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Archive for October, 2007

Off the Map

For some reason, I have lately felt like going off the map.  As I said in an earlier post, I have discovered some old, apparently little-used trails in the park where Muttboy and I roam.  We have spent a couple of hours just wandering, not really knowing where we were or exactly how to get back.  It has been a lot of fun, just following our instincts–or my instinct and Muttboy’s nose–to wherever we happen to end up.  I’ve been doing the same thing on my bike rides lately as well.

Last Saturday, I decided to follow a route that I had only been on once, and then I planned to add some drama by veering off and finding a different way to my halfway point.  It worked out well, and I discovered a great new road with a killer descent.  It felt good to strike out and try a new series of roads, not knowing if they were hilly or flat, though in this part of Connecticut, the real question is not hilly of flat but how hilly.

Today, I added even more drama.  I planned to take yet another road, and then I would piece together several other routes to form a Frankenroute–a ride of unknown length with surprise variations I could throw in depending on my whim.

Here is what I ended up with:

  • 103.67 miles
  • Duration:  5:51:34
  • Average Speed:  17.6  mph
  • Maximum Speed:  My computer screwed up and claims 94 mph, which is not true, I am sure.  Let’s say 45–I remember seeing that on a descent.
  • Feet of climbing:  My computer does not have an altimeter function, but I’m guessing at least one million.  And that’s a conservative guess.
  • Calories:  5,671

I nearly killed myself at about mile 88.  I was cruising along River Road, concentrating on avoiding the worst potholes and the broken glass (I think the high school kids like to drink on River Road and toss their empties) and trying to look cool while riding no-hands and eating a Clif bar when I saw a bike up ahead.  As I got closer, I saw that the rider was on a flatbar hybrid bike, he was wearing baggy shorts and a t-shirt and no helmet, and he had on a backpack.  In other words, the dude was begging to get dropped.  I got even closer and realized that the dude was ripped–big body-builder muscles, and I started to rethink my dropping plan.  Just then, the dude noticed I was behind him and stood up to sprint away.

With the gauntlet thrown like that, I had to crush him.  I passed him on a hill and eased back into my rhythm.  I glanced back and saw him pushing to keep up with me.  This was bad news.  When you drop someone, you have to make it stick.  Luckily, I had a turn coming up.

I turned and then heard badly adjusted v-brakes squealing as the dude decided at the last minute to make the turn as well and chase me.  There was a little bit of a climb, and I wasn’t worried about that, but the descent afterwards made me nervous.  I looked back and the dude was there, chasing me about one hundred yards back.  I picked up the pace without looking like I was picking up the pace using my top-secret spin method (I would tell you what it is, but then I’d have to kill you.).

Once the road leveled out, I looked back again.  The dude was still there!  He was about 400 yards back, so I was gaining, but still.  I decided to try psy-ops.  I sat up, no-hands, and pulled a Clif bar out of my jersey pocket, to make it look like I was not only not trying to dust this guy, but was so unconcerned that I was eating.  It worked.  The next time I looked back, he was toast.

Despite my stupid testosterone-fueled smackdown, I ended the ride feeling okay.  Tired, achy, hungry, thirsty, but okay.  It was the longest unsupported, solo ride I have ever done, and it felt good to do.  I liked the freedom of not having a set route and taking whatever roads felt right at the time.

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Patience, Grasshopper

I have two sections of American lit this semester.  Each class has a distinct personality, with the night class dominated by a very smart and well-read girl who has some boundary issues; she does not know when she shouldn’t wave her hand wildly and digress to show off how much she knows.  I can deal with her, though.  I gently tease her:  “No,” I say.  “I’m not calling on you again until someone else says something.”  The day class has a completely different vibe, as we used to say in California.  So far, I had been feeling a little down about them–they had no spark, no kick, no interest.  Getting them to talk was like lugging a huge load of cold, wet blankets up a dark, narrow staircase.

Today, though, they came alive, thanks to my good friend, Ralph Waldo.  We rocked and rolled on “The Poet,” and for about twenty minutes, I had to do virtually nothing but point at the next hand that was in the air.  One girl in particular got it.  She is a multiply-pierced goth chick, and I had been getting especially frustrated with her, because I sensed there was something literary burning behind the dark mascara and dyed hair.  She herself writes poetry, and when she raised her hand before I even finished my introductory remarks, I thought, Finally–she’s going to show how smart she really is.  When she made a point on her own that I thought I would have to sweat over for half an hour before I could make the class understand, I wanted to hug her.  Without too much prodding, people were drawing connections between Nature and today’s reading, seeing that because words are symbols of natural facts and natural facts are symbols of spiritual facts, the poet, the namer and sayer, must be guiding us through the path from word to nature to spirit.  Wild.  When Emerson proclaims that the poet is a liberating god (a liberating god!!) we jumped back to “man is a god in ruins” and we ran with it.  We were liberated ourselves.

Patience.  I sometimes try to force things, but every class cannot be golden.  Some groups need to slop through the muck before enjoying the sunshine. Set the stage, prime the pump, cue the music, mercilessly mix your metaphors as Ralph Waldo teaches, and let it happen.  Don’t force it.  Patience.

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Intellectual Geeks

I had a conversation today with one of my colleagues about one of our English majors who has decided to leave our university for another.  We are disturbed by this student’s decision, though we understand her reasons, because she is one of the more talented of the new crop of majors.  However, she feels that our school does not offer her the intellectual atmosphere that she dreamed of when she thought of college.  When she visited a friend at a high-powered New England liberal arts college, all of the things she craved were there–the lofty philosophical discussions, the interest in politics, the acceptance of differences, the fact that it’s cool to be smart.  Here–not so much.  She is tired of the girls calling each other “bitch” and “whore” as if it’s a cool thing as they gossip about how, like, totally wasted they got last night, omfg!  Or how they’re, like, totally into, like, Abercrombie?  And shopping?  And, omg! can you totally believe how stupid that prof is!  What’s with that stupid earring?!  And the hair?

Today, another student came to my office hours to talk about her paper and various other class concerns.  As we were talking, Angela, one of my TAs, dropped by.  Kate was talking about what a true geek she is, because she was very excited about going to a Barnes and Noble with her mom (and, yes, I’m lucky, because these are the students who gravitate toward my classes and office hours), and because she just loves bookstores.  Angela leaped from her chair, her eyes sparkling and mouth open in a huge grin, to give Kate an enormous hug.  Kate, recovering her poise, then asked if we had any book suggestions.  Before I could open my mouth, Angela rattled off three or four must-reads, which Kate dutifully wrote down.

All of which makes me think:  We are somehow failing our students, if being smart in college is still seen as something you just should not talk about.  It’s like an unpleasant odor–it would be rude to mention it, and if we plaster a fake, glassy smile to our mugs and talk about trivial matters, maybe it will just go away.  There is only so much I can do to combat this.  I can try to present interesting and exciting lessons, and I can project an interest in reading and intellectual ideas, but, really the cool factor of a 40-year-old professor is pretty low.  Low to nonexistent.  So I am not exactly the model that the too-cool-for-school fools want to emulate.

On the other hand, some students do want that intellectual stimulation.  I’ve been thinking about how to provide it outside the classroom.  As I was driving home tonight, I had an idea that is either pretty interesting or terribly stupid, but maybe it’s so stupid it’s smart.

This is it:  A bookstore tour.  No, wait a minute and hear me out.  There are a lot of interesting old bookstores around New England, with a couple of them right here in my town.  Why not get a group of four or five interested students and spend a Saturday carpooling to someplace like this, which is truly an awesome, funky, weird, and well-stocked store?  Or this place?  Or this one?  Or make it an epic field trip and go here for 18 miles of books?

What do you think?  Stupid?  Smart?  Missing the point entirely?

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I entered my manuscript in a contest, because at this point, I am willing to dance naked on national TV to get my novel published. This is the contest: The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. If I win, I get published and a $25,000 advance. Plus a big screen plasma TV–seriously. I’m not sure who thought up these prizes. Anyway, part of the contest involves the reviews of Amazon customers. Once the novels are posted, I am asking all of my blogging friends to flock to Amazon and essentially stuff the ballot box. Don’t do anything illegal or unethical, but review me and get your friends to review me and get their friends to review me, and so on. My odds of winning are no worse than 1 in 5,000, since they are stopping submissions once they get that many entries. I figure that is at least as good as my odds of getting an agent. I’ll keep you posted as I get more details.

P.S.  I will skip the self-publishing prize if I win one of those.  I’d rather not publish than self-publish.

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When Dorothy and I had dinner the other night with Emily (see Dorothy’s post for more), we talked about listening to audiobooks.  I simply can’t do audiobooks.  My mind probably wanders too much to listen while driving.  I have had this experience far too many times:  I am driving my usual route to campus, through the winding back roads of western Connecticut, and I will take a corner and realize that I have no idea where I am.  For several miles, my car has been driving itself, and when I am recalled to my legal duties as the operator of a motor vehicle, I cannot tell where I am.  Which curve is this? I think frantically.  Then I see the big oak tree or the small pond, and I realize how far I am in my commute.  Because of this, I know that I could not listen to audiobooks in the car as Dorothy does–I would miss huge chunks of the plot.  Wait a minute, I would think, someone died?  Who?  What happened?  Why are they all crying?  I don’t get it!
The main reason, though, as Dorothy pointed out, is that I have trouble hearing voices on the radio.  When I listen to music, I keep the volume relatively low, but when I listen to NPR, I have to crank it up to understand the voices.  As Dorothy further pointed out, I have trouble understanding song lyrics.  Other people sing along with the songs they like.  I sort of hum and make singing noises but don’t actually sing because I have no idea what the lyrics are.

I have always had this trouble.  When I was six or seven, I ordered a book of ghost stories from the Scholastic catalog at school.  The book came with a little 45rpm record of some of the stories in the book and some silly ghost songs.  One of the songs was something about a ghost named John, and one of the lines asked, rhetorically I hope, “Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?”  For some reason, I decided that I needed to write out the lyrics, and my mom discovered my transcription and still (34 years later!) teases me about it.  I heard “Wooden dippy jelly with no skin on,” which, granted, makes no sense.  But I was six, and a lot of things made no sense to me.  The world was simply full of things that make no sense.  Sadly, it still is full of things that make no sense.  How else could one come explain this?  This man is our president?

So listening to audiobooks would be a complete loss for me.  I could imagine myself listening to all of Dracula, only to find myself wondering, at the end, why everyone is so scared of baseball referees.  The audiobook would make no sense, and I would be six again, sadly realizing that the world makes no sense, and these damned newfangled authors with their damned postmodern ideas are writing pure gibberish.

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