Thursday, March 31, 2005

Part of an email I received from a student today:
Again, muchas gracias por los consejos y el apoyo que has aportado al desarrollo de mi tesis. W/out your help I don't know if I'd be were I am.
It is nice knowing that your work has been helpful.

The same student used a phrase I had not heard in a long time - probably since I last lived in Mexico:

"Pase de panzaso..."

It means, I barely passed (a test/class/etc.), but panzaso means something like a belly-flop. So the image, at least in my mind, is that you barely made it across a finish/goaline as you skidded by on your belly. In any case, it made me smile.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Here I am after crossing 12 state lines, back in Washington (ok, there were some states that were double-counted - if you want to know the details, see the comments below). All I can say is whew.

And of the 8 flights I took, only two were on time. That is not a good record for the airline industry. Some delays were more trying than others. From Providence to New Mexico, we had to change planes in Nashville. Our connecting flight to Albuquerque was delayed over three hours, so they rerouted us through Phoenix. It seemed silly to fly past our destination only to head back to it. If only we could parchute out. This inconvenicence was more trying because both Sara and I were sick (Sara much more than me). Our flight to Phoenix was late and we had five minutes to make our connection. Somehow we (and more amazingly our bags) made it.

Despite the trying delays, I do have to say the people at Southwest were all very nice and really tried to be helpful (and went out of their way to make sure our bags made all the necessary connections).

I can't really breathe yet. I head back to New Mexico on Friday. So I only have three days here to catch up on everything that has piled up, get what I need to do this week, prepare for the conference next week, and try to get ahead for the the following week. I also had to keep my motivation up even though I was welcomed back here by a big pile of rejection letters, including a very impersonal letter from the school I interviewed in Southern California. Moreover, I am carless since my car is still in San Diego with the dog, so even the routine errands take much longer since I have to walk everywhere. Nonetheless, today was actually quite productive, so I am off to a good start.

With all the flurry of activity and having just spent a nice period of time with Sara, you would think that I would not miss her as much as I do. But I do. I can't wait to hop yet another plane (and another and another) to be with her again. June, when we will both be back in the same place, is two months away. It will be fascinating to see how long and short that period can concurrently be.

I don't know if I will be back here this week. I certainly won't be once I am back in New Mexico. I wonder if I will ever get all the junk that is nesting in my head out in writing. Hmm...we'll see.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sara is napping since the germs I passed on to her have taken a toll.

Today I was back in Providence to pick up copies of our dissertations that we had duplicated and bound. We need to parcel them out to our committees and our relatives. I must say that is one big stack of paper - heavy too. It was strange being back at the old department. No nostalgia - and a huge sense of relief that I am no longer there.

Tomorrow Sara and I are off to New Mexico. I am looking forward to the food- flat enchiladas, sopapillas, green and red chiles, yum, yum, yum...The warm sun will be nice too.

I will probably not be able to post from there, so I will be back here sometime next week when I get back to Washington. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Despite my best efforts, I can't fully kick this stupid cold. It seems like I am just about done with it and then I get a surprise burst of snot or en extra visit by Mr. Sore Throat. It is terribly annoying. And now Sara is not feeling well...

Yesterday we went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit by Damien Hurst and the cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection. We took a peek at the collection from Oceania, Africa, and Latin America in between. Damien Hurst produces provocative work - some I like, some is somewhat disturbing. The cars were beautiful, but as Sara pointed out to me, European car makers were quite complicit in the establishment and maintainence of fascist regimes during the 20th century. Something which was not made quite evident in the exhibit.

Snow is coming...! Ah, weather in New England - you need to love it! Never a dull moment.

I finished my paper today and sent it off to the discussant. I am not all that happy with it, but I needed to get it done. It is funny how high expectations quickly get toned down as deadlines loom.

I spent the time after sending off my paper cleaning out the pantry here. It seems that we were incubating moths in there. I hate moths - they get into everything. I really hate dropping some pasta into boiling water only to find moth larvae float to the top. Yuck. I ended throwing a lot of food out. Anything that was questionable went out. After all the shelves were empty, I wiped them down with water and bleach. I hope that takes care of them. Maybe they will move to the closets and start feeding on our sweaters now.

It is good to see that our courts are still somewhat independent of politics. That will change - you just wait and see...

Monday, March 21, 2005

It was bound to happen. Considering the miles I have traversed, the number of people I have encountered, and the variety of pathogens I have come in contact with, it should be no surprise that I got sick. Luckily it is only a pesky cold. Two local eating establishments here have had workers with hepititis. Nonetheless, I have been bummed that my time with Sara has been hindered by this.

Right now I should be working on a paper that I need to present in a couple of weeks. It actually needs to go to the discussant soon so he can read it and comment on it. I am not feeling inspired at all, though. So here I am all ways possible.

This is better than the news, though. I can't believe this whole issue with that poor woman in Florida. It is very disconcerting seeing the Congress and the President of the United States interfering in an issue that concerns an individual. All just for political posturing. Sara and I just find it terribly ironic that the woman's name means slave in Italian. Her decision between life and death is being ignored for political bickering. Now that is true enslavement.

I know some of you are looking forward to some picture. To you I must apologize, but there are none. I have been too busy/sick to take any and to figure out how to upload them. Maybe later...

Ok, I should try to get some of this stupid paper written before people start getting on my case.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

In Boston

I made it here. That was a lot of miles in the last week, each one worth it. I am in the process of of recovering and recuperating now.

I have been learning how to use my new camera. No pictures as of yet. This may have to wait until I return to Washington where I can install the software and upload the pictures. I am a bit behind on the learning process when it comes to digital media.

Some observations:

- I still don't understand why people here in Boston (and Rhode Island) park and just sit in their cars - even when it is REALLY cold outside. It seems to be a pastime here. Even after living in New England for many years and being away for almost one, it still creeps me out - especially when they are out in front of your house.
- San Diego has a big pothole problem courtesy of the excessive rains they received this winter. Even so, Boston's problem is much worse.
- Just down the street there seems to be a sinkhole starting right between the sidewalk and the street. It goes down about two feet and there seems to be a cave running under the street. Someone stuck a stick in it and attached a plastic bag to the top.
- Having a street sign that says "Centre Street under construction ahead, drive at your own risk" is a bit disconcerting.
- Sara and I believe that the Big Dig in Boston has unleashed the deamons that were trapped under the city of Boston - hence the cold winter, the Red Sox winning the World Series, the massive potholes, the Bush election victory, and the never ending problems with the Big Dig itself. It could be that the gates to Hell were unlocked and Armagedon is about to begin. I will let you know if I see any horsemen riding around.
- The ANWR being opened up to drilling has me depressed.

That's all for now. I have a project idea that I may run by you soon. I need to think about it a little more...stay tuned.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I made it to San Diego.

It was a nice drive. It was interesting to see spring come into bloom as I made my way south. The trees were greener, the flowers brighter, and the birds friskier as I entered the lower latitudes.

It is strange that it is much cooler in San Diego than it was anywhere else on the way here, except for maybe LA.

Strange sight: somewhere in the San Juaquin Valley I stopped for gas in the evening. As I was pumping, a Greyhound bus stopped and let the passengers off for a break. I have seldom seen such a strange assortment of people: the weirdest eccentrics and the poorest Mexicans you can imagine. They all got off and immediately lit up, right next to the gas pumps. Needless to say, I was out of there pretty quickly.

Word of advice: avoid the Coalinga Motel 6. More on that later.

I am tired, so I will quit for now. Maybe more tomorrow.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Spring Break

I hit the road again tomorrow. I am going from here:

[Landscape in Southeastern Washington] Posted by Hello

to here:

The Charles River in Boston Posted by Hello

Of course, I am taking the "scenic route" there. That is, I am driving to San Diego (I'll get there on Sunday) and on Tuesday I am flying out to Boston. Our puppy is going to stay at grandma's with his friend, Grandma's dog in San Diego for about a month (hence the reason for the drive down there). This is because Sara and I will be moving around the country quite a bit and the dog needs a loving place to stay. He likes it in San Diego because there is a huge yard to play in, lots of gophers to dig for, and someone to play with.

I just looked at that picture again and it makes me shiver. Yes, it is still snowing in Boston and the river is still frozen. Some people dare to walk out on it. I never would. Although I do like the scene in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where they walk out and look at the stars.

Despite the unappealing weather, I am looking forward to snuggling up with my sweetie with a nice warm cup of hot chocolate. Yes, that will be very nice.

I am probably not making much sense here. I have been running all day, finishing up my duties at the college, packing things up, and getting ready for a long road trip. Needless to say, I am exhausted. I also tried downloading some audio books for the drive. The downloading part worked fine, but burning them on to CDs turned out to be a major fiasco. I eventually got one of the two books on to CDs, but I was so frustrated by the whole process that I went to a book store and bought one there that was already on CDs (not the same one I downloaded).

As I was saying, I am tired and probably not to coherent. The dog finally passed out. He gets very stressed when he sees suitcases. The good news for him is that he gets to come along this time. He used to whine a lot in the car, but the last few trips he has been very good.

Unfortunately I won't have any way to post while I am on the road. So this is so long until maybe Sunday or Monday...but possibily even longer. I will be picking up my digital camera (which I had delivered to San Diego) on the way, so I will be playing with that and possibily putting some pictures up here along the way. Yay - another procrastination method. Just what I needed.

Everybody have a good and peaceful weekend.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I finished grading all the exams! Of course I have now been reduced to a lifeless blob with no energy. Actually, the beer I had with my tacos for dinner might have had a hand in that.

I must interject here, however, that the tacos you can get at the local taco trucks are really, really tasty. For me, the holy trinity or the trifecta are 1 carne asada, 1 carne adobada, and 1 pollo. I then put a lot of lime on them and add some taqueria salsa I bought at Trader Jose's. Pair it with the aforementioned cerveza and you are set to go.

I am now supposed to prepare my lecture for tomorrow. It is the last class before break. I don't feel like lecturing, the students don't want to be there, and the weather is nice outside. Can you think of a worse set of conditions? I am so tempted to finish off the material I did not get to today, give them their exams back, and send them off into the glorious sunset of spring break.

This whole week was designed to be a soft week. After the midterm and before break, I knew even several months ago that enthusiasm and motivation would be non-existent. That is why I scheduled the fieldtrip to the homeless shelter that I mentioned yesterday for this week. The topic for the week is art and clothing. Important topics, of course (I would not want to offend any artists or tailors), but not an intense or complex area in the discipline of anthropology.

The visit to the shelter was to complement the ethnography Tell Them Who I Am that I mentioned a while back. We had to walk about a mile and a half from campus. Try leading a big group like that in a hurry. We only had the fifty minutes of class time to get there, hear the director, take a tour, and get back. It all worked out pretty well. It was rushed, but I think the students liked it. It was good for them to see that even shelters are not horrible or depressing places and that homeless people are in fact people who are in a precarious situation for a huge variety of reasons - not just those you usually hear about.

Onto a completely different topic. I have been thinking about the whole bruhaha the Bush administration is making about Lebanon and Syria. Why now? I think it is one of the following reasons:

a. They want to justify the invasion of Iraq by showing that the new domino effect is occurring in the Middle East with different conflicts being resolved.

b. Looking for more excuses to beat up Syria to get back at them for their lack of concern with movement between Syria and Iraq. In other words bully Syria to feel more macho.

c. Distract everyone from the fact that Iran is still pursuing nuclear program, despite the tough talk of the Bush administration, and that nothing is being done about North Korea who admitted to having nuclear weapons. In other words pretend to be macho with the wimp who doesn't have nuclear weapons.

d. Distract everyone from the failure to sell the Social Security reform crap. In other words, pretend to be macho so people don't see you as the wimp that you really are.

e. All or some of the above.

Not that it really matters. That is probably why I have taken to writing about events of my mundane life rather than politics or social issues. I guess I hint at things or let an odd comment out here or there. I have, however, been avoiding writing about politics out of sheer frustration (or perhaps it is ever growing cynicism). Not that it really matters.
I am paying today for yesterday's procrastination.

I took my class to the local homeless shelter today. More on that later...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Where is Everybody?

What does one do when she or he is sick of grading exams, avoiding writing a paper, and generally trying to evade the demands of everyday life? One goes on line and reads what other people have to say.

Except today, with a few exceptions, everybody seems to have fallen silent. Why? I needed some assistance with my procrastination and only a few of you indulged my needs.

So it was off to Plan B: let's do our taxes! Now you know you are REALLY sick of grading when doing taxes is a better alternative. I even managed to do my Rhode Island state taxes, which by the way is quite a trip down bureaucracy boulevard. Fortunately, Washington State has no state income tax.

The bonus of the evening was to discover that we will actually get a refund, both from the Feds and the state of Rhode Island. Not much, but money flowing in is always welcome. See, as a graduate student I usually got a stipend from some sort of grant or fellowship. While this money is taxable, they don't withhold taxes. So come every April, I had to scrounge around to find enough change under the couch to pay a year's worth of taxes. Having your taxes withheld works much better. Now I could go on for a long time about the inherent unfairness of taxing people who are in school with barely enough money to live while there are corporate swine evading their taxes (we can thank the Reagan Revolution for that change in the tax system) and I could also rant about how depressing it is that the money I did pay in taxes is being grossly misused for all the wrong purposes by our lovely government, but I won't.

Taxes are done, and that is that. The exams are still not completely graded, but I am slowly making progress. It is better that I take my time. If I grade for too long, I get cranky and the grades start to plummet. So it is in the students' best interest that I don't get cranky (and in reality mine too, because with low grades you get a long line out your door with students questioning their grades).

I am certainly ready for Spring Break. It's less than a week away. The scary thing is the amount of things I need to get done before then.

And once again, thank you all for helping me avoid my grading... [please note the caustic sarcasm here]

Monday, March 07, 2005

Oh time machine, where are you?

I am sorry I missed this exhibit.
Sunday Evening

Exams are half graded.
Dog got a walk -
Including a tryst in a fountain on campus.
Paper is still sitting quietly waiting to be worked on
(it better start to complain or it will continue to be ignored by yours truly).
The sun was wonderful.
The flora were blooming.
People frolicked and soaked in the glory of spring.
All the while, however,
My mind continues to drift
To places colder than here.
It longs to be with the one
That brings true warmth to me.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Sunday Morning Posted by Hello

Exams wait to be graded. The paper I need to finish writing for a confernce next month sits patiently on my desk without saying a word. Lesson plans for next week need to be drawn up. Yet here I sit, listening to Los de Abajo not accomplishing much.

The weather outside is calling me to leave all this behind and take in some sun. It is hard to resist.

Despite all this I sit around lost in a dream of when I will be back in Boston with my soulmate.

Last night some of my students from last semester cooked dinner for me. It was a nice gesture on their part. Nice people. Although there is something strange that arises as a result of the age difference and a certain power dynamic. It really did not interfere with the meal, but it was there lingering in the background. At least I noticed it.

I should go and try to be productive.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

My students had their midterm yesterday. I think it was too long and perhaps a little hard. Students should be challenged, shouldn't they?

This whole issue of grades is one of the few things I just can't deal with in teaching. What exactly are we grading? Effort? Ability? Ability to do what? Reason? Recall information? Apply the concepts? Write clearly? The truth is that in grading I am supposed to evaluate all these abilities (and more) and condense it all down into a letter (grade). Most of it is so arbitrary. Yet what can I do when a student challenges me about a grade? Do I reconsider it? If I do, do I lose my authority? And if I reconsider, do I have to reconsider everyone else's grade as well? It is a hopeless situation.

Academia seems appealing because it allows you to wonder off into far away worlds (real and imagined). When teaching duties call, however, we are pulled back into the reality of being part of the machine - just another cog in the wheel - reaffirming the structure of the social system we live in. I have a problem with that, yet I am in no position to challenge it. At least not yet. Just wait until I have tenure... heh heh...

Ultimately I do rest easy. Most students do get the grades they deserve. I try to keep an eye out for those that don't. If someone gets a better grade than they deserve, well I let it be. However, if someone does worse than what I would expect, I try to find out why. Usually I try to remedy the situation in some manner. Things happen - an unfortunate event before the exam, language obstacles, some people just don't test well...whatever, I don't believe they should be penalized for these issues. I know I can't catch all of them, and most students won't bring it to my attention if I don't. But I try. This is one of many reasons there is grade inflation. You raise the grade of those who deserve it, but you really can't lower the grade of those who don't.

I do need to grade all those exams. This is when I kick myself for not having written a much shorter exam. Will I ever learn?

I indulged my material wants today. I spent the money from the award earmarked for "project equipment". I bought a digital camera and a digital voice recorder. I will get the camera and the student I am working with will get the voice recorder. I am excited because I have had my eye on this camera for a while and I have wanted a digital camera for even longer. So soon I will be posting lovely pictures of myself...ok, maybe not.

Sara and I also had a paper we co-wrote accepted into a volume that will get published sometime in the future (I am learning that these things tend to move very slowly). It is being published in the Netherlands, so we need to go through it and change all the spelling and formatting to the British form. This can be a pain. The paper was a fun one to write: it is on Food and Identity in Italy.

Rejection letters keep streaming in, which is always discouraging even if they are from places I really did not want to go to. I did get a bit of good news, though. I found out today that I might be able to get some part-time teaching positions in Boston next year. The chair of a fairly well-respected university in the area sent me an email where he seemed willing to be helpful. Part-time is not ideal, but it is better than nothing.

It is early Friday night and I am ready for bed. I sure got old fast. Of course, if I had any energy I probably would not do anything anyway. My sweetie is far away and there isn't much to do around here. Perhaps I would do some work and be productive. Nah, I probably would find some better and more creative way to procrastinate than writing nonesense here and then going to bed.

I hope everyone has a good weekend.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

I am back in the Pacific time zone, but I am still feeling like I am on East Coast Time (hence three hours later).

I barely made it back because there was a big snow storm the night before I was supposed to leave. Sara and I were both quietly hoping that my flight would get cancelled.

It didn't.

The only good thing about it not getting cancelled is that the dog got picked up from the doggy hotel as scheduled.

My students have their midterm tomorrow. I just finished writing it. It isn't too hard, but I think it is a bit long. I hate exams. I hated taking them when I was a student. I hate writing them now. And I really hate grading them. And this one is not going to be an easy one to grade.

I had a review session today. I asked the students if they had any questions and one just shouted out, "Why, God, why?" I did not have an answer to that one. I told him I would have to get back to him.

Random pondering: I wonder if there is a taxi cab in Boston that does not have it check engine light on.

The daphodils in the yard have started to bloom.

I need to go to bed.