Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Insecure Much?

Four in the morning... I'm trying to justify my grading, so I'm reading my own papers from undergrad again. I'm tough now, I think, only because I lined up the ducks to shoot down, so to speak.

But in the midst of looking through these papers, I found some of the best writing I've done. By far, my favorite paragraph ever came from a journal entry for English 300, the class I had to take to be a writing tutor:

Elena brought up something in her journal entry that I see as the whole bone of
contention in this slow-roasted turkey of writing, and America for that matter:
the melting pot versus the salad bowl. Is this nation one of warm, smooth,
melted cheeses or one of refreshing vegetables and tangy dressing? Both of these
metaphors have been used extensively in some form of culinary combat of the
cultural kind. Kant and the Founding Fathers believed that by leveling cultural
differences, we could attain perpetual peace. The movements of the 60’s taught
the world that to be “black is beautiful” and power is “yellow and brown”. But
is it right to claim that in the process of being a whole that We The People
should either seek to become like others and other to be like us; or that we
remain separate in a shared space?

Smooth melted cheeses indeed.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Boring Adventure

I'm finally back in Providence. Read that last line with exaggerated relief, for I wish it to convey how untragic, yet frustrating my past couple days in the air have been. I spent last night in Las Vegas because we were apparently ill-advised to get on a late flight in Ontario, California, which arrived in Las Vegas too late for us to make our connection to Boston. And I say "us" only because I share in some weak solidarity with all holiday travellers.

Of course I have a billion things to do at home, but according to Structured Procrastination, the best thing to do is to add more to my plate.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

San Dimas, Day 2

I talked to Patrick Tatten today, whom I figured was close enough to see, but that turned out to be wrong. We caught up -- he's in a movie, doing judo (not in the movie), etc. Gotta let people know where I'll be before I get bored in places that are not my home.

My family came down from Pacifica today. My brothers managed to blue-screen-of-death my computer.

As I always wonder about my family, when I make a reasonable salary, will I start keeping wine in my office, playing golf, and owning an SUV/minivan? Will I shmooze with the nuveau riche? Will my kids willingly watch the Disney Channel? I like to think that those questions are slightly more mature than "what is love" which I think is more mature than "am I cool" or "does my girlfriend like me"?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mmm SoCal

I was under the impression for most of Monday that I was leaving for California the upcoming Wednesday. So, when I went to call the airline to confirm my flight 48 hours in advance, I found out that I was leaving that night. I spent a good 30 minutes laughing at myself, then telling people what an idiot I was. I then scrambled to get shit from my office gathered up before we met with one of the candidates for the Watson-Soc search.

Having of course gone through all of that, I get a voicemail from US Air telling me that my flight from Boston*, the first leg of my trip, was delayed for 40 minutes, which would cause me to miss my connecting flight in Las Vegas. With no other flights leaving that evening, I had to reschedule. So, compressing that long process, I managed to get a flight out of Providence the next morning, which, if you read last night's blog, you can see I was not in the best of shape for when it came around.

I planned to sleep for the entire trip, and by "planned" I mean "meant to", since none of my preparations were close to any sort of "plan" -- I had middle and aisle seats on the last two legs of my trip and as a "contact" sleeper, there was literally nowhere to rest my weary head. So I spent most of the plane trip straining either side of my neck, watching the end of the pretty terrible first season of The Critic (the second season is MUCH better), and being generally restless.

But I made it to San Dimas. Now, I was just as awestruck and amazed as you are when it dawned on me that I would be treading upon the same hallowed ground upon which Bill and Ted once trod. My cousin actually goes to San Dimas High School, as a matter of fact. Thus, I am not so far separated from Keanu Reeves in the great chain of who-do-you-know.

*Yeah, and I was flying out of Logan, not T.F. Green. That involved me planning to take the commuter rail and taking the T to the airport, timing everything right, and hoping I could get to the train station in time.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

When You Can't Sleep

I'm listening to Amy Grant because I think somehow her mid-90s crossover pop will help me achieve peace of mind. I can't sleep, and I've got flight at 7am and all I can manage to do is think about my existentialist (really, fatalist) perspective on love, which I think I'm willing to amend to accept some degree of agency on my part, but I'm unwilling to become a "romantic." This is, of course, why I'm an academic and not a poet -- poets write poems poetically, academics sleep in their sleeping bags on top of their beds and look for a "theory" that they can pass off as a "philosophy."

Admittedly, I'm as free as I could possibly be from "actual" issues with love and am as deeply immersed in my work as I should be. But I'm for some reason letting myself drift off into meditation instead of sleep, unwillingly trying to feel what it might be like if I were able to communicate my feelings to someone to such an extent that they are totally and entirely empathetic. I'm coming to two disturbing conclusions: (1) the fact that I have to approach this hypothetically suggests I've never felt empathy or have been truly empathetic; and (2) if such is love, or even a component of it, I've been the Michael Bolton album in the bargain bin of the social Best Buy -- no one wants to listen to it, but as if Michael Bolton has anything to say other than "hey, I think I can sing better than thou" (and Michael Bolton'd totally use "thou").

I've felt sad, I've felt angry, I've felt frustrated, and have accepted other people's justifications when they feel similarly, but that does not empathy make, or so it seems: that's quite possibly "communicative action" based on rational argument. That typical fill-in-the-blank statement "I feel _____ when you _____" I think, while aiding rational communication, does not necessarily induce empathy -- only understanding, "sympathy" if you will -- and is hardly sufficient.

Surely, saying "I feel ____ when you ____" can help lift the lid off a moment where two people have the same rationalization and same feelings. And certainly, empathy requires some sort of realization, some sort of awareness. But still, I feel the rationalized discussion of emotions is not empathy, even if it reveals a similar circumstance leads to a similar reaction.

Does that mean empathy can't be induced rationally? I'm not sure if thinking about it like that gets me anywhere. I think maybe the purest vocally-communicative moment is when someone says how they feel, and the other person searches not for a parallel experiene in their own life from which to understand that rationalization, but when by the simple act of saying "I feel ____", the other person is made to feel that feeling -- that exact feeling.

I guess on that count, I've felt what other people have felt simply because they've felt it. So really, I'm trying to feel what someone else would feel if I could simply get them to feel how I feel by telling them how I feel (by the way, "feel" looks hilarious when you type it). By that circuitous route I have someone concluded I've an icy heart or really, really poor emotive skills (I should practice my smiles).

But this reinforces my preexisting contention that if you were to be in a state of empathy, you'd know it (errr, I'd know it). I dunno. Does that mean that love, if rationalized, explained, loses the quality that makes it so inexplicable -- it's literal inexplicability. When we lay in each other's arms, saying nothing, but feeling everything -- isn't that what we yearn for?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Almost Back?

I almost ran today: "almost" because I managed to run pretty quickly heel-toe, with a little forefoot strike, but not enough to constitute my usual running form. Still, I went much faster than I had gone either on the basketball court or on the streets since I got hurt back in September.

So I was inspired. I guess I can chalk it up to my pre-workout yogurt consumption or my two pots of green tea the day before, I dunno. What I do know is that I emerged victorious.

Hello, Bourgeois!

I went to the mall today. I went to the mall today, and I went last week on Sunday as well. Call this my "embourgeoisment," which some academic -- probably a Marxist one -- actually used.

Anyway, I went to invest in a new shaver and a pair of basketball shoes. After aiming like a guided missle to Macy's, I managed to fend off my shopper's indecision and pick up a rotary blade electric razor for a pretty decent price.* Of course, as I'm actually paying for the thing, the lady manages to confuse the fuck out of me: she told me I still owed $90. After trying to figure out what I did wrong and maybe pee in my pants, maybe just pee a little bit so that my underwear absorbs it, she noticed that she had accidentally hit the "delete" key on the register and took off a placeholder in the price. I don't know about you, but everyone I know named Oslec T. Bosslec feels better when he doesn't have to owe $90.

At Foot Locker I was going to put down $120 for higher-quality shoes (not the Starburys, which according to the blogs, suck). I kept asking the attendant if the shoes were really $120, I guess in part to justify to myself that I wasn't dreaming and I was spending over $100 on basketball shoes, but mostly to make sure I wasn't getting taken for a ride. He took the box up to the counter on my behalf and I followed.

Sure enough, the lady at the register folded an extra-large Yankees t-shirt, put it on top of my shoebox, then added it to my total.

"Uh, I didn't get that," I said.

"Oh," she said.

So she subtracted it from the total. Initially, I was to pay $114, and then all of a sudden, I owed them $99.

"Wait, wait. Why is it $99?" I asked, like an IDIOT.

"'Cause there's no tax," she said, missing an opportunity to catch me at my worst.

So apparently the shoes were almost $30 off and no one, not even the people working there, knew. So, technically, I have not yet paid more than $100 for basketball shoes. That's something I can tell my kids.

But I wonder, especially about the Foot Locker incident, if they'd been ripping people off by adding merchandise to the cost and then seeing if people don't notice. The slowly-dying optimist in me says that they just fucked up, but the ever-present cynic says they were going to take me for a ride. I guess it'd require some systematic analysis to see if that were true, but I guess what I can dispense now is a warning: be like that relative that keeps tabs on their receipts and watch out for 'dem schiesters.

Also, I like to think that my impeccable fashion sense saved me -- no one named Oslec T. Bosslec that I know would wear an extra-large t-shirt, let alone a Yankees one.

* Considering that I could have gotten one of those fancy Braun ones that clean themselves for $150, and then have to buy new cleaning "cartridges" every month thereafter for $20 each.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

You Must Be Mistaken

Last Monday, I had a language evaluation interview for my SSRC grant proposal. As usual, I was totally amazing, to the point where the evaluator thought that Spanish was my first language. She was trying to place my accent and when I introduced the idea that I looked Peruvian, she didn't think I had a Peruvian accent.

However, at the gym yesterday, two dudes started talking to me. The first guy knew my face from the Sociology Dept. Website, coming across my profile on there as he was looking for a mutual friend. The second dude, however, started to talk to me randomly between sets, and asked me "Where in South America are you from? Bolivia, Peru, Colombia?"

Of course I said, "Peru."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Laziness and Hunger

I was re-reading my copy of Williams' Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace and was inspired to play around with end sentence punctuation to make "readers think [I am] more than a common writer..." I dare you to make fun of me.

- Try it and I'll kick your ass.

Simple. But according to Williams, if I use strategically-placed punctuation, I might scare you more.

- Try it (and I'll kick your ass).

This, I think, is more pussy than the last sentence. The parentheses make kicking your ass an afterthought, when in fact I'd do it.

- Try it. I'll kick your ass.

The period changes the rhythm here: it allows both sentences to breathe. It comes off a little subdued.

- Try it! I'll kick your ass!

Pussy. Same goes for "Try it. I'll kick your ass!" or "Try it and I'll kick your ass!"

- Try it: I'll kick your ass.

This is like. There's an explanatory immediacy with the colon. It tells you right off that the consequence of "trying it" will be my ass-kicking of you.

So with that resolved, let us move to writing chiasmuses: a device which creates elegant stress at the end of a sentence. To create a chiasmus, I have to take a sentence with a parallel construction (I don't think they're necessarily parallel clauses) and then reverse the order of the elements in the second clause. This apparently adds emphasis, but I'm not entirely convinced I like the sentences with them.

Ok, so let's see. First I have to make a sentence with a parallel construction:

- I am breaking your face with (my dangerous fist) and (my powerful kicks).

Then I go

- I am breaking your face with (my dangerous fist) and (by kicking powerfully).

Gross. I hate it. But the thing is, that took me thirty minutes to think up, so by the hierarchy of difficulty, this is "advanced" ('cause things that are hard for me are of course complicated).

Williams has more complicated examples that are giving me a hard time. Let's see. First, a more complex parallel construction:

- I will freak you out, and I can ride your mom all night long.

And then...

- I will freak you out, and all night your mom can be ridden by me.


That was probably a bad example, but I'll keep working on them, only because I will freak you out and ride your mom all night long.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wow a Month!

So it's been a month since I blogged last. In that month's time, I made myself write like a madman, producing some typo-filled funding proposals that I finally got sent in today. Actually it was only one proposal. But if you asked my computer's desktop, there were about six or seven different iterations of this proposal, all pretty different.

Another thing -- my shaver is not turning off. I think it's time to get another.