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An observation

I've not had time to do lots of reading on the Senate report on the CIA "interrogation" techniques, but I have picked up information where I can. That leads to this week's Major Cynical Moment (tm):

One interviewee on NPR said it was good that Americans had this information so they could decide how they wanted things to change. As I was listening to that, this hit me:

Who would we go to for change? Congress?

Excuse me while I don't hold out much hope on that score.

Umm ... no

(Picture one of those Grumpy Cat "no" faces here.)

Observations on the Night Before the Last Day of Class for the Semester

1. The syllabus said "I do not plan to offer extra credit."

2. I gave everyone a chance to make up the first-half paper(s) that you failed to turn in. You ignored/otherwise missed that chance. Some chances are permanently gone if you don't take advantage of them.

3. You were on the list of people I had to nag for second-half paper(s). So you're still not really paying attention here.

4. Basic semester math: I have 60 students in the two sections of the class you're taking.

5. Basic semester fairness: If I offer you a chance for extra credit, I have to offer it to everyone.

6. Basic semester logistics: In addition to the 60 students in the two sections of your class, I have 40 students in two sections of the other course I'm teaching. I have to write finals for them, catch up on grading one assignment and read/grade 100 finals.

7. Basic semester calendar: I =have= to have all grades turned in on or before the afternoon of December 15. So a lot of my next 10 days will be occupied with grading.

8. Side observation: And occasionally, I still plan to attempt to have a non-grading life, including husband, kittens, friends, sleep, Bills game and maybe even at least starting Christmas shopping.

9. Yes, I signed up for this. (Although I will note that grading is probably my least favorite part of this job.) But that's why I never gave your request for extra credit even a minute of consideration. And why I wish you'd have at least considered points 1-5 before you asked.

And so, it was easy to say no. It was a bit harder to do it tactfully, but you'll note I managed.

A night owl savors morning

7:15 a.m. I'm sitting in my car deciding I might as well get out and walk into the office. Inside, a dentist and his assistant await.

And now, all but my casual readers are either giggling or goggling.

"You were at what? When? You?"

Yeah, me. The dedicated night owl. Voluntarily. But the dentist said if I got there at Office Opening for the first half of a two-part job, he could do the second half at the end of that same day. It sounded like a reasonable trade -- a bit of sleep for a chance to see if I could stay out of a dentist's office for a month or so.

And so I was there. And as I got out to walk inside, the universe offered a little extra bonus: a deep night-blue sky gently brightening with just a hint of pink. The kind of sky I always want to photograph but can never quite capture, either with photos or with my words.

The sky had gone fully morning by the time I came back out to the car. I had too little time to go back home and a bit too much to go straight to work, so I drove, almost aimlessly, for a short while, savoring the calm.

Yes, 7:15 a.m. Yes, a dentist's office. But also yes, a night-blue sky with a hint of pink.

It was enough.

If I ruled the world ...

... companies would be required to train their telephone service people to actually (a) listen and (b) diagnose at least common problems (and know when they needed to reach for additional help). Or, as an alternative, they could stop pretending to be offering "service."

i love music, but ....

I'm sitting in my office on the virtually-deserted second floor of our building. (I think it's me and one other faculty member at the moment.) But I've been treated since I arrived to a steady diet of music from the major event in the downstairs auditorium. And I find myself wondering two things:

1. If it's this loud where I'm sitting, how loud is it in the auditorium? (As I type this, the music has stopped. Maybe someone's sitting over my shoulder?)

2. And as much as I love music, I'm wondering when the rule was passed requiring background music at every event. Sometimes, I would argue, silence in the background makes far more sense.

Dare I hope ...

Eyes (ojos)
... that I can get through October without feeling like I'm supposed to apologize for breast cancer awareness activities?

But will it be more than window dressing?

Eyes (ojos)
I'm an almost life-long resident of Western New York. And my non-New York years were spent in western Pennsylvania, in a section of the state where the economy also hasn't boomed in a long time.

I suspect that's why I no longer believe in the Economic Silver Bullet -- that one magical project that will immediately turn around an area's economy, provide the jobs that will allow young people to stay and maybe even allow a few extra bucks for the "if only" quality of life stuff.

Apparently, my skepticism isn't shared by my local government. Over the last year, my city has approved a major reconstruction job for our main street. The job will include replacing sewer and water piping and street lights, reducing the number of traffic lanes in each direction and replacing traffic lights with roundabouts.

It will be, we are assured, the first step in a renaissance. Housing will blossom on upper stories and retail will return to long-vacant buildings. Even one of the most visible landmarks, a former bank which has been vacant for nearly 20 years, will probably attract new attention once the streetscape work is completed. Or so we're told.

Umm, folks? Can I ask a question here? Where are we getting the jobs -- jobs at that elusive middle class wage -- to support the people who are going to live in the apartments and buy from the stores?

So far, the only employment-related ideas I'm hearing for the Silver Bullet are retail, jobs with the new stores which will magically decide to locate downtown after the street becomes beautiful. (That's despite the fact that one of the area's biggest pools of potential shoppers -- the students at the college at which I teach -- are about three miles away from downtown, in an area with minimal public transportation.)

Discussion has started on creating a business incubator in another large vacant space downtown, but I suspect that has more to do with the availability of that property than with the Silver Bullet.

Meanwhile, we lost about 220 jobs in the closing of two plants more than a year ago. Nothing has yet replaced those jobs. One of the two plant buildings has been sold but the new owner has yet to give even a hint of its plans for the buildings. And that sale had nothing to do with the Silver Bullet -- the property is located about a mile and a half east of downtown.

But the Silver Bullet rolls on -- or it will when we get through winter and back into construction season in the Southern Tier. So I'll sit back and watch and listen and hope to hear some talk about parts of the Bullet that will bring good jobs to an area I care a lot about.

I'd love to be proven wrong on this one. But I remain skeptical.


1. A reminder to me: It's OK if the solution to a problem I see comes from someone else. I can still add the effort to make the solution a reality.

2. But it's a strain on my (still too low) stock of patience when I get pronouncements from people I suspect don't understand the problem at all.

3. And it helps to have people who get it, including and especially those who make me laugh.

4. Chocolate also helps. So does panther_tracks, in part because he picked up a big bag of chocolate for me to take to the office.

Next step would be ...?

Eyes (ojos)
The number of low-level aggravations is far too high for this point in the semester. Part of that is my long-recognized impatience with my own learning curve -- I can be patient with everyone else, but I want to learn something immediately (or even yesterday). But part of it is simply reacting to outside events. I need to get back to a different outlook (I've been calling it closer to Zen), but I haven't figured out how to do that yet.

The joy of normal

"But why would he want to do that?" Friend A wondered out loud. "He" was B, a mutual friend.

I chose the obvious answer: "Because he needs the experience?"

A didn't hit me with the "duh" reaction, but he could have. We both knew what he was really asking.

He made it explicit: "But why did he want to do it now? Why not just spend the summer relaxing?"

I stopped hiding from the question-between-the-lines: "I get that. He's looking for normal and I understand completely what that's all about."

B has been dealing with some serious health problems this past year. The problems have put him in the hospital several times. Even when he's not in the hospital, the problems have gotten in the way of what otherwise would be normal life.

The summer experience we were discussing was something B would have chosen without a thought if all was normal. Even though it wasn't, he'd grabbed for the experience when it was offered.

I understood perfectly. From the start of the Year of the Cancer Experience, I decided to keep teaching as long as I could do so.

To my continued gratitude, "as long as I could do so" turned into the entire year. I could arrange most medical appointments (including 30 radiation treatments) around my teaching schedule and I could arrange my other work around the medical appointments.

Some days, I'd come in, teach and go home and sleep. Other days, I could grab fistfuls of my normal routine. I'd chosen to be open with my diagnosis so I didn't have to spend most days explaining my absences or the bandana and beret I wore to cover my then-bald head.

One of my favorite moments from that year: I was sitting in my office talking with a student about a problem she was having. Mid-story, she stopped, looked at me and asked, "Why am I bothering you with this?"

My answer: "Because I'm bored with my problems. I'd rather listen to yours." We both laughed. Then we went back to normal conversation.

Several times during that year, my then-dean would ask this: "Shouldn't you take a medical leave?"

My answer was always some variation of this: "What would I do if I stayed home, sit in the corner and go 'oh, I'm really sick. Wow, I'm really sick.' I'd rather be here doing a job I love." I'm not sure he ever really understood, and I'm pretty sure he had company in that.

He did understand when the semester of radiation became the only time (before or since) that I'd had to turn grades in late. My "oh Lord, I'm sorry" was met with a dean version of "duh." I was assuming I could handle almost all of my normal. He was still amazed at how much normal I'd managed.

Why does normal become that precious? My theory, which is not new, goes this way: When you're dealing with serious medical problems, you get lots of new, not-normal experiences. But many/most are not experiences you'd choose. Choosing a particular medical path often means you lose the power to choose many of the experiences along the way.

Suddenly, choice matters. Suddenly, novelty loses a batch of its appeal. Suddenly, one of the things you want -- a lot -- is just your plain vanilla normal life.

B is living through that experience now. I look forward to the day when he'll join me in helping other friends work their way back to normal.



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December 2014
"Laughter, like love, has power to survive the worst things life has to offer. And to do it with style."
-- Jim Butcher, from "Blood Rites"


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