Monday, June 13, 2005

If You Can't Stand The Heat 

Day four of swampy, unseasonable heat and humidity up here in the Connecticut Valley, and no end in sight. Days become listless, sleep a restless impossibility. Shirts cling, soaked and spotted. The day burns like Nawlins in July.

Tomorrow's weather report calls for a high of 93, 99% humidity, and a nightime low of 78.

On the bright side, the baby loves being naked.

On the other hand, her older sister seems to share my contact allergy to pollen and grass under such weather conditions.

Coming into the studio tonight after a long day picking at unattractive job propects was like descending into a sauna. Pushing through the fog to get here was like driving underwater. The very night air smells of mildew.

Funky playlist follows in the usual half-hour increments. Sorry to those who tried to call in the first hour. Turns out the phone works better if it's hung up properly. Hey, at least I finally figured out what that beeping noise was.


Tributary 6/13/05

Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
Cake -- Wheels
Oysterhead -- Rubberneck Lions
Keller Williams -- Vacate
Jason Faulkner -- Both Sides Now
Calexico -- Alone Again Or

Michael Franti and Spearhead -- Everyone Deserves Music
Chris Ardoin & Double Clutchin' -- Your Love Keeps Liftin' Me (Higher and Higher)
Sam Phillips -- All Night
Guster -- Barrel of a Gun
Donna the Buffalo -- Rhythm of the Universe
The Shins -- New Slang
Toots and the Maytals w/ Trey Anastasio -- Sweet and Dandy
Jack Johnson -- The 3 Rs

moe. -- She Sends Me
Patty Griffin -- Change
They Might Be Giants -- Nightgown of the Sullen Moon
David Grey -- Caroline
Destiny's Child vs. Stevie Wonder -- Bootystition
Aberfeldy -- Love Is an Arrow
Marianne Faithful -- Love & Money
Los Lobos -- Never Take The Place Of You

Yo La Tengo -- Magnet
Acoustic Syndicate -- Rainbow Rollercoaster
Maroon 5 -- Pure Imagination
Grateful Dead -- Eyes of the World
Sarah Harmer -- Uniform Grey
Salamander Crossing -- Down in the Milltown

You've been listening to tributary, your ten to midnight monday night show here on WNMH. Don't forget to come back next week -- two weeks, and the music will fade forever.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:59 PM | 1 comments

Sunday, June 12, 2005

All Summer In A Day (Or Two) 

Coming off the best kind of three-day bender this evening -- a little rewarding yet mellow work, a little beer on the balcony with old friends, a little more work and a too-late evening swatting mosquitoes in the midst of a raging party, trading partners throughout, feeling like the eye of a storm and loving it.

A constant buzz and an unseasonable humidity made this year's Reunion weekend a smash kick-off to a summer mode traditionally only fully realized during our week volunteering at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. A precarious wrong-turn road trip up Putney Mountain in the weekend's borrowed van followed by a marina-side supper afterwards with great friend Michelle and her equally-great one-year Zinnia only promised to sustain the blossom of summerhood.

In any other year, such an early onset would be welcomed. But there is so much unknown this year: no job, no home, no savings; no severance beyond August, no plans beyond July. Job-but-not-vocation employment possibilities flash by in the paper, arrive in the mail, grow stale on my desk. I hear from the grapevine that my cover letters have been too long, too wordy, too intimidating.

Gone fishin? Or fish or cut bait? Regenerate, or attack? Halfhearted, or broken-hearted?

Willow couldn't sleep tonight because the neighborhood kids were being too loud chasing fireflies in the community gardens behind the house. Says Willow:

My old friend Max poured my bubbles in his truck and I was sad. Sometimes when a kid does something I don't like I have to hit them -- I have to! I don't like my old friends. I want to find my new friends and not play with my old friends anymore.

And so we lay there for a while side by side in the drowned-out darkness, listening to the life we love screaming in the yard outside, ever receding. She tried to sing along to Kenny Loggins for a while, I tried to stop crying. Neither of us were successful.

Eventually, she slept.

Daddy will find us another neighborhood, kid. Promise. I just need a little time, that's all. And you can be my luck, okay?

posted by boyhowdy | 10:05 PM | 0 comments


Quicknote 

Having a blast this weekend working and hanging out with this year's reunion folks -- from the class of 2000 (my second year here) and the 1995 grads who have crashed their parties all weekend to the raucous zeal only a class of recently retired 50th reunion grads could maintain.

So much fun, in fact, I'm not really ready to stare at a screen for a while.

Does the fact that I'm writing this at 1:30 in the morning suggest anything? Cover me, guys. I'm going back in.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:28 AM | 1 comments

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Why I Hate Macs 

Sure, I've used Apple products. There was that Apple II GS -- the last "real" Apple -- that blew up on me in college, leaving me with no choice but to pull an all-nighter just to hand-copy a 26 page paper off the screen. The old Classic that kept showing me bombs. The in-house machines over the past few years that couldn't decide which version of the operating system they were running, and weren't reliable in either; the G4 that's been sent back to the company five times in a year and still dump their storage when students try to export their movies.

Despite early and ongoing difficulties, though, I've always figured it's just me. I respect macs conceptually: their hardware and software design are, in the end, better for graphic and multimedia work, and their semiotics are more up my alley ("return" is so much more gentle a terminology than "enter"). That many geeks can't be wrong. And I've always been really impressed by those

And I really, really love my iPod.

But today was the last straw.

The three highest-stakes set-ups for reunion weekend involved what should have been a perfectly simple process: connect mac a to projector b, smile smugly, hang out eating crackers during the event while nothing whatsoever goes wrong with the powerpoint presentation / video / iPhoto slideshow / live auction updates via the web.

Instead, each of three mac laptops had an entirely different but equally unfamiliar output socket for projector connectivity.

And by unfamiliar, I mean not only did we not have compatible cables, our entire IT department had never seen nor heard of anything resembling any of the three. I know, because I did grave-rubbings of each of them (geekalert: a handy way to make sure that you're getting the right cable at Radio Shack, incidentally) and showed 'em around.

Front left to right: Power plug, modem, Ethernet, firewire, USB, USB, mini-DVI, audio input, audio output, and security lock.Look, geeks, we're not talking about older machines, either. Check out the side view of this $1700 Powerbook -- this was one of the machines we had trouble with today. Yes, that tiny double-wide, double-strip DVI output. What the heck IS that? Why is it twice as tall as the iMac output? Why is it half as wide as the one on its predecessor?

After three hours of amazement and shoptalk (woah, aren't macs supposed to be the universal compatibility machines?), I finally realized I've never "got" macs, I'm never going to "get" macs...but most importantly, I now have a foolproof reason for hating them.

There's certainly some feedback occuring here. A PC environment primarily buys data projectors that work with its PCs. And habit counts for something fierce; work with Windows versions of everything for seven years and the brain just plumb thinks PC after a while.

In other words, I'm not saying you should hate macs.

But when your job is making minds work -- any mind, off the street, in a matter of moments -- you use what most people are familiar with, and celebrate that which has the shallowest learning curve (and let me tell you, an operating system and an office environment tied to each other in ways which piss off power users has the shallowest learning curve).

And when your job includes making the fastest, most successful connection between any potential piece of equipment and any other potential piece of equipment, it's hard not to love the universal fifteen-prong input standard of the PC.

And easy to curse the company that ends up having to include model-specific adaptors for everything it releases -- which then sends the average user out into the world without them. I mean, so much for human-centric computing. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that most people don't know what those cables are for, so they leave them in the box.

I mean, come on. Three different, non-standard, never-before-seen sole projector outputs on three different model and generation Macs? In one afternoon? I spent five hours today working on alternate solutions for things that "worked just fine back home," and now I look stupid. Thanks, Mac.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:26 PM | 25 comments

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Party Time 

Pulled pork and music last night in my honor under the leftover party tent on campus. Fellow librarian Pam brought her old-timey band, complete with washboard and washtub bass; I played flute a bit, but spent most of the evening teetering on the edge of fall-down drunk, chatting with aquaintances on the verge of diaspora.

Tonight in our yard a slightly more kid-friendly venue, a well-attended block party and neighborhood farewell. Almost all of us are leaving, by choice or by fiat. We've been there five months, but it was still ours, the best neighborhood ever.

I thought it would feel more desperate, but it's all been quite grown-up and natural. People show up; talk turns to summers and my uncertain future. Casual adults fill the lawns, beer in hand. In the side yard kids run to and fro through the sprinklers. Their parents stand on the lawn between our houses and recite litanies, name those who will take over our houses. I point to the camper, talk about taking a minimum wage job for the insurance. We light sparklers in the dusk.

In the distance, another storm comes out of the valley. Lightning rises over the hill.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:34 PM | 2 comments

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

What Price Pride? 

Signed away my self-respect today for a summer's piddling severance and three months of family health insurance.

In return, I basically agreed never to mention this place again, and offered carte blanc for any of the remaining 350 employees here at the school to spin me into my grave to prospective employers, should any ever decide they are even interested enough to call in the first place.*

What else was I supposed to do? The HR folks made fun of me when I asked questions about the wording on the 8-page agreement. Finally, after everyone else in the group sessions had signed and left, I realized that they weren't going to change a single jot, decided that I just can't make my family go hungry because of my stubborn sense of fairness, held my nose, and John Hancocked myself out of there.

Yeah, I know. Call me a coward, or a sell-out. All I know is, pride isn't always salvagable. It would have been equally demeaning to have to bum gas money off the in-laws over the summer. Or watch some half-trained clinic worker pull my daughter's teeth instead of filling them.

Damn. Turns out ideals are for those who can afford them, after all.

Plan for the rest of the day: get really, really drunk, eat barbecue, jam under a big ol' tent, try not to think too much, and tell a hundred people or so that, no, I still have neither job nor job prospects, and isn't it nice that the sun came out for my farewell party?


*Disclaimer: the description of severance terms above is hyperbolic, and should not be taken as a critique of the school or its policies, or revelation of confidential or proprietary information contained in the agreement or indeed any school document. I like this place SO much. Really. I mean it.

Now give me my damn money, and leave me the hell alone with my broken spirit.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:13 AM | 3 comments

Monday, June 06, 2005

Radio Minus One 

After the final faculty meeting, too many steamers and too much Steel Rail Pale Ale at the faculty picnic, a half-assed failed attempt at grading,

I race the storm up the hill, walking backwards. The sky grows pitch, the wind picks up, the heat lifts in the breeze. Willow cries. The dog cowers under the porch and will not come out.

Lightning comes. Crackboom thunder, and one of those torrential downpours that just keeps getting heavier every time you say "damn, that's the heaviest rain I've seen in a dog's age." Fifteen minutes, tops, to flood the yard and driveway, make rivulets into rivers.

What with the dog and the kid, I never did get to follow the urge to run out into the rain, strip down to my boxers, raise my hands to the sky.

But you don't need to run to feel. It was enough to recognize the urge for what it was, to feel it in my breast and be glad of it.

First of several studentless post-season radio shows tonight, a soundtrack for those fellow faculty members grading papers in their offices and dorm apartment kitchenettes. Maybe no one's listening, now that the students are gone. But let the rains come. Let the music wash me clean. I'm here, O lord.

Playlist follows.


Tributary 6/6/05

Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
Steve Earle -- Shadowland
Ween -- Bananas And Blow
Michael Franti -- Yes I Will
Dar Williams -- Are You Out There
Juliana Hatfield -- My Darling
Eddie From Ohio -- One Thousand Sarahs
The Biscuit Boys -- Coming Into LA

poembreak: A child said, What is the grass? (Walt Whitman)

Stevie Ray Vaughan -- Wham
Toots and the Maytals w/ Willie Nelson -- Still Is Still Moving To Me
Glen Phillips -- Have A Little Fun With Me
The Wallflowers -- I'm Looking Through You
Keller Williams -- Freeker By The Speaker
Tish Hinojosa -- Hey Little Love
Mark Erelli -- Thought I Heard You Knocking
Kathleen Edwards -- In State

poembreak: Fern Hill (Dylan Thomas)

Los Lobos -- Dream In Blue
Shivaree -- Goodnight Moon
Erin McKeown -- Slung-lo
Mark Cohn & Jackson Browne -- Crazy Love
Gilberto Gil -- Three Little Birds
Dan Zanes & Friends -- Wonderwheel
Kathryn Williams -- Spit On A Stranger

poembreak: Birches (Robert Frost)

Ani DiFranco -- Recoil
Crooked Still -- Lonesome Road
Daniel Lanois -- Shine
Dolly Parton -- Shine
Jack Johnson -- Losing Hope
Patty Griffin -- Moses


You've been listening to Tributary in post-season. Tonight's epigraph comes from Frost's Birches, but I mean it just the same.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. Here's to new beginnings, wherever we may find them.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:57 PM | 5 comments


Irony Alert 


George Orwell Plaza is watching you.

via a long chain of pass-alongs that nominally began here and found its way through the usual players. But conspiracy theorists take note: the image is stored at Not Bored. Whether that signifies context or hoax is for the infoweb to decide.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:13 AM | 0 comments

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Free At Last 

Wore my Mickey Mouse-eared mortarboard, a tiny "for sale" tag dangling from the tassel. Ate ice cream as we processed in, past grinning parents and pointing, laughing alums. Counted 77 cliches during the outgoing president's speech to the graduates.

As we recessed across the senior's field of vision I flashed the graduates my "i deserve a beer" shirt, recieved thunderous applause.

Had recieved the traditional glare from the Dean of Students before the march. But I wore that hat two years ago for graduation, and the year before that (and a construction hat last year). I guess now that I've got little to lose, there's no need to temper the irreverance.

And I do believe that pomp and circumstance are only reinforced by a little frivolity, else what's a liminal period for? People sure seemed to appreciate it, anyway; I got dozens of compliments, and each with a smile. And it made three hours in the 85 degree sun more tolerable for a whole bunch of us. I love the attention, but such lightness in the midst of any occasion which takes itself too seriously is a public service, too.

Back off the field, I meandered as the kids dwindled down to the final few. Hugged familiar shoulders, tapped knuckes with a hundred more at dorm and dining hall until the student body sunk below double digits and

A few casual words of wisdom to a few beloved seniors from the dorm and we were off to the lake, where after two years of spit, gum and polish, Darcie's father finally got the boat in the water.

Sure, there's still meetings to come, still student-taught course grades to cut-and-paste into databases. I've got two offices to purge, and a hundred parties to get to. The weeks ahead will fill with house packing; moving stuff into storage and my family into my in-law's house.

But there was a moment today just before I jumped off the side of the boat in my boxer shorts, when Darcie looked over at me grinning into the wind, my arms around Willow, sharing the glee, and said "you look like summer."

I have become summer. I have become free.

Bring it on, world.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:18 PM | 2 comments

Friday, June 03, 2005

Last Night 



That's me in the corner. Supervising. Seriously.


Hullabaloo in the Library last night: since it was a homework-less final night, we opted for anti-study hall conditions. Brought my flute and played a bit with the old-timey folks, but spent most of the short evening laughing hysterically while nominally supervising a shriek-and-run session in darkened basement stack, a samba lesson, a round of marco polo. Northfield to the core. Great kids, all of them. A wonderful farewell for my sometimes-home after 6 years with my office down the hall.

Of course, all this after being feted by a host of Asian students in thanks for guidance throughout the college essay process, and a long and boring final assembly in which I didn't win the student choice award for the seventh and final time, but it's okay, 'cause the right kids love me. Ducked out of the assembly early to rearrange the giant kiddie-block promotion atop the student center, thereby turning an innocent PARTY to an ominous TRAP. Next stop: block some of the letters in Tracy Student Center to make the Racy Stud Center.

And then, today, some of the coolest, brightest kids in the world drove off in their parent's cars without really saying goodbye. How odd to think I'll never see most of them again. How frustrating to realize that this year's crop is bound to forget me; after all, every one of them has a year or more to experience this place boyhowdy-less. But oh, how satisfying to realize that, over seven years, I've loved so many of them.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:33 PM | 13 comments

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Oh, right...I have a gmail account... 

My sincere apologies to anyone who has tried to contact me via gmail in the past four months. Especially the Buffalo folks, who are making me seriously regret deciding -- way back when there was hope -- that Buffalo was too far from our extended family.

As of June 24th, the only possible way to contact me will be via gmail. This time, I promise I'll read it.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:38 PM | 1 comments


Dangerous Thinking 

For the second time in a month, I recieved notice today that the job I had applied for by the direct recommendation of folks who really could have gotten me in the door was handed to someone else less than 24 hours before my letter was recieved.

Each time I apply for a job, I tell my wife, I write a cover letter than reflects an affection for the school deliberately cultivated through careful research and perusal of their web materials and guidebook listings. What that really means: each time I apply for a job, I have already given them some small portion of my heart.

I have now applied for over 40 teaching jobs for next year.

Some never bothered contacting me. But most did. 4 school visits, three phone interviews, at least one back-and-forth about certfication (nope) and how to apply for state acceptance of mere eligibility (nope, too expensive, not fast enough to matter).

The ones that contacted me were, in the end, a thousandfold more painful. More heart. More time. Higher stakes. Farther to fall.

But they all took my heart. And the heart isn't infinite, after all.

Each time I hear another "no," my heart breaks. It takes me days to recover enough to try again, days in which I turn inward, losing my family, staring into space, responding to the most innocent queries and basic kidneeds with snappishness and short temper.

I cannot lose them if they are my only future. I cannot trade them for the constant rollercoaster that runs over my heart day after day after day. After four months of this -- four months -- I have no heart left.

And here I had been hoping to save some to say goodbye. The last students that may ever love me, the last coworkers that ever cared about me; they're going, going, gone in 48 hours or less.

We have to begin packing immediately, though we know not where we're going. I'm supposed to be cleaning out my office right now, in fact.

Syllogistically, then. I think I may have decided today that I just can't apply for any more jobs. Not if I want to be sane. Not if I want to have the heart to love a place again someday.

Where the hell does that leave me?

Such a nice day outside, after weeks of rain and cloud. Think I'll get the hell out of this deserted information commons and just lie in the grass, soaking up the universe. My heart close to the earth. Maybe the world, like a huge battery. Maybe the sun, like a chastising presence.

Maybe not. But what the hell are they going to do, fire me?

If nothing else, putting that last brick in the wall around your heart leaves you invulnerable.

I remember. It's how she found me in the first place. Back when the walls were transparent. Back when the process of loving someone after years of drought was a way to pull down the walls.

I love my wife. But I also know her, now. I know this love, this life, this family.

It is not enough, I think. Not the same. Not new, not empty.

And if it is not enough...then maybe nothing will be.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:13 PM | 10 comments

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Weeding 1, Boyhowdy 0 

Booksale this morning in the library, the inevitable if somewhat sad result of consolidating two libraries into one next Fall. The fates conspire against me: I'd have missed all the good stuff, but I had to come in early to cover an empty media center for a funeral-bound paraprofessional. The sale books move literally and tantalizingly under my nose as they get stamped out of the system, reminding me that I've been reading two books a night, and just ran out of new reading material.

The temptation was just too much to bear. Ended up first in the door, bought eight books at a quarter apiece -- O'Toole, Vonnegut, Wolfe and Clarke among them. Plan is to read 'em by Sunday, dump 'em before we pack.

I figure if I can spend the day and still resist the geeklure of all those random electronic components, headphones, remotes, slides and wiring in the media center trashpile after last night's closet clean-out, I break even.

posted by boyhowdy | 9:03 AM | 0 comments


Some Answers 

In response to a student query on our school intranet Q&A folder. I don't think he was serious, but any kid asking "What is the meaning of life?" deserves a real answer.

Be generous -- with your language, with your assumptions, with all that you have.

Be joyful. Don't be afraid to dance. Worry not about what other people think.

Be grateful. Give thanks. Appreciate and acknowledge that which you are given.

Be righteous, but not self-righteous. Never forget that you may be wrong; never forget that dialogue cannot be won. Start all conversation prepared to change your mind, or you will never be able to trust your own mind.

Be uncomfortable. Only those who are unafraid to embrace pain can truly change. Only those who are truly unafraid to feel can make change. Only those who are open to pain can feel true joy.

Be free. Learn to recognize the constraints you put on yourself so that you may work to eradicate them. Wander for the sake of wandering -- the best learning comes from the unexpected path.

Be honest. To a fault. No matter what anyone says.

Be effective. Be realistic. Don't tilt at windmills. Change begins with yourself.

Be wise. Trust that all answers to this question are true.

Incidentally, the only other serious response offered to "What is the meaning of life" was "to find the meaning of life." But that cannot be; it's a logical impossibility. Let me know if you want the proof.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:51 AM | 4 comments

Monday, May 30, 2005

This Is The End 

It's not in my job description, and it screws up my sleep schedule something awful. But of all the things I mind leaving behind, Tributary, my weekly radio show, may be at the top of the list.

In some ways, the show has been the only constant through our seven years at NMH. I've never taught a class as long, or worked in the same office, or under the same supervision. In seven years, we've moved three times, brought two children into the community, totalled or traded three cars, never kept the same friends.

The show has changed too, of course. Three theme songs, two titles, a co-host come and gone. In the last year alone, we've gone live on the web, and the move to iTunes and iPods has meant an end to all those years of carrying CDs and vinyl around in my trunk.

But I still remember that first winter night in the station as if it were yesterday. And I still depend on that single latenight slot to clear my head for another week.

Sure, I'll key into the studio a couple more times before we're forced out of the community housing. And if we're still in the area next year, I have a standing offer to continue the show, albeit to a community half-full of strangers.

But tonight is the last night I can picture, with confidence, the dorm life that surrounds me. The faces of every caller brought to life in my mind unbidden. The reason for my joy, the recipients of my love.

It won't be the same without the students listening. And it wouldn't be, if I didn't consider them all family.

A final show, then -- wistful, wanting, full of phone calls and laughter. Unplanned and bittersweet, like so much of my life these days. And over far, far too soon.


Tributary 5/30/05

Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
Michael Franti & Spearhead -- Everyone Deserves Music
Keb' Mo' -- Love Train
Cake -- Palm Of Your Hand
Beck -- Devil's Haircut
Ryan Adams -- Starting To Hurt
Guster -- Two Points For Honesty

Keller Williams -- Vacate
They Might Be Giants -- They'll Need A Crane
Badly Drawn Boy -- Once Around The Block
Manu Chao -- Me Gustas Tu
Rusted Root -- Send Me On My Way
Tom Landa & The Paperboys -- All Along The Watchtower

Alison Brown Quartet -- The Inspector
The Mavericks -- Dance The Night Away
The Gourds -- El Paso
Nickel Creek -- Spit On A Stranger
Ani DiFranco -- Loom
Mary Gauthier -- Good-bye
Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch -- I'll Fly Away
Jeffrey Foucault -- Mayfly

Tony Furtado Band -- I Ain't Got No Home
Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer -- Gentle Soldier Of My Soul
Mindy Smith -- One Moment More
James Taylor -- That Lonesome Road
Amos Lee -- Arms Of A Woman
Dixie Chicks -- Let Him Fly
Elizabeth Mitchell -- You Are My Sunshine

You've been listening to Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night show here on WNMH. The show may be gone, but the music will always live in my heart.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:08 PM | 2 comments

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Everything Must Go 

A pre-emptive major artifact divestiture occured today in the boyhowdy household as we all treked down the hill for the school's yearly multi-family yard sale. Set-up began at 6:30 with the masterstroke import of the camper, which provided no small amount of shade and babyhaven throughout the long steady stream of weekend bargain-hunters and prospective fleamarket resellers; selling continued until 1:30 as previously agreed-upon by the ever image-conscious school.

Cassia got a one-sided sunburn from her sling exposure, and Willow played happily under the watchful eye of her six-year-old friend Riley for most of the morning, leaving Darcie and I free to focus on softsell. Got compliments all day for my humorous yet direct and presonalized approach to buyers. Funny how much selling goods is like selling ideas. Funny how much I missed it.

Total haul wasn't heavy -- just over a hundred bucks for a mixed bag of unpriceable objects, random household sundries, hundreds of pounds of perfectly good clothes and almost two of four full boxes of tattered paperbacks. But given that we're going to have to pay to move and store whatever went unsold, every quarter meant another hundred pages less to carry on our backs.

Of course, supper out at Friendly's afterwards and a quick trip for groceries in anticipation of my advisee barbecue made the day a zero-sum game in toto. But it was nice to be among 26 families we know and mostly love, allied in common cause, out in the sun after weeks of clouds and rain. Next stop Goodwill, and a rental storage unit for the majority of our remaining worldly possessions -- who could wander under that kind of weight?

posted by boyhowdy | 11:27 PM | 18 comments

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Today is Thursday 

Rain and more rain, enough to cause the vitamin-D equivalent of scurvy. The driver's side windshield wiper on my car flew off days ago; now I can only drive at a 45 degree angle, head hovering over the passenger seat. Left turns are a bitch.

Exit interview yesterday. Managed to present my job history and ongoing concerns with coherence in just under an hour. Nice to get it all off my chest after years of being told I wasn't allowed to complain, but it worries me that I made the interviewer cry. Is that normal?

Extended family life is a disaster, so of course I feel guilt for feeling like I can't handle it in my current state. (For more on my current state, read any entry from the last four months.) I'd say more, but there's some things just not meant for blogging.

One sign that you've accepted that you'll never teach again is when you finally get a decent job lead from the placement agency after two weeks of dead silence and your first response is "what's the use?" Three days later, and I'm still trying to get my heart into another cover letter. Maybe the heart does have limits, after all.

Yesterday's fortune cookie: Although it feels like a roller coaster now, life will calm down. Of course, dead is calmed down. But I gave it wallet prominence anyway. Your future is as boundless as the lofty heaven was just turning out to be too depressingly wrong.

Today's bonus question: Can you name three contexts in which the following conversation could ever occur?
But I thought we were going to another store after lunch!

Yes, but that was when you were wearing pants.
Additional Willowisms for the week include the following response to Willow, why are you spitting?
But I was trying to make the world disappear.
Know how you feel, kid. If I thought it would work, I'd be spitting up a storm.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:22 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Wheeee! 

Are you me? Here's a test: read the following paragraph, and monitor your response:
A report in the medical journal Psychopathology notes that psychotic delusions increasingly concern the internet, suggesting high-technology can fulfill the role of malign 'magical' forces often experienced in psychosis.
a) If you had to stop reading to sound out the word "psychopathology," you are not me at all.

b) If you started but had trouble finishing the paragraph, you are hardly me.

c) If you were mildly interested, you are marginally like me.

d) If you though this was neat, but did not click on the link, you are probably very interesting, but only somewhat like me.

e) If you clicked on the link, you are starting to show signs of me, and may want to contact a medical professional.

f) If reading this article immediately made you think about cyberelves, then what you see in the mirror looks a lot like me. (But gee, aren't we handsome?)

g) If you started hopping around the library grinning like a madman, saying "this explains everything!" and only then clicked on the link to read the actual research, then please give me my brain back, because I need it to apply for this part-time job in the learning skills program.

Thank you for playing. Please come again!

posted by boyhowdy | 3:23 PM | 4 comments

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Those Who Can't...Don't Get Hired? 

Long day with more sadness and disappointment. Though most of it falls in the "not for blog" category, the hardest news is that the last few job applications out there are coming back empty, and the job.edu sites and placement agencies seem to have run dry for the season.

I would have swallowed my pride, got certified, and taught someone else's stupid state-mandated teach-to-the-test curriculum, but I still maintain that the tension between good teaching -- itself a kind of truth-spreading -- and lying to students and self that this was good education would have been untenable, soul-destroying.

But what if the inability to accept such self-delusion is at the root of my problem after all? Others have no problem lying...
Why do we lie so readily? The answer: because it works. The Homo sapiens who are best able to lie have an edge over their counterparts in a relentless struggle for the reproductive success that drives the engine of evolution. As humans, we must fit into a close-knit social system to succeed, yet our primary aim is still to look out for ourselves above all others. Lying helps. And lying to ourselves--a talent built into our brains--helps us accept our fraudulent behavior.

Does this article from Scientific American Mind explain why I'm having trouble finding work, two weeks before we move off into the unknown? Even cover letters and job interviews require aspects of this "part of the vast tapestry of human deceit," from lying "by omission and through the subtleties of spin" to the dishonesty of appearance representation and overfriendly smiles.

If only I didn't lose my coherence when trying to disguise myself; if only my stomach didn't tighten up; if only someone wanted me for who I am. The acceptance of self-delusion must be built better into some brains than others.

Or maybe I'm just lying to myself.

via boingboing, of course

posted by boyhowdy | 3:45 PM | 1 comments

Monday, May 23, 2005

Penultimate Radio 

Rain again. Back before I sliced the ponytail, I thought the headaches came from the weight of extra humidity in my hair on days pregnant with rain. Since they've cointinued, I'm forced to conclude that my head just doesn't like the change in barometric pressure. Maybe it's the sinuses.

Or maybe it's the weight of the world, worse every day as the school year sprints to a stop.

Seems like the questions about our unknown future come more frequently these days, as everyone begins to ask everyone where they're off to. Too many earnest, well-intentioned thoughts about the future when we have none, not yet. Too many awkward conversation-enders. It hurts the heart to rub it sore a hundred times a day.

Not much to say about a penultimate tributary after a six and a half year run. Wish the technology had been working well enough to support a smooth show, I suppose -- feel free to ignore the oddness of the first half hour set in the playlist below --but what can you do. Even a bad show is a wonderous thing, a heartbreak, a bittersweet recharge.


Tributary 5/23/05

Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
One Star Hotel -- Frustrated And Free
Milton Mapes -- In The Corner Where It All Began
Calexico -- Alone Again Or
Beatles -- Eleanor Rigby
Tara Angell -- Untrue
Alana Davis -- Free

Los Lonely Boys -- Heaven
The Biscuit Boys -- White Habit
White Cherry -- Play That Funky Music
Eddie From Ohio -- Quick
Lucy Kaplansky -- Turn The Lights Back On
Peter Mulvey -- Shirt

Aimee Mann -- Ghost World
Evan Dando -- The Ballad of El Goodo
Pierre Umiliani -- Mah Na Mah Na
Jim White -- Alabama Chrome
Tim O'Brien -- Everything Is Broken
Ray LaMontagne -- Jolene
Wilco -- The Late Greats
Cake -- The End Of The Movie

Bela Fleck -- Adagio Sostenuto (Moonlight Sonata)
Bobby McFerrin and Yo Yo Ma -- Flight of the Bumblebee
Ryan Adams -- Desire
Nina Gordon -- One More Night
Dolly Parton -- The Beautiful Lie
Crooked Still -- Lonesome Road
Negativland -- Over The Hiccups
Brooks Williams -- She Loves Me (When I Try)
David Wilcox -- The Kid

You've been listening to Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night show here on WNMH 91.5. Thanks especially to my invisible, half-imagined listeners. I'll miss you most of all.

I suppose it goes without saying that regular listeners and newcomers alike should expect some sort of angrysad theme of unresolved home-leaving next week.

Until then, enjoy the music in your head. And dance like no one's watching, of course.

posted by boyhowdy | 10:08 PM | 0 comments


On Fairness 

In a major back room, eleventh-hour, unanimous move by our Faculty Academic Committee last week, Instant Messaging and "inappropriate internet sites" will be blocked during study hall next year, and TV will be prohibited in houses without soundproof lounges.

Happily, many of my earlier concerns about process seem to have been irrelevant or unfounded. Though I continue to maintain that attention should be paid to the recent research of Stephen Johnson and others, two hours of time for school study, rather than brain exercise, seems perfectly legitimate; this is, after all, a formal learning institution, so restriction of informal learning during a study period is fine by me.

Unhappily, however, I think we're about to shoot ourselves in the foot with this one.

My concerns about the computer bans revolve around issues of scope and implementation. While I see no real academic use of Instant Messenger during our two-hour schoolwide study period, the wording of the ban makes it difficult to imagine allowing in-house chat on our First Class system, despite the fact that such chat is quite often used by students as a quick check medium for homework assignment and study notes.

Similarly, though I am especially glad to see no comprehensive ban on the Internet during study hall (now that would really be a shot in the foot), the vague and subjective term "inappropriate" has no place in a rulebook. The category of content which any faculty member might understand to fit that term could both pre-empt creative use of research and lead to a slippery slope that would indeed be relevant to my previous concerns about Internet use. In reality, knowing our faculty, many would choose to ignore the regulation rather than be forced to take on the content police facemask.

Much more, though, a compromise on the TV issue based on accidents of dorm construction after students have already selected their houses for next year is just plain unfair. TV during study hall has long been one of very few allowable privileges for Seniors in good academic standing; had students known going into room draw that lounge soundproofing would determine whether or not they were eligible for this privilege, I believe some students might have chosen different dorms.

Surely, part of our responsibility as educators is to help students understand that the world just isn't fair. But inside a community, developing expectations of fairness where it is possible is one of the things that we can do, and should do, and too often fail to do, when working with our young charges.

The result will seem arbitrary to students, and many will complain; more than the loss of TV, though, will be the loss of credibility we face when trying to suggest to students that we are trying to help construct an environment for and with them which will best serve their needs. It will affect, in some small but significant way, all our future dealing with them. It just isn't worth it.

Such erosion is anathema to community. Community is more important than television. I say, take TV from them all in the name of fairness, or suffer the consequences.

Note: lest anyone think I am acting against the school by going public with this information, let me point out that committee minutes are public for faculty and staff, and that a student representative to the student life committee was present at the meeting. Thus, it is my belief that students and faculty all have access to this information, whether they realize it or not. If I am incorrect about this, someone should correct me, and I'll withdraw or amend as necessary.

posted by boyhowdy | 2:20 PM | 3 comments

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Ego-Boosts In Passing 

Full moon after a week of rain
shining through the clouds again.


College is out for the summer, so my favorite ex-students are starting to sweep through. Some remain only spotted-on-campus rumors (if I really was the coolest teacher, Amy, why didn't you come find me?), but many take the time to call ahead and stay for supper, as social justic major Shane did tonight. Great to see so many familiar glowing faces; better, of course, to hear them thank me for their inevitably iconoclastic, untraditional life-paths. After all, if we're not in this teaching thing for the ego, what the heck are we getting paid so little for?

The prep school calendar keep staggering along for another few weeks, but we're clearly winding down: underclass prize assembly tonight, Senior skip day tomorrow. We got a sneak peek at the yearbook tonight, due to Darcie's otherwise impotent advisorship; I was proud to see that my deliberate absence as proofreader has had the expected results. My favorite major error: an entire page of low res images captioned with Lorem Ipsum greeking. See what happens when you won't pay me a piddling 200 bucks for a year's worth of perfect proofing?

Trifecta: Willow has a new phrase, straight from daddy's lips. That's so cool! And it is, in spades.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:51 PM | 0 comments

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Back 

Sorry I didn't write yesterday. Three in-house interviews bracketing this well-attended workshop for Vermont public school teachers on blogging in the K12 classroom kind of kicked my ass.

Had Michelle and Peter and their adorable one-year over for supper Thursday, and old students Molly and Ramon last night. Darcie remarked it was almost like we have an actual social life.

Fellow rightsized faculty peer Michelle still hasn't found work for next year, but Peter's music career keeps growing, and he's got several half-time offers to teach music in Vermont schools on his way towards full certification. They've got a sweet house up there, too. Looks like they'll survive.

Slept in today. By two o'clock I was finally house-crazy enough to demand an excursion, reason be damned. The main branch of the library closes at two, so we headed from there to the pet store for a new retractable leash (warning: amputation hazard) and a play sessions with the bunnies and rats. Spent a while in the fish room ogling tetras and mollies, since we've promised Willow a fish once we get a new house, but she seemed especially taken with the ferret.

A call to our local branch led us to a new library in Turner's Falls, where they just happened to be having a kid's fair. Free hot dogs and a bunch of new books and videos should keep us going for another week's worth of late nights on couch and porch. Topped ourselves off from there with bacon cheeseburgers at the Wagon Wheel Drive-in; headed home full and ready for the usual prolonged bedtime ritual: bath, stories, toothbrushing, song and snuggle. Darcie was watching X-Men 2 when I finally emerged from under the sleeping two year old; lucky the last half hour is the best of it.

Small pleasures: I can wake up fully caffeinated tomorrow. I'd been drinking Irish Breakfast tea for a few -- no small compromise for a 72-oz.-a-day man -- only to discover late this afternoon that Darcie bought some on Thursday when it ran out. Yes, I know, it was right there. But who looks for coffee if there isn't any? I bet if she drank the stuff, she'd have mentioned it.

And I'll need it. Maybe it was the books, or the weight of the Willow as we peered over the French King bridge, but my back's been spasming up and down for hours. After years of separation, pain from the bone spur stripping out my shoulder muscles and the back-to-leg sharpness of the herniated disk finally merged into one continuous pain, or so it feels.

Realized this evening that I haven't applied for a job in over a week. The school year ends in two. We've got to be out of the house in five. Wanderers, for sure. But where we're going, I cannot say.

It rained off and on all day: dark clouds in bands across the sky, alternating with sun.

I looked and looked for the rainbow, but it never came.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:09 PM | 19 comments

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Newly Noted: Agenda, Inc. 

American Brandstand tracks the incidence of brands and products in the Billboard top 20 singles chart. Though there's nothing out for 2005 just yet, white papers from the two years previous reveal that brand mention is an exclusive province of Hip Hop, that Pepsi beats out Coke by a serious margin in the top of the pops, and that Cadillacs are still eminently hot.
While American Brandstand never claimed to be a scientific measurement of brands, it has emerged as a strong barometer of the role of brands among an influential group of aspirational consumers. The brands that emerge as winners are those that are relevant in a crucial taste-shaping area.
Part of a growing field of topical-but-overlapping infoglut megafilters (c.f. boingboing, We Make Money Not Art), Brandstand producers Agenda, Inc -- a pop culture brand strategy agency based in San Francisco -- also track daily popcult in the news-ether through a bloglike live feed that's best experienced hot and fresh. How come I'm always the last to find this stuff?

posted by boyhowdy | 8:04 PM | 0 comments

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Great Design, Ominous Pedagogy 


Ooh, it's time for my soaps. Quick, honey, run in place!

The Square-eyes shoe is fitted with a unique insole that records the amount of exercise a child does and converts it into television watching time.

One button hidden in the insole records the amount of steps taken by the child over the course of the day and another button transmits this information to a base station connected to the TV.

Once the time earned runs out, the TV automatically switches itself off.

"It will raise awareness among the family of their sedentary lifestyle and bring about a change in behaviour for the whole family," said Paul Turnock, design director of Brunel's School of Engineering and Design.

Though the overt implications seem like good childrearing -- more exercise, less TV -- the idea of passivity as a reward for anything makes me very, very nervous. Certainly, the "change in behavior" we're looking for in our own parenting is not perception of television as a commodity of such high value that we must earn it -- especially through behavior that should, itself, be its own reward.

Square-eyes, by design student Gillian Swan of the UK's Brunel University, will be showcased alongside other work of her peers at the University's School of Engineering and Design show next week. Thanks to new daily read We Make Money, Not Art for this and many, many other recent wonders from the interface of art, commerce, infoculture, and mind.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:04 PM | 1 comments


The Return Of The Son Of Randomalia 

Too frazzled these days for linearity. The back is mostly better, though the stomachfuzz and brainbuzz come and go like butterflies. Mostly, though, as graduation grows close, the jobless, homeless future begins to weigh heavy on my mind, corrupting deepthought. I dream of falling, of interviews gone awry and community ever-receeding.

Speaking of butterflies, the reason I couldn't find my family yesterday when I stopped off home midafternoon was that my mother took them all to the butterfly museum. I keep forgetting to bring the digicam to work, or you'd be looking at a great shot of Willow holding an orangewing, that priceless expression of barely contained glee on her face. And an equally great shot of a wide-eyed Cassia looking up in wonderment.

And speaking of Willow's face, she's got a big horrible blotch between her already heavy brows from yesterday's run-in with a hardthrown frisbee, so nothing cute pixwise for the next few days.

She was better at the library today, though: not ideal, still more excited and excitable than her peers, but less so. Maybe it's because we left Mommy and Cassia sleeping at home this time around. Maybe it was just the luck of the draw, or the absence of the granola bar in this morning's delayed wake-up ritual.

In more egoistic news, I'm applying for an ESL position here at school. Never taught ESL, but I've taught language skills to so many age groups, worked with our ESL classes for research and presentation projects and mass media units, lived and advised with ESL kids and, most importantly, have a background in exactly those subjects (American Studies, Cultural Studies, Writing, Anthropology) which the course uses as content-drivers. Of course, my competition is two current ESL teachers, so we're not holding our breath. But what else have I got?

So mostly I spend my time spinning the kids in my arms at home, trying to centrifuge the heartache out. And as the iPod spins at home and latenight in my ears, I'm starting to collect an entire playlist of songs about leaving for the last radio show of the school year. Expect heavy last-gasp promotion in a few weeks, quite probably titled "Just a Song Before I Go."

Wonder if I'll be able to blog regularly where I'm going? Won't know until we get there, I suppose. It's going to be a long summer trying to keep up from the camper, at any rate.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:34 PM | 0 comments

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Chilling And Illing 

Woke up stiff and restless -- a sure and familiar sign of impending viral attack. From traveller's bowel to spinal discomfort, of the inevitable symptoms which would land me on the couch by eleven the worst was a sort of secondary, cumulative brainbuzz brought on by an inability to simply sit with the other symptoms. It's like ADD with a vengance, or that last hippityhop hour coming down off an acid trip after too many cigarettes and far too much coffee while the sun rises over a wide New York river.

I managed to fake consciousness for a quick advising meeting on the other campus, but it took all I had to stay sane for even that long. By two, I was back legup on the loveseat while Darcie's mom played Cooties on the carpet with the kid.

With a babysitter in-house and an old gift certificate burning a hole in the sideboard, what else could we do with me but hot foot it down to the hot tubs? A nice long weightless soak in the rock garden, hardwood and paper windows in the late afternoon, Terrapin Station piped in through halfhidden speakers, and sure enough the sweatlodge approach worked wonders for an hour or four, got me through a dining hall supper with little but slight brainmelt and the sweats.

Lost it again in the middle of a darkroom bedtime with Willow, though. Thank the gods and goddesses for a flexible spouse willing to handle a one-time-only double-child bedtime in our queensized family cosleeper. And thanks, too, for comfy office chairs that spin and twirl, so I can jam in my seat while the iPod spins an unusually hotwired jamheavy playlist, disease raging through me, the stressbrain, the feverbrain everburning.


Tributary 5/16/05

Skavoovie and the Epitones -- Fat Soul
Michael Franti and Spearhead -- We Won't Stop
Phish -- Down With Disease
Oysterhead -- Owner Of The World
XTC -- Making Plans For Nigel
Juliana Hatfield -- OK OK
Keller Williams -- Vacate
moe. -- She Sends Me

storybreak: selections from winnie-the-pooh

Beck -- Hotwax
Ware River Club -- Generations
Jill Sobule -- I Kissed A Girl
Alison Brown Quartet -- The Inspector
The Decemberists -- Engine Driver
Dar Williams -- As Cool As I Am
Stevie Wonder -- Sir Duke

poembreak: the invaders (milne)

Grateful Dead -- Eyes Of The World
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones -- New South Africa
John Mayer -- Message In A Bottle
Woody Allen -- The Police
Shawn Colvin -- Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic
John Hiatt -- What Do We Do Now

storybreak: selections from winnie-the-pooh

Slaid Cleaves -- Bring It On
Deb Talan -- Tell Your Story Walking
David Wilcox -- Rusty Old American Dream
The Bobs -- Helter Skelter
Patty Griffin -- Top Of The World
Daniel Lanois -- Shine
Jeffrey Foucault -- My Kind Of Heaven
James Taylor -- You Can Close Your Eyes
Elizabeth Mitchell & Daniel Littleton -- You Are My Sunshine

You've been listening to Tributary, your ten to midnight Monday night show here on WNMH. Thanks to all who call and listen, especially my beloved mystery mistress from up North.

posted by boyhowdy | 12:01 PM | 0 comments

Monday, May 16, 2005

Listen To Meeeeeee... 

Don't forget to tune in to Tributary, your abfab ten to midnight (EST) Monday night radio show.

From funk to folk, from jazz to jambands, from blues to bluegrass, and everything in between. Listen to bedtime stories on the half hour and the hour; win a week's worth of coffee in our nightly coversong contest. Requests considered via comments or live at (413) 498-0114.

Live stream here. Last week's show here. Be there.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:29 PM | 0 comments


Ongoing Irony In Education 

An open memo to the prep school administration

So the executive committee and the academic committee are concerned about students playing videogames, using the internet for "non-academic purposes," and watching/listening to programming of all sorts during study hall. You've asked for data to explore how much Internet use is occuring during study hall, and the way you've asked for it seems -- to me, mind you -- to pre-emptively include some base judgement on that data about which of it is academic in nature.

But watch out for the easy blame-the-technology solution. Before you fall into the trap so many of us have before, consider:

Did anyone check the research to determine if such activities are actually detrimental to "our" kind of learning? Is there a way to know whether this sort of behavior is actually interfering with homework? Is there a way to know whether it is serving some students positively while serving others negatively? Will you be able to tell if the data you collect reflects the only activity students are engaged in, or whether it is but one layer of a multitasking environment that includes simultanous active homework and study? Is it possible that such data will actually be a reflection of too little homework assigned, and not enough leisure brain-rest time given to our students -- that we're about to blame the technology instead of ourselves for what turns out to be not at all a problem in the first place?

Some words of caution, folks: think empirically. The plural of anecdote is not data. Observation is not a demonstration of causality. Before you act, make sure you read the recent assumption-challenging work of Stephen Johnson (Like this. And this.)

And, most importantly, beware the power of role modeling. It's always temtping to blame the technology -- it's shiny, distracting, and can't fight back. But human problems demand human solutions. Limiting behavior in service to an academic ideal when little or no causality between that behvaior and the ideal can be demonstrated is more transparent than you know. Unless you're sure...don't do it.

posted by boyhowdy | 1:16 PM | 1 comments
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