Saturday, November 26, 2005

Run for the Turkey

I hadn't exercised for about 6 weeks (probably my longest hiatus in 5 years) but was bound and determined to get some exercise during the short Thanksgiving week. I took my mt bike for a 50 min spin--felt great, wasn't sore, "hey, maybe I haven't lost too much." Then before the Thanksgiving feast I decided to hike Adam's Canyon to the waterfall. First mistake was to believe I would merely "hike" it. I wound up running about 70% of it and all of the downhill--today legs are toast, stairs becoming major impediments to safe descent. Now I'm too sore to exercise so there go my plans to get in a lot of workouts over the break (of course it's snowing today anyways); only benefit was that I was able to stuff myself with more turkey, cranberries, and pie as my workout gave me the deep down hungry feel. Last year in November I won a race and the prize was a 20lb turkey; this year I run once in order to plate up a few more scraps of turkey.

I wonder if I can will myself to exercise on a consistent basis over the next 40 years or so without some major goal (I've given up on running ultramarathons and even 5Ks--too many injuries, too much time, too much damage to overall health). I'm simply amazed at those who live the good life (exercising, reading, writing, eating healthy) without any huge goal to propel them. Just a few months ago I could have put in two hours on my indoor bike knowing it would prepare me for the spring running season; today I couldn't make it ten minutes. Motivation is a curious thing.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ice-pick lobotomy

Recently I've had a number of riveting experiences with NPR. On Monday I was relieved, excited even elated to hear Steven Mintz, author of Huck's Raft (a comprehensive history of American childhood) insist that we need to give ourkids more freedom to explore, make mistakes, and work out differences if we want help them transition into responsible adults. Last week I heard a great little piece on language I will use next semester when I teach Melissa's "Language and Society" course: the impact of using insurgent vs. terrorist in Iraq. Then yesterday I ate my lunch in my car, nice warm sunning coming through the front window, as I listened to Frabrizio interview Doug Peacock author of Walking it off, friend of Ed Abbey, and the guy Abbey based his character Hayduke off of in The Monkey wrench gang; fascinating to find out Abbey used his Doug's green beret skills to do some real monkey wrenching.

But then yesterday a radio essay by Howard Dully blew me away (see his photo to the left). A harrowing tale of Dully finally coming to terms with the ice-pick lobotomy (two ice-picks shoved through the eye sockets into the frontal lob) he received at age 12. The story was so intense I forgot that I was driving; I winced; I held back tears; I was flabbergasted by the audacity of Dr. Walter Freeman who performed 223 of lobotomies in a one 2-week period, 2500 over his "career," and once, to impress the doctors and students of the simplicity of the procedure, he shoved both ice-picks in at once.

Dully comes to terms with his own lobotomy by interviewing other survivors and their families. Near the end of his journey he gains access to Freeman's medical records, hoping to find out why this was done to him as a boy. Here he finds a picture of himself with (incredibly) the ice-picks in. This picture and the info from the medical records helps him to at last confront his father--it's an amazingly complex riddled with ambiguity conversation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

I must confess

Can a real English major not particularly enjoy poetry all that much?
Not like the packed-in meaning,
the laborious pained re-re-re-re-reading?
I thought someday I could
but I can’t: can’t will the desire into being,
can’t fake the literary orgasm.

But give me 800 pages of Quammen
and island biogeography and I’m in
heaven, no faking necessary—ecstatically
re-reading, marking up, eating it up.

I wrote this pathetic verse-like string of words in the back of Random Symmetries: The collected poems of Tom Andrews. We're reading it for my book club this weekend and I haven't made much progress. Of course I feel a bit of pressure since the only other English guy is my friend who chose the book: "So, Ron, you are an English guy--what the hell does this mean?" As If I would know. I don't do poetry that well, never have. It's not that I can't appreciate a poem but I'm not drawn to its intense-every-word-counts style.

Andrews does have some nice one-liners.

In "A language of Hemophilia": "the sun will nickel and dime you to death" and "my solitude can lick your solitude any day of the week"

In "When comfort arrives": "Death is no terrible height/ you peer over now and then--/ it's simple, a fine silence, rain on black/ earth" and "A time comes when you want to account for tears/ and wrong silences, when the promises/ you make to yourself/ and to others are the same promises..."

Still, I know I'm missing so much: I don't recognize the name Mandelstam, unmotivated to look up "trilliums," not sure if the ambiguous pronoun "him" is referring to Mandelstam or death, and even when I almost get a poem (a wonderful image of sun falling like grace and a boy stepping backward down a snow covered road leading to an insight that we can learn to appreaciate small quiet beauties but unfortunately have to blabber about them to make them real), like the third movement in "Praying with George Herbert...", I still can't quite make out "my sins are bright sparks in the dark of blamelessness."

I know the poetry sermons (just sent one out to my students--savor the words, read out loud, the joy will be like that slow then sudden recognition of a magic eye picture) but I'm not really a believer and doubt I ever will be.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Layered bureaucracy

What the hells up with SLCC email? Ever since they fixed stuff a few weeks ago, I've had all kinds of problems and slowing with my email. And it seems like the SLCC server is down most weekends lately--how do they expect us to teach Internet or tech enhanced courses? I'm just ranting but it seems teachers are last to know and last to have input concerning everything that makes up our work: building space, MyPage posting capabilities, technical support, room scheduling, tagging of courses in catalog.... I do believe, last I checked, we are still a TEACHING institution.

Saturday ethos

1. I'm preparing a Gospel Doctrine lesson on "Every Member a Missionary." As I'm very busy and know the tricks of the trade, I've got my GD lessons down to about 50 minutes of prep. Amazing that I feel fairly comfortable living a double life as an active LDS teacher and semi-agnostic reveler in paradox. Go figure. I feel like somekind of double agent at times--teasing out narrow-minded group think from mormon students during the week and then changing into suit (actually I don't own a suit) and tie on the weekend to preach the gospel to the faithful.

2. Reading a number of children's lit historical novels. Just finished The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It has a gawdawful cover (beautifuly young girl in perfectly blue dress with flowing hair on a ship) but turned out to be a good read. It's about a young girl crossing the Atlantic ocean. She's the only female on board. Eventually the once genteel girl is forced too choose between injustice and the crew: she becomes a full-fledged crew member but then is accused of murder. Just started Karen Cushman's the Midwife's apprentice, 1995 Newberry medal winner which is amazingly honest about what it took to survive as an orphan in a small village in the 1800s (sleeping in dung heaps, taunted and beaten by ruffians). I'm truly enjoying children's lit and wish there'd been as much as there is now when I was a kid. Nowadays kids have an amazing array of great literature to choose from.

3. I'm starting to feel a bit manipulated by 24. Last night I finished up episodes 13-16 of season #1. In episode 16 Jack Bauer's daughter and wife, who had spent episodes 2-14 kidnapped, were yet again found by the Drazen clan at the CTU safe house. All of the agents except one protecting them are dead so they get away in a car only to be chased. Wife zips down a hilly road in LA, then alludes chaser on side dirt road; she gets out of car to check if they are still be followed (this didn't seem like a wise choice to me); the car starts rolling down the hill with daughter inside; wife thinks daughter is dead as car explodes and then she faints later waking up with complete amnesia. Wife deserves to faint as in the last 16 hrs she's spent time looking for kidnapped daughter only to find out that the father of the other daughter is the father and is working for the Drazens; she's then kidnapped; she's later on raped in order to save her daughter from rape; then finds out CTU agent debriefing concerning the kidnapping slept with Jack while they were separated.

Point: I'd be hard pressed to explain how 24 is much different from many daytime soaps.

Summary: Hitting close to rock bottom because of manipulation, I was able to drop movie off without checking out the next 4 episodes--certainly to be the accomplishment of the weekend.

4. Must install new sink in the bathroom my wife remodeled. Wife said was merely going to remove some bright yellow wallpaper in bathroom but has now completely repainted bathroom, removed the somewhat less hideous wallpaper in kitchen, and repainted both; removing WP and painting led to dismantling bathroom sink and ultimately the impending installation. Just as with the start of the Jazz season, I know the seemingly easy sink installation will end in chaos, cussing, and loss of productive time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Beer or Bauer?

Disclaimer: I revised this into a beautiful piece of prose (trust me) but then I lost the revisions--no heart to revise again.

The last 3-4 weeks have been a blur. I arranged for the Envision (writing textbook) authors to visit Oct. 20th and 21st and that’s like the last thing I can remember. From there I know I’ve taught classes, graded papers, and read email but it’s a big wash of work. Being so busy you’d think I’d get focused and really get my work done—but no, instead, I’ve gotten addicted to the Fox series 24.

Stephen Johnson says the complexity of its social relationships are on par with Austen or Eliot. While I agree it has complex social relationships, it’s also a bit manipulative with its cliff hanger episode endings and relentless dragging out (since it’s in real-time) of a particular conflict. And there ain’t too much deep philosophical thinking going on as the ethical dilemmas proposed (does Jack escape from custody, kidnap a co-worker and then later a waitress driving a station wagon in order to rescue his daughter and wife from terrorists because if doesn’t escape they will be killed?) aren’t really dilemmas because you always know Jack can get out of it. But never mind high minded intellectual inquiry: I’m like twitchy sickly addicted.

I just can’t get enough. On Thursday night, after spending the day in Envision workshops, I couldn’t sleep (wife and kids out of town—not enough noise) so I got up and allowed myself, thinking it was OK since I couldn’t sleep and was too tired to read, to watch one more episode (episode 2 of the first season). But, you guessed it, I watch two more episodes then watched the 4th episode Friday night and then rented episodes 5-8 Saturday. Going to the video store the next weekend, I was like a true addict: I’m just going to return this and see if my free copy of Batman (I tried to rent it for my son Friday night and it was guaranteed in stock—yippee free rental!) is in yet; Oh, I might as well just check to see if they have all the episodes of 24 so when I do have time to check them out I will know they are here (very important to comfort myself); well, maybe I’ll just carry around disc 2 while my 4-year old looks for a video: I might read the cover or something; heck, I thought, as I got to the counter to check out Batman and a Dr. Seuss movie, I’ll just have them reshelf 24 as there’s no way I have time this weekend. You know how this ends: just like the drunk who went into the bar for a glass of water on the way home. To top it off, like a truly raving idiot, I then slowly inserted the DVD right when I got home and watched all four episodes one after another, slamming them down with gusto. I’d take Jack Bauer over a beer anyday.