Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ryan Reynolds, Broken Babies, Brandi Carlile, & Motorcycles

Before you read the musings I posted below, I just wanted show off how I’ve learned to post pictures. Isn’t Ryan just beautiful?

Go ahead. Take a moment.
Jeeze. That’s nice.

Broken Babies:

Two Sundays ago, my younger sister invited all the siblings together so we could meet her cutie-patootie boyfriend. She was about to send him off to his internship in Washington DC for the summer, and she wanted to give us all a chance to meet him before he left. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the whole situation, but I more than once heard the phrase, “Be nice.”
What? Like I’m not capable of being nice?
*Pause. Eyes roll up into the back of my head. Hands held up in honest confusion.*
Anywho...while we waited for the happy couple to show up, my older sister was fixing dinner, and everything seemed pretty chilax. That is until my nearly two year old nephew, in an attempt to slide down the front of the couch, lost his balance, and fell off of the back of it.
I was three feet away, half asleep on the other couch. I felt like I should stop him from playing that way, but I didn’t, because I saw him do it successfully several times. That was a mistake. I should have yanked him off, yelled at him in nervous fear, have him scream for his mom, and that would have been the end of it.
But I didn’t.
He fell off the back of the couch, and he broke his arm so severely, his hand was literally flopping: It was completely detached from the rest of his arm.
Naturally, my older sister was panicked for a few moments. Thankfully, she gained the clarity of a mother's instincts, and after those seconds passed, she was all business. She grabbed her husband’s keys and calmly said, “Becky. You’re driving. We’re going to the hospital.”
For the next five hours we waited for a surgeon to come and for little guy’s dinner to digest. Then they sedated him to set the bones.
The situation was traumatic for me, and periodically I couldn’t stop myself from tearing up. I kept thinking, “I should have stopped him. He’s so little, and so defenseless. I should have stopped him from hurting himself. I’m a terrible aunt.”
Also I learned how impatient I can be when one of my own is involved in an accident. I just felt like no one was fast, competent, or smart enough to take care of my nephew. I wanted to shout,
“Hurry up! Where are his meds? Why can’t you fix him so he doesn’t have to be in pain? Who made you people doctors? You’re a bunch of eff-ing morons!” Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut, and tried not to get in anybody’s way. Emotion really is absolutely useless in these situations.
Sadly, the original set didn’t take, and my nephew and sister are going to the hospital again tonight.
Brandi Carlile:
On a bit of lighter news, I thought I would mention, before Sunday happened, I got a chance to go see Brandi Carlile in concert on Saturday before last. I got there late, and the theatre didn’t have any more seats left, so I had to stand near the base of the stage for the opening act. Because I was there alone, I slowly got shoved up right next to the stage. It turned out to be one of the best seats in the house when Brandi came out. What an incredible voice that woman has!
It was the best concert I’ve ever been to. If you like folk rock, you should check her out. She is a phenomenal talent.


Last but not least…it’s spring, and I’ve just gotten my motorcycle out of storage. Oh…I love that stupid bike. I just love it. I’m so pleased spring is finally here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Vices

The Ancient Romans had a wonderful little term which meant “failing or defect”: They called it “Vitium.” It’s modern English entomological great, great, great, [insert many more “greats” here] grand baby is a noun called “vice.” Most people know that vice is a generally deplorable practice or habit. I think today I want to discuss a few of mine.

What can I say? Acknowledgment is the first step.

Carbonated Caffeinated Beverages-
I seriously know better. Soda pop, in general, causes too many health problems to list—honestly; it offers not one healthful quality. But every time I even smell a Pepsi these days, I want one. Even the pop of a tab gets me excited. It’s so wrong, and yet it feels so right. Well, maybe not when it keeps me up until 3:00 am, but otherwise, very artificially stimulating and tasty. I’ll probably give it up again in a week. I go through “on the wagon” and “off the wagon” cycles.

Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches-
In the olden days, when I had no real job and was still in college (Oh, wait. Not much has change.), I used to “treat” myself to one bought lunch a week. It was usually something simple. I’d spend no more than three dollars for a sandwich and an apple beer. Not much has changed. Except now I’ve upped the “steaks” (I just kill me.). There’s a sub sandwich shop a few blocks away from work that makes Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches. For every ounce of beef in these things, there’s at least three ounces of grease. Occasionally, I have to pound my chest to get the last bite of the sandwich down. Another problem with them is they’re 7 bucks a pop—more than twice as much as my old habit. I’m pathetic.

Ellen DeGeneres’ Productions Posted on You Tube-
I don’t think I’ve ever loved a comedian more than I love Ellen. Well…maybe I loved Lily Tomlin as much once. But let’s be honest, in some ways, Lily was just Jane Wagner’s highly expressive puppet for most of the seventies and early eighties. Ellen, on the other hand, is the one holding all the strings. She’s a “real boy”…er…girl (She has a wife. It was an honest mistake.).

Bad Pinocchio allusions, puns, and cheap gay marriage shots aside, I think I owe everyone an explanation. I’ve taken to watching Ellen’s old stand up and postings of her show on You Tube, and I am completely enthralled. I waste hours watching some nights. She’s just incredibly hilarious, and she gets all the good guests (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Mc Dreamy, Mc Steamy, and many, many more.).

I have just two justifications for my behavior. One, she keeps it clean. She’s not Robin Williams, and more importantly, she is NOT Rosie O’Donnell. Tangentially, Rosie is a complete disgrace to what it means to be a woman. I don’t care if she’s gay, I don’t care that she has her own political views, but I do care that she cannot say one thing these days that doesn’t involve a string of distasteful vulgarities or something that will result in her imminent firing or a lawsuit. What happened to her? She’s disgusting. But back to Ellen…

And secondly, Ellen is a gay, liberal, vegan, in her fifties, and I am a straight, conservative, meat-eating, Mormon, in my mid twenties, and yet I still find myself disarmed and enthusiastic about what she has to say. That says something, no?

Okay, so she’s good. Everyone can acknowledge this fact. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure any amount of You Tube-ing over ten minutes is a substantial waste of time, and therefore a vice.

Some people are under the false impression that it’s charming to be a gossip. It’s not. It’s just addictive and mean. The biggest problem with this vice is it makes you feel artificially superior. Count how many times you’ve smiled, either inwardly or outwardly, when you’ve passed on negative information about someone else. Have you even stopped to gloat to yourself, “I’m too good to ever be caught up in something like that.” I’m sorry, but a person who conducts themselves this way is not charming: They are a particularly despicable breed of Bitch.

I shouldn’t have put this one so far down my list. It’s really the first one I should be eliminating from my personality.

Potty Language-
This one needs no explanation. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully be able to give it up, but I will say I only use it selectively. It should NEVER be used in a moment of flippant anger. Expletives should be used to emphasize a strong point; they should never be the point.

Cards or on a Windows Powered PC, I can’t help myself. It is mindless, and yet I still find myself almost nervously playing it at times.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Funeral Blues

Stop All the Clocks, Cut off the Telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let airplanes circle moaning overhead,
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

-W.H. Auden

I have recently experienced a loss. Don’t worry. It was nothing serious. It’s just my Masters Thesis Project died last week, and I took it rather hard.

I realize it’s a bit overdramatic to post the above eulogy, but I never was one for subtly, was I?

Perhaps I should explain. I’ve been banking on a certain thesis topic for the last year—an extensive folkloric mapping of the Vampire Myth in the 20th century America. Absurd, es las verdad?

I couldn’t help it. It’s been a lifelong fascination. I remember reading Stoker’s Dracula and a “History of” book about werewolves when I was ten, and I just knew occult fiction would be a longtime interest for me. When I was twelve, the film Interview with the Vampire premiered, and I could not imagine a more euphoric prospect than a movie involving Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Antonio Banderas mixed with a vampire theme. I finally read Anne Rice’s novel in high school, but at the time it proved totally unreadable. Let’s face it, when you’re fifteen you can’t really grasp the concept that becoming an immortal might turn out to be a magnificently disappointing experience. That…and I’m pretty sure that Brad Pit’s character in the story was gay, or at the very least bisexual.

But I digress. Where was I?

More recently, I’ve become enthralled with DVD versions of Buffy and Angel, and although I’d hate to admit it, I’ve even read all of the Twilight (AKA Twit-light) novels. My interest reached a high point early last year, and after a lot of searching and pondering, I felt ready to explore the topic thoroughly in a Masters Thesis paper this summer.

Alas, it was not to be. Last week on Monday, I was notified by the Program Director the project wouldn’t fly. Not because it wasn’t literarily sound, but because we couldn’t get a professor with the proper expertise to chair the project. The rejection was brutal. I argued with the Director for two hours about who we could use. In the end, it was to no avail. Slowly but surely, my thesis was staked.

In my process of mourning, I’ve pulled all of my vampire shrines down. You might think this was a small project, but you’d be wrong. At work I had a shrine that displayed 25 Buffy comic book covers, and at home I had a Buffy shrine on my book shelf and wall. I pulled it down. I was just too disheartened to look at them anymore. These characters which have occupied my every thought for the last year are now going into storage to make room for a different topic: The American Cowboy: A Cultural Symbol’s Reflection of the 20th Century American Dream.

This was an acceptable topic, and I’m sure in a month I will think so too.

But tonight I want to wallow in my loss. I want to say good-bye to Bram, Buffy, Willow, Angel, Spike, Xander, Oz, Anya, Andrew, Tara, Anne, Stephanie, Knight, Louis Point Du Lac, Lestat, Edward, Bella, and all of the other Vampire creatures I’ve grown to love. “The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; /Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; /Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. /For nothing now can ever come to any good.”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Here...Have an intellectual cookie. It’s on me.

I originally meant to send this message exclusively to my parents (You know who you are, my Midwestern peeps.), but I found the topic too interesting to withhold from my almost ten off-and-on followers.

So grab a glass of milk, ‘cause here comes an intellectual cookie.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have always firmly believed e-mail forwards are despicable things that take up space in my inbox and give me the brief and false impression that someone cares enough to write me an actual e-mail. Which tempts me into a tangential discussion of the “lost art of letter writing” to the terse electronic advents of text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter, but I think I’ll spare you.

So rather than just “forward” her message, I wanted to discuss something my company’s Senior Admin decided to forward to the rest of us, the groundling secretaries, this morning. I don't know who gave it to her. Heaven only knows who sent the original document, some millions of forwards ago. But back to my original point...

Somebody out there found a copy of an 8th grade final exam from 1895. And in light of the fact that I am a former public educator and aspiring university professor/graduate student, and because both of you are educated educators, if not by profession, at least in practice, I thought you might want to take a peek at an interesting pedagogical find.

[Please pause to review the attached Exam below.]

I can honestly say I wouldn't be able to answer half of those exam questions without some extremely intense weeks of study and contextual training. But I want you to notice how the questions are posed. Yes, they do require a buttload of memorized information, which I kind of expected considering the period and nature of late 19th century pedagogy. Yet, what strikes me as particularly mindboggling is how they ask the student to substantiate their answers.

Can either of you ever recall meeting a thirteen-year-old who was capable of taking the information they were taught in the public school system and using it to create original, detailed, and fleshed out intellectual expression?

Forgive my candid cynicism and utter lack of faith, but I sure as hell never have. I remember being thirteen, and I couldn’t even zip up my own pants consistently.

Take for example question #10 of the Grammar exam:

“Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.”

I will bet my next month’s salary that students taking this exam in 1895 would never dream of approaching the exam administrator, let alone asking stupid questions like, “Um. What do you mean by ‘show’ the rules of grammar?” Or, “What does ‘therein’ even mean?”

Also notice how most items in the Grammer, History, and Geography sections are posed as essay questions. When I taught 9th grade English, I was still reviewing what basic grammatical components make up a complete sentence, and what information constituted a paragraph. I can’t imagine more than a few pupils of mine being capable of writing coherent answers to these questions. And can you imagine having to grade 220 exams like this? I would kill the students; then I would kill myself.

So what’s my point with all of this? I guess my point is education has completely changed since the advent of uniform, streamline, public education came into existence, and I’m trying to figure out why. You got any insight?

Let me know.


8th Grade Final Exam 1895

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.
8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza, and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft.Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs.what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) [Do we even know what this is??]
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals & nbsp;
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u.' [HUH?]
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall, and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.