You’re at a party.
Almost everyone there is a stranger. You recognize one person, though. A work colleague.
A coordinator and his attendant enter the living room. The coordinator says he will play a video.
You are told to watch it carefully and memorize as many details as possible. There will be a test afterward.
You catch glimpses of order but mostly find yourself confused by the jumble of images. You slump back into the couch; you can’t keep up.
An attendant hands out thick booklets. You are supposed to answer questions.
This isn’t really a party; it’s an aptitude test. This isn’t someone’s home; it’s a department of some college campus.
You’re in a large central area, surrounded by offices, closets, and laboratories.
You struggle to find the logic.
You must answer three questions, but you can’t find the prompts. You must mark the answers, but you can’t find where they go. Details of the video swim in and out of view, but the coherence is gone.
You ask for help but can’t understand other folks’ halfhearted efforts to assist.
Your colleague submits her correct answers and wins a prize.
She shares the correct responses with you. There are plenty of prizes to win, and she’s not greedy.
You gather her words closely, ready to work this puzzle. Now you only need to find the pages where the answer should go.
The din is getting louder and louder. It really does sound more like a party now, not a test, especially for those who finished early. People who have closed their booklets are now relaxing, chatting, eating.
You get up and find the coordinator in his office; you ask him to explain the rules.
You know that you’ve talked yourself out of whatever prizes await the folks who can navigate the game. You just want to finish the test with some sort of dignity.
With increasing frustration, the coordinator tries to help. But you can’t understand his instructions.
Your colleague is gone now; she left the party with her prize. You’re alone with strangers.
You seek out the attendant. She’s cleaning up messes as the party grows wilder and wilder. She’s busy and impatient. She ignores you.
You find a chair at another table. It doesn’t matter where you sit now. You say to someone sitting nearby, “You know, I think I’ve just discovered that I have a disability. I can’t hear people in loud places.”
He looks at you with the slightest gaze of contempt.
You gather your things, leaving the booklet on the table. You won’t finish the test. You’re only somewhat embarrassed that the attendant will find your stuff later on, abandoned.
On your way out, you double-back to the coordinator’s office. You will muster up some of that confidence you once had by offering a professional handshake.
He’s not there. The room is the same - you think it is - but the furnishings are all different.
There’s an old guy with wild white hair occupying the office now. He sits in the dark while the party proceeds outside. You stare at him.
He says, “You think I’m crazy, huh?”
He does look crazy, but you reply differently.
“You look like a professional.”
It’s an effort, you suppose, to be kind - but also to assert some authority.
You walk out of the room.
It’s morning; you’re now in your bed.
You remember yesterday’s meeting. A typical, rushed affair, colleagues racing through an agenda.
You were in your groove at first, multitasking, engaged, knowing, curious. Then, while making some point or other, you couldn’t articulate a phrase. Just couldn’t remember the words.
Mouth agape, you struggled. Your colleagues occupied cardinal positions around the small table, waiting with growing unease.
You blurted out in panic and frustration, “Help me out here!”
They did, gamely. They got the idea. And besides, the specific words weren’t that important.
But it was. It was the exact phrase needed. And that’s a skill you’ve always tried to cultivate, finding that right phrase.
The moment ended when your colleague offered the correct phrase, kindly, with the smooth clarity you so frequently called to your command.
Later you think about the word “dumbstruck,” about the kinds of guilt that swirl around that epithet. That’s it; that’s exactly how you felt. The perfect word.
Now you wrangle these memories, connecting dreams to doubts.
Dreams, of course, fade. But you strive for correctness, to keep the details right.
From time to time you etch some fakery into the recollection, only to buff it out. Something tells you, remember this. Keep it close.
You know who the old man with the wild hair was. You know who he will be.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
For Spring Break I enjoyed the chance to cruise 2,676 miles of the the great northwest. Highlights include a quick stop at the Shasta (CA) ghost town, flying my quadcopter over an ersatz Maryhill (OR) Stonehenge, shooting neon signs in Yakima (WA), searching for the Wallace (ID) “Center of the Universe” sewer access cover, photographing the Anaconda (MT) Club Moderne (a classic of streamlined architecture), visiting the Rigby (ID) Birthplace of Television museum, driving down rutted roads to survey the Ely (NV) Ward Charcoal Ovens State Park, and staying a night at the infamous Tonopah (NV) Clown Motel and Miner's cemetery - all while grooving on old Dragnet radio shows, complete with Jack Webb taking a Fatima "smoke break" at least once per episode.
|Holiday Motel, Bend (OR)|
|Club Moderne, Anaconda (MT)|
|Clown Motel, Tonopah (NV)|
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
A student recently asked me to answer some questions about a CSU potential strike that may affect all 23 campuses of the California State University system this April. With that student's permission, I'm reposting the exchange here. For facts and analysis, I encourage you to check out the California Faculty Association FAQ. For one faculty member's take on the situation (expanding on a number of posts I've written about the academic market), read on...
What is your opinion on the strike? A strike is a regrettable but sometimes necessary response to unfair working conditions. In this case, CSU administrators have failed to pass along a reasonable portion of increased revenues to repair the damage to faculty pay caused by years of recession. The union has negotiated with the CSU in good faith, and we have certainly tried to avoid a strike. But if this sort of job action is necessary then I stand with my union.
Do you think it's fair to the students? I agree those who state that, "faculty working conditions are student learning conditions." If administrators demean those working conditions by failing to pay workers a wage that allows us to keep up with inflation (in a place known for its extraordinary cost of living) then management is harming students. How, after all, can students succeed if faculty - folks they call to grade assignments, offer mentorship, write recommendation letters, and provide other forms of direct support - can't afford to pay their bills and care for their families? Indeed I would hope that students would feel encouraged to support their faculty, recognizing that we share the same goal: fair and productive working/learning conditions.
How did you feel when you first heard about the strike taking place? When I received the news I understood immediately. Faculty have suffered stagnant wages for years, a fact exacerbated by the growing cost of living in California. We all stepped up to help the CSU weather the economic difficulties wrought by years of shared economic hardship, even accepting a furlough in 2009 to help preserve jobs and help students graduate on time. That furlough meant real pay cuts in a time when many faculty members were struggling to pay their bills. We supported our schools then because we recognized the need to pull together in times of challenge. Now that the economy is growing, albeit more slowly than we'd prefer, the faculty merely ask for some help to keep up with inflation.
Are there any concerns you have because of this? Having joined the union almost immediately upon my employment at SJSU I have always known that a strike could be called. Indeed, I remember participating in an informational picket just a few months after my arrival. It was a strange thing, accepting a job and then soon entering a picket line. While it was nice to join my senior colleagues in singing old protest songs, I inwardly wondered if I was engaged in an activity that might endanger my job. I understood that CSU faculty who pursue authorized job actions are protected from retaliation, but that protection seemed a bit too theoretical to this young professor. Still, I joined my colleagues and was proud to play my part (small as it was). I feel no less determined today. No one wants to strike. But if we must, we will.
Do you think it's important for the faculty to go on strike? Why? A wide range of global, social, economic, and even philosophical trends have contributed to a de-professionalization of education. For many administrators (not all, but enough), faculty members are increasingly viewed as disposable employees - as "human resources" - who should feel lucky to have a job and must be willing to acquiesce in silence to their managers. But we are not widgets. We are professionals, subject matter experts, artists, counselors, coaches, and experts in our fields. We know our students; we serve on the front lines of the struggles to help them enter a tough marketplace and, more importantly, become well-rounded human beings. We became educators because we love to teach, and to learn. So, yes, we accepted a "calling" of sorts. Still, we pay the same sorts of bills as everyone else, and we know our value, even if some administrators don't. We appreciate it when chancellors and board members pay lip service to our central role in educating the next generation of students; we are grateful for their kind words. At the same time we deserve and demand a fair wage. So if there's a strike, I'll join my colleagues - and those students who wish to participate - and do my part.
|Infographic by Deric Mendes|
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Monday, February 29, 2016
|Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey |
Campus San Luis Potosi
|Pozole in SLP Old Town|
|Searching for Street Art|
|Campus San Luis Potosí|
|Nighttime in Jardín Guerrero, Querétaro|
|El México de Frida|
|Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacán|
|Atop the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacán|
Monday, February 1, 2016
Recently while having coffee with a colleague, the topic of Donald Trump came up. My pal had noticed a number of political posters in our hallways, some comparing Trump’s rhetoric with the vile history of Nazism. She was glad to see that many of our students are politically involved. I replied that I appreciated their sentiments, even as I bemoan their excesses. “Comparing Trump to Hitler,” I said, “just seems silly.”
I affirmed my belief that Trump is a circus sideshow of blustery soundbites and shameless hucksterism. Yet a vibrant democracy must allow for his voice, I said, grating as it is. Splashing a swastika Trump’s over goofy hairdo kills the potential for serious debate. What’s worse, the attack mutes the meaning of real Nazis and the real terror they spread. Sure, Trump projects a cult of personality. His reckless militarism is scary. And his “take back our country” pablum begs the question, “take it back, from whom?” Trump’s a fool. But he’s no fascist. An opportunist? A bully? A chickenhawk? Oh, yeah. But let’s not hyperventilate just yet.
My pal rebuked me. Hitler was mocked and ridiculed, too. And then he took power.
I thought about this for a few days… until Sarah Palin entered the fray to throw her support behind Trump. “OK, that’s it,” I said to myself. “The 2016 campaign has officially become a conceptual art exhibit.” And sure enough, there was Tina Fey once again delivering a ruthless satire on SNL, rendering Palin somehow more of a laughing stock than she was in ’08. Best of all, Fey merely had to repeat Palin’s bizarro-land stream-of-consciousness almost word for word. I began to relax. Of course Palin would stand beside Trump in the political cloud-cuckoo-land of 2016! These gags write themselves.
To this point I’ve believed that Iowa Republicans would eventually get the joke. But enough Hawkeye State Republicans caucused for Donald Trump to put the New York billionaire officially in the number two spot, sending The Donald off to New Hampshire where he holds a commanding lead. This is the guy who joked that Megyn Kelly’s tough questioning could be explained by “blood coming out of her wherever,” the guy who ridiculed John McCain by saying, “'I like people who weren't captured,” the guy claimed he could "could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" and not lose any voters… This guy almost won the GOP Iowa primary.
I still think that Trump is a national embarrassment, and I continue to believe that the democratic process is resilient enough to endure his shameful rhetoric. And I remain adamant that efforts to denigrate political hacks as “Nazis” insults both history and our potential to disagree in a constructive manner. At the same time, I will no longer dismiss Donald Trump as a national joke. He nearly took Iowa, losing to the slightly less loathsome Ted Cruz; he’s running for President of the United States, and he can still win.
If we let him.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Here's our 2015 newsletter - and my wishes that you and yours enjoy a super swell 2016! Click the pic to download...
Difficulties opening via the image? Download the newsletter from here:
Difficulties opening via the image? Download the newsletter from here: