Friday, April 23, 2010

facebook is weird

Or, I suppose, Facebook makes me weird.

I spent too long today Facebook-stalking. Mostly high school classmates.

I'm really weirded out thinking about folks from high school. Though this isn't quite true, it seems now that there wasn't much difference between us then. Less still for those kids I knew from elementary school on. And now, as I peer into their family rooms through the window they left open on Facebook, they just seem so, so different from me. In a way I find excruciatingly painful. (And the fact that it bothers me so, well, that bothers me even more.)

The part that troubles me most, oddly, is that I don't think I would very much care for most of them. They strike me as exceptionally boring people. Formulaic. Caricatures of one sort of middle-aged, middle-class life or another. Suburbanites. People who drive mini-vans, shuttle their kids to dance, watch TV in the evenings, and pour over the pages of IKEA catalogs. And yet, I do all those same things. That is my life, but somehow my life seems worlds away from theirs. Is it? And so I'm left wondering if I'm just as boring. (Though at least I'm not the sort of knee-jerk political conservative an alarming number of these people appear to have become. I mean, in ninth or tenth grade I though the Rush Limbaugh crowd and their politics--if you can call them that--were just terrific. I really did. Then I grew up. What happened to everyone else?)

Even while so many strike me as mind-numbingly uninteresting, you look at these pictures, especially those with families, and they usually look so happy. Their kids look great. Beautiful. Bright. Eager. And so I can't help being happy for them. The kids... Those stinking smiling kids never fail to melt my heart. And if those beautiful, bright, eager children think their parents are the greatest ever, who am I to opine otherwise?

But of course it would be naive to believe they're all happy. Tragedy comes in its various guises. Its experience is ubiquitous, as I often say. "All happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," a passage which I've always taken to be Tolstoy's way of debunking of the myth of happiness (the rest of the novel seems to support that conclusion).

Tolstoy was an interesting person. I think I would have liked to pass some time with that dude.

So I want to talk to these people. People who I don't really know; I only knew the person these people were 18 years ago, and then not well. I want to talk to them either to confirm my hunch (I think) or, joyfully, discover that I'm quite wrong. And why them? Something to do with common experience, I think. They're family, in a sense. So they should understand without explanation. If not really.

On the other hand, I'm too shy, awkward, and judgmental to do it. And of course it just feels ridiculous.

So, because I choose not to act, I'm left only with my thoughts. My fears. And wondering when I'll next get to sit down to the chocolate mousse of a stimulating conversation with engaging people that understand me. Like years ago. When Val and I would sit on the floor, way too late at night, with friends, engrossed in the art of...talking. With no thought of "What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" The world was beautiful in those moments. Even in its tragedy it was breathtakingly beautiful. God was in it. In the words. In the connection between us. In the being overwhelmed with the frightening grandness of it all.

All this, from stupid Facebook. Ai ai ai...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

(thought continued...sort of)


And now, six and a half hours later, I'm reassessing the value of taking risks in the classroom. Try to do cool stuff and you're guaranteed to piss a few people off. A lot. One has to ask: Would it be wiser (I know it would be easier) to be boring? Lecture. Test. Lecture. Test. It's not less than students expect. You'll get called boring. You won't get great reviews. But you're not going to get yelled at either. And you're probably a lot less likely to get shot.

Arrgh. In this business I'm not sure fortune favors the bold...

rules for radicals

I was just rereading the first chapter of "Rules for Radicals," which I assigned on Monday in conjunction with an exercise we did in class. Today, we'll debrief the exercise and discuss the reading.

I've read this chapter probably a dozen times over the past decade, but today it seems particularly profound.

Presently I'm struck by the fuzzy truthfulness (fuzzy, because all good truth is fuzzy) of Alinsky's disdain for dogma. (You can almost here him muttering--ok, it's me muttering an imaginary, utterly fabricated Alinsky--an imitation of the Prince of Cats: "Dogma? Dogma. I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues.") From page four:

"Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice."

Alinsky follows this up with a quote (context unknown) from Justice Learned Hand.

"[T]he mark of a free man is that ever-gnawing inner uncertainty as to whether or not he is right."

I feel good about that sentiment, whether the context is political ideology, religious conviction, or an opinion about program planning in an university academic department. It sits right with me perhaps because I have learned to be suspicious of certainty. Deep professions of "I know" immediately turn me off. Why not I believe, I feel, or I think?

(I think) we would be a healthier and more civil society if we were quicker to acknowledge our doubts. But to be uncertain is so uncomfortable...

I'm also struck by Alinksy's observation that our collective reverence for revolutions of the past contradicts our enacted passion for the status quo. (An apt description of the uninspiring rhetoric that seems to guide the modern Republican party. Full disclosure: I'm no Democrat, but it's hard to imagine ever voting for a Republican.) That contradiction is perhaps nowhere more powerfully exemplified than a university campus. Universities are full of young, energetic, potentially interesting people with potentially interesting ideas. So much passion and optimism. At the same time universities are bastions of traditionalism. They are the archetype of institutionalism.

And now it's time to go to class. So, mid-thought, it's over...

shell shock

Click on the photo to get a closer look at that eye...and the expression, which telegraphs...what? Resignation? Yes, I think something like that.

And how about that number plate, eh?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

my weekend's trophy (the michaux mash)

I've written about it elsewhere (and other elsewheres), but in order to archive the (now over-told) story I'm posting it here as well.

If you read all three blogs...well, I guess you're just that awesome.


A snapshot view of the trophy I took home this weekend:

This picture was taken after I got all cleaned up, obviously. Immediately after the injury it was much more exciting. My eye socket was completely filled with blood, I had sweet blood streaks down my cheek, and I've still dark red splatter spots sprinkled on my top and down tubes. My DNA is everywhere.

The story: Went to play on Saturday in Zach's Michaux Mash--a four-hour mountain bike race on a nine-mile loop of Michaux's worst (that's not true--there is much, much worse). For those that don't know, endurance mountain bike events are often timed. Riders try to run as many laps as possible within the time limit. The rider with the most laps wins. Or the rider that finishes the most laps in the least amount of time wins.

My accident occurred after I went over the bars in a particularly rough section of trail just 30 minutes in. Scraped up helmet, broken sunglasses, slightly dented top tube, and a cut on the forehead. I immediately began bleeding everywhere. I had to take a few minutes to stop the bleeding and assess how bad I was hurt. After five or six minutes the cut stopped bleeding, I felt ok--if maybe just a little deflated--so I figured I'd soldier on. I rode another 3 1/2 hours and finished (I think) 10th in the under 40.

The gash above my eye was cool and all, but through the course of the ride I also rubbed the tip off my left nipple. (Sorry, no photo.) Frankly, that hurt a lot more. Couldn't hardly shower afterward, the pain of water spraying on my chest just a little more than I could bear.

I love bike racing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

what a day... terms of the weather. Wow.

If I were a student, I'd spend the entire day outside playing volleyball, guzzling ice-cold Cokes, and napping under trees. Repeat. Repeat again.

One of the biggest disappointments about growing up is that my peers just don't like to play as much as they used to. When you're ten, the kid who doesn't want to come over for a game of backyard football is the odd ball. When you're 35, the guy who does want to is the odd ball.

Growing old sucks...if only because you have to spend so much time with other old people. Stay young, my friends. There's devilry in maturity.