Saturday, January 19, 2008

One Week In.

Some thoughts on my first week of classes:

My Intro to American Studies professor does this thing with his face -- purses his lips and cocks his head -- exactly like Pee Wee Herman. I noticed it right away but couldn't figure out what it was reminding me of, because, besides being skinny and sort of handsome in a pixie-ish way, he doesn't otherwise resemble Pee Wee, but he did it on Wednesday and suddenly I made the association and I stifled a laugh which came out as just a "huhn!" and a smile.

I've been very lucky in my choice of classes again, or maybe the caliber of faculty at U.T. is just that good. All my professors are good lecturers, engaging, smart, and funny.

I'm going to be reading like a fiend this semester. Besides two pretty dense textbooks for my Geology and History of Texas Government classes, I'll be reading about a dozen books and a stack of about 200 photocopied pages for my two American Studies classes.

I think Spanish will be, if not less challenging, less stressful this semester. The teacher is organized, somewhat strict, and very very patient.

I feel less connected or engaged or something than I did last semester, but I'm blaming it on the cedar fever. I can't for the life of me remember the names of my professors, except my Spanish teacher. I'm sort of in a fog because my nose is constantly running, I have a headache, and I can't breathe through my nose.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Here's What I Think.

The big issue many people have with Barack Obama is that he is unproven, that because his resume is so short there's too much we don't know or can't anticipate about him, that we could elect him and something horrible might happen that we never imagined. Or he could turn out to be another charming politician that we pin all our hopes on and he lets us down, turns out to be incompetent or dishonest. Like Jimmy Carter, like Bill Clinton.

Though I get exasperated with people who say he's all inspiration and no policy when all it takes is a Google search to find reams and reams of policy (try his campaign website for starters -- maybe this stuff is not on CNN, but it's not hard to find), even so, he is young, he is light on government experience. The benefit of the doubt is not something that it is usually wise to give to a politician. I get that.

I like to think that I like him, that I believe in him, because I've done the research, because I'm paying attention, because I'm smart, because I have superior intuition, but I don't discount the possibility that I like him because I have no choice.

I will not vote for Clinton or Edwards. They both voted to authorize the war against Iraq. It's as simple as that for me. They supported an immoral war. They claim they didn't know what they were doing when they cast their votes, that they had no idea Bush was lying. I knew Bush was lying. Millions of people protesting in the streets knew Bush was lying. So, not only did they fall on the wrong side of the question, they did it for cynical, political reasons and then lied about it. I can't vote for somebody who would lie on that scale, about something so big, so important. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Iraq.

Every once in a while I soften on Edwards, because he talks about poverty in a way that no one else will, and we need to have that discussion in order to solve so many of the problems we talk about all the time and can't figure out how to solve: bad health care, racism, obesity, drugs, poor education. But I would not vote for Hillary Clinton, not in a primary, not in a general election, not for president of the P.T.A. My memories of the nineties are too fresh: Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, NAFTA. I know she's not Bill Clinton, but he'll be right there beside her. They are billing themselves as a team. No thanks.

I'm willing to see if Obama really can change the way we govern ourselves. There's always a chance he'll flop. But I don't see that I have any other choice. If Clinton is the nominee, I will still vote. Voting is an obligation I take seriously. But I'll write somebody in.


Yesterday in Spanish class, we were learning a group of verbs that have a similar irregular construction in Spanish (verbs that mean things like, "to like ____," or "to need to ____," or "to be annoyed by _____"). We played a game of bingo where each square contained a sentence and a blank for someone's name, and we had to fill in the name of someone in the class after asking around to see who fit with the sentences. Some of the sentences were "No le interesa ir de compras (He doesn't like to go shopping)", and "Le disgusta el chisme (He is disgusted by gossip)" and "Le conviene ir al dentista (He needs to go to the dentist").

That last one made me uncomfortable to begin with, even if it wasn't directed at me, but when one woman in class walked right up to me and asked "Te conviene ir al dentista?" it felt like a conspiracy.

People are always giving me breath mints. Isn't it obvious how unhelpful that is? First of all, it's tooth decay that's giving me bad breath, so I don't need to be sucking candy all day. Second, it doesn't help. Nasty breath is even nastier combined with the smell of mint. And third, it's annoyingly cryptic. If you want to let somebody know his breath is foul, tell him his breath is foul. And deal with his reaction, because, though it will be useful news, it won't be pleasant news. My reaction now would be "I know," but I imagine most people don't know because their loved ones are afraid to tell them. Bad breath can be a sign of any number of health problems, so do a good deed and tell somebody he has bad breath today.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

He's Different.

It's 49 minutes long. When do you ever get to listen to a presidential candidate talk sensibly for 49 minutes about a range of issues? Ever? Watch the whole thing. It's worth it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


For someone for whom social awkwardness is already a problem, a lifelong problem (or, more particularly -- I don't know if this is always the cause of social awkwardness, but it is in my case -- a neurotic fear of having no control over others' impressions of me) bad breath is the worst nightmare, the ultimate test. It's like walking through life with shit smeared on your face, maybe, probably, shit which is only perceptible to other people so you don't know how often it's there or how much, and there's no way for you ever to know.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Day One.

This is completely not what I'm going to write about in this post, but the title puts me in mind of what is probably the thing that bugs me most about Hillary Clinton: more than the fact that every time she says anything you can see how carefully formulated her answer is so that she can deny she said it later if she needs to, or the fact that she avoids the truth as if it were bird flu, even more than the fact that she's married to Bill Clinton, what bugs me more than anything about her is that she uses expressions like "day one." She's always talking about what she's going to do or what she's going to be ready to do on "day one." I hate that.

Today was my first day of classes. (What a nice word "first" is. It looks nice. It sounds nice.) I have a geology class for non-majors called "Earth, Wind, & Fire." It's everyday geology -- what you need to know about Earth to be a responsible citizen of the planet and fascinate people at parties. I like the professor. He's 60-ish, dry scientist/dad sense of humor.

Just before class started he stepped out from behind the lectern and walked across the front of the room and back. His very deliberate way of walking reminded me of a guy I used to work with who had some kind of nerve condition, and the thought came into my head that he had walked across the room just then to get it out of the way, so everyone could see that he had an odd walk and then he wouldn't be as self-conscious about it. Just as he got back behind the podium, a guy sitting next to me said to his friend sitting behind me, "He walks like he has a wedgie," and his friend said, "Yeah. He probably does."

I thought, "How insensitive and immature!" and had a whole conversation in my head, comparing myself to these guys, lamenting how unkind people can be, but eventually forgiving them because they're so young and I'm so old and worldly and of course I would have more compassion because I've seen more suffering, etc. Then it dawned on me how backwards I had it, that the little storyline I made up for the professor was condescending, that I was projecting my discomfort onto him, when in fact he was probably just walking across the room to survey the class, or stretch his legs, or for no reason at all. And he did in fact walk like he had a wedgie.

I think Spanish is going to be less traumatic this semester. The teacher is from Colombia and has lots of teaching experience. She was at ease in front of the class, and had us all speaking on the first day. Ahh. (I recognized her immediately as the voice of the audio portion of our final exam last semester. Obviously they chose her because she speaks so clearly and beautifully.)

And last today was Introduction to American Studies. The "introduction" is more to a way of approaching a subject than to a subject itself. The subject of the course is Texas history and culture, but we'll be using the methods used by American Studies scholars which, from what I understand so far, combine the critical and theoretical tools of English scholars with those of social scientists. We'll see what that's all about. The professor was impressive, engaging speaker, pointy shoes. I didn't know beforehand that it was Texas course, but it works out well because I have a Texas government class too this semester. By May I'll be a Texas expert. (And the Spanish helps too, since so much of Texas history is in Spanish.)