Old and New 

School officially started yesterday, and like thousands of college students before me, I stood in the lines to buy a parking sticker and get books, earlier. Fortunately, as I have done this for so long, I don't have to stand as many lines as I used to. Even in both of the lines I stood in yesterday, there were at least a couple of freshman who stood in line for half an hour before realizing or being told they were in the wrong line. Been there and done that, but thank God that I know better now.

The financial aid line I stood in the other day was the only line where student's parents stood with them, which is because it is about money. But it was interesting to watch the parents and how they behaved in line. Almost every mom and dad took one of the flyers outside of the door and made their kid read one in a gesture of "you-better-think-about-this-now." The students were too busy watching each other, or pretending not to watch, to pay attention to anything their parents were saying. The one exception was a dad who was standing in line by himself because the daughter got upset over something and stormed out away from him. I felt a little bad for him, because unlike the other parents who were dressed in a New England fantasy of middle class, this guy looked like he climbed out of the woods after a month of logging. He wore jeans that were visibly caked in dirt and wore a stained white T-shirt. Later, the whole family returned to ask him what he wanted from Burger King. In a way, it was refreshing to see him there in line because he was an antidote to the bored sterility of everyone else. He seemed to be a little excited by the whole college thing.


But it was not all standing in lines on the first day. Besides working on unfinished projects, I struggled with the new desk I have in my office. The lower drawer gets stuck and, unlike other stuck drawers, I have not find the right technique to get it open. Part of me wants to say this is a security feature, but then I worry my files getting stuck in there forever. Therefore, I pulled in out the other day and found a shopping bag with the magazine card and receipt you see above, circa 1984. If you click on the picture and expand the image you can see where I've underlined the dates in red. Besides the fact that something as humble as a subscription card to magazines is actually a snapshot of American culture, I was intrigued by the the similarities and difference of the college experience then and now. You'll see Dustin Hoffman standing next to himself as Tootsie, The Computer as Time magazine's "Machine of the Year," and Steve Jobs on the cover of Fortune Magazine in a funny business suit. (Sports Illustrated does not advertise their swimsuit issue on the card which make me wonder if it was something they did in 1984.) But, what gets me is there is no reference to credit card numbers on the sign-up. And it is obvious that this card is just like the standard bundle of crap that gets stuffed in your book when you buy it today. Of course, what is missing are the three credit card applications that also come with it.

I have to say that the People Magazine secondary headlines crack me up. (They're printed larger on the back of the subscription card.) They are as follows: At Home with Mom-to-be Marie Osmond, TV's Sexiest Fitness Program, Is Rock Dead, and The Herpes Dating Service. Three words: Oh my God! I have no more comment.

28 September 2004

Begin Again 

School officially starts of Monday, but I have already gone to a week long conference for graduate teachers of composition, something which was a little intimidating at first, but also a bit exciting. I'm not sure how teaching my first class will go, but I have already made up a syllabus that I think might work. Of course, it is a bit heavy on course work (reading responses), but I'm sure I could make it work. Actually, having a lot of work for students to do is comforting for me as teacher because I know that even if I screw up all the lectures, I can fall back on what they've read. It might mean more grading for me, but as a first time teacher, it is something that I can have a little control over, so I say: bad for them, good for me. Really, I'm pretty sure it won't really hurt them. If the work does happen to be too much, I can always ease up later.

The Creek

During the conference, I have been a little surprised at some of the advice that the other, more experienced graduate students have given the prospective teachers. Having been myself a student for the last several years, it is fascinating to have another peek behind the curtain and see the kinds of things that instructors do when teaching, the tricks they use. For example, when students get upset with certain policies, like your late policy, instructors blame it on the syllabus rather than themselves. Even though they wrote the policy, if they say, "well, it's on the syllabus," most students will sigh, relent, and eventually accept that the piece of paper said so. Somehow, the paper carries more weight and authority. The other thing that surprises me if how often SOME instructors are willing to lie. (I emphasize some because it is clear that not all of them do it.) Just one example: if instructors allow students to choose which essays they want to read for the term by having them write their top three choices on a piece of paper, and later that night while reading their choices the instructors discover they're not comfortable with the student choices, they will lie in the next class and say, "well, it turns out this article was the most popular," even though it wasn't. I have to say that I have heard both of these things from professors, about the syllabus and had to do the choosing articles thing, and it never really ocurred to me that instructors would use these tricks. Man, I was naive. Today, I meet with the Composition Director to discuss my own syllabus and get advice on it. I hope all goes well because I spent a long time working on it.

24 September 2004

Rain and Reflections 

For the last several days, my girlfriend has been in Hawai'i with her family enjoying the tide pools, volcanos and lava flows, and above all else the ocean. Except for the suana like heat and humidity, it is what everyone says it is: a tropical paradise. Her descriptions of how great it is there have reminded me of how much I miss her. So, I have been left by myself to work on my various papers and to get them done. So far so good, but I need to keep up my working pace and productivity during the next week to get them all done by the end of the month when school finally starts here.

The weather here has been decidedly cool and rainy, and it has been that way for the last several days. Consequently, my mood has changed somewhat. I don't like to think that mood is affected by the weather, but I have to admit that, to a small degree, it is. The bigger story here is that things are moving on here at school, sometimes without me. The Ph.D. students are taking their qualification exams, which frankly, I am worried that I wouldn't be able to pass it even if I was taking it. As a Masters degree student, I don't--at least, not yet. The mailbox that I was able to access from the hallway has now moved inside the office, something that has a bigger impact on than I think it should. It is a symbol that I will not be teaching in the fall. Only student-teachers have these mailboxes. To access my mailbox, I will have to go inside the office, and look at the faces of the administrative staff who know I am not teaching. I'm a little worried that I have missed some important handouts.

Rain on Bamboo

Now, to be fair and realistic, I don't think that anyone really cares a whole bunch. I mean, big deal, right? I am just another face in a constant parade of faces who have marched through these budilings over the years, and unlike the professors who sometimes stay for years, even in the best case scenario, I will only be around for another year. I am not the first who has been in this situation, nor will I be the last. The only thing to do at this point is to start from where I am and move forward. If I can't try for being the model student anymore, I can certainly try for the most improved. Every day is a new chance, a new opportunity to make a fresh beginning. That is the advice I try to keep in mind. And it ilustrates something that I have been trying to do a lot lately: that is, focus on the positive and try to be optimistic in order to propel myself forward. Over-worry, anxiety, and having regrets about the time that has passed only paralyzes motivation.

With that in mind, there are some positives that I can focus on right now. First, my computer is paid in full. Thanks to some help from my sister, I now have a computer to help me do the work I have chosen to do. Another positive: I am still enrolled here at school, and I have even bought books for my next term. (One of which is No-No Boy by John Okada, a book I have wanted to read for awhile.) Soon, I will visit the gym because that is another thing that will help my mood, but after I have written some solid pages for my paper.

17 September 2004

Making Fiends 

The first episode of season two is finally here, and I had to share it with everyone. What the heck am I talking about? No, not the new fall lineup on NBC, ABC, or CBS, but the new fall lineup of web cartoons! Okay, not really a whole line up, just one--Making Fiends--but already one of the greats. With classic lines like, "No! I am not a cheese," how can one resist? Created by Amy Winfrey and released monthly or so, many episodes pit the fiend-maker, Vendetta, against the friend-maker, Charlotte. The animation is good, and the jokes are pretty funny. If you haven't checked it out already, you should. Everyone should include a link to the Making Fiend site. And no, I do not work for them, or am otherwise associated with them, but yes, I still think you should check it out.

07 September 2004

Three Links 

Normally, on my blog here, I write about how I cannot seem to get any work despite my best intentions. Writer's block is indeed a terrible thing, but constantly talking about it here can only lead to eventual boredom. My girlfriend has observed that I have been singing a one note song for a few months, and truly, this was valuable feedback. I have primarily been griping about papers that everyone seems to be sick of hearing about. Every writer should consider the needs of the audience. And I am no exception to the rule. Therefore, even though I plan to continue to use this blog as a soundboard for my own thoughts, I figured I would present some links to other sites I find interesting and which I think you should see. There can be more boring posts about my papers later.

First, Pax Nortona has a rather harrowing account of being rescued by paramedics after experiencing an angina during memorial day. Fortunately, I have never had to be transported to a hospital in an ambulance of any kind, but my sisters have. Once my sister had a grand mal seizure, and I sat with her on the floor and held her until the paramedics arrived to take her to the hospital. It was a little scary. And it reinforced a strong, personal knowledge of the fact that no matter how long it takes for a EMT crew to arrive (or a police officer) it is always too long. However, it is nice to take these services for granted.

Which brings me to the second post, Bhutan. This blog is an account of an American othropedic surgeon (I think) who has been working and traveling in the small Asian country of Bhutan, apparently the only Buddhist Kingdom on the planet. As he says in his posts, infection is constantly a problem because patients usually can only get treatment a couple of days after their accidents. Some of the imagery has been hard to see as he sometimes posts pictures of the injuries he encounters, but other images of his travels within the country have been fascinating. It has been interesting to follow this blog over the past couple of weeks and think about the contrasts between the country in which I live and the country of Bhutan, a place many people may not have even heard about. I think that this is the best kind of blogging, the kind that both opens the world up to you and makes you think critically about important issues.

The final post is a fascinating magazine interview with Alexander Yuvchenko, one of the engineers to survive the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the eighties, an interview found in New Scientist magazine. (I found out about this through the blog Incoming Signals, a cool site for interesting links that should be occasionally checked by everyone.) For me, the scariest part of the whole interview is when Yuvchenko describes the eerie blue light emanating from what was left of the reactor core and shooting up like a laser beam straight into the night sky. Definitely required reading for anyone who remembers the incident, or anyone worried about the nuclear power, nuclear weapons, or the future. I distinctly remember how the news organizations from that time were tracking the radioactive cloud that traveled the in the jet stream of the northern hemisphere of the globe. If you don't already know about the Chernobyl accident, you should.

That's all of the links for now; now, it is back to work on those papers I mentioned in the beginning of the blog. I am getting over the worst of the writer's block, and I recently received some good news that I hope encourages me to success in the future. I'll probably post about that good news later, but for the time being, here's wishing myself luck.

05 September 2004

Fall Approaches 

I haven't been feeling myself lately, partially I think because of the change of weather. It has been a little bit cooler and a bit more cloudier, especially in the morning, all of which is a reminder that school will be beginning soon and I still haven't yet completed my papers from spring term. I know that I have complained to much here about something that has largely been within my own control, therefore, I will try to keep my thoughts about the unfinished work short.

Although I forget in which book I was reading it, I recently came across some advice for overcoming writer's block, something that every writer supposedly experiences at one time or another. This is my first real, a most severe case of it. I have put off assignments before. In my undergraduate days, there were a couple of 3-5 page papers that I put off until I was sometimes the very last person in the computer lab when they shut it down at 2:00 a.m. and the first person to be there in the morning when they opened it at 7:00 a.m. A marathon session at the computer would be all I needed to get the work in on time. Part of me does not want to believe that I am experiencing writer's block at all right now, but the facts are staring me in the face. Feedback, wanted and unwanted, from my girlfriend and my family has helped me see the extent to which this has affected me, and by extension, them. And it has not been pretty.

Fall Approaches

Anyway, the advice in the book was simply this: A famous writer says that she allows "sentences to be as stupid as they wish." I think that my problem is that I have placed so much pressure on doing these papers perfectly, I have nursed too many fears that the paper will earn a poor mark, I have wasted so much energy worrying about a future not being at school anymore, that I have become paralyzed. I keep waiting for the perfect sentence to spring into my head so I can put it on paper. The trouble is (and I intellectually knew it all along) that the perfect sentence is developed later, like muscles, on the skeleton sentence you place in the draft. This is basic writing process kind of stuff.

In any event, with the new approach of letting my sentences "be as stupid as they wish," I am going to try to knock a full draft of my half-completed paper either by the end of today or at least by sometime tomorrow. This has to been done because there is no more avoiding it. I will post another brief blog entry when I have it done. Until then.

03 September 2004