Friday, November 30, 2007

weakened weekend

Saturday we plan to stare at a patch on the wall.

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

52. Weekends (more or less) off. I just love 'em. This is the first in a while. I don't plan to drive anywhere, write something, do a ton of grading, or anything else like that. Of course, I do have to prep for Monday, but I'm trying to regard that as somehow just a fun weekend activity.

Teaching in college is not a cushy job, but it has the enormous perk of summers off. I think we pay for that with the tough hours we put in during the academic year. I rarely get a weekend like this coming one, and man, do I need it.

51. Quasi-scientific explanations. I just love 'em. Faux-science charms me, as satire and as silliness. One of the best fake science purveyors is Duck's Breath Mystery Theater's Ask Dr. Science, which airs on NPR. They tend not to rely on one of my favorite fake-science tropes, the inflated "sciency" terminology. If you can slap "quotient," "factor," or "-itis" in there somewhere, you've got instant comedy.

end of the month

Goodbye, November.

Good riddance. Egad, what a month. I now have 5 more days of class sessions, then final papers, and this semester is over. More on that another time. What's critical here is that tomorrow begins December, and will be spent doing very little. We might go to the toy train show at the fairgrounds. Might.

Last night I came downstairs after working on stuff (after the jazz combo concert on campus) to discover that my loveliest had assembled a model locomotive, entirely out of used aluminum products - a soda can serving as the body, two cat food cans as large wheels, four tealight tins as small wheels and another as the smokestack, and some used foil shaped into the engine room. I love toy trains, so it was a very sweet surprise.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

relations, jury duty

It takes only a short holiday trip to reconfirm what we have all known for generations upon generations: Everyone's relatives are crazy. We know this is true because they drive us crazy, too.

Exactly how it is that we have been able to remain sane, when all of our relatives are out of their minds, is unclear. It is also unknown precisely how it is that their insanity produces our own, or how it spreads to us. Studies have identified correlative factors, but have never reduced these down to a core cause. Of these, the greatest controversy surrounds whether Outrageous Prejudice and Political Views or Dysfunction and Dysfunction-Blindness is the most significant factor. Others argue that Substance Abuse is the key, since it lowers inhibitions about expressing or acting upon the other two. Finally, a small but committed minority of researchers say the entire process is driven by a poorly-understood but apparently very powerful element that they call the Day-amn, These People Are Crazy Quotient.

Recovery times vary, apparently depending on three key variables: Visit-Duration, Relative-Density, and Vegetation-Opportunity. These factors do not mitigate the insanity-producing or -spreading effect of holidays with the folks, but they do predict rates of regaining good senses, within 3%.

We got back from LA early Saturday evening. This is my first post. Lauren's folk don't, for me, have a very high DTPAC Quotient (closeness of relation is probably another factor), but I'm still in the awkward adolescence of newfound sanity, if that makes any sense, and I doubt it. The Visit-Duration was short, Relative-Density less than usual, but what really screwed me this trip was the lack of Vegetation-Opportunity.

I had jury duty Monday. Man oh man oh man oh man do I loathe jury duty. It's not my civic duty that I detest. It's being in the courthouse, in courtrooms, being around bailiffs and judges, and hearing dozens of my fellow citizens plod through oral voir-dire answering 11 frigging questions that should take 30 seconds to respond to. Obviously I can't divulge. But I will say it's amazing to me that none of these people use illegal drugs. Truly, truly amazing. In fact, unbelievable, especially about that one guy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the problem of self-worth

The last therapist I had was really good. I found her through the employee assistance program I have access to, and I was lucky to get her. My problems were depression and anxiety, and although I had some serious depression and anxiety, I must have been strawberry shortcake compared to her main focus of specialization: most of her clients were sex offenders.

In any case, when I got the referral, I called to interview her. I asked about her orientation and methodology. She was amused. I'm pretty sure she thought I was the biggest smart-ass in the world. But I know a little about psychology, have seen a handful of mainly very bad therapists, and I wanted to know. She didn't say.

One of the tasks she kept presenting me was to understand my troubles in terms of how I interpreted and told myself what my experiences meant. (So, if you're keeping score at home, she was probably operating out of some version of rational-emotive or cognitive therapy.) She would ask me why I was focused on the negative judgments of me made by people I didn't respect - which I was, honestly. To me, doofus that I am, this was a revelation.

She also asked me very difficult questions about self-worth that I still struggle with. I'm not sure, even now, what self-worth means, or how it would function in my life. In her view, it meant something like valuing myself, simply and solely because I am me. This is very hard for me to do, to the point that when she would ask me about my self-worth, I would start to rattle off the things I had done or the qualities I had that seemed to be worthy. "I'm intelligent," I'd say, pointing out what seemed obviously to be a worthy characteristic. But she'd say that intelligence isn't something I'd really earned, and isn't something intrinsically worthy, anyway.

It was a trick, of course. Any particular characteristic one has isn't the real source of self-worth. Under this model of therapy, self-worth arises from a rational and emotional notion of one's centrality to one's own life. Let me rephrase that: under this model, self-worth is you telling yourself that you're worth consideration. There is no magic, no psychohistory or psychodrama at the root of the problem of having a poor self-concept.

That it still comes up, while my life in general is demonstrably, objectively, in every way better than it was when I was dealing with depression, is stunning and puzzling to me. But it's true: a bad class session, poor reception of a paper I've written, listening to superior guitarists, an offhand comment, can all shake my self-confidence and undermine my feeling of self-worth.

But this remains an open question for me. As much as I would like to feel good about myself, and not have that sense of my own worthiness threatened on a daily basis, I remain suspicious of the idea of intrinsic self-worth. Do we not need to deserve it? Do we not need to deserve ourselves, or deserve the good, the happiness, the pleasure, that we continuously demand for ourselves?


Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

53. Pies. I just love 'em. My mom always baked the most wonderful pies. They have set the standard for pies in my life. No store-bought or restaurant pie has ever come close to my mom's apple, peach, or pumpkin - especially pumpkin.

Unfortunately, true to family form, my mom isn't good at transmitting recipes. I called her the other day to get the recipe for apple and to check on the pumpkin recipe, and as she read me them, she kept saying cryptic things like "I add more" or "I add less." That means the recipe isn't what actually goes on, which is to say that it isn't a recipe.

I don't mind that. The good Moose knows, I don't have recipes for most things I cook. But this business of having and disseminating recipes which are not in fact the recipe one uses promulgates an oppressive ideology is very confusing.

I call upon all bakers and cooks to be honest with those with whom they share their knowledge, and to be honest with themselves, and admit when their so-called recipes are mere guidelines, hints, or admonitions. Not all moral prescriptions are absolute and inviolate, and likewise not all culinary prescriptions can be legislated for all times and for all persons.

So there. The philosopher-chef has spoken.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Tonight, I'm making one of my favorites:

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

54. Meatloafs. Meatloaves? Whatever. I just love 'em.

We've all had meatloaf. Most of us, anyway. And most of the meatloaf we've had isn't terribly exciting stuff. Soda crackers, an egg, some milk, ketchup, plopped together. I never thought anything of it, despite my sister's love of the stuff (especially in the rather bizarre form of a meatloaf and peanut butter sandwich). My mom made this meatloaf. Your mom probably did too. Our moms love us, but their meatloaves don't prove it.

I first discovered meatloaf in the full sense from a joint in Mo-town called DeVa. They make a Mediterranean style meatloaf sandwich with tomato sauce and melted cheese. The meatloaf is a revelation: savory, spicy, even juicy. I've devoted myself to finding a way to create gourmet meatloaf ever since.

My current recipe involves ground beef, lamb, and pork, gobs of mustard, either salsa or tomato sauce, and the key ingredients: generous supplies of cumin and garlic. It's in the oven now, baking away.

And for crying out loud, use beef with some damn fat in it, people! You'll get baked cardboard if'n you don't. And add more garlic! More! MORE!

I've made tomato sauce today as well, so I can make us meatloaf sandwiches the DeVa way later this week.

Monday, November 12, 2007


Chicago is one example.

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

55. Big cities. I just love 'em. I've been to San Francisco and Washington DC more than other big cities (and some would say these aren't, and in the case of DC they'd be more right than wrong, but anyway), but I've also been to New York a couple times and Chicago a small handful. I love Chicago.

Red-eyed out to Chi for SPEP, Wednesday night to Thursday morning. After getting some breakfast and waiting out our hotel reservation we got in, rested up a bit, then hit the town. We hiked 4 miles from the River North Westin, around the Magnificent Mile and over to the Navy Pier, then back, that afternoon. Friday we did the conference morning sessions and then headed back out, this time south, around Grant Park, all the way over to Shedd Aquarium so I could show Lauren the view of Lake Michigan from there. Along the way you get views like this:

Once you're right at the aquarium, turning toward the lake, the skyline is to your left, and nothing but lake in front of you. The wind at that point is wonderful.

One of the coolest things about Chicago is of course architecture. The skyscraper was born there, and there are fine examples all over the freaking place. Better yet, there are skyscrapers of every era, from the teens to now. This gives you incredible juxtapositions: a 19th century Louis Sullivan monumental hunk of rock next to a postmodern glass frolic, behind a high-modern steel tower and a concrete obelisk.

We didn't close Berghoff's, like I did with a gaggle of Duquesne philosophy grad students years ago (after untold pitchers of German beer and untold platters of German food). We didn't get a hotdog from a street vendor, because there weren't any in evidence. We did get a Chicago pizza, which I love, but Lauren wasn't thrilled by. Best of all, was the walking. Chicago is a fantastic place to walk. Hazardous, but delightful.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

election day??

Today is the day that Americans solemnify the basic democratic right to vote. Er, well, today is the day that many a few Americans solemnify desecrate go vote.

We're going.

It's very exciting this year. No, it's not. I'm sorry. I lied.

Turlock school board. Nnyeh. I will never have a child in a Turlock school, or any other school, for that matter. But of course I care. I want to do anything I can to elect godless communists to the school board.

Irrigation district. Bleh. I don't irrigate, personally. Our tiny little rental yard is irrigated. They're also the people from whom we get electricity, which would make sense if they generated electricity from hydroelectric dams, but of course they don't in any great capacity. Voting for one or another of these guys will make no real difference in the policy of generating power with the cheapest investment for the greatest profit. (I looked into running for the irrigation board, because of my disgust that we only get 1% of our power from solar and less from wind. It was basically impossible for me to run.)

I think there's a proposition or two. These are rarely good ideas.

Frankly, I think I just like to fill in the little balloty thingies.