A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
The world is populated by three classes of people:
Pollyanna types who are just so sweet, cutesy, and who smile all the time, thus brightening up the world for everyone with whom they meet or with whom they come in contact.
Cipher types who are bland, boring, loners, recluses, hermits, and wall flowers. Some cipher types may become professors of economics, others are busy inventing stuff in their garages and piling up lists of patents. Meeting a cipher type is like communing with a cement-block wall. These types never get chosen for Dancing with the Stars or Jeapordy. Some run for Congress.
Grouches make up approximately 80% of the people in the world. Most people are continually ticked off at everyone else with gripe lists miles long. Drivers all have road rage and can't stand to drive behind anyone else, thus having contests to get in front of any driver in front of them so they can be one car ahead of them when they come to the next stop light. Grouches scowl, frown, and act nasty a good part of the time.
Here are ten advantages of being a grouch:
You never have to learn how to smile or be pleasant to people, thus inviting other people to smile back and ruin your grouchy disposition.
You can blame others for misplacing the TV remote.
You don't have to worry about other people bothering to speak to you, thus simplifying your life because you rarely have to carry on a conversation.
If you have a managerial position, you can keep all of your employees chronically irritated, thus minimizing the chance they will come in to your office and bother you unless they come in to quit.
You don't have to waste time on books like "The Power of Positive Thinking."
You can minimize your travel time by car by slicing across 4 lanes at a time, cutting off people, making crude gestures, honking your horn if someone in front waits a nanosecond too long to suit you, tailgating people you think are morons, passing on the double yellow line, running the red light, running stop signs, and other methods of demonstrating your grouchiness on the streets and highways.
You can put a nasty message on your telephone answering machine, advising people not to bother to call you any more because you don't want to talk to them.
You can tell your wife her new dress looks awful. See you in court.
You can practice your creative grouchiness by speaking loudly to obnoxious TV ads, cable news bloviators, and other TV programs, thus making you feel better for having informed everyone of their defects, flaws, errors in thinking, and general stupidity.
You don't have to worry about having a nice dinner ready for you when you come home from wherever you hung out during the day, since your spouse knows you wouldn't like it anyway.
We have just begun to consider the advantages of being a grouch. The other day I was waiting at Kohl's Department Store for my wife. Again. When two cute teenage girls came bouncing in the store, and both said "Hi" with big smiles on their faces. Imagine that. That experience was almost enough to cause me to go through a 12-step recovery program to stop being a grouch. Maybe something like that is all it takes to stop being a dork and smile back.
After long meditation and considerble experience, the Curmudgeonly Professor offers the following simplified guide to self improvement:
Either do something that should be done that you have been putting off or stop one obnoxious habit you should have quit years ago. But do it now and do not dither.
The advantages of this system are plentiful. If you actually do one thing, change one thing, stop one thing, the action becomes contagious. Then the next thing to do, change, or stop is that much easier because without even thinking about it the change becomes painless and easier and self-motivating.
You will save thousands of dollars on motivational tapes and books, hundreds of hours reading 30-step manuals, and life will be better. Trust me.
As a special bonus for good class behavior today and for a renewed interest in learning the principles of economics, the Curmudgeonly Professor offers Five Easy Steps for Self-Improvement:
Determine whether you actually need any self improvement, or whether you are already as improved as you are ever going to get and always take care of things on time, are neat and orderly, send book club reminders back on time so you don't have to take them to the post office several times a month, answer your mail on time, keep your desk neat and clean, delete your email regularly, accompany your spouse to Costco or Walmart without whining, go to church on Sunday without complaining (which, if you do, complain that is, you will earn no extra credit), refrain from foul language when watching TV commercials and anyone else whom you find obnoxious, do not call other drivers morons while on the roads and streets, avoid all bad habits (particularly around your spouse), your weight is under control, you have had all your medical and dentail checkups, and have no guilty feelings about any inadequacies. If you have passed all these caveats, you may skip the remainder of this blog post.
Pick one rotten thing you currently are doing or not doing, like leaving a messy room or desk.
Apply the five-item rule, or the five-minute rule. When going into a room or sitting at your desk, take care of five items before you start playing computer games and diverting your valuable time to reading blogs, or time yourself and spend five minutes doing stuff you know you should have taken care of weeks or months ago. Don't do too much all at once and strain yourself or cause your spouse to wonder what else you have done wrong to warrant such extraordinary behavior.
Lose the first pound if you are overweight. Today, not tomorrow.
Repeat again, again, and again. Before you know it, your stuff will be cleaned up, you will be free of procrastinations and transgressions, and life will be less miserable when not weighted down with being chronically brain dead and lazy.
If the class will please come to order, we will proceed. Will the slovenly people in the back row please take their feet off the seats in front of them and place them on the floor. Please put away the student newspaper and turn off your cell phones, blackberries, PDAs, IPods, PCs, Macs, watch alarms, and any and all other electronic nuisance devices that have come on the market since the last class period on Friday. Will the young man in the tenth row please stop flirting with the gorgeous young thing sitting next to him and pay attention. We have serious business to attend to here and we do not have time for romance and other frivolous pastimes that you can pursue on your own time and at your own expense. You do not need to call your mother, your roommate, your spousal unit, your boy friend, your girl friend, your personal trainer, your church leader, your twelve-steps-to-self-improvement discussion leader during this class period. You will have to survive without Twittering, letting your adoring Facebook fans know that you are sitting in class and about to be persecuted by the Curmudgeonly Professor, and downloading the latest obnoxious so-called music on your iPod. You cannot Google the answers.
No, I will not take time to tell you what we did on Firiday since most of you took an unauthorized day off to fool around, take your laundry home to mommie, pursue your courtship, or go skiing. No, I cannot tell you what you must do to raise your grade. Since you claim to be mature adults at this stage of your lives, you can figure that out yourself. Like, try listening in class, reading the book, and learning the material. Amazing, isn't it? Sorry, I can't help it if you hate economics. Most of you will need it once you get out of here with a degree that doesn't really certify that you know anything, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it. No, you cannot schedule your marriage, cruise to Alaska, go to a snowboarding tournament, or have a birthday party on the day of the final exam.
The Professor is not sympthetic if you stayed up late last night to watch the Utah Jazz get snockered by the Denver Nuggets (why aren't we the Salt Lake Jazz?) and then watched the post game stuff and then read the sports posts on the internet for another hour. Nor is he sympathetic if all you have had to eat the past week is Ramen noodles al dente with a can of moose jerky because you spent all your money trying to impress your sweetie, who then gave you the heave-ho. Also, I have no extra copies of the syllabus which you claim to have not seen since the first day of class and, therefore, have no idea what the assignments are or when the exams are scheduled. And the Professor can't really help it if you have your heart set on Med school but have a D minus going into the final, since that grade represents an indication that I wouldn't want to see you as a doctor either.
Other than that, I know that, given your imagination and creativity, many of you will invent other excuses, complaints, reasons, and ingenious ruses to avoid my harsh rules and regulations. But be assured that the Curmudgeonly Professor takes pride in having tried to outsmart you for 45 years and still hasn't thought of a couple hundred other things that some of you will dream up. We are now ready to proceed with class. The future of the world awaits your creative and ingenious contributions.
The Curmudgeonly Professor has long been a strong advocate of efficiency in daily life, including implementing to-do lists. Ordinarily, he never can find his to-do lists, so they are of limited value. However, I was pleased to unearth the following to-do list labeled: "Stuff to do Sept. 21 2007 AND I MEAN IT!"
Apparently, two years ago, I had doubts that I would actually follow through on anything, so I added a strong layer of emphasis and urgency. The two to-dos on the list were: 1. See so-and-so about framing and matting, and 2. Call so-and-so. Both were crossed out, so apparently my self-threats were successful.
At the bottom of the list were these items:
stop down to f/8, sharper images.
don't stop down more than f/16
shutter speed 1/focal length when shooting hand held.
Now I can throw away this to-do list and start another one.
By popular demand (one person) the Curmudgeonly Professor is continuing his Quest to raise the bar for success for those persons, usually men, who are just goofing off. The number one thing, men, you will learn when you retire, is that 99% of wives have no intention of fixing your lunch. They haven't been fixing lunch for 40 years or more, and they are not about to do it now. If you are married to the 1% of spousal units who cheerfully fix your lunch in their June Cleaver outfits, consider yourselves a rare old bird, indeed.
Thus, men, you have a task ahead of you. When the Curmudgeonly Professor was in college and "batching," as they called scrounging up your own food, he was heavy into Campbell's mushroom soup and tomato soup, Van Camp's pork and beans, kidney beans, baloney sandwiches, and other inedible items. At least when I was working, my spousal unit did, indeed, fix me a sack lunch occasionally. Otherwise, I went to various university cafeterias wherever I was. At BYU, the place of choice for business school profs was Wendy's. Amazingly, all the skinny guys got the big burger and the french fries while I got the 99 cent chili which, reputedly was made out of uneaten hamburgers.
Upon retirement, I had dreams of sitting down for a leisurely lunch of gourmet luncheon items served on a placemat, while we engaged in spousely conversation. Was I nuts? My wife usually doesn't get around to eating a bite of toast for breakfast until ll:30 or later. So now I have developed my repertoire for lunch. Hot dogs work great, since one can incinerate them in a toaster oven to bring out all the goodness of the sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. On lucky days, leftover roast beef or chicken works for a sandwich. The other day I was fortunate to buy a rotisserie chicken at WalMart for $3.50. I asked why the chicken was only $3.50. I was worried that something was wrong with it. Apparently, it was made early in the morning and no one had picked it out yet. For good reason. The top was charred quite black, and it appeared to be on the scrawny side. So I bought it, pulled the charred skin off, and chewed on it for a few days. The last time I was in Costco I asked the chicken rotisserier, or the guy cooking the chicken, how many chickens they put through in a day and he said he didn't know for sure but that it was only noon and they had already sent 188 chickens, exactly, to their final fate.
There is, horror of horrors, always peanut butter and jelly, a gourmet treat that elicits nightmares of grade school lunches consumed at desks in an aura of smelly bananas, garlic, and other pungent delicacies brought to school by my classmates.
Well, to get on with the story, this noon I resurrected an ice covered "Lean Cuisine" from the freezer and thought this option might be a nice change. You've got to be kidding. The outside of the package looked enticing, which was why I bought it. The other reason was that it was on sale for $1.50, which was only 21 cents more than my favorite lunch, the $1.29 burger at Carl's Junior. I have read several times why Carl's Junior is called Carl's Junior but I don't remember why this peculiar name. The outside of the package showed a wonderful colored picture of a dish of chicken, vegetables, and pasta. The top of the plate showed about eight reasonably large medallions of roasted chicken tenderloins, which covered the entire plate, with some bright green broccoli, and a few pieces of yellow squash. This dish did, in fact, look quite tasty.
However, reality was far from the illusion of the cover of the package. I followed the directions carefully, first removing the tray from the box, a major necessity, and nuking it for 7 minutes. Whereupon I discovered two tiny chunks of chicken one could hardly label as "medallions," three tiny pale green soggy pieces of what may have started out in an earlier life as broccoli, some miniscule tidbits of carrots and yellow squash, and some pasta. I forced the whole thing down so I would get my money's worth, vowing never to buy Lean Cuisine chicken and vegetables with roasted chicken tenderloins again.
I bought the ingredients for clam chowder the other day, and I think I will get around to making one of these days. My wife hates clams, she thinks they keep squiggling and squirming when you swallow them, so I will have to engage in this culinary adventure on my own. Of course, there are always things like grilled cheese, creamed corn, dry cereal, lunch meat and such, so one never need starve. But, in general, the lunches at the school cafeteria were a tad tastier, and even the cheap chili at Wendy's was an improvement over what I come up with. So men, either do not retire, or become a gourmet chef unless you want your noon lunches to be something more than gaggable delicacies.
Men, before you rip open a cereal box before checking to see which side is up, thereby ripping the box, and leaving the box vulnerable to having all the cereal come out the end you ripped open when the box is set right side up, here are a few pointers:
Remember, you are not a moron. You can master this situation.
Look to see which way the writing and illustrations printed on the box are headed. Place the cereal box in the up direction when you see "Wheaties" right-side up, not downside down.
Now study the top of the box. Usually it will say to open box, pull the one side up. Cereal makers never say, however, how to do this. Try sticking fingers under each side of the tab in the center and slide under glued lid to see if will open. Usually, this trick does not work. Too much glue makes the top tear. If you still have no success, use a sharp butcher knife. If the butcher knife does not work, get out a chain saw.
Ignore spousal unit questioning how you are doing and telling you she knows how to do it and why didn't you let her do it before you wrecked the stupid box.
When box is either neatly opened, a rare occurrence, or ripped open, attempt to open the waxy paper liner that actually contains the cereal. Note that said waxy paper container is only about 2/3 as high as the box it came in.
Grasp both sides of waxy paper container and pull a small corner apart. Failing that maneuver, pull both sides totally apart, exposing the entire container of cereal.
Pour cereal into cereal bowl. If you have ripped up the box and the paper liner, cereal will inevitably flow outside the bowl onto the counter and the floor.
Study nutritional information on cereal box while consuming. Note high sugar content, high sodium content, low fiber content, low nutritional value. Unless you are consuming 13 grams of fiber per bowlful from a healthy cereal brand.
When finished, place tab on top of box into little slit on other half of box top. Slit usually needs to be pried apart before sticking tab into it. Be careful no to rip the tab slot, because you have nothing to secure the box top. Oh yes, and be sure to wrap the waxy paper container up tight before you affix the tab on the box top. If you live in a humid climate, your cereal will be soggy within hours unless you place in air-tight container anyway. Now, men, if you have ripped the first side of the box top into three or four tattered pieces, and if you have enlarged the slit on the other side in which said slot the other side of the box lid is supposed to neatly fit, thus securing box for next consumer, ignore instructions on box top.
Stick mangled box in pantry. Ignore complaints from spousal unit who will likely inspect said box as soon as you stick in pantry to commentate on what a worthless no-good slob you are, despite having a Ph.D. or an engineering degree, you do not have brains enough to see which side of the cereal box is up, or how to open it in even your limited intelligence and lack of manual dexterity. Ignore comments. Say, "yes, dear" or some other words of loving endearment.
If not retired, go immediately to office or Quick-Lube job to avoid further criticisms. If at an office, read emails and post on Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. Then check old car prices on eBay. Then go to 10:00 a.m. break. Do not call dear one until late afternoon, when things have calmed down a bit.
Next time, you moron, ask your spousal unit to open cereal box. Since you wrecked current cereal box, spilled half of it on the floor, and left the remainder to get soggy, buy new $5 box of nutritionally unsound sugared cereal (sugared tastes a lot better). Admit you are a hopeless incompetent. Praise spousal unit for superior dexterity and ability. Study neatly opened top on the Up side and see how easily spousal unit opened box.
Switch to eggs instead. Eggs don't kill you any more, so enjoy. Can you break an egg?
The Curmudgeonly Professor is a firm believer in following the rules of success, as defined by the Curmudgeonly Professor. The first rule of success is to know what day it is. Unfortunately, the calendar on the wall in my den where I work is still set on April. The calendar is too far away to reach out and change the page, and, in order to change the page, I would have to get up, walk around to the other side of the desk, and reach up and change the page. If I did so, I may trip over the electric cords, the phone cord, and the TV cable cord. Also, I may drop the nail that holds up the calendar on the wall on the carpet, thus necessitating a one or two hour search on my hands and knees to find it, not an easy task at my advanced senior age, in order to avoid damaging the vacuum cleaner. Thus the matter of changing the calendar page is no trivial matter, and one fraught with numerous pitfalls, anxieties, risks, and concerns. To evaluate these matters, the Professor would need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, assessing the relative balance of marginal benefits and marginal costs. Care would have to be taken not to be swayed, the Professor is big-time into Sway, having read the book by that title and commented on it herein a short time ago, and to avoid any prejucial biases over whether June, in fact, is a month superior to its immediate predecessors.
The Professor has thought about waiting for July 1, which would then save a whole lot of wear and tear, and would save one trip around the desk to change the page. I actually am sick of looking at the April page, which has a bunch of weird looking Hawaiian flowers, and I do wonder if the pictures for May, June, and July are an improvement over these spiky looking orangey things. The main problem is that the dates in April are all screwed up on the calendar and I have to interpolate, or whatever you call it, to try and come up with the correct date. Also, I have to put my glasses on to undertake this task, and my glasses are upstairs, since I don't need glasses for close work since I had my cataracts removed. So the dates not only are out of whack on the page, compared to June, but they are also blurry and I have to squint my eyes to try and make them out. So my readers can see serious problems exist here in re: changing the calendar page.
Admittedly, the Professor could just check the calendar widget on the desktop of his computer, but that calendar disappears when I get into serious literary efforts like the writing of this blog post. My purpose is to demonstrate that defining the secrets of success is exceedingly difficult if you don't know what the heck day it is, and therefore cannot plan out your work, prioritize your tasks, work out your plan, and put first things first. Besides, I grew up looking at calendars on walls to figure out what day it is, not consulting some electronic whiz-bang calendar which one has no idea whether is anywhere near correct or not and could be full of cyber viruses (virusi?) and bugs and be totally unreliable. Always beware of the accuracy of information that is not printed on a calendar page and hanging on a wall. We have demonstrated, conclusively, that managing the trivial pursuits of daily life is, indeed, absolutely no trivial task whatsoever, and is fraught with valid tensions, concerns, and worries. Meanwhile, I have checked the top of my Typepad blog, where the Typepadders have, indeed, informed me that today is June 1. But can I really trust them without seeing it on the calendar on the wall? Have a nice day.
My loss of about 5,000 photos from my Mac computer was, by any stretch of the imagination, only a minor disaster compared to the real and major disasters of life that many people experience. Yet, losing a year's worth of photos, pared down from about a total of seven or eight thousand total photos taken, and losing the hundreds of hours spent editing and fixing these photos, was not a pleasant experience. After all else failed, and no one at Apple, the Mac Store, or other techies were able to help me, I called upon Google, asking "How do I recover deleted memory card photos?" Google informed me of several memory card recovery software programs. I tried four and purchased one, for twenty dollars (cardraider.com) which gave me back about 470 photos, including the photos from our July family reunion, the most valuable of the lost photos. For about 48 hours this past week, I thought I had lost all 20,000 of my photos, but, fortunately, 15,000 were backed up on a protected drive.
All of this misery and time led me to think about disaster recovery in general. A couple of years ago, I had written a 150 page weight loss manuscript, and accidentally deleted it. What to do? I sat down and rewrote it from scratch in three weeks. No one ever wanted to read it anyway, but at least I proved I could recover from this disaster.
Nearly 40 years ago, I was diagnosed with MS in a Denver hospital while I was still at the University of Wyoming. I was asked by the president of Utah State University to resign from the position to which I had just been appointed, chairman of the economics department at Utah State, in view of the prognosis of my illness. For a year, I continued to exhibit all the classic symptoms of MS and then, miraculously, everything went away except for neuropathy in my toes. I have never had any recurring symptoms since. At the time, this event seemed an irreparable disaster. I decided that I would not miss any days from class and, for many weeks, had to teach sitting down and could not write on the blackboard. That Christmas, my oldest son had to put the toys together and be Santa Claus because the extreme fatigue that goes along with this ailment allowed me only shortened days of activity. I thought about how fortunate I had been as I listened to Michelle Obama tell the story of her father who contracted MS at an age similar to my case, and then eventually had to get up an hour early each morning to dress and get ready for work.
My wife has had three hospital emergencies, two of which she was fortunate to escape with her life. And then we lost a stillborn son many years ago. I will never forget all of those interminably long trips down the hallway of Brackenridge Hospital in Austin Tx to visit my wife, who spent weeks in intensive care with pneumonia which was serious enough to shut everything down in her system. Then, one day, I was called by the doctors to come back to the hospital from my daughter's home since they had decided to do a tracheotomy, otherwise she could not continue breathing. The trache was scheduled for 11:00 a.m. I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more, not knowing what was happening. Then, about 4:00 p.m., a doctor came to find me with the news: "We don't know how this could possibly have happened, but beginning at 11:00 a.m., she started to rally, her body began to function again, and her life was spared."
What I learned from all of these experiences is that we somehow muster the courage to endure the disaster and make the best of it when we are actually confronted with it and become immersed in the middle of it. My oldest daughter says, in such circumstances, "What do you do?" The answer is, you just endure. But you don't give up. You don't ever, ever give up. We may feel sorry for ourselves for a bit, and we may even feel that we are better off if we let out a bit of emotion and whining. But these phases of our reaction to disaster, however natural and expected, cannot last long. Once we abandon hope, we have abandoned life. So we just keep going.
We live in two retirement communities. The depressing side of these residences is that we have continual news of medical emergencies of the most serious kind, and a few deaths a year in each community. Yet, when we see people, and ask how they are, everyone typically answers, "I'm fine". We may feel apprehensive about what is in store for us, particularly as we become older, but, somehow, as I watch my friends and neighbors, they adapt. They endure. They tell us about their new stent, their hip or knee replacement, their angioplasty and bypass surgery, their cancer treatments. And they go on with their daily lives. And they tell us they are fine.
I guess it's all a matter of perspective. Losing 5,000 photos wasn't a happy occurrence. But I can take 10,000 more in the next year, maybe some even better ones. That doesn't mean that I will ever trust my computer again, or any other technological wonder, for that matter. But I've fixed the problem the best I can, and am looking forward to the photos I can take tomorrow, and the next day, and the next months. If I get any good ones, I'll show them to you on my blog.
I can remember every whopper I ever told. I told one in the first grade when Miss Shinn asked the 56 students in her class, "Who has been up in an airplane?" Of course, I raised my hand, not to be outdone by anyone else. I'm not sure, in 1938, if anyone in remote Powell, Wyoming had been up in an airplane, since World War II was still a few years away. Then came the killer question: "Where were you up in an airplane?" Choking with consternation, I said the first place that came to mind: "Chicago." Of course, Miss Shinn knew perfectly well I had never been farther away from Penrose than 24 miles to Cody but, bless her heart, she didn't call me on it.
The second time I told a whopper was in the second grade when Miss Black, ancient and stern and wearing black, required us to get up in front of the class every Monday and give a report on "What I Did Over Saturday and Sunday." After two or three weeks of this, Molly, the girl who sat across the aisle from me, and I decided to juice up our reports a bit with a few inventions. I don't consider these inventions truly whoppers, but, rather, rightful retribution to Miss Black for making us do this hated routine little speech each week. So, one day, Miss Black asked me to follow her, about six weeks into the school year, and so I dutifully followed her up the back stairs of the Eastside Grade School whereupon she plunked me down in Miss Joneson's third grade class, happy, I am certain, to be rid of me. Third grade was great because Miss Joneson assigned us little projects that required making up stories and fantasizing, more to my liking. Miss Joneson would have loved Calvin and Hobbes.
Unless I mis-remember, to use the current term for fibbing, I never told a whopper again in my life. I can remember most of the movies I saw when I was young, including seeing Gigi with Leslie Caron in July 1953 in Laramie, Wyoming with my wife and my sister Liz. I can remember moments of extreme elation and moments of embarrassment. I really wonder how much people actually deliberately misstate information and how much they actually misremember. Getting the facts right is, of course, a tricky matter, as any courtroom drama unfolds with different eyewitnesses each giving a different account of what they saw.
But we're really concerned here with deliberate misrepresentation to make us, or someone or something else, look either better or worse than they or we actually are. We're talking about making up stories either to make us look heroic or to defame someone else and passing them off as if they were the honest-so-help-me truth. We're not talking about just rounding the numbers off in a favorable direction; we're concerned with major fabrications passed off as factual.
So students cheat because they want to be smarter than they are and know more than they do. Companies cook the books to make their financial situation appear to be more favorable than the fraudulent position they are actually in. Product labelers mislead us about content, quality, and value. Biographers make up fanciful stories that they think will sell massive numbers of books. And on and on.
It's sad that we almost become totally cynical in listening to politicians, reading newspapers, listening to talk radio, or getting information from any other source, when we almost automatically ask ourselves, "Is this stuff really true; is this information reliable information; or, are we just floating some more hot air?" It would be nice if people, students, companies, politicians, writers, and everyday people would just simply tell the plain unvarnished truth.
Several weeks ago I attended a party at my sister in laws where my ninety-six year old colleague I had known at the University of Wyoming was in attendance. I asked him, "From your vantage point, what is the secret of your success." Without batting an eye, he replied with a twinkle in his eye, "Keep moving. Don't stay in one place too long."
During my academic career, I applied that advice literally as I moved several times to several different universities, always seeking greener pastures. Regretfully, I learned that there are no greener pastures as long as you are still the same curmudgeonly and grouchy person at your destination as you were at the place you just left. I had expected to transition into a cheerful, smiling, happy person, able to bear any and all burdens and challenges of academic life in a new institution. If I had a rotten dean who didn't appreciate what a brilliant academician I was at the last institution, I found an even rottener one at the new school. Yes, I learned that academic institutions are generic and you can always find the same caricatures of the same people in all of them.
But I don't think that moving from town to town is what my friend meant. I think he meant that we shouldn't stagnate, that we should stay active. A person in a rut who is afraid to make a move isn't much good to him or herself or to anyone else, for that matter. So I think what my former colleague was saying was that we should keep learning new things, doing new things, and be open to new ideas. Staying in one place too long causes us to turn the same color as the rut we are in--dingy, drab, uninteresting, bored, and dull. Better to be willing to go see things we haven't seen before, learn to use a computer if we think we can't do it, read a book on a topic we hadn't considered reading before, or, heaven help us, start a blog where we can pontificate on each and every idea that crosses our mind counting on the fact that someone from Poland or Estonia will find our comments interesting beyond belief. Or, we can, as my new-found blogger friend molly says, become a bloviating troglodyte. I admire her use of words. I never would have thought of that one. Wish I had thought of it during my academic career, where I knew legions of bloviating troglodytes and would like to have called them by name. Not to mention politicians, heaven help us all.
So, word for the day, word for your life from my energetic ninety-six year old friend:
Keep moving. Don't stay in one place too long. But don't become a bloviating troglodyte!
Last week my wife and I attended a production of the musical production Man of La Mancha presented by St. George Musical Theater. The St. George Musical Theater has grown in stature and talent so that it is now a major cultural attraction in southern Utah. Many of the cast were veterans of the musical and dramatic stage with decades of experience behind them. Now, St. George Musical Theater is in the process of raising the balance of several million dollars needed to transform an old movie house into a beautiful new theater-in-the-round.
Talk about dreaming an impossible dream. St. George Musical Theater used the old St. George Opera House for eight years, a facility it quickly outgrew with annual revenues of about $130,000. A gymnasium in an abandoned school building was then converted into a theater-in-the-round, which the Theater occupied for four years, with annual revenues rising to $750,000 from 50,000 theater patrons. Then the City announced plans to raze the school building and so the current construction project for the new theater will commence as fund raising continues. Meanwhile, Dixie State College has provided theater facilities for the community theater.
To go from the modest beginnings of St. George Musical Theater to where it is today and where it will be tomorrow is truly a journey resulting from dreaming an impossible dream and laboring, struggling, continuing, and not giving up until the Impossible Dream is achieved. Thus, the production Man of La Mancha could not have been presented at a more appropriate time nor could any other production have succeeded in bringing an appreciative community together in support of making sure that the dream is fulfilled.
We often wonder if we should dream realistic dreams or dreams that are miles over our heads. And we often wonder which dreams are really appropriate and which dreams we should whittle down to "possible" dreams as opposed to "impossible" dreams. Some times we are reluctant to voice our dreams because we sense that others will make fun of them, tell us we are whistling in the wind, that we need to come back to earth and that we need to face reality in terms of what we might actually standing a chance of being able to accomplish.
Yet, when we listen to the lyrics of Impossible Dream, the words "to run where the brave dare not go" ring in our ears. "To try when your arms are too weary to reach the unreachable star" becomes our challenge. We listen to the words of the song and think about whether we are willing to follow a star, "no matter how hopeless, no matter how far."
The last time we attended a production of The Man of La Mancha was several years ago at the Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. The lead was sung by Robert Peterson, who sang the role on Broadway. Sadly, he died just a short time after that, but his legacy and dream lives on as his daughter was the director of the St. George Musical Theater's production we were privileged to attend.
We would never get much of anywhere without dreaming. We would stay in ruts, accept mediocrity, fail to take advantages of opportunity to learn, avoid writing words or inventing new things that would benefit mankind. We would never risk running for public office or risk applying for a job that would help us advance to where we want to be. We would not care whether our children went to college. We would never have a mental image of what we dream for. I read the other day about a woman in South America who desperately wanted a garden but had no space for one. So she painted an entire wall of her home into a garden with plants and flowing fountains and trees where she could sense the fulfillment of her dream.
If we dream large, and don't quite make it, we can at least feel comforted by the fact that we have chosen to dream, that we had a vision that was larger than we were on the day we conceived the dream, and that we aimed toward the dream with everything we could muster. Just as St. George Musical Theater has dreamed an impossible dream, we each need to be unafraid to try to "reach the unreachable star."
Now the Curmudgeonly Professor tackles a topic he is ill equipped to deal with since curmudgeonly professors, by definition, are junk collectors and messy people. However, he has had several phone conversations and emails from folks who read my earlier treatise on whether messy people are more successful than neat people, or vice versa, and feels compelled to offer some positive advice and encouragement to messy junk collectors. Here are the rules:
1. Buy a shredder. Just running a shredder for a couple of days and filling up plastic bags full of shredded papers will keep you entertained and provide some variety to your usual wasted days.
2. Throw out old apple cores, empty soda pop cans, stale sandwiches, non-functioning ball point pens, spent ink cartridges, and other relics.
3. Buy a book on decluttering. Read the first ten pages before you put it on your bookshelf and take a nap.
4. Try the "Three-item" rule. According to this rule, take care of three items from any pile of your clutter when you enter an uninhabitable room. If you go in and out of your room a number of times, and if you faithfully adhere to this rule, you can reduce your clutter by dozens of items in a day. But don't take time to read and entertain yourself with your old clutter. And simply moving your clutter items to another pile doesn't count.
5. Try the five-minute rule. Several times during the day, time yourself and spend five minutes at a whack cleaning up junk, throwing out clutter, and spraying Fabreze to freshen up your environment.
6. Pay bills buried in your clutter before the collection agency calls or your interest rate gets bumped to 45 percent.
7. Only answer letters from those who haven't passed on during your lengthy period of slovenliness and inattention.
8. Never allow someone else to clean your clutter up for you or you will be doomed and never find anything. Yesterday's Matlock episode was a fine example of this problem. Matlock hired a woman to keep house for him and she filed his stuff where he couldn't find it, thus irritating counselor Matlock to the nth degree.
9. Don't get so attached to your junk that you can't thin it out without traumatizing yourself. Remember the old rule, which applies to romance as well as clutter: "Out of sight, out of mind." After all you haven't paid any attention to whatever it is for weeks, or months, or years, so why do you think you would shed tears over it if you noticed it was gone six months from now?
If you really think it necessary, you could buy a book on overcoming bad habits and decluttering, but you're a mature and responsible person and, with the above pointers, we can all look forward to neater and more efficient spaces. You could have decluttered yourself in the time it took you to buy and read a book, which most people won't pay any attention to anyway. The Curmudgeonly Professor has saved you time and money and pointed the route to a happier, clutter-free life. I just don't want to know how fast you mess everything up again with a new round of clutter since, as we all know, the fundamental nature of messy people is that once messy, always messy. It's just the way we are. So help us.