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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lets Talk Turkey

I hope that everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving. I was fortunate to have FOUR wonderfully relaxing days of family and fun. I hope the respite will give me adequate stamina to finish out the semester with a joyous flourish instead of a grumbly, grudging stomp of the feet.

I am also another year older now, and of course another year grayer in the beard, mustache (and hair of course). I keep teasing my wife that I am going to borrow some of her Nice & Easy and "brown" myself back up. But, actually, for the most part I enjoy the gray. Actually, I am all sorts of colors and always have been.... my beard and mustache made me look a bit like a calico when I was younger.... some brown, some red, some blond, even a little bit of black. I still have those five colors, but in lower quantities... gray is more prominent than the other five colors.

There is no Flash Fiction this week, as the creator, Cormac Brown, thought it best to have the starter sentence contest during Thanksgiving week. I agree... and look forward to writing and reading stories anew next week.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 428

Through all the craziness, I have still managed to walk EVERY day now for 428 days! Of that, I am very pleased!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FFF #11

A brief aside... I am bound and determined to damn well post my flash fiction effort BEFORE the deadline this week, so here it goes:

* * * * * *

The Den

"Why do I have to take out the garbage?" Mike said to his father, with a bit of a whine to his voice. His mother was at the sink washing dishes, and his younger sister, Olivia, sat in her high chair, coloring on a piece of paper she had been given after the dinner table was cleared.

"Do not be a pest about it...." started his mother from across the kitchen.

Mike's father held up his hand toward's his wife to indicate that she should hold off saying anything more.

"Because I am the Pater familias, intoned Augustus with deep, rich, round tones. "Do you remember what that phrase means, Michael?"

"Yes, dad." Mike sighed, "It means you are the head of the house. And, what you say, goes."

Mike's father grinned approvingly, with a furry-faced grin, because Mike had remembered the definition. "Exactly. Now, hurry and finish that task, and you can work on your homework with me in the den, or you can read one of my books."

Mike, being only eight years old, did not always have a full understanding of the vocabulary he used or knew, only that these were the terms he was familiar with for he heard them regularly. Mike's dad, Augustus, was a man of books and words, and found great joy in tying his tongue around as many syllables in a word as possible just for the shear joy of the experience. Augustus was an English teacher, with a robust, yet graying beard and mustache, and the requisite elbow patches on his sleeves. But, he was no stereotype filled with egregious and bombastic blustering. He worked long and hard to figure out ways to help his students see the beauty and grace found in words of all sorts and of all origins. It is through this background that Mike, even though only a young pup, still wet behind the ears, had a fairly sophisticated vocabulary... and an even more robust taste for adventure and experience.

Augustus had a den in his home that was his inner sanctum. It was a place where he would store his vast array of books, filling to the brim, wall upon wall of the room with knowledge acquired from all across the globe. Also in the den was a beautiful oak framed desk where Augustus worked and toiled late into the evening, reading the hard wrought essays of his students, trying to see beauty in their efforts. His pipe always nearby, he would toil and struggle with each page of each paper, making red marks when necessary, but offering ample encouragement as well with his comments.

Mike loved his father's den, and learned to quietly sit in the room when his father was deep in thought. Mike usually sat on the worn leather couch that sat facing the window looking out into the back yard as he would carefully pull out a book of one sort or another to examine and try to read. Mike also relished the odor of his father's pipe tobacco. In the closed, hushed space, the heavy, yet appealing odor of the pipe smoke that hung in the air reminded him of the incense used at mass on holy days of obligation. When Mike was not trying to wade through an adult text of one sort or another, he would quietly watch his father work using a side-ways glance, sitting perpendicular to his father's desk so his father would not feel his stare so readily. Mike was especially engrossed in watching his father as he smoked his pipe. He saw all manners of behavior with the pipe... often his father nurtured and coaxed his pipe into life in an almost absent-minded manner as he would focus primarily on his student's papers. Or, if frustrated at the words he read on the page, he would gnaw on the stem of his pipe with a furrowed brow as he decided how much red to slash across the page of the egregious effort. The sites and smells and different manners with which Mike observed his father smoking his pipe in the den made Mike grow curious himself about what smoking a pipe would be like.

"Schlemiel!" sputtered Augustus, as he read head-long into an especially onerous passage. Mike knew that the word his father uttered meant the student was being especially stupid, but Mike also smiled slightly, for even his father's cuss words always sounded more interesting than those of his friend's fathers.

Mike continued to read through the book he had selected, and also continued to try to watch his father surreptitiously, but the weight of sleep eventually got hold of him, and he nodded off on the couch and quickly was fast asleep. When his father noticed, Augustus went over, picked the boy up off the couch and carried him to his room and tucked him into bed.

"Robust and adventurous dreams, Micheal." whispered Augustus as he pulled the blanket up to Mike's shoulders and kissed him quietly on the cheek.

That night, Mike did dream, he dreamed about the adventure he would try to undertake the next day. He would try to get one of his father's pipes and try it.

* * * * *

That is it for this week everyone. I hope you enjoyed the essay. It is actually setting me up for a story I'd like to write about Mike's first try at smoking one of his father's pipes. Perhaps it will be possible in next week's Flash Fiction. Today is my father's actual birthday. If he were still here with us, he would be 86 years old today. Happy Birthday, Dad! I love you greatly and miss you enormously! Please think of me often. And both you and Mom, please try to talk to me from Heaven, even if it is only in my dreams. Please.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Update & Note to Cormac

I apologize to all for being away for such a spell. The attending deer camp did work some magic on me, for I feel better than I have for a spell. That said, the reason for my continued absence has been due to two factors:

1. Unfortunately, this is the most hectic and harried time of the semester. Coupling this to an enormously busier semester than usual, and I unfortunately let it get the best of me time-wise. I have really been doing little other than getting through tests, exams, book ordering decisions and the like every since I returned from deer camp.

2. I also had a new, looming grant deadline that I met today. It is a grant I feel I have a good shot at... one for some science education work I wish to explore. It is only a small grant (roughly a bit over $15,000) but small or large, all grants require a helluva lot of busy work and running around all over the hinterland.

So, now that the grant is finished and I have found new footing with all the work related deadlines, I wanted to get back on here to talk with all of you. I hope to now incorporate greater consistency in my frequency of writings for the whole of December in an effort to feel comfortable in setting a new goal of 365 consistent days of posting in 2010.

A final note to Cormac... thank you so much for the advice on how to get my blog up to snuff in regards to having the widget work. When I am feeling a bit more daring, I will try out your advice.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

F F F #10

This is my flash fiction effort this week. I am late (it seems to be a pattern, but it is not) because I just arrived back from Deer Camp. For those interested, I will write more about it tomorrow. But here is the story for this week:

Kodachrome Roaming

The old camera had been in a box for decades, the pictures never developed, and now with the prints in his hand his blood ran cold from looking at the images that came from it. They were pictures of Professor Creighton.

With a furrowed brow, Mike took the stack of images over to his desk and sat down in his brown leather office chair. Reaching into the pocket of his corduroy jacket, he took out his pipe and absently began to fill it while looking with disdain at the film images splayed out on his desk like a deck of cards.

“Damn, him.” he muttered, “All these years later, and I thought I had forgotten and forgiven him for what he did.” The film was a roll he had taken and forgotten after visiting Dr. Creighton at Harvard University one day, so very long ago.

Mike’s full name was Michael Rotham-Keeler, and he had been a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology for a helluva long time. His beard and moustache, once a variegated range of chestnut and other hues of brown, had grown into a salt-and-pepper display with distinctly more of the hypertension-inducing salt than pepper.

His years at the university had been good, but they definitely had not been what he had planned. Striking a match against the hard surface of the red brick he had on his desk, he proceeded to light his pipe and then shook out the flame on the wooden stub of the stick before tossing it into the orange and yellow, splotched, ceramic ashtray his daughter had made long ago for him when she was in 3rd grade.

He was a newly minted Ph.D. way back when Creighton hurt him. Dr. Creighton worked at Harvard, and had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology two years earlier. Mike had big plans and hopes to make a significant contribution to science, and he kept his fingers crossed for months as he waited to hear about his application to work as a Post-Doc in Dr. Creigton’s lab. To do so, would give him the experience of a lifetime that would help him find how he could best serve science through his own research.

After his graduation with his doctorate, Mike moved back in with his parents during that Summer while waiting to hear about his Post-Doc applications. It had been quite a while since Mike had been at home, and it was bittersweet. It was wonderfully sweet to see his parents and younger siblings with such a great depth of time again, but it was bitter to see how harshly his parents had aged, especially his father. His father just looked tired.

The two letters arrived on the same day. The first, one from Harvard, was an acceptance and invitation to Post-Doc in Dr. Creighton’s laboratory. The second, however, was not so pleasant. It was a letter from Dr. Niacini, informing my father that he had inoperable mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the pleural lining surrounding the lungs, and is caused exclusively as result of exposure to asbestos.

Mike’s father had worked hard all his life. He was a welder, and a damn good one. Unfortunately his skill lead him to be sought after in difficult welding situation. This is how he landed his job a the Wickes Foundry where he welded together from the inside, huge, room-sized industrial boilers, each of which was LINED with heavy layers of asbestos.

Mesothelioma is a death sentence, with the execution set for 3-4 months hence. No one recovers.
I wrote and explained my situation to Dr. Creighton, and asked him to please allow me to delay my arrival from September to December or January. He flatly refused, saying, “Science waits for no man.”

Surely he was not serious, I thought, and ferreted out his phone number to try to speak with him on the telephone. Perhaps he did not understand the gavity of the situation. But unfortunately, he was serious. I had to make a decision, go to Harvard in September, while my father succumbed to this wretched disease, and my mother was left to cope alone, or give up on the idea of the position as a Post_Doc at Harvard in the lab of the Nobel Prize winning Creighton.

That Summer, we all cried, tried to laugh, and worked to enjoy the remaining minutes together. But all too quickly my father grew bedridden. First, he could no longer stand. Then he could no longer sit in a wheel chair. Very harshly, in a matter of days, he could no longer eat on his own, or even go to the bathroom without help. My mother, stalwart in her efforts to care for him, was stooped over and wilted from the physical and emotional effort. I stayed and became the braun to help my mother meet my father’s needs, or else she would not have been able to keep him home. Mesothelioma robs a person of so much. I stayed and helped care for my father. He lasted until the middle of October before the Mesothelioma strangled him by forming a thick crust of cells around the lining of the lungs. The cancerous tissue was so thick and dense, it would not allow his lungs to expand, and he suffocated. Both my mother and I were at either side of his bed that morning when he breathed his last.

It was cold the day of my father’s funeral. Yet, I did not feel as cold as I did at seeing the images of Creighton once again.

* * * * *

There is my effort. Sorry for the delay as always. I strive to become better.


Friday, November 13, 2009


Today, I was remembering the following situation that occurred two or three weeks ago while I was working in the yard preparing for the upcoming Winter:

I accidentally scraped the back of my hand hard against the rough bark of the white pine in my yard as I was cleaning. The scrape was damaging enough to bleed, so I thought I better take care of it instead of simply continuing to work. I did not really want to take the time to brush off all the dirt and grime I had on my clothes nor take off my shoes to go into the house to get the "real" first aid supplies from the main floor bathroom in the house. Instead, I went to the small "office area" I had for myself in the pole barn. There, I had a few ancient wound cleaning/healing supplies that I mostly used for scrapped knuckles and such when I was working on the tractor, lawn mower, or a vehicle.

I pulled out a very old bottle of rubbing alcohol, a guaze pad, and a roll of masking tape. I opened the rubbing alcohol and poured some over top of the wound and gritted my teeth through the sharpness of the pain it elicited. While I was waiting for the pain to dissipate and for my hand to dry enough so I could secure the gauze pad, I read the instructions on the bottle of the rubbing alcohol:

For Disinfectant Use: Apply liberally to surfaces, cuts, or abrasions to cleanse and disinfect.

I didn't think much about what I read, and my hand really was dry enough now so that I could wrap some masking tape around my hand to hold the gauze in place and I went back to work.

However, thinking about it now, this has been a helluva rough last few weeks. I feel as if my mind is wounded, abraised by the sadness and gloom I have felt. I have felt this way on-and-off for quite a while, but I think I have made progress... it is just that this most recent bout has been especially exhausting and debilitating. I do not know where to turn, except inward towards myself and struggle with all the damnable determination I can muster to force my thoughts to change from gloom and utter devastation and sadness to joy and robust, vital living.

I want to have sheer happiness. I want to have a mind that gets to enjoy life's delightful variances. I want to see more again the joy and beauty I KNOW is out there in my family, my community, and my world. I want to feel and experience that beauty like I used to so much of the time in my life.

I want to be energized to live. I want to be robust again in my actions, in my goals, and in my psyche. I want to seek opportunities to even experience more joy. I want to feel I am being the best husband/father/teacher/professor I can be and give those that I love, my personal best. I want to have my family reverberate with joy that reflects off of me so that I can help THEM to be joyous. I want to live life large.

In my office this morning I have only a bit of work to do before I head out, and the rest of the day is mine. However, the first thing I did when I arrived was to print out the following several times on a sheet of labels:

For Disinfectant Use: Apply liberally to
surfaces, cuts, or abrasions to cleanse and disinfect.

On the way home, I am going to stop at the liquor store and buy a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey. I plan to slap one of these labels on the bottle and then head home to pack up and head to Deer Camp. I will call my wife to let her know what I decided, grab a few clothes, several pipes, ample pipe tobacco and head out the door to my truck. I have at least a3.5 hour drive North (longer if traffic is heavy) to reach Deer Camp. I suspect I will cry, but also I am bound and determined to spend time contemplating deeply how I plan to fix my mind, and hence my spirit so that I can live the joyful, robust, energized life I want. My goal is to put into place the plan I devise starting on Monday morning.

But first, I will spend the weekend amply disinfecting the raw surfaces, emotional cuts and hurtful abrasions on my mind, just like the bottle says, by applying liberally.... all weekend, while playing poker with the others at deer camp. I have plenty of extra labels for other disinfecting alcohols I may need in this task. By the time the weekend is done, my mind should be disinfected and cleansed from all the hurt and sorrow. My mind will be clean and free of the germs of despair, and I will be able to start anew.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Internal Debate

I am slogging through my normal routine, doing what I am supposed to be doing. Today is my 417th day of walking. I am teaching. I am conducting my research. I am writing grants. But there is no joy.

I have the option to head to deer camp for the weekend. Yet I am feeling nonplussed about the option. Below, I list the four options I see for myself this weekend and my opinions about each:

1. Go to deer camp. If I go, I will need to drive about 3.5 hours north of here, and sleep in a grungy cabin with a lot of noise. The positives will be spending a lot of time drinking, playing poker, and talking a lot of silly b*llsh*t.

Current opinion of option #1 - NEUTRAL; usually I am very positive about this option.

2. Do yard work outside. If I take this option, I still have a helluva lot of leaves to mulch or bag, a sh*tload of plants to remove, a boatload of items to tidy and put away, and a snow blower to get into shape.

Current opinion of option #2 - NEGATIVE; I feel I have the energy of a frozen slug.

3. Do work inside the house. If I take this option, I will be cleaning, adjusting banisters and railings, readjusting clocks, moving things to the attic, doing touch-up painting, etc.

Current opinion of option #3 - NEGATIVE; I feel I have the energy of two frozen slugs concerning this option.

4. Sleep away the weekend. - self-explanatory in the title.

Current opinion of option #4 - NEUTRAL to MILDLY POSITIVE; Sleeping away the weekend will perhaps help me during the weekend, but come Monday when I have to be up and "alert" all it will do is make me aggravated as hell at myself for wasting an entire weekend. Sleeping may also increase my melancholy.

So, I cannot thinking of anything else I may do this weekend. But I truly do not have much gumption, much drive, or much interest in any of the above. What do you think?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Why?" You Ask?

Today's essay is inspired by Jane, an occasional commenter on my site. In response to Monday's essay (more of a brief pair of sentences, actually), she wrote:

"Why don't you get help?
Seriously.......why don't you?
jane | 11.10.09 - 11:02 pm"

Hmm. A difficult question to answer. But, I shall give it a shot:

Do I experience bouts where I am enormously sad, perhaps depressed, perhaps despondant? Yes. Is it normal to feel this way? I do not know really how to define "normal" in regards to emotions. When I am in these pits of despair, I hate them and feel utterly lost and forlorn and without hope. I feel like all is lost in life. But doesn't everyone feel that way from time-to-time? Isn't life sometimes sad? I really do not know how to answer this question, but I often wonder if the various "sadnesses" I feel in my heart and soul are the same as other people experience, or if I am somehow "different" in a way that is clinical or problematic?

As many of my long-time readers know, I am very UNSUCCESSFUL in handling death. The most significant death I have lived through recently was the passage of my beautiful mother in March of 2007. There are many other deaths though that have impacted me including my wonderful father in 1994, a wonderful, creative niece who killed herself by suicide in 1994, my graduate research mentor/advisor in 1994, a wonderful uncle in 1994, a very close family friend in 1994. Also, there has been the death of another uncle (an additional father-figure to me and a friend and mentor) in 1999, a beautiful aunt in 2002, and a cousin in 2009.

Why do I mention them? I mention the above because I am not sure if I "deal" with these deaths in the "right" way or not. In reality, I seem to have two methods though which I "cope"... either I a) think about these wonderful people who are now gone and I am sad, and I think of my own looming mortality, and how there will very soon come a time when I will not be here with my family and I will be dead, in the same way all those people who loved me before are dead. In this framework, all of life seems bleak and sad, and difficult to focus on. Or, conversely, I adopt strategy b) where I ignore it all and try to blithely go about life without thinking about death, without thinking about my loved ones who are gone. Neither strategy is wholly effective, and yet I do not know of any other strategies to employ.

If I spend time in my mind (I am a professor, so I am used to thinking), I will inevitably begin to think again about the futility of it all, about how death is looming for all of us in truly only a moment of time. So, in the last few years, I have become less of a thinker, less of a reader, more of a person who just drifts from moment to moment. In some ways this has been helpful, for it keeps the harsh agony quelled a bit, but I do not know if it is effective in healing. But I also do not see any other alternative.

So, Jane, I really do not know. I do not know if there is anything that CAN help, nor do I know if I am any different from anyone else in this regard. I really do not know, and I am simply here, in a sea of inactivity and indecision and uncertainity.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Flash Fiction Week #9

I was absent from last week's flash fiction effort because of the emotional issues I was experiencing that had me do nothing other than what was absolutely required of me. I am still feeling VERY rough emotionally, but I am trying to rejoin the world, so-to-speak, and am forcing myself to at least try to do the things I enjoy. Today's effort will be a bit of a break from my continuing saga (my previous Flash Fiction Efforts were a sort of serial). I may be a bit late, so I may not be counted on the actual Flash Fiction effort. But if not, it is my own damn fault, of course.

* * * * *

Conundrum Passage

Is this all there is? Live and then die? One moment you are flesh and blood, but the next you are rotting tissue? Is it really a bunch of lies we have been fed our entire lives, that makes us think and believe there is a purpose, a meaning to anything that we do?

All the above thoughts, and many, more putrid ideas have been percolating in my brain as I sit shriveled up on the couch that is in my office, in the turreted, third floor room of the old Victorian house I and my wife live in.

"Life is fleeting. All I do is empty and useless." I whisper hoarsely to Hippo, the orange tabby cat, my voice rough from hours of sobbing.

Hippo is the cat's nickname, for his formal name is Hippocampus. My wife and I found him in a box along the railroad tracks where the two of us often walked together to view the Fall leaves. We noticed the box on the tracks and thought it odd. Getting closer, we heard a puny, and weak "mew" sound from the box. We quickly opened the box and found a nearly starved kitten roughly about 6 weeks of age. The kitten was so frail and thin, its bones along its tail and back were sharp and prominent, feeling the body of the kitten, its muscles had no form or definition, for they had been consumed by the kitten for energy. The little kitten could barely stand from weakness.

I did not think the kitten would survive, but we brought it home and put it in a warm, covered box with some food, water, and a blanket. The next morning, I took the box to the veterinarian, presuming he would end up euthanizing the little kitten. Much to my surprise, when I opened box, the kitten, though still frail and exceedingly malnourished, was alert, and attentive. The vet looked him over, stem to stern, and took a blood sample as well. He gave me a slightly jaundiced eye and asked, "Are you going to keep it?"

The thought had not really crossed my mind the evening before, as I thought there was no hope. I looked at the kitten and asked, "Do you feel he has a chance to survive and be reasonably healthy?"

"I'll know more in a few minutes." he said, as he went to the back to look at the sample.

I could not believe people treating this small kitten so badly. I picked it up while I was waiting and the little "motor" in the back of his throat started to vibrate as he purred.

The veterinarian returned a few minutes later with a furrowed brow, and a bit of a scowl across his furry, grey face. "Well, I'm not exactly sure what to tell you. This cat has virtually no flesh on it, and it has been horribly mistreated. However, it also does not have worms or feline leukemia, or any life threatening disease I can uncover. That said, my advice is really a compromise of sorts. Right now the little beast is healthy, albeit starved, but the degree of emaciation this cat shows is bound to affect how it grows and develops, and also its long-term survival."

I looked at the kitten, and also looked at the vet. "I guess I will have to give it a chance." I said with a lackluster tone to my voice, mostly to match his own tone and mannerisms. Truth be told, however, I was glad to try saving the kitten, as I saw how happy and content it seemed, even with all the harshness and abuse it had experienced. It somehow could still be content and happy. On the way home in my truck, I decided to name the little kitten Hippocampus, because it was a region of the brain I had been working on writing a research grant about for the last several weeks. The hippocampus is the region of the brain where memories are believed to he stored, and the grant I was woarking on was to examine in a rat model, the role of exogenous cortisols on memory.

That was 7 years ago, and while both my wife and I know that Hippo could still have a shortened life span, we do know he has been a valued and true member of our family. He filled out very quickly and by the time we had him for a year, he weighed in at 26 pounds, and was long and rangy. Yet, he never lost his happiness, and he always wants to be near one of us or one of the kids when home.

I so needed his companionship today. I do not know what it is, but something is just not right. I feel like a man who is in disguise. On the outside, I look like I have a wonderful life.... actually I DO have a wonderful life, but inside, deep in my very soul, all I feel is sadness and loneliness that I cannot even put it into words. I love my wife, I love my kids, I love my family and friends. My job is *usually* very nice (it has glitches of course), but for the most part life is good. Yet, at different times and without understanding why, I fall into a pit of despair, a vast crevasse though which I fear I may not be able to climb out of. The best I can describe is that it is akin to feeling so utterly isolated, isolated from time, from people, from any sensation. It feels as if I am in a void, a void that I fear will last for infinity. No one will hear me, no one will see me, no one will touch me, no one will know me. A complete and utter void.

I need some sort of redemption. Please.

* * * * *

It is different from my earlier efforts. I hope it is at least somewhat interesting.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Where the Hell Have I Been?

Unfortunately, I have been in the pits of sadness and despair. I am trying to climb out. I am not sure how successful I will be. But I shall try.