Archive for the ‘1’ Category

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Ever the Optimist, I’m Often Surprised by Reality

February 27, 2010

I am a relentless optimist. I’ve said that before. And I’m especially an optimist whenever I get sick. I always expect to feel better soon. I usually feel better soon. I am surprised when I don’t.

It’s 9:41 on Friday evening and it’s the first time today I’ve felt like writing anything. I thought that time at home would be time to catch up. Time to get things done. Time to think. I was wrong. But I’m still optimistic about tomorrow.

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad.  I don’t have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed,” but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!”  ~Lemony Snicket
 (Daniel Handler)

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What Do You Do When You’re Feeling Too Rotten to Do Anything?

February 25, 2010

Note: It’s Wednesday, February 24, and it’s 4:50 in the afternoon. There’s no late posting of something daily here.

Nothing. Nothing that you don’t have to do. Nothing that you want to do. The optional is off the table. The whole idea of working when you’re sick seems to have become a cultural expectation. Pills and medicines promise to mask the pain and keep us going. I’ve been keeping on today without medication, although I’ve been dosing myself with tangerines, decaf tea, and lemon sorbet. I’ve done the things I have to do and I don’t have energy for anything else.

In The Way of All Flesh (1903), Samuel Butler said, “I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better.” I’m not immersed in any kind of great pleasure with this awful whatever it is—bad cold or some version of the flu—but I’m not doing any more work today unless an urgent email comes in. Even as I word process these words, I realize how silly they are. I’m going to try to quit checking on what I imagine I ought to do and go to sleep.

What’s your cure when you’re feeling rotten?

A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.
• Irish proverb

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You Can Please Some of the People All of the Time. Good Luck with the Rest of Them.

January 7, 2010

Although he is often misquoted, Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. If you’re a teacher, all you need to do is replace the word fool with the word please. No matter what you do, it will be wrong for someone.

If I went to my classes next week and said that all students could do whatever they wanted to do, designing their own objectives and grading criteria, someone would be displeased, since s/he would be expecting me to provide assignments and guidelines. If I went in and said that nobody had to do anything, lots of people would be upset because they’re paying money for my expertise and they would view coming to class as a waste of time. If I said that no one had to come to class, there would be a few folks who would be happy, but most students would feel ripped off—to pay for classes and get grades for doing nothing is a perversion of the purposes of higher education.

Despite what you may have heard or read about a teacher’s responsibility to differentiate instruction and reach every student in the way that she or he prefers to learn, I’m telling you right now that this is an impossible task for anyone. First of all, it’s difficult to get to know people and their preferences well enough to truly individualize all of the time for each one. Much of what’s going on with learning is happening in someone’s head and is seldom articulated, even to the person her- or himself, much less to an outsider.

Secondly, teachers are human beings, and while they can be aware of learner differences and do their best to provide multiple avenues to understanding, it’s still likely that their most diligent efforts will leave gaps—they cannot please all of the students all of the time. I have a heightened awareness of this because I am looking through student evaluations from the past six years and I can only laugh. Generally, my evaluations are pretty good. I try hard to reach my students and I really do care about them and about their success. Still, for every person who thinks the course would be improved if there were fewer handouts, there is another who thinks there should be more. For every student who thinks the syllabus is too long, there is someone who thinks that it was missing crucial elements. And so it goes.

I take all of this seriously, but in the end, I have to do what I believe is best. This is what I was hired for. Students may not always understand although I do try—mostly—to provide a rationale for my instructional choices. I appreciate it when students ask “Why?” about assignments or methodology because the question initiates a dialogue about something I may have overlooked. I especially appreciate it when they ask in a non-combative, non-accusatory way that truly seeks understanding. This is important for you to know any time, but it’s especially important at the start of any term when you need to get started on assignments. Believe in the good intentions of your professors. Imagine that they have your best interests at heart and that they want you to be successful. Ask clarifying questions. Make suggestions for options that would make more sense for you. Ask why. But do it all nicely.

The actor Robert Mitchum said, “There just isn’t any pleasing some people. The trick is to stop trying.” Teachers don’t stop. Most of us are eternally optimistic or we couldn’t keep doing this job. Help us do it better in ways that will help you do better too.

Have you ever tried—and failed—to please someone?

You could cut off your leg and take off your skirt to make an umbrella for some folks and they’d complain if you dropped a little blood on them.
• Dr. Pauline Wayne

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Someone Somewhere Is Plotting to Sell You Something You Don’t Really Need But That You Might Want in the New Year if It’s Cheap Enough. Why? Because It Will Truly Make You More Beautiful, Happier, and Incredibly Successful When It Isn’t Making Your Life Easier!

January 6, 2010

Money, not morality, is the principle of commerce and commercial nations.
• Thomas Jefferson

For years I’ve been saving holiday hyperbole and hype. This kind of adtalk continues long after the holidays are over. After all, we’ve got gift cash and cards lurking in our wallets and merchants hope to lure us in with bargains we simply can’t resist. Students are especially vulnerable to these enticements if financial aid has just arrived. I am reminded of the marketing sea we swim in both by what I see and hear and read and by an assignment on schoolhouse commercialism I just introduced to my students.

According to the Report on Schoolhouse Commercialism produced annually by CERU (Commercialism in Education Research Unit), categories of marketing targeting students include sponsorship of programs and activities; exclusive agreements with product vendors like soft-drink manufacturers; appropriation of space (bulletin boards, posters, and such); sponsored materials such as lesson plans, study materials, and curricula; and many other things that manufacturers hope will create awareness and build brand loyalty for their products.

We see this kind of thing clearly on college campuses when a stadium is named for a commercial donor or a team’s uniforms are supplied by a particular manufacturer. Other kinds of marketing are such a familiar part of the educational landscape that we may not even recognize them as advertising. Take a look around you in class and check out how many brands you can see on clothing and bags. Who among you is unbranded? Are you? I wear a lot of anonymous clothing, much of it originating in thrift stores, but alas, my fondness for Converse makes me a walking advertisement many days.

Times are tough for education and money is hard to come by. I understand the temptations of and even the necessity for sponsorship. Just don’t imagine that it’s being done for the public good. Make your own decisions when it comes to deciding what to buy and what kinds of things deserve your customer loyalty.

Here’s some of the hype I’ve collected on 3×5 cards over the years:

Woe, Ho, Ho!
A Multimedia Found Poem from W-OZ

Holiday outlook cheerless.
He needs a new chain saw. He’ll thank you for it.
Shop The Water Store for the pure-fect gift.
If a handgun’s on your list, time is running out.
Homeless shelters burst at seams.
Bring your pooch in and have its picture taken with Santa.
Give her youth. Give her cosmetic surgery.
He’s back, he’s deadly, he’s Satan Claws.
Show your love with a diamond. Doesn’t she deserve it?
It wouldn’t be one man’s dream if it wasn’t another man’s possession.
Cease fire.
Bedspread Kingdom has what she wants in precious prints and coordinated colors.
How can you live without a French fry maker?
A potato baker?
A hot dog griller?
A football-shaped slow cooker for the Super Bowl?
Accidents claim fourteen. State patrol beefs up surveillance.
Ten percent off and more. Buy now.
Twenty percent off and more. Buy now.
Thirty percent off and more. Buy now.
Forty percent off and more. Buy now.
Half off! It’s a steal! Now is the time to buy.
Think how much you’ll save.
Singing cats with your favorite carols.
Shoot-’em-up action for the kids.
Runaways–call home.
Shop today and don’t pay until next March!
Last five days.
Only two days left to buy.
Save on pants for every occasion.
Lowest prices of the season.
Isn’t it time for a Timex?
Only 24 more hours to shop!
Fed up with give-away welfare?
Fly to Australia for the holidays. Your companion goes half-price!
Top ten reasons to shop Mattress Discounters NOW.
Give holiday dinner to a homeless person.
Holiday makeovers. A new you.
One week only.
An incredible assortment. No one sells for less.
Cruise the Caribbean.
Toymania!
Barbie Power Rangers Playskool Cool Tools Star Wars Tyco Batman Video
Disney Pooh Bumbleball Jibber Jabber See ‘n’ Say Fisher Price.
To wrap up big holiday savings, just use your Discover Card.
Of course, you’ll have leftovers.
Add cheer to your chicken.
Just pop ’em in your microwave–heated slippers!
Products to make your life easier and more enjoyable.
It’s a must have.
Christmas just got healthier. Low fat treats!
Kosher chocolates for seasonal gifting.
When you give a gift from here, you’re giving your child something that will last a lifetime!
No one makes Christmas magic quite the way you can with us.
Make it a Mickey Christmas!
Tree overheats. Fire claims family of seven.
Are YOU ready for the holidays?
Toys! Toys! Toys!
Be as beautiful as the season.
Go wild for the holidays–rice, that is!
For the ones you love: the incredible bacon cooker.
Great movie gifts at a merry price.
Your child’s name becomes a poem. Save $3.00.
Exclusive values. Hottest items. Bonus bucks.
No interest for one year. Exclusive values. Lowest prices guaranteed.
Redecorate for the season. Next day delivery. Easy payment plan.
Free personalized letter from Santa with your $5.00 greeting card purchase.
Enter to win holiday dough.
Lose fat now! Be fit for the holidays.
Don’t sacrifice quality for credit limitation!
Where shopping is a pleasure.
Don’t you want the best?
It’s a great gift idea–the Sunday comic strip umbrella.
It’s our biggest sales event of the year!
Quality products at phenomenal prices.
Stupendous savings! Ginormous bargains!
Save! Save! Save!
We’re serious about saving you money!
Save when you buy. The more you buy, the more you save.
‘Tis the season for negotiating benefits.
World peace?
Customer appreciation sale.
It’s over, but it’s not over here!
Our loss is your gain and it’s not too late to save.
Shop now for next year!
You’ll never see prices like these again.

Is there something you’re longing to buy? Do you really need it?

One night only on MTV—a two-hour commercial-free celebration of Nike!
• Television promo, early in the twenty-first century

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What Makes You Weep?

January 3, 2010

I am a movie whore. I will crawl into bed with just about any offering. While I don’t always enjoy what I’m watching, I’m definitely not picky. As the oldest of five children, I took my brothers and sisters to the movie to get them out of the house most Saturdays. Once I was old enough to drive, I took them to the drive-in to see movies our parents didn’t approve of, swearing them to secrecy and bribing them with drugstore candy bars. I married another oldest child who spent his Saturdays the same way I did, babysitting brothers and sister at the weekend matinee. We still love to go to the theatre although we love our Netflix and our Roku and our movies on demand. I find it comforting to know that Fred Astaire is trapped in a box just waiting to dance for me.

Although I’ll go see almost anything, there are lots of film genres I don’t especially enjoy, heist films, for example. I don’t understand expending mental energy and risking your life to try to get a big bunch of money or jewels or whatever. Who cares? You’re an idiot. Put your skills to better use. I also dislike splatter/gore movies like the Saw series, quite different from films like Halloween. I saw Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!, two of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s sixties grossouts, and others like them at the M&T Drive In in Warner Robins, Georgia, where they were billed many years ago as adult fare and alternated on weekend evenings with Scandinavian nudist films that drew crowds hoping for much more than the barebottomed volleyball they got.

But as much as I have an aversion to these genres, there’s another that I find even more objectionable: the tearjerker. I know that every moviemaker hopes to manipulate me in some way or another, but I don’t like having my tender feelings toyed with. Make me laugh. Make me cringe. Make me cower in terror and grip the armrests as the suspense becomes unbearable. Tease me with tenderness. Get me angry. But don’t make me cry. You’ll just tick me off.

This is not to say that there aren’t movies out there that make me cry because they are genuinely cry-worthy. There are. Compelling stories that illuminate some aspect of humanness that I need to be reminded of. Movies that inspire me. These are not the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about the often-written-for-“girls”-date-night-worst-of-the-chick-flicks that play with my emotions. When I see one of these and find myself crying, I feel cheap and used. I want to cry about things that matter.

I am reminded of this because I just picked up a copy of Max DePree’s (1989) book, Leadership Is an Art, at the Salvation Army. I’ve given several copies of this book away, so I always buy a copy when I see it cheap (75 cents this time). I find DePree’s leadership vision inspiring, and this is a book that I like to reread. Inspiration, a good friend once told me, is like taking a shower. You get inspired/clean, but you get out into the world and you get dirty/distracted from your mission, and thus you need regular inspiration. I think this is part of why I collect quotations; they are little bits of inspiration that remind me of who I am and who I want to be.

On pages 138-139 of DePree’s book, there is a list of things “we probably ought to weep about.” Here it is:

• superficiality
• a lack of dignity
• injustice, the flaw that prevents equity
• great news!
• tenderness
• a word of thanks
• separation
• arrogance
• betrayal of ideas, of principles, of quality
• jargon, because it confuses rather than clarifies
• looking at customers as interruptions
• leaders who watch bottom lines without watching behavior
• the inability of folks to tell the difference between heroes and celebrities
• confusing pleasure with meaning
• leaders who never say “Thank you”
• having to work in a job where you are not free to do your best
• good people trying to follow leaders who depend on politics and hierarchy rather than on trust and competence
• people who are gifts to the spirit.

What are some things that make me weep? Recognition. Appreciation. Generosity. Gentle spirits. Kindness. Caring. The courage of idiosyncracy. Quality work. Unexpected moments of connection. Reading or hearing or seeing something—anything—that lets me know I am not alone. This is what any communicative medium can accomplish; it can let us know that who we are is okay, that there are kindred spirits out there somewhere, and that we can connect with them if only through their work. This is why you need to put whoever you are out there into the world. Someone just might be waiting.

How about you? What’s on your list of things that make you weep?

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
• Steve Jobs

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Five Hints to Help Overcome the Inertia of Overwhelmedness

January 2, 2010

It’s just about time to return to school after a break and I am already feeling what I call the inertia of overwhelmedness, that feeling of having so much to do that you don’t know where to begin. I worked steadily at things even while I probably should have been relaxing, but nonetheless, now I must face the reality of meetings and deadlines and due dates and all the other things I could pretend for a couple of weeks didn’t exist. I know that overwhelmedness isn’t a word, but it should be. I find that it’s often necessary to turn verbs into nouns or nouns into adjectives or otherwise play fast and loose with parts of speech in order to make my point. Feel free to do this yourself. It can be quite satisfying to see your creation in print.

But back to that inertia. The biggest challenge I face with almost any task is getting started. This is why I find procrastination so fascinating and have become such an expert on the topic. I am very good at working hard while putting off some of the things I have to do because I haven’t a clue where to begin. I imagine that working on something is as good as working on everything. Sadly, it isn’t. Sooner or later the chickens will come home to roost and you will have egg on your face if you’ve forgotten to work on one of your chores.

Perhaps you have faced similar procrastinatory challenges. Here are my top five hints for overcoming the inertia of being faced with too much to do and too little time to get it done in:

First, make a list of everything you need to do. I do mean everything. Don’t leave anything off. Do this quickly, though; otherwise, making the list can become the ultimate procrastinatory activity. You can add to it as you think of additional things. Once you have your list, check it for papers and projects and other things you need to determine topics for. Choose your topics week one and get them approved if necessary so you can immediately begin thinking and collecting information.

Second, put important deadlines and due dates on your calendar, highlighting them in some way. Add other obligations too, including any related to family and friends that will impact your time. Whatever kind of calendar you use, put everything onto one—multiple calendars pretty much guarantee that something will get forgotten.

Third, set internal and artificial “progress” deadlines for yourself. Don’t rely on outsider prompting to remind you that you should be working on something. Make sure that you have research located early. Have a deadline for doing so. Block out time for writing and for studying for tests and such. A paper, for example, really should be finished at least two days before it’s due so that you will have time to let it sit before you do final proofing and editing. (I am such a dreamer, aren’t I? What is the last minute invented for if not for finishing up a paper?)

Special note here: I am infuriated by papers I receive that have not been proofread. I am not talking about spelling errors or errors in mechanics that may have been mistakes students were unaware they were making. I’m talking about the blatant repetition of a sentence or paragraph that even the most minimal of proofreading would have caught. I’m talking about sentences that start, but don’t end. I’m talking about the sudden appearance of all caps for several sentences without reason. I’m talking about the obviously-in-need-of-fixing stuff that I don’t want to waste pen effort on. Clean it up, people!

Third addendum: Don’t be tempted by other enticements once you’ve set these internal study dates with yourself. I say this while being fully aware that you will be tempted and you will probably give in. At your peril. If only I could control the world.

Fourth, Start file folders, real or virtual, for every paper, project, or other obligation you must keep track of. Yes, I know you have notebooks and so forth, but everything you work on will benefit from having a dedicated space in which to dump crucial information you don’t want to have to hunt for later even though you don’t want to have to process it immediately. I really prefer using paper first and then starting Word.docs based on what I’ve collected in my paper files, things like reminders to myself, newspaper and magazine articles, notes regarding possible internet sources, and other stuff that would take time turn into useful, integrated electronic data.

But you do what you want. I know you will anyway. Knowing what really works for you as far as compiling and accessing data is a crucial skill of success in school—and at work. My worst quarter ever was one in which I tried recording everything. Real time lecture-listening twice. Ugh! This may work for you, but it was agony for me and I still ended up writing things down so I would remember them. There’s something about the brain/hand connection that helps me learn.

Fifth, Work on everything regularly. This may just mean reviewing notes or going over the requirements for the assignment, but the goal is to keep the things you need to accomplish fresh in your memory so you can let your subconscious work on them.

And here’s my final piece of advice for the new term. School is easy. All you have to do is read your syllabi, go to class, complete the assignments on time, participate, and read the text and other assigned materials. That’s a big all and when you add the alls from multiple courses, it can lead to the inertia of overwhelmedness. The problem with such inertia at the start of a term is that it is so tempting to do nothing—there are weeks and weeks ahead and nothing seems very urgent and after all you need to thoroughly understand everything before you get started working on anything, right? Wrong. Generally, we don’t know what we don’t know until we begin trying to actually do the thing.

Unfortunately, putting things off can lead to despair which, while it can be overcome by intense bursts of scholarly dedication, is likely to leave you much more stressed than if you take my advice and get started early working on everything that needs to be done (she said smugly).

What can you do to make this term even better than the last?

The ability to concentrate and to use your time well is everything if you want to succeed in business—or almost anywhere else for that matter.
• Lee Iacocca

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New Year’s Revolution: Give Birth to Something This Year

January 1, 2010

What is it that is gestating within you that you are meant to give birth to this year? What passion needs feeding? What internal-hidden-from-the-world secret hopes need nourishment if they are to flourish and burst forth into the world? It seems as though this should be easy to answer and yet many of us have suppressed our longings for so long that it is difficult to articulate them, much less make plans to bring them to fruition. I know, because I’m trying to do this today as part of setting goals for the quarter. I am very good at making lists of the things I have to do and doing them. I am less adept at making time for things that can be categorized as “just for me.” It would be a true revolution in many of our lives to commit significant time and energy to those things too.

As I look for a couple of snappy quotations from the stars about their plans for the new year, I find instead the Hunch website with its New Year’s Resolution generator. Answer some questions and get some advice. I am always interested in advice although I am not very good at taking it, especially when it’s attached to any kind of questionnaire. I do not like being boxed in by answers. Still, hope springs eternal. Maybe this time. . . . .

At Hunch.com I begin to go through the choices. Do I want to enjoy life more? Reduce stress? Learn something new? Yes. Yes. Yes. Do I want to recycle more? Not badly enough, so no. Ditto for helping others and fighting procrastination (my creative friend) and even getting out of debt. How about getting a better job? Nope. I like the one I have which includes the aforementioned helping others and helps me stay in debt.

And then come the challenges that let me know I’m in truly unhelpful territory and will likely have to generate resolutions on my own. Do I want to stop smoking? Yes or no? I never have, so how do I answer? And how about stop drinking? I have zero desire to give up an occasional margarita or glass of pear wine, but I don’t want to resolve to become an alcoholic either. And finding a soulmate? Do I deny the one I already have or imply that he really isn’t? Yes and no answers, like the true and falsery of exams leave me suspended in a vat of “it depends.”

I seek out more information about Hunch, going to their homepage and reading this: “Look. Decision-making is difficult, and decisions have to be made constantly. What should I be for Halloween? Do I need a Porsche?. . .In 10 questions or less, Hunch will offer you a great solution to your problem, concern or dilemma on hundreds of topics.” The Hunch folks also promise that “it will be awesome later,” as Hunch requires the input of the masses in order to provide Hunch advice. You gotta love collective ignorance.

On the other hand, Hunch is right up there with Dr. Phil in the good advice department since their answer for someone asking “Should I become a father?” is remarkably similar to that offered yesterday about motherhood on the DP show: Be prepared for a long term commitment. This is actually good advice. I once overheard two students talking about whether or not to have a baby, saying that it was only an 18-year commitment at the very most. Hah! A child is your child forever and that’s a lovely thing. Be ready for it.

You’re in trouble, folks, if you’re asking a website whether or not you should become a father or mother. You’re in trouble if you’re asking it if you should get a divorce or if your marriage is on the rocks. Check the collective pulse if you must to find out what book to read or where to go on spring break. Check it to get ideas for resolutions if you can’t think of anything meaningful for yourself. Seek professional help for the big questions.

As to what you need to give birth to this year, you are the only person who can answer this question. You may find hints in other places, but you’ll have to take a journey into your own mind to find the true-for-you answers. I hope you’ll make the trip today.

What are you meant to give birth to this year?

The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.
• William James

Sad but true addendum: Having a creative idea, even if you’re grappling with infertility of the mind, and giving birth to the idea, with all the labor that entails, don’t even begin to compare to the effort required to nurture ideas to adulthood and see them off into the world.