Thanks for the Memories

As I wrote in my previous entry, the give-and-take that occurred in some classes was marvellous. At the end of one term, I sent the students one last e-mail message in which I expressed how much they had been a sensational group.

(* All names changed, as usual, to protect the innocent.)

Hey everyone!

Your assignments are now online. I obviously did something wrong on the “conclusions.html” template because none opens the thumbnail, but that’s no big deal. I’ll have all your marks posted by Tuesday, August 24, and will be dropping off your stuff at Marla Baldwin’s office shortly thereafter.

So thanks for the memories (and the birthday cake yesterday)…

To Agatha…
who would sneak into class at break, hoping I wouldn’t notice,
and often I wouldn’t…

To Barry…
whose eyelids would be terribly heavy by 11 o’clock,
therefore covering those baby blues

To Carla…
who wouldn’t say much in class,
but watch out for those quiet ones, I always say…
She’ll start the next revolution,
clenching The Cluetrain Manifesto

To David…
who looks at people with those big brown eyes…
Is he disgusted? Disagreeing? Amused? Indifferent?
Who the hell knows!

To Eve…
whose invariable cheerfulness is a tonic

To Francine…
who’d come to class every morning,
bright eyed and bushy tail,
after her purposeful trek into the Mount,
yellow Walkman always in sight

To Gretchen…
who would share her insights from ABC,
and who grew to love taglines …NOT!

To Harriet…
who, by the end, just wanted to
finish the assignment, fetch the cake,
and go on a quest for her sanity,
which she figured was somewhere in Newfoundland

To Irene…
whose drugs we all envied,
but whose accident we all wished she hadn’t had

To Janet…
a.k.a., the soon-to-be Ms. Smith
(or is that Mrs. Smith?)
We’ll all be thinking of you next weekend, love!

To Kirk…
who stays cool, calm and collected,
and doesn’t say much, either
but whose dry sense of humour
perculates every now and then

You’ve been a great bunch! All the best to you!



Class Dismissed!

When friends ask me if I miss teaching, I usually don’t hesitate and reply, “Absolutely not!” But, upon reflection, I realize how that response is too hasty.

In the 4-year period that ended in August 2001, I had the pleasure, the privilege, the trial and the frustration of being a part-time university prof. In that time I taught 15 sections of a course called “Techniques in Print Media” and 3 sections of “Introduction to Electronic Publishing.” Although a few instructors might succumb to the temptation not to change much in a course they teach frequently, I was among the many who kept updating it from term to term. I also maintained a course website at my expense and with zero technical support from the university. (A full-time faculty member in the department in which I taught claims to have been a pioneer in online teaching at the university, but the truth, which she would be loath to acknowledge, is that I preceded her by a few years.)

I’ve come to these conclusions about my teaching days.

Don’t Miss: …the endless grading of papers, but then I didn’t make it easy on myself. I was the kind of prof some of you would love and others would hate: I would correct the writing; I would comment extensively in the margins on the ideas presented; I would write concluding remarks at the end of the paper. Plus, because I learned that many students would skip to the grade and ignore all those comments, I quickly took to not giving the grade on the paper itself. Instead, students had to ask me during break or after class, or consult their password-protected page on the course website.

Don’t Miss: …all that time I would spend debating with myself if a paper was worth an A, B, C, D or F. Or B- versus C+.

Don’t Miss: …having to deal with students unhappy with the grade I gave them. That includes the confrontational students and those who would break down in tears in my office. (When I was a student, I would have shot myself in a dark alley rather than disgrace myself by crying in front of a professor about a grade I didn’t like.)

Don’t Miss: …the poor wages a part-time instructor receives. Plus the work took up so much of my time that my freelance endeavours (and revenues) suffered.

Don’t Miss: …high-maintenance students or former students who would expect me to answer questions for a project in another course.

Don’t Miss: …drama queens and attempted mutinies, or students who didn’t follow the proper channels to voice their grievances towards me or about the course, namely prof first, chair next, dean after that. (I had one group go directly to the third stage.)

Do and Don’t Miss: …writing the online class notes, which wasn’t required of me by the department. Sometimes the topics were dry and uninspiring, plus the technical aspects were tedious since I didn’t have much experience yet in database-driven websites. But other times, I got to fine-tune and present original ideas which I knew to be at odds with what students were being taught in their other courses, and that was stimulating.

Do Miss: …coming up with colourful and memorable ways of explaning a notion or presenting an argument. Passion for the subject matter obviously helps. A year after she was in my course, a student sent me an e-mail message after walking by the classroom where I was teaching, asking: “Did you know that you dance while you’re lecturing?”

Do Miss: …seeing the scales fall from the eyes of a least one student at any given moment during a class. Or, as Oprah would say it, seeing a student have a “lightbulb moment.”

Do Miss: …classes in which students ask so many questions that I have to carry over material to the next class, or students who would challenge an argument I had just advanced. (I did realign my position on some points after such a debate.)

Do Miss: …getting to know students outside the classroom. I have met some very fun-loving, enthusiastic, quirky, and passionate people as a result of my teaching.

Do Miss: …those classes during which we bonded somehow, to the point of having one student write in her course evaluation, “Oh no! Let the spirit live!”

So I guess there are parts of teaching I do miss. Most have to do with what jargon-lovers would call “delivery.” But the parts I don’t miss are sufficient to lead me to the conclusion that I did the right thing when I decided to stop teaching.

Okay, class dismissed!

Bullying Fag Lovers Won’t Work

I remember someone telling me this made-up story a while back, which I think is right on the money.

This guy is at the counter of an old-fashioned drugstore and he’s particularly loud when placing his order. “I’ll have a bottle of those sleeping pills,” he starts, “and, by the way, I wasn’t able to find the Kwellada lotion on the shelves.” Placing a bottle of cheap after shave and a huge tube of KY jelly on the counter, he adds, “I’ll also have a box of those condoms — the ribbed ones…” (Eeww! Kwellada, KY and condoms? Take a good look at this guy so you’ll know to avoid him!) But then as his last sentence trails off, he looks around and becomes a bit agitated. Blushing, he finally whispers to the clerk, “And I’ll have a pack of cigarettes.”

It’s like this. I am a smoker. Have been for over 20 years. I don’t really enjoy (or even notice) 90 percent of the cigarettes I smoke; I’m getting tired of my persistent coughing; I hate how everything I own smells of stale cigarette smoke; I despise seeing how I get antsy when I haven’t had a fix for x hours; I’m sick of being shamed by non-smokers who, in many other respects, don’t take such great care of themselves. (Then again, those who do take care of themselves can be even more insufferable.) In short, while I’m not making it a resolution for 2003, I will admit that I’ve been mentally preparing myself to quit. Soon, hopefully.

Very rare are the smokers who believe that their smoking is not harmful to themselves or to others. Some 20 years ago, the assumption was that smokers could puff away no matter where they were. Some would even smoke in a grocery store, something that no longer happens and that, I’m sure, most smokers agree with. In fact, the situation today is reversed to what it was back then and, even though I’m a smoker, I applaud this shift. In my mind, it’s a simple mark of respect for others. I wouldn’t even dream of lighting up at a friend’s house unless he or she also smokes or invites me to go ahead.

But here comes the but. No, not the butt. The BUT.

Since yesterday, Nova Scotia has joined the ranks of the jurisdictions with a rather draconian anti-smoking policy. Excuse me? This, in a province with some of Canada’s most remarkable environmental disgraces (e.g., the Sydney Tar Ponds and the Halifax Harbour [non]-cleanup)? Well I suppose it’s easier to pick on some individuals’ stupidity than to stand up to big busines$ when it’s being stupid…

What gets to me more than anything else is how judgemental many anti-smoking campaigners can be. Puritanical, even. It’s as tough they can’t stand the thought of anyone indulging in anything pleasurable — and I still do take pleasure in smoking the other 10 percent of the time.

“You’re not going to light that up here?!” a so-called colleague exclaimed once to The Queen of Sheba after dinner at some chic restaurant in town. “I object to having my lungs raped!” Yet just a few months before, said colleague was convicted of defrauding a government agency of thousands of dollars. Someone who, I might add, was teaching in a Commerce program at some university. And, more important to this story, had been cited several time before by female colleagues for sexual harrassment.

Okay. So this so-called colleague was simply an asshole. But “having my lungs raped“? Now hold on just one stinkin’ second! Maybe this guy’s poor grasp of the meaning of the word rape explains his disgraceful conduct… Moreover, leave it to an asshole to diminish the gravity of the notion to which that word refers.

Now let’s get this straight. I do not dispute the ill-effects of second-hand smoke. But the way it’s being made out that going to a nightclub for two hours once a week is equivalent to being forced to stand in a gas chamber is extreme dogmatism. The non-smoking nightclub workers have reasons to worry about second-hand smoke; the non-smoking patrons, on the other hand, merely have a grievance of inconvenience. The same applies if I had a live-in Significant Other, versus someone who comes to visit me once in a while.

I think the reason I’ve been resisting the notion of quitting for all these years is that I can’t stand the tactics the most rabid anti-smoking crusaders tend to use. Forgetting for a moment how anti-smoking campaigns play into other, unrelated NON-progressive agendas, I submit that bullying-through-legislation of individuals is not the way to get people to quit.

It stands to reason that it won’t work, at least for me. That’s because I started smoking as a teenager BECAUSE I was bullied for being the quiet, straight-A nerd and fag. I took to those other fags in order to dispell that image.

I know! In hindsight I know it was a stupid move. But it’s a fact: peer pressure and/or bullying is what brought many smokers like me to start in the first place. The catch, though, is that we’ve grown up since then and have become impervious to such pressure and bullying. In fact, I, for one, resist such tactics with every fibre of my being. So if I succeed at quitting, it won’t be because of some piece of legislation laden with undertones of moral superiority.

Taste Shift

I’ve been noticing that people’s taste in wine has been shifting in the last year or two, but that shift became most noticeable at the New Year’s Eve party I attended last night. Before, the vast majority of those who’d drink wine would favour a white — most often a Chardonnay. (To quote the Queen of Sheba: “I never met a Chardonnay I didn’t like.”) A noticeable few would drink a red — often a Chianti or a relatively light equivalent. I was resolutely in the crowd that drank white, and I liked mine dry.

(Sidebar: It was said somewhere that one glass of red (not white) wine a day could be beneficial for some people. This pronouncement seems to have given red white its best free publicity in years.)

Last night, however, of the 12 party-goers who drink wine, 10 favoured red. Not only that, but they all tend to favour a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Shiraz from Southeast Australia. Lindemann’s remains a reasonably priced, not-rot-gut choice in this category; Wolf Blass (Yellow or Red Label), while considerably more expensive in this part of North America, is a delight and a treat. Apparently, Wolf Blass Yellow Label was perhaps the late Timothy Findlay’s favorite wine.

(Another sidebar: If you’re not familar with Timothy Findlay… you MUST get to know the writings of this most beloved Canadian storyteller. Sadly, we lost “Tiff” in June 2002.)

While my shift from white to red had been fermenting for a few years, it happened decisively on Poupoune’s birthday in 1999. I had taken her to The Windjammer, arguably Moncton’s finest restaurant, and we asked the waiter to bring us the red wine he felt would go best with our meal. He brought us a bottle of Renmano Chairman’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (SW Australia), and that sealed it! I’m now resolutely in the crowd that drinks red, but I still like mine dry. In fact, the drier, the better.

Unfortunately, that Renmano is no longer available in Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, and I was never able to find it in Quebec. But if you like a complex, oaky, full-bodied red and can find this one where you are, you MUST give it a try. And think of me while you’re sipping it.