Pish Tosh

Tuesday, February 22

Pleasing Ms. Therapy

I'm off the Lexapro completely now. Still taking barley grass which, the internets tell me, facilitates the carrying of the toxins (antidepressants) from their dispersed locations to the liver, which removes them.

I'm also eating some sushi. I'm a strict vegetarian who 85% of the time cooks vegan. Following Peter Singer's lead (among others), I am against the eating of fish even more than I am against the eating of free-range organic eggs. I, like random Peta members who saw the show, was appalled by that clip before the election where President Bush went on a local fishing show in Texas (!), then threw a live fish to his dog, Barney, explaining that he always likes to give Barney a fish! A live fish. For Barney to kill. On the air.

In spite of this, my old love of sushi, fine sushi, has snuck back in via the same ethical compartmentalization that allows me to wear leather boots as long as they're REALLY, REALLY cute. Or at least practical. My ethics appear therefore to be based largely on pleasure. It gives me great pleasure to avoid meat and to fancy up vegetables with my hard-won cooking skills. It gives me pleasure to cook quinoa, partly because of the name and because of the self-satisfaction of being SO KNOWLEDGABLE and cooking SUCH AN OLD GRAIN with SO MANY VITAMINS in it. It gives me great pleasure not to eat things that were, well, alive, running around squealing or looking kind of like my pets, and are now dead, the casual brutality of meals.

However, it gives me also great pleasure to wear great boots and to eat sushi. It would thus appear that the pleasure of zapping my brain with pure protein outweighs the pleasure of not eating, well, dead fish. Murdered fish!

The first time I ate sushi was in, of course, New York City; I was nineteen or twenty years old and I was in love. The city was full of lights. Inside the sushi restaurant was dim and like a cave. Friends explained to me how to order, how to eat. When we left the restaurant, my head felt amazing, supercharged, full of wit and energy and light!

Since then I've believed sushi helps my brain, so hey. The Omega-3s and all. Carefully attending to my body's physiology, I really experience well-being when my diet contains some sushi. Which is now available at my favorite local co-op, so it's cool, brought at least somewhat into proximity with the experience of organic produce and bulk grains.

I began this post to write about my therapy appointment yesterday.

The therapist is supposed to be helping me with the transition from medicated to not. She's supposed to help me monitor changes in my mood, help me deal with any issues that "come up."

Yesterday I wasn't in the mood to go to the therapist. I like her, I just didn't really feel like trying to put numbers on my days (on a scale of 1 to 10, what was today?), trying to match my selves up with her diagnoses, like cutting out fabric in the shape of Sew Easy! patterns.

Plus, I was a little down, partly because CV, who has a ton of work right now, was a little down. Plus my appointment was in the morning, instead of the afternoon. Morning is too early.

So I went in and talked -- you'll be surprised to learn that I am never unable to talk about myself -- and Therapist listened with her eyes very focused on my face. She was not as smiley as last week (when she told me that I am enthusiastic and fun to be around ), which seemed to me partly because she herself was having a harried day (she was 10 minutes late fetching me for my appointment), but I suspect was also a conscious attempt to take her cue from the client.

My therapist is young and pretty. She is old enough to have a bit of gravity and calmness and presence. But young enough so that it can feel like she's consciously calling up charts and lists as I talk, to compare me to.

We wandered a bit. I have a tendency to explain everything via longish stories with mostly irrelevant material, and also to put a lot of things together in my head in a way that then requires a ton of backstory to explain. She kept trying to find a way to put the material together. What was I talking about? I was trying to outline a bit about my most longstanding issues, those which are still there, probably. How I can't deny my teaching "competence" but still have entire fables and fantasies about how much I suck. Or whatever the normal rigamarole of insecurity is for adjuncts and the other unmoored.

"What is it LIKE when you are fretful?" she would ask, or something equally abstract, and I had no answer, and wished she'd ask more interesting questions. She consulted her notes: "Let's see. I think we've covered three? sorts of categories..." She gave them names, I asked her what she meant by them, she explained, I wasn't convinced. "You keep mentioning that word, lazy. What do you mean by that?"

At five minutes before the hour, I looked at the clock, and remembered something I'd written in my journal. Oh yes, I thought. This. I meant to tell her this. She will like it.

"If I'm not suffering, it doesn't count as working," I said.

Immediately, her eyes lit up. "Give that to me again?" she said, beginning to scribble furiously.

"If I'm not suffering, I'm not working. If I'm enjoying something or something is easy, it doesn't count as 'work.' So I feel guilty, like I'm being lazy, if I'm writing or doing something I enjoy."

"Yes!" she said. "That would explain a lot of the issues you've mentioned."

"I feel like work I 'want' to do isn't legitimate, and 'work' has to be not fun, but I don't like to do things that aren't fun."

"Of course you don't! And that would explain the resentment you've talked about, and the irritability..."

After a few more questions and a few more notes, she raised her face. "This gives us a direction," she said. "We should definitely talk more about this next week."


"It's nice to see you," she said, her standard closing line.

"You too," I said: mine.

I left feeling good, like you feel when you've done a good turn for somebody. I felt like I'd managed to give my therapist of sense of purpose and fulfillment.

On the way out of the office, I reached into my purse for my wallet and cut my finger on something.

Thursday, February 17


So I was trying to figure out, my god, where are all these hits coming from? Thanks to Bitch. Ph.D. for the link... but turns out there's also a link at Unfogged, which will now be required reading for me because EVEN A CURSORY GLANCE REVEALS that something else that's funny, to me at least, are these epithets, liberally sprinkled through the posts on the first page:



Plus, how's this for an adjective? "ovarilicious"

(Edited to add that: yeah. I should carry a warning label, a la "You probably should know that B. considers sex and bad words funny..."

Yes. Yes I apparently do.

If the title to this post wasn't a dead giveaway, then hereby consider yourself warned. )

Wednesday, February 16

The Rhetoric of Blog Humor

Or: I've been thinking about this since I started blogging and had to choose between CAPS and italics.

I'm compiling a tipsheet or reference list of blog humor. Your thoughts and examples are especially solicited!


Being funny: there're conventions, there's a syntax, and you can learn these things.

Conventions are important, because they tell people when to laugh. For example, think about what follows after these statements:

I'm like HELLO?!

Okay, I get that you're X? (pause.) But Y!

(Pause.) I'm just saying.


I once busted CV for using these conventions in this way: instead of listening to my story, he was THINKING ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE and just laughing because he could hear the way my voice went up? And paused. For the laugh.
ME: Are you just laughing cause you know you're supposed to, but not really listening?
CV: [laughs again, sincerely this time.] Yes.

So it is important to realize that sometimes, when you're practicing these techniques, and the others I introduce below, what you're saying isn't all THAT funny, and people will laugh anyway, because you've trained them too. BUT THIS IS IMPORTANT. YOU'RE TRAINING THEM TO LAUGH. It's also important because you get the method of joke-telling DOWN, so when you really are telling something super-funny, you can just rattle it out and the timing and the conventions will be there, at the ready, to make your delivery perfect! You will be fuckin' hilarious!

blurt's short course in blog funniness

1. Extra periods. One of the important blog ways of emphasizing funniness is to add periods between words.

A pretty standard way for this to appear is in the introduction of the superlative, as in BEST. THING X. EVER.

Here's a variation on this technique, from dooce.

The second gay guy I dated who didn’t know he was gay liked anal sex, except, he wanted it performed on him. I am not into kinky sex with motorized objects or things that strap onto the body, so he suggested that I use objects around the house. To put into his butt. In. To. His. Butt. Dad, if you have made it this far in this post I promise to pay for your ambulance trip to the ER.

NOTE: This is a virtuostic piece of humor-convention-using, because Dooce uses here not just one but TWO of the blog-humor-conventions: she also talks about sex, which is rule 8, below. But because I just introduced it here, it's also rule one.

2. Capitalization.

This is a particularly Dooce-ian convention. It works on the principle of contrast: you can be telling an apparently-mundane story, but the addition of CAPITALS FOR EMPHASIS can give your story that air of hyperbole, which is funny.

On Christmas Eve we drove north to see Jon’s family, and while this may seem like the beginning of a happy holiday tale it is in fact not. This is the beginning of a story about how my husband almost lost my dog FOREVER.

“CHUCK! CHUCK! I screamed, still thinking about where he could be, smushed on the road or kidnapped by mutt poachers or lost! LOST! IN THE MOUNTAINS! WHERE THERE ARE MOUNTAIN LIONS! and GOATS!

from dooce.

A few comments about why these techniques, that is, rules one and two, yield funny:
In cases like this, cases which are essentially about punctuation, I think the humor comes from the imagined pace at which the story would be told out loud. Periods and capitals work as pauses or as HYSTERICAL OUTBURSTS, and when we read them, we understand their relationship to verbal conventions of funny storytelling.

3. Decontextualization: otherwise known as editing.

For this technique, you choose just one small part of a larger conversation or a larger situation, and you put your frame around that. It's a little like haiku in that way. You choose the telling moment, the funniest moment, or the moment of greatest contrast. This is funny partly because of the charm of the non-sequiter, partly because the chosen moment might arise mundanely but, removed from its step-by-step logic, it can seem difficult to believe that such a bit of random funniness can arise in real life! Yet they do. And all you have to do is learn to spot them.

Bitch. Ph.D.'s Pseudonymous Kid conversations are a notable example of this rhetorical genre:

Excerpt from what was, in fact, a very long convo on the subject earlier today:

PK, sighing: "I hate pooping."
me: "why?"
PK: "It smells bad, and it's icky. And poop is not a toy. It's just poop."

from Bitch. Ph.D.

Mr. B.: Right, and then, hit "play." Thanks. (Pause, followed by goofy-ass grin) Do you know, this is a dream of mine.
Me: ??
Mr. B.: To have my beautiful wife sitting there, and ask her to start the next episode of Star Trek.
Me: (Rolls eyes.)
Mr. B.: I didn't say it was a nice dream. But it is a dream.

from Bitch. PhD.

This is why I will never be as funny as these people I'm quoting: Editing. Is not important to me. This is because MY brain chemistry problem is anxiety, otherwise known as TOTAL MANIA ALL THE TIME. Which makes speaking a lot very rapidly, very Important.

Fortunately for me,

4.Enthusiasm is funny. I don't know why. But taking someone's offhand comment, getting really enthused and then elaborating on the comment and relating it to your grandmother's aubergine teapot and then commenting on your comment and then relating it back to the point and culminating that that aubergine teapot is why you love the comment! and capping it with the occasional exclamation point. That's funny!

But even without enthusiasm, elaboration or tangents, used judiciously, are also funny techniques.

5. Oddball answers to rhetorical questions. The rhetorical question can come from you. It can also come from some implied audience member, denigrating your blog, making this technique akin to rule 7, below.

For the benefit of new readers, yes, we used disposables. But before anyone yells at me for so far sending 3,500 diapers to the landfill, just hold on. Nothing went to the landfill. They're all in a storage unit out on Highway-54 for safekeeping.

(From The Trixie Update, a site that also demonstrates that data is funny. The more specific the data, the funnier.)

6. Being Mean is Funny. Yep, Mean Girls, where they're three-way calling, is funny. That's why it's so fun sometimes to gossip, especially if the gossip is about something someone else did that was TOTALLY OUTGRAGEOUS.

But this kind of funniness is corrosive over time, so don't do too much of it.

Relatedly, lists are funny.

7. Self-deprecation is funny.

After brushing off strange looks on the subway this morning, I walked into the ladies room at work only to see that the set of 10 peel and stick stamps that I bought over the weekend and stuffed into my purse had now somehow stuck themselves on to my scarf, hair and side of hat without my knowing.

And as if that wasn't enough...over the weekend friends of ours asked us to join them to see a performance of Flamenco music at Carnegie Hall which was fantastic. At one point I dug in my bag for my glasses and pulled out two cans of cat food I had bought three days ago. Duh.

from More than Donuts.

And you've already read this recent example from Bitch. Ph.D. But isn't it great?

A homeless person, witnessing my plight (digging through wallet at snack bar, "oh damn, I don't have any money, nevermind"), gives me a couple of bucks, which has to be one of the most humbling moments of my life. I try to refuse, but he insists. On the grounds that it feels good to help others, I think I did the right thing, but admittedly, "oh, I've just returned from a foreign vacation and have absolutely no American money on me, would you be a darling, Mr. Homeless Man, and buy me dinner?" is, well, fairly obnoxious.

8. Talking about sex? Funny!

There comes a point in every relationship when you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to stick a bottle of A1 sauce up this person’s butt?” And in that relationship the answer was, “Just once and now I never want to see you again.”

from Dooce.

Relatedly, talking about drinking can be funny. (Any given week of posts at Wonkette will usually provide an example.)

9. Really an addendum of rule 8. Don't forget about the hilariousness of contrast. Innocent and raunchy. Young and old. Powerful and peon. Likeable and incompetent. And, most especially, don't forget about sacred and profane.

From a post called "Dear Jesus,"

You are a figure of some historical importance, and to those who think you are important you are also wise and forgiving and can do a little magic. I like magic. Well, I like the kind that is staged and performed by David Copperfield on television. Do you know him? He performs miracles. In fact, I once saw him walk through a wall. You ever see that? Cool.

(from Tony'sblog)

And this is a nice one:

So, since it's the weekend, here is the idosyncratic Dr. Bitch advice on "how to deal with sex toys around kids."

First, stay away from too-realistic dildoes. Now, personally, realistic dildoes kind of squee me out anyway: wow, I think, that looks like an amputated body part! Not sexy. So maybe this advice stems more from my own personal wiggishness on those particular devices. But still, I just am not sure I want to try explaining why we have pretend penises lying around in a box, and you just know that the kid would try to play dress up with them, like putting a rubber hand inside your sleeve and offering to shake someone's hand and then having it fall off, and you'd end up laughing and also feeling like a really sick fuck. Not going there.

from Bitch. Ph.D.

NOTE: This scenario is made infinitely funnier by the inclusion of the word "squee."

Now here's another one -- again kid-related (is this it's own rule? kids are funny?) -- that gets its humor by exploiting the gap between the aesthetic and the domestic. Plus it has that gross-out element: a handful of chewed-up food! Ew!

And speaking, in my usual elliptical way, of throwing crockery around the room, one of perennial laments of the stay-home parent is that the general drift of your daily conversation does not exactly smack of the Parisian salon; as much as you might want to convince yourself that the recurrent struggle with your child over social roles has a weird, Henry James undercurrent to it, full of half-stated import and subtle grabs for power, this conviction tends to crumble when your daughter reaches into her mouth to remove a handful of tortellini, offering up only the explanation that "I think the tortellini touched a vegetable."

from Daddy Zine

See how this one also has tangents? It's related to rule 4, enthusiasm, above.

10.The adjective "apeshit" is always funny.

There you have it. Ten techniques used in funny blogs. Doesn't it make you happy? To know how funny the world is? And how good some people are at making you see that way?

Now, I know I've left some funny folks out. Please feel free to make your additions in comments. Also feel free to point to your own funniest post. Or someone else's that you like.


Tuesday, February 15

Someone just got the first filling of her adult life.

I can't tell, though, if that's my lip I'm chewing? Or a bit of the spinach-bagel-with-cream-cheese-and-sprouts.

I like going to the dentist. Enforced TV watching time in the middle of the day, and my dentist talks about how much it stresses him out to hurt people. The people who are scared of being hurt. At the dentist.

Also he pats my arm and calls me "little girl." "Would I hurt you, little girl?" I don't want to be talked down to, but somehow I love this in waitresses and dentists: the "honey," the "sweetie," the "little girl."

Monday, February 14

I'm not saying my childhood was deprived.


But the first time I had asparagus was three and a half years ago. My brother's then-boyfriend -- the crazy one, with manic depression and a preacher for a father and all kinds of psychotic habits -- he cooked it when we three made dinner at my brother's house.

The first time I had an avacado, a whole avacado I cut up, was a year ago.

Other fruits and vegetables NOT from my childhood:

kiwi (I first had this in Venice! Four years ago.)
garlic, the kind not already powdered
baby spinach
black beans

Sunday, February 13

Rockin' Blog Content!

Someone just got to Pish Tosh by Googling "slit infinitive SATs" .

Oh yeah. I'm sexy.

Tonight's dinner: Fettucini Alfonso.

CV: Just walked into the room, from a tough round of
computer poker
, and said, to the room, apparently, "my sovereign reality!"

Tonight's dinner movie: Lost in La Mancha

Mango Feelings

Last night, we hosted three friends for dinner. This set of friends is, among other roles, our HBO set: every Sunday night, we watch whatever the current HBO show is. Right now it's Carnivale, which I didn't watch last season, but which I'm into now. It's very Twin Peaks, right down to Samson the midget, who actually WAS in Twin Peaks.

The menu was vegan-fusion-Indian: curried tempeh with skillet-grain medley, two kinds of sauce (vegan cucumber-mint raita, which features cilantro, and yogurt-tahini sauce, which doesn't... because one of said friends thinks cilantro tastes like soap), carrot salad with mango-chutney dressing, and -- for desert -- tapioca mango coconut pudding, which turned out to be DELICIOUS but which didn't "set up" especially well so it, too, was like a sauce. So basically I made some rice and several sauces: white sauce, orange sauce, bright mint green sauce. TASTY sauces.

Also, quinoa. Which if you don't know how to pronounce it is KEEN-wah which is, let's face it, one of those words and pronunciations that reminds you how fun it is to be an English speaker! With our crazy lack of consistency in spellings and sayings!

Earlier in the day, while I was cooking said dinner (actually, what I was doing was cutting the flesh from mangoes and popping it into the blender for pureeing... a task that was very messy-juicy, and that I was performing VERY SLOWLY, for hours it seems), I talked to my mom on the phone.

It was one of the best conversations we've had lately. And partly it's because I had already gotten into the wine so I began the conversation in a floating place, a mango-cutting place, a place where my habitual reactions to my mother (annoyance, defensiveness) were purled into a mango-wine-good-daughter knit.

My mom's youngest sister was killed last November in a car wreck, while en route to Las Vegas to celebrate her 50th birthday. Her own youngest son was also in the car but he was okay. It was two or three in the morning, a last minute trip. Things like drinking? Were they wearing seatbelts? My brother once asked and my mom apparently said "Why does that matter now?" From which, draw your own conclusions.

Some more backstory is in order. Mom met Dad in San Francisco in the mid seventies. Dad had just gotten back from his required stint in Vietnam, a stint he served largely in Turkey, where he worked as mess cook, cracking hundreds of eggs each meal. (This is an irrelevant detail: it's just one that I like.) The fact that my dad did his patriotic duty tells you something important about him, relevant to the rest of the course of the story. My dad, like my mom, is a baby-boomer, whose teenage years were the sixties. Does my dad like the military? Emphatically not. Is my dad a peace-nik? Yes. Did he have long hair in the sixties, and did he play folk guitar in a band around his college town, and did he wear little silver Beatles glasses? Yes, yes, and yes.

So why did my father, this peaceful, folk-singing, anti-establishment Democrat (a rarity in the town where we both grew up!), agree to go into the army?


I need to pursue this a bit with my father. Our dinner-friend J., who is exactly the same age as my parents, didn't go into the army, because -- he says -- everyone on college campuses knew the draft-avoiding tricks. Drink a bunch of diet coke. A BUNCH. Then you test as pre-diabetic (or something) and you're excused.

Why my dad didn't do something like this isn't exactly clear. Still, what IS clear is that my dad has a strong streak of duty. He willingly performs the tasks and roles expected of him, slotted for him in the grand plot of family by mere genetic accident. Most particularly, for the story I'm telling here, my father has willingly accepted the implied duties of the "only son." He fixes cars, indulges my grandfather's sometimes-capricious home-improvement desires... and so on and so on. Now my paternal grandparents are both elderly and my grandmother has advanced Alzheimers. A nearby son is a NECESSITY at this point. However, it seems like this necessity -- and being the one who performs necessity -- is something my father has groomed himself for his whole life.

At the cost, it needs be said, of his health, his once-lithe figure, his music-hobby, poetry-writing and other "selfish" dreams.

So after my young dad met my young mom in the seventies in San Francisco, and after they flirted and dawdled and dandled and inadvertantly conceived me, and after this "speeded up" their sort of plan to get married... well, where did the young couple decide to live?

Yes. In the midwest. In the country. One mile from my father's parents.

My mom's family is from a metropolis in the west, and they all live out there, and as a consequence of following my dad to the midwest, she's been somewhat "removed" from the lives of her own family members. Most particularly, of her two sisters.

So the death of her youngest sister hit mom in a particularly tricky way. Guilt, I think, and some anger over not having been able to spend more time with her before she died. But even stranger and more hurtful, it seems, is the way mom is treated as an outsider by the family there.

Obviously, mom flew out the moment she heard about the accident. She was out there for two and a half weeks. During that time, though mom specifically did not complain about it, it seems that the family out there, locked in their own weird lives and their own intimate grief, didn't really let mom feel a part of the family, and intimate part of what was going on. She remained an outsider.

Our conversation last night, while I peeled the slipper mango flesh from around the fibery pits, involved repurcussions of this. Mom is alone in the particulars of her grief. Me, my brothers, my father never spent much time with this sister who died. She was a fun aunt; it's sad. But her death leaves no hole in my daily life. Meanwhile, the siblings and nieces and nephews in the Western contingent don't do much to indulge mom's needs. Mom wants to talk with her other sister, to reminisce about their youngest sister. This sister, though, doesn't want to talk. She's willing to write her feelings over e-mail, but not to talk about it on the phone. My mom insists that she is a VERBAL person and needs to talk.

Then, too, there's a sort of ghoulish feature of the funeral home that allows a permanent website memorial for the dead loved one, on which friends and family can publish their writings. The dead aunt's daughter, my cousin, wrote a paragraph praising my other aunt, and wrote "Mom, you have such a great sister" -- about my other aunt.

This totally hurt *my* mom's feelings -- since she TOO is a sister, and she loves and keeps up with and visits as often as she can the family out there. She's also mad that this niece never acknowledged or said thank you for pictures my mom sent to her.


Fast forward to talking to my mom.

"Mom, it makes sense that you feel hurt. It's okay."

"I know she's grieving in her own way, it's just, J. had TWO sisters."

"I know."

"When I visited, I wanted to sit in J.'s house and just, ABSORB her presence. I just wanted to be in her stuff for a little while. And V. wouldn't let me."

"She wouldn't?"

"I think she was suspicious, like she thought I would steal something. It's the same with last time I talked to her. I asked if she had gone through her mom's things. I just wanted to say, that must have been hard for you. But I guess she thought I was going to say I wanted something, because she said no my brothers and I agreed we weren't going to for awhile ."

Here was arrive at a natural inclination of mine... which is to try to temper people's judgementalness. So I said something about how this all seemed extreme. But that about the not sending a thank-you card for the pictures, I'm a little sympathetic to that, because it can feel overwhelming to fulfill requests from family members you don't necessarily know well. (Thinking of my own erstwhile stress over my in-laws-to-be... stress which, weirdly, is now gone, because of all the time I spent talking to them while CV was in the hospital.)

"I guess she just wants her mother all to herself."

"I guess so, mom. I'm sorry. It really sucks. It makes sense that you feel hurt."

This part was easy... my mom really needed her feelings validated, even though I think she felt bad about having them, the hurt feelings. And I could certainly validate them, because I could see she needed it but ALSO because I do think that they are legitimate feelings and that frankly my cousins seem to have acted somewhat callously.

The part that was more, well, complicated, involved recognizing how some of my mom's bad feelings come from her own tendency to not allow room for other people to have different reactions from hers. This is one I've run into PERSONALLY, one of the reasons I often feel guilty and defensive when considering my mom. She, too, likes to write little scripts for me to fill, as "only daughter." Only Daughter is a character who visits most weekends, who likes to meet at the town halfway between her and me for lunch and shopping, who gets married and knocked up promptly (obviously I've already waited a good 5 years longer than Only Daughter ideal), who thinks it makes perfect sense to make CV sleep on the couch when we visit the parents, since obviously we can't SHARE a bedroom -- we aren't married!

It's this same Expectation of Role Filling that I hear in my mother's comments about the aunt who doesn't want to talk about J. on the phone, but only over e-mail. It's as if I can hear how, in my mother's idea, what a Bereaved Sister does, is talk to her other Bereaved Sister in a particular way. And if Bereaved Sister has different ideas about how she can deal? Well!

I'm often not so good at Only Daughter, as scripted... but last night I did just fine.

So that was interesting.

As was this:
"Have you considered seeing a counselor, mom? I need to give you some context for this... everyone I know has seen or is seeing a counselor, I'VE seen a counselor; I think it's just helpful to talk to someone who can give you some objective validation or can listen."

"Why would I see a counselor, when I have such a daughter?"

Now see? Mom, sometimes we get on great and that is fabulous. But just because I can sometimes be there doesn't mean it's fair to expect me to take on ALL the burden of counseling you through your grief!

Complicated. Bittersweet.

Like mango tapioca pudding, before you add extra sugar.

Friday, February 11


So. Yes. I had a fight. The dialogue went something like this:

Former friend: Hey. What's up? I miss you.
Me: Hey.
Me: (on my blog.) This chick wrote me. Last time I talked to her, she totally called me a bitch because I got a job and told her. Now she's writing me and I feel ambivalent.
Me: Hey former friend. I wrote about you on my blog. I said I was ambivalent.
Her: No prob! I know you didn't know we were going to read your blog. No prob.
Me: Wow. Great! Maybe we really can be friends.
Her: Okay. Actually I just read your blog? And now YOU ARE BEING A BITCH AND MY DAD IS DYING AND I AM NOT NEEDY SO FUCK YOU.
Me: Uhm, okay, but remember, I already apologized. I'm sorry about your dad. But why does that give you leave to call me a bitch.
Her: Well, now I'm all nice and I even complimented Dude I Used to Make Fun Of. I realized how all our squabbles are petty.
Me: (totally letting out all the sarcasm stops) Oh, wow, I'm sure that totally made up for making fun of him for two years! You mean now you're a saint and I get to be a party to your virtue? Lucky me. And I guess the implication is that since *you're* no longer petty *I'm* the petty one.
Her: Never talk to me again.
Me: Gladly. And, since I don't usually tell anyone why I'm mad at you, here's EVERY REASON I AM MAD AT YOU. First of all, you were man. Second of all, you made me move all your stuff BY MYSELF but never bought me dinner to make up for it. Third of all, I told you I had gotten a job, because I was ASTOUNDED, and you yelled at me for bringing up money. Fourth of all, you used to try to get me to work for you at your stupid minimum wage job all the time. Fifthly, you're mean to everyone and always put people down and that's why I don't like talking to you. Sixthly, you never apologized. For being so shitty. Seventhly, you think you're a good friend because you get supeficial compliments but that's IT. So there.

The thing is, I never tell people off. IT FELT SO GOOD. But then my site started getting a lot of traffic. From home. And now, apparently, former colleagues as far away as Georgia have heard about my "fight."

OKAY. THIS PERSON WROTE TO ME, CALLED ME A BITCH FOR MY BLOG, AND THEN I TOLD HER OFF. That's what happened. It's no big. She's a fun person in a lot of ways. But she took advantage of me, and I'm still mad at her for that. And if she tells me this is petty, I'm still mad at her. And that's why I haven't written to HER. Because I'm still mad.

So you know, when YOU write to ME? And then I say "I wrote about you on my blog and I wasn't trying to be passive aggressive" and then she writes back "No prob" and then she writes back "You're passive aggressive, and a bitch, and your ego gets in the way of your being friends with women," and then I write back "okay, but how do you know about my friendships with women who aren't you, and I've already written back to you about the blog," and then you write "never speak to me again" and then I write "here's why I think you're mean and, yes, a bitch".... Well the point is, YOU wrote to ME. FIRST.

So any of you who've heard her side of the saga: yes. We are apparently still in junior high. And yes. This person called me a bitch AFTER I HAD ALREADY ACKNOWLEDGED MY BLOG to her.

And if you know me and live in Georgia? Dude, drop me an e-mail! I'd love to chat!!

I'm not alone

Catching up on some blog-reading, and turns out authority-issue-blogging is in the air: Here's Dr. Crazy's take.

While the issues she describes don't necessarily involve my specific complex of fidgety-energy/blurting/joking/overly complimenting my students ("Yeah! Good job! Awesome!" I tend to say when they answer a tough question right), she similarly describes issues based on the fact that many students don't simply "grant" respect and authority to "girl-women" (as Crazy dubs us late twenty-somethings).

So, in other words, some of what I've been musing about is in fact not simply specific to me. (It would be interesting, then, to know a bit more about the psychology experiment Gladwell described, which I discussed in my earlier post. For example, was there any gender bias in the snap-judgement that certain professors were "effective"? )

During my SAT training, I fell totally in love with one of the trainers. I respected and liked the other, but I was really agog over the one. This is because she was hilarious: she told tons of little funny stories about herself. In spite of this, she seemed to move us through the material quickly and effortlessly. So I loved her because first of all, she made me laugh, but second of all, because she seemed like a clarified, refined version of ME in my most effective guise. I love it when I have room to tell little personal stories, and where those serve to amuse the students, make them feel involved, and get them interested so that then they turn to the material with zest. This hasn't felt right in a lot of my classrooms lately -- for me, it seems to work best in creative writing classrooms, which I like better and which I've always thought of as being more about the teacher having a COMPELLING PERSONALITY. In my experience, students want their creative writing teachers with a big helping of eccentricity, so nervous tics and funny jokes are a BOON not a bane. There's also more opportunity for them to be dazzled by your wit, which then makes them think you know what you're talking about when you talk about writing. Wit doesn't transfer so directly to, say, the resumes and cover letters I taught to my tech writing class. (If you're interested, this renewed commitment to teaching creative writing is one reason I'm seriously considering allowing myself to default on my Ph.D. so that I can pursue writing a book so that I can pursue getting a job teaching creative writing and writing more books.)

Having training -- where we prospective teachers were put in the position of students -- was useful, as it reminded me that *I* have preferences, too, which have nothing to do with relative preparation. Training was also useful, as the trainers watched us teach and then "coached" us. It was pointed out to me how I'm a bit OVER complimentary ("Great job!"), which was a really useful thing to see, and was something I wouldn't have noticed on my own, that mode being habit picked up, I'm sure, in one of my more reluctant and slow classes along the way.

It was also useful because, having teaching experience myself, it was blindingly obvious to me how good this one teacher was: how well she managed telling us we were wrong without shaming us, how quickly and easily she made our progress look, and how she defused tension (I felt lots of it in the math section) by acknowledging it's hard to do math on the spot and that she understood but that she wanted us to do it anyway.

AND YET SOME OF THE OTHER "STUDENTS" IN THE CLASS DIDN'T LIKE THIS TEACHER. I think mostly people DID like her, but I heard a few people complaining that she wasn't friendly and she was "mean."

So they didn't like her personality... or, and I suspect this is a big component, they didn't recognize what she was balancing.

IF EVERYONE WHO WAS ASKED TO JUDGE A TEACHER FIRST HAD TO TEACH A FEW CLASSES, I think evaluations would be much more fair and informed. What we're doing up here in front of the class? Is hard. Because just about all of you wants/needs/responds to something different. So we have to find some way to reach MOST of you. And that, my friends, is hard.

And, in addition, deserves a good deal more money. Teacher salaries might be subsidized, for example, by some of the virtual money being deployed toward the military.

If highly paid, teachers would be seen as highly skilled. Authority issues would evaporate. The world would be a peaceful place.

Or so I can dream.

I love you, SAT trainer, come and help me learn to manage my class. And tell the stories again about China, about the hibiscus tea and the laundered underwear returned to you in sealed vaccuum packs.

Alright. Off to return my mother's call -- CV tells me she was "irritated" by the fact that I was not here last night when she called. BECAUSE I WAS TEACHING MY CLASS. My mother is another of those persons who, I suspect, does not think what I do involves that much skill or takes that much time.

Epiphanic Addendum

I guess it bugs me that some people -- lots of people, paranoia would have me believe -- are just naturally better than me at something I have to work so hard at. Having authority, I mean. Running the classroom in a way that turns the students into well-oiled troops.

The amount of energy I've devoted to fretting about teaching, worrying about teaching, beating myself up about teaching, planning ways to be better, resenting feeling inadequate, etc. ... if bottled, that energy could power, for a night, a small city.

Yet I learn a lot from it, and there's the thrill of Can I do it this time? Will this be the time I get it all right? Plus, you just meet so many people. Plus, it's one of the few things I'm nominally qualified to do -- teaching, I mean.

I guess it's good to have a profession.

I do wish, often, that teaching involved more me simply dispensing my considerable wisdom through my fingertips, into the foreheads of eager acolytes. Alas, it's not so much this way. Which I guess keeps me humble. On my toes. And such.

Though it still gives me pause. What if my profession didn't involve so much fretting? What would I then be able to accomplish?

I don't know if the answer is "A lot" or if the answer is "less."

Some updates. On rage. And teaching persona. And stuff.

I'm being remiss lately, in not updating my blog super often.

I think about it. I just haven't decided to use the blog as a JOURNAL exactly, so I've been writing mostly in my other journal. The one not available to other people.

Item: If I want to enter a novel fellowship competition, and to do so I must produce by the end of February 50 pages of a novel, and I have zero... that's one of those setting-myself-up-for-failure things, right? Since it's pretty much a ridiculous goal?

Still, if it gets me started... well, that's something at least.

Update: Tapering is going fine, thank you. Though I am back to my original pre-medication state of potential irritability. If I take care, don't drink TOO much coffee, make myself run even in the cold and do some yoga, and mostly don't wait until the last minute to run errands, thereby ensuring that I will get stuck in traffic behind the idiot drivers in this town and will thereby toggle into road rage and will thereby clench in my stomach and feel my blood pressure rise and start spewing obscenities (I also have this thing where I bang my hand on the window, against which my ring makes a nice 'clack!'... because what I want to do is bang on the window of the car of whomever is failing to use their turn signal or is talking on their cell phone while in complicated traffic or what have you )... If I, in other words, DON'T court road rage, I can mostly keep the irritability to a dull roar.

Though if you say something to me and I roll my eyes or look condescending for a second before shaking it off? That's why. My natural brain chemistry. Makes me kind of a bitch. Sorry. I'm working on it.

Another update: So now I'm teaching TWO SAT courses. The commute to one is 130 miles round trip; the commute to the other is about 150 round trip.

I don't know if I am good at this. Plus, here's some paranoia for you: I'm reading Malcolm Gladwell's blink. Which is interesting. It is about how the trained un-conscious mind can make calculations much more quickly and accurately than can an arduous decision-making process undertaken by the conscious mind. (Which is not to say that ALL snap decisions are on the right track: but for knowledgeable people, they can be.)

As an example, Gladwell tells us, when researchers show subjects 10 minute videos of professors teaching, those subjects can rate the effectiveness of the professor in a way that closely mirrors the evaluations the professor receives at the end of an entire semester.

In fact, when subjects are shown JUST 30 SECONDS of a professor teaching, said subjects are ALMOST AS GOOD at predicting the professor's effectiveness.

That's... frightening. Because it seems to hint at ESSENCES... to imply that the "essence" of one's teaching persona really does dominate over one's intelligence, preparation, pedagogical intents, etc.

Now, this was just one example Gladwell tossed in, not a major concern of the book, but of course I seized on it. Because it plays so nicely into my paranoias.

I am nearing 30, and -- especially with the 16 yr olds in my SAT classes -- it's no longer an issue of looking so young that I'm taken for a student. (Though let's be honest. In some pictures of me, I still look 14. Honestly, this is a reason to be glad I've gained a bit of weight: HIPS set me apart from the youngsters.) In fact, in SOME of my college classrooms, I have finally cultivated a good deal of authority.

But certain hallmarks of my teaching "signature" remain. I somehow still manage to convey "nervousness," even when I feel cool as cucumber, or at least as a grape. (This isn't just in teaching, by the way.) It must be some combination of facial expression, coupled with rapid mobility of features and hands... anyway, people take for "nervous" what I experience as "engaged."

Then there's my habit of engaging -- over-engaging, in some cases -- with my audience. This is something I at least have some degree of control over, though when I'm not thinking about it consciously, it still happens: I'm easily distracted, and I'm liable to interrupt myself for any muttered comment or question launched by a student and ask them to repeat so I can engage with and/or answer it.

THIS STUFF DOESN'T MEAN THAT I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING, PEOPLE. And by "people," here, you should understand that I don't mean you guys, blog-readers, but instead mean my students.

Also, my handwriting is truly awful. Especially when I'm going quickly. So board work often turns into a sort of comedy. Sometimes this is okay. Sometimes it's just distracting. Again, this is something I can work on. (You know. I can work on it sometime when I'm not blogging or playing computer poker. My spare time. This is when I can work on it. Yeah.)

What worries me is the "essence" part. That, and the fact that I don't have a coach, someone who can say, see what you're conveying? Try holding your face in THIS expression... someone who can coach my persona without making me feel like a TOTAL, UTTER failure, because how embarrassing that I've been conveying nervousness through personal tics my entire teaching life?

To bring this extended diatribe back around to Gladwell, students still take me for a newbie... which, let's face it, I am. In one class, the students are TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL and I clearly can't control them. But the weird thing is in this class they seem to LIKE me. (Here's something weird about high school students, or at least these particular ones: they stand REALLY CLOSE to you during break, like when they're complimenting your earrings or repeating in a goofy accent something you accidentally said to one of them, which was IF YOU BRING THAT CELL PHONE TO CLASS WITH YOU AGAIN I'M GOING TO GET OUT THE BIG STICK, which admittedly was a stupid and funny thing to say, but come on, I'd been dealing with utter and total chaos for two hours already, it was 9 at night, and I had done a valiant, valiant job of introducing a helpful variety of arithmetic concepts IN SPITE of the chaos... Anyhow, the students will give me a hard time in class, but then during break they cluster around and, like, talk to me and stuff, all while standing REALLY CLOSE to me. One of them hugs me each time, and another often tries to put a ruler in my belt loop when I'm not looking. It's really, really strange, as classrooms go. Also, the principal gave me a little talking-to last night, about not "letting" the students run down the hall. Which, what, now I'm in high school again? Getting talked to by the principal?)

Oops. Let's try that again. To bring this extended diatribe back to Gladwell, in each of my two SAT classes, students (always male, arrogant-ish ones) have out loud commented on my apparent "newness." Or, in the case of the richer and punkier, my "lack of qualification."** So what makes me paranoid, then, is the idea that my teaching signature -- the 30 second blip that forever decides my effectiveness and my evaulation fate -- will always reveal my tentative effectiveness as a teacher, because I will always have the same "signature," of nervous tics or whatever.

Now, two things. For one thing, I am new at this SAT class. Hopefully it will get better. But for another, there isn't really a forum for this kind of feedback from a coach, someone who can CALL MY ATTENTION to the signatures of the signature... so in other words, I feel like it's something I CAN'T improve.

So the inner story goes... you've worked at this for years and clearly you're getting better. You're an effective teacher on the page: your students' writing always (or almost always) improves under your tutelage. BUT YOU'RE A FUCKING FREAK, A NERVOUS NELLY WHO CHEWS HER FINGERNAILS AND SAYS "SHIT" A LOT AND YOU MANAGE TO CONVEY TENTATIVENESS EVEN WHEN YOU INTEND IT FOR OPENNNESS. People who have never taught before but who just naturally have a "calmer" personality CONVEY MORE EFFECTIVENESS THAN YOU DO, even when your approach to the material and your understanding of your aims ARE CRYSTAL CLEAR AND BETTER THAN THOSE OF MOST 'CAUSE YOU THINK ABOUT THIS STUFF ALL THE TIME.

So in other words, my 30 seconds will never convey calm authority, and why am I putting myself through this again if I so clearly don't have the "personality" for it?

On the other hand... I have a job! Both these courses will be done by mid-March, and then I have one more in April, and then I can move on if I need to. I'm not REQUIRED to be perfect as a teacher. (Though I hate it, hate it, hate it when punks think I'm not "good," when this judgement is based on personality reasons. I hate it when I can't control what I convey.)


So this is the course of the semi-medicated mind.

In the meantime, it's totally an adventure. Yesterday I admitted to my class that teaching them was like being at a slumber party, albeit one I get paid for attending. I just hope that it's the kind of slumber party that makes their scores go up.

I'll end on a question. When a student asks point blank, is this the first time you've taught this class? -- what do you say? I ALWAYS bluster and try to suggest otherwise. But maybe I'm advanced enough in my teaching career that I don't have to do this... maybe this is defensiveness left over from always feeling too young and not authoritative enough? The kid who asked last night (granted, this kid as been to only two of six classes... another reason not to want to cede him any ground) didn't seem like he was being that much of a punk. So why not just say, yep, it is?

I feel like that would IMMEDIATELY disentegrate my authority, though this is pretending that I have any. Maybe what I need is more aplomb. Yep. Now shut up.

What do you do in that situation?

*What do students mean by "qualification," anyway? In the non-slumber party class, one punk wrote a note to another that said "she seems really unqualified," all of 3 minutes into the class. I saw the writing, while they were supposed to be doing something else, and read it out loud. The class gasped; I said, "What bothers me isn't that you think that, but that you were writing notes while you were supposed to be paying attention to X," then just went on [anger made me calmer and gave me authority -- something to remember]... and then I could tell them the meaning of any vocabulary word, so then one of the other punks wrote on his book "She's VERY qualified"... but I didn't know if he was trying to suck up or felt bad or what, but I didn't much care.

And, honestly, I thought that class went pretty good. But I was still mortified that at the beginning I'd babbled... I do that, but it works better if I've already gotten their respect FIRST.

But I do think by "not qualified," sometimes they mean "not an imposing male who puts the fear of bejeezus into us."

Monday, February 7

The freakiest picture ever taken of my cat

Originally uploaded by Idio Lector.
Courtesy CV.