Happy trails to you

30 12 2014

My friend J. moved to California, which makes me sad.

But she sold me her loveseat, cheap, which makes me glad.

The cats freaked out just a tad.

And I got rid of a chair that was. . . bad.

. . . aaaaaaand that’s enough of that.

I’m actually happy for J., that she’s finally got out of the city. I’d been a shitty friend to her this past year—wasn’t really tuned in to her hints about how crappy a previous relationship had become—but I did get to spend some time with her (and her new(ish) beau) before she left.

We had such a good, if too-short time; why had I not made the time, before?

Anyway, she is off, and finally able to try to find her own life.

Not a bad way to go.

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Why can’t we be friends

13 10 2013

I’m not friends with my students.

Friendly—yes, but hanging out with them, exchanging casual e-mails and texts, inviting them to read this blog? No.

I’m not opposed to becoming friends with students, but it’s not something I look for, and, pretty clearly, not something my students are looking for. Perhaps had I remained at a more traditional university, one in which the students were not so clearly focused on the vocational aspects of their education, I might have had more students who wanted to hang out and talk theory, which in turn might have led to friendships.

Either way, it’s fine.

I had ignored the Slate article on why befriending one’s students is a bad idea both because I haven’t and, more importantly, I thought it would be a typically bumptious Slate piece in which everything the reader thought she knew about the world is declared wrong.

So tiring, that.

But a piece highlighted by Jonathan Bernstein, in which political science professor Steve Green notes that he regularly shares bits of his life with his students, prompted me to go back and read the Slate piece. It turns out the problem is less with befriending students than with, yes, being open and friendly with them.

When students reported that their instructors engaged in a lot of sharing about their lives—particularly stories about past academic mistakes, even stories designed to stress that everyone has difficulty learning some topics—there is an immediate and negative impact on classroom attitudes. First, the students are more likely to engage in uncivil behaviors. Second, the students are less likely to see their instructors as having credibility, and the declines in instructor credibility are also associated with increases in uncivil behavior.

Slate writer Scott Jaschik notes that the study authors caution that instructor style influences 20 percent of “uncivil behavior” (packing up books early, texting), which means most of this behavior is outside of the control of the prof. Still, 20 percent ain’t beanbag, so if one wants a civil classroom, anything which detracts from credibility might work against that.

I don’t disagree with this. If one wants to establish authority in the classroom (as I most certainly do) without reverting to mere authoritarianism along the lines of “because I said so!” (as I most certainly do not), then establishing that one has the chops to stand in front of student, i.e., demonstrating one’s credibility, is the way to go. The reason you should listen to me is not because I am in charge but because I have the ability to teach you, which means you can learn something from me.

So am I wrong in thinking that telling my students, most of whom are first-generation college students from working- and lower-middle class backgrounds that I was a first-generation college student from a working-/lower-middle class background is a kind of encouragement to them? Am I demonstrating an ability to speak across apparent boundaries or am I, in transgressing those boundaries, reducing my credibility?

As Steve Greene notes, “Sharing about your personal life and sharing things that make you seen less competent are entirely different kettles of fish.” There’s also the question of whether sharing how you messed up, academically or pedagogically and then sorted it out demonstrates incompetence or competence.

Oh, and there’s the rather significant issue of the connection between uncivil behavior and learning. I have no problem believing that a student who’s texting isn’t paying attention, but is the student who isn’t texting paying attention? As for packing up books, well, that’s may be less about incivility than about needing to get to a class across campus and wanting to hit the bathroom/snack shop before that next class.

I want to be an effective teacher in a way which makes sense to me, so as a generally casual person an über-formal approach probably won’t work. I also know that the students aren’t there to learn all about me but all about the subject I’m teaching, so any storytelling ought to be minimized and only used to illustrate a pedagogical point.

Yeah, openness about oneself can go too far in terms of self-indulgence or indiscretion, but insofar as I take an open approach toward knowledge about the world, that I think that open approach is the best approach, I am skeptical that an appropriate openness with the students will cause their minds to snap shut.

When I tell my students on the first day that I don’t take myself too seriously (which is almost true) but I do take the work seriously (which is really true), I recognize that I may be sanding away some of my own authority in a way which dulls my own credibility, and thus may increase their skepticism of me.

That’s not such a bad thing: let them question me, which gives me the chance, in responding to them, to demonstrate that I do know what I’m doing, and that they might just want to follow along, to see what comes next.





My crony, my mate

15 09 2013

G. is a pretty terrific person to hang out with. Probably because G. is a pretty terrific person.

G. is my friend C.’s friend, and a big part of the reason I think G is pretty terrific is because C. is the one who told me.

I’d met G. years ago, and the three of us stayed up very very late talking about. . . I don’t even remember what, but it was enough that we could stay up very very late and want to stay up even later, just to keep going.

G.’s visited C. a couple of times since then, but it wasn’t until last night that I got to hang out with her again. It was great, and it wasn’t enough: she had to get up early to catch her flight, so instead of very very late we talked while we could and called it, early. Too early; too bad.

C.’s a good friend of mine. Not the first I made in New York, but one of those who I know I would like to know for the rest of my life. Neither of us would ever be accused of cheerfulness—we do have a few things in common—but C., unlike me, is able to express her love for the people who make hanging out in this weird old world something not just to be endured, but savored.

G. is one of those people.

I probably would have figured this out on my own, but C.’s obvious delight in her friend, and the fact that she wanted to share this friend with me, allowed me to slip off my usual wariness when meeting new people and skip right to enjoying my friend’s friend.

Which, I think, makes C. one of those people, too.





Brothers in arms

23 06 2013

It’s a modest little show, charming without being precious.

Eureka. I’m (re-)watching Eureka.

I’d happened upon the show at either Hulu or Netflix, watched it here and there, skipping around enough to keep loose track. I liked it, that’s all.

I don’t know if it would qualify as sci-fi. I guess so, insofar as it doesn’t really fit into any other genre—even with a sheriff at the center, it doesn’t really count as a police procedural—and with all the  future-tech, it is fictionalized science. Anyway, I like science fiction, I like clever writing, and I like odd characters.

And on second viewing, I’m latching on to the characters. This isn’t deep stuff by any means, but I’m enjoying how they relate to one another. There’s romance and friendship and antagonism and collegiality and over time it’s. . . nice to see how it all plays out.

The primary relationship is probably that between Sheriff Carter and Global Dynamics head Allison Blake, with a close second that between Carter and his daughter, Zoe, but for me, the central relationship is that between Carter and Henry.

It’s a real friendship between these two, and the actors, Colin Ferguson and Joe Morton, have good friend-chemistry. More than that, they acknowledge that they’re friends, and note on regular occasions how important that friendship is to both of them.

‘Buddies’ aren’t anything new to television, but these guys aren’t buds: they don’t drink beer and knock each other the shoulders and misdirect whatever affection they have toward one another toward, say, a basketball game or a car. They like each other, and that’s enough.

I think that’s one of the reasons I so like Numb3rs. At the center of that show is the relationship between the brothers, Don and Charlie. Don’s a bit of a hard-ass and the genius Charlie is annoyingly needy, but they check in with one another, as brothers. They look out for each other, get on each other’s nerves, and are still working through the weirdness of their childhood relationship.

It’s not a one-time thing, the working on the relationship, and I think that’s what sets apart Eureka and Numb3rs from buddy shows. It’s just there, from episode to episode, and sometimes it’s frayed and sometimes it needs work, but the friendships are demonstrated in their constancy, not in some grand epiphany.

It’s nice to see that, in men. And for them, too.





We are all going down

2 07 2012

True story: C. and I find a bar, are unimpressed. Re-find bar, are impressed, say, Hey, we should make this our bar!

Bartender says: This bar probably won’t last. . . Barclay’s Center. . . gentrification. . . .

C. and I nod, drink, nod, agree to come back as many times as we can before it goes away.

Friday. C: Let’s meet at O’Connor’s! Me: Yeah, let’s meet at O’Connor’s!

Off the train, down the street, hang a right. . . wait, hm. To the left? Really? To the left, down a few blocks. No, no, back up.

Then I notice: plywood with a white door where the dark door had been, white railings with plexiglass where the eave had been, sandy stone where the wood painted name had been.

I text C.: I think our bar is gone.

C. arrives. We look at the plywood and the roof patio and agree, yes, our bar is gone. We gesture toward the hulking arena, mutter curses, look for new bar.

Me: Let’s try this one (Gestures to kitty-cornerish to the old one).

C: And there’s a divey-looking bar around the corner.

Me: If this one’s no good [trans: if it’s too upscale], we’ll try that one.

We check the menu, the sandwich board; there’s a sign about a special for a can of beer and a shot.

Me: They sell cans here; that’s a good sign.

We peer in. Narrow, dart board in back, basic Irish pub regalia, sparsely hung about.

Friendly bartender. Hard cider on tap for C., beer for me. Yankees low on one t.v., Mets low on another.

C., the bartender and I banter-bitch about Barclays, tourists, gentrification.

Bartender: This neighborhood has already been gentrified.

C. sips, nods. Nothing stays the same in New York.

More sips, nods. Discourse on the movement from the Village to Brooklyn, to Williamsburg. Bartender mentions photos of Williamsburg from not so long ago, from when it was scary, not hip. Discourse on neighborhoods which are block-by-block: okay here, not okay there.

Me: It’s never a good sign when you’re all alone on a city street.

Later, after more drinks and discourse and nods, C. whispers that the glasses aren’t as big as we’re used to. We shrug and nod and drink some more.

Later still, out on the sidewalk, C. and the bartender smoking, a construction worker with a beautiful face and beautiful arms and beautiful shoulders flirts with C. and me., calling us beautiful. I’m not beautiful (C. is), but I don’t argue, because it’s nice to be called beautiful.

C. and I watch the construction worker saunter back to work on the arena; we comment on the view.

As we leave, C. shares one last smoke with the bartender. A former Chicago schoolteacher with arm tattoos that intrigue C. joins us in our discourse about drinking and work and whatever else one says during the final scene of the evening.

We laugh and say goodnight and promise we’ll be back.

Our bar is lost; long live our bar.





Winter, spring, summer, or fall

19 03 2012

K. has a bad boyfriend.

He may not be a bad guy (tho’ I don’t know if he’s a good guy. . . ), but he is a bad boyfriend.

K. knows this—she’s the one who gave C. and me the lowdown on him—but for a variety of reasons is not ready to end the relationship once and for all.

C. and I had our own variety of reasons of why she should end it, and we tag-teamed our explication of why the relationship needed to end now, yesterday, six months ago. He didn’t deserve her, C. and I agreed, and she should be with someone who really appreciated what a treasure she was.

Did I mention we had all been drinking?

Anyway, I don’t think anything C. or I said to here will matter one whit, and, honestly, that’s as it should be.

It was a kind of friendship ritual we went through: she got to pour out her uncertainties, we got to affirm that she was terrific, and the evening ended with orations on What Should Be and kisses. It was more about each and all of us than anything having to do with the boyfriend.

No, as the one who has to live with—or without—her boyfriend, it is left to K. to decide where and how and if he fits in her life. It’s her call, not ours.

But letting her know that we do think she’s terrific, well, yes, that we could do.





Dese bones gonna rise again (redux)

25 11 2011

I was opposed to Brennan and Booth having a romantic relationship.

Yes, they had chemistry and affection, but, dangnabbit, I’d like to see a good working relationship between two people who have chemistry and affection simply remain a good working relationship.

Colleagues: cool; friends, fantastic. But lovers? Isn’t that a bit. . . lame?

Why does a spark always have to flare out into romance? Sure, Diane and Sam were always going to get together on Cheers, but that was the set-up from the outset. And, okay, some might argue that Booth and Brennan’s bedding was built into the base of Bones—but not me!

No: I liked that they became friends, confidantes, but I always thought they were linked through the work. I wanted the relationship to remain cemented in the work. I didn’t want the series to degrade into a I love B. soap opera, about a mismatched pair of misfits maundering into true love.

Please.

(As an aside, this was why I found ER less and less compelling over the years. Yes, it was a nighttime soap, but the drama coursed through the patients, the medicine; once the work was sidelined, it was just a nighttime soap, nothing more.)

The sixth season gave me plenty of reason to despair of this show: the writing was flat, the eccentricities of the interns were flattened, storylines were forced, and the work was an afterthought. Still, even mediocre Bones was better than most t.v., so while I wasn’t sure if I would continue to follow the show, I thought I should at least check out a few episodes of the new season.

Cue the music and sunrise: It’s good again! Third or fourth season good! The scriptwriters have resharpened their metaphoric pens, the dialogue pops, the humor is back, and I even rejoiced in Daisy’s mega-annoyingness. (She was toned down last season, which made her boring and annoying; amped back up, she’s amusing and annoying.) Most importantly, they started the new season with Brennan and Booth already mid-adjustment to her pregnancy and their romance: instead of having to sit through all the cloying new relationship nonsense, we get them (back) in their comfortable repartee, with the romance serving as an irritant rather than a soporific.

I still would have liked them to have remained spark-y friends, but at least the spark is back.