Monday, November 25, 2019

Two Dozen

One of the things that often surprises people about historians is that we’re not really that good with dates.

That’s why there are reference books, after all.

We’re good about the order of things – what led to what which led to what else, that sort of thing – but remembering the actual date of anything is always a bit of a trick.  That’s one of the reasons why I don’t get too caught up about dates on my exams.  Tell me which one came third; tell me what led to what.  Dates are just a way to keep score.

This is often true in my own life as well.  Often even when I can remember a date (“Joe’s birthday is the 13th … ”) I will have no clue as to what the actual date is today (“ … and that’s not until … um … last week.  Huh.”) which can be interesting, especially around Joe.

This is especially true when I have attached specific events to movable dates.  Easter.  Spring Break.  That sort of thing.  Then I have no idea when things are actually happening.  I figure I will be informed.

All of which is essentially preamble to the discovery that I made sometime this afternoon that it is my wedding anniversary today.

In my head, my wedding anniversary is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which isn’t for another five days yet.  We planned it that way because we are academics and that’s when our friends could come out for the festivities, and that is more or less how I remember it year after year. 

But it really is today.

It’s been an eventful two dozen years, really.  I got my PhD.  Kim got tenure.  We had two amazing children.  We bought a house.  We’ve had cats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, hamsters, and more than one pig.  We’ve taken trips and had friends and family visit us.  We’ve cycled through a number of cars and computers.  It’s been a time.

And we’ve been through it all together.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

AMA? Isn't That the Doctor Group?

I’m trying to avoid grading these days and doing far too good of a job of it to be honest. 

I’m not that far behind, all things considered.  I’m actually caught up in four of my five classes right now, and only one assignment from being caught up in the other one, which is pretty good for the twelfth week of classes.  It’s just that I really cannot deal with another online discussion post no matter how well written it is (and most of the students who are still turning in work at this point in the semester have pretty much gotten things down by now).  It’s been cold and grey and unusually wintry this month and mostly I just want to climb under the nice warm covers and not come out until some indeterminate time in the future and then only to make more tea and continue reading my distinctly non-academic book.

This does however conflict with my desire to retain my job and continue paying my bills, so grading it is.  Most of the time.

The rest of the time I find other things to do, such as randomly plink around the internet looking at articles that are scientifically designed to rot my synapses.

No, not the political ones.  Those are scientifically designed to enrage any thinking patriotic American and spur calls for the wholesale removal of the squatter regime currently metastasizing all over the capital, preferably on a rail.  If anything that sort of thing sharpens the mind, which is why I don’t have much patience for the der Sturmtrumper’s defenders.  I don’t put up with Stupid much these days, and I have never responded well to sleaze in the first place.

No, the brain damaging things are all pop culture or random memes or some such.  My favorite meme this week involves someone who tried to use a food dehydrator to dry out some catnip and invented a kitty vape that left all of her cats stoned out of their minds because I have cats and I can just see this happening here, particularly if I go out and buy a food dehydrator which I am now tempted to do.

Somehow this evening I found myself on one of those click-bait aggregators looking at photographs of some of the artists attending the American Music Awards, which were apparently held sometime not that long ago.  All these attractive young people in their frighteningly ugly clothing!  My, but high fashion never changes that way, does it?  Those poor beautiful people would have been better off just showing up in their jeans and sweatpants, really.

There were maybe two dozen photographs of such people, smiling gamely for the cameras – people who are, in theory, famous enough to justify being invited to an awards show and having their pictures taken in their fashionable frumpery.  I scrolled down to find people whose music I knew.  Then I went back to see if I could find people whose music I had ever heard of.  Finally I gave up and started looking for people whose names I recognized from any context whatsoever.

There was Taylor Swift, who seems to be ubiquitous these days and should probably be running for office with that kind of name recognition.  She'd probably win.  I'd pay money to see the State of the Union Address she gives, if only to watch the faces of the Representatives in the audience.

There was also Selena Gomez, who last I saw was the witch on Waverly Place.  She seems older now.

And then there was … um … well, mostly there was just an ever-increasing amount of evidence that I am old and out of touch with the youth of today despite having created two of them.

I suppose I should not be surprised by this, since it pretty much confirms everything I already know about myself.  But still.  It is kind of a drag to have it pointed out so definitively on a nice Sunday evening.

Perhaps I will climb under my nice warm covers now.

Saturday, November 16, 2019


Every summer we look into our kitchen cabinet and ask ourselves, “What is the deal with all the mugs?”

And every winter we respond, “Oh, right.  That’s the deal.”

I like mugs.  They are probably my favorite type of cup, and one of the many reasons I know for a fact that I am no longer young and interesting is that I have a favorite kind of cup but I am okay with that since I was never exactly the life of the party even when I was young.  I like mugs.  What can I say.

Someday I may just build a little cubby thing and display them.  Not sure where, really, and given my carpentry skills this may just be an invitation to disaster.  But perhaps.  We’ll see.

For a while when I was a kid it became a thing in my family to give each other mugs at Christmas.  This was back in the 1970s.  I liked it as a thing, but it didn’t last long.  There are only so many mugs people need, really.

One of the first things I got from my undergraduate institution was a Campbell’s Soup mug.  It came in the Standard New Freshman Box (male version), along with a stick of deodorant, a couple of condoms, a few pamphlets on mental wellness and the perils of drugs and alcohol, and a Kurt Vonnegut novel.  And, as I recall, a can of actual Campbell’s soup.  I don’t know if they still do this sort of thing anymore – certainly none of my current students have ever heard of Kurt Vonnegut, let alone read any of his novels.  This is a question I do actually ask them when I teach my class on the atomic bomb, shortly before waving around a copy of Slaughterhouse Five and launching into a description of the firebombing of Dresden.  I think it would be a shame to let that tradition die out.  The New Freshman Box thing, I mean.  Not the firebombing.

I still have that mug.

I have mugs from my mother’s former place of employment – several of them in fact.  One of them is cobalt blue and says “Title Person” on it, and there are precious few of us left who get that joke anymore. 

I have mugs from several of my own places of employment, some of which technically no longer exist.

One of the things I did to treat myself when I was hired as a full-time adjunct five or six years ago was splurge on a Doctor Who mug.  I’ve got a couple of them now, as well as a Game of Thrones mug with my favorite bit from the series on it (“And what do we say to the god of death?”)  I’ve got a mug with a map of Klatch on it.

In our cabinet there are mugs from Sweden, painstakingly carried across the ocean in our carry-on bags.  Mugs that we got as wedding gifts.  A mug from the bed and breakfast Kim and I got engaged in.  Several mugs with the Philadelphia Flyers logo on them, and one with the Sons of Ben logo – perhaps the coolest sports-related logo around.  I’ve got one with a Lincoln quote (“Folks who have no vices have very few virtues”) that I picked up at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield.  There are a couple given to me by my children, purchased at those little pop-up Christmas Gift Shops that spread stuff out in a big room in the elementary school so the kids can buy things for their parents.  Another with the Bill of Rights on it where your rights disappear before your eyes every time it gets into hot water, sort of like living under a GOP administration.  A Phillies World Series mug.  At least one random mug that was left behind somewhere and claimed by us rather than tossed.  And so on.

A lot of mugs, in other words.

In the summer this seems like overkill.  You can get by with maybe two mugs total in the summer, since there are only so many hot beverages one is likely to consume when it is cooler inside your body than outside of it.

But in the winter – which we seem to have entered here even though it is still more than a month before the solstice proper – it is amazing how many mugs you can go through.  Tea.  Coffee.  Cocoa.  Repeat.  Instant muffins.  Lauren would make homemade mac-n-cheese in them.  They are the perfect kitchen implement.

The cabinet empties out.  The dishwasher and the sink fill up.  We start to run low on mugs in a way that seemed impossible when we were wearing short sleeves and cranking up the air conditioning.  But winter is made for staying inside with a warm beverage and a good book, and if the book is too often work-related the tea is still warm.

We have a lot of mugs.  I suspect this will not stop me from adding to the collection.

As vices go it’s relatively harmless.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

News and Updates

1. It is entirely possible to get a genuine hangover from nothing but adrenaline.  This is not as much fun as people tell you.

2. We are now expecting our fifth measurable snowstorm in the last three weeks or so, after which the temperature is expected to drop into the single-digits Fahrenheit.  Naturally my neighbor spent this afternoon mowing his lawn.  And I just couldn’t blame him at all.  We went straight from early October to mid-December without hitting any of the weather in between, so the grass is still long and the leaves are still out there.  Wisconsin can be a strange place.

3. It can be an even stranger place if you pay attention to politics.  We don’t have Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) punching holes in the state’s future anymore (hello, Foxconn!), but we do have a state legislature that is among the most thoroughly gerrymandered in the nation.  In the last election the GOP got 46% of the votes cast but ended up with 64% of the seats in the legislature.  This is perhaps why when the current governor called a special session to deal with rampant gun violence and the need for common sense gun laws in this state – something that 80% of Wisconsin voters support, which if you do the math tells you that even most Republicans like the idea – both houses of the Wisconsin legislature refused even to consider doing anything remotely related to their constituents’ wishes.  They gaveled the sessions in and out within two minutes and went on to collect whatever bonuses their corporate owners had promised them.  No surprise.  This is the same group of callous sinners that spent most of the fall refusing to allow a legislator with disabilities any of the accommodations to which he is, by law, entitled, because fuck you that’s why.  I’m sure they found it funny.

4. Bottom line:  The Wisconsin State Legislature no longer has any legitimacy as a governing body in a democracy.  Which of course raises the question: what happens next? 

5. Meanwhile on the national stage, der Sturmtrumper’s many and varied high crimes and misdemeanors continue to come to light and in a just nation that valued laws, Constitutions, morals, and human decency he would have been ridden out of town on a rail and stripped of every single asset he has ever owned long ago.  Naturally his base continues to support him, and the rest is left as an exercise for the reader.

6. The meme I wrote back in 2017 that went viral this past summer has gone viral again, to a slightly higher degree in fact.  By my count it has been shared over 38,000 times on Facebook alone.  Those are just the ones I know about, and it doesn’t count all the times it has gone around Twitter.  I’m anonymously famous!  I’m quite happy having it spread without my name being attached to it – this way people can focus on the content and not the author, and I don’t get bugged with the inevitable small-minded nonsense of the offended.

7. Speaking of which, now that Halloween is over you should brace yourself for the annual tradition of people who call other people “snowflakes” getting triggered into frothing rages over coffee cups.

8. I should be grading.  I do not wish to be grading.  A significant chunk of my paycheck depends on me grading.  Therefore I will be grading in the very near future, wishes notwithstanding.  It’s the circle of academic life.

9. You know, if your first reaction to “OK, Boomer” is to say “Not all Boomers…” maybe you have missed the point.

10. If I have learned anything from my last few months at work it is that computers will kill us and we will probably deserve it. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Foot Notes

So the other day I was sitting in my living room not doing much of anything in particular despite having much to do, when I received a text from my brother asking me to send him a picture of my feet.

This is not something that happens every day.

In fact, I cannot recall the last time that my brother asked for a picture of my feet, or indeed the last time anyone else asked me for such a picture either.  Very few people are even aware that I have feet as far as I know, at least in any specific sense beyond a general “well he must, mustn’t he?” kind of way, and fewer still want documentary proof.

I thought about this request.

Mostly I thought that somebody must have hacked my brother’s phone and was now making odd requests of everyone on his contact list, and that at some point in the near future we would all sit down and compare notes.  This would probably involve adult beverages.

Then my brother sent me a photo of his feet, which under normal circumstances I might have considered strange but which in this particular instance I found reassuring.  Whatever weirdness was going on was Acceptable Family Weirdness, which always covers a lot of ground.

So I sent him a picture of my feet, even though I noted that he really should buy me dinner first.  “We both know I don’t need to buy you dinners,” he responded.

Well, point taken, but still.  Dinners are nice.

It turned out that my niece was working on a project of her own design, one that involved collecting photos of all of the extant feet of my dad's direct descendants.  Tabitha and Lauren had already sent theirs.  Thanks to the fact that I had digitized all of the old family photos a few years ago I was able to locate a photo or two of my dad’s feet as well, so I sent those along.

She had the complete set.

I didn’t think too much about this after having sent along all of the various photos because some things you just accept at face value (or feet value, I suppose) and then move on with your life rather than dwell on them too much.  Okay.  This is my life now.

A few days later I got a photo of the finished project: a handsome throw pillow with all of our feet printed out in color in nice neat rows.  It was a birthday present for my nephew, apparently. 

I can’t even describe how much I love this project.  It’s twisted and creative and clever and it pretty much made my day.

I love my family.