Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011 Note: Earlier this year, I stopped receiving newspapers. They are too irritating, too content-free, too expensive -- and are being made superfluous by the Internet. It was a little difficult in the morning at first, but the feeling quickly dissipated. That was helped along because the current delivery person is unreliable, and the papers were often not delivered early in the morning, and sometimes not at all. And, as it turns out, I miss the Record more.

Smarter or Prettier, an answer to an old meme (2002)

About 15 years ago, at work someone asked, "if you could be either smarter or prettier, which would you choose?" The office was on campus, and the staff was all 20-something women, mostly graduate students, as a group already bright and attractive. Everyone, and I mean everyone, said without hesitation: prettier. Why? Because all felt they were smart enough, and that becoming any smarter would be a barrier to dating, and maybe even to getting through life!

More Jocks, Less Brains (1999)

For an owl, the early morning is filled with anything but joy, even after years of practice and forced early-to-bed. The television commercial may be right, that coffee – though not necessarily the advertiser’s particular brand – is the best part of waking up, but the morning newspaper is a close second.

The cities of Troy and Schenectady are smothered, with some justification, and rightly, I think, by the neighboring Albany. And so their daily newspapers struggle for significance.

The Troy Record hails itself as Rensselaer County’s voice, and if that is so, then the column Sound Off is a cacophony. The premise of Sound Off is that readers telephone to respond to articles in the Record; callers have 30 seconds to leave reactions on an answering machine. A Record staffer responds to the more outrageous callers. After years of following along, I’ve concluded that the less literate, the more inflammatory the comment, the greater the likelihood that it will be printed in the paper.

It is the forum Sound Off which rivals coffee for making early morning almost worthwhile. Corrupt politics, high taxes, the poor condition of local roads and the low quality of today’s teenagers are subjects especially dear to callers’ hearts. Hardly a day goes by without the wise aleck who writes the responses, which appear in italics beneath some of the quotes, raising someone’s ire. The latest controversy surrounds the Record’s stance on high school athletics verses academic programming. The editorial staff had the nerve to question the over emphasis on sports in a local district, and Sound Off’s phones have not stopped ringing.

After my morning caffeine and paper, I go off to campus three days per week. Returning to the full-time student arena after years of part-time study, I now find myself participating with other doctoral students in forums of a very different nature; or on second thought, maybe they are not that dissimilar. My peers share gossip and other secrets.

It seems failure is a badge of honor. “He failed the statistics exam ELEVEN times,” begins the confidence, complete with wide, unblinking eyes; the way the sentence is structured makes it sound like a blessing, not a curse. Or, “when I was taking the comprehensive exams for the second – or was it the third? – time,...” is the introduction to a story about what happened on that day, and the opening clause is just that, merely an opening, mentioned in passing with no shame. In fact, so proud is the telling, that it might even be called bragging.

I remember when such track records were labeled, as Frank DuMond probably would have, in the wonderful book Walking Through Yesterday in Old West Hurley, had it been the subject of his musings, “not college material.” Just a few tidbits from that delightful read; he is describing his mother:
She reminded us...that a “lazy man’s load” was trying to carry too big an armload of wood for the stove and dropping part of it. When I scurried around doing tasks I should have much earlier, I was told, “A lazy man works best when the sun is in the west.”
Perhaps, since I am in critical mode, that is something all owls should take to heart! Or maybe I should take those harsh attitudes as a lesson, let compassion get the best of me, and allow that it’s possible it is not failure which is prized by my peers, but perseverance and the overcoming of failure?

A few mornings ago as I was taking sips from my mug, my eye was caught by another of Sound Off’s many gems; “so we are known for sports and not academics...more jocks, less brains!” And this is something you are proud of? Smirked the wise aleck, in italics.

So did the owl.

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