Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Soon enough, anyway. I just thought I'd pop in and give everyone a quick update, focusing on those things that are making me happy to see 2007 come to a close.
  1. All the hubbub surrounding the September car crash is finally dying down. I went to court on December 20th and the judge dropped the charges, meaning I am not at fault for the incident. Of course, this doesn't make the other driver automatically at fault, legally speaking -- it's just that nobody's at fault at the moment. That means the damages suffered will still come out of my insurance, but at least I don't have to pay a ticket or pay for the other guy's losses.
  2. Connected with the above, I am theoretically just days away from walking without crutches. I have a doctor's appointment on January 8th, and when I last saw my doctor a few weeks ago, he told me I should be able to walk into his office without my crutches by the next time I see him. I'm a tiny bit skeptical that this will end up being true, but I have sampled walking with only one crutch (or even no crutches) for just a few steps. There is potential there, but I'm far from sturdy. We'll see if I really think I can dump the crutches for good within just a week.
  3. I have officially submitted two of my graduate school applications. I am only going to apply to five or six schools, so this puts me well on the way to completion. Getting the first applications off is the toughest anyway, because once you've done those, you basically repeat the process without having to come up with anything new. I've done a rush job on these things, but I think I feel better about them than I expected I would. Unfortunately, I find myself increasingly hopeful that I can get into University of California-Riverside, which means if I don't, I'm going to be really sad. I'm supposed to know by the Ides of March, but you know what they say about those...
  4. I'm in Utah visiting family. One of the biggest perks of living the college life is that you get a few weeks off at the end of the year, which means you can (if you so choose) immerse yourself in the friends and family you are otherwise forced to neglect. While I've had to work on Ph.D. applications during the holiday break, it's been nice to spend some time with loved ones. It's also nice to be back in a city where I know my way around! Furthermore, it's nice to be back in a city where I know what restaurants are worth patronizing, and I assure you I've been doing my best to revisit all those beloved eateries that I have sorely missed since being in Atlanta.

That's it for now. I've got to go hobble into the shower and head off to visit my side of the family. My mother has promised me cheesesteaks from Grinders 13, the most unbelievable sandwiches I have ever eaten. You would think a bigger city like Atlanta could outdo a little sandwich shop in Salt Lake City, but so far nothing even comes close to rivaling Grinders 13. Vacationers, take note!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Manic Depression

There are so many things to be accomplished over the next several days that I fear a nuclear meltdown. The good news for everyone but me is that I’m referring only to my own nuclei, the ones that make up my cell structure. People who live within a 50 mile radius of my home needn’t worry. Even my neighbors needn’t worry. But I sure am worried. And I’ve got reason to be. And I’m about to tell you those reasons.

Here’s what, theoretically, should be accomplished between now and Thursday night:

  1. I need to write up a three-four page thesis prospectus. In order to complete my master’s degree, I have to write a thesis, but prior to writing the thesis, I have to write a thesis prospectus that basically summarizes what my thesis is going to be about and how it’s going to be structured. I’m even supposed to include a working bibliography. I have to do this prior to spring semester, because this prospectus has to be approved before I can enroll for “Thesis Research,” and I have to complete six hours of Thesis Research in order to graduate. While that’s sufficient reason to complete my prospectus ASAP, I also need to show my prospectus to those instructors who are writing me letters of recommendation for various Ph.D. programs, so they can make more detailed mention of what I’m doing as a master’s student. It’s all very overwhelming, especially since I’m only barely beginning to feel like I have a concrete idea of what my thesis will be about!
  2. Speaking of having people write me letters of recommendation for Ph.D. programs, I should probably complete the bulk of my applications this week. The earliest application is due on January 1st, but it is vital that my letter writers have all of the necessary materials before I leave town on Friday (to go home to Salt Lake City for the holidays). It would probably also be beneficial to arrange for transcripts and GRE score reports to be sent sooner than later to the schools where I’m applying. If these things don’t get to their destinations in a timely fashion, it could hurt me. Ph.D. applications also require a personal statement or statement of purpose that explains my interests and goals. It would be good to have my thesis advisor look it over and give me feedback, so I should probably also finish this before I leave town.
  3. I need to pack so I can leave town.
  4. Thursday, Melanie and I are going to be in court. I pled not guilty to “failing to yield while turning left,” which is what I was charged with when we got into the car accident in September. There’s no doubt in my mind that the other driver should have stopped. Of course, I’m being punished for pleading not guilty because now Melanie and I have to spend time in court that, normally, we would have spent in SLC. If not for this, we probably would have done everything in our power to head back home a whole week earlier. Then again, given the other things on this list, it may be a good thing that we didn’t have the option of leaving earlier. So, not only will going to court probably take up a significant portion of the day, but we do want to get a little bit prepared for the hearing. For example, we still need to hunt down the witness that came up to our car on the day of the accident and told us he thought we were in the right. Interestingly enough, we later found out that the cop that charged us with failing to yield also spoke to this same (and this only) witness before legally condemning us. That means that either the witness was totally confused (since he told the cop one thing and us another), or that the cop was totally confused (and did not understand what the witness was saying about us not being responsible). Either way, it certainly casts doubt on our guilt, which should work in our favor—but only if we can get this witness to help us out!
  5. I need to take a bunch of graded final exams downtown to my school and leave them in the philosophy department for my now-former (is that an oxymoron?) students. Even though dropping off these tests should only take about two seconds, it will require me to train downtown, hobble around a bit, and then train home. I estimate that this two-second venture will require at least two hours of time, assuming everything goes well.
  6. I should probably call my insurance company and find out what’s going on with my coverage. I get cheap insurance through my school as part of my assistantship, but it may turn out I’m getting what I pay for – which is not a lot. While I sometimes get as many as four or five postcards in my mailbox on a single day informing me that the insurance company has received a claim and will let me know if they need any further information, they do not seem all that eager to pay any of these claims. Naturally, the hospitals, doctors, surgeons, anesthetists, emergency response units, and so on are all getting quite antsy to get some financial compensation for their hard work. Now they’re harassing me, telling me they’ve given up on my insurance company and expect me to figure it out. So, despite the bounty of postcards that daily litter my mailbox, I’m finally told by my doctor that the insurance company needs me to fill out and mail them an accident report, giving them the pertinent details of the car crash, before they’ll pay anything. I have long since sent that to them, and I was told by an insurance company customer service representative that they’d go back and have everything re-processed and paid by the beginning of December. Well, it sure doesn’t look like that’s the case. Instead, we’re now getting letters from, among others, the ambulance company, informing us that our insurance company does not cover this type of thing. Um, so the $500 ambulance coverage specifically mentioned in my policy is for what, exactly? It’s all in error, obviously, but the customer is the only one with an incentive to get it straightened out. I should probably figure it out before someone comes along and repossesses my new heel.

That’s a sneak peek at this week. Eek! Is it any wonder I’m about to freak? (And does rhyming make me a geek?) You may wonder why I haven’t gotten much of this taken care of by now. Well, it could have had something to do with giving finals, grading finals, studying for and taking finals, grading final papers, writing up numerous reports of academic dishonesty due to several cases of plagiarism that I discovered while grading those final papers, and so on. The plagiarism cases probably deserve a post of their own, but I tell you, it’s a nuisance to deal with them. You have to write up a report, print off several copies of the student’s paper, print off several copies of the source from which the student plagiarized, highlight any portions that were copied (on both the student paper and the source), set up a confidential meeting with the student, give the student one copy of the report, the paper, and the plagiarized source, listen to them repent and/or gripe for up to an hour, and get several other copies of the aforementioned materials to various other people in the department. It almost makes you want to just let the students get away with it rather than bother. But that’s another story. Thanks for listening to my own griping. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Potpourri No. 18

So, it’s been over two-and-a-half months now since my heel got shattered like a wine glass in a Memorex commercial. There have been a handful (footful?) of positive developments over the last few weeks, so I figure I should update y’all. Also, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve done the potpourri thing. So, here I go, although I warn you, this potpourri will smell of nothing but feet.

Giving Me the Boot

At this point, I am done with both the “soft cast” and “hard cast” stages of recovery and have moved on to the “walking boot.” Compared to the previous casts, the walking boot is a podiatric behemoth. The perk is, I can now begin to actually walk. I mean, like sort of kind of really walk. In fact, that is the sole (no pun intended) purpose of the walking boot, to once again start walking (cue Nancy Sinatra--bad quasi-pun fully intended). While I am currently only supposed to put half of my weight down on my left foot (and although I sometimes stumble a bit and put down at least 52 or 53% of my weight), this makes a world of difference, ambulatorily speaking. I can now walk a whole block without wanting to keel over. And even though the walking boot does not yet prevent me from using crutches, I sometimes feel like I’m almost walking like a “normal” human being. It’s exciting. Over the next few weeks, I am supposed to gradually increase the amount of weight I am putting on my foot, and I am also supposed to work my way to abandoning one crutch, then the other. The thought of walking crutchless, even within the confines of the walking boot, is inspiring. I’ve even gotten quite used to the walking boot’s dramatically curved base, which causes me to feel as though I am somehow walking on a basketball. It’s exciting times for me. But just so you understand how stormtrooper-like I feel when I strap myself into the boot on a daily basis, I have inserted the preceding picture. The blue bump near the top of the boot’s left side is there to pump air into the boot and make it more cushiony. Honestly, I’m not sure I notice much of a difference – well, aside from getting the urge to sing “Pump Up the Jam” even more frequently than I used to.

Shower Power

Another reason I am so excited to have been upgraded to the walking boot is that I can now take showers. In casts past, I had to take baths, with my left foot dangling over the edge of the tub. Because the walking boot is removable, I am allowed to shower. Of course, this does not automatically make me a very skilled showerer. Standing on one foot for the entire duration of even a quick shower can be a challenge, and turning around to ensure my body gets thoroughly and completely rinsed always makes me feel as though I am participating in some highly dangerous stunt. I am, after all, hopping on a wet foundation in order to get my body to turn. It can be unsettling, but so far no further injuries have been incurred. Showering is also helping my foot shed itself of the disgustingly marred skin that was the feature of my most recent post. It amazes me just how similar wet, dead skin is to wet, dead paper. It possesses a silky-like quality and is apt to disintegrate if you rub it briskly between your forefinger and your thumb. One flap of browned, dead skin that dropped off of me during my first post-injury shower actually reminded me of a scrap of potato peeling. I almost convinced myself that it was a scrap of potato skin, perhaps from an old Russet potato peeled by our upstairs neighbor as he or she prepared the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, put down the garbage disposal and, the metal teeth of the disposal somehow failing to properly masticate the potato-flap but hungrily swallowing the peeling nonetheless, eventually regurgitated by my shower drain a good 7-10 business days later. But nope, it was really just my skin. Kind of creepy, eh? But kind of fascinating.

I’m in with the In(valid) Crowd

Even though I’m more mobile than I’ve been in a couple of months now, I just recently was granted a handicap parking permit. My doctor gave me the form a few weeks prior to my going to the tag office and actually getting the permit, and at that time I felt I could truly benefit from having the permit. Of course, I still think I can benefit from having it, it’s just that it doesn’t always seem quite as necessary to benefit from having it now as it did then. For the record, Melanie and I avoid parking in handicap parking spots if another spot is available nearby. And if I’m not getting out of the car, which I quite often avoid nowadays, we don’t park in a handicap spot. But it’s nice to have the permit for those times when I do happen to need to get out of the car. This is especially true here in Atlanta, where I swear they have made the parking spots insanely tight so as to accommodate the oversized population. Sometimes the parking lot at our apartment complex is too crowded for me to think I can get myself out of the car. Lack of svelteness notwithstanding, I cannot squeeze out of a tightly parked car like I did in days of yore. So the permit has been a good thing. I’m just wondering if I can take it to Utah and use it despite the fact that it quite clearly states “GEORGIA” across the top. We’ll be going home for Christmas for about two weeks, so it’d be nice to know I’m more-or-less always guaranteed a parking spot. We’ll see…

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas Card 2007

Here's the Christmas card I plan to send out this year. I'm thinking the inside will say something as clever and witty as, "Got a stocking???"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Baby Blue

I have a friend who's into Japanese pop music. Quite some time ago, he subjected pointed me to the following music video by the Japanese pop duo Halcali. I think it's something everyone should experience.

Actually, I really do find the video somewhat entrancing, and the music is quite catchy. In fact, after my initial viewing of this video many months ago, I had this song stuck in my head for possibly weeks. Other possible side effects include: nausea, disorientation, seizures, questioning reality, and cravings for sushi.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Money for Nothing

Recently, while aimlessly flipping through cable TV, I happened upon a special on the History Channel that was discussing one of the ancient Roman emperors. (I'm sorry to say I'm not 100% sure which emperor it was. Nero?) I only stopped for a moment, but the narrator was in the midst of describing how the ancient Roman leader spared no expenses when it came to his personal sailing vessel. The ship was as luxurious as perhaps even his palace, and it had all the amenities that a person living in that day and age could possibly desire. For some reason it astonished me that even thousands of years ago, some people could live so lavishly. I couldn't prevent the naive thought from flashing through my mind, "But to be rich back then didn't mean anything like being rich today. It's amazing how good the emperor had it, considering it was the age of antiquity."

I then had what might be considered a mini-epiphany. This may strike others as obvious, but I've found it endlessly fascinating to realize that absolutely nothing in this world--literally nothing, from space shuttles and satellites to iPhones and surround sound--really requires money. In theory, we could have all the technological and scientific toys and gadgets of our day without one cent being spent. In theory. Money is just the motivator, but if the right people were willing to put forth the effort, we could have all of this stuff for nothing.

Okay, I can see a lot of people thinking this post is relatively pointless. I guess it is. But I couldn't help finding it an amazing thought that money isn't really necessary, no matter how luxurious or scientifically advanced the world may become. It's so easy to associate the almighty dollar with technology that it's almost shocking to realize that, financially speaking, the fanciest Ferrari or most posh of Manhattan penthouses inherently cost no more than a paper plate. We say time is money, but in reality, money is time, and only because we value it as such. In reality, money is a fabrication. Its worth is imaginary, and yet we covet it, kill for it, rage against it, lament it, debase ourselves for it, and so on.

Things that make you go "hmmmm....."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I Miss The Running Man

Due to my recent calcaneal fracture, I have spent the last six weeks or so sleeping on my back. Up until the last few days, I have not only been on my back, but I have been sleeping on the couch. Believe it or not, it has been the most comfortable option. The arm of the couch provides a nice, built-in pillow of sorts that can elevate my head just slightly. I can also stack nearly a dozen pillows at my feet on which to prop my injured foot. The back of the couch supports the pile of pillows and prevents it from toppling over. Because I was ordered by my doctor to keep my foot elevated above heart level, this was the best option I had. Such a tower of pillows proved too unsteady when recreated in bed. If I didn't balance my leg just right, it would result in the spontaneous and unintentional demolition of said pillow tower.

Despite all this, I have, for a variety of reasons, tried to sleep in my own bed for several days in a row now. One of the most grueling aspects of sleeping in my own bed is not my foot per se, but that I am no longer capable of sleeping in the position I so dearly love -- a position I have long referred to as "The Running Man." The Running Man may be achieved by lying on one's left side, bringing your right leg up and forward while stretching your left leg back and out. In essence, your legs should mimic someone in mid-sprint, a frozen snapshot of someone dashing toward the finish line of a race. One then brings one's right arm up and drapes it over the head, such that the nook of the elbow creates a 90 degree angle at the top of one's scalp. The left arm is then to be wrapped around the pillow on which one's head is lying, squeezing the pillow snugly but un-intrusively against the face, creating a sense of warmth, safety, and peace. Although the position of the arms in no way resembles a person in mid-sprint, this remains an essential component of The Running Man and should not be overlooked.

Sadly, The Running Man is an impossibility when I am confined to lying on my back. The problem is, when I am lying in bed and not on the couch, my body aches to assume its coveted nighttime position. I literally crave to turn to my left, but I can't do it. It's torturous! I think having the back of the couch to my left has prevented my body from thinking it has any option of assuming The Running Man. Being back in bed messes with my psyche, and so it has only been in the last several days that I've realized just how much I've missed my favorite nighttime companion. To The Running Man -- I love you and miss you incredibly. I hope to see you soon...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

General(ly Speaking, You Could Call it a) Hospital

By now it seems like old news (to me anyway) to be going back and talking about my trip to the emergency room, but I couldn’t possibly tell the story of my September 7th car crash without capturing all the details of my first stay (in memory) at a hospital. And so the story continues…

As the firefighters/paramedics unloaded me at the hospital, I couldn’t help thinking about the episode of The Simpsons where Homer is loaded onto a stretcher and, as you would probably guess, continues to get knocked about and further injured. I told the firefighters they must love that episode. They smiled knowingly but didn’t comment. But firefighters are real people, and I’m sure they joke about the people whose lives they save from time to time. I’m sure they joke about tossing belligerent old ladies back into the flaming retirement homes. They joke about it, at least. Wouldn’t you? These are the kind of thoughts I have as they push me into the emergency room—my first time to an ER ever. I’ve never even watched an episode of the famed television program of the same name.

Once they’ve wheeled me into my particular ER room, I’m immediately asking for water. I’m incredibly thirsty. I wish I could have the Mountain Dew that was lost in the crash. Anything. A nurse tells me they’ll get me some water. Different people come in and do different things. I get my first IV. The word I keep hearing as they look at my foot is “shattered.” They’re baffled that my bone can be as crushed as it is. Everyone wants to know what exactly I hit my foot against during the crash. Did my side of the car get crumpled in and smash my foot? Did I hit it against the pedals? I have no answer. All I know is that my foot was dripping blood after the car stopped spinning. Sometimes I hear the word “ankle,” sometimes I hear the word “heel.” To this day, I’m slightly confused about the language the doctors used. One doctor made it sound like they refer to the whole back region of your foot as your ankle, such that even if you break your heel, you’ve suffered an injury to your ankle. I don’t know if that’s right or if I misunderstood something, but it was my calcaneus (heel) that got broken.

Never having suffered a broken bone, I’m a bit surprised when I’m told I’m going to be kept overnight in the hospital. I didn’t think broken bones required one to be admitted, but apparently they can. They tell me that this type of injury generally requires surgery and that I may be operated on that very day. I’m shocked that it’s so serious. They also tell me that I cannot eat or drink anything after all, since surgery is a possibility. Primarily because of my thirst, I find this news to be equally devastating. They clean up my foot. I get the first stitches of my life. Like the IV, this proves less painful than I expect and I find myself pleased by the fact. In fact, all things considered, I find myself feeling quite positive. As I lay there in the ER, there are moments when I feel truly happy. I consider myself so fortunate. The situation could have been so much worse so easily. But I am okay, and my family is okay, and I trust that everything will work out. I trust that my prayers are being heard and answered. I am grateful.

My positivity wanes a bit as time drags on. Eventually, I am told that the surgery will have to be scheduled for a later date. Initially, this seems like good news. I am told that I can eat something and that I will be given a dinner plate. Having been cleaned up, sutured, X-rayed, and drugged, I am then largely abandoned. I am left alone, without a call button or anything, for at least two hours. Gradually, the drugs are wearing off and I am getting more and more uncomfortable, not to mention hungry. When the occasional nurse does appear, I am again promised a food plate. The nurse then disappears and no food ever comes. As it turns out, I will spend a total of 27 hours in the hospital and never once be given food, even though I will be told several times that I will be fed. Hard to believe, but true. Luckily, there are friends and family who come to the rescue with Chick-Fil-A and McDonald’s during those 27 hours.

But I digress. As I lay there in the ER, my pain is on the rise. After several hours of primarily being alone, I am told that I will be moved upstairs into a normal hospital room to be kept overnight. I am told that the room is just being prepped and I’ll be moved up shortly. I ask about painkillers. I am told that once I am moved upstairs, my attending nurse will get me some drugs. Another hour or more goes by before I am moved upstairs. I ask the person that wheels me upstairs for some medication. He also tells me that my attending nurse will get me the drugs and that she’ll be in shortly. It’s 30 minutes before I see anyone. I ask for drugs again. My nurse tells me she will get them for me. Another half hour passes and my nurse reappears to ask if I’m allergic to anything. This is the one question I have probably answered more than any other since being brought to the hospital. No, I tell her. She informs me that she did not have this information on record, so now she has to process something before she can get me the drugs. I’m waiting yet again. When the nurse reappears, it is not to offer me the morphine I have been longing for. Instead it is to take my vitals. She tells me the drugs are on their way.

While taking my vitals, another nurse appears and asks if he can take me down to get a CT scan. My nurse asks him if he can wait ten minutes. He agitatedly informs her that nobody will be available to take me down in ten minutes. My nurse then asks me if I can handle doing the CT scan before I get my meds. “How long will it take?” I ask her. “Not long,” is her reply. I try to get something more specific out of her. “It won’t be long,” is the only reply I can get. Finally, I oblige. Feeling miserable at this point, I am wheeled down to the CT scan room. I am third in line. By the time I am finished and wheeled back to my room, an additional 90 minutes will have passed. By the time I am administered painkillers—painkillers that I was originally told I could take every four hours—I will have been requesting them for no less than six hours. I kid you not.

There isn’t much to say about my stay in the hospital (once I was actually up in bed and appropriately drugged up). It wasn’t as dismal an experience as I thought it could be, but I only had to be there for one day. The fact that I was never fed and that it took six hours to get pain medication did not impress me very much. It concerned me that I would be returning to this same hospital within a few weeks to have surgery. Would they remember to feed me next time? Would they remember to anesthetize me before operating? My confidence was not improved when, on a follow up visit to my podiatrist, my doctor was shocked that the hospital hadn’t sent me home with a prescription for antibiotics. As he put it, foot injuries are some of the most dangerous, and if you get infected, the risk of amputation is very real. Gee thanks, hospital. Don’t they know it’s supposed to be a bad pun when you say these types of surgeries cost you an arm and a leg?

So that’s my hospital story. I did return and have surgery at that same establishment, and so far I still have a foot. So far, so good. But those are tales yet to come. Until then…

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Real 3rd-Anniversary Bash

This past Monday was the 3rd-year anniversary of Sucking on Oranges. I had been planning on a celebratory post, but the party has been officially postponed. Last Friday, Melanie, Edison, and I were in a serious car accident. Thankfully, we are all well and alive. We’re not all quite in one piece, however. More specifically, my left foot is not in one piece. While I’m not 100% sure of how many pieces it now consists, I know there are at least two broken bones in my ankle area and, according to the physicians, my heel has been “shattered.” It’s not the most promising adjective, but I assure you I consider myself a very blessed fellow.

So here’s the long beginning of the story. Friday afternoon, Eddie very cutely brings me my socks and takes Melanie her hat and then begins pointing at the front door, letting us know he wants to get out of the house. We didn’t have anywhere in particular to go, but we decided to please the little guy. So we head out just to do something frivolous – we stop and buy some Mountain Dew fountain drinks, and then we go to Hollywood Video and rent a couple of movies to have on hand for the weekend. On our way back home to have lunch and start a movie, we are waiting to turn left onto the street where we live. The light turns yellow. There is a car coming pretty fast in the other direction. I think to myself that the car probably could and should stop, but I can tell that it is not going to do so. So I wait. The car speeds through the intersection. The next car is a bit farther away, so I do not think there is even a consideration of that car not stopping. I barely start to go. I can then tell that this car isn’t stopping either. (By this point, I assume the light must have gone, or at least be turning, red, but I can’t officially say that I noticed – this all happened a lot faster than I can write about it.) I’m pretty certain I stopped trying to turn, because I know I just watched him barreling toward us, and I know I even said to Melanie that we were going to get hit. There is the sound of screeching brakes, and then there is the impact of what is basically a head-on collision.

We spin around so that we’re essentially facing the wrong way in the same lane we were just in, but pushed a little bit further back. Our car rolls a little forward and slightly onto the wrong side of the road (although we’re facing the right way for it now). There is a bit of smoke and I wonder if we have to worry about an explosion. The smoke only lasts for a second, but it’s a yucky smell. I realize, almost as an afterthought, that both the driver-side and the passenger-side airbags have deployed. Eddie is crying. I’m fairly calm, all things considered. I don’t know how much self-assessment I did, or even how much assessment I did of Melanie before I looked back to check on Edison. Blood is trickling down his neck. This frightens me, but somehow—perhaps defensively more than anything—I don’t get panicked.

As Melanie jumps out of the car and immediately goes for Edison, I look down and notice that my left foot is dripping blood. A lot of blood. Very quickly. I don’t feel much pain yet, but the blood doesn’t seem like a good sign. Witnesses are getting out of their cars and running up to us. A self-proclaimed child car seat expert commends us for having the car seat set up correctly. (Can he really tell just by glancing in the back window?) While not in his area of expertise, he looks at my foot. He tells me I have a cut. Maybe it’s broken, I suggest. Just looks like a cut, he assures me. He runs away and comes back to wrap it up in gauze. It’s a nice gesture, but I can’t help wondering if he even knows what he’s doing. Not that I’m going to protest. I’m feeling fairly complacent. It’s not that I’m happy to accept any treatment I can get, due to all the pain and trauma I’ve just been through. I just don’t feel that concerned or worried yet. Perhaps this is my way of being in shock.

At some point, I think about the other driver—the one that hit us. Is he mad at us, I wonder? Does he think it’s our fault? I look back. I can’t see anybody. Melanie is worried about standing in the heat with Edison, who is still crying. A man who works at the Dent Wizard car repair shop across the street (no, that’s not a joke) tells her to go sit in the coolness of their store. She thinks it is a good idea. I think so too. She goes. At some unparticular time, firefighters are on the scene. So is a cop. They’re asking me what happened. They ask me about pain. I’m not really in much, but my foot is finally hurting enough to at least mention it. Oh, and my left arm is kind of sore now that I think about it. There are a couple of cuts on it; one looks deep enough to make me worry. What about your neck? Your back? No problems there, I say. Again, at some uncertain time I realize I’m not wearing my glasses. I look around for them, feel around my body for them. They’re not anywhere. Just magically disappeared I guess. Obliterated. Same with Melanie’s.

The cop takes my license and is gone for a while. When he comes back, he tells me it is my fault based on eyewitness reports. Bad eyewitness reports, I think to myself. But I sign my citation. I don’t argue about it. I don’t think this is the time to argue about it. I know I was turning left and I know I’m probably stuck being at fault pretty much no matter what. Just moments ago, a witness had come up to me and given me his business card, telling me he thought I was in the right. That guy is gone now. I won’t bring him up to the cop, though. I imagine those things get straightened out later. It’s not my concern right now. I ask about the other driver, turning the focus back to concern rather than blame. I’m told he was unconscious right after the crash, so he’s getting priority treatment. They take him away in an ambulance and ask if I want another ambulance sent for me or if I want to find my own way to the hospital. Sure, send me an ambulance, I say. I wonder if it’s silly of me to utilize an ambulance when I’m clearly not on my deathbed. But I don’t know who I would call to give me a ride to the hospital. So an ambulance it is.

Melanie comes back with Edison. The firefighters are saying Edison should be looked at, even though the neck problem is probably just a cut from his car seat belt and nothing very serious. Melanie’s body is sore everywhere above her thighs, so she needs to be looked at as well One problem—babies and adults have to go to separate hospitals, so Edison will have to be taken away from us. I know how absolutely traumatic this would be for Edison (and for Melanie), and I know it’s not going to happen. I don’t think of it as a case of being overprotective—I genuinely think it would be a horrible mistake to pull Eddie away from us after giving him the scare of his life. Melanie agrees to sign a refusal of treatment form so she can stay with our son. But that’s enough to fill another ambulance, so they’ll have to get a third ambulance on the scene to take care of me. Melanie and Edison are gone now. It’s back to the waiting game for me. Luckily, the hospital to which they’ll be taking me is right across the street from the one to which they’ll be taking Edison. Melanie should be able to come find me after she’s done with Eddie. I’m glad we know where each other will be, at least sort of.

My foot is finally starting to get highly uncomfortable. I am still sitting in the driver’s seat, turned so my legs are dangling outside the door. I don’t put my left foot down on the pavement because it just seems like a bad idea. But I feel like it needs to be supported. I can’t twist or turn in a way that makes it feel okay. I try to cross my left foot barely over my right leg, to hold it up a little bit. Somehow, everything is uncomfortable and this isn’t satisfactory either. People keep asking me what exactly I cut it on—there is nothing obvious in that area of the car. I say I don’t know. An ambulance finally shows up for me, and they ask if I can try standing. They wonder if I can walk myself to the ambulance. I’m not thinking it’s going to work, but I stand up. I gingerly put my left foot down. It feels funny – sort of gelatinous-like – and very painful. It’s not going to work. I start to feel a swelling of nausea in my stomach. It’s intense. I recognize it as what it really is – I am going to pass out. I tell the firefighters this, and I sit back down in the car. I lean back and try to breathe very calmly. Gradually, the pseudo-nausea subsides and the threat of passing out is gone. They bring over a stretcher and work me onto it. They move me to the ambulance, which is air-conditioned inside. Being able to lay down, to be out of the heat, to just be wheeled around without any effort on my part—at this point it honestly feels quite luxurious.

And that is just enough to get us to the point where I go to the hospital. The hospital was quite an experience in itself. But I will save that for an upcoming post, which will hopefully appear soon. I’ll probably spend a lot of time just sitting around, so I might as well blog about things. Until then…

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Continual Progression Toward Not Feeling Settled

Hopefully this will be the last time I feel inclined to write about the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. I say this because I am hoping that I will never again feel inclined to take the GRE. Unfortunately, that is more of a hope than a promise. I still have to mull it over and perhaps talk to those that have some understanding of how graduate admissions processes work. My dilemma is that I performed quite well on the verbal part of the exam, which is what matters most for someone going into philosophy, while I did a very mediocre job on the math section. Common sense would suggest that a lower math score would have no bearing on my doctoral program applications, since philosophy technically gets lumped under the humanities umbrella. Then again, any lackluster line on my resume may hurt me. Certainly in the case of a tiebreaker I could more easily be scratched off the list than someone who performed equally well in both categories. But do I want to spend a month or two beefing up my geometry skills just to improve my math score when I’m not going into a mathematics-heavy field? When I don’t suppose I could do a whole heck of a lot better on the verbal section? It seems it could be a big waste of time, not to mention a major stress. I really don’t want to do that.

To give you a bit more of the story, I have once again suffered at the hands of procrastination. That’s really what it comes down to. When I took the GRE in December of 2005, I did not study for it at all. I just went in and took it, and all things considered, I think I did fairly well. Really, I wasn’t even obligated to take the GRE again this time around, as I could just as easily use my original scores when I begin applying to Ph.D. programs a few months from now. But I was confident that I could perform much better on the exam if I took the time to study. I bought a book, and that book then sat on a bookshelf for several months. Finally, about a week ago, I got the book out and started flipping through it. But only on Friday did I actually begin any intense studying of the text. Silly and stupid, I know. When I ended up taking the GRE the next day, I found that my verbal score had gone up 10% from what it was before, while my math score dropped dramatically. I have no idea how I performed so well on the math section back in ’05. Not that I did great, but it still baffles me how I did so well. This time around, however, I am sitting just under (if my calculations are correct) the 50th percentile in math. Averageville. Maybe not a problem—but maybe so. What to do???

If my verbal score had leaped even a few more points, I would probably feel more convinced that I should just let my new score stand. (For the record, once you’ve got a new score, you have to use and claim that score—the old one is wiped from the record, whether it was better or worse.) Speaking percentile-wise, I am in the mid-90s for verbal, so there isn’t a lot of room for improvement. Nevertheless, I probably could go up one or two notches on the raw score. But that means I would just have to be studying the verbal and quantitative sections over the next month or two, and I just don’t know that I want to put forth that kind of time and effort! Not when I’m supposed to be working so hard on my master’s thesis and teaching two classes and taking a class for credit and auditing a class and doing all the other miscellaneous tasks involved with applying to Ph.D. programs. It’s uncomfortable here on the fence…

By the way, there is one other test area on the GRE, and that is the analytical writing section. For that part of the exam, you have to write two mini-essays on the spot. Compared to my ’05 GRE exam, I am not worried that my score will drop, but I am sad I cannot say anything other than that. I had been very hopeful that I could take this score up a notch and get a highly impressive score, but I think I screwed myself over. Why? Because I lost track of the time while writing the first essay, and all of the sudden I realized I was practically out of time. It wasn’t as well organized as it could have been, and I actually ran out of time in the middle of typing the last sentence. That means it isn’t even complete. I was just a few words shy, literally, but that’s enough to make it incomplete. How good of a score can you get if the essay is incomplete? I hope it will be obvious it was the end of the essay, and I hope the writing prior to that final sentence will be enough to salvage me. If my analytical writing score goes down at all, I’ll definitely retake the GRE. It would just be foolish to accept a lower score in that area, especially because I do not doubt that I should have an incredibly high writing score. Writing is what philosophers do! To accept a mediocre score on the analytical writing section of the GRE would be to spit on my application, not to mention the very people who I am asking to give my application serious consideration.

So there you have it. Because the analytical writing section cannot be scored by a computer, you have to wait approximately one month to find out how well you did. I’m sure I’ll let you know, at least whether or not I found my scores to be satisfactory. Until then, I’ll be wondering whether or not to worry that I’m riding the line on my cumulative score, although the pertinent score (verbal) is quite high. To show how seriously I am on the border, you can check out this post written by Eric Schwitzgebel, an associate professor at University California-Riverside who has served (and may still be serving) on the admissions committee. UCR may be my top choice for a Ph.D. program, so Schwitzgebel’s post is all the more relevant. He says that although he personally does not pay much attention to GRE scores, a cumulative (sans the analytical writing section) score of anything below 1250 is considered “a strike against an applicant.” My cumulative score? 1250. Will it matter that my verbal score was so decent? I don’t know. That’s why I’m only slightly more at ease to have the test behind me. Blimey.

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

It's the End of the World as We Know It...

…and I feel fine. No, really I do. The first week of the fall semester is over, and I’m happy to report that I am feeling very optimistic. In fact, I am hopeful that this semester will be more enjoyable than last spring, which is somewhat surprising. As any regular reader of my blog will know, I’ve long been predicting that fall 2007 would be the most grueling semester of my life. It may be a bit premature to say otherwise, but for the moment I’m feeling quite happy with the way things have been turning out. In my opinion, that’s saying a lot, because the last two to three weeks have been a mess of constant change and uncertainty. I won’t bore you with all the details, but needless to say, the fall semester was drawing increasingly near and I felt like I had absolutely no idea what classes I needed to take, what classes I wanted to take, how many classes I would be teaching and when I would be teaching them, etc. I was also busy reading an entire logic textbook within a five day period, hoping that I could familiarize myself with it well enough to pass an opt-out exam that would allow me to skip taking the otherwise required logic course.

To give you a quick summary of how things have turned out, here goes. I did NOT pass the logic opt-out exam. That means I am stuck taking the class for credit this semester, as it is the last time the class will be offered before I graduate (in May 2008, assuming all goes well). That probably sounds like a bad thing, but truth be known, I’m rather thrilled about it. I had to take something for credit this semester, and as insane as it may sound, I think logic will be a nice break from the full-on philosophy classes I normally take. I won’t have to write any papers, for starters. And it helps that I already took a logic course at my undergrad institution. That means this class will largely be a review, making it a whole lot easier on me than it could have been. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I barely missed testing out of the class (you had to score a “B” on the opt-out exam to test out). I was rusty and slow and not everything from the textbook was something I had learned as an undergrad. I ran out of time before I could even finish the exam. But I quickly tried to add up the sections I had completed and that I felt confident about, just to see if I even stood a chance, and I thought I would be right on the border. That was frustrating in and of itself, because I had hoped that after taking the opt-out exam, I’d pretty much know whether or not I’d have to take the class, based on how I felt about my performance. Instead, I felt more uncertain than ever. So, even though they didn’t give us back our tests, I assume I barely didn’t make it. At first I was a bit disappointed by this, but now I’m rather excited that logic is the only class I have to worry about taking for credit. It’s kind of nice to have that decision made for me. I was stewing over what class I would take for my final three elective credit hours. Now I know.

Also on my plate this semester: I’m auditing a class on the Scottish philosopher, David Hume. If you’re not into philosophy, you may not realize that he’s easily among the top five philosophers of all time, influentially speaking. I figured I would be doing myself a disservice not to take a Hume class when it’s being offered. Even though this means I should be doing a lot of reading (otherwise there’s no point in auditing the course), I won’t have to take tests or write papers. It should all count toward personal enrichment. Ain’t that a nifty concept, to do something purely for the intrinsic value of it? In addition to Hume, I’m teaching two 1010 classes. In a lot of ways, 1010 is just the rudimentary version of the logic class I myself am taking. I think that could be a perk, just because my logic class may inspire me in regard to how I present certain ideas to my 1010 class. Aside from these goings-on, I need to be working diligently on my thesis. It has to be fairly complete by February in order to graduate in May, and people expect to see some good progress on it before they start writing you letters of recommendation, which I will also need since I’ll be applying to Ph.D. programs. And finally, I’ll be spending this week cramming for yet another test, the GRE, which I take Saturday.

I don’t know how all of that sounds to the casual observer, but given that I already expected this semester to be overloaded, I think it all sounds quite manageable. Busy, but manageable. Again, I think the real lifesaver is that I’m not taking a class for credit that will require me to write papers. That’s a huge relief right there. And, as an added bonus, I once again do not have school on Fridays. No papers and no Fridays is enough to make me an officially giddy schoolboy. But we’ll have to see how giddy I feel come November. That’s assuming I’ll have a chance to post again by then. Ha ha.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Back to Back to School

For some reason I’ve had an incredibly difficult time writing this post. I’ve started it numerous times but failed to finish it, and here I am starting it completely over once again. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. The main news is that the summer semester is over. As a student, I wrapped up my directed readings course on free will with a successful grade but less than stellar self-esteem. As an instructor, I finished out my first semester of teaching feeling slightly sorry for those students who had to be my guinea pigs. I’m sure I’ll be much better at things the next time around, so this semester was both a blessing and a curse in that regard. Anyway, here’s some other school related goings-on for your reading pleasure:

Great Things Come in Twos
As part of my fellowship, I was guaranteed to teach five classes during my second year as a graduate student—two classes one semester, three classes the other semester. I wasn’t given a choice about whether I’d be teaching two or three in the fall and three or two in the spring. I was really hoping to teach two in the fall, since I know fall will be an incredibly busy semester for me. I’ll be working on a thesis, teaching classes, taking at least one class for credit, and applying out to Ph.D. programs. It’s enough to give me an aneurysm just thinking about it. And so it is that I’m happy to report, I’ve received official word and I will only be teaching two classes in the fall. If only the fall semester weren’t starting so darn soon (August 20th)!

Hey, Where You Going?
Speaking of applying to Ph.D. programs, this is a subject that’s been weighing on my mind quite a bit lately. It will only be a few months before I’ll be buried in the application process, a fact that is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating. I think I’ve narrowed the “definitely applying” list down to six schools, while a few other schools remain on the “maybe” list. To give you an idea of where I might be headed a year from now, here is the “definitely applying” list (in alphabetical order):

Cornell UniversityIthaca, NY
Florida State UniversityTallahassee, FL
Indiana University-BloomingtonBloomington, IN
University of California-RiversideRiverside, CA
University of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel Hill, NC
University of Notre DameSouth Bend, IN

I couldn’t honestly tell you which school I’d choose to go to if it were up to me. It used to be Notre Dame, but I’m not 100% sure about that anymore. FSU and UC-Riverside are supposedly the best schools for the particular area of philosophy that I am most interested in, which means they should be my top choices. And they probably are. The only thing giving me pause is that these schools are not as strong in my secondary interests, nor are they as highly ranked overall. I don’t know how much those facts should play into my decision. As a doctoral student, I may get too submerged in my main research topic for it to matter what other strengths the school has. But no need to worry about that now. First I have to get accepted somewhere. I won’t know anything about that for another six months at least. I’ll update you then.

No Viagra Needed!
After several weeks of struggling to get it up, I finally figured out how to get the pull-down projector screen to retract after class. You may remember that this was a skill that completely eluded me for the bulk of the summer semester. Finally, I was fortunate enough to witness another teacher work his magic and I immediately realized what I had been doing wrong all this time. I was going too slow. I swear the instructions printed on the handle of the screen tell you to slowly retract it, but that’s apparently very bad advice. You’ve got to do it right quick, like you’re performing some sleight of hand. Sadly I didn’t learn this trick of the trade until just recently, so I didn’t benefit from it much this semester. But watch out this fall, because I’ll be putting the power back into PowerPoint! (Or at least the pow. Or maybe just the p.)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An Apt Name If Ever There Was One

Just over a year ago, I was working a summer job, preparing for the birth of my son and the move from Salt Lake City to Atlanta. One of my co-workers was a frumpier, upper-middle-aged woman whose constant cheeriness and tall-tales gave me plenty of dinnertime conversation fodder when I'd come home to Melanie. Well, this woman also happened to be one of those types that always has some physical ailment or another and wants to make sure you are well aware of it whenever you look at her. If she was going through one of her rough times, you couldn't look at her without finding her face exaggeratedly contorted into something you might, for the sake of pure convenience, call a "grimace." In other words, this was the kind of woman that was extremely friendly, but probably because she needed more friends than she actually had. She needed attention.

This post has nothing to do with that woman. Not exactly anyway, but I wanted to give you some relevant background information so that you could understand just why I feel as shocked as I do about the subject that is the topic of this post. Returning to the story, I one day noticed that this woman was wearing these really weird looking shoes (if you could even call them shoes). They were extremely goofy looking, but I assumed they were some medically prescribed footwear that served some greater purpose about which I could not even begin to guess. So I dismissed them as another token of this woman's eccentricity and, of course, perpetual ill health.

Only recently have I learned from my beloved wife that these shoes are actually a current fad. That's right, what I thought must surely be a bizarre experiment in podiatry is in actuality the latest footwear fashion trend. It turns out my former co-worker was donning the gay apparel that is Crocs.

I don't claim to be a fashion guru, but I have to ask—really? As I've looked into it more, there are a few variations of Crocs that look fairly normal. But the standard issue chunk of plastic that's been taken to a hole-punch one too many timeswell, I just don't get it. Maybe it makes sense for kids. Maybe. But only because kids can plug those holes with little trinkets and basically turn their shoes into a combination toy/fashion statement. But adults? Adults?!?

In case you don't know what Crocs are, you can check out the following video, courtesy of YouTube. I love that they make sure to point out that one of the people claiming to love Crocs is a dentist. If a dentist loves this brand of shoes, then what in the world are we all waiting for??? What a crock!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Quick update: I've taught my last real class of the semester. I teach again on Monday, but it's a review session. I've told the students to come prepared with questions because I'm not going to be planning anything in particular. While I do want to help those students that need the help and are willing to ask for it, I'm hoping that most of the class will be a no-show. Or at least, I hope that there's not really that many questions to be answered. I'm more than ready to be done with it all. Plus, I'm working on a free will paper for my directed readings course. It's coming along, but it has to be done by next week, which is also when I'll be grading a bunch of final papers for the class I'm teaching. Yikes.

But I might as well share some good news. A while back I heard that the format of the GRE was going to be changed after July. The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a test that many graduate programs require their applicants to take, including all of the Ph.D. programs I will be applying to this fall. I took the GRE a couple of years ago and could theoretically just re-use my old score, but I took the exam without prepping for it at all. All things considered, I scored fairly well, but my goal was to actually study for it this summer and then take it before July was over, while the format would still be familiar to me. I felt fairly confident that with a little bit of effort, I could get a score worth bragging about. Of course, that was before I got into teaching and realized there would be no such thing as study time. Before I knew it, it was halfway through July and I mentally kissed my chance of retaking the GRE in the familiar format goodbye.

Well, the other day I looked into the GRE again, and I learned that they are no longer revamping the test. That means I can take the exam anytime in August or September or even later and it will basically be the same as when I took it before. Different questions, of course, but same format. That means that the study guide I bought needn't go to waste. And, even better, I can wrap up my summer teaching before I worry about studying. I can't tell you how joyous this information made me. I honestly felt completely renewed, like I'd been given a second chance at my collegiate life.

That's how I felt for a day or two, at least. Now I'm back to stressing because I have less than two weeks between grades being due and the beginning of the fall semester. Fall is going to be one of the busiest times of my life EVER, so I can't push anything off until then. During the interim between summer semester and fall semester, I am therefore hoping not only to do some GRE studying, but I am also hoping to bulk up on some logic skills so I can test out of the logic class that is required by my program. I don't know that I'll have time to adequately do the latter, but I've got to give it a shot. If I don't test out of it, I'm stuck taking the logic class in the fall, which is really not what I want to be doing. Because I'll be teaching at least two classes, I don't think I can handle taking more than one class for credit, and I don't want it to be logic. But it might have to be. I guess I'll know soon enough...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Crazy Eights

As I mentioned in my previous post, Jennifer of Balance (via Offbeat Homes) volunteered me to participate in a meme. Without further ado, here it is...

8 Random Things about Me

  1. I kind of hope that when I'm old and all my hair (what's left of it) is gray, I will have crazy old-man eyebrows.
  2. Once in a blue moon, I still test out my telekinetic abilities, just in case someday it works. (I thought probably everyone did this from time to time, but my wife seems to disagree.)
  3. I also still fantasize on a somewhat regular basis about being famous (usually a famous musician). I'll even carry on extensive interviews in my head sometimes. (Okay, based on these first three answers, you'll think I'm nuts and living in a fantasy world--which I guess might be right.)
  4. I think one of the most satisfying breakfasts is a bowl of corn flakes with sliced banana, a glass of orange juice, and a toasted English muffin with butter. Really, I'm always so surprised at how perfectly it hits the spot.
  5. (Inspired by Sarah.) The first time I ever went to a water slide park, and I suppose I was a bit older than a lot of people when they do this, I had a brand new swimsuit that was almost denim-like. I thought nothing of it until I tried going down my first water slide and found that I was slide retardant. I had to scoot myself most of the way down the slide, which felt pretty humiliating. Luckily, they eventually sent down the person behind me, my pseudo-sister Brandy, who slammed into me and propelled me down the rest of the slide under her weight. When we finally crashed into the pool at the bottom, and when I finally wriggled my way out from underneath Brandy and resurfaced, the lifeguard there yelled at us for not having gone down one at a time. 'Tis not a great summertime memory.
  6. I have never seen Top Gun, and I don't care.
  7. During college, I once took an ethics course that required its students to do volunteer work and report on it as a final project. I totally fabricated mine. Can you really get more unethical than that?
  8. Velvet makes my teeth hurt. Touching, or even watching someone else touch, velvet gives me the same negative visceral reaction that some people associate with the scraping of fingernails on a chalkboard. It's been that way for about as long as I can remember. Anything even remotely velvet-like, such as felt, stands a good chance of making the nerves in my two front teeth start to sing. Corduroy and suede are borderline. Even a really downy blanket can cause problems if the softness and fuzziness ratio are just right (or wrong, I guess I should say). In fact, my teeth are starting to ache just writing about this. So I think I'll stop.
I guess the rules are that I'm now supposed to tag eight other people, who are then under the strictest of moral obligations to continue the meme and "pay it forward," if you will. I'll mostly have to tag family members because few else read my blog. Very few. And some of those few have already done this. So, although I do not expect anyone to actually follow through with this assignment, I hereby tag: Melanie, Mudderbear, Jak, and The Damsel. As for those fortunate enough not to be related to me (and who haven't already done this meme, as far as I can remember), I hereby tag: Mac G, Momentary Academic, and Brent if you're still alive. That leaves one nomination up for grabs. Take it if you want it.

If any of you find this as insulting as having a friend send you a chain letter, I apologize and happily relinquish you of any obligation to comply.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quoth This

I’ve been given an assignment by one of my favorite bloggers out there, Jennifer of Balance, whose many professional blogging endeavors—and yes, professional blogging does exist—is Offbeat Homes, a blog dedicated to architectural eccentricity. I have to say I was quite honored by Jennifer’s reference to me as “my oldest most likeable blog buddy Benny.” Is that sweet or what? Well, I’m still going to fulfill that assignment, Jennifer, but first I’m going to do something that requires even less creativity on my part. I’ve been thinking that an easy way to post more frequently (but with less stress) would be to start sharing book quotes that I have enjoyed over the years. I haven’t always been diligent about keeping a record of enjoyable book quotes, so I can’t guarantee these will always be the absolute cream of the crop. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to rack up a decent list of quotables that I think are worth sharing.

To begin, I will start with the current novel I am reading, Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. I haven’t read a Pratchett novel before, but my little sister was quite a fan of Good Omens and so while aimlessly wandering through my local library branch one day, I ended up perusing what books of Pratchett’s happened to be on the shelf. Thief of Time promised to be a philosophical satire of sorts, so naturally I had to pick it up. So far I think I’m reading it too sporadically to keep track of things as well as I should, but that hasn’t prevented me from finding some decent quotations. Here is one of the more recent gems I’ve stumbled upon, and one which I think is probably more true than we’d sometimes like to believe:

“Well?” said Lu-Tze.
“The Way has an answer for everything, does it?”
“Then …” Lobsang nodded at the little volcano, which was gently smoking, “… how does that work? It is on a saucer!”
Lu-Tze stared straight ahead, his lips moving.
“Page seventy-six, I think,” he said.
Lobsang turned to the page.
“‘Because,’” he read.
“Good answer,” said Lu-Tze, gently caressing a minute crag with a camel-hair brush.
“Just ‘Because,’ master? No reason?”
“Reason? What reason can a mountain have? And, as you accumulate years, you will learn that most answers boil down, eventually, to ‘Because.’”

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What'll Ya Have, What'll Ya Have?

As a graduate student of philosophy, money is something I’m used to dealing with almost purely on the theoretical level. Summertime is even harder, as student loans from the previous academic year have all been depleted but the monthly bills remain. Add to that the twice deferred payment schedule for those students who are teaching summer classes in order to earn some extra dough (such as yours truly), and you begin to realize just how bleak the perennial college life is.

Sadly, I’ve had to send my little boy off to work. Just shy of turning 1-year-old, he’s been brave about the whole thing. I think he chose rightly to begin in the fast food industry. By the time he’s in high school, he’ll be able to salt fries with both his hands tied behind his back. For an after school job, he’ll have his pick of any mall food court eatery you can imagine.

Though I probably embarrassed him in front of all his new friends, I couldn’t resist showing up in the middle of Edison’s first shift at The Varsity. For those who don’t know, The Varsity is considered a landmark, the world’s largest drive-in (see the Wikipedia article here). You can eat inside the restaurant too, which is where Eddie is stationed. Anyway, I snuck in and snapped some pictures of him before he realized I was there. I can’t believe how grown up he looks, all dressed up for work. Sigh. Take a look:

Young Edison welcomes customers with The Varsity’s trademark greeting.

Eddie diligently works to fashion his first hamburger patty.

Eddie samples the wares – don’t let the manager see you, li'l guy!

Eddie proudly hands a customer the correct amount of change (give or take a nickel).

Having just been given his first “special order” (in this case, hold the ketchup), Edison experiences his first few moments of wavering self-doubt. “Cheating” off his co-worker, Eddie is finally able to type the correct code into his cash register.

Surprise! Edison is slightly taken aback as Mom and Dad come out of the crowd and reveal themselves. His embarrassment turns to gratitude when Mom lovingly reminds him, “Nobody’ll want you to take their order if we don’t change your diaper at least once during your shift!”

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Food, Friends, Freedom

I’m sneaking in a last moment post for June. Even as I being writing this, I’m unsure of what all I’m going to say. That means this will probably be a fairly scatterbrained post. Bear with me.

Melanie and I have had a lot of opportunities to invite people into our home lately. That’s been really nice. Both of us have always wanted to be those kinds of people who have a home full of love that people can feel good and safe and happy to be in. As simple a thing as it is, it means a lot to me to have had people here and to have felt positive about it. This morning, I had a couple of school friends and their spouses (spice? Uh oh, I hear a Mary Kate and Ashley song coming on – consider yourself blessed if you don’t get that inside joke) over for breakfast. These sweet people brought Edison a birthday gift! It’s a stuffed, sock-like frog. Eddie really likes it too, which is wonderful. The moment he pulled it out of the gift bag, he just embraced it all lovingly. It was really cool. And these kind people also brought Melanie a daisy, just for the heck of it. These are people I’ve only hung out with once outside of school time. Talk about generous.

Regarding the food, we had watermelon, cantaloupe, red grapes, strawberries, and bananas (the latter two largely intended to go on the waffles we made), waffles, sausage, and scrambled eggs. Melanie’s waffles are always a hit (I’ll write more about them later—seriously), and I was pleasantly surprised when people acted so enthusiastic about my eggs. The only thing I aim for when it comes to eggs, besides cooking them thoroughly, is to include lots of cheese and lots of seasoned salt. A sprinkle of regular salt and some black pepper is also thrown in. But that’s it. Still, it’s apparently a recipe for success. I know I like ‘em that way, but a little validation never hurt anyone (as anyone who’s had to pay full price for parking can tell you).

Tonight, Melanie and I went with another friend of ours to a vegan (re: vegetarian, but worse) restaurant. I was a bit scared of that, but I braved it. It was our friend’s choice. For the sake of giving you the proper perspective, I should note that this friend is a charismatic, black gentleman who was born the same year as my parents. In his own words, he’s a “long haired hippie.” Probably not what you’d picture if I just left it at saying he’s a friend, so I don’t want you to be misguided. Anyway, he chose the restaurant, which Melanie and I were not all that excited about in the first place, but then we come to find out it’s clear on the opposite side of Atlanta. Not too big of a deal, being that it’s a Saturday, but probably more adventurous than we’re accustomed to, what with li’l Eddie and all. But then as we’re pulling off the freeway, our friend cheerily announces that we’re going into “the black part of town.” Having grown up in Salt Lake City, I didn’t know what exactly that was supposed to mean. Was this just a casual observation, or was this comment to be regarded as a courtesy to me, a heads-up to get myself psychologically prepared for the rest of the evening? Am I going to feel completely out of place or something? Well, whether or not I really should have, I sort of did feel awkward at first. But it ended up being a very pleasant experience, with incredibly friendly people. Not that that’s even the point I wanted to make here. Still, it was part of the experience, so there you go. The real point is that Melanie and I weren’t too keen on the food. In some respects, it was better than I thought it might be. But whatever that main ingredient is in vegan food, I don’t think I care for it. It sure ain’t straight up vegetables, I’ll tell you that. There’s something else, a kind of … indescribable flavor that accompanied every dish. One or two bites of the stuff was tolerable, but my taste buds quickly lost their momentum. I can almost compare it to when something doesn’t have enough salt, but it wasn’t just the absence of something, it seemed to be a bona fide presence of not-so-goodness. Actually, the soy ice cream, which our friend made us get before we ate dinner, was quite tasty. That was the only thing I didn’t mind eating more than a few bites of. Aside from knowing I never want to go to a vegan restaurant again, I did gain one thing from this experience: I can now say I’ve had tofu. BBQ tofu, in fact. That’s something. I guess.

The final thing I’ll make mention of is that Monday is the midterm for the summer class I’m teaching. Because we’re all a bunch of graduate students teaching for our first time, the department chair is providing all of our class materials for us. That’s both good and bad. Good for preparation time, bad for having any control over how your class is run. I can understand not giving us full control at this point, but sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I don’t fully agree with the way something is phrased on a quiz or on the homework, and yet I essentially have to defend it when a student asks me about it. The point is, I was ecstatic when the department chair sent us a copy of the midterm. (Again, we didn’t write these ourselves.) Some of the test questions I’ve seen this guy use in the past have been pretty hard, I think. This time around, they’re fairly straightforward. I’m not only grateful for myself, since there aren’t any questions I feel aren’t fair and yet will have to defend, I’m also grateful for my students, whom I do sincerely hope to see succeed.

That’s what’s been going on in my neck of the woods. Because Monday is the midterm and Wednesday is Independence Day, I don’t have to prepare any teaching for this week. Yippee! I’m hoping it will be a rather joyous seven days. I certainly know I’ll be appreciating my freedom on July 4th, so if I don’t talk to you before then, I hope you’ll be enjoying yours as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Teaching: Week Two

Yesterday was my best day of teaching yet. I was worried when I got through the material that was supposed to last about an hour in something like 45 minutes. But, much to my surprise, we almost ran out of time during the second half of class. That’s great. I don’t know if it will always work out quite that well. There was a lot if interaction with the students, which I hope made it all the more interesting for them just as it did for me. Perhaps that is the mark of a great teacher, to always be able to make your classes work out that way, with lots of interesting discussion. I feel like a lot of what I have to teach isn’t conducive to that kind of interactive dynamic, but perhaps that’s my own shortcomings. Or, to be more kind to myself, perhaps that is just part of being new to it all.

Anyway, I have yet to successfully get the projector screen to retract after class. But I’ve learned to stop trying too hard, just so I don’t end up running the screen halfway across the room and then leaving it as a giant tarp covering all the desks and chairs. And yes, the fact that I’m using the projector screen means I have continued on with PowerPoint presentations. In response to my previous post, some people expressed their dislike for PowerPoint. I hope I escape the criticisms to which they give voice, because I do try to say and do more than provide subtitles (supertitles? Midtitles, really…) for my lectures. And I think the illustrative benefits of PowerPoint are quite strong, if utilized correctly. For example, I am able to highlight different parts of an argumentative speech in different colors, so as to point out the distinctions students will ultimately need to make on their own. That’s not something it would be very convenient to do on the spot, on the whiteboard. And, quite frankly, even if I did write up a whole paragraph on the whiteboard just to have the students analyze it while I underlined certain sentences with different colored dry erase markers, how boring would that be? Technology is where it’s at! (Although, I personally find Vanna White’s role on Wheel of Fortune a lot more meaningless now that she just touches a screen rather than physically turning letters around. So I guess technology isn’t always good.)

I did have a funny experience with my most recent class. We were discussing language, how it changes over time and eventually becomes obsolete. As an example of language over the years, I used the sentence “This movie is bodacious!” Some student asked what that meant, which kind of surprised me. I mean, I know it’s not something a teenager of today would realistically or seriously say, but I thought people would at least have heard of it somewhere. So I asked my class how many people had never heard the word “bodacious” before. There were quite a few hands that went into the air. I couldn’t get over that. It’s one thing for students not to know some of the TV shows or musical groups I used to enjoy as a kid, but to have an actual word be completely unfamiliar to them was something else. To feel that detached from the younger generation is … well, not so gnarly.

P.S. For those who know what fry sauce is, I also had the pleasure of grossing some students out by explaining what it is. I think they were genuinely disgusted, even before I described its color as “vomit orange.” Also funny to me, I didn’t outright explain that fry sauce is largely intended to be used as a dipping sauce for French fries, and finally a student asked what fry sauce was for. Man, the things you take for granted…