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Sunday, March 25, 2012

"What is it that we're living for?"

I was told recently that I say too much and it isn't interesting. Well, okay, maybe it's not, not everyone is interested in what I say, just like I'm not interested in everything someone says to me. The point was, I should just say whatever I feel compelled to say in six words or less, thus leaving room for the person I'm telling to story to room to drone on and on and on about the entire list of every single person that has said "hello" to him (or her) in a particular two hour period, what subway station they were standing in when someone said "hello" to them, the tone of the speakers voice, their sex, how wide their smile was and did the person who said "hello" acknowledge the people the person telling the infinite loop of a story to me was with.

So. that being said, don't start me on Dick Cheney's heart transplant.  I'm kind of surprised that the story is about his new heart though. I would think that the medical miracle of someone surviving 71 years without a heart would be the bigger headline.  Moving on...

It's two weeks to Easter and I should be spring cleaning. Instead I'm spending a rather cold and soon to be rainy week-end driving to school plays.  Interesting thing, that - I don't have kids in any of the schools on the agenda, I never had kids in them, so it's not an alumni solidarity thing.  

Last night we were at a production of "The Wizard of Oz" which was put on by a parochial school's Drama Club. My older son is on their play staff though, so there WAS a connection. My LORD...we were treated like royalty. My older son and I were given tickets, gratis, and sat in reserved seats in the third row. I was initially annoyed because no one in the audience would shut up once the show started, and it was a charming, and in may ways innovative show.

But I realized, about the time Dorothy wandered into Munchkin land, that this  was a SCHOOL production. The auditorium was filled with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and cousins, each and every one of whom was more excited to see their loved one on that stage than the performer themselves was to BE on the stage. We clapped in time to "We're Off To See The Wizard," I stopped glaring at people with flash cameras and tuned out the families whispering to one another about their kid up there on the stage.

I thought back to those times I saw my own kids up there on the stage of a school auditorium and how I felt - much like that scene at the end of "The Music Man" where a bedraggled Prof. Hill finally conducts the worst version of "The Minuet In G" known to man and a parent jumps up and yells "THAT'S MY BOY!" It was kind of odd be have no dog in this fight but it was also really cool listening to those who did. My own connection was unseen, calling light and sound cues in the back and, I've got to say, it was really an eye opener for me to see him before the show, outside (looking for us, btw) dressed in black with a headset on, talking to three people at once and being, for all intents and purposes, a professional - and a man, not my kid. That's one big WOW, I've got to say.

The kids were marvelous. I enjoyed watching them surreptitiously kicking an extra ruby slipper off stage, passing it from one one foot to another until they got it to Glinda, who stepped forward slightly and covered the wayward shoe with her voluminous skirt and sending it to sights unseen with a mighty kick. The Wicked Witch's broom broke in two, she nonchalantly picket up both pieces and carried them with her until she melted most convincingly.   Dorothy asked for, and received the broom from the flying monkey who handed it to her with the line "of course you can have it. Here, take both pieces."

And, as Dorothy clicked her heels for the third time, the sound of a familiar ukelele riff started through the speakers, the characters on stage stood quietly while the Wizard came forward and starting singing "Over The Rainbow" to the chart that because so popular a few years ago - the Hawaiian one. And the entire cast silent, in small groups, came from all over the audience to join him on the stage and then joined in the song and we all picked up the rhythm and clapped along  and, for a crowd that was about 50% white we didn't do bad either. They came up with an end to get Dorothy back to Kansas without any pyrotechnics and give the Wizard a song of his own and it was innovative, sincere and absolutely delightful.

My son (among others) was called up on stage for recognition, thanks and the presentation of mementos. They call him the "gentle giant" (he's 6'9") and in all the crowd on the stage he managed to get the microphone to himself in order to thank his crew by name. I couldn't have been prouder and I momentarily wondered who in the hell had raised him to be so amazing. I decided there's a lot more luck than skill involved in raising kids.

So this afternoon we head out to the West Valley again, a high school out there is doing "Fiddler On the Roof." My son knows some kids in the cast, he works with them in a summer program. This is the same school that did such a bang up job on "Barnum!" last year and I expect this to be just as good.

Yesterday we noticed that the private high school down the street was doing "The Drowsy Chaperone" this week-end and we tried to get tickets for their last show tonight but, alas for us and good for them, it's sold out.  We don't know ANYBODY at that school, even peripherally.  We just thought it would be cool to go.

What a joy it is to see the arts still in some schools. School is a miserable experience, I never really understood reunions, who want's to relive THAT (and yes, I go to mine, God knows why I hope because I sure don't).  But put a kid in a plastic hat and stand him on a stage and he comes to life. I don't believe only nice kids join the drama club, I truly believe that the drama club (and the choirs and the art and pottery classes and the band and the orchestra and all the rest) MAKE them nice kids. it gives them focus and accomplishment and, damn it, we ALL need someone out there cheering for us. 

When it comes right down to it, we don't need Prozac. What we really need, is applause.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Things undone...

My father in law died last year. No, this isn't news, nor is the the self centered manner in which his family handled the incident news. Even if I hadn't railed on and on about it, well, it's been almost 8 months. now.

My husband's cousin came down though, from the Pacific Northwest. I thought he might because, even though there was a LOT of bad blood between my FIL and his sisters, his sisters would never consider not telling their children (the hubster's cousins) what was, or was not going on, nor would they encourage their kids to attend, or not attend. Basically, they're totally cool people and I've always adored them. They treat me nice.  They have a sense of family.

My FIL used to talk all the time about how important family is/was, and his wife did the same. It was pretty much lip service, neither of them meant a word of it and I have no idea why they went on about it. I'm guessing it's because they were Italian and felt it was expected, my FIL practiced business in a way that world normally result in jail time, the only reason he didn't end up in the slammer is because his sisters didn't prosecute. And for this, my step MIL calls them names. I dunno, maybe it's some sort of Sicilian thing, we're Irish. And some German-I come from a long line of beer drinkers, all of whom are spoiling for a fight.  I will give the devil his due though, my FIL WOULD invite people into his home, he showed up for every play and graduation he was invited to and was always a warm and friendly host to those he was even remotely related to (which included my parents) or those he thought might pick up the check. He might badmouth you after you left but I was okay with that, it's what families and a lot of friends do. Does anyone think that the car ride home from their place was filled with our conversation about the newest Apple products?

His sisters (the ones who didn't prosecute and probably should have) are warm, friendly people, their husbands are warm, friendly people and all of their children are warm, friendly people. So much so that, when the hubster's cousin found us after the Funeral Mass and I mentioned  that I'd be right back, I was going to walk out with my father,  he said "Your dad? I've never met him...I'd like to." Now there's no reason my husband's cousin would want to meet my father but that's the kind of people they are. Su familia is mi familia. I'm really comfortable with this because that's the way it worked in my family too. When someone brought new blood in it came with sisters and brothers and parents and all kinds of people attached. The more the merrier was our motto, especially if we were holding a pot-luck.

This morning we found out that the hubster's cousin...not the one who flew down, but his sister, had died in her sleep. She was WAY too young for this, 12 years younger than the hubster in fact. It was a shock and I wondered why, when this happened on Sunday, we were just finding out today, too late to make the 15 hour drive in time for tomorrow's funeral and too broke to get a flight.

Well, it seems, I WAS sent an email, on Monday. BUT it went to an old email address, one I never use anymore and seldom check because it's full of junk like Payless Shoe Source ads. The hubster wasn't on the email list and I have no clue why he was missed, because he was on the address list when the brief email with her obituary came in late yesterday. In times of loss and other things, sometimes things get dropped or missed. I understand.  

Now, wouldn't one think that, in the wake of news that is shocking to say the least, that my self centered, egotistical, manipulative SIL would have at least sent a freaking EMAIL to the hubster asking if anyone was going, were we sending flowers, etc?  Because, while she refuses to speak to ME because I had the temerity to tell her that she did a crappy thing when she posted my FILs interment on her FACEBOOK page and never bothered to notify the hubster, which is fine with me. The not speaking part, not the interment part. But she actually sent him a handwritten note a few months ago, we're guessing she wanted something, in which she mentioned that one of her daughters was presenting her with a granddaughter this coming April. My point is that a) she tried to establish some sort of contact with him and b) she hasn't "unfriended" HIM on Facebook, which is what she did to ME, as did both my nieces (no doubt on command from Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Entitlement).

Now, one COULD say that she was waiting for the hubster to do the same but well, she's NOT stupid, she knows better. Not only that, she can read (she can't spell but that's another problem). She knew, just as I did, that her brother was NOT addressed in the email. And anyway, what if he was? There was a death in the family for God's sake...this is the time you pick up the phone, or pull up the email address book.

I squinched some out of my paycheck and am sending flowers, and it just isn't enough but, well, I don't really know what else to do. IF I left NOW we would have to drive all night to make tomorrow morning's service and, well, yeah, not gonna happen because, believe me, I would have left yesterday and splurged on a Motel 6 last night had I knows.

There's no moral to this story. No one's going to change. My SIL will continue to be a selfish brat who considers her daughter's pregnancy a gift for HER instead of a joyous event in the life of someone else. I should have updated my email addresses and clean out that box more often. The cousin should have taken a second to read over the addresses of the people he wanted to contact. My SIL should have stopped being a petty bitch and acted like a member of a family for a change...there's not a fight in history that couldn't survive a cease fire (except, possibly, the Tet Offensive).

But a warm and lovely lady suddenly took her leave, for reasons unknown. Her 3 children, her brother, her cousins and friends and her parents remain behind. I so want to be there, to show then how much I care for them, but a string of little things was knotted with an act of pettiness and I'm left to order flowers over the Internet.

How sad it is that people spend so much time doing crap like ironing the ribbons they use on gift packages that they miss the value of the gift itself.  I was actually considering sending the woman an email, but I have no idea what to say..."So sorry to hear of the loss of your cousin. Shame we didn't know about it..." probably won't go over well...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"...cabbage with a college education."

It's no secret that I'm chafing at the neck and every other place with regards to the classes I'm taking this semester. I have spent no small amount of soul searching trying to determine if I'm old and set in my ways. Just because I've adopted the annoying habit of using the work "Dude" every now and then doesn't necessarily mean that I'm adaptable.

It's taken me three weeks to figure out what's wrong and to understand why I'm pushing back. A teacher on my Orientation to College class has us blogging about how to do research. Because using Google to find things on line isn't enough. You have to use Google advanced search, because, apparently, we're not capable of reading the list of items that come up and figuring out which one pertains to the subject and that the one that says "Find Leprechaun sex at" probably isn't going to help you much. One has to explain ones thought processes and the steps one took on ones research that led one to eliminate as a source for a definitive social analysis of Leprechaun sex.

The teacher demands proof of search paths, notes taken during the search and, my favorite, a description as to what, exactly, we expect to find as we continue researching our topic, a topic, btw, we were assigned to pull out of our asses. Pick a topic then do a research paper on it. I about the high cost of textbooks?

But that's when it hit me...'WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO FIND?"

Information isn't specific enough. Knowledge, in and of itself, is considered worthless, it no longer has value because of it's own worth. The journey is of no importance here as long as it takes you to one, and only one place. Let's face it, if I knew what I was going to find, I wouldn't bother going there. Unless it's something like the bathroom tissue aisle at the super market, in which case, knowing what's at the end of your path is, most likely, beneficial to the max.

No...this is something deeper. I call it tunnel vision. It's the way students are being educated today. Pick one thing and learn about it. Know what you will have when you're done. There is one road and only one road, it goes to your goal and no where else. You know how kids (and by kids I mean people under 40, no offense) are always excusing their ignorance to announcing "that was before my time"? As in "This 1942 Academy Award winning Best Picture set in North Africa was originally cast with Ronald Reagan and Ann Sheridan" and, after standing and drooling for 5 seconds Alex finally says "Casablanca" and someone says "oh, I wasn't born in 1942." Really? That's an acceptable excuse?

Contrary to popular rumor I was NOT in the crowd when Anne Boleyn was beheaded - but I've heard about it.  Actually, there wasn't much of a crowd at all, Anne was gifted a private execution. Some gift. Know why I know this? I read about it. I was curious about something about Anne Boleyn and came across that fact. I also came across the extremely creepy fact that executioners held the heads of beheaded people up to the crowd so that the executed could look upon their accusers because it takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 seconds for the brain to know it's missing everything else. Yeah, I know, it's gross. Just thought I'd share.

Last semester I did a paper about John Steinbeck. I LOVE Steinbeck, always have. Well, the class was a literature class and my idea for the paper would have leaned heavily on the Great Depression. Well, when I was starting to do the research, I asked for (and got) an appointment to spend a morning in the archives at the Steinbeck Center. I was unbelievably stoked. I took vacation and spent money we didn't have. I spent two days in Pacific Grove, where Steinbeck had lived before he discovered he'd rather live in New York. Actually he lived in Pacific Grove because he discovered he would rather live ANYPLACE except Salinas, which makes the Steinbeck Center's location smack in the middle of Salinas a textbook definition of irony.

Anyway, I spend hours with papers in the archives. I spend hours wandering around the streets of Monterey and Pacific Grove, passing places the man passed, the house he lived in, the house his friend Ed Ricketts lived in, walking Cannery Row and going into Salinas, not by the freeway, but by the small, old highway that had been used to link the peninsula to the Central Valley for a hundred years. I wondered how many people wander that area and never think of John Steinbeck and how many people sense his presence every day. I went to the cemetery and visited his grave.

And when I finally sat down to put the paper together, sans any outline but for the compass in my head, I found so many intersections on the road to the Depression. There were turns and side streets and, eventually, as I was writing, I came to a fork and, as many times as I tried to take the road that would lead to my initial destination I finally gave up and followed the one that kept tugging at me, and my paper. I abandoned the Grapes of Wrath (to a degree, one can't do Steinbeck and ignore the book) and went back, years earlier, to a younger Steinbeck and a series of newspapers articles that just seemed to get under my skin.

That paper was some of the hardest work I've even done, my family can attest to my being a raging bitch during the week I wrote it. It was also some of the most rewarding. My professor, apparently, thought so too, out of a possible 200 points I got 199. I typed "of" instead of "to" and didn't catch it, there were a few misplaced commas as well.

The point of all this is that, by insisting papers be mapped out in detail before they are written, by stifling writers voices in favor of a non distinct style, in judging the framework instead of the content, in ignoring the words in favor of the placement of the indentations, in expecting, no demanding that the journey and the destination be mapped out in detail and the path never strayed from, the experience is lost and we're producing graduates with no knowledge of anything except their own field. People are perfectly comfortable defending their ignorance with the airy "that was before my time" excuse.

Years ago, economics majors had to learn history, being an accountant was no excuse to not know that Wellington trounced Napoleon at Waterloo.  A degree in literature did not preclude understanding that an object in motion tends to remain in motion and social science majors read "Twelfth Night"  - but no longer. Our colleges and universities are all just glorified Trade and Tech School, requiring a map for graduation, one set in stone with no stopping by the side of the road to read the historical markers allowed. There are no changed in itinerary allowed, and travel at one's on time can get you an "F" in spite of worth at the end of the journey.

No longer is a student ALLOWED to work at their own pace, they must work at the pace mandated by the classroom, and turn in weekly proof of that pace. I knew, and still know, people who do their best work only when the deadline looms large. This is not acceptable now, adequate work done at a pre-determined pace is preferable by far to brilliant work done during an all nighter. Soon no one will know that poor Anne Boleyn was railroaded, or that she was beheaded by a specially imported French swordsman who distracted her by rustling the hay strewn over the platform.  They will only know how to write software.

One of my favorite quotes is from Plutarch: "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted." Sometimes "lighted" is translated to "kindled" or "ignited." That's the problem with Latin. But I like "lighted" it's the way I first heard it. Schools are now just  filling vessels. Cram stuff in, fill it up and move them out. Where is the room for imagination, excitement, individuality, creativity? No wonder higher education has become a chore - a backbreaking, tedious, exhausting chore.  No wonder we're becoming a country of dull, overworked people.

Education is taking the easy way out. And we are all poorer for it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Try a little tenderness

The hubster and I aren't speaking right now. It won't last long, he'll need something and act like every thing's just hunky dory. My mother used to do that. She would go off on something, stop speaking and two days later start up a conversation as if she had never acted like an ass and nothing had happened.

It's popular to say women marry their fathers but that's a crock. They marry their mothers. My father picks up after himself. He takes responsibility for himself and he willingly volunteers to help people when he can. He's got faults, Lord knows, he listens to Rush Limbaugh and that's not the half of it. But, on the whole, he's a fairly decent guy, except when he was divorcing my mother but, from what I gather, 98% of decent people turn into Bernie Madoff when they get divorced so, not that I forgot it but it's not unusual for the circumstances.

When my father retired, he had to downsize. He moved to the week-end place on the mountains, which he loved. He didn't have nearly as much room and he got rid of a LOT of stuff. When we lost the house, he told me that it was hard to downsize when he did it but he was glad now. He didn't get rid of anything really important to him and he discovered all the crap he had been keeping wasn't nearly as important as keeping a roof over his head, being able to have friends, being able to walk in and be clean and comfortable. And now he can't even remember what he got rid of because, in the long run, tangible things just aren't all that important. Reading the latest Ken Follet novel is great, and passing it on to someone else, or donating it to the local thrift store so someone ELSE can read it is also great.

My mother, on the other hand, had no idea what to do with the people who loved her so she treated us like crap. She used us, ignored us and manipulated us. I was her cook, her housekeeper, her chauffeur, her bookkeeper, her mechanic, her plumber and her business manager. She was a child who continually turned to me to make her decisions for her. "I never learned how to do this stuff, your father always did this, I can't learn now, I'm too old." She was 64 when she died, btw. She was too old to do her own grocery shopping but she didn't even qualify for freaking Medicare! She was a lousy housekeeper (but still better than my MIL and the hubster) and she had a garage full of boxes of carefully packed crap - my grandmother's slips.  Seriously...she had a box full of her mother's slips. She didn't even like her mother.

In many ways, I married her and I think that's why the hubster and my mother hated each others guts - and don't think they didn't. They were SO alike. The hubster was in Vegas when she died and told me he wasn't going to bother to come back a day early for her funeral, he had lunch reservations with some business friends that day and he and my mother didn't like each other anyway. I called his father who said "I'll take care of it." My FIL called me back about 10 minutes later and said "He'll be there." His father had called him in Vegas and told the hubster that he needed to shag his ass home for his MILs funeral, she was his sons' Grandmother and it was just the right thing to do. The hubster called me 10 minutes later and gave me his new flight number. He also maintains, to this day, that HE just thought it over and decided it was the right thing to do, which is bullshit. His father yelled at him. Whatever.

I have a VERY long fuse. But I have a fuse and, eventually, it reaches the gunpowder. And last night it did. I have been spending the last few months doing nothing but driving people all over the face of the freaking earth because no one else in my family has a drivers license. We have ONE car. It was the one the hubster drove until his license got suspended for not paying his speeding tickets and he decided that it would be easier to turn his license in and just get an I.D. than to take a bus downtown, wait in line at the courthouse and get a court date so he could work his problem out. But, of course, we had to keep THAT car and not mine, mine being, well, mine.

I have spent 18 months getting the car we still have straightened out. The registration hadn't been paid in three years, that took a while. The hubster seems to think that registering the car is an option and he apparently likes paying 100% penalties on it because it's his way of donating to the State.  Then there was insurance, it needed new tires and still needs to be aligned and tuned up. But now it's up and going. And so am I.

I pick people up and drop people off. The hubster has developed a habit of saying not to worry, he's going to take a bus and then sitting there staring at me while the bus went by 15 minutes earlier and saying "I thought you were going to give me a ride." And, as the buses in this area run every six hours or so, I end up giving him the damn ride so he won't be late to what is usually a party. For the last two weeks he has been on a project to move a dozen large boxes from the house of the person who has been storing them for him because the guy, unreasonably, told him to get that crap out of his place. A dozen large boxes of...wait for it...VHS tapes. Do you know anyone who even HAS a VHS player anymore? Me neither. But they're genre tapes and, of course, GOLD. We HAVE to move them. AGAIN. We've been moving them from place to place for THREE years now, because no one wants them. No one. He's convinced they should go to a museum. You the sci-fi museum and say "hey, I have 600 sci fi movies on VHS and I bet you want them real bad." Um, no. Said museum doesn't answer his email. He takes this as a reason to continue to lug these boxes around. I take this is an in "hell no, we don't want your old tapes."  No one wanted my grandmother's slips and no one wants VHS.

Every few days I get this "oh, I'm enlisting a friend to help, you don't need to do anything" and then tells me "We have to go to Joe's tonight for those boxes" because his friends don't call him back and offer to move those damn things either. So we go to Joe's and stuff boxes in the back of the car. We can't put as many in as might fit because they might touch the headliner and we can't have that. We have to then drive around with the boxes in the car and the back seats folded up and out of commission until I'm told to drive them  20 miles west and help carry them into the office of someone to babysit them, someone who, quite obviously doesn't WANT them in his office but does the hubster pick up on the message?

Then we do this all over again. Last night, we pick up MORE boxes. BUT I have to pick up the kids so we have to take boxes out so I can use the back seat again and we have no room to put them because, even though we can't pay the rent we have to maintain two full storage units because the hubster doesn't see downsizing as an option..Then we go back for the last boxes and do it again. And again. Hauling boxes 20 miles out and back.

Anyway, last night, it was 7:15 and I'm off work at six and hadn't been home yet. I drop off the hubster and leave to help a friend jump a car then then I have to go to the store and get something for dinner, go home, cook, do the dishes, give someone else a ride to the west valley and I tell him this and the hubster says "Okay. See you later."

NO! It is NOT "okay". It is NOT okay for me to work until six and then not get home until 8 and start cooking dinner because no one ever stops to think that maybe, just MAYBE, they're taking advantage of me. It is NOT okay that I'm living in a place where the carpet gets vacuumed only when I do it and I'm expected to spend my evenings doing it- and doing dishes and robbing Peter to pay Paul and trying to work in homework and worrying about the rent. It is NOT okay that I come home at lunch to find the sink full of dirty dishes and the hubster in his pajamas. It is NOT okay that I'm expected to rent extra storage for CRAP he hasn't looked at in over three years. It is NOT okay that the cupboards in the bedroom are filled to the brim with old magazines and newspapers that are still in their protective plastic mailing wrappers and have been that way since we MOVED! It is NOT okay that I have 1/3 of the closet because the hubster refuses to put his clothing on anything except wood hangars while mine stuff is crammed into three ween of slimline hangars. It is NOT okay that I come home to an unmade bed and five foot piles of dirty clothes all over and I'm expected to take it all to the laundromat after work. It is NOT okay that he spends the 2 hours  a day he's not playing games on his laptop flopped on the love seat watching yet another effing rerun of "CHOPPED". It is NOT okay to complain you need a haircut if I mention I need a haircut. It is NOT okay that the carpet is full of black spots where the cat pees and no one ever cleans it except me. It is NOT okay that we can't get to the windows to open them because of all the boxes piled up in front of them and it it NOT okay for me to keep hauling it to an unrewarding job while everyone else sits around waiting for something that is suitable for their skills. It is NOT okay that the vacuum and the carpet cleaner sit in the living room because the closet is full of shopping bags and souvenir t-shirts from conventions that were supposed to bring in work and brought in bills instead.

This attitude, btw, is what the hubster feels is irrational hostility on my part and thus the current lack of communication which, I know, will thaw the minute he needs something.

Does anyone ever do something just BECAUSE anymore?  Does anyone ever stop and say "hey, she's working 40 hours a week, wouldn't it be nice for her to come home and not smell the litter box?"  No, it's basically, wait as long as possible and don't do it until she finally loses her temper and does it herself and then complain about her losing her temper.

That song is right, you know. I do get tired wearing the same worn out clothes day in and day out. I get tired fighting with this mop of hair, it hasn't been cut in months. I get tired not being able to have a manicure every now and then. I'm tired of using the six year old glasses I'm still wearing.

We had our picture taken for a magazine last year. The stylist let us keep some clothes. The hubster, instead of being happy to have new clothes for free, bitched that she hadn't given him the shirt he really liked. So I found the shirt he really liked and bought it and gave it to him for Christmas. I finally shook it out and hung it up a few weeks ago, price tags still attached. 

And that's the way THAT goes...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I have walked 500 miles...

Actually, I've driven 200 miles - and that was just yesterday. Know where it got me? Back home.  It always gets me back home and, as of late, I find this rather dispiriting. Home consists of antiquated electronics, brown carpet, broken down brown furniture, a sink full of dishes and a bedroom full of laundry. Home is where the cat pees on the base of the coat rack. It's where I spend my week-ends, the two days off I get after putting in five days at a mind numbingly unrewarding job, doing laundry and cooking and cleaning the fridge and shuttling my family back and forth across the state because I'm the only one who drives.

This, btw, may not look like a thesis statement, but it is. 

It's also the time I spend doing inane homework assignments for idiotic online professors who think no one managed to get past 2nd grade. One of this weeks assignments? Pick a topic, do a google search on it and find a reliable source to use as part of a research paper. Explain how you applied what you've learned in this course so far to your decision to eliminate as a reliable source and no, using your brain doesn't count, you really need to learn how to use this weeks mnemonic: CRAAP.  Because eliminating Rush based on your previously gleaned knowledge of Rush and your intuitive assessment that his recent comment describing a young adult woman who is in favor of her health insurance covering birth control methods as a "slut" and a "prostitute" doesn't really qualify him as a reliable source on much of anything doesn't meet the course criteria for effective research.

Next: Go to the school library and search your topic. Look at an online paper and then check out a book on your subject. This should take up to 90 minutes, so plan accordingly. Well, okay but I guess that means I'll have to return the books I checked out for the LAST research paper I did so I can start all over the learn how to use a library.  That was the research paper that brought me to the Central Valley of California, to Salinas, to the National Steinbeck Center, to a rainy morning in the archives with files everywhere, pictures everywhere, information everywhere and two hours with the Center's Volunteer Archivist, a fascinating and friendly man named Herb who says he's "not a Steinbeck scholar" but, for my money, is selling himself short. This is the paper that was 4500 words and I had to force myself to stop, the paper I eventually want to expand into a thesis, a dissertation and a book, the paper that was supposed to be about Steinbeck and the Great Depression and ended up being about Steinbeck the journalist because I became completely immersed in a series of newspapers articles I previously was only vaguely aware even existed.

But only if I can master checking books out of a library first. Oh, and learning how to write, I have been informed I have no "writer's voice" and my grammar and vocabulary are atrocious and need improvement and it would "behoove" me to learn these methods of study. In the first place, Syllabus is so badly worded it takes two readings to figure out what, exactly, the guy means, he uses WAY too many articles and words like "behoove." I'm not Steinbeck, but dude, I'm better than THAT. Perhaps this is what age brings, the arrogance to say things like "I'm better than that."

I'm also becoming impatient with rudeness and elitism, which brings me back to yesterday and the 500 miles. Okay, I exaggerate, it was more like 200.  I plowed through horrendous traffic with a car load of young people and dropped them off at Disneyland. Or, as it's now known, the "Disney Resort in California as opposed to the really big Disney Resort in Florida." I shoved them out of the car and burned rubber getting out of there. I drove down Katella to Beach and then turned toward Knott's Berry Farm. Okay, it's not a berry farm anymore, I know. Well, I swung into the entrance, past the ticket booths and past the left turn toward the paid parking lot, which is just fine with the people at Knott's. I slowly cruised past the Marketplace and, seeing that the parking on the curbs was full, went about 20 feet past the stores, turned left into a parking lot where the first three hours is free to enable one to take advantage of the things that made Knott's what it is. I walked under the big, wooden roller coaster, crossed the small, basically access street and went into the "Chicken to Go" door where I ordered a small bucket of Mrs. Knott's fried chicken, some homemade biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy and a boysenberry pie. These are the things that made Knott's what it is today, btw, I remember as a little girl seeing the commercials for Cordelia Knott's Restaurant on television, they didn't take reservations and the wait was usually three hours or more. The theme park sprung from the wait, the Knotts family started to put up stuff, like the old ghost town, to give people something to do while they waited for dinner.

I poked around the "Emporium" which is full of the stuff one would expect to find in an establishment called "The Emporium" - in short, this area, open to the public and readily accessible to anyone without purchasing a ticket offers pretty much everything the theme park has, except rides.

It's customer friendly, it's accessible to the neighborhood. People were popping in for chicken to go, for jams and jellies, for biscuits and pancake mix, pulling out and going about their Saturday business. I pulled out of my free parking space and headed home with my dinner, just me and the hubster for the first time in years. The drive got me thinking. Thinking about the kids at Disneyland, the place where it costs a C Note to get in the gate. And the elitist pass holders that populate it now, the customers who claim that going there is a "privilege" and that if your not special enough you shouldn't complain. No, I'm not making this up, I could quote, chapter, verse and writer, the people who have said this, and then some. I have seen people post, in great detail, why Disneyland is SO special and wonderful and basically restricted to the rich that no one should even THINK of complaining that Disneyland considers 9 year olds ADULTS and, if said 9 year olds family wants to provide that 9 year old with an annual pass that enables him or her to enter the park with their family on Christmas day then that 9 year olds pass should include parking, just like all the other special adults who enter that special hell called "Disneyland". Downtown Disney, an area of overpriced restaurants and charming shops which will make up your 4 year old like a streetwalker and sell you a $300 sun hat does provide three hours of free parking. The last time we availed ourselves of it we waited in the exit line for almost 20 minutes while the attendant tried to fix his broken ticket machine. While we waiting in this backed up line 80% of us watched our three free hours tick over the 3 hour mark and we all were forced to pay for the overage upon exit.

This, I was told, is perfectly acceptable because it's a privilege to to to Disneyland and be treated like CRAAP. Because only the best people are allowed in, you know. if I didn't like being stuck in a line that's run like a drive thru window where no exit is possible, well, I should leave an hour earlier to avoid problems like this. Which, to give the devil his, or her. due isn't beyond the realm of possibility because there's not much to DO in Downtown Disney except go broke. Free parking ain't really free, you know. Not only that, you can't even buy a churro out there, for that you have to shell out for admission. Disney used to offer a "shopping pass" - you gave them your credit card and the gave you an hour in the park, so you could go in and buy stuff. If you went over your hour they charged your card for the price of a ticket. That was eliminated years ago though. Too many people were buying stuff on Main Street while their kids took a quick ride on "Pirates of the Caribbean" and exiting the park within 60 minutes.  This made the guest feel welcome while Disney felt a missed opportunity for the price of admission. Nipped THAT in the bud.

This is why I buy fried chicken from the late Mr. and Mrs. Knotts. They're happy to sell me chicken and biscuits and say "see you next time" as you walk out. Disney says "Thank you and enjoy your trip home to Kansas, thanks for the extra coin."

And now I have an essay to write, laundry to do, a carpet to clean, a drain to unclog and dinner to cook. But I DO have a bucket of cold fried chicken for lunch. Now THAT'S  a week-end. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Idle Hours...

About a year ago I began to get the feeling that I needed to do more with my life. This, granted, is hardly the world's most original thought but I was beginning to be bothered by the fact that I hate my job and had little, if anything else to fill my time and was starting to while away the hours maintaining an online farm. Now, granted, once I made level 38 and was able to buy and plant grapes I turned my farm into a vineyard, complete with a French Chateau, but I think you get the point.

I decided I needed a new, modern a go-go degree. I was in college back in the early 70s. I watched my kids going off to college and realized they don't use quills and inkwells anymore and thought, well, okay, maybe I'm stuck at an unrewarding job because I'm just antiquated. So, armed with my online expertise I found a school that was actually accredited, has an above average graduation rate for its online students and offered to waive the application fees if I applied online. I transferred my antiquated records, was accepted and got one of those "let's send old ladies to college" grants. I got a student loan, confident that, by the time I finished I would be dead and not obligated anymore. I was given an academic coach and a counselor and we were off to the races.

Sort of.

In the first place, there are a LOT more requirements now than there were when I was in college. I had to take Political Science, which I did. And yes, those units transferred. But now one also has to take a class in the Constitution. That sounded cool, I picked a class in Constitutional Law and one in Media, which is my new, modern, hip major. The Media Class was fine. The Constitutional Law class was a nightmare. The professor didn't give a rats ass whether or not you knew how many amendments the Constitution has, he only cared that you wrote it down in proper APA format. He said I was a wonderful writer and had an obvious and firm grasp on the subject matter but my title page wasn't centered correctly so I was a screw up.  I could have discussed the 31st Amendment and, as long as I put the title in italics he would have given me full credit. He sent me a sample essay to follow. I thought "um, yeah, up yours" and proceeded to test his boundaries.

I cut and pasted the paper into a new word .doc. It was about the 1st Amendment. I then proceeded to overwrite it. I wrote a paper on the 4th Amendment. When I got to a citation, I went to the website shown on the example and found information pertinent to the paper I was writing and left the citation as it was. On the reference page I changed the page numbers and the dates I had retrieved the information.

Now...and this is important...I didn't copy anything, I wrote my own paper. BUT...I used his sample sources (which were all legitimate sources, btw) and in the exact same order. I used the exact reference page, an changed the defining information on it, such as page numbers, the dates I downloaded the website, etc. In a nutshell, I used his sample essay as a template.

When I got my grade back, I realized...the guy didn't recognize his own sample. Wouldn't one not assume that he would have seen a pattern? As in..."hey, this sounds familiar...". Now, frankly, I doubt there was anything he could have DONE about it, because I didn't break any rules but it was evident from his comments and my grade that he didn't realize what I had done. When it came time for my final paper, a paper who's subject I had never submitted for approval because I couldn't stand the guy and it was only at the last minute I decided to NOT drop his class, well, I did a search of free term papers on a Supreme Court decision. Now WAIT! Let me finish...

I found some high schooler's paper on a decision I'd never heard of. I read the paper. Then I went on line, did some research, wrote a better paper and turned it in. Took me all of four hours to do an 8 page paper. He gave me an "A". I didn't lift anything except the subject matter from the term paper which, for what it's worth, is posted on the Internet.

This brings me around to this semester. Having just completed a grueling and thoroughly rewarding class in literature analysis, I am now stuck in two classes which are also currently required by the State for graduation. One is an orientation to college. Really? This class has a teacher who is SOOOOOO enthusiastic and we're going to learn to use today's technology in new and wonderfully helpful ways. Like how to identify a Boolean search. This will, of course, change my life, knowing what to call it when I type "those shoes that make your butt small when you walk" into a Google bar. And we're going to BLOG! Isn't that exciting? Please allow at least 45 minutes to set up your blog, it's complicated.

It took me all of 4 minutes to set up the new blog, largely because I kept screwing around with the background color. I imagine it took most of the class less time than that. And anyone under 40, which a majority of them are, find blogging so yesterday and are now burning up the Interwebs on Tumblr. I guess I'm lucky, she could have assigned us to set up a "My Space" page.

The second class is run by a jackass who got on my bad side when he told me I didn't write well and my grammar was bad and it would "behoove" me to improve my skills as my abysmal habits would NOT serve me well later in life. We had to take a test on line, the results of said test tell us what kind of learner we are. Our assignment was to post these results on a community discussion board telling the class what we thought of them (the test results, not the class) and how we could improve our skills. I stated that the test indicated I am an intuitive learner, I wasn't especially surprised by this information and was quite comfortable with it.

The teacher asked what I intended to to about this. I replied "nothing. What part of "I'm quite comfortable with this" don't you get?" He said I was closed minded and unable to accept change and would fail in life. I pointed out that I was almost 60 and it was probably a little late for that. He told me I was wasting all this wonderful advice and the opportunity to improve my college experience and how sad I intended to leave all this great and glorious opportunity on my screen. I pointed out that, while I suppose I could make an idiot of myself spouting new age learning tools and improve my A grades to an A+ grades I was, by nature, an underachiever and was content with my lot in life.

Then I told him to get bent.

Now I have to give him a two page essay proving that I understand what plagiarism is and giving a detailed description of at least four different methods of avoiding it. This isn't just for me, btw, it was assigned several years ago if I'm reading the syllabus correctly.

Plagiarism: Copying and pasting something you find on line and not telling anyone where you got it, thus leading the reader to think you have a functioning brain. Buying term papers falls into this category, btw. 

How to avoid it: Don't do it.

Frankly, I'm stumped as to the other three ways. I suppose "do it better so you don't get caught" isn't an option.

And...more these people REALLY think that college students didn't learn about plagiarism in freaking GRAMMAR SCHOOL?  What part of "If I catch you copying I'll give you an "F"" do they think doesn't apply here?  In middle school they were all given its actual name and in high school they all learned how to spell it, because, frankly, it's tricky, I always want to use "ai" in the middle instead of "ia". This, btw, was done during Freshman year and by the time they graduated anyone so inclined had learned how to plagiarize without getting caught.

Do these people REALLY think that putting people in a class and saying "okay, this is intellectual theft and it's unethical and if we catch you we'll kick you out" is going to stop anyone who wants to do it? Dude...all it's going to do push kids to invent new and better ways to copy without getting caught. Do you know ANYONE who quit token' because they heard Nancy Reagan tell them to "Just say no"? Me either.

Meanwhile, I've pretty much finished this week's adventure in  basic breathing and decided to check out next week's work, maybe get it done early because there is no spring break in online school.

Next week we have to take the CRAAP test. No seriously. CRAAP is a method of evaluating websites. It stands for  "Currency, Relevance,Authority, Accuracy, Purpose." CRAAP.

They're quite serious about this. Google it.

Maybe it's my age but, frankly, I've been able to identify CRAAP when I smelled it for years now. Fox News, "Twilight" movies and "The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno" come to mind.. Hell, with the new criteria I should have a Ph.D. by now.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Taking The High Road. Or not....

Well, Andy Breitbart dropped dead last night. Okay, actually it was after midnight so it was early this morning. I have absolutely nothing to say about that except to you morons who are announcing "well, that's three." Yes, things happen in groups of three, as a rule but no way to I put Breitbart in the same class as Davy Jones or Whitney Houston. The substance abusing Ms. Houston had more integrity while at the depths of her addiction than Brietbart had.

Now I don't really care so much if you want to be a right wing nut job, it's your life, go ahead on. I'm not and I will argue with you but that's not what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about. I'm not even thinking so much about what Brietbart said about Ted Kennedy upon the latter's death, which was, um, well, I can't find the word. It was worse than disgusting, worse than heinous. Seriously. Unless, of course, you're a right wing nut job yourself, in which case you probably thought that calling the late Senator a motherfucker was the height of intellectual eulogies.

No, I care about what he did to Shirley Sherrod. I care because the guy sat there with an X-Acto knife and deliberately and maliciously took a very long piece of video, pulled out a phrase here and another phrase there, spliced them together in an entirely different order and then posted it as factual, because, after all, there WAS tape of her saying all that stuff. Well, Ms. Sherrod got fired because Breitbart said she was racist and wouldn't hire whites. My hunch is that she wouldn't hire idiots but that's another story. Then it came out that my cat looked at the original tape and figured out what he had done, Ms. Sherrod got offered another job and she's suing Breitbart. Or, more accurately, his estate.

I'm not saying anything (much) about Breitbart, he was a waste of bandwidth and that's it for me. But it brings me to plagiarism.  I get plagiarized occasionally and I don't know why, I'm guessing it's because I remember to run spell check every now and then, thus making me appear erudite and informed when what I actually am is educated and opinionated. Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery but, frankly, I find it as annoying as hell. I thought about something, and I typed it and then I read it over and then I read it over again and I spell checked it and then I changed a word or two and then I sent it out into the world, only to find out that someone else copied and pasted it into their own discussion board. I thought "Hey. Do your own damn work" and turned him in. No, I was not that cavalier about it and I almost let it go. I thought about if for a day, I so hate to be a squealer. Looks bad. Well, I decided to pretend that I didn't know I was being plagiarized and say maybe the guy was unclear on the concept of quoting someone and he needed some technical help and the next thing I knew he was off of the class roster. Kind of felt bad but then I thought, okay, if nothing else he needed to know how to rip someone off and not get nailed for it.

Let's face it, there are only so many opinions and sides to a story.

It got me thinking about the time I was on a discussion board and some right wing gay nut job was claiming  that gays should stay in closets or something equally ludicrous and I said something along the lines of "well, you're an idiot." Okay, it wasn't that but you get my drift. So the guy basically decided to call me a poopyhead and does so by using the quote function provided by v Bulletin and every message board known to man including those in countries that don't have Internet uses v Bulletin software and he quotes j"wello, you're an idiot" and says I said it, which I stand by, because he IS an idiot. Except that, instead of it saying "well, you're an idiot" it now says "well, you're a god among men" and then he puts my name on the quote.

Oddly enough, when I complained, the moderator told me that there wasn't anything wrong with that.

What is that called? It's not slander, or libel and it's not really plagiarism because he didn't cut and copy what I wrote and claim it for his own. It needs a definitive name.  "Mis-quote" doesn't really have a lot of punch and I'm not sure it's prosecutable. After all, the moderator says it's okay. Of course, it's okay if the moderator doesn't like you because you and your husband have been married for a million years and you didn't break up his former relationship with his live in girlfriend and then continue to hang out with her as if you were all friends and your kids aren't in rehab, but I digress....

I know. Maybe we should call it a "Brietbart."