The Thoughts of a Frumpy Professor

............................................ ............................................ A blog devoted to the ramblings of a small town, middle aged college professor as he experiences life and all its strange variances.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Raspberry & Blackberry Tinctured Burley

The previous day was one of mildness of thought through constant activity. My myriad of students received the scores of their first exams back. I have to remember to spend as much time as possible in my back office and lab so as to not have the hundreds of them knocking on my door with their emotional mantra's of:

"I am so upset at my grade! I have never gotten such a grade before, ever!"

For me it is a rough road to hoe. But it is one that I think is desperately important. You see, this particular semester, I have introductory biology students and lower level anatomy & physiology students. Both groups are typically derived from the same stock... namely they are new freshmen... or are very young, novice students.

My goal (above the goal of teaching them the content details of biology and anatomy & physiology) is very simple.... I strive to have these minds learn how to think DEEPLY about science, about day-to-day activities, to think DEEPLY about life! And, unfortunately, because damn near all of them attended high schools where thinking was limited at best to memorization and regurgitation of factual minutia.... a large percentage of my students STRUGGLE with my exams that focus on the nurturing of higher level thought skills.

If you have ever looked at a pedagological/philosohpical idea called Bloom's Taxonomy, you will find a pyramid that shows the different level of thought that can be attained. Most all of the K-12 schools (those schools from kindergarten through high school) in our nation (please note, I said most, not all) focus almost exclusively on the first (lowest) level of Bloom's Taxonomy... the level of remembering knowledge. This is why the brightest freshmen are near experts at memorizing and regurgitation details... it is in their training. A few, more advanced high schools emphasize the ideas of the second level as well (understanding). But that is typically it... especially in terms of teaching of science.

I focus from the very first moment my students step into my class in forcing them to strive for deeper understanding and my major goal is to have them be able to think and reason at the VERY LEAST into the analyzing level of thought if not into the top two tiers of the taxonomy... evaluating and creating. I tell them this from the moment class starts. But... sadly, so very sadly... so many of them do not believe me, or they mistakenly think that they already do that. This is why I have so many students following the first exam of the semester wail in agony at the rather abrupt confrontation they have with the limits of their understanding. Often, they do not like this confrontation, and then attempt to find a scape goat to blame the difficulty upon.

That is why for the next two to three weeks, other than my mandatory office hours, I think I will spend my time in the quiet solitude of my back office, and/or stay in the bowels of my lab where only the research students know where to find me. Getting pummeled with so many emotional students is very draining and the office hours are bound to be chuck full of them... they always are immediately after this first exam.

* * * * *

In my current wave of nostalgia, I once again found another song from my earlier life that you might also find enjoyable in this snippet form. To me, this song always spoke of joy and fun and good times.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pondering and Pummeling

It is rare that I find quotes I truly like from political leaders. However, the following did catch my eye:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are
not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is
not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers,
the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a
way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening
war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

— President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Please do not simply glance over the above. It is so utterly true and important for us to heed, even at this late date.

Today, as in the last few, I have kept busy as hell to keep me from feeling sad. I did take one brief foray into non-task oriented thought and meandered around my favorite bookstore (on the Internet, anyhow), I stumbled across an album that brought back so many memories of happier times in my younger days. Let us see if anyone can guess the song.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Delving, Developing, Damn Tired

As I had planned, I stayed busy as hell all day from the moment I stepped out of bed at 6:00am until now, just before I head off to the couch to read a few journal articles and one chapter in the novel I am reading. The non-stop activity has made me able to accomplish a great deal today, and I have not had a single moment for introspection, and hence have not felt sad. I am planning a repeat on Tuesday.

I have one question I would like to pose to you technically astute folks out there. I have an old, but reliable and easily used program to record scientific data. I have not used this for several years as my studies had shifted to another realm that made this program unneeded. However, I am hoping to utilize this program again as some of my older experimental designs will fit in well with my current thrust in research. However, there is a problem... the program was originally designed to run from the DOS 3.1 operating system. It was originally made upon 5.25 inch floppy disks. I have been able to convert the program over to a 3.5 inch disk, but I am concerned about finding a suitably old computer (it was originally made for the 8086 style machines that were prominent PRIOR to hard drives). I know that there has been a capability to run DOS based programs on machines through I believe Windows 98. However, I have been told that the timing mechanism (this program measures time) may be off on some forms of Windows with DOS that are newer than say DOS 5.0. Is this the case? And what my biggest question is.... if I were to buy a very old, use laptop (say a 100mhz machine that runs hopefully only Windows 95), would it be likely that my program would run on this machine given I have a DOS 3.1 disk and if so, would it likely measure time accurately?

Any help in the above array of questions would be greatly appreciated.


Monday, September 24, 2007

Getting Back On the Horse Again

I must be sounding like an old, broken record (Special note to my younger readers: the record is a music storage device that was popular prior to the MP3 player, prior to the compact disk, prior to the cassette tape, and prior to the 8-track tape). I have decided to once again step up my energy... to pull myself up by my bootstraps... and work harder, longer, and more strenuously to force myself into a better frame of mind. My game plan:

1. Get up earlier to exercise more vigorously... more walking, perhaps weight training.
2. Get to work earlier, and dawdle less... and get my nose to the grindstone immediately in pursuit of research and new knowledge.
3. Get more work done in a shorter amount of time... so I can leave work earlier in the mid-afternoon to volunteer at the soup-kitchen or other service agencies until I leave to head home.
4. Be more vigorous in my time with the family in the evening.
5. Be more focused in my work efforts in the late evening so as to accomplish more.

To work harder, to give more, to hope for less, and to have less time to contemplate (other than the next task I can accomplish).... this seems to be the only recipe for allowing me to feel content and at peace. Avoid deep thought, avoid open-ended contemplation, avoid meandering thought.

It works, if I do it. But what am I doing? B*llsh*t!!!! That last question is contemplation.... I refuse to do that anymore.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Portfolio of Respiration

As a day goes, today has been "better." I feel purely nebulous and unfocused. I am not feeling the sorrow of the last several, but neither am I feeling much. I am akin to a piece of driftwood, slowly and effortlessly being guided by the ebb and flow of the waves of the lake.

How shall the day pan out? I shall file papers here, then I shall go work in my lab for a spell. After that, I shall drive my truck onward towards home, stopping at the florist to purchase three roses.... one for my wife, one for my daughter, and one for my mother. I shall then proceed home. After showering, I will head to the restaurant across town (roughly a little less than an hour away) to eat dinner with my sister. Then I shall drive home in a circuitous route to visit my mother's gravesite and leave the rose for her. Then I will drive home for the evening.

The list of tasks and activities is the same as on most Thursdays. Yet, as of this moment, I feel neither comfort in the routine (I love routine), nor do I feel the sorrow of my loss. I just feel neutral... almost like distilled water having a pH = 7.0. There is no added flavor, no added solute.... good OR bad. It is just neutral.

It is an odd sort of feeling, the neutrality. I do not often experience it. Yet I do not have much of an opinion on how it "feels" either, as to summon an opinion would require added energy.

So I drift, so it goes.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My Poverty

I feel as if I am in a form of mental poverty. Perhaps more aptly, I am in emotional and/or spiritual poverty. I feel even keel pretty much when I keep myself busy with task upon task. When I do not have a task to do, or an item to accomplish, I feel empty, void. It probably is just an aspect of riding the new wave of sorrow I have had for the last week or so.

I am not sure what option I should pursue. Obviously, the extremes are unlikely to bear fruit. Yet, even the middle ground seems tepid and destined for low yield. Likely, I will simply try to ride out the wave until it dissipates. It seems a wholly weak and "mamby-pamby" manner of dealing with an issue, but it also requires less of the very scant energy I have.

If (and hopefully when) I pass through this latest wave, I will have a reprieve for a spell and can wring out some enjoyment once again.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The "Joy of Today"

A wonderful nun, Sr. Anna Mae Nadeau was a first grade teacher. Therefore she spent most of her work life devoted to the trials and tribulations of five and six year olds. She was a petite woman with a smiling face, and deep seated kindness that flowed from her eyes. After decades of teaching, she returned to her convent's motherhouse in her 70s in Monroe, Michigan. No longer an "official" teacher, Sr. Nadeau still would spend two days a week tutoring young kids with their reading and math, and the other three days of the workweek, she spent caring for the infirm elders in her motherhouse. She carried on in this fashion well into her late 80s. She died at the age of 93. Upon her death, it was discovered that she had kept a journal in which she revealed at the end of every day's passage, a joy that she had experienced that day.

Every day, she would list one joy that she experienced. Some days it was a small joy, others much larger. However... she did this every single day. It is a wonderful gift she shared in this fashion... the idea of being able to successfully find something of joy in the efforts of each day, even if much of the day itself was spent in hardship and toil.

While I am not anywhere near her level of atonement and grace, perhaps I can strive more to force myself to see, to hear, to feel that which can represent for me the joy I should feel, the joy I can experience. It seems daunting in many ways, but the results if I were to be successful would be profound. Perhaps, better yet, I can try to aim at not only finding a joy I have experienced each day, but perhaps to tie in with my devotion to service... perhaps I can figure out a way to give others joy in life as well?

I do not know if that is a possible goal. Sometimes, especially of late, I have felt a fraud, a fake, a horrible, ratty and hairy beast not worth the oxygen I consume. I have felt no seeming value in what I do, no seeming worth in who I am. It is as if I have become null... null and void in terms of my own humanity. I am an empty carcass, a hollow shell, a shucked pod. My innards have been vivisectioned from me, and hence with it my very soul is gone.

I cope with the void of my soul by busying myself with task upon task, effort upon effort, striving for atonement upon atonement. But for what? For what purpose? For what end?

I sit here and contemplate, and scratch my neck. I feel the harsh bristles of hair upon my neck and realize it has been two days since I have shaved my neck. I look into the mirror and see how the edges and corners of my beard have mellowed as the bristles along the border blend into my neckline. The whiskers that grow are akin to an ever ticking clock recording the passage of time. In these now 200 days since my mother's passing, I no longer have any of the hair that she knew me by on my head or face as it has been cut off at the barber. The hair that is in its place looks nearly the same, but yet it is not, it is wholly different. To see this and so many different things that were tangible remnants diffuse and dissipate is a harsh reminder of that passage of time, time that continues on past the last moments we were physically in each other's presence. The slow disintegration of my last remnants of contact with her physical hug of me, her last spoken words to me, her fragrance, her touch.

What is the meaning of it all? Is there any meaning? Are we meant to be torn from love that is so full and so real to live in a void? If we were to have meaning in any way, can it only be from those small acts of kindness that are so ephemeral and temporal? I do not know. I sometimes do not know what to think about anything anymore. I only do know that I wish I knew.


Monday, September 17, 2007

The Stew in Stewardship

For me the last ten or so days have been challenging in a myriad of regards. There have been illnesses, heated discussions, and worry. But, in honesty, the most weighty of the difficulties has been a fresh wave of sorrow about my mother. I have been missing her more acutely these last several days, and I have felt isolated and alone in my grief. I have tried to talk with my wife about my emotional grief, but because of other very pressing issues, we have had scant quiet time... time that I need to be able to explain my grief and have her know more fully what I have been feeling. Tonight, finally, we were able to cull a small kernel or two of time together in which I could describe some of my deep pitted sorrow. It was helpful, and I hope to be able to have more such time in the next several days so that I may work to change this new wave of grief into tangible, palatable action and drive that will pay respect and show my love for her, my beautiful mother. Today is the 200th day since her passing. It hurts to think of it having been so long since I saw her alive.

* * * * *

Stewardship is a way of life based upon service towards others. In particular, stewardship is a manner of guidance over another's affairs of one sort or another. In many ways, I am now the primary steward of my mother's life. I am her financial steward, but more importantly, I am actually the primary steward of my mother's history, the memory we have of her.

* * * * *

In academic writings devoted to philosophical constructs in my Roman Catholic faith, I find in one article for today a discussion of stewardship where an idea is put for that we should proclaim and admit to ourselves and to others of:

"I am not God."

This idea relates to the first words recorded as spoken by John the Baptist in the Gospel of the new testament of the bible. Philosophically, by my proclaiming this same idea... a weight will be lifted from my shoulders. And in those moments where I can feel the simplicity of that statement, I do indeed feel relief... relief that there is no way I can expect to be anything other than the horrid, wretched, person I am... for I *am* only human, and I am faulty, and I am slovenly, and I am insignificant. It is only through my *actions* that I have any real meaning in this universe. By serving others, by being of service.... by being a steward... it is through these methods of toil and effort that I *may* actually grow somehow beyond being nothing and perhaps instead become something of worth, something of value, someone who has provided to the "greater good". It is really all I can have in life to hold onto, in order to make meaning.

* * * * *

Born in France in October of 1767, Father Gabriel Richard was priest of the Sulpician Order. His primary efforts in stewardship were academic... he was a teacher/scholar of mathematics. Yet, by having stewardship as his focus, he also let himself be guided to where and how he was to give of himself in work. Because of the strife and warfare of the French Revolution, his order sent him and many others to the United States, where he became a missionary and brought the unruly lands of Michigan and Wisconsin their first tastes of scholarship... via a library and a newspaper.

* * * * *

I believe that if I am to find any meaning in the grief I feel for my wonderful mother, I may be able to only find it if I start to more fervently devote my life to even MORE service, MORE stewardship and MORE hard labor and effort to help expand the "greater good". It is perhaps the only thing I can do.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Long Time Gone

I apologize that I have been missing in action, so-to-speak. My time since last Thursday has not been my own to any large extent. I have been struggling to keep up with my new plans of exercise and staying on top of everything at work. I started to feel the stress of falling behind on Monday after a long weekend of tasks and duties. I have struggled to pull myself back on track, but I am utterly spent physically and feel a bit numb emotionally. I am heading to bed early tonight (for me, 11:30 pm *is* extraordinarly early). I am hoping a long night of rest will allow me to return with vigor to my desired activity level here and everywhere else... as I have fought the good fight to bring myself back from the brink of chaos. More later.

Andrew, I will of course be happy to take your survey... it will be the first or second post after I feel back up to snuff.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

The End of Times

Strife, war, famine, corruption, killing... all are amongst the vast array of ways in which humankind treats one another when they act selfishly and only promote their own interest. We as humans, being social creatures who live in a highly organized society, SHOULD have as a goal the idea of service to others. There is no better calling I can think of for myself than being a frumpy, furry-faced professor... for I am allowed the freedom to devote much of my work life to that of service. Service to my students, service to my fellow faculty in the form of committee work, and service to "the greater good" by my efforts in the laboratory as I strive to discover new knowledge.

During my walk today, I heard a description on NPR about a show I have forgotten about for the last year or so when things became so tough. It is a show called the "American Experience" and it is a wonderful program that is akin to the documentaries and biographies of previous (of a high caliber and deeper focus like the documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s). I cannot wait for their return with new editions of this series this Fall. I will also look for rebroadcasts of some of the editions I missed this past year.

In reference to my title... The End of Times... it was a bit of a humerous play on words. At the end of [the] Times.... that is, the New York Times... which I read this morning, there is an add for a new Ann Packer novel. The book looks reasonably interesting, but I have questions for you, my readers. I suspect some of you may have read one or more of her novels. Is she an author you would recommend? If she is, would you recommend her to everyone, or only to readers who are female (Is she an author of "female genre" literature, or is she an author of a more "universal genre" who happens to write literature that has females as the primary character in her novel)? Would a furry-faced, frumpy, pipe-smoking professor likely find her work enjoyable to read?


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Walk That Clears My Mind

I have taken to walking very early in the morning. Initially it was simply to get the exercise I "should" do out of the way as quickly as possible. I walk roughly 5 miles and have been starting at 6:00 am each morning. It takes me roughly an hour to an hour and 15 minutes (depending upon if I am am walking briskly or slowly) to accomplish said task. I am surprised I have been so successful at getting this task done so early in the morning. Two items, however, have helped me to have this success so far:

1. I have all my materials packed in my truck (I have been favoring the truck of late, I like its older look, its blue-collar feel, and its casualness) for the next day by 5pm the previous day. The exceptions to this rule are a) my soft sided briefcase containing the journal articles I am reading, the papers I am grading, and my notebook filled with drafts of documents I am in the process of writing, b) the lunch my wife will pack for me in the morning, and c) my pipes.

2. I listen to NPR all during my walk. Its soothing talk and soothing music help to make the start of the day much more pleasant.

The amazing thing, is that I am getting to the point where I am looking forward to this very early morning walk as a way to declutter my brain and become relaxed and ready for the workday. I am enjoying the solitude, the early morning darkness, and the feeling of starting early and becoming truly awake... even prior to my coffee.

It has also helped me to transition more successfully into a good, productive day. I still am having numerous nightmares, and they have made my sleep pattern challengning and difficult. I often awaken very sad and cannot recall specifics of the dreams I have, but I presume they are about my mother's sudden passing, or about death in general, or about other fears I have. BUT, the walk in the morning helps get those thoughts out of my mind for at least a brief while.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

An "A"

Thank you everyone who gave me your opinions on which of the three images I should select to represent myself here. The majority opinion was to select image "A". I shall do so, and am glad for your opinions and efforts. The image selected was, indeed, a top contender for me and I was torn between it and "B". However, ever the professor, it may have been somewhat of a "Freudian Slip" that I did place my current favorite in the "A" slot in my inquiry. I hope that did not overly influence your opinions.

Please note for those of you who preferred one of the other two images... I have kept them available, and I may, on occasion change or alter which of the three I show.

Today is a rather lazy day for me. But tomorrow I should be back to work and progressing on my research and work. I anticipate a longer writing period tomorrow and hopefully it will be a time when I can accomplish something larger here!!!


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Vote Requested

I have told all of you about the new image I currently have. I also mentioned I had another variant. Therefore, what I have decided to do is show links to all three here, and allow you to vote for your preference(s) and why.

I thank you in advance for any vote and/or opinion you may provide. I do not know if there are needs for any criteria to your selection, but if you wish some, perhaps you would select the image that you feel looks like me as you have grown to know me from my words.

Version A

Version B

Version C (the original)

Thank you.