Monday, December 31, 2007

End of the year

Some years I'd never want to live through again. 2007 wasn't one of those. I wouldn't mind living through it all again. Some damn good things happened in my life this year. What if 2008 turns out to be a dud?

I did end up going to the Sun Bowl game on the final day of the year. The weather was unbelievably warm, and Baby Bash performed at half-time. The second half turned out to be a disappointment. I was sitting next to some South Florida fans who left at the end of the third quarter. I don't blame them. I took some pictures of the game, which I'll probably be posting soon.

As for tonight, my invitation to a wild New Year's party got lost in the mail, so I'm probably going to change into my pajamas around 11 and watch the crystal ball drop and then go to bed. Geez, I am a boring person sometimes.

As an end to this post of randomness, this is a pretty cool CD.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New poll on the sidebar.

Resolutions

Here's how I did on last year's:
  • Eat less junk food - Not so much
  • Exercise more - Pretty much stayed constant, not more or less than last year
  • Practice piano more often - Nope, practiced less than last year
  • Write something cool - Two magazine articles, woo hoo
  • Be more observant - Nope, still a big unobservant dork about a lot of things
  • Read at least one great novel - East of Eden
  • Do more outdoors things - Unfortunately not
  • Make a career plan - *sighs* No
  • Learn Spanish - Does Italian count?

Two out of nine, not a great track record. Nevertheless, here's my set of resolutions for 2008:

  • Stop using emoticons
  • Eat spicy food more often
  • Stop using the words "you know" as nervous conversation-filler
  • Travel to a foreign country
  • Read another "great" book
  • Read a newspaper every day
  • Decide on a career (for real this time)
  • Pray more
  • Eat healthier food
  • Finish school
  • Do something totally unexpected

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Copy from products that I received as Christmas gifts

From a registration card that came with my Chia Pet Cuddly (a stuffed animal that looks like a Chia Pet)
In the interest of continuing research and development to improve our products, we would appreciate your taking a few minutes to answer the following questions.

5. If received as a gift, why did the giver chose a Chia Pet for you? (check all that apply)
I wanted a Chia Pet Cuddly
I like Chia Pets
I like stuffed animals
I like the animal this cuddly is

7. Please indicate which attributes of this Chia Pet Cuddly appeal to you
It is soft and cuddly
It sings the Chia song
It is like a Chia Pet, only softer
It is a nice size
It is cute
I like the the carrying case

The very existence of a registration card for a Chia Pet Cuddly is just hilarious to me.


Copy on the back of my new hairbrush, brand-name So Gelous (named for its plastic-gel handle)
Get ready to create a new you that others will envy with So Gelous Hot Round Straightening & Curling Brush. Great for creating curl or straightening hair, simply by using direct heat from a blow-dryer. It features Ion Infused bristles to minimize fly-away hair and an open vented pattern that makes blow-drying wet or dry hair easy, manageable and fast. Make your hair shiny, glossy, and most of all frizz free!

Yes! Frizz is indeed my enemy.


English-language translation of some Italian-language copy on the back of a tube of Mimosa Moisturizing Bath & Shower Cream (from an Italian company called Elaria)
Little velvety spheres of gold, emerge between the thin green leaves, gently vibrating to the breath of the first spring breezes. It is the Mimosa that whispers a sweet song and colors the landscape with brushstrokes of light and happiness. With its strong, supple branches and fleeting clusters of flowers, it evokes an intriguing and elusive woman, rich in inner strength. The essence of Mimosa is one of the world's most ancient perfumes and with its warm and joyful notes, it strokes the skin like a delicate ray of sun...

"Evokes an intriguing and elusive woman, rich in inner strength." A mysterious woman with values--nice concept, but it might be a lot to ask of a shower gel.

I can't believe that people are actually paid to write this stuff.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

TIME magazine chooses Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year. Writes managing editor Richard Stengel (ever so eloquently, I might add):

TIME's Person of the Year is not and never has been an honor. It is not an endorsement. It is not a popularity contest. At its best, it is a clear-eyed recognition of the world as it is and of the most powerful individuals and forces shaping that world—for better or for worse. It is ultimately about leadership—bold, earth-changing leadership. Putin is not a boy scout. He is not a democrat in any way that the West would define it. He is not a paragon of free speech. He stands, above all, for stability—stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years. Whether he becomes more like the man for whom his grandfather prepared blinis—who himself was twice TIME's Person of the Year—or like Peter the Great, the historical figure he most admires; whether he proves to be a reformer or an autocrat who takes Russia back to an era of repression—this we will know only over the next decade. At significant cost to the principles and ideas that free nations prize, he has performed an extraordinary feat of leadership in imposing stability on a nation that has rarely known it and brought Russia back to the table of world power. For that reason, Vladimir Putin is TIME's 2007 Person of the Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Winter vacation/Christmas

So it's great to be out of school, finally. Isn't it? I think it's great for the first week or so, as you rediscover the joys of sleeping late and watching movies during the afternoon. Then I'm like, OK, what now? I then become excessively aware of chores that need to be done, like cleaning the bathroom and washing the car, things I've neglected in the past month or so. Also, I remind myself of some schoolwork that needs to be completed over the break, tragic as that may sound. And a blog post or two may be in order, now that I have the time.

Tonight I helped my sister bake Christmas cookies. There's one Christmas tradition worth holding on to--pecan puffs, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cookies, and mini-muffins. Wow. I once heard someone say, "The best part of Christmas is the food." Well, I'm not exactly sure it's the best part, but surely one of the best. As I'm typing this, I'm surrounded by pretty Christmas decorations, courtesy of my mom. There's a beautiful Christmas tree in the living room in front of the window, garland above the fireplace, candles, red ribbons, and white Christmas lights. It's all very nice. Somehow it's very comforting, like a reminder that everything's going to be all right. There will be a time to be crazy busy again, but for now it's good to just be still and relaxed and grateful for what I have.
Speaking of Top 10 lists, there's a whole slew of them over on TIME.com. Check out the Top 10 underreported stories, books (nonfiction and fiction), breakups, buzzwords ("bacn" is a cool one), and quotes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chalk finally popped up on my Netflix queue, a few months after La Brown Girl recommended it. This is the funniest movie I've seen in a while, especially after my first semester teaching. I think it's also an interesting commentary on why so many new teachers quit during their first years of teaching (50 percent quit within the first three years, according to the film). If you like The Office-style mockumentary, you will love this movie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Top 10 favorite lists, 2007

In keeping with the annual tradition I started last year, here are my Top 10 favorite lists for 2007. No, not all these works were released this year, but I did view or read them all this year. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Books
Once again, the "classics" took a backseat to current and/or more lightweight stuff. I think I managed to read some interesting books this year, though.
Americanos (photo book) by Edward James Olmos, et al. - Lovely photos
The Assault on Reason by Al Gore - Al Gore = my hero
A Mighty Heart by Marianne Pearl - Great
C.S. Lewis by A.N. Wilson - Amazingly interesting bio of the writer
East of Eden by John Steinbeck - A true classic
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - I joined every Oprah-watching, book-reading woman in America in reading this book this year.
Harry Potter, Books 5-7 - Got swept up in Potter mania this summer.
Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner - Love anything by her
Love Monkey by Kyle Smith/About a Boy by Nick Hornby/High Fidelity by Nick Hornby/ (in order of how much I enjoyed them) -Aren't these all the same book? I think I've read enough about the male mind. Not encouraging.
The Meaning of Wife by Anne Kingston - Fascinating study of women's gender roles

Movies
Action movies are clearly not my cup of tea.
Becoming Jane
Knocked Up - Funny and true-to-life; love when they find Paul Rudd at the baseball club
The Lives of Others - Excellent
The Lookout
Marie Antoinette - Pretty to look at and surprisingly poignant
Michael Clayton
The Queen
Ratatouille - So cute
Russian Dolls
Waitress
Classics: The Commitments, Fandango, Ghost World, Labyrinth - Rent these!

Music
This is the most current of the music I listened to this year, amid the oceans of classic rock. I never thought I'd like any song by Fergie, but I have been proved wrong.
"Apologize" by Timbaland - Check out the video
Augustana (in concert) - Ah, "Boston."
"Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie
"I've Got a Feeling" by Ivy - As heard on "Felicity"
Self-titled album by Corinne Bailey Rae
Shiny Toy Guns (in concert)
"The Sweet Escape" by Gwen Stefani
"Sweetest Girl" by Wyclef Jean - Lyrics questionable, but I like the chorus.
Two fantastic older pop albums:
Everything's Different Now by Til Tuesday
Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too by the New Radicals
Eternal classic:
Chopin: Favorite Works interpreted by Vladimir Ashkenazy - Probably the thing I listened to most this year. Good music for reading or doing homework.

TV
Lousy year for TV. Writer's strike and who has time, anyway? Oh well, there were a few things...
The Daily Show
Europe with Samantha Brown - Ooh, Europe.
Grey's Anatomy - Entertaining, if nothing else.
Mad Men - This is cheating, since I only watched half of two episodes. But the attempt to recreate the (non-PC) attitudes of the 1960s seemed pretty daring.
Mythbusters
The Office
Planet Earth - Whoa.
Prime Suspect on DVD - So hooked on this series; Helen Mirren is amazing.
Real Time with Bill Maher
Top Chef

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Interesting article about attempting to recruit El Paso expatriates back to the city. Check out this survey if you are an ex-El Pasoan.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My lunch on Thursday inspired the new poll on the sidebar.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My first (and possibly only) Christmas card of '07



Thanks, Stu!
I miss The Tonight Show. Stupid writers' strike. Can't they just work it out already?

Actually, I think I'm about 20 percent more productive now that it's all reruns.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Snow pictures

As promised, pictures of the snow on Thanksgiving weekend:









Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A great moment

Yay, I think I finally finished the paper I have been working on since the beginning of the semester. I am strangely satisfied with these 17 pages. Now I have to make peace with the fact that only one person besides myself is going to read it...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I'm a guest blogger!

My contribution to Stu's Review 2007 is up today over on feeling listless. Since the theme for this year's review is "Home," the post is about El Paso. It's the first time I've ever really written about this city in much detail. It was surprisingly emotional for me to write, since this city is so much a part of who I am. Anyway, go read it and see what you think.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's a rainy Saturday morning. Did I mention that I hate this weather? I have yet to find a good way to deal with the winter months. Hibernation would be ideal.

Last night I watched The Lives of Others. It's a great movie, though very different from what I thought it would be. More romantic, less political, I guess. I took German in high school so I could understand about 10 percent of it without reading the subtitles.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

- I'm busy. Again.
- The cold is starting to lessen up, so thank God for that.
- I like holding conferences with students better than I like teaching in front of the whole class. Do most teachers feel that way?
- I had forgotten how good oatmeal cookies can be. Ooh, yummy...

Monday, November 26, 2007

- Is it a bad sign when you wake up to the song "Don't Fear the Reaper"?
- I got in the car this morning to find the gas gauge on empty. I drove the car all over town yesterday and didn't notice at all. Scary. I was afraid to be late and so wasn't planning to fill up on the way to school, until I was driving and noticed the needle dip down to the black region below empty. How many miles can you drive a car when it gets to that point? That might be an interesting experiment for Mythbusters. Not for me on a Monday morning, though. I finally stopped at a gas station. $43! but that's another story. I've never run out of gas before. That would have been embarrassing.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The NY Times explains the high cost of health care in America:

Almost all economists would agree that the main driver of high medical
spending here is our wealth. We are richer than other countries and so willing
to spend more. But authoritative analyses have found that we spend well above
what mere wealth would predict.

This is mostly because we pay hospitals and doctors more than most other
countries do. We rely more on costly specialists, who overuse advanced
technologies, like CT scans and M.R.I. machines, and who resort to costly
surgical or medical procedures a lot more than doctors in other countries do.
Perverse insurance incentives entice doctors and patients to use expensive
medical services more than is warranted. And our fragmented array of insurers
and providers eats up a lot of money in administrative costs, marketing expenses
and profits that do not afflict government-run systems abroad.

The editorial goes on to give some surprisingly nuanced solutions for changing the health-care system based on actual research. Imagine that. I still think a single-payer system is the way to go.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Snow

I woke up to a beautiful snowfall this morning--fat spiraling flakes, a thick blanket of white covering everything. Last week temps were in the 70s. El Paso weather is definitely crazy but I like it. The first thing I did was go out to take pictures. In my pajamas, even. The snow continues to fall furiously outside the window. I'm amazed. Pictures will be posted soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A lull

So somehow I've arrived at a lull. No papers to grade, a couple of reading assignments, but nothing major to turn in. I cleaned the house last week. I'm reading for fun and watching DVDs and blogging. Ah, this is nice. I even made cookies yesterday. I bought a cookie mix that requires only adding a stick of butter and an egg. I'm not against taking a few shortcuts in life. They tasted just like cookies made the regular way.

I'll tell you all a secret: I don't really like Thanksgiving. I'm a Scrooge when it comes to holidays in the past few years. When I was a kid I used to get excited about holidays, but I honestly can't remember the last time I really looked forward to celebrating a holiday. Maybe because I dread having to make small talk with family members? Or because I think most holidays are overhyped and lacking in meaning? The exceptions being things like Veterans' Day and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. But Happy Thanksgiving, anyway, to anyone who's reading this.

Friday, November 16, 2007

My new favorite song, heard for the first time driving to school/work this morning.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Capturing the now

It has been awhile since I've really reflected. Not completely true, I guess, since I can spend a good hour writing in my journal when I have the time, trying to make sense of things. But it's true I haven't updated this space much lately.

Things are very different since I said good-bye to my old job. This is a healthier way of life, I think most would agree, now that I don't have to stay up until 2 a.m. every day. It's definitely a more social way of life. Where before, I'd do my job mostly in solitude, I now work in an office with about 20 other teaching assistants. Most of us are around the same age, and we're all in classes together or have been in classes together. This is probably as close to college dorm life as I've ever gotten, or a season of the Real World--it's a great mix of whites and Hispanics, girls and guys, introverts and extroverts. During office hours, while not grading papers or meeting with students, we talk about books and philosophy, race and culture, our students, and our classes (there is one in particular which we are united in hating and can spend hours bashing). We go out to lunch and talk about our life plans, our significant others or lack thereof. It's a group that likes to talk, and a group with the brains to make conversation interesting. It has made this semester far different from the previous ones. A blast, really.


Not to say being a teaching assistant isn't work, especially on days when I get up around 5:00 in the morning and work basically continuously all day until I go to bed and close my eyes and fall asleep immediately. I have crammed a lot into this semester. Too much, I think--a class on teaching, a research methods class, a service learning project, and most importantly, I'm teaching a class on my own for the very first time. On principle, I am against cramming so much into a four-month period. Ideally, classes should be savored, readings should be thought about, discussions should be deep and meaningful. But schedules being what they are, this semester day to day has been more like, I've got three articles to read and one hour to read them. Realistically, I'm not going to get much more than the gist. Sometimes I don't have time to read at all and I go to class and have absolutely nothing to say. I hate myself for doing this.


This semester has definitely been a case of information overload. It seems up until now there has been no time to think about things, just time to do. So much has happened, and it's like I can see everything spinning around me--the things I've read, the conversations I've had--but all I register is a blur of color, not the shape or texture or symbolism. Undoubtedly, hugely significant things have happened, and I have failed to realize their significance. This is a very different state of being for me, as a person who had gotten used to there being, proportionately, much more reflection time compared to actual things happening. In a way it's fun. In other ways it is just confusing and bewildering. I know that the events of the past few months have changed me, but I haven't had time to register how just yet, which is a very strange feeling. My next post...

Anyway, so now it's getting into that time of the semester where I'm trying to decide about the future (or at least next semester). But how do you decide about the future when you have no time to think about things? Everyone's asking, What are you going to DO?

Are you going to get a Ph.D? No, not planning on it.

What is your thesis about? My God, I don't know, I have a few ideas.

Are you going to keep teaching? I don't know. *sigh*

Ah, teaching. Can I do it? Yes. Do I like it? Well enough. Is it my life's work? I don't know yet. Here you have your lofty goals about making a difference, but are you? What about next semester, and the one after that? Am I going to be happy teaching the same material to another group of 18-year-olds? Or am I painting myself into a corner?

I'm frustrated at the pace of things more than anything. I don't know why everything has to be decided now, why finishing school has to take a year and no more, a thesis project two semesters and no more, why I have to have a ten-year career plan decided on by the end of this semester. But it seems that's what people expect of you. And it scares me to think of this chapter ending, just like the last one did. What will happen then? What will I be doing? Will I be happy doing it? Hopefully I will have had time to make a thoughtful decision by then.

Friday, November 09, 2007

This is the first weekend in a long while when I haven't been overwhelmed by homework and grading. Could this mean a longer post might be forthcoming? It might...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

TIME's Michael Kinsley on Democrats vs. Republicans and libertarians vs. "communitarians":

Libertarians and communitarians (to continue this unjustified generalizing) are different character types. Communitarians tend to be bossy, boring and self-important, if they're not being oversweetened and touchy-feely. Libertarians, by contrast, are not the selfish monsters you might expect. They are earnest and impractical--eager to corner you with their plan for using old refrigerators to reverse global warming or solving the traffic mess by privatizing stoplights. And if you disagree, they're fine with that. It's a free country.

Generally, he says Republicans are libertarians as far as government regulations go, but socially they are communitarians, and Democrats are communitarians in government and libertarians socially. I think it's an interesting and mostly valid categorization, with a few gaping holes. Since when are Democrats lacking in visions of an ideal society (and attempts to legislate it)? And how much are Republicans against Big Government these days, really, in practice? As one letter writer put it in the letters to the editor, "But both parties are for Big Government; they merely differ on how to use it. Democrats would legislate compassion. Republicans would legislate morality. Libertarians would legislate neither."

Which one are you--libertarian or communitarian?

Friday, November 02, 2007

It's Nov. 2 and it feels like a warm spring day...meanwhile, they already started playing Christmas music at Wal-Mart. I'm confused.
From Judith Warner's blog post on The Daring Book for Girls:
“The Dangerous Book for Boys” spent 20 weeks on the New York
Times best-seller list and is slated to become a Disney film. If the “Daring”
book does anywhere nearly as well, then it could mark the start of a pop culture
re-imagining of modern girlhood – one, perhaps, with an emphasis on doing rather
than seeming, on growing rather than shrinking, and on exploring rather than
shutting down.
I like what Warner has to say about "toxic girlhood" and ways to combat it. I think if I had a daughter I wouldn't let her watch TV, except things like PBS and the Discovery Channel. TV = poison to girls' self-esteem, for the most part.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Grad school triathlon

As I faced the mountain of work in front of me last night, I remember thinking that if I could just make it through to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, I would be home free, having shown myself to be worthy of being a grad student.

Sometime life sets up an obstacle course for you. I felt like life was testing me, or could it be the divine? I knew I would have to do everything just right that night--schedule my time just right, force myself to concentrate--or the whole thing would collapse.

Yesterday class lasted until 6 p.m. and I got home at 6:30. At that point I had the following to do: read and summarize a 23-page journal article (due online by 10:30 p.m.), prepare to lead a discussion and teach an important lesson in my class the next day, and finish a rough draft of a seminar paper (I had written three of eight pages). All of this while fighting off a cold and really wanting to rest.

The journal article summary came first and took longer than expected. I heated up a veggie burger for dinner. Not much time to eat. Summary was sent off at 8:30 p.m. I zoned out and watched the baseball game for half an hour. Then time for lesson plans, while I was still relatively energetic, since I can't plan a lesson when I'm exhausted. It took an hour. At 10 it was time to write like mad to turn my paper into something coherent. Was it the most brilliant thing ever written about the writing process? NO. But at least it was something I wouldn't be horribly embarrassed to hand in. I went to sleep shortly after midnight, my throat burning. I hate going to sleep when I'm sick. I woke up (coughing) at 6:20 a.m. so I could finish the citations for my paper. This actually went faster than expected. I printed it out. I showered and got ready and reviewed my notes for class as I ate breakfast. Then off to school to attend a class at 9.

At 10:30 I began to teach, after I apologized for the poor quality of my voice. Then halfway through class, guess what happened? An observer entered my class to evaluate me, and I thought, God, what are you trying to teach me, exactly? I absolutely didn't know about this beforehand. I got more nervous than usual but I think I did OK. Immediately after that, I attended a class as a student. The bell rang and the prof announced, "Please hand in your rough drafts." I fished it out of my notebook triumphantly and slid it across the table. I felt like a triathlete crossing the finish line at a triathlon. Seriously, I think I deserve a prize, or at least some heavy-duty relaxation. I did it. I finished it all. Congratulations to me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I wore a suit to teach today, mostly because it was cold and all the sweaters I have are too casual to teach in. Strange how I act differently when I wear a suit. In some ways I feel ridiculous wearing it, because I feel like the "real me" wears jeans and T-shirts, not dress pants and a jacket with shoulderpads. Yet it does make me feel more"professional" and somehow I feel more justified bossing people around when I'm in a suit.

I think I caught the cold that's been going around campus. Yuck. This is an especially bad time for it, too. Did I mention that I hate being sick? I do.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The El Paso City Council is considering a ban on plastic bags. According to the article in Friday's El Paso Times, "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans throw away nearly 100 billion plastic bags a year. When the bags reach landfills, they break down into toxic chemicals -- in 1,000 years." It sounds like a good idea to me, but I'm the type of person who buys about three or four bags' worth of groceries every two weeks. I don't know if I'd be so enthused if I were a mom with kids who spends $200 on groceries every time she goes to Wal-Mart. That's a lot of bags to bring from home.

A ban may be a little extreme, but couldn't cashiers be trained to fill up the bags more? It really bothers me to see a cashier use one bag for every three or four small items. And bag recycling programs are a fantastic idea, but apparently not enough people participate in them since so many bags are being thrown away.
Did anyone see "Real Time with Bill Maher" last night? Here's what happened. Gotta say Maher handled it heroically. I bet he dealt with more than a few hecklers in his days doing stand-up.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Harsh but amusing pan of Jennifer Lopez's new album where AP reviewer Nekesa Mumbi Mood takes hits at both Lopez's voice as well as her relationship history: "In the past, Lopez scored big hits with sparkling jams that hid her vocal flaws while enticing listeners with irresistible beats. Those kinds of tracks are hard to find on 'Brave,' which contains plenty of fourth-rate songs that sound as if they were made for Brooke Hogan instead of an A-lister like Lopez." Ouch.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Encounter with the past

On Saturday I ran into a classmate of mine from senior year of my undergraduate degree. It's funny to be reminded about your former self sometimes. It was four years ago that I was a computer science major and this classmate and I had to endure a torturous class called Software Engineering. We reminisced about the amount of hell we went through for that class. It involved spending nights and every Saturday at the computer lab and working under the direction of a grouchy, tough-to-please professor. This then led to a "where are they now?" gossip session about professors. I was surprised how easily the computer lingo came back to me. HCI and parallel computing and software and semantics. I still remember. Sometimes I think I'm forgetting how to add. But it's all back there, somewhere.

I'm usually kind of afraid of running into people from that time, since I'm afraid they'll judge me for the decisions I've made since. But I ended up talking to this person anyway and was relieved that his reaction was more of curiosity than judgment. What would possess a person who was doing well in a computer science program to finish her degree and then make a complete 180 and get a master's degree in English? I muddled my way through an explanation. I just couldn't stop talking; I kept layering on the reasons, and I don't know whether I made any sense at all. No one asks me these questions. Maybe I jumped at the chance to try to explain, to both him and myself.

I don't know if I was entirely truthful, though. It's too easy to say that it just wasn't me, that computers didn't suit me and one day I woke up and wanted to be a writer. Not true. I think I've always wanted to be a writer, and it has been a strong pull. But the fact that I chose computer science and stayed with it so many years and was able to do well in it, while really wanting to do something else, says something about me, too.

Something I kind of talked around was the fact that I wasn't very happy back then. In fact, the words that come to mind are cynical, brittle, and lonely. I think about myself now and maybe I'm not Ms. Sunshine and Happiness, but compared to that time, I'm really a different person. I'm much more optimistic, more ambitious, more confident. Maybe I'm the kind of person I'd actually want to hang out with now. Back then, not so much.

For one thing, back then I was still in the depths of being painfully shy. As evidence of how much I've changed, Saturday I didn't have much hesitation going up to this person and talking to him. I wanted to find out what had happened in the old department in the past few years, so I just struck up a conversation and asked. In contrast, when I was in the class four years ago, over two semesters, I never had even one real conversation with him, even though it was always in the back of my mind that he might be a smart and interesting person to talk to. I think he once asked me if he could borrow a quarter, and I said about two words and got all embarrassed about it. That was the extent of my shyness. It was ugly.

But even greater than getting over my shyness is the difference in my attitude--my whole attitude about life has changed. I was cynical to the point of self-hurt back then. I don't think what I was studying had anything to do with it. I was convinced that there was no way I could succeed at what I really wanted to do, which was to write. I was sure that the future was going to be full of drudgery and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change that. Thus I had no real goals or ambitions. I didn't think about school in terms of my long-term plans, and I had no great respect for what I was learning. I got decent grades, but I didn't think much about how valuable the knowledge was that I was receiving. It was more like, let's just get through the system as soon as possible. Make it through a mountain of drudgery in school, then on to more drudgery in the workplace. At least with a computer science degree I might have a shot at getting a decent-paying job. That was my view of life.

Four years ago, life was survivable, but it wasn't good. I was angry because the world wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be. I was grumpy due to spending so much time in computer labs. I was shy and therefore lonely. I was purposeless and I didn't care. Honestly, I don't think many people realize the extent of my cynicism at the time. Surely, the above-mentioned classmate didn't know. But I know, and I know how different things are now.

Sometime in the past four years the window opened and the sunshine came flooding in. At some point I shed the bad attitude and now, shockingly, I'm actually looking forward to the future (at least some aspects of it, anyway.) Maybe because I've worked at a place like the newspaper and I've seen some of the possibilities that are out there. Maybe because I'm actually doing OK socially now whereas before I always thought that I could never get over my shyness enough to thrive in the real world. Maybe because I realized the valueless, purposeless, ambitionless life wasn't working out too well for me. Maybe the past four years haven't been easy, but somehow their lessons have transformed me, and so I'm glad for what I've been through.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

No news is bad news

The other day I asked my students which of them read a newspaper every day. We were discussing an essay by the author of this book, so I thought it was a relevant question. Not a single person raised his or her hand. Maybe they were just being shy, but I thought at least one brave soul would confess to a news habit. Not one. It was shocking to me. Maybe I shouldn't be shocked, since I guess it goes along with the statistics out there on young people's awareness of current events (as well as their reading habits. I didn't ask who had read a book for fun in the last year, but I would bet the results wouldn't be much better.) About half the class said they watched TV news or "The Daily Show." Better than nothing, I suppose, but I still think print is the best source of news (my view influenced by The Assault on Reason, of course).

I don't know if I could live without at least a passing awareness of the news, a glance at a newspaper at minimum. It has been this way since I was a teenager, at least. Even at 18 I was reading the papers. I don't know if I could imagine my life without the "news habit"--browsing through the newspaper every day, reading magazines, reading blogs. I suppose this is a habit that these students never picked up. To me, reading the news is like brushing my teeth or exercising. I don't know what it's like not to have that.


I was thinking that maybe I could offer some incentive to students for keeping up with the news. Writing and current events are related, after all, so maybe I could offer some extra credit for reading about the news. I'm seriously considering it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

-It's only Tuesday and I am truly exhausted. I drank a Starbucks coffee before bed last night so I could stay awake to study. I ended up staying up until 1 a.m. and waking up before 6 a.m. You really don't want to see me when I have not had enough sleep. It has not been a good day.

-Guess what Snow White is called in Spanish? Blanca Nieves. I never knew that. I think it sounds prettier, since Blanca is an actual name in Spanish.

-I was at the library yesterday afternoon when some library workers started going around and changing out all the chairs from under the students in the computer lab. Why they chose the middle of the day to start this task instead of waiting until the computer area was less full, I don't know.

The old chairs were these dark, sturdy wooden chairs with plump cushioning. They were quite pretty as they matched the wood of the tables in the library. The new ones were made of thin black metal tubing and had a thin layer of cushioning. So there was this big commotion in the library as the workers brought out these chairs and one by one, asked the students to exchange their chairs. "Can I have this chair?" a girl asked me in accented English. I was like, whatever, just let me finish reading this journal article. So I surrendered the old chair and sat in the new one. It was lighter, I guess. The cushioning was red with black squares. The seat was a little higher up. Truth be told, I liked the old one, somehow it felt more solid, but this one was fine.

The library workers had to ask probably over a hundred people to surrender their chairs, and all of them did so, however grudgingly. But this one guy just said no. "No, I'd rather keep this chair," he said, even as every single person around him traded.
They asked him again. "No, I like this one. It's more comfortable."
So one of the workers, probably a work-study student, as he didn't look older than his early 20s, just left the chair there next to him.
The workers started to point. "What about that guy?"
"He didn't want to trade. Said that chair was more comfortable."
"Oh."
But somehow this task of chair-trading was so urgent that they ended up asking him a third time. A discussion took place, which I didn't hear, and this time he finally gave in. But I kind of admire that kid for not giving in right away. He was right--that chair was more comfortable. In college you're supposed to be taught to resist, right? Why surrender a comfortable chair that is serving you well as you surf the web or write your paper? Maybe this is a silly story, but I suppose the moral is that students really should stand up for their rights more often, even if it is only for the right to a cushiony chair.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Happy is a Yuppie Word

I saw this item on NMK this past week: "rogue" economist Steven Levitt blogs about a study that reports that women's happiness has declined in the past 35 years, both absolutely and relative to men's happiness, despite all the changes brought about by the women's movement that have increased women's quality of life.

Why doesn't this so-called paradox surprise me? I suppose it fits in with studies that say women tend to be more depressed than men. Not to mention all those episodes of "Sex and the City" I've watched. And taking a look back at my journals...no, no surprise there.


But my curiosity was piqued, so I browsed through at Stevenson and Wolfer's paper in PDF format. My eyes glossed over at the stats (not enough of a nerd, unfortunately), but I thought the discussion section was interesting, and I liked their possible explanations a bit more than Levitt's. Here's a paraphrase of their list for possible explanations for women's decreased levels of happiness:


1. General societal trends that have come along with modernization in the past 35 years, i.e. less social support and increased anxiety, have impacted women more than men.

2. Society's definition of happiness has changed in the past 35 years. Greater opportunities have increased what women require to say that they are happy. Also, it may be more socially acceptable now for women to admit that they aren't happy than it was decades ago.

3. Changes brought about by the women's movement may actually have decreased women's happiness. Aware of their greater opportunities for success, women may feel that their lives are coming up short. Also, "...women may simply find the complexity and increased pressure in their modern lives to have come at the cost of happiness" (21).


All three of these reasons make sense to me intuitively--women lead complicated lives these days. However, I'm still a little skeptical, both about the methodology as well as the implications that you can draw from a study like this. Not being a sociologist, I can't really discuss the nuts and bolts of the method the researchers used, but, as Levitt points out, happiness is a slippery thing to measure. Can you really make broad generalizations of our society based on a poll where people are asked to rate their lives overall as "very happy, fairly happy, or not too happy"? What does "happy" mean anyway? Ask 10 people, you'll get 10 different definitions. Ask the same person on 10 different occasions, and you may get a different response every time.


Secondly, is it even that important to be "happy"? In the study, Stevenson and Wolfers found that in recent polls, 80 percent of women think that the overall status of women has gotten better. So why doesn't "better" mean happier? Why haven't greater opportunities made women happier? Maybe ignorance was bliss in some ways. Women expected less, and so were content with less, but does that really mean they were better off? I'd much rather be liberated than happy. I'd rather have what I have now, even if it means gi-normous amounts of anxiety, than go back to a time where women had fewer options in life. I guess what I'm saying is, happiness is overrated. Happiness is an emotion, not a state to aspire to. I'd rather be able to say that women are paid equally to men for the same work, that women's concerns about childcare are taken into account in the workforce, and that women are equally represented in positions of power in government and corporations than to be able to say that women are just as happy as men are. Compared to those things, happiness seems pretty unimportant to me.

Despite my issues with it, I still thought this was an interesting study. Anyone want to chime in on this one? What's your theory?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

This evening I went to see my grandfather, who has been in and out of the hospital lately. Heart disease and Alzheimer's, not a good combination. My grandmother hired a caretaker yesterday, a nice lady from Juarez, to help her look after him. Granny asked her how old I looked. "Diecinueve?" Nineteen. She thought I looked 19. I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted. I was wearing some pretty adolescent-looking clothes today. At least I don't look like I'm still in high school.

Grandpa seems to be OK for now. Cantankerous and not all there, as usual, but OK enough. I was tired but I made it a point to see him tonight, because, well, in situations like these you just have to. I don't know how much help I was today. I'm not a nurse, and I don't know if my grandpa even recognized me, but at least I was able to talk to my grandmother for awhile and say, I'm here if you need me and maybe provide a tiny bit of relief from thinking about my grandpa 24/7. Even if that was all I was able to do, I was still happy to do it.

I'm SO tired now and I need massive quantities of sleep so I can be functional again tomorrow. Good night, all.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

- Check out this cool NY Times graphic of ice loss in the Arctic. Move the slider on the right to see how dramatic it has been in just the past five years.
- Speaking of the Times, I'm not sure I like the slogan on their website: "All the news that's fit to blog." Is that really the point of a newspaper--to be fodder for blogs? Slightly better is the catchphrase on one of the ads on the site, "All the news that's fit to click." What I would really like to see on their website is, "All the news that's fit to print in a world-class, liberal-leaning, fact-checked newspaper."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Meet-up with La Brown Girl

It was a first for me on Saturday as I met fellow blogger La Brown Girl in person. She was giving a presentation at the Southwest Book Festival at the El Paso Main Library (which is awesome, by the way). I was a little nervous since it was my first time meeting someone from the blogging realm in real life.

It took me awhile to find the right room. I finally found it but then I wasn't sure which person she was, as she doesn't have a picture posted on her blog. I sat for a few minutes and then a young woman in jeans and a Wonder Woman T-shirt said to me, "Are you Annette?" and I said yes. So this was the girl I've been corresponding with these past couple of years. I'll admit to having made up an idea of what I thought she looked like and she did not look like that at all. I was a little surprised at her jeans and T-shirt and short haircut, since I guess I have this idea of what elementary school teachers look like that involves denim jumpers and big earrings. But it goes to show how stupid stereotypes are.

We talked for awhile and then finally the presentation got under way. She read two of her essays that were published in a book, Windows Into My World: Latino Youth Write Their Lives. They were excellent pieces, both about her experiences growing up in a Hispanic family. For the second story I got a lump in my throat and almost cried. It was cool that some of the family members mentioned in the essays were there in audience--her mother, and her brother holding his daughter in his arms. It hit me that La Brown Girl is a Writer. A real Writer, not the sort of bloggy scribbling writer that I am. The girl can spin a story.

She signed a copy of the book for me ("To my blogging buddy") and we exchanged "real person" info, but then she said, "I know where to find you," which, of course, I know she does.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Friday afternoon reading: George Orwell's Politics and the English Language. Some excerpts:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse.
-----
...[T]his mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing...prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
-----
In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line."....A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.
-----
I think the following rules will cover most cases:
(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
Worth reading: Fight for the Top of the World, the cover story from TIME magazine I mentioned yesterday.
The current interest in the Arctic, in short, is a perfect storm seeded
with political opportunism, national pride, military muscle flexing, high energy
prices and the arcane exigencies of international law....Not even strict
adherence to the Kyoto accord on limiting greenhouse gases would stop an Arctic
meltdown, which means the Arctic, like nowhere else on Earth, is a place where
efforts to mitigate global warming have yielded to full-bore adaptation to its
impact. That process is freighted with irony. With gas and oil prices near
historic highs and with scant prospect of any decrease in world demand for
energy, it is only prudent to get a sense of what resources lie below the newly
accessible sea. But there is something paradoxical about seeking in the Arctic
the very carbon fuels that are melting the northern ice. "The rush to exploit
Arctic resources can only perpetuate the vicious cycle of human-induced climate
change," says Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I'm back. I keep starting posts and never finishing them. Yesterday I wrote a post but decided not to publish it because it made me seem depressed. Depressed isn't the state, just busy and a little tired. Overwhelmed, maybe? I'm not used to that feeling of there not being enough hours to finish everything, where there's not enough time to sleep and iron my pants and do a brilliant job on a paper proposal for my class. Teaching isn't a job you go to and then forget about the rest of the time. There are lesson plans to be made. There are papers to grade. The students are going to be there, you'd better be ready. Then there are my classes that I'm trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to stay afloat in. I don't know if it's humanly possible to read everything I'm supposed to read. Should you read something even if you think it's boring or a retread of something you read last year? There's my dilemma.

Today I spent 20 minutes reading TIME magazine and it was like a breath of fresh air. I used to keep up with things like that--you know, news, important things going on in the world that affect us all--but lately I haven't kept up with the news at all. I haven't had time to read TIME in weeks. I read textbooks with breakfast instead of the El Paso Times. I'm becoming part of the ignorant masses, cloistered in my own little world. But today I got my fix of Hillary Clinton's health care plan and how Russia claimed the North Pole (or something like that), and it felt really, really good.

It was a good day in class, too. I've noticed that the times I'm most animated are the times I start talking about politics or social issues. Not surprising, since I've been interested in those things for a long time, so I know a little about them. But I guess it never really occurred to me that that was something to talk about in an English class.

So that's how my life is going. I apologize for the lack of posts. I miss writing here and I'll do my best to make it a more regular habit, for my own sanity if nothing else.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

- Driving to school/work the other morning, I found myself in the middle of a convoy of UPS trucks. I think there were about six or seven of them headed in the same direction. I had one truck in front of me and one behind me. A flock of boxy brown trucks--for some reason it reminded me of a kid playing with toy cars and it was strangely cute.
- I think being a teacher has made me bossier. Today I took my students on a quick field trip. I saw some people occupying the area that my class was headed into and I used my "teacher voice" to ask them to leave. They left. You have no idea how much of a departure this was from my usual way of acting. I felt like a P.E. coach.
- I broke down and bought myself a bottle of Coca-Cola today. For years I'd have a can of Coke every afternoon. About 18 months ago I rid myself of the habit, but judging from how good that first sip tasted today, I don't think I'll ever lose the taste for it.
- I think I may be forgetting how to write.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Interesting quote from NewMexiKen: "And there is always this to keep in mind: High school is about how to learn, college is about what there is to learn, and graduate school is about where to learn it."

I agree with the first two; I'm still pondering the third. One of my professors said that graduate school is where you find out how to ask good questions.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Short but amusingly honest interview with The Killers guitarist Dave Keuning. "It was a great crowd, but it was put together in, like, a high school gym, and it was really hot. " Not going to this concert, unfortunately, since it's sold out.
UTEP lost. I was there in Aggieland to witness it (and to hear the chants of "UTEP sucks"). Can't win 'em all, I guess, but ouch, this one hurt.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bush speech word analysis

Listening to President Bush's speech last night, I thought it might be interesting to do a little word analysis. Using the NY Times transcript and Word's find/replace feature, I compiled a list of the number of times Bush used the following words, which I think says it all. Could this speech be any more misleading about the true situation in Iraq?
  • al Qaeda: 12
  • free/freedom: 12
  • terrorists: 9
  • success/succeed: 10
  • fail/failure/failed: 1
  • Sunni: 6
  • Shi'a: 1
  • Iran: 5
  • democracy: 3
  • insurgency: 1
  • Sept. 11, 2001: 1
  • civil war: 0

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I think I'm developing a sleep deficit. I set the alarm for 5 a.m. today. Can anyone think straight at 5 a.m.? I'm tired and cranky and I haven't seen Oprah all week...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Loch Ness Monster's Song by Edwin Morgan. Some of Morgan's poetry was included in a lecture I attended today. All I could do was give the lecturer a puzzled look. But I still think experimental poetry is cool.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I was feeling nostalgic and decided to make some Rice Krispies Treats today. In less than 12 hours more than half of them are gone, so apparently I'm not the only one who enjoys their gooey deliciousness. It's kind of amazing what you can do with a bag of marshmallows and a box of cereal.
From Slate, Carolyn Cassady's recollection of Jack Kerouac:
"My first impression of it was that Jack was unusual in that great celebration of all kinds of life. Whether it was rivers or mountains and Indian names or hobos. He was so unjudgmental and so thrilled by everything that was alive. The glorification of nature—I thought it was pretty rare. Our generation was reacting to the horrors of World War II. So what they were really trying to do, both of them, in their living and reading about things, was to find out, Why are we all here? What is life all about? They were looking for 'it.' There were an awful lot of people concerned about that. That was their big quest, all of ours, really. Then the hippies came along. They thought Jack gave them freedom to turn the world into chaos. They thought he was giving them carte blanche to be selfish. That's why he vowed to drink himself to death. "

Thursday, September 06, 2007

- Worthy of a bumper sticker: "Well-behaved women seldom make history," a quote by women's history scholar Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Read about Ulrich's latest book project in this Slate article.
- Could the age of electronic books be at hand? Says the NY Times: "Hopes for e-books began to revive last year with the introduction of the widely marketed Sony Reader. Sony’s $300 gadget, the size of a trade paperback, has a six-inch screen, enough memory to hold 80 books and a battery that lasts for 7,500 page turns, according to the company. It uses screen display technology from E Ink, a company based in Cambridge, Mass., that emerged from the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and creates power-efficient digital screens that uncannily mimic the appearance of paper."
- Funny article about aSmallWorld.net, a "Facebook for the few," again from the NY Times. " 'If anyone is looking for a private island, I now have one available for purchase in Fiji.' " If only.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's Wednesday and I'm totally tired. Too bad I have about three hours of work left to do before I can pack it in for the night. My future is a gi-normous stack of textbooks and academic journal articles. Finished with one, start with another. Such is the life of a grad student. But I signed up for it so I can't complain, right?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Two good movies: Year of the Dog and The Lookout. Year of the Dog is a little strange (indie film with a weird ending) but The Lookout is highly recommended for all.

Monday, September 03, 2007

August photos

I took most of these photos while walking around my neighborhood one August afternoon. It was oh-so-hot and muggy that day but I just love the way the clouds look in August.









This one was taken during a storm about three weeks ago:



Saturday, September 01, 2007

TIME photo essay on the 30th anniversary of punk. A nice primer on punk and the photos are awesome.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

If you'd like some more analysis of High Fidelity, check out this Scene Unseen post on feeling listless that was kinda/sorta in the back of the mind when writing my post on Sunday. His is more of an analysis of the DVD version, obviously.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Late to class

It's Tuesday morning and I'm waiting in a long line of cars and I have just realized that it is not going to be possible to get to class on time. 10 more minutes in traffic. 10 to catch the shuttle. Five to walk. Damn, I'm going to be late. Thankfully this is not the class I'm teaching, but still. I finally negotiate through traffic and find a parking space. Then I catch the shuttle. The shuttle route has changed--apparently it makes about a million more stops than I remembered, or at least that's what it feels like. And my stop is now about half a block further away from the old stop. Great. I tried to dress up in nice clothes for the first day but I can feel my button-down shirt getting soaked as I walk to class as fast as I can in my uncomfortable boots. Foot traffic is practically nonexistent so I know for sure that I am officially late. I take the elevator to the second floor of the building. Which room is it? Of course I pick the wrong one but I realize it's the wrong one and go back to the one I just passed by. I'm sweaty and exasperated as I make a grand entrance and take a seat in the back of the class. Late to my first day of this class, way to make a good impression.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Heard today on Pandora (The Pretenders cover of it, anyway):

Forever Young
by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The latest cool sport: joggling, running and juggling at the same time. This post explains more. There's even a blog written by a joggler. via The Mountain World

High Fidelity: Book vs. Movie

It's rare that I like the movie version of a book better than the book itself. In the case of High Fidelity this is so. Maybe it's because I saw (and loved) the movie before I read the book, but I think the film is better than the novel for the following reasons:

- The main character Rob seems slightly less self-indulgent (and slightly more likable) in the movie than in the book. I'm not sure if Rob is meant to be a completely likable character, but I liked picturing him as more of a sweet John Cusack type than the schmoe-y, self-centered character in the book. Writing lends itself to self-indulgence, with page after page of first-person musings on music and philosophy of life and relationships, where the movie is thankfully restricted to briefer monologues of Rob's musings.

- The movie is more focused than the novel. The movie retains the best scenes and lines from the book, and the changes made from the book to the movie make the story sharper and not so anticlimactic, i.e. minimizing Marie LaSalle's character and having Rob start a record label at the end.

- A book with so many obscure music references needs a medium with a soundtrack. Who's heard of Solomon Burke, or "The Ghetto" by Donny Hathaway or "Nelson Mandela" by The Specials? Unless you're a music fanatic like the author, you're lost. If you've seen the film you know it has an amazing soundtrack.

- Thank you to the filmmakers for changing the setting to Chicago from London and casting American actors. Yes, I'm biased because I'm an American, but it made the movie version more relatable to me and therefore more enjoyable. Can you imagine John Cusack and Jack Black donning fake British accents? Ugh.

- Which leads me to casting, which is pitch perfect in the movie. John Cusack as Rob, Jack Black as Barry, Todd Louiso as Dick, Iben Hjejle as Laura, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Charlie, Lisa Bonet as Marie LaSalle, etc. Perfection. The filmmakers did a great job of bringing the characters to life.

I guess I can't knock the book too much since it is the inspiration for the movie. I think the movie just kicked it up a notch and made the story that much better, a can of Sprite rather than a glass of lemonade. It's the brilliance of Nick Hornby without so much of the self-indulgence.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"I believe there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught--in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too--in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well--or ill?"

From Chapter 34, Steinbeck's East of Eden.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Paid to sit

I'm $100 richer today than I was yesterday. The reason for my fatter wallet? Today I participated in an experiment at UTEP's Biomechanics Laboratory. The purpose of the experiment is to test the effects on your muscles of sitting for long periods of time. An attendant hooks you up to some electrodes and every hour, you do some muscle resistance tests. The rest of the time you sit in a chair where you can read or write or study or stare into space. No computer use allowed.

Getting paid to sit (mostly) for eight hours is a pretty nice gig. I was not bored at all; in fact, I was happy to have a golden invitation to read. There wasn't much else I could do. I nearly polished off East of Eden and started reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I read TIME and Cosmo and Runner's World. It was cool. I really wish I could do it again! Uninterrupted time to read for pleasure, there's one thing I could never get enough of....
From an article in TIME on Spanish chef Ferran Adria's restaurant El Bulli: "El Bulli has become the focus of a lively debate about the aesthetic value of avant-garde cuisine. Suddenly art critics and foodies alike are scrutinizing the gin fizz that manages to be simultaneously hot and cold, the edible paper dotted with flowers, the frozen Parmesan 'air' that comes packed in a Styrofoam tub, and asking, Is it art--or is it dinner?" Whether it's art or dinner or a science experiment, it sounds cool.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Day 10 of no longer working at night. It is so much easier for me to force myself to be alert during daylight hours, even when I'm tired and sitting through a long, boring meeting, than it was at night. It's much more difficult to force yourself to stay awake when you're tired at night and your internal clock is screaming at you to go to sleep. I suppose that's pretty obvious--working at night goes against natural circadian rhythms, which is why those hours are considered undesirable. It was a huge priority for me to get enough sleep when I worked at night, since I was so afraid of driving home exhausted and possibly getting into an accident. Perhaps the fear was unnecessary, since after awhile I think I had reprogrammed my body to be alert late at night. But I had forgotten how powerful sunlight is as an incentive to staying awake.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

New poll

There's a new poll on the sidebar.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I think I could just as well have used the title of Friday's post to describe the state of my life at the moment--everything's different now.

First of all, I'm starting to adapt back to a daytime schedule. Having so many evenings free is very strange to me after two years. I feel like it's a crazy luxury that for the foreseeable future I can do whatever I want between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight. I can watch all the prime-time TV I want, Heroes and Lost and ER and The Bachelor. Wow. I can go to a movie on Friday or Saturday night, both if I want to. I won't have to skip my cousin's wedding reception. On the other hand, daytime trips to Wal-Mart may be coming to an end, and I probably won't be able to stay up late enough to watch Conan and The Daily Show. Fair tradeoff? We'll see.

My sister has moved back to Las Cruces to go to school there. So it's one less person in the house to vent to. One less person to watch The Wedding Singer with for the 20 millionth time. Good for her but the house can get lonely.

And my name is now on a syllabus, right after the word "Instructor." Yes, I am teaching a class. Don't expect me to write about any of my misadventures here, but I am sure it is going to be a quite an experience.

Years ago, I read a poll in TIME magazine where most of the respondents agreed that real adulthood begins at age 26. I turn 26 next May, so I'm treating this school year as my last hurrah as a wild and crazy young adult. It's one last year to learn as many things I can that I want rather than need to know about, language and literature and music mostly, one last year not to be swallowed up by real grown-up concerns. I hope it goes well.

Favorite words in Italian

Words I learned in my class this summer, in no particular order. Note that 'c' is pronounced as a 'ch' sound in English when it comes before an 'e' or 'i' and 'ch' in Italian is pronounced like a 'k' sound in English.

buona sera good evening

arrivederci good bye

bella beautiful

molto bene very good

brutto ugly

piovere to rain

piangere to cry

attraversare to cross over

piacere to please mi piace la pizza I like the pizza (we ended up talking about pizza a lot in Italian class)

mangiare to eat

leggere to read

scrivere to write

semafori stoplights

andiamo avanti let's go forward

non lo so I don't know

amare to love

parlare to speak parlo italiano I speak Italian

stasera tonight

uomo man

donna woman

cane dog

gatto cat

uccello bird

piazza plaza

ho sonno I'm tired

ho paura I'm scared

a piedi on foot

bambino child

sorella sister

fratello brother

moglie wife

marito husband

piccolo small

basso short

grasso fat

magro skinny

testa head ho mal di testa I have a headache

macchina car

ieri yesterday

domani tomorrow

cucina kitchen

dove where

aggiustare to fix

profesoressa teacher

piatto plate

capire to understand non capisco I don't understand

scarpe shoes

sempre always

stanca tired

pomodoro tomato

ragazza girl

l'estate summer

pomeriggio afternoon

raffreddore a cold

burro butter

Friday, August 17, 2007

Everything's Different Now

Ah, what better thing to do on a long and uninteresting day than to look up used CDs on Amazon, preferably fairly obscure titles from the '80s or '90s. So it came about that I was browsing through some Aimee Mann CDs the other day and saw something interesting--an album from her days in 'Til Tuesday called Everything's Different Now (1988). You might recall 'Til Tuesday as the band with the '80s Top 40 hit "Voices Carry." Encouraged by some positive reviews on Amazon, I thought I'd give some of Mann's earlier work a listen.

Everything's Different Now sounds very much like one of Mann's solo albums--her crystal clear voice is featured on every track, and nearly all of the songs exhibit her trademark sarcastic and amazingly clever lyrics. However, what's notably missing is the polished production of her later work. In reverse of the last album I reviewed, here's a case where lyrical sophistication runs miles ahead of musical sophistication. One reviewer on Amazon said these songs reminded him of a fireside sing-along, and I think that's right on the money. While a lot of Mann's later songs have an anthemic quality about them, these are even more pared down. There's a simplicity to them musically, not necessarily a bad one, but one that reminds you not to take these songs too seriously. The most unfortunate touch is the '80s synth effects that really date the album.

But, hey, it was the '80s and a little trendiness can be forgiven. Really, you can't go wrong with Mann's vocal talent and brilliant songwriting. There are some real gems on this album, sad and sweet and smart, especially the title track and "The Other End (of the Telescope)": "There was a time not long ago/I dreamt the world was flat/and all the colors bled away/and that was that/and in time, I could only believe in one thing/the sky was just phosphorus stars hung on strings/and you swore that they’d always be mine/when you can pull them down anytime." Who else could come up with lyrics like that? And my favorite: "So long and sorry darling, I was counting to forever and never even got to ten" on "RIP in Heaven."

Given the choice, most days I'll pick musical perfection over lyrical perfection. But in this case I'll let some musical roughness slide and enjoy these sophisticated sing-alongs. If you're an Aimee Mann fan you will definitely enjoy this album, and if you're not an Aimee Mann fan, you should be.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

According to this article in the NY Times, all of Netflix's customer service is now done over the phone rather than through e-mail in an effort to gain an edge over Blockbuster. "The decision to invest heavily in telephone customer service was an expensive one for Netflix, but it may be one advantage that the company with the familiar red envelopes has over its rival with the blue ones, analysts say."

It's a fascinating tactic and exactly why I like Netflix so much. Blockbuster's Total Access sounded tempting to me for about five seconds but then I remembered the bad customer service I experienced at their video stores. At Netflix, care was event taken in planning the location of the call center. Netflix VP Michael Osier says he rejected other cities because of high turnover rates and "settled on the greater Portland area because of the genial attitude on the part of most service workers." Wow, I'm impressed.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

- I'm liking getting up earlier now that I don't have to work at night anymore. We'll see if I feel the same way once the fall semester starts and I have no choice.
- You know what I hate? Buying a shirt and then ruining it the first or second time you wear it. This has happened to me twice in the past three weeks.
- Current reading list: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier. And O magazine, of course.

Monday, August 13, 2007

July and August photos

Some pictures from the past two months or so. Apologies in advance for the quality of these. Obviously, I'm no photographer, and the cameras I use are the of the very ghetto disposable variety.

Visitor's dugout from the July 3 Diablos game.



My copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, taken the day it arrived.



Is it just me or does anyone else think my dad looks like Clark Gable in this picture? This was taken at the racetrack in Ruidoso, N.M., on a very losing day at the races.



Jockey on a gray horse



Nearing the finish line

From Steinbeck's East of Eden:

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different face of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels. The sectarian churches came in swinging, cocky and loud and confident. Ignoring the laws of debt and repayment, they built churches which couldn't be paid for in a hundred years. The sects fought evil, true enough, but they also fought each other with a fine haughtiness. They fought at the turn of a doctrine. Each happily believed all the others were bound for hell in a basket. And each for all its bumptiousness brought with it the same thing: the Scripture on which our ethics, our art and poetry, and our relationships are built. It took a smart man to know where the difference lay between the sects, but anyone could see what they had in common. And they brought music--maybe not the best, but the form and sense of it. And they brought conscience, or rather, nudged the dozing conscience. They were not pure, but they had a potential of purity, like a soiled white shirt. And any man could make something pretty fine of it within himself.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Good-bye

Tonight I say good-bye to the job I've had for the past two years. I don't usually say too much about work on this blog, so for those of you who don't know, for the past two years, I've worked at the sports desk of the El Paso Times preparing the "Scoreboard" page, basically the second page of the sports section where all the previous day's scores and standings are printed in teeny-tiny type (agate, to you journalism people). People always give me a funny look when I tell them what my job is. I'm going to miss that. Anyway, I've known for months that I'd be leaving at the end of the summer to take a job as a teacher's assistant. In some ways that has made it easier to process but in the end I think that it has made it much harder to say good-bye. I feel like I've been saying good-bye for months, attempting to loosen my attachment to a job I've really loved.

With the end comes relief at the easing of responsibilities and excitement about starting something new, I suppose, but mostly sadness. This job has meant a lot to me, maybe too much. In many ways it has been the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Here's what I wrote about it at the end of 2005 (let me just clarify that I don't actually write for the El Paso Times). In so many ways 2005 was a horrible year for me--I was a confused and depressed grad student, but one good thing came out of that year, and that was getting a job at the newspaper. Maybe many would consider it menial, but to me the job was glamorous and fast-paced and just plain cool. And even two years on, that sense of awe that I work there has never really left me. Maybe I'm not still bowled over every time I have gone in to work like I was the first day, but just being around that constant rush of excitement of the newsroom is still thrilling to me, even two years later.

And now I'm going to give it up. Sure, there are some very good reasons to be moving on from this job. I feel like I've mastered the job twice over and then some, and when you can do a job in your sleep I think it's about time to start looking for something new. The hours are odd (nights and weekends and holidays), the pay is low, and stress can be high. I've known from the beginning this wasn't a job that you stayed at for years and years, and I do think I'm making the right decision--it's time to move on. But I am really going to miss the job with all of its eccentricities. I'm going to miss headlines and jumps and tag grafs and knowing about dozens of different tab styles. I'll miss knowing the ins and outs of high school sports and knowing local sports schedules off the top of my head. I'll miss the chaotic order of the newsroom and finding out about news the second it happens. But most of all I'm going to miss my hilarious and amazingly hard-working co-workers. Working there has sometimes been like being on a TV sitcom, since my sportswriter friends are so quick to come up with witty remarks. I've never worked at a place where people have so much fun at work. Work can be fun? Shocking to most people. I am going to miss that very much.

In a lot of ways getting this job was some crazy accident and I have to believe it was fate. A lucky star. It was the perfect job for an aimless twentysomething slacker grad student still living at home. This has really been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something I will look back on and marvel at the fact that I did it, and I think experiences like these are what life is all about, really.

I don't think there will be any tears on my last day, probably because I have shed many tears already as I've reflected on the highlights of the past couple of years and said some early good-byes. I think I'm ready and that in the end I'll be cool and calm and collected. Well, maybe. So farewell, El Paso Times, it has been a fun ride.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

OK, after this I promise to lay off the Discover magazine articles for awhile. But this Q and A with sci-fi author William Gibson is so fascinating I couldn't resist. According to the article's introduction, Gibson knows little about computers or technology of any kind, which is odd, but after reading the rest of it I could see how it makes perfect sense. Sometimes it takes an outsider to take a fresh look at things and see how they fit into the big picture.

Some excerpts:
Gibson: ....[T]here were guys who already had their own kind of Radio Shack computers that they'd built, and I knew some of those guys, and I would talk to them and say, “Yeah, they’re going to hook them all up, and then, and then. . . .” And they would always say: “But there’s not enough bandwidth!” I never knew what bandwidth was, and I probably don’t really know today, but I just knew that they were wrong—that it wasn’t going to matter about the bandwidth. It was amazing to me: These guys were so smart, so technical. They were doing this stuff, but they couldn’t see its potential.
------
To me, the Internet is as basic a thing for humanity to be doing as, say, cities have been. It’s that primal, that important, maybe more so.
------
That’s a very interesting thought experiment, by the way. I recommend that to anyone: Sit down and choose a year—it doesn’t have to be 1967, of course, but it only really works if you choose a year in your own life—and compare it to your sense of where the present is and look at the difference. What most people experience when they do that is vertigo. It scares them. They say, “Oh, it’s really changed a lot,” and suddenly feel like they ain’t seen nothing yet.
------
By turning itself inside out, the digital has become the constant; it’s becoming where we all are, all the time. And really the exotic and kind of weirdly unexplored area is the part of our lives that isn’t online, that for some reason can’t be online.
There are some interesting picks on Amazon's Best Books of the Year So Far: Hidden Gems. Devices of the Soul by Steve Talbott seems like the one I'd most like to read. That book about cats looks funny (despite my usual aversion) and Getting Unstuck may be worth a read. Too bad my budget for books isn't bigger.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

White Light, Black Rain is an unforgettably powerful HBO documentary about the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Difficult but necessary viewing. As the New York Times says, "The film is a blunt reminder that the goings-on in Germany were not the only 'never again' to emerge from World War II."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Interview with J.K. Rowling in O magazine from January 2001. Pretty interesting--Rowling discusses one of her favorite books, why her main character is a boy, and class consciousness in the series.

Excused

So I got up early today and dragged myself to jury duty. I was called to jury duty in March of this year. I recall filling out the juror questionnaire online and asking for an exemption because I was a student. A few days later I got an e-mail saying that my request to be excused was denied. But then I received a letter saying that my court had been cancelled and to report on Aug. 7 at 8:30 a.m. instead, nearly four months after I had originally been called. Which was weird, but I saved the date and showed up at the courthouse today.

A woman scanned my juror badge and said to see the lady at the window. The lady at the window said that I had been excused after all but the letter telling me to report was mailed out before it was approved. It would have been nice of them to inform me of this earlier. I was puzzled but I just said OK and walked out. Actually, I was a little disappointed. I think it would be interesting to serve on a jury. I had already gotten myself out of bed and driven to the courthouse, part of me wanted to go back and say, let me serve anyway, but I'm not that much of a nerd. Now I think I'm going to try and get some sleep...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Change is hard. I now recognize it's a pattern, that the times I'm most stressed out are times of transition. It's not like I can stop life from changing; all I can do is find a way to deal until things reach equilibrium again.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours doing a sudoku puzzle. I wish life were more like sudoku. I wish the answers were all there waiting to be discovered logically one after the other. Maybe they are. Maybe I will look back at the end of my life and realize that there was this grand order to it. Or maybe life is a sudoku puzzle that will never be solved? Some of the answers come easily but others will elude us until the very end.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Medical Meltdown

From Discover magazine, "Iraq's Medical Meltdown":

In one of the most damning reports of American policy failures, "Iraqi Hospitals Ailing Under U.S. Occupation," journalist Dahr Jamail cites a litany of horrors evident in Iraqi hospitals in and near Baghdad. At Arabic Children's Hospital, patients brought their own food because the hospital lacked funds to provide meals. Chuwader Hospital operated with only 15 percent of their necessary water supply. The toilet on the intensive care unit at Al-Karkh Hospital looked like a sewage nightmare of the most noxious order.
....
According to the report 'Medical Support of the U.S. Army in Vietnam 1965-1970,' U.S. military clinicians treated some 220,000 Vietnamese civilians a month through the Medical Civic Action Program (MEDCAP) in 1970. As a result of the Military Provincial Health Assistance Program,teams of 16 Americans augmented the clinical staff in each of 30 civilian hospitals.

"I don't think there are many MEDCAP missions at all now," says Burke. "There is no presence of U.S. military in Iraqi hospitals. Our troops get space-age medicine, but 70 percent of the Iraqis injured in the same blast die."
......
Although the Iraqi Ministry of Health has refused to report the number of injured civilians, the medical journal The Lancet estimtes the number of seriously wounded Iraqis at nearly a million. According to the World Health Organization, there were a total of about 35,000 hospital beds in Iraq in 2005.



According to my calculations, that's approximately 30 seriously wounded Iraqis per hospital bed.

Over the weekend I watched The Russian Dolls (thanks to Stu for the idea, apparently his favorite film of last year) and it is probably the best movie sequel I've ever seen. Along with its predecessor L'Auberge Espagnole, these are two fun yet honest films about young adult relationships. Yes, both movies are mostly in French, but please don't let that intimidate you, these are really worth seeing, even if you have to read subtitles for a couple of hours.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I finally checked the results of my poll...it's 4-1 dogs. Who needs cats anyway? Thanks to the five of you who voted. I also attempted to create a new poll about the presidential candidates but Blogger is having some issues.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Randomness

- It's all over--I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But I will hold off writing about it so as not to give away the plot. Now I can read the reviews and see if I agree with them.
- Cloudy weather depresses me.
- Has anyone seen anything good on TV lately? I am trying to find a series to start following. I watched an episode of Mad Men on AMC the other day. It was OK but I don't think I'll start watching it regularly. Then last night I started watching Damages on FX, but Glenn Close's character seemed too mean to sympathize with. I also watched John from Cincinnati on HBO but it seemed stupid to me. I suppose I should give these shows more of a chance before I decide that they are not worth watching. They all seem sort of the same to me, like they cloned one HBO series over and over, complete with self-absorbed characters and gratuitous adult content. Maybe when the fall TV season starts I'll find something worth watching.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From a funny essay about swimming pools in TIME: "Most people, like most pools, have a deep end and a shallow one." The house I grew up in had a pool in the backyard. Steve Rushin is right--a swimming pool is dangerous and indulgent but also tons of fun.