Grover's Roar

Monday, November 28, 2011 | 0 Comment(s)

I am forcing myself to write something uplifting.  Cause i want to.  Cause its hard.

And so, as the centerpiece of what i am thankful for this past year, we turn this blog, once again, into its alter-ego: Matt's Dog Blog of Grover doing incredible cute mundane things. (that's a LOT of commas, mol the reading specialist won't be pleased with me) And theyre even cuter . . . cause he's a dog!!!!

Today we will focus on his roar.  Can Grover bark?  Yes.  He can.   Does Grover bark?  No.  He's doesn't.

Since we got him a year ago, grover has barked at about a dozen different instances.  No real pattern.  Sometimes its because we are outside and he is inside and he wants us to hear him.   Sometimes, if you are getting him riled up playing, while he's anticipating, he'll bark once.  No bigs.  My dad heard him bark for the first time over the past weekend.  One bark.  No bigs.  Dad was offended.  Then laughed at himself.

But this doesn't mean that our dog is a silent dog (ok, he is a mostly silent dog).  But when he doesn't talk, he makes the most hilarious guttural, "dying-giraffe" sounding, soft "o" sound.  He's all ooOOOooOoOoOOoOoo like an old man trying to grapple with getting a book off a high shelf.  It's hilarious.  the milkweed crackle of my dog saying hello is worthy of it's own post.  it's that funny sounding.  But i don't have an audio file . . . . so thankfully, there's more.

When he does talk, when he does make his gravelly o face (don't over think that), he can't do it without a post-talk sneeze.  Yup.  He talks, then sneezes.  oooOOooOooOO.  Achoo.  Repeat repeat repeat.

And what makes it so funny to me is that he's voice is all pleading and pathetic (on purpose), but then the sneeze makes it so ridiculous that you can't help but laugh. Thus producing, for him, the opposite of the intended reaction.  It's like when a Canadian tries to say "I'm sour-ee" or a tough guy drinking out of a flexi-straw.  Don't make no sense together.

So if you hear a geriatric howl followed by a sneeze . . . don't worry!  That big headed, black-and-white cow colored hugging and licking machine isn't an assisted living code red . . .  

It's just my dog.

Is thanksgiving. Is not thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 27, 2011 | 0 Comment(s)

I have had the discussion many times before.  It's a philosophical one.  it goes like this. 

Premise:  Without bad, we would not truly be able to know good.  Without darkness, we can't appreciate light.  Without sadness there is no true knowledge of happiness.

That's the premise.  It can be expanded or contracted (to one dichotomy), but the essence of the argument generally is the same. 

I should say upfront, that i've always thought that this idea was, at least mostly, crap.    I just think that if you were constantly happy, you may mellow into a contentment, but i somehow doubt that you need some good ol fashion pain to really feel good.  It somehow equates luck with necessity.   As in, someone lucky enough to escape hardship must get unlucky in order to appreciate how lucky he/she's been. 

But again, like many things in philosophy, these arguments only exist in the vacuum of theory.  In the non-existent plane where unexistable scenarios exist. 

Because bad, darkness, and sadness are, on the existent plane where existable scernarios exist, unavoidable.  And all three came to my house this thanksgiving.

If one can only know thankfulness in the face of great loss, then this year's thanksgiving was perhaps the most authentic ever.  On Wednesday, while leaving the hospital where he works as the head of psychiatrics, my Uncle Bill was hitting by a car in the parking lot.  As the news trickled up the phone lines from the big apple to western mass, we were told that his head hit the ground post-collision (the car was driven by a hospital employee who was not going very fast), and that he was in surgery.   The prognosis was unclear, but somehow simultaneously bleak. 

A few hours later the news came that his brain stem has been severed and he was, brain activity wise, gone.   And like that my uncle went from thanksgiving host to gone from our lives in a matter of hours.  Like someone took an eraser to my family and simply eliminated one of us.  So sudden.  So unfair. 

The new york laws for organ donation, i have learned this thanksgiving, are almost totally crazy.  While i realize that every one of them probably has a very sane reason (most likely stemming from totally crazy situations), in this situation, in order to use all of his extremely healthy organs, they had to wait for his body, the mechanical side (automatic processes like slight breathing can still continue without brain function) to completely give out. 

Functionally, for my family, this meant that we spent this thanksgiving waiting for the life to leave our uncle's body, so that in his last moments, he could save or improve countless other people's lives.  This process of waiting, as i implore you not to imagine, is incredibly difficult on those who love Bill, particularly my aunt.  My aunt, who has worked so hard to create the life she wanted with the man she loves so much.  my heart crumbles at the thought of her.  the thought that, were i in her position, my heart would be left a pile of dust.  This is sadness.  This is the dark. 

The memorial on Sunday was delayed til next weekend.  With all of the organ donation, the hospital wasn't sure he'd be gone in time for his own memorial.  That sentence typifies the surrealism of the past four days for me.

My mother went to new york to be with her sister, my aunt.  This is her 2nd thanksgiving in a row in a hospital.  Exactly a year ago, we were standing by my grandmother's hospital bed holding a vigil (she is doing well!).  The rest of my family went to my parents house in western mass as planned.  We sat together.  Took walks.  Chatted. 

We sat in the darkness, in the bad, in our sadness.  But together.  We put what was left of our inner fires, we took all of our tiny internal flickers, and we put them together in order to light a way forward.  And i think its fair to say that we were thankful for that.  For the comfort of the familiar that comes when surrounded by family.  And we did the best we could.  Feeling angry and lost and thankful and sad and shocked all at once. 

It should be noted that my mother is such an expert at thanksgiving at this point that even in her absence she had pre-prepared the entire meal for the rest of us.  She even made my favorite dessert for me.  I wish we could have shared it.  And i miss Bill.  And i'm hurting for my aunt. 

and all this crap.  this sad dark bad crap.  just doesn't feel like it's gonna make me understand happiness in any deeper, more fundamental earth-shattering way.  Though, if knowing its opposite is the key to unlocking that goodness . . .

 . . . i've never been more ready to be wrong.

Learning to Spell P. h. D.

Sunday, November 20, 2011 | 0 Comment(s)

It's the final countdown.

i don't usually talk about work on the blog.  for many many reasons.  but at the moment, it's impossible to ignore.  I am defending my PhD on December 16th.  That's soon.

And so my life now revolves around finishing this paper.  Analyzing this data.  Sprinting to the finish.

And, much like writing an invite list to a wedding, the only way to really get through it is to put blinders on and do what's right for you.  Except in this case (the dissertation), it envelopes so much of my time that i really have no choice but to ignore all of my other worldly responsibilities.  And of course, the irony abounds considering that my dissertation revolves around the division of labor in marriage, and mol (ugh.  i dont like mol.  my only love just makes me think of that 70's (80's? 60's?) song and . . . i'll get back to that later.) is ending up doing most of the labor with me laboring RE: domestic labor.

You get it.

I also DO plan on finishing the blogs about my "birthday" this year.  But the next section is long. and i just don't have the time.

So, in summation.  I need a hall pass from you, my blog readers, until december 16th (well, 17th, i'll be up real late on the 16th).  I will try to get some stuff up on here.  But if it doesn't feel like the quality and quantity you are used to . . . gimme a month.

How Going to Wesleyan Ruined My Life

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 2 Comment(s)

Or more accurately, how being a dance major at wesleyan ruined my life.

i loved college.  loved it.  i experienced as much as i could, and even managed to go in a biology major, and leave with a degree in dance and psychology.  So how could such a positive experience lead to such ruinous ends.  I'll tell you.

As a dance major, there are certain degree requirements you must fulfill.  One of these requirements involves the constant participation in multiple different dance practice classes each semester.  Plus, as majors, you both lead rehearsals for dances you are choreographing, as well as attende rehearsals for dances you are a dancer for.  This is all the minimum, with additional opportunities for dancing being available through various campus dance groups.

I'm not trying to paint a "those poor dancers" scenario, but rather emphasize the amount of time that was spent in the various dance studios.  Dancing.  On any given day, i would have anywhere from one to four different dancing sessions.  That's a lot of movement . . . and touching.

Now i know its very easy to take this to an extremely sexual place.  And, as a major, i assure you i have either heard or created all versions of the sexualization of dance.  And, as a matter of fact, one of my most loved and respected dance mentors, a 60+ year old devout Christian, in a modern dance class declared, "dance IS sex!"  And, as always, she was right.  But, in this instance, i not talking about the sexual aspect of the human contact, but rather the tactile and emotional aspect.

When you are dancing, and rolling around, and massaging, and hugging, and throwing, and jumping and lifting each other, you (i?) get an almost womb-like comfort from all that human contact.  You want community?  Try contact improv.  You haven't felt community til its inadvertently flung you ten feet into the air, and then let you slide down its back to the floor once again.    While you may spend the learning process flailing about like a jelly-fish in a killer-whales mouth, the comfort you can gain from the human energy transfer can be incredible cathartic.   And so every day of college, i spent a good portion of my time in the metaphorical womb of my loving dance community.

And then there was the student body itself.  Back in the day, my day, Wesleyan was not hipster, but rather hippie.  And i never shook any of my friends' hands.  ever.  we hugged.  we hugged when me met for lunch.  we hugged when we got home. we hugged when we met to go out. we hugged when we drank.  and sometimes we more than hugged.

But, taken as a whole, the amount of physical contact i received on a daily basis in college was truly staggering.  and that became my baseline for human contact.  my intimacy meridian.  that, in turn, has caused me to suffer greatly.

Out of college i moved directly to new york city, downtown brooklyn to be more exact.  That was July, 2001.  New York is the photographic negative of wesleyan.  Where i used to be unable to avoid human contact and constant companionship, now, i had to call, confirm and schedule opportunities to see familiar faces.  And, while it may seem paradoxical, anyone whose lived in nyc can attest that for some reason, being smushed against the cold sweating flesh of a wide array of strangers during rush hour in the subway has the exact opposite affect of all other skin to skin contact.  It is the very definition of isolation.  You are dying inside alone, sandwiched between human barricades.  Suffice it to say, nyc and i were not a match.  And while i did manage to leave the city on what i would consider my own terms, i'm not moving back there any time . . . anytime.

Then i moved to the mountains of Japan.  Very much a no touching country.  Extremely no touching.  Hugging a native Japanese person (and these are my good friends i'm talking about) is like trying to coral a giant sea eel.  They squiggle and, with their arms outstretch in semi-circles in the correct pre-hug pose, they subsequently assault you to fury of tiny gentle pat-down attacks.  The contrast of squiggle and jabbing additionally makes them extremely difficult to get a good hold of.  And if you are thinking that this just makes me sound super creepy -- all grabbing them and stuff, i would argue that what is actually happening is more akin to the hug equivalent of the "dead-fish" handshake.  Fun fact, true to their country's strict separation between public and private, Japan does have a paradoxically  high rate of unprotected sex among their youth, but i have no personal experience to speak from in this area.

Fast-forward past my time in boston (where there was a good deal of hugging surrounding a certain 2004 baseball victory) to my present life in Amherst.  This is a pretty touchy-feely town.  I hug a good deal of my friends.  Not all, but the majority.  During any given day, i am practically certain to simply run into people i know and socialize with, all whilst going about my daily routine.   And i love it.  love it love it love it.  But what i'm realizing . . . more and more . . . is that wesleyan ruined my life. 

Cause i'm still south of my intimacy meridian.  Even in this almost ideal bastion of community, i still want more hugs.  I feel like the goddamn cookie monster of intimacy, where i want to (metaphorically!!!!) shove that human touch down my non-existent gaping felt (pun) mouth-hole -- pieces of the love crumbling to the floor below.  Like i said, this whole wesleyan dance major thing has turned me into a monster.

Bullet Point (to the brain) Tuesday

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 | 0 Comment(s)

  • In my first step toward becoming an answer (question) on Jeopardy (hopefully in a post-Trebek age. Tangential Fun Fact: If you google "Alex Trebek is a douche," this blog is the #3 search result returned.  Not too shabby.), a fellow blogger wrote an entry about a study i conducted and published.  You can find his article about my article here.  Is there anything more narcissistic than re-post on your blog another blog post about yourself . . . all while being a graduate student?  i think this might be some kind of record.
  • I rarely get so moved to anger as i have by the recent unearthing of some truly horrific evil events happening at Penn St. Football Dept.  Yes, granted, Sandusky is by far the most abhorrent.  He was raping children.  Not only that, but he started a foster program for disadvantaged kids . . . and then raped them.  He also has a number of adopted children.  Five boys.  It is all really ugly stuff.  And the furor that has gone up surrounding all of those in the know, including coach Joe Paterno, is warranted.  These are children that were victims.   They deserved more responsible and effective action.  If you hear that a child is being raped in your facility, whether or not that coach is in the process of retiring is not a good enough reason for only telling your university supervisor and not calling the police.  it if was your son being raped, i bet you would have called the cops.  Where have our priorities run away to?
  • Sports radio is, by and large, crap.  And i actually don't mean that negatively.  It is the sports equivalent of US Weekly.  You aren't really going to learn much, but its fun to be temporarily immersed in the conversation.  Well, this whole Penn St. scandal brought Heath Evans to the radio microphone this particular afternoon.  and while i know Evans as a fullback for the patriots, i didn't expect what came next.  He started speaking about how one day, when he came home to his nice house, with nice cars, and 2 beautiful daughters, he found his wife, trying to take her life because of the emotional scars caused by sexual abuse.  Evans eloquently ran down the numbers.  1 in 4 girls is sexually abused/assaulted, 1 in 6 boys.  He described the situation as the epidemic it is.  He spoke about the rising number of girls, 16 and under, who are now on anti-depressants -- a sign, he contends, that we are medicating the problem instead of dealing with it head on. 
And Heath Evans is going to confront this thing head on.  he started and he is personally involved in getting free, skilled mental health services to those who need it.  He is helping to create online couselling classes that are age appropriate and can be used anonymously, for those victims too scared to share their story.  He also create as a place for victims to anonymously (or un-) share their story of abuse.  Unburden themselves of the weight of being the only one who knows.  And to dispel the myths that victims of abuse are alone, that they are the only one's dealing with pain like this, and that they feel they are to blame for what was done to them.   I am rarely impressed by the men (and occasional women) of sports radio.  Heath Evans, you are the exception.  and you were exceptional.  i honestly believe you educated the listening audience. 

  • Lastly.  Yesterday in class, the professor asked the students what they thought of my lecture the past Friday.  There were mostly murmurs, but one girl responded.  "Beautiful."   That was, and remains, a pretty creepy response.  Which, caused me to look at my co-graduate assistant Amanda and say, "what happened to the good ol days, when only the female ta's got sexually harassed."  
Here's to a happier Wednesday.

More or Less Teaching

Saturday, November 5, 2011 | 2 Comment(s)

*A brief entry unrelated to the snow and ice and tree and power-line-maggedon.  Part II will be along.  But lets take a break for a second to talk about yesterday.*

Yesterday i gave my first large lecture.  I mean, i have been teaching in various capacities for years, but never to 400+ students.  This time it was 400+ students (of a social psychology class). 

And am i crazy to think that this is kinda a big deal.  I mean, on some level, my first "snap-shot" of social psychology was in a similar lecture environment back in undergraduate.  The professor of that class, who was a mentor then--and still is today, had a good deal of influence in my decision to pursue this field as a psychologist.  He brought it to life.  He explained how these ideas he was teaching about formed the underpinnings of why people say and do the things they say and do.  And he was right.

And now.  here i am.  Being that guy.  Boom

I'm not used to teaching that many people.  I am used to 10-50 students.  You get a feel for their mood.  their personalities.  I work the room.  effective teaching for me usually leans toward overly-intelligent comedy.  But 450 people, they are a group.  They have a group personality.  and it takes awhile to gauge.  and the class in only 50 min.  So it was a little daunting. 

I started off a bit shaky.  i forgot to show a video (i remembered and showed it at the end of class).  I was pacing a bit fast and semi-stumbled through the first two slides.  And then slowly.  Gradually.  I eased into it.  Found my narrative voice.  Found the story.  And we settled in. 

Interestingly, one of the subjects we touched on in this class was the media/public portrayal of homosexuals, and how that affects our behavior, including stereotyping and prejudice.  I thought back about a year when i was visiting a relative in college.  While we were hanging in his frat, we got to talking about some topic, let's say sports, and he remarked, "oh, they're so gay."

"Excuse me?" i said.  "oh, not gay gay, not like that, just like, you know dumb, stupid.  It's just slang."
"it's bad slang" "its slang i don't want to hear coming out of your mouth" "ill slang you right in the face if you say that slang again."  Some version of all of these statements were said.  But the truth was, we were both right.  He was right that using gay as synonymous with stupid is a ubiquitous part of college culture.  And I was right in that using gay in that way is both offensive and detrimental.

this is what i was thinking about when we began covering the topic in class yesterday.  And then i remembered something, holy shit.  im the teacher.  im responsible for teaching them ABOUT this.  And so i did. 

I'm not sure how many points i actually drove home in yesterday's class.  But i do know that they were silent during this particular message.  All of these students who are starting to grasp these hidden prejudices and implicit attitudes.  And then i tell them that using the term gay to mean stupid or lame is the exact kind of hidden behavior that reinforces these prejudicial attitudes.  And then, even though they may have thought it or heard this said in the past, when its said in the context of all other similar examples of racial and sexist prejudices that are no longer considered acceptable at all . . . they get it.  They at least get it enough to, for that moment, consider their own behavior.  Consider what it means when they have said it in the past.

And that, for a teacher, is the best case scenario.

I feel compelled to add that when rereading this post, it sound like i was much like the inspirational teacher in Stand and Deliver, or at least of that ilk.  I was not.  I will not pretend that this was a life changing lecture.  Except for me.  I was my first, and that's memorable.  But it was also my first, in that there was a lot of room for improvement.  lots.  Like next time im going to staple my notes so they don't end up scattered and unorderable within the first 15 minutes of the lecture.  I'm also going to make an effort to breathe more.  Cause oxygens my friend.

All im arguing for is a moment of teaching.  A moment of trying to be the change you want to see in the world.  A moment of putting my money where my gay mouth is.

The Dirge of Halloween 33 -- Part 1

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 | 0 Comment(s)

"Halloween is cancelled!!!!  Halloween is cancelled!!!!!!!" 

That's all i heard as i flipped from radio station to radio station in my car.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Saturday Night: With my friend driving in from CT, through the beginning of the craziest snowstorm i have ever seen in my life, mol and i got reservations at our most favoritest eatery in the world, Chez Albert.  They are friends.  They are community.  They are also the site of our future wedding rehersal dinner.  Because we are still last minute doers, when it comes to things like "making reservations," we are sometimes out of luck.  In this case, we got a 9:15 reservation.  The late shift.  We piled in the car, mol at the wheel, and drove through the now driving snow (homonym double usage!!!). 

As we pulled into the back parking lot at Chez, we saw the kitchen, nay, the entire restaurant power flick on and off.  This smelled of adventure.  We parked the car and went in. 

Inside the mood was more panicked than usual.  While the Frenchman (capital F!) is, by nature, amazingly loosey-goosey, you could feel the kinetic energy of the pace being picked up.  We sat.  They told us what we already knew; they've been losing power.  They were waiting for us before they shut it down.  They love us and the feeling is mutual.  Touched.  I was touched.  So, we ordered immediately.  All courses. 

And they came and they were delicious.  Which is obvious, considering the source.  What is more note-worthy was the now fully raging storm outside.  We lost power temporarily too many times to count.  The small tree outside by the sidewalk was now coated in freezing wet snow and blowing in the breeze, resembling a Chinese dragon slinkily dancing in a parade.  And as we were paying the check, the first crazy piece of news came.  A tree branch had fallen on the cars.  And, "you're ok, as long as you don't drive a Subaru." Mol drives a subaru.  Amazingly, while there was a huge branch on the hood and windshield of the car, there was no real damage.  And that began the craziest f-n drive home i've ever experienced. 

*brief tangent.  did i mention that the card machine was down and we didn't even pay.  yah.  that happened.  thats community.  I mean, they DO know where we live if we never come back.  then again, never coming back would be punishment enough.  end tangent*

We pull through town, to a frozen snow-scape.  If it hadn't yet, it now becomes apparent that what is happening is some for reals shiznet.  and it is not messing around.  Trees are down everywhere.  Tree's are coming down everywhere.  A main road now has a canopy of trees leaning across the top, creating what feels like a driving version of Russian roulette.  Will they snap now, will they snap later. 

We are lucky to have many many different ways to get to our house.  Because of the mayhem, we decided to go home by the main roads. 

Main road #1:  main road number was has live power lines down and active.  The scene is dire enough that it quickly attracts a cop and his flashing lights.  We turn down a side road to turn around in their cul de sac.  Halfway around we are met with a full tree across the road.  Mol, aka. the driver aka our savior, pulls the half circle in reverse, and we are on our way.  Well, almost.  A guy and his car blocked our backtracking turn, as he struggles in reverse.  This went on long enough that my friend and i went out to help this guy stop being an idiot.  "I'm stuck," he said.  "No you're not" we replied, "you just need to go forward."  With that, he went forward.  We did tell him about the tree in the cul de sac.  I can only hope he did not die there, trying to back around that O.

Back on the road, we tried going past our house and doubling back on our street.  Up ahead there was a massive combo of tree/power line disaster, now block the major thruway.  (Would later come to find out the road we would have turned on from there was also SUPER un-passable). 

Turned around again.  Back toward town . Again the trees hanging overhead, threatening to snap.  New route home.  This time we took the road we usually take home.  It's a bit of a sideroad though, and we were playing it smart.  Miraculously . . . . let me say that again  . . . miraculously . . . that street was passable.  Street were no longer "clear." that was no longer a designation.  This particular street had a huge amount of trees down, but none of them completely blocked the road.  miraculous. 

We turned onto our road.  Probably 1/4 of a mile to go.  No chance.  Trees down. Plural.  big trees.  No chance. 

We go up past our house to the last remaining inroad to our home.  This is blocked, but only by movable branches.  We move them.  We then turn onto our street.  We are one house away, and we have to weave left, right, left to squeeze through 3 downed trees.  and then we are home. 

We park, get out of the car and hear "creeeeeeeeeaaakkBOOM."  A tree falls behind us, completely sealing us off the roadway. 

I. am. not. kidding.   This happened.  It was as indiana jones as it seems. and we were scared.  As we walked to the house, the sounds were of trees creaking and falling.  It was so constant and consistent that you could just sit there and listen to the neighborhood crumbling.   Surreal.

Suffice it to say, the power at our house was out.  Thankfully, we had a huge bag of tea-lights, and it was already pretty late at night.  We spent some fun time in candle-light, bundled up, and went to bed.