Tuesday, March 28, 2006

please be kind if i'm a mess

i admit it. the last week or so was not my best. by that i mean, i wasn't the kind of person i like to be--i wasn't my best. grading tests and papers drain me more than anything else i know of. and i can do a pretty decent job of saying why too. i like reading papers just fine, especially when they are well written and insightful. it is the grading i don't like very much, even though quite often i can tell really quickly what kind of grade a paper will get--through reading closer and trying to work through what grade someone should get, i can usually figure it out more closely, but i'm rarely off by very much (if anything, i usually start out slightly harsher and then work toward a more accurate and charitable evaluation).

but it's not even grading that i dislike. it's more the sheer number of things i sometimes have to grade, papers that in some cases are on the same topic and address the same ideas, yet are each unique approaches, which prevents me from standardizing a grading procedure like i could when i graded calculus and linear algebra in college. back then, i could figure out what people were doing and why rather quickly, and if i couldn't, then they were usually incredibly confused. with grading papers, people might take a very different approach, but still be putting in the same amount of effort, and saying something just as interesting and clear as someone else who took a very different approach.

but i always hope that my comments are making some sort of an impact on students. and sometimes they might have that sort of impact without me becoming aware of it. i hope so. there's even a chance that the students aren't aware of the impact themselves--that's much less likely because most recommendations i have for people take deliberate effort, rather than osmotic learning or chance experimentation. but recently, two occurrences have made me feel good about my teaching.

the first involved a student writing a paper that i knew was below his ability. i knew that he could engage the topic better, that he could write a better paper, think harder and deeper, demonstrate his understanding better. and i got his second paper, and it was close to twice as good, an immense improvement, just because i told him that i knew he could do better, that i expected more, and he responded by surpassing my expectations. and that's a good feeling.

the second came in the way of an email i received this afternoon, from a student who appreciated my comments on his paper. i had worried in writing the comments that i had written too much, had went into too much detail in explaining what i thought were the limitations of his argument, at least how he explained it in his paper. and his email said that my comments were helpful, that they helped him to clarify, develop, and understand his viewpoint better, and that he was giving a speech on the topic in another class soon, that his speech would benefit from my comments.

i know these are small things. they're small things for me to be proud of, and i'm sure that for every time something good like this emerges, something balances it out. i try hard, but i just am not as good at all this as i'd like to be.

i was telling a friend that i am going to be the substitute teacher for environmental ethics back at saint olaf, for the professor who i consider a great teacher and mentor, and my friend said, "those are awfully big shoes to fill," and i said, "yes, i know--kind of intimidating." and i am, but at the same time, i'm more excited to be down there talking about environmental ethics than i am for anything (except maybe the coming of spring). it should be great. and intimidating. hopefully all the time, thought, effort, energy, excitement, and everything else i had will help. and if not, then hopefully everyone down there will be a forgiveable lot.

i admit it's been a weird time for music in my life right now--not as much new music entering my life. and that's probably my own fault for not trying. but in times like this, older music can usually tide me over. this song is relevant for two reasons. first, though i have very few dangerous consumption habits--i try hard not to eat, drink, or inhale things my body would consider poisons. but i do tend to eat too much chocolate when i have it available. the last few days have been a good example of that. second, sometimes i get in a right state. the last ten days have felt like that. and when that happens, i hope that everyone can be understanding, can and will be kind when i'm a mess.

cigarettes and chocolate milk by rufus wainwright

cigarettes and chocolate milk
these are just a couple of my cravings
everything it seems i like's a little bit stronger
a little bit thicker
a little bit harmful for me

if i should buy jellybeans
have to eat them all in just one sitting
everything it seems i like's a little bit sweeter
a little bit fatter
a little bit harmful for me

and then there's those other things
which for several reasons we won't mention
everything about them is a little bit stranger
a little bit harder
a little bit deadly

it isn't very smart
tends to make one part so broken-hearted

sitting here remembering me
always been a shoe made for the city
go ahead, accuse me of just singing about places
with scrappy boys faces
have general run of the town
playing with prodigal songs
takes a lot of sentimental valiums
can't expect the world to be your raggedy andy
while running on empty
you little old doll with a frown

you got to keep in the game
maintaining mystique while facing forward
i suggest a reading of 'a lesson in tightropes'
or 'surfing your high hopes' or 'adios kansas'

it isn't very smart
tends to make one part so broken-hearted

still there's not a show on my back
holes or a friendly intervention
i'm just a little bit heiress, a little bit irish
a little bit tower of pisa whenever i see you
so please be kind if i'm a mess
cigarettes and chocolate milk

Sunday, March 26, 2006

just as sure as my body begs for rest

it isn't easy to have an exciting, upbeat, fun, and enjoyable day when it's the weekend and over half the day is spent grading tests and papers. and tomorrow will be also. and i'm still up and it's late. but i've been working these last few hours so i can't really be unhappy with myself. except i should sleep now.

i cut my facial hair the last few days, chopping bits and pieces off, finally shaving most of the rest away (just leaving a few slivers here and there). i'm not sure why that's at all interesting. but it is a part of my life, and has been for quite a while - the best reason to grow facial hair (second best behind laziness, that is): cutting the facial hair down in an interesting and novel way. so i do that every so often.

tonight, after grading, i've been preparing myself to lead discussions down at saint olaf, for the two sections of environmental ethics. i'm really excited about this--i really can't wait. but i can't decide whether to prepare a lot or a little - i often find that having too much to do in discussion classes really kills the discussion, even if there is little chance any of the students are bored.

i'm not going to write anything insightful tonight, but this song is fitting, tonight and for many a night in my life. it's almost my life's theme song, though "i wanna be like you" from disney's jungle book is a close competitor. the only problem with morning watch is that i'm usually up late rather than up early, but i still feel like i'm awake early with the starlings.

morning watch by dolorean

i found myself again on the morningwatch
for those of us who cannot sleep
just because of the things we’ve done
we wake up early with the starlings
and as night’s sins fade away
and bee stings lose their swell
so begins my day, so ends my hell

and as night falls i prepare my bed
and curse the pillow’s stony lies
for just as sure as my body begs for rest
i’ll be up before the sunrise

Friday, March 24, 2006

in the sun

i guess in a way i made it through another week. i'm not sure how sometimes. grading is burdensome. my favorite basketball team lost in the sweet 16. i feel behind on everything.

i'm not entirely used to this feeling - i've lived with major frustrations before, but only rarely have i ever felt that i couldn't keep up with what i needed to do, when i devote a lot of time and effort. that's not good enough right now. and of course, i have no power over whether gonzaga beats ucla so i should just not worry about that.

why this clear and sudden caring for college basketball? that stretches back a long way, to when i was five years old when my parents started taking me to all the college basketball games at sdsu. my mom taught me how to keep score, and i kept score of every game until when i was at least twelve, every home game there in person, and listening to almost every away game on the radio (though i didn't really like keeping track of scores over the radio). i grew up loving basketball very much. i loved watching and listening and cheering and yelling when officials did a less than optimal job (though i never did, and still never do, yell just to get calls, only when i feel something could truthfully be better).

i also loved playing basketball and would play in our house (with garbage cans or door frames, in our garage in the winter, outside on our hoop or a neighbors in the summer, at 7am every morning during the summer (because i didn't sleep in until sometime late in 7th grade). i loved basketball, but unfortunately, i never got any taller after 7th grade, likely due to genetics, along with me drinking carbonated drinks and caffeine, playing lots of soccer and basketball and running in bare feet, and becoming an insomniac late in middle school--the first was probably the biggest influence, but sometimes i wonder if the others had any effect. so in terms of my height, that dashed any hopes my mom or i still had of me being a top basketball player... hence soccer, where height isn't an issue (at least in high school, and much less of an issue anywhere). to be fair, i'm sure that if i had devoted all my spare moments to playing basketball, i probably could have done all right at 5'7, but it just didn't seem likely. so since 7th grade, i've barely played at all, though like with all sports and activities, i still enjoy them.

and all this maybe goes some distance in explaining why i still like watching and supporting certain basketball teams that i like. this year especially, it was gonzaga. they lost yesterday, which was annoying. after yesterday, the only other team i really have much desire to see was washington and george mason, both of whom played today. the former lost to uconn, and that was again a big uconn comeback (much like ucla's on gonzaga). and gmu won again because of their amazing zone defense. so they remain, but i'm much less invested in the tournament now.

with all of the busy-ness and stress in my life recently, due in large part to grading, but not solely so--with all that, i've started to get back to playing guitar a little bit. i've been playing some of the music i wrote a while ago (i haven't played enough recently to write anything for five years on guitar), and i've been playing pictures of success by rilo kiley, stay by u2, fake plastic trees by radiohead, and ashes of american flags by wilco. they seem like decent songs to me. i like them anyway. and i've been listening to a wonderful song by grandaddy, somewhat simple, perhaps too much so, but still amazing - it has the same kind of great quality that i sometimes associate with the polyphonic spree. and it describes what i would like to do right now, the sum total of all i want to do right now. walk up the side of the mountain, down the other side, swim in the river, lie in the sun. that sounds perfect. believe me. it does.

the nature anthem by grandaddy

i wanna walk up the side of the mountain
i wanna walk down the other side of the mountain
i wanna swim in the river and lie in the sun
i wanna try to be nice to everyone

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

you can be my life

i am at school again. and though i didn't look forward to returning all that excitedly, i enjoyed being back. breaks are like that. and it was of course a good day, with the sun shining more hours of the day, spring coming (however slowly), me exercising and going to classes, searching for some new insight. today, i found a few. here's one from jurgen habermas:

Argumentation is not a decision procedure resulting in collective decisions but a problem-solving procedure that generates convictions.

habermas is one of the fellows whose ideas i'm studying right now - part of my job is to go to class and read and think and talk and learn about people and their ideas. and sometimes doing this is hard, or frustrating, though never remotely as frustrating as grading 60 blue book essay exams. that has been difficult at times. but that's what i do. it makes me wonder what i'd like to be doing. i asked a friend what she wanted for her birthday - no restrictions - and then i got to thinking about what i would want for my birthday. this is of course a partial list, but of all the crazy things i might like were i to have a "get-everything-i-want" birthday, that i know i'll never have:

- a bunch of land in the black hills, surrounded by forest service, where i would sometimes go when i wanted to be away from people and around non-people for a while
- a hand-written copy of the fellowship of the ring (or the hobbit) - i thought of this one a few years ago while talking to a friend about christmas pressents - it still seems like a cool gift idea, though i don't know if it will ever happen - i satisfy myself with hand-scribing song lyrics for friends sometimes
- a trip to norway, sweden, and iceland with friends and family (at different times, for different parts) - i already have friends in both norway and sweden right now, so it would be a great time - or maybe spending time in sweden during the world cup
- time, money, and plane flights to visit my friends in l.a., d.c., and chicago. i miss them all very much, but for some reason travel in the school year just gets to hectic, and i'm a piece of crap when it comes to visiting people when i should, over my spring break
- a january spent in puerto morelos on the yucatan peninsula, along with a few days hiking in saguaro national park in arizona or wandering around budapest or london - these are places i have enjoyed being
- meeting and hanging out with natalie portman, adam morrison, and colin meloy (three people i will never know)
- a long june in central south dakota
- spend time with my niece, tramping around the hills and telling new stories. and hearing old stories from my grandparents too.

on the other hand, i should be really happy as i'm going to have an amazing last six weeks of school (aside from grading papers). i'll meet peter singer, scott russell sanders, andrew light, and j. baird callicott. i'll teach environmental ethics (my favorite topic) at saint olaf college (one of my favorite places). i'll be playing competitive ultimate and maybe get to start playing soccer outside. it's going to get warmer soon. this summer's work shouldn't be as frustrating as last summer. i'll get to visit my friends in all these far-off places, albeit not as soon as i'd like. and i'll be one year closer to a phd (after getting my ma this spring - by ma i don't mean mother - i mean master's degree).

so life is great, even though i sometimes feel less than real, not as fully living as i could be. i often spend too much time thinking and reading, but i don't know what else i'd be doing with my time. life has always been this way. and it will always be something like this. i wish all of you a tiger's heart and an apple bed.

apple bed by sparklehorse

of horses wet
with melted ice
they would not heed
my advice
and burdened limbs
of its weight
to break and rot
a whispered fate

doctor, please

around me
in a bloody sea
to breach the hive
and smoke the bees
you can be my friend
you can be my dog
you can be my life
you can be my fog

doctor, please

the witches will return to their sticky tree knots
I will feel the sun
I will feel the sun
I will feel the sun coming down

I wish I had
a horse's head
a tiger's heart
an apple bed

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

breaking my norm

this is not a considered post - i'm writing because i'm feeling pretty terrible - getting a cold after getting done with something - it's pretty normal for me. i let down my guard sometimes in spring, and then i get hit hard, feeling terrible, trying to drink as much orange juice and water as possible, having to go to class and do homework for 11 hours, wishing i could just stay home and stay in bed, but not feeling right about that since all of my students have to get up and take a mid-term test tomorrow.

oh well. life could be a lot worse - my life is pretty good, and i know it. i get paid to do what i like to do, and i get a spring break where i will get to see my brother and niece and my grandparents and relax. it doesn't get much better. now i just want to feel healthy again. i'll give it time.

i hope everyone is feeling great and doing well. i wish you all the best.


Monday, March 06, 2006

especially at night

i'm a master now. it's been a while in coming, and though it has been fun and quite worthwhile, it's also been a lot of life and energy invested. so it feels pretty good to be done. the defense went well enough - i don't think my presentation was all that great (hopefully good enough), but the committee generally thought that my thesis was good enough for them to pass me. thank you to all of you who have been with me through this time. and for those of you who have wished i might write on here more often, that should be more frequent for a while (and i've also decided not to take summer off this year).

i was talking to my older brother yesterday, and that was good - my parents are out visiting him this week, helping him to make more progress on the houses he's building. in our short talk, we came to an important realization about how we live and work in the world. both of us have spent longer than we expected to on our respective projects - me on my thesis, him on his houses. and i think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that we both want to do good work. and i think the same is true of my other brothers also - we all usually work hard to do well at the things that we do, but more importantly, we have a hard time being satisfied with doing a less than optimal job of things.

i probably could have finished my thesis sooner and not done as much, or made as coherent of an analysis (though what i have done is certainly far from the best i could do given more time). my brother could have finished the houses sooner, and for more profit, had he not worked hard to make them impressive inside and outside, and not just how they look, but how good they are.

i once had a conversation with my younger brother about doing lots of things or doing fewer things. in high school, i did a lot of things (not as many as some people, but many nonetheless), and i probably didn't do any of them as well as i could have, had i put all of my efforts into them (soccer, music, debate). my younger brother takes a different approach, or at least he did in high school (and i think he still does). he wants to be as good as he can be at the things he does, rather than just being good enough at them. but again, i think that the focus on quality work is important. even in my ever-changing life of many pursuits (especially high school, but to a lesser extent in college), i still work hard to make sure that what i do is of good quality. and i hope it pays off. but i also am always changing what i am interested in, what i like doing, and i want a job/life that can allow for this as much as possible. hopefully becoming a professor will allow for me to keep changing as well as anything can. and hopefully it can also be flexible enough that i can have time to get things done that i can feel proud of. that's one hope at least.

so now i'm done with my master's thesis. what's next? i'll need to try to get parts of the thesis ready for publication somewhere (because that's what future jobs will require). i have a paper that i'm working on that will also be headed toward publication, probably in environmental ethics. and then there's the dissertation. right now i'm thinking i'll look at how hope and pragmatism play out in environmental issues. and i'm excited for the topic right now. hopefully that can continue. and i think it's a project that i can get done in a few years as a phd student.

this song is one that got played in our coomon room quite often my senior year of college, though it was the version by the benjamin gate (cool south african band), and not the original by colin hay. in recently watching scrubs, i re-encountered the song (as it is the theme of the episode), and i wanted to mention how good and interesting it is. the first two stanzas are especially relevant to my life lately.

overkill by colin hay (and if you want, the benjamin gate)

I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know I'll be alright
Perhaps it's just imagination

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away

Alone between the sheets
Only brings exasperation
It's time to walk the streets
Smell the desperation

At least there's pretty lights
And though there's little variation
It nullifies the night from overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Come back another day

I can't get to sleep
I think about the implications
Of diving in too deep
And possibly the complications

Especially at night
I worry over situations
I know I'll be alright
It's just overkill

Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away
Ghosts appear and fade away

Thursday, March 02, 2006

words can't be that strong

i haven't written in a while, at least not here. life has been busy, and i've let myself avoid this somehow. but i am just a few days away from my thesis, and that's exciting. or a relief. or something. i can't quite say what to think about it, except that it'll be good to get through that and on to other things. i've had a lot of great support from friends, family, colleagues, and professors. and i appreciate all their thoughts and help. thanks.

as for exercise, i've started running, biking, lifting, and swimming some each day i exercise (none for too long, but incorporating all) - i like that. it feels healthy. for relaxation, i've mostly been watching scrubs--made it through the first season now, and i really like it. the song below was on the second to last episode. beautiful world by colin hay was on the last. the show is emotionally draining for me, and i'm not really sure why. i think it's in the same way that listening to music by (the) eels is draining. spring of my junior year in college, i would sometimes listen to the song it's a motherfucker, and it would basically make me stop doing anything for the rest of the day. i would just feel drained somehow.

i really can't explain how music, books, and tv can do that to me. the most recent harry potter did it (actually the last few have, but especially the most recent). i've just listened to the song below about five times straight, and i don't know why, but i'm just drained, of everything, of energy, drive, life maybe. but that's being melodramatic. i'm really not that bad off. i just need a break somehow, a vacation where i can stop thinking for a few days, feel a little more for a few days. it's coming. i know it is. and so is spring - these last couple days have made my outlook so much better. spring does that to me. the thought of turning 26 doesn't. so i don't think of that. pretty good outlook if you ask me.

back to scrubs, i'll probably transcribe and post dr. cox's thoughts on relationships sometime as quite truthfully, they were amazing (this is from an episode in the middle of season 1). we'll see when i get around to that. other interesting things i could mention about recent times mostly relate to jurgen habermas and his book theory of communicative action, which i've been thinking a lot about lately, or bryan norton's book sustainability. it's kind of strange to think about what i do for my job--i read, think about, talk about, and write about stuff, and then i help other people read, think about, talk about, and write about stuff. it's kind of strange, and quite reminiscent of the willy mason lyrics about paper being all that i'm really taught to create (i don't actually create paper, but use it to create other stuff).

i promised a story (a while ago now) about debate and music. i'll start here with debate. here was a place where we always had a lot of good times, whether we were debating, or whether we were hanging out on weekends. one particular memory that deserves to be mentioned involves my friends bob and yatesh, who were debating a showcase round in the mitchell auditorium in front of anyone who wanted to sit and watch them.

this was my junior year, and the debate topic was renewable energy. the two of them happened to be debating a really good team from watertown, we'll call them w and g. at some point in the debate round, yatesh is cross-x-ing one of the watertown debaters, and he is trying to figure out what advantage the other team's case has over the current situation. the other team was running some case that increased renewable energy, and one of their claimed advantages was that there would be fewer particulates in the air (particulates are bad things in the air we breathe, and burning fossil fuels creates more particulates). but yatesh was trying to figure out if the other team could actually make things better. so he asks the question, "where's the card that says you suck.... particulates out the air?"

the ellipsis here involved yatesh taking a short breath and then continuing with the question. in fact, he didn't mean it the way it sounded to the auditorium full of forensics competitors. it just came out wrong. but it sure did sound funny, especially since we had it on video tape and were able to watch it a few times later. it was funny then, and i still think it's funny now, though it might not make it into the hilarious category. that's a start. maybe i'll tell more debate stories later. we'll see.

this song is amazing, and a case in point that if you're going to try to get the lyrics online, get them from the artists website, or at least read through them as you're listening to them, as in this song, paint makes more sense than pain, and reeling makes more sense than really. as i said up above, this song had a lot of effect on me, combined with scrubs and whatever other life things going on. i hope you listen and enjoy. and maybe feel not just fresh, but real.

fresh feeling by eels

you don't have a clue
what it is like to be next to you
i'm here to tell you
that it is good
that it is true

birds singing a song
old paint is peeling
this is that fresh
that fresh feeling

words can't be that strong
my heart is reeling
this is that fresh
that fresh feeling

try to forget what's in the past
tomorrow is here
orange sky above lighting your way
there's nothing to fear

birds singing a song
old paint is peeling
this is that fresh
that fresh feeling

words can't be that strong
my heart is reeling
this is that fresh
that fresh feeling

some people are good
babe in the 'hood
so pure and so free
i'd make a safe bet
you're gonna get whatever you need