Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thinking About the Choices We Make

I don't know what's wrong with me lately. Something's different.

I cannot quite put my finger on it, but in a nutshell, I am increasingly fascinated with the human condition -- our journey through life.

Maybe it has been a long time coming. I can remember a few similar times in my life. I remember writing stories about a particularly skilled physical education teacher in Las Cruces. Make all of the "gym teacher" jokes that you want, but this guy connected with kids in a way that was inspiring. It made me reevaluate my own choices.

Lately I am interested in the choices that people make. How do you decide to live your life?

All of this funnels into an ongoing referendum on how I choose to live my life, which impacts my family directly, of course.

I care about the values that I am teaching my children. I worry whether I am teaching them the right things. What is important?

It's difficult to balance one's own life with one's children's lives. Take, for example, income.

I am pretty sure -- although I have never tested it -- that I could get a job tomorrow doing market research for a pretty hefty increase in salary. But that job would mean moving somewhere I don't want to live. I'd have to work more hours, and I'd have a longer commute. But my kids would have more opportunities. They could go to a private school. I'm the product of a private school, and trust me, the education is better.

Life is not -- or at least it should not be -- about material things, I think. And I love my job in academia. Being a professor is the best job in America. I have great graduate students, and I really enjoy most of our undergraduate students. So life is good. I am happy.

Most of my friends are not professors. So I learn a lot through the decisions that they make. Most of my friends are not corporate types. They, by and large, choose time over money. They take unique paths to pay the bills while providing ample time to pursue the aspects of humanity that make them smile.

This is not to say that they do not question some of their own decisions. They, too, wonder about the trade off between career and a life. I enjoy hearing what they say. I enjoy hearing about their reasons.

How do we strike a balance between financing our existence and charting the kind of life that we want?

We all do it differently, of course. But perhaps these common struggles represent what it means to be human.

Many of my current questions are due to Spinoza. The excommunicated philosopher.

I wonder whether he was happy. He lived modestly. He financed his existence by making eye glasses. Although I cannot be sure, I can imagine that this would not have been his preference. He rented a room from a family. Spinoza was in no way wealthy. And breathing all of that glass dust from ground lenses may well have contributed to his early death.

Yet he had many visitors who sought his opinion on the human condition. Some of his work was published anonymously, and some of it was published posthumously. But it persists. His ideas persist.

While in Las Cruces, N.M., last weekend I picked up a volume of Spinoza's writings at a used bookstore. Although I have not had time to fully read the work, I did thumb through the Ethics. I was impressed with the insight that is still relevant 400 years later.

Spinoza lived a modest life, but he still affects people four centuries later. Somehow that seems especially profound to me lately. It accords well with my value of time and family over money and career.

No one on their deathbed says, "I wish I spent more time at the office," I often say. I don't know who coined the phrase.

Put another way, there is nothing that I fear more than a Willy Loman life. Perhaps it is a product of growing up in the 1980s. Perhaps it is a product of watching a bunch of my private school friends have shell shock after Black Monday in 1987. Perhaps (likely) I'm just strange.

But it fascinates me how people come around to the decisions that they do.

I like to think that I make a difference in a few students' lives. And I like to think that perhaps something I write will somehow affect the field. And somehow that seems to avoid my fear of traveling salesmanship.

It is a blessing to be surrounded by interesting people. I wish everyone were as lucky.

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On Strike: The Writers' Side

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Like Movies? Check out FlixView

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- It's always great to find a friend with a Weblog, and I recently found a great one.

My friend and former Round Up (NMSU student newspaper) colleage, Kent Lowry, authors an excellent film criticism Weblog, FlixView.

Kent was the arts editor of the Round Up and has extensive training in film and related intellectual pursuits, including at Ohio State, where I used to work! Of course I had forgotten about Kent's time in Columbus while I was there.

At any rate, check out FlixView. Although Kent's status as one of the only local movie critics in the desert Southwest -- due to his affiliation with the Las Cruces Sun-News Pulse section -- will be lost on many readers here, the blog is of interest to any movie fan. And Kent does a great job with frequent updates, so it's a good place to keep current with cinema.

Especially of interest to me was Kent's recent post about 3-D movies.

This now concludes the shameless plug section of this Weblog.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Late November Weather on the Desert

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Happiness is riding your bicycle in the mountains on the day before Thanksgiving while wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
Riding with your dad makes it even more fun.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Wreck 'Em: Tech 34, Oklahoma 27

Thanks to Wendy Maxian for the camera phone picture.

Taking down the No. 3 team in the nation feels good.

Labels: ,

Friday, November 16, 2007

Student Times, They Are 'a Changin'

Labels: ,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Amsterdam on My Mind

Amsterdam in the rain
A cool, rainy day in Amsterdam in May 1995. I wonder whether Spinoza or Descartes ever walked down this street.

"We're moving to Amsterdam," I told my wife as I sat down beside her on the couch last night.

Since a) we move a lot; and b) I make such grandiose -- though largely hypothetical -- proclamations regularly, my wife did not flinch. We discussed my latest wild idea for approximately 60 seconds -- more run than my ideas usually get -- and then turned our attention to the television, where The Amazing Race was playing.

Less than a minute later -- and I am totally not lying -- host Phil Keoghan says, "Teams now must travel to Amsterdam ..."

"Ha!" I yelled.

My wife just looked at me. I cannot quite characterize the look, but it was decidedly not, "You are a prophet."

It's a sign, I tell you. A sign. We were meant to grow tulips, wear wooden shoes, and look fondly at windmills!

I mean, if I believed in signs, it would be a sign.

Anyway, a nice coincidence nonetheless.

Allow me to backtrack for a moment.

A couple of hours before this pinnacle of coincidence, I had just finished reading Antonio Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.

I read the book because I am an emotion researcher. And Damasio had some interesting things to say about this. But I was far more captivated by the biographical details of the philosopher Spinoza. And I was struck by the intellectual community in Amsterdam in the mid-to-late 1600s. And I really, really want to go there.

Consider this. At one point in the mid 1600s, René Descartes, Spinoza, and Rembrandt all lived in the Netherlands. Shakespeare was alive until 1616. Galileo died in 1642, the same year Isaac Newton was born. There were more.

Things were not perfect, mind you. Spinoza was excommunicated for his ideas. There was the whole business with Galileo. Still, it just feels as if you could really think great thoughts in that environment. In fact, it seems impossible not to think really great thoughts in that environment.

I think back to my time in Amsterdam 12 years ago. Walking along the canals. I feel like a child on Christmas morning when I think of walking along those same canals and running into Spinoza, Descartes, or Rembrandt. Wow.

My mind overflows when I think of the possibility of being surrounded with a similar intellectual environment.

Of course, it's going to be 80 and sunny in Lubbock today, and it's about 42 and cloudy in Amsterdam.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 10, 2007

This Guy Took Notes in Research Methods Class

But hopefully not from me.

From CNN.com:

LONDON, England (AP) -- The underwear-obsessed telephone stalker's undoing proved to be the opening of a gym opposite the apartment that the 40-year-old shared with his mother.

Detectives caught Paul Kavanagh on film, leaning over the balcony of the West London apartment, just as he was peppering the gym's female receptionists with calls.

Jailed for 2-1/2 years Friday, Kavanagh admitted making some 15,000 such harassing calls to women, asking them questions about their underwear. He posed as a clothing researcher and claimed to be gathering marketing data for a retailer.

He had been making the calls for 12 years, usually starting off his conversations with seemingly innocuous questions about the women's socks and cardigans. Then he would move on to their underwear, making lewd suggestions to his victims.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Please Watch Big Bang Theory on CBS

Consider this a shameless plug for what I find to be the best new situation comedy in years.

The writing is excellent, and the characters are well cast.

Find a way to work Big Bang Theory into your viewing habits or watch it online.

Nerd humor at its finest.

UPDATE: I just learned that the show has been picked up for the entire season, which will likely be cut short due to the writers' strike. Ugh.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

An Open Letter to First-Time-Parents

It will go faster than you think.

Time, that is.

Sure, you know it will go fast. People have told you that. You even believe that time will go fast.

But the thing is, you have no idea.

Early on in my first daughter's first year, we moved to Albuquerque. My wife, Emily, needed to take two classes at the University of New Mexico to finish her degree at New Mexico State.

At the time, I was working as a copy editor at the Albuquerque Journal, which meant that I basically worked 4 p.m. to midnight. So Emily took her two classes in mid-morning, and I would watch the baby.

As a new male parent, I had no idea what to do with a baby that small. And the baby liked her mother. So it was a stressful time for me. And I'm sure that the baby could sense my stress, which made it a stressful time for her.

Luckily for me, she fell asleep most days in the car after we dropped Emily off at UNM. Also lucky for me is that gasoline was still cheap then. So I'd point my little white Pontiac Sunbird westward, drive out to Edgewood, turn around, and come back.

I can close my eyes and see her in the car seat in the rear-view mirror.

When she did not fall asleep, we'd head back to the apartment on Constitution Avenue NE (my favorite address of all time), and play with blocks. We had these rubber Winnie the Pooh blocks that I would stack up, and she would sit between my legs and knock them over. Time and time again.

Eventually, she'd tire of that and cry. And I'd go to my wits end to find some way to entertain her. Those two hours seemed to last forever. I thought they'd never end.

And then one day, I'm staring at her sitting next to me at Sonic drinking and apple juice slush.

And she's 9.

And where in the hell did 8 years go?

And I was smiling, but there was still a tear in my eye.

And I'd give anything to have that baby back for two hours.

For two minutes.

You know that time will go fast.

But really, you have no idea.

Labels: , , ,

Internet Killed the Papyrus Star

The Buggles will pardon my reference to their 1981 music video, "Video Killed the Radio Star," which was the first video to air on MTV.

Above is a picture of my kid circa December 2003. She was in kindergarten. We thought it was great that she liked the computer, so I set up my old laptop for her, and she played with it until she killed it.

Fast-forward 4 years later, and I am in one room on this computer. She is in another room on another computer. She has been there since she woke up. And if we do not kick her off, she will be there until she goes to bed.

This is a problem.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Perhaps it started with Dr. Rob Potter's blog post about wasting time online. Perhaps it started with my own self-realization that I sink way too much time into this box.

My parents did a great job preparing me for the information society. I had an IBM PC Jr. at a very young age. Some day I'll hunt down a photograph of my old computer.

At any rate, my little PC Jr. prepared me for this world. It certainly prepared me for Annie Lang's lab at Indiana. Navigating DOS? No problem. I'd been doing it since I was 10.

I used to program in Basic. In the house in which I grew up, there was a large party room on the third floor, and there was a full kitchen / bar. For some reason I was fascinated with playing bar. But I didn't have any drinks to mix. So I wrote a program in Basic that tuned my PC into a cash register. You could order drinks, and it would figure out the total. I loved it.

I also love cash registers, but that's a story for another day.

At any rate, I could use the computer to do stuff. And along the way, I probably learned something about logic and all of that. But what I could not do was waste endless hours on the thing reading about the Alabama-LSU football game in both the Tuscaloosa paper and the Baton Rouge paper, as I did this morning.

When I started college in 1991, the Internet was still not ready for prime time. So I did my homework on the computer. I wrote papers on the computer. But that was about it. No matter how much time it took, the computer was not some magnet that seemed to be sucking my life away.

We fooled around with Compuserve in 1993 and 1994, but not much was going on there. It was not until I arrived as editor of New Mexico State's student newspaper in May 1995 that I had my first high-speed access. And by that time, there were enough Web sites to make it worth my while.

Still, even by then, it did not consume me. There was too much work to do. Homework. My column. Everything.

Somewhere along the way, that changed. The Internet became an addiction. And I don't throw that word around lightly. Much to the (perhaps) joy of Texas Tech doctoral student Wendy Maxian, who is interested in these things, I get the DTs when I am away from the Internet.

Seriously. If freaks me out. This summer, we were staying with my wife's family, and it was not really easy for me to get on the Internet. I felt horrible. I might as well have been sleeping in some gutter covered in newspaper wishing I had $5 and a glass pipe.

The same thing happened two weeks ago during our reunion at NMSU. I'm a college football junkie, and I hated being away from the scores. I was having the time of my life, but I kept wondering about the Tennessee/Alabama score. And the Indiana score. And the K-State score.

This morning, I woke up two hours ago. I emptied the dishwasher. And then I poured a cup of coffee -- and other than 5 minutes to eat a bowl of Cracklin' Oat Bran -- here I've been for two hours.

I toured the country of college football. It was fun to read about Nebraska's free fall in the Lincoln newspaper. Then I checked my regular litany of blogs. Then I checked some other sites. Then I read Advertising Age's small agency blog.

Which led me to Bart Cleveland's post titled, "Memory Almost Full ... of Junk."

I think you can see where this is going.
"But checking out your fantasy football site when you should be looking for inspiration to write an ad for a woman's perfume is self-delusion. How in the world can anyone pay attention to the task at hand if they are compelled to check their email, I.M. and favorite sites every few minutes? My kids say they can do it, but then when I see their report cards, they tell a different story. Old or young, we cannot be distracted and do another task well," Cleveland wrote.
He's right. Dr. Potter was right. The tool has become the master for too many of us.

Science fiction writers love to hatch plots about how computers take over the world. While we're busy dismissing this as foolish since we don't see any lasers flying, perhaps the computers already have won.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sandia Mountains in the Duke City

These are the mountains I used to look at every day on the way to work at the Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal.

My dad took this picture three weeks ago during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

I've had some great times in the Sandias. My dad and I hiked down the range in 1991, and we hiked along the spine a couple of times in the year that I lived in Albuquerque in 1998-99. Finally, I drove up the back of the Sandias with my friends and colleagues James Angelini and Johnny Sparks on our way to the Society for Psychophysiological Research in 2004.

I think it's time for a trip to the Duke City.

Labels: , ,