Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Soup for the Soul

Mother Nature is having fun with us: it was 80 degrees yesterday, 50-something today.  Who knows what tomorrow might bring?  (Needless to say, I'm not even looking at what the meteorologists think will happen anymore.)

But today, it wasn't so bad, because I was ready for it.  Early on, I realized that I had botched part of a knitting project--luckily, a very small part--and I realized something else.

Discovering that you've botched something in your knitting is a very different kind of feeling if you also know you're spending the day cooking an amazing soup and reclining with kitty cats in front of the fireplace because it's 50 degrees and dreary and drizzling.  (Especially if you've already been super-virtuous and swam a mile.)

I decided to try a couple of new recipes this week, and one of them is this one, for Roasted Garlic Chicken Soup.  If the smell is any indication of what awaits me in a few minutes, ye gods, I'm in heaven.

But I kind of knew that already actually, because I got up nice and early this morning (my cats feel that 7:00 a.m. is a totally appropriate time because if I sleep any later than that, they begin to miss me too much), and roasted some garlic.

So, by 8:30 a.m., my house already smelled like roasted garlic.

In heaven, there will be areas that smell like cinnamon and apples, and areas that smell like roasted garlic.  That's just a given.

This soup can be made with leftovers, but I didn't have any, so I just seized the day by the... horns?...  and poached a couple of chicken legs.  That way, I could use the leftover bones to make the chicken broth too.  On a rainy day, having chicken bones and herbs simmering on the stove for hours and hours isn't a bad thing, certainly.

Because I didn't read the directions carefully, I didn't realize the farro was supposed to be cooked before putting it into the soup, but that doesn't faze me a bit, because I'm a cook-it-all-together girl when it comes to soup anyway.  And I had more than 6 cups of broth, so... it all works out.  The farro will cook in the soup itself, and by the time I'm ready to serve it, it'll be fine.

Oh so fine.  This soup is the kind of thing that, if someone you love is sick and you cook it for them, they won't be able to help but feel better.  And they will love you forever.

If they don't, it just means that they aren't actually capable of love, and you shouldn't take it at all personally.  You'll be fine.  You know how to make the soup.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pasta and Socks

Well, it turns out that in the meteorological world, 60 is the new 80.

Because I was promised an "85-degree" day (with "partial sunshine" no less), and what I got was a largely 65-degree day (that was entirely cloudy).  Which would haven't been a problem really, except that I was planning for a warmer day, and awoke ready for a bike ride, that ultimately never happened.

Oh, did I mention it rained as well?  No?  Well, neither did the meteorologist last night.  At one point today, I actually had a sweater on.  Granted, it was a light cotton sweater and not one of my woolen wonders from last winter, but still. 

Ah well. 

Anyway, I decided that I'd better shift gears fast, and so instead of sunny-day activities like a bike ride and barbecue, I swapped in a couple of cloudy day activities.  I finished another pair of socks (this one's been on the needles for quite some time, actually):


And I made 2 batches of homemade pasta, which I've also been meaning to do for quite some time, since I ran out of it and I can no longer purchase pasta in good conscience, knowing I have the ability to make it myself (which always tastes better anyway).

I decided to make myself a nice sauce to go with it, to wit:

That's spinach and tomatoes and fresh local sausage in there, in case you're wondering.

I took a picture of it before the spinach wilted down, because let's face it, it always looks nicer before the spinach wilts down.  But I love spinach, so what can I do?   It has to be in there.

Shortly after this point, I added fresh chives and thyme and oregano from my herb garden.  I can't tell you how happy it makes me to be able to breeze outside and get fresh herbs.

Which is good, because one thing that makes me a little sad is that I've had to give up wine completely.  Don't cry for me Argentina, because I can still have a beer (or vodka, if you're pouring).  But the thing is, it's kind of nice to have a glass of wine while you cook, and a beer, well... I have to get used to it, I suppose.

I also can't have cheddar cheese anymore.  (Food allergies really suck, by the way.)   So at wine and cheese parties, I can now have... crackers and water.  So if you see me at one, come talk to me and savor my sarcastic bitterness because it's all I've got left.

And yes, I know they have wines out there that are "organic" with "no sulfites," etc. etc. etc.  I tried one several months ago.  My first, immediate impression was, "This tastes like grape juice that's had children's feet in it."

My second impression was, "I can't in good conscience serve this to anyone, unless I really need that person to get the point that I don't like them at all and never, ever will, and s/he does not seem likely to get the point in any other way."

I think I ended up using it to make vinegar. 

I also did a massive amount of planting and transplanting this weekend--to such an extent that my quadriceps were not all that unhappy that the bike ride was cancelled this morning--only to discover that there's a wascally wabbit loose in my garden.

When you're a child, you read the story of Peter Rabbit and you wonder what on earth is wrong with Mr. MacGregor... why is he so angry all the time?  Carrots?  Lettuce?  Who cares?  We don't eat those anyway, your cute little five-year-old brain thinks as you turn the page, trying to find an answer to it all.

And then you grow up and plant a garden--or maybe just a few tulip bulbs--of your own, and you quickly feel Mr. MacGregor's pain.  I will never forget the morning I looked out the window while pouring my coffee and savored the many multicolored tulips in my garden.  Or how, when I came back down stairs a half-hour later to put my coffee cup in the sink, they had all--yes, I said ALL--been lopped off.

I actually screamed on that dark day.

Since then, I've become convinced that the story of Peter Rabbit is a story about a young person who belongs in juvvie.  His behavior is nothing but a blatant lack of respect for other people's property and an unwillingness to accept that in life, there are certain limits and boundaries that we all have to learn to accept.  And personally, I don't think having his Mama make him chamomile tea and wrap him in warm blankets is going to help him get that lesson, unfortunately: I blame her, to a large extent.

Luckily, this rabbit only got 2 very small tomato transplants, and they got the ones that I thought probably wouldn't make it anyway.  So my hope is, s/he tasted those, thought, "Yuck--everything in this lame-ass garden is already half-dead," and left forever. 

In case that isn't the case, I bought some repellant and sprinkled that around the perimeter, and now we can simply cross our fingers and hope.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Observations

Well, we are into Memorial Day weekend, and it seems a bit hard to believe that this means we're nearly half-way through the year.  But so it is.

I've been noticing little things this week and maybe, collectively, they'll make up an entire blog post, but then again, maybe not.  Here goes.

On Monday, I discovered that Juno, my newly-adopted kitty, had an eye infection.  So Tuesday was marked by a trip to the vet to obtain an antibiotic eye ointment.  On our 2-month anniversary no less.   (Sigh)

Yes, let's pause on that a bit.  I have to put glop in a cat's eye for the next 10-14 days.  A cat who has only been with me for 2 whole months.

I really didn't think she'd let me do it, quite frankly.  Actually, I thought she might very well attempt to remove one of my own eyes in retribution, but no.

For whatever reason, although she isn't happy about this turn of events, certainly, once she realizes that yes, this is what we're going to do, she holds still and lets me do it.  And then runs and hides under the couch when it's over--something she will also do if she happens to see me coming with the tiny tube of ointment in my hand.  She isn't stupid, after all.

And yes, I totally hide the tube of ointment in my hand, but she can still tell it's there somehow.  I think my gait is slightly more nervous than usual at these particular moments, or I have a slight expression of despair on my face.  Or she has x-ray vision, and she just flat out sees the damn tube in my hand.

Anyway, that kind of trust--her willingness to let me put something in her eye, for heaven's sake--just floors me.  I wouldn't let someone I've only known for two months put stuff in my eye (unless s/he had some kind of medical degree, and even then, I'd be screening certain people out in advance).

The thing I've always liked about animals and children is, they don't over-complicate things.  If they like you, they like you, and they treat you accordingly.  If they don't like you, they give you a wide berth and maybe snarl or urinate in your general direction, so you learn to take a hint.

Speaking of giving things a wide berth, I received a notice that there will be roof-repairs under way at my condo over the next month.  But that isn't what stood out to me.

In this notice, they indicated that there would be Port-A-Johns set up on the property and--get this-- that THESE PORTABLE TOILETS ARE FOR THE USE OF CONSTRUCTION WORKERS ONLY.

I stared at that for a good four minutes.  It was in all caps, bold-type, and the "ONLY" was also italicized.

Do you really think they need to tell people that?  I mean, my first thought upon seeing a Port-A-John is definitely not, "Oh, gee, I wanna go USE that."   So I really can't imagine how (or why) someone sitting in the comfort of his/her own one- or two-bathroom, I mean bedroom, home would suddenly get up and head on outside to use a Johnny-On-the-Spot.  Just because it's there.

I suspected there must be some insurance-based reason for stipulating this so specifically.  Like if you or a loved one is injured using the Port-A-John (I'm picturing the scene from Jurassic Park in which the man is attacked by a T-Rex, for example), you can't sue the contractor.

Or--and this is probably a more likely scenario--if you contract dysentery from using one, the contractor can't be held liable. 

A friend of mine once said that she suspected Port-A-Johns are "worse for women" and that men "probably don't mind them as much."  In response, I pointed out that I don't think anyone ever uses one voluntarily, when other options are available.  I countered with the possibility that men can simply "just go pee wherever, like behind a tree."  She had to admit that this was in fact a distinct possibility, and at that point the conversation kind of trailed off, since both of us had basically reached the limits of our knowledge about this particular subject. 

It's time for me to change the subject now.  I realize that.

I stopped at the liquor store the other day to pick up some beer.  I don't know how other people feel, but I always find the liquor store parking lot an odd and ambivalent place to be.  I always feel relatively certain that some of the people there shouldn't be driving.  Like the guy who brought a six-pack out to his car, downed a couple of cans of it, and then started the car and pulled out into traffic.  At noon.  On a weekday.  (I called the cops about him.  Sorry, dude, but you need to be stopped.)

The other day, I came back out to my car and a woman who had exactly the same car had parked next to me.  She came out and said, "Sorry, hon, we may have the same car, but I definitely have a better license plate."

I don't argue with people in the liquor store parking lot.  I just don't.  And in this case, I suspected she was right, because I'm not ashamed to admit that there really isn't anything particularly wonderful about my license plate.

Although, I did feel a bit sad when she said that, because I always thought it was kind of cool that it has the same letter repeated twice, and that it also has a "Z" in it.  But at the end of the day, I'm not ready to go to the mat with anyone over that, although it did cross my mind to point it out to her--the repetition, and the Z.  (Because the repeated letter is also rather unusual, actually--it isn't an "E" or an "O" or something boring like that.)

But I simply said, "Yes, you do."  The woman explained to me why her license plate was better, and I agreed heartily that I thought this was the way to go through life--with a license plate just like hers.  I made it clear that I thought that she had made the right decision, straight down the line. 

In short, we laughed, we bonded, and when I got into my car, she said, "You GO, Girlfriend--you're awesome."

Well, now, thank you, License-Plate Lady.  That is truly kind of you to say.

And with that, I waved and drove away.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forgiveness

I've been thinking a bit about an odd phenomenon that I've experienced quite a few times lately.

I'm not really sure what to call it, but I've tentatively settled on the phrase, "forgiveness bullies," to describe the practitioners of this particular approach to life and human relationships.

Lately, I've repeatedly experienced the following situation: someone has insulted and/or humiliated me publicly.  And no, I'm not overstating or exaggerating--they literally rip me a new one right there in front of everyone or they've spent weeks (or sometimes months) doing things that end up causing me all kinds of problems that I'm then forced to address and solve, all by my lonesome, while they run off and, well, hide, basically.

And then, lo and behold, they just ... show up... one day.  They drift on in, as pleasant as pleasant could be, just wanting to say "hi" and see how I'm doing.

In one case, the person apologized for what had been said, but I have to say, I was a bit suspicious of this apology for two reasons: 1) after delivering it, the person paused significantly, as if waiting for me to apologize in turn--which would make sense, except that I hadn't actually said or done anything in the first place, and 2) they only offered the apology after asking me to do something for them-- when I said "No, I don't think so," they suddenly apologized (privately, not publicly).     

In the other cases, there was no apology, no conversation, no nothing, really.  Just an apparent assumption that what they did was over and done with, so... movin' on!

I'm not a vindictive person.  I'm not a grudge-holder.  But I'm also not a doormat, thank you very much. 

I can't help but find it a bit offensive when someone does something truly inconsiderate or unkind or rude and then acts like, "Oh well.  It's over.  Anyway, I was thinking you could..."

Because I kind of think that if I did something like that to them, they would still be screaming about it from every rooftop in the land.

In all of these cases, when approached in this way, I ended up responding quite coolly.  I basically said, "Go away.  Leave me alone."  Because that's how I feel, quite frankly.

In one case, the person got quite upset with my reaction and basically indicated that they had approached me in a spirit of kindness, so... and then they waited.

I told the person, "Yes, I know.  That's why I'm being polite to you right now."

Because that really wasn't my first impulse.  I mean, the nerve.  You did me wrong, and now you expect to just... "be friends again?"  (Whatever that means.)  And you don't even seem all that sorry about what you did, actually.

It all strikes me as incredibly arrogant and not at all "friendly."  Because the fact is, if you do something like that to a person in the first place, you aren't much of a friend.

Don't get me wrong: I grew up in a small-town, blue-collar environment, where mouthing off at someone and calling them every name in the book when angry is considered a very viable method of conflict resolution.

Anger doesn't faze me, and a tongue-lashing, while I don't like it, is to be expected if two people quarrel.  I hate to say it, but this Dr. Phil idea of keeping quarrels "clean" and "fighting fair," well... it's a good gig if you can get it, but I've never once seen a pissed off person pause and say, "Well, now, wait a minute... I want to make sure I'm being fair here...".

I think it's too much to expect of flawed human beings (which is what we all are, at the end of the day).  And I'm not sure that much emotional repression is all that healthy, really.

But what I really don't like in the aftermath of a conflict like that is what I would characterize as a kind of sneaky bullying (an oxymoron, I know).  A person insults or humiliates you publicly or causes all kinds of stress and sadness in your life, and then approaches you with the expectation of forgiveness--but no actual expression of genuine, voluntary contrition or a willingness to work to repair a damaged relationship.

They simply show up and wait for you to agree that what happened to you really wasn't all that big of a deal.

We aren't automatically entitled to forgiveness.  That's why, spiritually, it's usually linked to an expression of the divine--because it takes a lot to simply, spontaneously forgive someone.

That's what God does.  It's not what people typically do.  And I'm not sure they always should, actually.

While the "turn the other cheek" approach to life is a wonderful idea in theory, I'm an atheist, I'm not a Christian, and--I say this again--I'm not a doormat. 

I think forgiveness has to have something to at least give it a foothold, if it's going to work in an ongoing relationship between two people.  If someone harms you terribly, as a victim of a crime, for example, then I think that in that case, forgiveness is something you probably have to do for yourself: the other person can't control your life and the event shouldn't define you in ways that you aren't in charge of.

But when two people are going to be seeing each other and working together and (allegedly) functioning as "friends" or in some other kind of relationship, then forgiveness becomes something a bit different, in my opinion.

It's a gift that one person gives to another, not something you're entitled to, regardless.  Especially if you find yourself in this particular pickle because you couldn't be bothered to be kind and honest in the first place.

Actions have consequences; accepting responsibility for your words and your actions is just as much of a virtue as forgiveness is.  I think that, if you exhibit the former, you'll be granted the latter, sooner or later.

But breezing on up to someone and implicitly assuming--in my opinion, trying to bully the person into--an attitude of  forgiveness only fosters a certain emotional falsity.

The person being approached in this way is embarrassed, doesn't like being reminded of what happened, and doesn't know what to say, so... okay, fine, it's over.  Pretend it didn't happen.

But in my experience, it really isn't over for the person at all, and the situation has just become that much worse.  Because they're actually still angry about what happened before and now they're resentful because you've made them feel like they have no right to be angry.

Maybe it isn't up to you to decide that, and maybe it's better to approach a person in that spirit.  One of... humility, I guess.

In the end, my attitude is that, in life, all things change over time.  So, leave it alone, if you don't feel you can talk to a person, own up to what you did and openly ask for forgiveness right now.  And if you really don't think you did anything wrong, well, then, you're just going to have to live your life without that other person in it, because they clearly feel very differently and you need to at least respect that.

If you aren't comfortable admitting wrongdoing and enduring a bit of discomfort in an effort to make amends, you'll simply have to live out the consequences of the wrongs that you've done until you're ready to do so.  Or enjoy the company of your other friends, whoever they might be.

We don't "owe" each other forgiveness.  It's a rare gift, and one of great value.  You have to work at it a bit to earn it, I think.

Maybe the best way to receive the gift of forgiveness, in the end, is to approach another person with the awareness that you know you don't actually deserve it.

It would be a start, at least.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Amyga

My neighbor's daughter dropped by for a bit yesterday afternoon (not the neighbor's daughter who had the baby that I knit a sweater for last Christmas: different neighbor, different daughter).

After chatting for a while, I told her how frustrated I was that, for the entire week, I hadn't been able to focus and work and write.

She said, "Of COURSE you can't write.  Your amygdala has been dousing your cerebral cortex with stress hormones all week long!  You're in a fog."

This made sense.  And so it seemed to me that, if I'm going to get back on track, I first had to pacify my amygdala or my "emotional" brain, which I've come to affectionately refer to as "my amyga."

So, I embarked on an "Amygdala Afternoon" with my amyga.

I took a bike ride.  When I got back, I hopped in the car and drove into the city, to get a whole bunch of books out of the library.

When I got home, I took my amyga out for ice cream.

(Actually, as I was about to order, my butt and thighs put in a whispered plea, "Make it non-fat froyo," so I did.  My amyga didn't mind.)

I think the girl at the ice cream place knew what was up because when I asked for a cone, she warned me that the froyo was "very soft lately," and that she might have to put it in a cup instead.  So I said, "Then just put it in a cup."  I knew my amyga and I couldn't handle the stress of walking back home with a melting cone on a 60-degree day.

When I got home, my amyga wanted me to put on my jammies, so I did.  There was a brief moment where my frontal lobes quietly suggested that the house really needed to be vacuumed, but I knew that there were stress-hormone-filled water cannons aimed at them, and that we simply couldn't risk it.

Then, my amyga wanted a beer.  So she got one.  When it turned cloudy and windy, she said, "It doesn't have to be winter to have a fire in the fireplace," so we did that too.

And then, we read.  A really interesting book by Rosemarie Garland-Thompson entitled Staring: How We Look (2009) that I plan to blog about.

Later.

Right now, it's all about my amyga.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Week. End.

Well, this has been one hell of a week.

That's pretty much all I have--or want--to say about it.  That, and this:


I knew going into it that it was going to be somewhat busy and dicey, but it certainly exceeded all expectations on that front.  And then it threw in a couple of curve balls to boot.

My headlight blew out on the passenger's side, and I know how to fix it (as demonstrated here), but one key to fixing it is that you don't accidentally drop the bulb and the housing socket down into the engine area somewhere, never to be seen again.

Sonofa...  I called that headlight a lot of names I'll bet it's never been called before, I can tell you that.

You know it's bad when, at one point, I think, "I'd better watch my language.  My neighbors go to church every Sunday and they may be able to hear me," and my immediate response is, "Yeah, well, f*** them and f*** that," and then I simply pick up where I left off, knee-deep in a stream of English verbiage that no king would ever officially condone.

At such moments, my kitty cats would tell you, "Just hide under the bed for a bit.  She's really a very lovely person."

Anyway, the headlight will get fixed.  Just not this week, because this week has been jinxed from the start.  Seriously.  

On Tuesday, I told my best friend, "Well, this has been quite the friggin' little Tuesday, hasn't it?"  And as I said it, inwardly, I felt a small twinge of despair at the sheer realization that, in fact, it was only Tuesday.

Somehow, I just knew.  This was not a good sign.

Along about Wednesday, I made the executive decision not to knit until I had clearly made it through this particular existential phase, because I was relatively certain that if I tried, I'd accidentally end up-- at worst-- hanging or garotting myself or-- at best-- tying myself to the couch (and not in a good way).

By Thursday, I had suspended all cooking activities and anything involving flame, flammable materials and/or sharp implements.

You'd think that, if things keep coming at you out of left field, at some point, you'd get used to that and respond with grace and finesse.  Instead, you're simply blindsided once again, and all you can do is think, "I can't believe this is totally coming at me out of left field.  Again."

[Sidebar: Because I'm like that, I looked up the origin of the phrase "out of left field."  It's obviously from baseball, but it's widely disputed exactly how it originated.  One assumption is, because the left fielder has the farthest throw to first base, it's unlikely that a ball thrown from left field would get a runner out.  It's also been suggested that a ball thrown from left field to home plate would come from behind the runner, which would be unusual.]

Long story short, it's weeks like these where I find myself thinking, "Thank god I'm an introvert.  Thank GOD."

I really don't know how extroverts do it.  Because people are definitely not all they're cracked up to be, sometimes.  Honi soit qui mal y pense.

The good news is, it rained this morning, and that means that several of my rain barrels are now full.  If you're thinking, "Oh, c'mon, Thinker, there has to be something else--rain barrels?  That can't be it for the week," I'm here to tell you, yes, it can be, and yes, it is.

Week: END.  (Please.)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Patient

I finished reading Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (1993) last night.  I enjoyed most of it, and it was a relatively quick read (when I found time to sit down and actually read it, that is).

But now that it's over, I'm kinda like, "It was okay... I guess."

I think what's doing it to me is the novel's ending.  It left me feeling like, "Okay.  Why did I read that?"

There were parts of it that I really enjoyed and that struck me as very lyrical.  But then, there were other parts that struck me as trying to be lyrical by being totally opaque.

This is kind of a pet-peeve of mine.  I call it The Deep Thoughts Syndrome.  It strikes me when I think that an author is trying to be "deep" and "philosophical," but really, I can't understand what they're saying at all, and the more I reread the sentence, trying to figure it out, the more suspicious I get that they may not be saying anything at all, really.

Another pet-peeve.  Leaving an ending so open-ended that it doesn't actually make all that much sense.  If you make me spend hundreds of hundreds of pages with a severely burned English Patient, you have to tell me exactly what happens to him, in the end. 

You just do.

I'm usually okay with leaving things "loose" at the end, but this time, no.  I shouldn't keep turning pages thinking, "Maybe it's a postmodern text and the information is meant to appear after a long blank space in order to symbolize... something...".

I would also say, if you have a person with no thumbs who regularly injects morphine into himself and others, you're really going to have to explain to me how he does that.  At one point, the English Patient finally wonders, "How does he do that?"  and all I could think was, "YES.  TELL me."  Because apparently, the English Patient (even though was being injected himself) couldn't tell.

I really don't think I'm a die-hard realist by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes, what gets me a bit nutty when I read contemporary novels is, they seem to assume that, if you can't figure out how to make something "work," you can just leave it totally vague.  I don't like that: it feels like a writerly cop-out to me.

As did Kip's sudden freak-out about the dropping of the atomic bomb.  That's all I'll say about that.  It seemed to me that Ondaatje felt he had to have a Sikh character whose job involved defusing bombs say something and have some kind of outraged reaction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and so he did.  And then used that as the pretext for ending a love affair.

Kind of like using suicide by plane to make a statement about adultery.  That's all I'll say about that.

In the end, I kind of wonder whether I would have liked the novel at all, actually, if I hadn't seen the movie first.  The movie-makers knew there were certain things they'd have to play up or fill in if they wanted anyone to watch it, and I think they did a good job of that.

Even if Elaine on Seinfeld didn't agree.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thought of the Day

A favorite, from Sheryl Crow.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Embarking

I'm embarking on a busy week this week, so I don't know that I'll have a lot of time to blog.

I've got a stack of books with me (of course), so if I can, I'm going to try to post about some of them along the way.

Right now, I'm reading The English Patient, by Ondaatje, and very much enjoying it.  (And not just because I keep picturing Ralph Fiennes.)

I also have a book by Jane Kamensky, Governing the Tongue: the Politics of Speech in Early New England (1997), that I'm going to try to delve into as well.

I'm really interested in the trial of Anne Hutchinson.  In 1637, Hutchinson was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Governor John Winthrop for questioning the church's authority over the behavior of community members.

I'm planning to spend a little time later this month researching the trial itself, since I can find time to access various archives a bit more easily when the semester isn't on.

I'm fascinated by the historical phenomenon of outspoken and articulate women--in case you couldn't tell.  So I'm hoping to spend the summer reading and thinking (and maybe writing) a bit about Hutchinson's case.

I think it is really interesting to examine the strategies of power that people deploy when attempting to silence someone with whom they don't agree (for whatever reason).  I find that looking at historical examples of these kinds of incidents offers an entirely new perspective on the conversations and exchanges occurring in the world around us today.

It can give us all kinds of insight into what it means to hold one's tongue--and the implications (social, moral, political, ethical) of choosing to do so, both then and now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Excelling

I woke up this morning hoping--as I do on so many, many mornings-- that I would be at least moderately productive today.

I was extremely productive today.  This doesn't bode well for tomorrow, of course, but I'll take it.

I think I was helped by a small bit of luck: I called to make an appointment for later this week, only to be asked, "Wanna come in this afternoon?"

So I did.  That meant that I not only got a task out of the way, but that I was able to structure the remainder of my day around this unexpected appointment/task.  And doing so enabled me to get a whole bunch of other things done.

For instance, I swam a mile.  I did a bunch of grading.  I cleaned up some branches and leaves that had been waiting for me for quite a while now.  I read a bit of Ondaatje's The English Patient (while waiting for my appointment).

I've also been trying to read Scott Barry Kaufmann's Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.  I wanted to like this book-- I really did.  I wanted to find out all kinds of new insights.

But the fact is, I'm skipping and skimming like mad, and I've pretty much given up on it.  Don't get me wrong: the research is solid, the writing is clear.  I'm sure a lot of people do--and will--like this book.

But for me, it falls kind of flat.  Kaufmann's point is that, by labeling children "learning disabled" and/or "gifted," we drastically shape their potential success, both as students and as adults.  Children and adults will perform to expectations: if you adopt the attitude that they "can't" do it, they probably won't.

Kaufmann himself was labeled "learning disabled," and suffered the consequences of it for quite some time.

As he points out, when he was 17 years old, guidance counselors were still referencing an IQ test he took when he was 11.  To my mind, that just means he had to deal with a self-important nitwit.  (Don't we all, on occasion?)

Kaufmann had an obviously supportive family, one`that clearly didn't subscribe to the edicts of IQ testing, and in the end, he persevered and succeeded.  Brilliantly. 

And probably a whole lot of people could have told him that he would, and yes, it's unfortunate that none of them were to be found in the education system he was subjected to prior to college. 

And it's true: I think quite a few of us have had a very similar experience, labels or no.

But my question is, does anyone really care all that much about IQ tests?  Except for the good people of MENSA or the label-happy among us?  

I suppose they must, but I kind of felt like Kaufmann belabored his personal experience a bit more than he needed to, in an effort to drive home the effects of using IQ tests as a faulty measure of intelligence.

That said, of course, it's easy for me to sit here and think this, knowing that I'm never going to have to take an SAT, LSAT, GRE, MCAT or whatever anytime in the near future.  But I'd like to think that most colleges are a bit more aware of the drawbacks of that kind of testing, and that they look to other things as well, when considering applications.

Kaufman did have interesting points to make about mindset and persistence, and I liked his discussion of the difference between people with "learning goals" versus people with "performance goals."  The latter love to win; the former love to learn.  For people with "performance goals," it's all about "looking smart." 

For people with "learning goals," it's all about acquiring new skills.

I hope I'm the latter kind of person: I think evidence suggests that I am.  Because by some strange twist of fate, I ended up with 2 projects this semester that required a better-than-basic knowledge of Excel.

I had to learn how to create spreadsheets and set up formulas to run calculations across the data I input on said spreadsheets. 

Remember, I teach LITERATURE.  We don't do spreadsheets and formulas.

Except that now, I can and I do.  I embraced the fact that I was going to look like a total idiot at least a dozen times, and watched and listened and looked things up month after month and tried and tried and tried again.

And then lo and behold, yesterday, there I was, sipping my coffee and trying to decide whether I wanted to include calculations of average deviation.

Say, WHA?  Yeah, that's right.  You heard me. 

I'm sure I was a sight to behold, squealing with delight after I input cryptic lettering in that little fx-thingy (remember: literature) and calculations resulted time and time again.  (I may have called my cats in to "come and see!") 

And the really scary part is, it all started to make sense.  I didn't think Excel could ever make sense to me.

Granted, I still can't do all kinds of things in Excel that all kinds of other people can do easily, but I really don't care too much about that, because I know how to do a few things that I didn't know how to do at ALL 6 months ago, and that's good enough for me.

I don't have to win.  I just want to learn.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Let It Go"

This weekend I was reminded of--and have since been reminding myself of--this poem by e.e. cummings:

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to
go

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go
dear

so comes love

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Interim

This weekend is a bit of hiatus for me, between the end of the semester and the start of finals.  Classes are done and the grading is about to begin.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying a little respite.  I went for a swim at the pool last night and a bike ride this afternoon and I must say, you can definitely tell that it's been six weeks and two trips to the ER since I last did any kind of major exercise.

This is the difference between being in your 20's and being in your 40's, I suppose.  One of many differences.

Oh well.  That's what spring is for, to get rid of any winter flab and stop huffing and puffing through life.

I also tried a new knitting pattern this weekend.  I thought it was going well. until it became clear that it really wasn't.  So I unraveled it and set it aside--maybe I'll try again this summer.

It involved lace-weight "yarn."  I put that in scare quotes because really, lace weight yarn is "thread."  Anyway, I've never worked with lace weight, and as I said, I thought it was going okay until I spotted a mistake.  And then I spotted another.

With lace weight, forget about frogging or tinking (i.e. unraveling).  You might as well just blow your brains out and get it over with.  Puncture a sinus cavity with the knitting needle and call it a day.

So, I gave up.  For now.  I think I'll try again later, but I'm not sure when.  It's a cool pattern, and I think it would be nice to have a sweater made from lace weight, but sanity is also kinda cool, in many ways, and I have to think about what's best for humanity in the long run.

Speaking of which, I've started planting seeds and bracing myself for rounds upon rounds of gardening.  It's been beautiful weather this weekend--a real treat after last winter--the kind of day when you don't mind having yard work to do.

Meanwhile, once inside, I'm starting to eye all of the stacks upon stacks of books that I've been ... stacking... since last winter, in anticipation of this summer.  This summer is a chance for me to rest upon my laurels: I've done a TON of work over the past two years, and now it's time to relax and enjoy.

AFTER finals are over and the grading is in, that is.  But in the interim, I'll practice for the upcoming resting and relaxing.