Sunday, February 27, 2005

Paul vs. The Boat

As a quick refresher, I'm a 32 year old RA at the University of Wyoming and sleep underneath my kayak, which I jimmy-rigged to hang from my dorm room wall. I got into kayaking a while back and invested in a used whitewater boat after I moved here. The intent was to go kayaking in my spare time. The reality is I have no spare time.

A few months ago the university allowed one of the pools here to hold an "open pool session" for kayakers. You pay two bucks, bring your boat, and flail around in warm water for two hours. Studs use this time to practice crazy maneuvers or even launch themselves from the high dive (I'm not kidding), while rank beginners like myself do their damnedest to snap off a clean roll or two and not drown in the process.

Well, the boat I bought almost a year ago is a Pyranha Inazone 230, designed for "playboating" but capable of being an all-purpose whitewater boat. She has a wide, flat hull, which is great for not tipping over (since it tends to plane or slide off waves), but when she does go over, rolling her back up is – what's the phrase I'm looking for here – a total bitch. So, knowing how to roll my boat seems like a good skill to acquire.

Like dancing, skiing, and wearing leather pants, kayaking is best done by skinny people. Alas, my body shape falls somewhere between a pear and E.T. Sure, I have powerful legs, but a short, stocky frame doesn't always translate to upper body strength, and it sure doesn't lend itself to flexibility. And of course those last two qualities are major plusses for kayaking.

So tonight one of the guys on my floor, one of the aforementioned kayaking studs, convinced me to go to another pool session, the first in months. The last time I went I almost swore off the sport completely. But tonight I got off a couple of clean rolls, and if you can roll an Inazone 230, you can roll any boat out there. I still don't have the C-to-C roll down totally, and without improvement in the flexibility department it won't improve anytime soon. But at least I'm getting a better idea of how the paddle is supposed to move after the initial setup.

And hey! If any of the Dearest Readership has a Dagger Outlaw for sale, I'm willing to trade straight up for my boat.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Michael Berube vs. David Horowitz

This blog has refrained from talking politics since the election, not because of embarrassment about the results (write it down: the pendulum will swing back to the left with a vengeance in another 8-12 years), but because aside from an appointment fiasco here and there, the Bush administration really hasn't done anything too remarkably stupid in its second term. Yet.

So my involvement in political discourse has been limited mostly to the immediacy of my own little world; to private mental exercises like deconstructing the vile, the hilariously inept, and the astonishingly biased.

That said, I love a good rhetorical spat as much as the next person, and I especially love to see right-wing lunatics get their asses handed to them. Or even better, right-wing lunatics getting exactly what they deserve.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

There Are Insane Cats, And Then There Are Well and Truly Insane Cats

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I Know It's Cold Outside, but Could You Please Just Smoke Up in Your Car Next Time?

I had rounds last night, which means walking the beat on each floor every two hours or so. We usually start around 8pm and finish around midnight – and then keep The Cell Phone overnight in case someone gets inspired to practice their golf swing with real balls in the lobby at 3 in the morning.

At 7:55 last night, my rounds partner for the evening knocked on my door. "Come down to my floor for a minute," she said. When we walked off the elevator, she wrinkled her nose and asked, "Smell that?"

I've been more congested than Seattle's I-5 corridor for the past two weeks, so I told her, honestly, that I didn't smell anything. She pointed at a door. "I think it's coming from there. Do you know what pot smells like?" she asked.

Do I know what pot smells like? Why yes, yes I do. I can't differentiate between Humboldt County and Kentucky Funky and Jamaica's finest, but yeah, I know what pot smells like; it smells like a cross between mint and skunk. And I'd rather not get into how or why I know that.

So I sniffed under the door. Sure enough, a skunk had been rolling in a mint patch. Called the cops. The cops arriveth, inspecteth, and hauleth away to jail.

----------------

In other news, I have a quiz in Linguistics today and later get to go to Senior Seminar, in which we will prepare for the midterm exam. Please, God, please let me pass the midterm exam in that class...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Sometimes People Fail Me Too

I just read on CNN.com that Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide yesterday.

Fuck.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I Was to Understand This Semester Would Not Suck

I spent two hours this morning in the coffee shop downtown reading a great novel for my Young Adult Lit class and the better part of the past 8 hours looking up source material - any source material at all - for my research paper on Gaelic in my Linguistics class. Some of you might ask, "Why did you spend 8 hours on a Sunday working on this assignment?" And I might reply, "Because it was due on Friday."

On Friday afternoon I showed up at my Linguistics class with three pages of painstakingly drawn phrase structure trees. I was immensely proud of myself for actually doing homework our professor promised would NOT be collected. Somewhere in my DNA, the genes that control my Protestant work ethic shouted "huzzah!" and had a pint. Then I noticed that other students had that homework done, PLUS a separate packet of papers.

"We only had homework today, right?" I asked the young woman behind me. "There's nothing else due today, right?"

"Um, no. The annotated bibliography for our research paper is due today too," she said. "And it sucks," she added. "It took me, like, six hours to do."

Whoopsie.

So when our professor walked in before class I calmly told her I had it stuck in my craw that the bibliography was due next week. She smiled the way I imagine executioners do. "Just give me what you have," she said. I blinked a few times. She shook her head, bemused. "Can you have it done Monday?" she asked.

After Linguistics I went to my Quantitative Reasoning class, which sounds scary but is actually pretty cool. It's all about assessment methodology and right now we're covering Open Ended Questions - which is simply a fancy term for "essays." At the beginning of class the instructor asked for our homework. Which I hadn't done.

Whoopsie.

Luckily quite a few other people hadn't done it either, so we were all given reprieves until tomorrow.

I'm telling ya, folks, if last semester was a high-speed thrillride on the intellectual autobahn, this semester is a poultry truck rambling down county route 3 with loose lugnuts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

"Bukowski's tigers? Wha...?"

An anonymous friend asks just what in the hell I was talking about in the "Deconstructing the Paul" post when I referred to "feline cousins of Bukowski's tigers."

Charles Bukowski was a poet whose poetry makes me not want to write poetry the same way this guy , this guy, and this guy make me not want to play guitar. I'm not sure what the rules are about republishing someone else's poetry in a blog, so hopefully the people who own the rights to the following poem don't get too pissed and decide to sue me. Better yet, hopefully they read the rest of the blog and offer me a gigantic advance for my debut novel.

------------------------------
For Jane, by Charles Bukowski

225 days under grass
and you know more than I.
they have long taken your blood,
you are a dry stick in a basket.
is this how it works?
in this room
the hours of love
still make shadows.

when you left
you took almost
everything.
I kneel in the nights
before tigers
that will not let me be.

what you were
will not happen again.
the tigers have found me
and I do not care.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Mr. Primrose Goes to Cheyenne

I spent the better part of the morning at a coffee shop downtown, getting some homework done and chewing on the past week's events. As soon as I got back to my hall at around 12:30, a fellow RA grabbed me. He's an education major too. He asked me what I was doing that afternoon, and told me the following story:

There is currently a bill in committee in the Wyoming state senate which pertains to teacher salary increases. The bill passed the house unanimously, but is facing stiff resistance from some members of the subcommittee, one of whom is the representative from my fellow RA's district. This RA's mom is a teacher and had organized a small group of teachers (and one attorney) to come to Cheyenne to talk to this senator, lobbying him simply to let the bill go to the floor – knowing full well he's going to vote against it should that happen. But at least the debate would be given the larger audience instead of being quietly suffocated in committee.

So my fellow RA asked if I could come along as an informal representative of pre-service teachers' interests. This kind of opportunity doesn't come along very often, I reasoned, and fired off an email to my instructor explaining that I would be absent. Off to Cheyenne.

Standing there in the capital, outside the senate doors, I realized how easily I had become a lobbyist; a member of the vilified special interests. Generally I'm against unions and a good bit of the information we got about this bill came from the Wyoming Education Association, so I was a little skeptical. But this seemed reasonable and important. More to the point, it will have a direct impact on my life in another year or so.

The meeting was actually anti-climactic. We let the teachers and the attorney do most of the talking to a state senator who seemed annoyed and a little nervous. I won't go into too many details, but suffice it so say some language in the bill suggests the Attorney General needs to supply an opinion about the bill's constitutionality. Should the bill be deemed constitutional, we may stand a chance of seeing the bill debated in the senate. If that happens, I'll probably try to make it over to Cheyenne to watch the debate live.

After the meeting we had dinner in downtown Cheyenne and just got back a little while ago. It was a pretty long afternoon but I learned a ton and was genuinely interested in watching government at work.

And here I thought the legislative procedure was boring.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I've Learned Something From All This

Obviously, this blog plowed ass-over-teakettle into new territory recently. I took the honesty to an entirely new level which, in retrospect, was probably inappropriate for public consumption. It didn't help matters that I was not articulate enough in explaining the difference between the "breakdown" I had on Wednesday night and the suicidal thoughts I've had in the past. In reading the post, I understand now why some of you were extremely concerned; I think I handled the language pretty clumsily, given why I was writing about it in the first place. More on that in a moment.

Other bloggers I know, who shall remain nameless, post the absolute truth and damn the consequences. As tempting and cathartic as it might be, I can't do that because I don't want to deal with the reactions I'd get. I'm just too damn busy to be untangling emotional hairballs in my spare time, and while I knew writing about suicide would generate reactions, I didn't think it would generate these reactions. The past 48 hours have been what I would consider to be a "correction" not unlike a market adjustment: I pushed a boundary that resulted in a massive response, which itself seemed to snowball. Rest assured this blog will return to its regularly scheduled programming.

The more I think about why I brought up the subject of suicide in the first place, the more I think it was less a choice and more a need. . . but not a need in terms of a "cry for help" or anything like that. The thing is, I've never been honest with anyone about those feelings I had two years ago. And when you're talking about Derrida and the meaning of life and sadness, suicide seems like a logical topic as well. And I've never talked about how agonizing my life was for those last two years at Amazon. And I'm at a place in my life that I'm comfortable sharing that crap, finally. I had to tell someone about it, but perhaps the blog was a bad place to do it. In retrospect it was probably the "overshare" of all overshares.

If you go back and read those passages carefully, you'll see that I refer to being in "stage one" on Wednesday night, with the truly nasty stages being three and four. This is because I edited out some wordy paragraphs about the various stages, but which also provided a bit more reference for what I was experiencing Wednesday night.

Folks, I was nowhere close. Breathe, count to ten, and slowly step away from the drama.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Okay, Seriously, I'm Fine.

See, this is the problem with writing about suicide in your blog.

Thanks for the comments, emails, and phone call. I guess I wasn't clear enough in that last post: I'm doing fine, and last night was not really a big deal at all. In retrospect I'm not even sure why I broached the subject in the first place. Honestly, no bullshit here, I haven't felt unreasonably down or depressed for several months now, and that time (like last night) was a crack in the sidewalk compared to the canyons of despair I used to experience.

Seriously, folks. I'm doing fine.

Onward!

Deconstructing the Paul

Last night I had what poets like to call "a dark night of the soul." It was triggered by a meltdown in my Senior Seminar class, during which we took a quiz on Derrida. I answered a few of the questions as best I could, and halfway through the allotted time put the cap on my pen and turned the paper over. Then I stared at the speckles on the wall for a bit.

During the walk back to my room I conjured up clever and witty ways of slamming the class on the end of term evaluations. "You people are lucky I like the professor," I would write, "because otherwise I would've mounted an armed insurrection by now." Or, "The level of contempt I have for the subject matter in this class is outweighed only by the startling incompetence of the people who decided it should be a requirement for Secondary Ed / English majors." By the time I got to my room, I had shifted tactics: I would send my professor an email in which I would write out my frustrations. After taking her Scottish Literature class last semester, I felt like she could probably handle a pathetic and maudlin bomb in her inbox.

And then I realized that neither of those things would actually resolve the problem. My time at Amazon.com taught me that the discourse around employment is a hell of a powerful tool. It's easy to rile up a "bunch of hourly employees" when the nameless, faceless "management" has made a decision they disagree with. It's much harder – and much more beneficial - to talk about those decisions when you use personal terms like "manager" or "Paul." So basically I couldn't really blame the people who determined core requirements for Secondary Ed / English majors because first of all, they probably knew more about how to prepare teachers than I could possibly fathom, and secondly, I probably knew and liked them personally. No, mostly the meltdown was due to anger and resentment on my part getting in the way of functional thought. So I sent a polite and brief email to my professor asking to set up an appointment. With that taken care of, it was time to address the larger issue.

One of Derrida's trickiest maneuvers is that he is intentionally unclear. The logic behind this is rooted in the shifting center/sign of language (and actually, everything else up to and including existence, as I will address later) and the assured failure of meaning due to that shifting center. Rhetorically it's a pretty admirable trick: he won't come out and tell you what he means because to do so would subvert his position. In my brighter moments I can barely – just barely – get my brain around this. I'm not having one of my brighter moments, so the Dearest Readership will just have to live with the brand of Derrida Lite ("all the French pretension with half the big words," the ad would say) served here.

As did Lacan and others before him, Derrida suggests that we know a thing because of what it is not. That is, we know something IS a laptop computer because it is NOT a pine tree, fan belt, or plastic Wal*Mart bag. The same idea applies to words. The same idea applies to people. Derrida, though, adds that meaning is lost because we are basically collectively negatively defining these concepts, so the "center" slips. Apply this approach to larger centers like government, God, and existence, and suddenly your core of being is called into question.

Which is precisely what happened to me last night.

I've posted before that I've had a good emotional stretch. Last night the stretch ended rather abruptly. I was up until two or so, thinking about the construct of my own meaning. That is, Derrida wants us to look at a text/concept, figure out what assumptions it holds most dear (its "point of insistence"), look for the implicit binary in that point of insistence, and the process of doing so will reveal not meaning, exactly, but rather the process of constructing meaning. So in the throes of insecurity and self-loathing, I listed the things I hold most dear, the things that (I thought) define who I am, and reached a few conclusions: I'm a fraud, the fraud is a choice, but it's the only choice I have. Here I depart from Derrida (or maybe I haven't been anywhere close all along) and write, for once, truthfully.

I am at my core a fraud. I perpetrate and perpetuate this fraud as a way of coping with a set of traits, inherited, learned, assumed, or otherwise gained, that I intensely dislike (and why I dislike them is probably worthy of another post, but we're getting dangerously close to Freud here). I say perpetrate because it is fundamentally an active choice. Here again negative definition comes into play. Throughout my life I have strived, sometimes to the point of distraction, to be different and unique. My parents and various friends on the right side of the political spectrum think this behavior is weird at best, and confusing and even shameful at worst. My friends on the left think I'm a square and more than a little uptight. The thing is, even if I wore mumus and hoop earrings to class, or dressed snappier and shaved, I would be defining myself by what I was not. The image – body image, personality image, belief system image – that I project is neither what I think it is (since everyone else defines me differently) nor quite what I want it to be (since I'm reacting to what I don't want to be, I cannot create exactly what I want).

With me so far? The center of meaning is elusive precisely because we each define it – whatever "it" may be – differently.

This fraudulent image is also perpetuated by behavior in that I do, say, and think things that will protect or sharpen the image.

I wear outdoorsy clothes.
I have a kayak in my room.
I have a blog.
I don't shave very often.
I play guitar.
Lately I've been listening to a lot of Cream and James Gang.
I'm a liberal.

Anyone who interacts with me at all knows or recognizes at least one of these things. At their core each of them is a reaction.

Of course, the fact of the matter is, you don't and can't know me. I can reveal secrets – I really enjoy looking at naked women despite my leftist tendencies and well-rounded feminist upbringing; I don't want to live in the same town as my dad; I still have dreams of playing in a band – but those secrets don't come any closer to truth.

Who I am, and how I define myself, is continually shifting and therefore unknowable. This is a reasonable position and would certainly explain, say, Bob Dylan's electric shift in 1965. But last night I made the mistake of assuming that a created meaning is necessarily an untruthful meaning; that a created image is a worthless one.

And so around 1 AM, the fraudulent Paul had a breakdown. Feline cousins of Bukowski's tigers licked their chops in dark corners. (I can sense some of you, and you know who you are, reaching for the phone. Stop. I'm fine. But you're going to find the next several paragraphs a little unpleasant.)

Suicide is one of those things that you can't talk about without sending people into a panic, which is too bad, because it's a fascinating topic. I've been close to suicide three times in my life, the most recently being almost exactly two years ago. I've identified three stages of suicidal behavior and was well into the third during each experience. That third stage is nasty. It's where you look in the mirror and don't recognize the disheveled person repeating the phrase, "Just fucking do it already... just fucking do it already..." Or maybe you clutch at your hair, curled fetal, repeating the same line. Or maybe the sight and smell of your stuff makes you so angry you claw at your face, and then find yourself lying to your boss the next day about the weird marks.

I'm not kidding. It's not fun. Luckily for me I fell asleep before I could do anything selfish and stupid.

And that reminds me that there's actually a fourth stage: I fell asleep during those nasty moments because when things were at their absolute worst, when I was convinced I was actually going to do it, when I had the means ready to go, a surge of peace literally washed over me. The hair on my neck stood up. I felt a complete and thorough coolness unlike anything I've felt before or since. The only way I can describe it (language always fails us, remember) is a sublime sense of relief. Once you realize that you can kill yourself, that it's an immediate and viable option, the tigers retreat.

Those who have been close probably know the feeling.

Last night I just dipped my toes into stage one for a bit, using language as a weapon against myself, and didn't like it. I don't necessarily blame Derrida or anyone else for pushing me in that direction; personally I think anyone who spends that much time worrying about signifiers is wasting a marvelous opportunity to be having sex or something.

The truth is, despite Lacan's psychosis of language and Derrida's shifting centers, despite Foucault's violence and Saussure's inevitable failure, we try anyway. Fuck those effete assholes. Language is an imperfect system by nature. Gee, thanks, guys. But we already had that.

It's Thursday, I have no classes and a great opportunity to get some studying done. Last night was a blip; today I'm back to where I've been for the past two months. Which is to say: happy, and damn glad I won't be pursuing a PhD in English.

If you've made it this far, congrats. Probably way more than you wanted to know, but then again, it almost always is.

More as I get it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

And the Hits Just Keep on Comin'!

Took a quiz on Derrida tonight.

I won't be getting a 4.0 this semester.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

That Didn't Take Long

An anonymous female friend asks: "So only men are allowed to be Detroit Lions fans? That's just a tad sexist, don't you think?"

To which I reply: No. No it's not. I have never, not once in my life, met a female Detroit Lions fan. Every single Detroit Lions fan I've ever met was male.

All three of them.

Mansick

The last week or so has been less than terrific. I did poorly on my second quiz in Senior Seminar in English, the Eagles lost the Super Bowl, and then on Monday I had a nasty test in my Linguistics class. My vial of magic writer juju was powerless against the dark forces of fact-based fill-in-the-blank questions.

And now I'm sick. At least, I think I'm sick. I'm kind of achy and tired and pissed off at the world. An exgirlfriend used to call this kind of thing "mansick," her theory being that men do not, in fact, even have a working definition of the words "sick" or "pain." I think her argument was rooted somewhere in the idea that women tolerate more aches and pains throughout their lives than men can possibly fathom. To which I would theoretically respond, "Clearly you've never been a Detroit Lions fan. The bruises and cuts from punching walls in frustration are far more painful than menstrual cramps, I assure you."

But I digress.

I had a good two months of happiness going, one of the best emotional stretches in recent memory, and now I'm just generally bummed out about school. I still think I'm still on the right track, but the amount of work I have to do before even getting to step foot in a classroom is discouraging. And now the RA gig is starting to annoy me again. I'm reapplying for next year and am requesting to be placed either in the 21+ hall or on a "quiet" floor in the undergrad halls. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Pushing the Button

When I was first hired as an RA, my boss said it would be a good opportunity for me to learn what behaviors "push my buttons." I hadn't thought of the job in those terms, but on nights like this, the phrase couldn't be more accurate.

We don't allow people to play sports of any kind in our floor lobbies. People can get hurt, for one thing, but the more immediate concern is the noise level. Sound travels in really strange ways in the residence halls, and it doesn't help that the RAs' rooms are right next to the lobbies.

A few minutes ago (a little before 10) I heard the sound of running/heavy footsteps, laughter, and squeals from both sexes. I opened my door and saw one of my residents putting some kind of wrestling move on a young woman I don't know (ours is an all-male floor). A group of about 10 other people were watching and having a grand old time. When I saw this, the first thing that came out of my mouth was, "I know I'm always spoiling the fun, but could you guys take the game of grabass to the basement or something?" It sounds only slightly clever in writing. In person I sounded like a dickhead.

I'm pissed off about this for two reasons. First, I can't seem to get my tone right when disciplining people, especially groups; I sound like an overbearing asshole. Basically I'm the RA you hated when you lived in the dorms. Here it is, five minutes later, and I'm kicking myself for not being more pleasant. So I'm frustrated because I've had many, many, MANY opportunities to get my tone right, but have so far just come off like an uptight prick. Not a good quality in a high school teacher.

Secondly, well, I'm pissed off because it was necessary in the first place. How many times do I have to tell people that 10pm on a Sunday is not an appropriate time to be noisy in the lobby? This, I think, is what scares me the most, that one of my buttons is people who have been told how to behave, repeatedly, but still don't change.

----

Okay. It's 45 minutes later. I just went down to the front desk and talked to some other RAs. It turns out I'm not the only RA who's lost his/her shit with their floor lately. They also pointed out that as a teacher I'll have a bit more power and authority than I do now.

So I can't go to bed with an entirely clear conscience; I still want to work on my approach to group discipline. But at least I don't feel like I'm the only person dealing with dumbass noise issues.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

This Had All Better Be Worth It

I'm more or less getting my ass handed to me in all four of my classes. I got a low B on a quiz in Quantitative Reasoning; a C and low A on quizzes in Fundamentals of Linguistics; and an A- and C- on the Foucault presentation and subsequent quiz in Senior Seminar in English. The only class that I'm truly enjoying is my Young Adult Literature class. Then again, whatever enjoyment I get in that class is balanced by the workload; I read about 700 pages this past Sunday in an effort to simply keep up.

Eah.

In other news, I'm spending more time at a coffeeshop downtown, mostly because it's easier to study there than in my little cinderblock of a room.

Hmm. I just realized that it's Wednesday. A fellow RA claimed he was going to record the West Wing for me, but with the State of the Union and all, I'm guessing that was a pointless endeavor. I should note here that I really prefer the imaginary president to the real one, but I suppose most of you could have guessed that.

Okay. It's Wednesday, and I'm always a little cooked on Wednesday nights. Sleepytime beckons.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I Am a Map Geek

Thus, I share this cool site:

http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/states_experiment_drag-drop_Intermed_State15s_500.html


---------------------------
I got a 98%, but only because of crappy laptop buttons. I mean, Jesus Halliburton Christ, I know where Wisconsin is, okay?