Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Falling Down the Time Hole

I just read on the news today that few doctors answer patient emails. The article (here, if you're interested) was really fascinating, not so much because it pitted the "pro" emailers against the "anti" crowd, but ultimately because it failed to take into account the personal preferences BEHIND those for/against opinions.

Representing the "Use email, dipshit!" crowd was a nurse who uses it for her OWN work, and finds it really easier than trying to "track down" people by phone for mundane matters. Opposite this were many (most?) doctors who cited largely legal and/or ethical reasons to avoid emailing patients. Namely, bad advice dispensed over email could wind up as a malpractice suit, as well as lapses in response time aggravating a health issue that had previously been more or less benign.

While not the kind of doctor who sees patients, I typically have well over 150 students every semester, and I couldn't agree more with physicians who do not want to email their patients. But there's no stick-in-the-mud conservatism involved with that desicion, which is what the article ultimately concluded must be the case with reticent doctors. No, I understand completely because EMAIL IS A FUCKING BLACK HOLE OF TIME! I suppose the same could be said for blogging - here I am, wasting time inflicting my opinions on everyone while I SHOULD be composing! - but at some level the act of blogging is linked to creative output, so I feel better knowing that the time I "waste" on it is MY time, and my call to make. But email? Ugh. I loved email when it first came out, right up until just a couple of years ago. Ever since that philosophical tipping point, I've come to feel that email just drains time away. Just...SUCKS it right away.

Do the math: with a typical 16-week semester, that works out to 80 "school days." But even that's not quite right, once you factor in holidays and exam week and stuff. Call it 70 days...70 school days a semester. With 150 students, even if I only get one email per semester from each person, that's more than 2 emails a day. And let me tell ya, I get WAY more than 2 student-related emails a day! Some students might never email, but others will more than make up for that lapse by bombarding me with a dozen over the course of the semester. And oftentimes they're worthwhile concerns, things that are good to have "in writing." Other times, though, the most mundane issue becomes overdramatized and blown ALL out of proportion by the student, so that I end up not only resenting the time it takes to answer the damn email in the first place...I kind of end up resesnting the student who sent it!

At what point did an unwanted intrusion into my life become MY requirement to deal with? You know the old saying: "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part"? Well, I feel like that's what a ringing phone, a donging doorbell, or an exclamation-point-highlighted email is. It SEEMS like it's important...but really, it's often only important to the SENDER of whatever message it is. This is why I often simply do not answer my phone, and hang up immediately on cold-callers. That ringing sound? I do NOT have to jump to answer it. Just because the phone (or the doorbell) rings does NOT require me to act upon it. "Ding-dong!" (Looks out the window.) Oh, it's the Witnesses! No need to answer THAT door! Hi! Yeah, I'll wave at you through the window! Nope, not opening the door! "Ring-ring!" Hello? I'm sorry, who did you want to speak to? The "head of household?" Sorry, if you don't even know who you're calling, there's no requirement for me to talk to you.

Shitty attitude and snide avoidance disregarded, this is much the same way I feel about email now. Students are often impolite (at best) in emails, "typing" as if they're e.e. cummings, with no punctuation, no caps, no salutation or send-off...just "hi i was wondering if you could tell me what ones are going to be on the test this wed" and they're off. Don't they know how that rankles a professor? Bad grammar, bad (or no!) did you even GRADUATE from high school, you ninnies?!? And we always bypass on messages, my students and I: I typically check my email between 8:00am and 7:00pm, while THEY like to send messages after 10:00pm...then get PISSY if I haven't answered it right away!

Nope. I can see the docs' point all to clearly: when it comes to "mundane" matters, email is only ever going to be convenient for the sender. That's an idea I can *DELETE* without ever reading it!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

To Tell or Not To Tell?

I recently read a post from Her Bad Mother about deciding which stories from her past she would and would NOT be telling to her unbelievably adorable daughter, and she invited participants to post comments about their OWN "hidden pasts" and whether or not to divulge same to their Spawn. Rather than eat up her comment space, I thought I'd just take the idea for myself. Thanks, HBM! And, if you're not reading her blog...WHY not?!?

The basic premise is this: what, if anything, is too disastrous and/or embarrassing about your past to even bother sharing with your offspring? Naturally we all have things we'd rather forget about: drunken escapades, stolen goods, reckless driving...the list goes on. I agree with HBM's suggestion that many of these tales could potentially serve as "teaching stories," meant to deliver a certain moral. "Okay, Rozzle, see, your ol' Dad isn't perfect either!" Or, perhaps this: "See, I've already been through this and learned, so don't YOU repeat MY mistakes!" But beneath that thin veneer of promising parenthood churns a cauldron of personal embarrassments and deliberate indiscretions, and I wonder what I WILL tell my Rozzlesaurus about my past...?

• Do I tell her what a ho' I was in college? That I shagged my way through an increasing pileup of 18-year-olds, quasi-girfriends who stayed the same age even as I got older? What about the girls I really REGRET, like the color-guard member whose name I can't even recall, or the disastrous time I tried fucking my until-that-point Sunday night dancing buddy? In a world where you karmically reap what you sow... IS MY DAUGHTER GOING TO BE ONE OF THOSE GIRLS?!?

• Do I tell her about the times I made my mother cry? Or, about the times I deeply disappointed HER mother? Those times when conflicting pressures bubbled to the surface and I ended up disappointing SOMEBODY, dammit, even though I'd rather have had sharpened bamboo shoved under my fingernails?

• What do I say about booze? About how in high school her dad & his buddies would have somebody's mom buy us a shitload of Boone's Farm and we'd play poker all night, swilling rotgut "wine" and smoking Swisher Sweets? Do I tell her that I once had her Uncle Eric buy us booze when he was only - I swear this is true! - FIFTEEN YEARS OLD?!?

• Then there's a whole 'NOTHER thing with marching band, stuff I won't even post HERE! But, many readers know what I'm talking about...what do you tell YOUR kids about those days? Anything???

Right now, I'm the greatest guy in the world in the eyes of Roslyn. When does that change? Will she find out for herself anyway? And, at what point do I ADMIT to my past mistakes, willingly destroying that image for all time? So much to think about...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Guy In The Mirror

Miss Tessmacher and I spent an enjoyable evening with Ira Glass a few weeks ago, sitting in the second row at the Wharton Center while he basically ran a radio show from the stage. He's fantastically funny, and his "demonstration" about putting together an episode of This American Life was enlightening and, for a show ostensibly about radio, very entertaining to actually SEE. At one point Glass made a comment about being "the worst version of yourself," sort of like being at a party and catching yourself in a mirror, realizing: "Hey! That guy's being an ASS! Waitaminnit! That's ME being an ass! aaaaaiiEEEEEEEE!" The concept is funny because it rings so true: every once in awhile we exhibit the worst of our personalities, and catching a glance of ourselves being that "worst version" is so skin-crawlingly awful.

I'm certainly willing to own up to the fact that I can be more than a little obnoxious in my behaviour. In fact, I quite enjoy being "that guy" who can sometimes force the conversation to take an uncomfortable turn. What I HATE, though, is being naïve, and unfortunately I've been noticing that aspect of my personality to an uncomfortable degree lately. Rather than catching sight of myself in a mirror and thinking "Oh no, I'm an ass!" I find myself going "Oh no, I'm naïve!!" Which, somehow, is ultimately worse, because being naïve means being one thing I really hate: ignorant.

I don't post about work on this blog, mostly because I believe firmly in keeping "official" biz on my composer-centric website, and besides, for me, this just isn't the format. However, there have been two incidents at work this year which really called my naïve tendencies into sharp focus. The first was a pure case of ignorance...but, how imbecillic does THAT look, to have to claim "But I didn't know!" Shit. I HATE bein' "that guy!" The other incident was more along the lines of a simple misunderstanding and difference of opinion; still, part of my much-deserved scolding that resulted from this situation DID point out some rather naïve assumptions I'd made.

If I was going to give you a dime-store self-psychological explanation of my behaviour (and I am, right?), I'd say that some of my naïveté stems from the way I see MYSELF. Let's face it: I've rather kept myself (mentally, at least) in a sort of "suspended animation." In short, I LIKE the idea of "not growing up." Don't misunderstand: I'm not some sort of Lost Boy, eschewing the real world in favour of a NeverNever Land of my own devising. I'm a (mostly) functional father, a devoted spouse, I pay my bills and go to work get the idea. But, I keep my hair long, like I'm still gonna be a rock star someday. I buy, collect, and read comic books...many the same titles I've been reading since I'm 10. Ditto with music: Kiss is still the centerpiece of my musical buffet, and I'm often happiest when I'm listening to the same record I've heard over & over since 1977. In effect, I keep myself "young" in my mind, and combined with my oft-stated nostalgia, I wonder if this doesn't have some sort of subconscious effect on the way I think about life? You know, in the sense that I have some sort of view of the world as being harmless and open and full of wonder...the way a 10-year-old might think.

There's another part of me that sometimes feels like I can SEE myself as still being this young, and so thinking of myself that way excludes the reality of what other people see. To wit: when I was raked over the coals for the aforementioned misunderstanding, I caught a glimpse of myself in that mirror, only this time it wasn't just a sidelong glance: it was a full-on stare, and what I saw was...a 40-year-old man. Well, almost 40 anyway. But there it was: I (occasionally) act like I'm still a kid, and I LIKE having a youthful outlook on life...but there's that naïveté again, right? Other people must look at me and think "Geez Louise, you're a GROWN MAN for god's sake! Act like it! Take responsibility! GET A HAIRCUT!"

This post is starting to sound whiny and kvetchy, and I didn't intend it to be that way. This isn't some lame fishing tactic, whereby I solicit comments boosting my morale. I'm not "down" about this, per se. I just happened to have recently come face-to-face with a side of me that, I've now discovered, most other people probably see most of the time. Which, at the end of the day, makes me "that guy." Oh well. At least I'm not "that guy" who wears last year's Kiss t-shirt to THIS year's concert. NOBODY likes THAT guy!