Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Good News - No Party

Today I received two bits of good news.  The all-college tenure committee voted to recommend my tenure.  That was the last major obstacle.  Now it goes to the college's president and board of trustees for final approval, which is just a rubber stamp.   I also got word from a journal that they accepted an article I submitted for publication.

I am not celebrating, though.  Sara is in Berlin this week at a History of Science workshop.  Moreover, I have been feeling down recently.  Our finances are a mess and Sara is still looking for work with no real prospects.  The stress of it all has been crushing me.  Add to it the dismal weather and days that are getting shorter and it all makes for a nasty cocktail of the blues.

That's all for now.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Birthday Myth

Somewhere in my youth, along with the Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, the tooth mouse (Mexican version of the tooth fairy), and other lies parents tell their children, the birthday myth was ingrained in my mind.  The myth that there is one day a year when you are celebrated, a special day when people stop to remember you and things go your way.  It always seemed that birthdays worked liked that for others.  But I seemed to be missing out.  Like the eternal Cubs fan, though, I always thought that this "could" be the year that the myth would pan out for me.  And every year, not only was I disappointed, but it seemed like bad things tended to happen.  My earliest recollection was my fourth year birthday party when my party was held in an old-fashioned style ice-cream shop in Mexico.  As is the case in many eating establishments, the staff gathered around to sing and make a fuss.   Except at this place, they would offer you a bit of cake by holding it up for you to bite, but when you went to take the bite, they would smash it in your face.  As a four-year old, I didn't quite enjoy that.  I remember sitting under the table crying with cake all over my face.

I won't sit here and reminisce about all the unfortunate incidents that have happened since, suffice it to say that there seemed to be a recurring theme.  Over time, I came to distance myself from the concept of my birthday as a time to celebrate.  However, that birthday myth continued to covertly live on deep inside my psyche and a part of me continues to long for it.  Of course, the negativity I associate with this one day and the absence of having the myth play out for me intertwines with the other demons in my head to create a festival of self-deprecation.  It runs ramshackle over any logic my intellect puts forth - why should this day be any different?  It's just another day.  The world moves on just like it did yesterday, just like it will tomorrow.  But somewhere inside this aging 40 year old body (and mind), there is still a child longing for the attention, wanting to be celebrated, and hoping that no one will smash cake in his face.

Yet here I sit at home alone, moping.  The day is almost over and I will have another year before I go through the same set of emotions again.

But 40 - wow.  My youth is gone.  Oh well...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Old Fart

Today is my last day as a thirty something.

Poop.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Viva Mexico!

Tonight marks the start of the Mexican Independence bicentennial.  It also corresponds with the centennial of the Mexican Revolution.  It seems that every 100 years Mexico faces social and political upheaval.  So here we go again...

I have been following with dismay the violence that has gripped my home country over the past few years.  I was struck with the fear that underlies people's lives when I was there visiting my family.  Private guards with automatic weapons, barricades, walls, and general paranoia dominated the landscape.  The government has launched offensives against the drug cartels and has tried to purge its ranks to eliminate corrupt officials.  But the violence continues to escalate.

I realize that the violence is not widespread, that the media profits by sensationalizing it.  Nonetheless, the crimes committed are stupefying.  The killings, the disregard for life, and the lack of compassion are discouraging.

What has become of my country?

Violence has been part of its history, so in some ways what is occurring now is nothing new.  The Revolution created anarchy throughout the country a hundred years ago.  Political repression is part of the historical fabric of the nation.  But the recent, albeit slow and uneven, economic and political progress offered glimpses of optimism that Mexico could move on and overcome its skeletons.  Such hope has been eclipsed, at least for now.  While it is not dead, a major struggle lays ahead.

But why? Why is Mexico, a country of such kind and friendly people, engulfed in such a nightmare?

This is the eternal question.  In my eyes, it is a natural consequence of prolonged inequality, both economic and political.  Inequality destroys civic society.  The blatant disparities that exist in Mexico, while almost invisible to those living there does affect the psyche of people.  Blatant wealth and development that provides riches to a few and toil to the many, while the political system stifles voices of dissent, creates an atmosphere of discontent.  In such a system, corruption becomes a vehicle for public officials to eat at the table of the haves.  Graft by government workers corrodes the public trust and civic participation dies.

In such a place, the lure of quick success, a ticket to wealth regardless of the path becomes very tempting.  If morality has been lost in the rest of society, what is the benefit of adhering to it.  Loyalties switch, sometimes bought with tangible benefits.  In the absence of civil morality and staunch group loyalties, violence becomes the only viable tool.  As the violence escalates, vengeance is inevitable. Tit-for-tat, an eye for an eye, into an unending cycle of horrors. All the while, the wealth (and the arms) continues to flow, providing the incentive (bait?) for new recruits, new foot soldiers to carry on the fight and pawns to be sacrificed in the war.

So where is Mexico going?  I do not know...

The path out is one that seems untenable at the moment. It would require legalization of drugs and tighter control over weapons in the US, a controlled but free movement of labor between Mexico and the US, and a civic awakening among Mexican citizens.  Legalization of drugs would reduce the profits and wealth of the cartels.  It would make the recruitment of participants more difficult.  Weapon control would make it more difficult for the cartels to arm themselves.  Free movement of labor would end human smuggling, would allow for a better flow of wealth from the US to Mexico that would stimulate the Mexican economy and promote entrepreneurship.  None of this is likely to happen, though.

So all that is left is civic participation.  There have been glimpses of this already.  I do not know if on its own it can succeed.  Never underestimate the will of determined people, especially Mexicans.  It takes a strong will to make the way into a country that is determined to keep you out, to work in the field, to be abused and denigrated, and to continue to smile through all of this.

For now, Mexico will celebrate.  Perhaps forget its problems for a day or two.  It is a time to be proud, to remember our history.  But it is a time to draw strength for the struggles that lay ahead, a time to reconnect with neighbors, to see that there is hope to overcome the violence that lies in wait.

Happy Birthday, Mexico!  Hopefully 100 years from now you will be able to celebrate in peace.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Torture

Sitting in my office during office hours just after lunch, I realize that I have a piece of food stuck between my teeth (in between two molars).  Slowly it starts to aggravate me more and more.  I try using my tongue to push it out, but it only serves to irritate me more and more.  Using my fingernail doesn't work either.  Finally, I march over to the bookstore to see if they have floss.  They do, but there is the rush of people still buying books so the line is really long.  I leave and try buying some gum from the vending machine in the hope that it might stick to the food and pry it out.  No, it does not.  I find a piece of string and try it in lieu of floss.  Not only does it not work, it breaks and now I have food and string stuck in between my teeth.  I head back to the book store, grab the floss, and make my way to the back of the long, long line.  I cannot deny that thoughts of slipping the floss into my pocket and walking out crossed my mind.  The food, the string, and the blaring hip-hop music all conspire to annoy me more and more.  In line, I glace at my watch and the time before my class starts is getting shorter and shorter.  I finally make it to the register and the person says "No cash".  Not a problem - I put the $2 floss on my credit card and rush back to my office. 

I cut open the package the floss is in, draw the string of floss out, wrap it taught around my two fingers and plunge it deep between my teeth.  With a swift swoosh the food and the string are pried out.  I feel liberated.  Now it is time to go to class.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tomato Jungle

Our tomato patch has gone wild.  Even the plant that got crushed when I dropped an air-conditioner from the second story window.

In the tangle there are a plethora of hidden tomatoes that escape the picking.  Many fall and roll into oblivion where they are forgotten until they begin to ferment.  As I was picking some of them today, I became intoxicated with the aroma of tomato brew.  Who knew?

We have different varieties of tomatoes, including some tiny micro ones which are about the size of a pea.  Despite their minuscule size, they are packed with flavor.  As I popped one in my mouth, I began to think, "Wouldn't it be cool if it also had a punch of spice?  Just like red-hot candies."  My stream on thought went on to ponder why hasn't anybody created a spicy tomato.  Tomatoes and chiles are both nightshades - it seems like with the miracle of science the two could be hybridized.

That's what I want - a spicy tomato.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Issues

Things haven't been too cheery in the Xolo household.

Due to circumstances that I shan't go into here, I find myself very stressed and anxious.  It is distressing when the preoccupation swallows you completely and there is little respite.  My stomach hurts and I am sure it is from the worry.  Not good, not good.

Classes have started and all three of mine seem promising.  Good vibes from the students.

I look with alarm what is going on in this country and if my mind weren't elsewhere I would be concerned as well.  The latest: a pastor in Florida wants to have a Qur'an burning.  Ironic, isn't it, that those who would be the first to oppose the building of an Islamic center in southern Manhattan and deny the first amendment rights of those people are the first to take advantage of their first amendment rights to engage in book burning.  The hypocrisy...

It looks like Congress is going to go from bad to worse in November.  Ah people with their short-term ADD memories.

So I am off to deal with my own demons for now.  Who knows when things will become more serene?  I don't see it in the horizon - alas.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

NFNY

New York City is not fun when the temperature is 100 degrees.

I feel bad for the tennis players playing in the US Open.

I really feel for sanitation workers.  I can't think of a more thankless job.  Having to deal with fermenting trash in this weather is torture.

Tomorrow is the first day of class for me.  One class in the morning and one in the afternoon.

I am going to wing it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Meetings

I had a day full of meetings.  A great way to start a new academic year.

On the bright side they were much more streamlined and productive this time as compared to times past.

I am slowly becoming aware (or being reminded) of how busy I am going to be this semester.  That's on top of teaching classes.

Tomorrow there are more meetings...and a drive into the city (not for anything fun).

And did I mention it was hot.  It's pretty awful.  I am hoping it is summer's last hurrah.  Although we might get grazed by Hurricane Earl on Friday/Saturday.  Events like that used to excite me, at least a little.  Now that I am a home owner - not so much.  I tend to be much too aware of the swaying trees and falling branches.  Unfortunately, a couple of our trees are what you would consider "weed trees" - meaning they grow randomly and really fast (not that you could get high off of them).  This also means they are not very sturdy and tend to have branches - sometimes very large branches - break off.

I don't think Earl will come close enough to cause concern.  There are plenty of other things to worry about.

Monday, August 30, 2010

College Life

Campus is coming back to life - reawakening from its summer slumber.  Voices are reemerging in the hallways along with footsteps and activity.  Bodies float across the quad more frequently.

As I arrived today, I saw parents helping students carry, wheel, schlep, lug, and drag their belongings to their dorm rooms.  I remember when...

I remember when it was me moving on to campus.  The anticipation, the nervousness, the excitement, the relief.  Summer was over and I knew that a grueling experience of challenging my mind and taxing my stamina laid ahead.  But I was eager to reconnect with my friends (of course, there was the excitement of meeting new people the first year) and to hear about their adventures.  There was always the need to get so much done those first few days.  We had to register for classes.  No internet back then, so we had to go to a room and sign up for classes.  There were different time slots according to year, but otherwise it was first in line, first in class.  I learned that there was always a crowd when it first opened in the morning, but when those people got through it was fairly empty until about noon when the crowd lingered until registration closed. 

It was also important to find the perfect time to go to the bookstore for your books; otherwise you would be bumping into everyone and waiting hours in line.  There was always the shock of how much the books cost and the debate whether to buy them used to only save a few dollars.  I hated used books.  I found people would highlight and markup the wrong sections - and that would be terribly distracting.  Why would someone highlight that? 

The best part would be the late nights, hanging out in a lounge or outside on campus somewhere.  Reestablishing the connection to your fellow students, your collegiate kin.  Retelling experiences, lamenting hardship, overcoming disappointment, and reading ourselves for the upcoming challenge.

I never did work as hard as I could have in college, but I did work hard - most of the time.

As I watch the students today I reminisce and in doing so share some of their emotion.  But some of their experiences were obviously unthinkable to me way back then.  In particular the constant contact they have with everyone else.  Cell phones, computers, the internet.  How has that changed their experiences?  There is no catching up because everyone knows what everyone else is doing from their facebook updates.  They don't need to hunt down their friends on campus because they just call them up and ask them where they are. 

But the anticipation, the nervousness, the dreariness, the excitement, the dread, and the preparation for the new semester is still there.  As their professor, I know what awaits them - at least in my classes.  How will they respond?  That's up to them.  Their response is important, though.  It will set the dynamic for the semester, which in turn will determine the nature of the class.  I'm bringing my experience and my nerdy enthusiasm...and yes, my nostalgia...which emotions and experiences will they bring? 

We'll see....

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Random

I feel like posting something, but I don't know what.

I am feeling glum.  I mope.

I would like some stability in my life.  What would it take?

Stupid question.

It's hot again.  I don't like it.  The heat is going to stick around as if to taunt me.

I am starting to think about my courses.  I should try to be creative.  Make my classes different.

I am up for tenure this semester - although it won't go into effect until a year from next semester.  I still need to apply for promotion by December.  That's a separate decision, but it would also go into effect next year.  Those are big hurdles that once passed will bring a sense of tranquility - at least professionally.

Then I can go crazy with creativity in my classes.  The mad eccentric professor...haha.

I am disillusioned with this country.  The level of ignorance and stupidity among some people is truly discouraging.

So it goes...

Last Day of Summer (Break)

Summer is over.

At least summer break is over.  Classes start on Wednesday, but my first class is on Thursday.  Until then, my week is full of meetings and other work related tasks and events.

It will be nice to get back to a rhythm - summer's lack of structure can be hard to deal with.  I have high hopes as to what will get done during the summer months, but it never pans out.

I am also looking forward to cooler weather.  This has been a hot summer.  And humid - something I don't do well with.  The uncomfortable climate can be a great excuse for the lack of productivity.  It always is: heat, cold, grey, rain, or whatever happens to be overhead that day...always a distraction.

A return to getting paid will be good too.  It has been a very difficult summer financially, trying to make ends meet.  Our system of not getting paid during July and August is nuts.  I know I should plan ahead and save up, but it never seems to work out.  This year I need to be better about that.

Stress has been abundant this summer.  I don't think it will go away, but at least I will be busy to keep my mind off of it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Back in Black

Back in Black

Well...not really in black.

The world has moved on, the online community fizzled, so there is some mourning to be had.

But here I am, to try to resurrect this depository of ideas that has languished for so long.  I need a spark, a catalyst to try to move my "real" writing ahead.  I need to take that mess I wrote six years ago that is commonly known as a dissertation and turn it into something more readable, something that someone would actually want to publish.

And yes, there is always complaining to be had.  I need a venue for that too.

How far will this endeavor go?  Is this a twitch on a corpse that is beyond resuscitation?  Or is there new life in this pseudo space?  I know more likely than not, this will be a soliloquy; a lone voice in an empty room, theater, arena...

But this exercise is not for others...

If someone wants to converse, great.  But if I just rattle off to myself, so be it.

So carry on...

Friday, January 22, 2010