Variable Weather

Midweek it felt as if spring had sprung, somewhat prematurely.  We hit the seventies in the day, but Friday the wind started blowing.

A few whitecaps: 

Friday got really windy.  And the kite surfers were out.
Today, the weather changed.  No more warm.
On the way back from the bluffs, Carol and I were drizzled upon by this big black cloud. 

Student Evaluations

Every quarter in the last week of classes, I get this email saying come pick up your student evaluations. This term “student evaluations”—come to think of it—is sort of misleading since it would seem to imply that students are the ones being evaluated.  But, no, student evaluations are actually evaluations by the students of their teacher.  So they should be called “teacher evaluation” since that’s what they really are. 

 Where I work, these come in two forms: statistical and narrative.  In the narratives, students are supposed to write something about the class, the teacher, and the content of the course. I don’t know why these are called “narratives” since students never write anything approximating a narrative.  They just state an opinion or make an observation or two.

As regards the statistical part, students fill out a scant Ron sheet with two questions on it:

Rank the Instructor

Rank the Course

As accordingly:


Very Good




Next quarter I will get an email saying the results of your statistical scores are in your mailbox.  So I will go over there and find these sheets with numbers on them; the little black marks that students have put down have been digitized, I guess one would say, and turned into numbers that tell me whether I have scored at the average for all of the sections of the courses I taught or above the average and by how much or below the average and by how much.

I have been getting these “scores” for over 30 years and they still freak me out every time I have to go over to the mailroom and look at them.  The whole business seems vaguely dehumanizing.  Like that bathing beauty contest in the Miss America Pageant, or as if somebody has put me into the American Idol Contest.  And I sure wouldn’t want to be in that contest.  It’s not about who wins but all the people who are humiliated in the process of proclaiming as the winner the person who has been least humiliated.

I am embarrassed and ashamed that I even care about these damn numbers.  Even when they are good numbers I am not really happy; I just heave a sign of relief—well, that’s over for now.  Anyway, I handed out those forms this week and the students filled them out and stuck them in a big yellow envelope, and now the office then and next quarter I will get his email saying the scores are in my box.  And I will feel humiliated all over again, because, you know, it is humiliating.



One of the questions of the survey that determined students entering college in the fall of 2006 were more narcissistic that entering classes previously surveyed was: “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.”  I presume the more narcissistically inclined said “yes.”

My answer to such a question way back when I entered college–and still today–would have been “no,” and I was wondering why.

First, even to begin to answer that question or to take it seriously as a question would seem to require a much richer fantasy life than I have.  I remember when the lottery first came in talking with people who would go on and on about what they would do with those vast amounts should they win it, how they would divide it up and give money to relatives and charitable organizations and buy a Jacuzzi.  These people really seemed to enjoy themselves talking about these fantasy prospects.  I would sit there with my mind completely blank.  I just couldn’t entertain the fantasy much less enjoy having it. I guess I do not have a rich fantasy life.

Second, answering yes to the question would seem to imply that one would want to be ruler of the world.  Personally, being ruler of the world strikes me as requiring way too much work and responsibility.  I think being ruler of the world would be quite time consuming and even onerous.  Also rulers of the world tend to have many enemies and frequently get killed off by assassins.

Finally, being ruler of the world would not, to my mind, necessarily put one in the position to make the world a better place.  The way I see it no one person –even the ruler of the world—can make any difference to the state of the world.  Individuals can do little or nothing to improve the state of affairs on a world wide scale.  Even to think so implies pure megalomania.  If the question read, “If I ruled the world, along with a very large army, and a fanatically charged mass following, I might be able to make the world a better place (if I had exact and clear directions on how to make the world better)….well, I still would answer “no” because I couldn’t entertain the fantasy in the first place.

I am suspicious of such surveys and how much they can tell us about the psyche of the student of today.  Still, the idea that by being the ruler of the world one could make the world a better place seems to suggest a remarkable naiveté about what goes into being the ruler of the world.  Or let us say, it would appear one could answer yes to this question only if one assumes that, because one is the ruler, the world will somehow plastically and magically respond to one’s attempts, no matter how ill-informed, to make it better.

This is narcissism.  Or rather, let us say, it is primal, archaic and relatively untempered narcissism. Twenge and others suggest that today’s college students are narcissistic because they were told by their parents and in schools that they are special, and are encouraged in their specialness by such attention seeking technologies as my space and Utube.  I don’t buy it.  If today’s students retain a high degree of untempered narcissism, that has little to do with being told one is special, but rather to having the “world” in fact plastically respond to one’s needs.  Those relatively few families that reaped the wealth of the 80’s and 90’s may have produced such children.  I wonder how young people not entering college might respond that question.

Last Day of Class

All of a sudden it’s 74 degrees.  The rise in temperature, along with the change in the clock, which has completely screwed up my body clock, has reduced me to a tepid pool of inertia.  My brain is a puddle, a dark back water for whatever the hell is going on in my unconscious these days.

Part of whatever that is has to do with the end of classes.  I am no good at closure.  Closure?  What the hell is that?  I mean at the end of my classes I feel sort of sad and depleted.  After all I have been meeting with these people in my classes for ten weeks; I have had email exchanges with many no matter how mundane or trivial, and some not so mundane and trivial, but about deaths in the family and suing doctors for malpractice or having to go to court themselves for various reasons, or becoming deathly ill and throwing up all night, or getting the pink eye, or having their computer suddenly die and go blue screen—with all their work disappearing into some digital void.  So I have come to know these people a little bit—and then the last day of class comes around, they go out the door to wherever it is they might be going, and I am not likely to hear from them again.

 Ever.  Except if they want something, like a letter of recommendation.

It’s like a post-partum depression or something without knowing what I have delivered or if I have managed to deliver anything at all.  So I keep trying to think of ways that might round the whole class out and bring it to a sense of completion.  Some people bring cookies to that last day of class or something.  But I am not that kind of person, a here’s a cookie person.  Anyway I couldn’t in good conscience hand out sugar.  If I drank myself, I would be more like, a “here’s a stiff drink person,” a “here’s looking at you, kid” sort of person as you go off into the crap that is going to befall you, because in your twenties, and let me tell you, the crap will just rain down.

I won’t see any of them again.  I am a writing teacher—; it’s not like I am a professor in their major or anything.  They have to work like hell to arrange another class with me and even then I am not going to get ten years down the line any emails or snail mail thanking me for like having totally changed their lives.  I mean what the hell—I make them write papers.  It’s not like I am teaching Zen Buddhism or something that might lift the veil of illusion from their eyes and show them the light.

I am left with loose ends and dead ends.

God bless’em each and every one.

Spring Forward

I didn’t realize when I woke that the clocks had changed.

Carol and I went out for breakfast and after having washed the car took a brief spin to the beach.


The dunes in the foreground are part of a nature preserve. 

Human beings on a sunny California beach on a Sunday morning engaged in some form of ritual 

More human beings.


 Human beings engaged in water activities.


 Strange bird on post, so well adapted to its environs that its outlines blur into its surroundings.  Carol asserts accurately I think that this is a heron "all scrunched up."

Looking away from ocean over placid lagoon a half a mile or so beyond the end of which we live.



Wilhelm von Humboldt

I was looking for a book on consumer society—to snatch a chapter—because next quarter I will be working with that subject again.  I was sure I had this book; I could see it in my mind’s eye but for the life of me not in plain sight.  Instead, plucking through books, I pulled out another because reading the book sidewise I could not make out the title.  I thought at first that it was one by Helvetius that I had taken from the library, as part of an effort better to understand the origins of sociological thought.  I started reading and right off it didn’t sound like that guy but instead something very German.

Indeed, turns out I was reading from a collection—in translation—of the works of Wilhelm von Humboldt.  I can’t remember why the heck unless I was doing further research into German Transcendental Idealism. 

I am doing my version of speed reading—by this I mean I read a line here and there and on the basis of other stuff I have read from that period begin to contextualize the thought relative especially to Kant and Rousseau (the twin pillars of German Idealism).  And then I come across this line:

 As we can imagine life neither standing still nor moved by an external mover, so does the whole universe subsist only in urge; nothing lives or exists except insofar as it strives to live or exist.

 Now I doubt very much that Bob Dylan read Wilhelm von Humboldt, though it is not out of the question that he did, but suddenly this line drew my attention to something I had not quite seen or seen only peripherally in the title of this blog, “And he not busy being born is busy dying.”—taken as I previously noted, I believe, from Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma.”

I don’t know quite how to put what I previously saw in that line but, taken in the context of the Wilhelm von Humboldt, I feel the emphasis shift to being as the busy-ness to be born.  Or following von Humboldt, the line shifts into the assertion: being is becoming or becoming is being.   That would appear itself to be a paradox, unless one concludes, as von Humboldt seems to do: that “being” is an activity and not a state of stasis. 

Funny—von Humboldt thinks of the entire universe, not as a set of pre-existing scientific laws, or something empirical, but as an “urge,” or one might say a feeling.  I think in German he may have used the word “Trieb,” which means variously “urge,” “impulse,” “driving force,” or “drive.”   



So I spent an hour with a vocal coach.  I am putting together a CD of ten of my own songs and I want to do the vocal part as best I can.

Going to a vocal coach is not part of my usual behavior.  In fact I pretty much hate going anywhere.  Going to try to sing in front of a complete stranger, on top of that, is pretty unusual for me.

But I got to see a street in Santa Barbara I had never seen before where the home of the vocal coach was located.

So there I sit with this vocal coach and she says my natural voice—if there is such a thing—more or less related to my speaking voice–is probably a baritone.  She says I have a deep voice for a skinny guy (because I am now once again really skinny). But the songs I have written are coming out more in the tenor range.

The coach had me try to find the soma of my sounds.  That is, where my voice comes from depending on the note I am trying to hit, and sure enough when I began to pay attention, I could feel the real high notes come somewhere from the middle of my forehead, and then down through the nose, and then down in the mouth/throat, and finally down in the chest—that’s where the baritone seems to be located.

And then there’s the breathing part.  I have got to get that down.  That means practice, because breathing while singing is not the same as your normal breathing.  More or less in normal breathing we take in some air through the nose using our lungs to drag it in, but if you do that even you will possibly note that the stomach pops out a little as one breathes in.

Singing requires stomach breathing.  You really let the stomach pop out as the air goes in and then you exhale by pulling in the stomach muscles—and sure enough it’s possible that way to get air in and out more quickly and also to sustain a note. 

Singing also requires good posture.  I don’t naturally have that.  I slouch and have slouched for years.  Instead—singing wise—you are supposed to stand up straight—with your center—your stomach and pelvis–acting as the pillar for your whole body, and you let the rest of your body above that go as limp as possible.

Carol says too that in dance the center of the body—the stomach and pelvis—are at the heart of the whole thing.  That’s where you start and need to build from.

I remember this pro basketball player—though I can’t remember his name—with this terrific jump shot.  From a stand still position, he really get in the air, and midway in his jump, you could see his hips and stomach—go up—as if after the initial leg movement he had a second booster rocket.

I went to the vocal coach some time this week but it feels now like an hallucination.

But it’s hard!

I had to do some paper work on campus, and was feeling so bad about my teaching that I stopped colleagues and said, I was feeling bad about my teaching lately and wondered how they were doing—and almost universally people seemed to feel they were pushing rocks up a hill.  Sure one class—perhaps was going OK—but the other one or two just sucked.  People are really having trouble with our Writing 50, a research paper writing course; many of the students in these classes are already juniors and seniors and have written many research papers and so don’t quite get the point of taking a class on how to write them.

So we have this bureaucratic pipeline mess with a backlog of students taking a course they should have taken as sophomores.   But they couldn’t get in it went they first tried.  And additionally people reported that they were just having trouble getting students to do anything.  Exercises that usually work hang-fire.  Jokes that universally kill prove duds….and of course students don’t seem to know how to read.

I talked a mile a minute in one class the other day throwing out examples, talking them through the ideas under consideration, and they were supposed to have brought a page or two of writing, but 50% hadn’t.  But I broke them into groups to have them discuss possible topics, and went from group to group.  And two people in one group said they had no idea what to write about.  So I talked and talked and said to one, look you just mentioned an example that might fit with the idea of social self and the true self.  And she said, but that’s just one example, and you said we are to try to write about only one example.  Why not two examples, she said, can’t I use two examples,  and I said, well, you did that in your last paper, and the point of the second example was the same as the point of the first, so what was the point of the second.  The point, the point really is to write an organized paper that lasts from four to five pages and you can do that with one example.

And then as I talked the student said, But it’s hard.  It’s hard!

What could I say?  I didn’t know what to say.  It’s the ninth week of the quarter; I have said everything I had to say.  I am at a loss for words.  Why, of course, it’s hard.  I said that the first day of class: what I will ask you to do in this class is hard.  You will develop your own topics; you will organize your own thoughts.  I will supply the context for doing so.  I understand this is not something you are used to doing; that’s one reason, as you will find, that I am not a hard grader.  If you are trying this for the first time—as is more than likely the case—you may mess up a little.

But the student said, It’s hard.  It’s hard.

Well, it ain’t supposed to be easy.  It ain’t a matter of filling in the damn blanks or repeating what the teacher says.  If that is education today: then the whole thing is a stinking sham.


Here’s "Fool for You" again.  This time with drums by Austin Beebe, whose day job is working with his father on an abalone farm 


Writing Muscle

I seem to have strained my writing muscle or something.  Usually when I sit down with a blank page I can stick something into it; many times I have an idea for something even before I open the blank page.  Lately, it’s been blank page and then nothing. 

Once many moons ago, back in the 80’s, I went out and played some b.b. in a pick up game.  I should have known better—some of the guys playing were like idiot guys who hadn’t played the game much and were trying to imitate stuff they had seen on TV.  So this one idiot guy dives in front of me as I was driving for the basket—in an apparent attempt to steal the ball—and low bridges me.  In an instinctive effort to protect my face which was heading for the black top my right arm stuck itself out and save my face OK, but my forward momentum caused the right elbow to hyperextend—i.e. go in the direction it is not supposed to go.

The thing swelled up so bad at the elbow that I went to the emergency room and had it x-rayed.  There was a fracture but way deep inside and nothing to be done about it except to keep the arm immobilized they said, which wasn’t that hard since the arm had immobilized itself by becoming useless.  If you stop to think about it—which I don’t encourage really—the only use an arm—as opposed to a leg—has is to have a hand attached to it.  If we were born without hands attached to our arms we would just have these sort of clubs we could use I supposed to beat on each other—but which would be otherwise pretty much maladaptive in my opinion.

So my arm was rendered useless in the sense that the strain at the elbow had the effect apparently of stretching ligaments and tendons so I couldn’t hold anything much in my right hand.  I couldn’t hold a pencil and make it work.  I could hold a glass but with nothing in it; and I took to using my left when it came to bathroom issues.  Over a couple of weeks as the swelling went down the strength came back and the right arm once again had a useful purpose—an active hand attached.

Right now my writing muscle is like that—I feel as if my head is stuffed with cotton.  I have cotton coming out of my ears.  When I was just downstairs a few minutes ago, I found myself envying, once again, our cat’s ability to flat out relax.  She had found a bit of sun in front of the window and she was just stretched out in that—as only a cat can stretch out.  She was so damn relaxed that even her tongue was relaxed because the tip of it was sticking out of her mouth.


Look How Relaxed I Am! (Little show off)


Then she saw me and decided to start showing off how relaxed she was by rolling over her back—and stretching again.  And then she started into cleaning herself, and rolled up in this sort of posture she can get into to clean her a-hole.  Both her back legs stick up in the air, as she goes at the a-hole, pretty vigorously too.  I say to her, Good cat! Good Cat! Clean that asshole!  Sometimes, I will see her around and ask her if she has cleaned her a-hole lately, just to harass her a little.

But I am just tired, and not in a relaxed way.  Maybe that’s why I envy the cat.