Monday, March 23, 2009


While walking out of the dentist's office, my mind started to bounce from topic to topic, first thinking of how roughly 2/3 of the females working within seemed to share a penchant for the exact same cut of their peroxide-blonde hair, then thinking of whether the personalized "RU FLOSIN" license plate was cutesy/clever or instead a desperate cry for career choice validation, then trying to think of a good lesson plan for the day's class, all within the fifteen steps before finally reaching my car. But, as someone who professionally studies the elements of everyday life, it's always like this for me. The brain is a pinball, constantly propelled from thought bumper to thought bumper, and it's up to some other part of my consciousness to try to first find some usable patter and then try to do something with the resulting accumulation of thought. Sometimes, I think that the real difference between a hopefully normal person and the crazed, neurotic academic is a constantly shifting, sliding, rotating mental terrain.

I get to my car and pull out before the cd player finishes reading the enclosed disk and spits out sound. It's a compilation of The Replacements someone made for me years ago. Normal, healthy people would, I assume, try to lose themselves in the songs. Not I, however. Yet I do try. I pound the steering wheel in time, bob my head, attempt some typical "rock guy" gesticulations designed to follow the various crescendos of the main guitar part. But still, that "I must know what IT (whatever it may be) means" portion of my brain just cannot cut off.

For instance:

I was never a big fan of The Replacements growing up. I had nothing against them, but they just never entered my radar. I was too busy listening to ACDC, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, and Megadeth. When I finally did get to hear them, it was when they were opening up for Tom Petty. They were horrible...they opened with a pseudo-jazz song, played a lot of meandering stuff, and then started to antagonize the bored crowd. As a result, I didn't listen to them for years. I had, I told myself, better uses for my time than a band that clearly was unprofessional and didn't really care if anyone liked them.

About a decade later, long after they had broken up, someone made me a compilation cd of songs from throughout their career, and something did indeed click. I started to appreciate why people became fanatical about The Replacements. However, when I tried to discuss my new-found appreciation for the band with these fans, I found out I liked much different stuff than did the hard-core. I, for instance, liked a lot of their later songs. I liked the "wrong" version of some songs. I preferred the studio stuff to any live bootlegs I heard.

The difference ultimately came down to context. I didn't like The Replacements as a band representative of a certain segment of musical history. I just could not listen to "Left of the Dial" and think of it juxtaposed to the mainstream music released simultaneously. I never had to reconcile their move to more professional, maybe more commercial music as their career progressed. They were ahistorical for me, because I lacked the context embraced by the hardcore fan.

Of course, that context can be a double-edged sword. Many hardcore Replacement fans miss a lot of good songs from their last few albums out of a loathing for those final disks inspired by an unreasonably intense loyalty to their early work. Still, though, I sort of wish I had the context, because without it, The Replacements would only ever be "a band" for me...they would never become a cause.

So, as I was driving back to campus, instead of just listening to my Replacements cd, instead of losing myself in the moment, instead of just "being," I was analyzing. I started to apply my rambling theory of context to other things...television, movies, friendships, politics. I started to think about the connections between time and experience. I started to think about systems, logic, and disorder.

Again, plusses and minuses exist. A friend can burn me a disc of his favorite band growing up, but I now know that I can never experience it the way he does, that it will never mean the same thing to me as it does to him. This is because of the nature of my mind. It will throw me from topic to topic. It will push me into oceans of material before yanking me out, up towards the higher ground of context, of theory, of concepts...and then, it will plunge me back into the realm of minutiae.

I eventually got back to campus, miraculously found a parking spot, and the cd died in time with my car's engine. As I walked back to my office, I thought less about context than my insatiable, unstoppable need for the order I would never find. I unlocked my door, sat down at the computer, and did get a lesson plan out of it. It does make me wonder, this neurotic tendency what threw me into academics, or is it caused by my choice of vocation?

Another mystery to ponder, I guess.

Monday, March 16, 2009

it's gonna be a bright, sunshiny day

What leads to the perfect morning? More than you'd think.

About a month or so ago, I started to have a low-grade case of the sniffles. This took place mostly at night, particularly when trying to sleep, so I suspected I had some hidden stores of dust in the bedroom. I got as far as moving the bed and vacuuming behind that, and I had every intention of moving the rest of the furniture and cleaning behind that...but I got (what a surprise!) both busy and lazy.

Yesterday, in the morning, the sniffles were a bit worse. I had my great role-playing experiment in the afternoon, and I did get through that, but afterwards, I started to feel increasingly horrible. By the time dinner came around, I was going through a centimeter or so of tissues per hour. I began to suspect that, as a girl I knew in high school claimed, that my nose was really leaking out of my skull...and it was all slimy and gross. This was on a day when it was finally nice enough to be outside. I had plans to invite friends over for cigars, but ultimately, I decided that inhaling a monstrous amount of smoke might not be the best thing for my condition.

By bed time, my mood and feeling had not improved. However, my nose was both throbbing and glowing, and I was reconsidering the legend of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I stocked up on drugs, apologized to my spousal unit in advance for the torture I was surely going to inflict on her throughout the night, and collapsed in bed.

This all leads to the perfect morning.

When my spousal unit's alarm went off, I went to the bathroom real quick and took a slug of Nyquil before collapsing back in bed. Three hours later, the doorbell goes off. I call out "Be right there" and throw on some clothes. As I shamble to the door, I wonder why I have Peter Cetera's "Next Time I Fall" stuck in my head. My landlord's maintenance man is at the door, letting me know he's here to fix the back door...a request I made in November. I stumble back to the bedroom, but there is no more sleep...just a battle between the crappy mid-eighties MOR ballad, the numbing effects of super cold medicine, and the hammer/drill sounds from the back door.

At least it can only get better, right? Hey, Road House is on AMC. Philosophy in the morning!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

spring break party!

It wasn't without its requirements. Their visit did require a modicum of prep work. The house needed a certain amount of rearrangement and cleaning. Both the spousal unit and I had a decent volume of our stuff in piles. The carpet was in need of a good vacuuming--the severe move-all-the-furniture variety. I also had to go and purchase some Honey Nut Cheerios, as we only had the unadulterated variety...and our house guests had certain...needs.

Their departure also showed the needs that had to be abandoned for the duration of their visit. Amongst the things that went by the wayside included workouts, salads, home-cooked meals, sobriety, bathroom visits with the door open...but these can all be set aside for a week. Friends are always worth it.

I do really love it when friends come to visit, and I try to go out of my way to get everything ready. It's one of the sincerely depressing things about academics is that you tend to lose friends on a normal basis. Some go crazy and socially disappear, but most just move away. I try to get people together at conferences, but conferences involve travel costs, lodging costs, registration costs, and vacation costs...besides the pesky little requirement of having to write another paper. Until all my friends have tenured jobs, this just isn't the perfect solution.

Luckily enough, my comrades dr. alex and thmarn are strange enough to actually want to come back to Bowling Green for their spring break. Somehow, my humble city beat out Palm Beach, Cancun, Key West, Tahiti, Stockholm, Lichtenstein, Bellingshausen Station, and many other spring break hot we got house guests!

It was one fun week. We got to do Howards Club H on multiple occasions, did the road trip thing, endured the "heteros gone wild" catcalls, ate out every single night (which, when I finally got back to my workouts, led me to pass out upon discovering my level of weight gain), danced with my spousal unit in a bar and accidentally dropped her on the cold floor, watched a fairly amusing movie and some horrific television. Generally, we had a blast.

However, I noticed a few things. First, we got to hang out with 80% of the people I know in Bowling Green. What was interesting about this was that most of them, I only get to see most of them every few weeks. This just proves I'm one of the least successful people I know at surrounding myself with a large posse. This always leads me to the quantity versus quality argument.

Second, we got to see some of our long distance friends, a few from Michigan and one from Cleveland (on top of our two visitors), so there was a little bit of a "high school reunion" feel to the evenings...except I really missed and wanted to see everyone there. It was amazing how easily we fell back into our old conversations. It was also sad when we had to leave them.

Finally, whenever we were being social, I noticed that we had a "it shall not be named" topic of conversation constantly floating around the periphery of our conversations. What was the common denominator?

Uncertainty. Very few of us know what we'll be doing next year...I'm one of the lucky few. Most others do not. Job announcements are down. Those that do get posted are just as likely to lose funding as move to the hiring stages. Existing jobs won't necessarily continue.

We all feel it. It's the human cost of the economy. It's no longer safe being a thinker, a teacher. And while I'm relatively stable for the next year or two, I do worry. The pressure of being an academic has always been dealing with an amount of uncertainty. However, now I also have to take on that of my friends.

I don't have many friends, but the ones I do have are magnificent. They are dealing with massive uncertainty. That uncertainty will, most likely, push them even further away.

The best I can do is dwell on the joys of our meetings...thankfully, we have enough good times to almost make up for the departures.