Drinking from the Firehose…

…and Other True Cliches…

I shouldn’t be writing a blog today. I’m having one of those weeks.  I thought I was done with being overbooked, since I sledgehammered off the corporate shackles from my old middle-management life, but that was a silly idea. As human beings, we can never eliminate stress from our lives entirely. Besides, it’s good for me. If I can make it through the week.

the proverbal drink from firehose
From Pinterest

When I first started teaching, the temporary, part-time gig was enticing. A handful of classes, a manageable load of students, and material that I could master. Juggling a schedule with multiple classes has turned out to be less easy. Classes get cancelled; students don’t show up and then too many show up; the door is locked. Stuff happens, like in any job.

This particular summer session, I was minding my own business with one class, and an opportunity came up late last week to teach a new subject–one I’m trained to do but hadn’t prepared yet. Not at all. In fact, I thought I’d read the material since I’d started bugging the higher-ups to give me the new class last February, but it turns out I hadn’t even read it. Then, I was offered a session, last minute, no other teachers available. Late Friday, for a class the following Monday and Wednesday evenings (for three weeks, 18 hours of material total). Oh, it’s all good fun until somebody loses an eye! Isn’t that what we used to jest?…in fact, we used to say a lot of things that have been running through my mind.

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

These cliches went swirling through my head all weekend, hour after hour, as I crammed through the books and teacher’s guides and teacher’s videos until my head was full to bursting. The thing is, the sayings are true. Biologically speaking, humans develop antibodies when they catch a virus. As long as we can fight off the disease, we get stronger.  If I prove to myself I can take on this arduous task, by the time I’m done, I’ll have learned a new thing and mastered the universe ! Ha Ha! As long as… is an important part of that equation. Monday night, after a long bleary-eyed day of staring at guide notes and writing on the whiteboard, I felt a sore throat coming on. Too much lecturing? Or catching a cold? I had laryngitis once when I was teaching. Not fun. I’ve been walking around with a bottle of ice water for three days now.

Which of the following statements are sufficient to answer the question: 1, 2, Both, Neither or Either?
If x3<x, then is x>x2?
1)  X > -5
2) X < -2

I Get by with a Little Help…

Another true cliche I learned is to ask for help. Connect with people. Vent a little to your friends. (Thank you friends, for listening to me kvetch and asking how it’s going!) Ask your boss for special favors, Can I expense the parking? When you’re given a difficult task, try not to be too stiff-upper-lipped about it. As long as you do the work, take advantage of empathy. As you get older, the opportunities to really test yourself diminish. So do the opportunities to learn how helpful other people can be. It’s a good reminder that we are here for each other. And, next time, when they ask you for help or sympathy, you can be particularly appreciative of what they’re going through. It’s why we don’t all live in caves.

McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.
McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.
McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.
McCroskey: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
–from the movie Airplane


The Doing Will Show You How

My brother gave me this quote, acquired from his nibbling at the edges of Buddhism. I used to tell it to my staff whenever I would hand them a giant new assignment. When I took on a new role, I would write it in block letters on a post-it note and stick it to my computer, until the anxiety started to decrease. Which sometimes could take months. One colleague who still keeps in touch told me he got a frighteningly-expanded new gig recently, but he just repeats it to himself, like the boss used to say, Do it to the How… The wording isn’t quite the same as the Zen koan, but the sentiment is there.

I don’t know what I am Doing. But I will Do it. And, by the end of the week, I’ll know How I Did it.

Zen cartoon
From Pinterest, http://harmonist.us


P.S. The answer to the math question is that Statement 2 is Sufficient. Did you get that right?

How Do I Know What I Mean until I See What I Say?

My mom would often quote: How do I know what I mean until I see what I say? when we talked about writing around the dinner table. Which we did sometimes, oddball family that we were. That expression immediately came to mind when the lovely Mr. Fandango suggested a blog One-Word Challenge using the word “mean.” I take heart that I did not think about someone performing acts of cruelty, although I cringe slightly that I also didn’t consider anything statistical which, after all, is right up on my blog masthead.

But that’s writing, isn’t it? We don’t really control it.

Writers Meander

It turns out E. M. Forster is the source of the original saying, and that he was misquoted. He said “think,” not “mean,” which is a curious distinction.

How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?
–E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

Continue reading “How Do I Know What I Mean until I See What I Say?”

Pyrotechny Legend and Lore

Parking lot fireworks
Fireworks over an Albuquerque parking lot, photo by Kajmeister

I see fireworks
I see the pageant and pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans, all Americans free
Forever more–
–John Adams, Is Anybody There? from 1776

Bamboo shoots make the best firecrackers. At least, that’s what the Chinese thought, and they ought to know, since they are credited with inventing them. Most folks probably learned the abbreviated history that I did, where Marco Polo brought gunpowder and spaghetti back from China to the Europeans. Not exactly true, since Roger Bacon referenced the gunpowder formula when Polo would have been only about 13. But legends, including those in the U.S., are an important part of the formula. So is China, as one of the most noted artists of our century is a man who paints the sky with gunpowder.

Founder of Crackers

Li Tian, Founder of Crackers
Li Tian discovering what black powder does when ignited, from historyplex.com

The invention of firecrackers has multiple Chinese stories behind it. One says that folks in the Han Dynasty, (200 BC -200 AD), developed a custom of throwing bamboo stalks into the fire to ward off evil spirits. Since bamboo has hollow air pockets, it pops when it burns, ending with a bang. Continue reading “Pyrotechny Legend and Lore”

Space Octopus/Star Fish

Octopus Flying Saucer
Octopus E.T. from Freaking News.com

I really wanted to find out that the octopus came from outer space. With eye stalks that rotate, suckers on its multiple arms, and a “brain” located mostly along the tentacles, the octo is curious to some and downright disturbing to others. When I saw the headline: “Alien” octopuses “arrived on earth from space as cryopreserved eggs” I had to trace the theory back to the paper in a legitimate scientific journal which suggested this intriguing occurrence.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed by Snopes and the article’s lack of deductive reasoning and relevant facts. Bummer! The ghost of Darwin has, for now, fended off the extraterrestrials but, as an encore, has performed biological magic with starfish.

First, an important grammar lesson. I was taught that the plural of hippopotamus is hippopotami, so that the plural of octopus would be octopi, but my mother was wrong. Octopus is not Latin–like the word radius (plural radii)–but Greek oktṓpous (ὀκτώπους, ‘eight-foot’). So the plural is octopuses (or octopedes) but never octopi.

And Moses supposes his toeses are roses… Continue reading “Space Octopus/Star Fish”

Happy Juhannus

Celebrate Juhannus 2018
Midsummer celebration, design from finncamp.org

I spent summers as a kid at a place called the Finn Camp in the woods of suburban Detroit. The summer program was swim lessons in the morning, drama rehearsals in the afternoon, saunas on the weekends, and a lot of tag played on and underneath the docks of the lake. At the end of each school year, I lived in great anticipation for the start of all this in mid June, after the solstice party called Juhannus.

Solstice celebrations, which happen between June 19 and 21, are curiously named “Midsummer” events. In the U.S., summer is tightly linked to the school year, and most children’s seasonal school year ends near the beginning of June. So, why isn’t it the Begin Summer celebration?

The summer solstice occurs when the earth’s tilt is at maximum toward the sun in your hemisphere. In the north, we’re as close to the sun as we’re going to get during the year on that day. Daylight will be the longest–maybe you’ve felt the sky lightening earlier in the morning as you get your coffee or seen the sun peeking through the kitchen window long after dinner. After tomorrow, the daylight hours will start getting shorter again. In that sense, you could say that we’re at the “mid” point; the year is all downhill from here. Continue reading “Happy Juhannus”