Friday, April 29, 2005
Saturday, April 23, 2005
I feel the same way about Earth Day and our approach to the environment. Jo(e)’s wonderful post about her student protesters, and particularly the discussion in the comments about veganism, got me thinking about this as well. Culturally we tend to favor dramatic action when we make changes in our lives. Instead of making small changes in our eating habits, we go on Atkins or South Beach or some other extreme change that promises total transformation. Instead of lobbying for the more humane treatment of animals, we swear off all meat and leather and animal products. Or at least a few of us do, but that’s the only model for change we ever see. For the vast majority of us (and mad props to jo(e) and her students for being exceptions to this rule!), that sort of dramatic action is too difficult, so we think, Boy, in principle I think it’d be a good idea to be vegan, but I just can’t give up eggs and cheese, not completely and forever! I admire that woman who went to live in a treehouse in California to protest our abuse of the environment, and I love those totally environmentally responsible New Mexico desert house designs I saw on the TreeHugger Channel, but that’s just way beyond what I can realistically do with my life.
So instead, we make no changes at all.
But what if we tried a few small things that didn’t involve major sacrifice or transformation? Like using our turn signals when we drive? (I have a major obsession with people who don’t signal their turns. Are you saving yourselves some enormous effort and inconvenience in not having to move that little lever up and down? Really, it’s not that hard.) Do the same thing for the planet. What if we thought, I don’t have to give up all meat products, but maybe I could eat a little less meat, or buy free-range eggs instead of caged-chicken eggs. (That’s maybe thirty cents more you’d pay, to avoid a lot of animal suffering.) I could leave the windows open a few days longer before I turn on the air conditioning. I could water my lawn a little less frequently over the summer. I could recycle a little more. And so on. These actions probably won’t bring the rewarding sense of self-sacrifice and transformation that moving into a treehouse would, but face it, you’re just not likely to do the treehouse thing. So do what you can do, and see the powerful effect of small changes.
Happy Earth Day.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
But then there comes a day when you hop on the bus, say hi to the driver who recognizes you now, spend your day at your usual table in the archive, stop at the store on the way home, ask for half a kilo of cooking tomatoes, greet your neighbors, pause at your door and realize – hey, I just did all those things effortlessly and without thinking, those things that three weeks ago felt like walking through sand.
Where is this going, you ask? Well, this is for Rana (and for Scrivener who's just turned 34), because I promised several weeks ago I’d write about why I liked being 35. In the larger pattern of my life, being in my 30s feels like having been in Spain long enough to know how to buy tomatoes.
This analogy probably won’t work for non-academics, because it rests on the fact that my 20s were mostly spent in graduate school, postponing the kinds of things that most people associate with a real life – a spouse, an income-producing job, a house, a car. Instead, I had the constant learning curve of coursework, research, and prelims, in equal measures satisfying and exhausting, and all on close to a poverty-level income. When I got frustrated by my lack of a “real life,” I consoled myself (fairly successfully, because I’m incurably cheerful) by thinking, Yes, but I still have all those things to look forward to, and the reasonable expectation that they will indeed happen, just as I knew I’d eventually figure out that three tomatoes were about half a kilo. And I enjoyed the anticipation.
So here I am at 36, starting to get all those things I looked forward to for so long. And I think I’m enjoying them a hell of a lot more than I would have if I’d just been handed them all when I was 20. These aren’t big successes I’m talking about (except for that big fat trophy, heh); they’re not newsworthy or earth-shaking. All I’m doing is going through my ordinary life doing ordinary things, but I still get a little private sense of triumph from them - hey! I know how to find my way through the world now.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
I am delighted to inform you that the Board of Trustees has acted favorably on the recommendation from faculty peers and administrative colleagues that you be promoted to the rank of Associate Professor and that you be awarded tenure. This action recognizes your accomplishments in teaching, scholarship, and service to [this university] and the academy.
Congratulations on attaining these important benchmarks in your academic career, and thank you for your contributions to [this university].
[Chancellor who bears an unsettling resemblance to John Malkovich]
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Please consider being organ donors, folks. It's a gift of life.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Before him are long tall margins of vellum
and on the page the characters sacredly drawn.
His pens sleep. Beside them the onyx eye
of the ink. And he looks at the table.
Then opening small vessels of folium,
of indigo and orpiment, white and red lead,
he offers his hands. The kermes, or carmine red,
weeps with Christ's blood, remembering.
And the ultramarine, elaborately prepared
by the Arabs and as precious as gold,
rests in its silver cask, on which are
peacock heads with eyes of lapis lazuli.
A door creaks. Brother Jasper slips out
for another night of the flesh. Down the hall
the old abbot himself falls dangerously into
his sleep, the other cells collapsing in darkness.
But in the marginalist's, verdigris is opened,
the extract of malachite. Outside, where
the dark muscles its way toward the coast
or plays the empty eyeholes of a Viking's mask,
there is dead weight. Inside there's oil light,
and a slim green line that begins its pilgrimage
across a maiden page.
Well, as you've probably guessed, that little fantasy moment became real about ten years earlier than I'd expected. (They're very careful to keep this a total surprise to the winner, and believe me, this winner was surprised.) They begin with a little speech describing the professor and the things students have said about him/her, and they slowly become more specific in the description so that everyone in the auditorium is trying to guess who it is. I figured it out (Holy Shit!) at exactly the same moment that one of my colleagues sitting just in front of me elbowed the guy next to him and whispered gleefully "Hey! It's Pilgrim!"
So there was that, and some photos and interviews, and lunch with the chancellor, and that was my Big Day on Thursday. :) I'm slowly getting the hang of this... my husband and I mock-squabble over things all the time, but since Thursday, every argument effectively ends with the statement "I have a big fat trophy. I can do whatever I want."
Saturday, April 09, 2005
A Birthday Poem
Just past dawn, the sun stands
with its heavy red head
in a black stanchion of trees,
waiting for someone to come
with his bucket
for the foamy white light,
and then a long day in the pasture.
I too spend my days grazing,
feasting on every green moment
till darkness calls,
and with the others
I walk away into the night,
swinging the little tin bell
of my name.
Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.
Friday, April 08, 2005
Some Directions for the December Touring of Westcentral Nebraska
Turn right at the Standard Station
And head due west. Do not
Eat at the Hungry Indian
In Ogallala or stop for
Free tea at the Big Farmer
In Oshkosh--By Gosh. My
Advice, Sir: go cold and
Hungry over these wintered ranges
Where only on a cloudless night
Can the sky outstrip the land.
Join the tumbleweed. Huddle
With herefords against leeward
Walls. Walk barefoot over
Steaming dung along the
Dormant seeded rows of
Next year's yield. Forget
The motels at North Platte,
Tune out all noisy Teepees:
KODY, KOLT, KCOW. Hum
The notes of rusting cultivators
And watch with the hawk
for mice and rabbits and
Scott's once-in-a-lifetime bluff.
Inhale. Go dizzy with the
Windmill. Stretch even the
Fingertips against sand-coated hills.
You can get there from here,
Sir. But you must go
Cold and hungry. That route is best.
Just forget your Pontiac, then
Turn right at the Standard Station
and drive due west.
William Kloefkorn, from Uncertain the Final Run to Winter
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
THE SUN NEVER SAYS
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Looking on the bright side, though, as I am wont to do (one friend used to describe me as "gratingly cheerful" for my abuse of this technique), one of my tasks today was to coordinate the formal presentations made by students who are completing research projects for departmental honors in a variety of subjects. Some were confident and polished, some were shaky and nervous, some a little arrogant, some shy, but all of them had at least one moment during their brief presentations where their sheer joy in what they were doing showed through. Two of them in particular impressed me, partly because they were in fields (biology and accounting) both far from my own and difficult to communicate well to a general audience. Chatting with me afterwards, they both had moments where in the middle of describing the enormous amount of work and thought and time they'd put into these projects, and the corresponding dead ends and frustrations they found along the way, they'd crack a huge grin and say "And it's been so much fun!" Not in the way of students who want to suck up, but in the totally genuine way of students who have really engaged in the process of research, know that they've accomplished something unique and valuable, and discovered how genuinely fun that can be. (I've never seen anyone light up that much about the fun of accounting, and so contagiously!)
Many of my students are lazy and unmotivated, and operate with a powerful sense of entitlement that the world will simply hand them whatever they require. I worry a little bit about our future when I think of them. But these kids I worked with today? They can definitely run the world when I'm old, every one of them.
Friday, April 01, 2005
After a while I got bored with grading and decided to do a quick browse of the blogosphere, since I had the laptop hooked up for the student presentations (and Steely Dan). I visited all the usual suspects, chuckling, pondering, basking in the warm glow of bloggy companionship. And then, in the middle of reading the comments about oral sex over on Phantom's blog, I realized that the room's overhead projector was still on, casting a full-color ten-foot tall image of phrases like "I kept wanting to slap him and say, Get over yourself, little white guy!"
It seemed oddly appropriate.