.

One holiday especially stands out in my memory.  Though it was early in the winter for such a big storm, we awakened on Thanksgiving morning to a thick blanket of snow.  Supper was to be cooked at home, but transported to and eaten at Mimmie’s and Grandpa’s house. Daddy was in Florida visiting relatives, the highway crews were in no hurry to clear the roads on a holiday, and it didn’t seem likely that our car would make it there. Undaunted, Ma cooked anyway.

On Monday, when I got to school, my friends had lively stories of Thanksgiving disappointment.  Those who were traveling had hotdogs instead of turkey, because they had to stay home and had no provisions.  The families who were hosting holiday meals wound up with plenty of food, but no guests to share it.  Then it was my turn to tell our Thanksgiving story. We had supper at my grandparents’ house, exactly as planned, I said.  "Get your boots on," Ma told us when she was done cooking. We loaded the dishes of food into a sled and took turns pulling it as we walked the three miles through the snow to Mimmie’s and Grandpa’s.

In 1994, when I worked for System, I was directing a new assessment program that had a serious deadline. We had to ship exams to participating high schools, and they were to be administered during January Regents Week. A lot of the folks I worked with were brilliant people, but they were steeped in dreaming about theory. I was even teased a few times about my applied science master's degree, and described as overly "task oriented." The clock was ticking on getting the exams out - it took forever to agree on test items, pilot the tests, and finally get them and all the associated materials printed up. It was a roll up your sleeves last minute project but it looked as if we were going to make it. Then a major snowstorm hit, and there was no way to ship the boxes. Even Fed Ex would not come and pick them up; they had to be delivered to the office, across the street and up the sidewalk.

Suffice to say, those tests would have languished in the mailroom if the job had been left up to "my betters" or even to my subordinates. A naive, young but marvelous graduate assistant who worked for me blinked, "what are we going to do?" I thought for a minute. "Get your boots on." We loaded hand trucks with stacks of boxes and dragged them through the ice and snow to 41 State. Task-oriented is a bad thing my a--!
I am in "customer care" hell. A few months ago, I canceled home delivery of the TU. I loved receiving a morning paper, and have always subscribed to at least one. But over the winter it was often late or not delivered at all, it is too expensive, it is available online, and the front page and many stories mostly wind up irritating me.

In late May I received a telephone call from a sales representative pitching Thursday/Sunday delivery for 10 weeks for 10 dollars, including a source card. I told the representative to call me back the following day after I had discussed it with Bob.

It wasn't the ten bucks. Unsubscribing was based on principle - so we both have to be on the same page. He was agreeable, since newspaper is handy for things like mulching the garden and putting under the cat box. Also he sort of missed the Sunday paper and Thursday Preview section and although he said he'd just go to Stewart's and get one, he never does. There is something about waking up and reading it with your morning coffee (tea in his case). When the rep called back, I confirmed that I would only be charged ten dollars, and he assured me that was the case, so I gave him my debit card number. I asked him what would happen after the ten weeks, and he said I could call to cancel, or the subscription would continue at the regular rate for Thursday/Sunday.

My 10 weeks is from May 26 to August 3. The paper has been coming without a problem, although no source card has arrived. I was charged the $10 on May 27. Today I was looking at my account and I see that I was charged $40 on June 4. I have every intention of canceling when the trial is done, because after not having the paper delivered, I have gotten used to not reading it, and I don't feel like paying the regular rate. My blood was boiling. So I called the number listed on the TU website and it is a voice mail account. Billing has to call back.

I called the credit union, and they told me the TU can reverse the charge, also that if I am not comfortable with my account number being in their system, I can cancel my card and get a new one (what a hassle). So I called the TU again, but this time I didn't bother with billing, I chose a different option that I knew would get results, waited the long hold time, and extracted a promise that my debit number has been deleted and an offer for the one dollar per week deal for either six months or a whole year, with a one time payment. I didn't take the deal, and don't plan to consider it until Billing makes good on my $40. Apparently the only way to address that is with the call back from them. In my mind, the cliche "fool me one, shame on you...fool me twice, shame on me" is running. Also live and learn. Stay tuned.

Later: I didn't hear back from Billing so this afternoon I emailed a woman who is up in the chain of command for subscriptions; received a fast, if terse response. She's trying to expedite my refund.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Borderline nut job works for customer service every time. It's a shame, really, that one has to resort to it to get results. After a series of boilerplate email exchanges, I "liked" them so I could write a mean comment on TW's FB site. After that, I decided to stop pursuing it yesterday, too aggravated. First thing this morning I called. I didn't yell or behave irrationally, I just detailed my outage saga and listed my demands in a calm, serious voice, speaking very rapidly: 1) restoration sooner than June 14 or palatable explanation for why not; 2) not having to be at home during repair; 3) take it off my bill now, I do not want to wait for a credit after I pay.

I said I had been considering switching to TW telephone but how could I if the outage is three weeks? Also that I would have to consider moving to satellite Internet, even if it is slower. It would be cheaper than turbo, and more reliable. I teach online and can't have no service.

Customer service agreed to every demand, and said my service would be restored in 24-48 hours. Shortly afterwards the phone rang, it was a technician. He said he was on his way to my house! YAY. I'm awaiting word that it is fixed. (Fingers crossed.) I'm sure it is a big job, a tree is on the wire.

I put in some effort and my class is coming along fine. What a relief. While I was deeply submerged in design, the phone rang. It was a call from an organization advocating for gay marriage. It wasn't a robo call, but a real person - amazing. The guy on the phone asked me if I support it, and I said "Yes, I do." Then he said he was going to transfer me to my state senator's office so I could tell him to vote in favor of it. I said, "what? Hey, wait a minute, I don't call my senator ever, and I am not about to start now." He seemed shocked, said "really?" and hung up.

What a jerk! I often write letters and email them to my representatives, most recently on 1) animal rights and 2) SUNY2020, but I never call them about anything. Sometimes organizations will send a script that you can customize for your letter and provide links. Did this guy bother to offer anything? No.

I think it may have to do with this being a contentious issue in society, he was making assumptions about someone who isn't pliable. Another perfect example for toleration! One of the criticisms of social science survey research is called the social desirability hypothesis. It states that educated people are good at giving the right answer, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect their actual beliefs. They lie either to be PC or to give the researcher the answer they want to hear.

According to Vogt, there is not a lot of evidence to support the social desirability hypothesis even if it sounds intuitively good. (Kind of like the misrepresentation of Dale's Cone.) He states that it might be easier to demonstrate the opposite (the social self-confidence hypothesis): that educated people are self-assured and understand the reasons for research so they give honest answers.

Regardless, in the Velvet Glove, Jackman took it a step further: People do not support the policy idea unless they support any means to get to the policy goal. It may be easy to give a “socially correct” answer to the question, but when it comes to taking action, that is a different story; so essentially the answer to the question was a lie, proven when the respondent isn't willing to support any means to the ends.

I’m sure this reflects my telemarketer’s beliefs, that I actually do not support the policy; maybe I’m even a homophobe, so he perceives his rudeness to me as justified. Never thinking for a moment that his call was an annoying interruption, I was too busy to be on the telephone, that I never use the phone for advocacy because I hate being the recipient of such calls. So why would I believe making them would be effective?

A while later the phone rang again, this time it was my other line. I watched the phone for a while, because it never rings. We don’t use it for calls, it is only for DSL and the occasional fax. Who would have the number? Caller ID was flashing a long distance number I didn’t recognize. Should I let the fax fry someone’s eardrum? Curiosity got the best of me, and I picked it up. A robo voice identified some anti-gay marriage organization and said, “do you think marriage should be between one woman and one man only?” I said, “No.” And the robo voice abruptly hung up on me!

Added: wire is back up! Some tweaking on Saturday and I should be back on the grid.

Also: doesn't the do not call registry prevent these types of calls? Or is advocacy an exception?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Devolving into "nut job" in regards to Time Warner. My latest email (where I ask for a sooner restoration date than June 14, ask why someone needs to be there when the problem is the wire is down in the road nowhere near the house, and request a commitment on suspending my bill until the service is restored) elicited a response that was copy and paste boilerplate from someone named "Kathy" who has a poor understanding of English.

Also a little burnt out on working on the summer class. I can see there are many nice improvements in the courseware, but it is still a time consuming and at times frustrating process...and my garden is calling me! I did make progress. What a dilemma.

The weekend was groovy! I saw many people I had not seen in years. We're all fabulous and fun at 50. Even if I am still tired today, also sore from dancing! That's one thing that has definitely changed. I can still party hearty, but now I need more than one day to recuperate.

Today my summer online class went live. I have training on blackboard on Wednesday and will be working on getting everything in order for the next two weeks, since the official start date in June 20. This is the fourth courseware I've had to learn; my first experience was with Lotus Notes, in 2000. That was upgraded a few times, but the changes were almost seamless, so I'm not including those.

In 2002 I started teaching in the classroom as well as online, and I adopted WebCT as the supplement to my on campus classes, which the university was using for web content for traditional courses. Then, in 2008 we made a major shift, from Lotus Notes to Blackboard for completely online classes, and from WebCT to Blackboard for blended and supplemental courses. That semester was very stressful, and I had to do it during Winter break, since I did not volunteer for the pilot. I also had offered to teach a hybrid course, and that added a lot of work.

Now Blackboard 8 is becoming Blackboard 9. The WebCT to Blackboard transition was not seamless, and there is a steep learning curve for the upgrades within Blackboard. The courseware is very, very different, easily as much as Lotus Notes is not very similar to Blackboard. It's odd that this is true with the same company.

I'm an early adopter with an easy time learning computer-related things and it is forcing a significant redesign. I wonder if that is the reason - the philosophy hypothesizes that instructors won't change much on their own? I could see that as being true but not in my case. I fall more in the camp of being apprehensive when technology gets in the way rather than being a tool.

I didn't want a repeat of Spring '08, so I jumped into the pilot. This way it is a summer project and I am only teaching one class. Since it is the online class, I will really know Blackboard 9 well by the time Fall rolls around and my teaching load is not so light.

Friday, June 03, 2011

I found out my consulting obligation was canceled for tomorrow, and I immediately jumped up, ran outside, and started working! I let Teddy come out with me for a while. I have to have him on a leash, and monitor him closely. He has to be an indoor cat, because his former owner had him declawed shortly before I adopted him. He was five years old, how mean would someone have to be to do that? I'd never have a kitten done either, but doing it to an adult like he was is just plain cruel. The vet who agreed to it needs his or her you know what kicked. It breaks my heart, I wish he could have more freedom. But he was thrilled to be outside, even restricted.

I was thrilled, because the weekend was pretty booked up and I was wondering how I would fit in planting and getting my class ready to go live, along with the consulting and socializing that were on the agenda. Tomorrow evening we are going to a 50th birthday party. It's a sixties theme, complete with costumes required. Bob will be early/mid '60s Beatles, and I am going as late '60s hippy. I will certainly post pictures. I am not sure how many attendees will be hippies, and how many will prefer the mod look of the early '60s; ie, more Hairspray than Hair.

My wig came today, and I was a little apprehensive that it would make me look like a dominatrix or a witch instead of a hippy. The goal is not to be Elvira! So I put it on and snapped a photo, then emailed it to Bob. He responded: "you look as young as you did in college." That was very sweet, if untrue. My salt and pepper ages me, no argument there, and the jet black long wig does make me look younger, although not by 30 years. The effect is definitely hippy, so that's a relief. It's a comfortable look for me, not too far off from my funky taste of my own later teenage and early '20s years in the '70s and '80s. 

I have an extensive button collection, which I used to have displayed on the Gully Brook Press website (there is a collecting-themed virtual museum). Unfortunately, I never fully migrated it when AOL hometown vanished, and the photos are on the Iomega disks that I am trying to recover. Anyway, I have several good slogans and a peace symbol to wear.

Here's the prolific little red rosebush, with four roses today!:
Here's the vintage pink rosebush, just about ready to bloom:
My trusty tiller is rarin' to go (actually took this picture when I was done, but whatev):
Still have to fence it and mulch, but not a bad day's work:
I read this blog post in the TU yesterday and while I second most of the insights on container gardening, as a long-time organic gardener, I couldn't disagree more with the part about plant food. No, no, no! Commercial chemical fertilizer is not the way to go! Get thee one of these:
And one of these:
Or alternatively, make friends with someone who has one or more of these:
And say goodbye to the dark side!

I still have some basil seeds to plant. They came free with Triscuits. This was true last year too. I planted them, and the basil was great! So this year I accumulated four packs. I also have to water everything before going out to dinner, so I better get to it! I'd close with TGIF but I always remember what my mother says, don't wish your life away and enjoy every day, not just weekends. As I was raking the dirt in my garden earlier today, I was thinking how much I love not having to wait until the weekend or after my job during the week to work outside. Sure, at times adjuncting, freelancing and consulting have been a scramble and a juggle, but taking that risk, making that life change - it was the best thing I ever did.