» FOX News News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Wed, 28 Sep 2016 15:46:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Terror Is Winning & Winning Is Terror Fri, 19 Aug 2011 04:14:33 +0000 By Dorinda Fox

I am an old school feminist in that I believe the political is personal and the personal is political.  That is what today’s little rant is about in three parts as prescribed for Western rhetoric and argument by the definitely non-feminist and sometimes downright sexist Plato through his teacher/muse Socrates.  The three parts are the personal and happy, the political and terrifying, and we all need to get mad and get happy.

I am lately an extraordinarily privileged person.  One of those privileges is writing for Adjunct Nation about just anything I want as long as I do it once a week.  I have not written for more than two weeks because I have been off being happy and privileged lacking the angst required to fuel my writing muse.  Don’t worry if you were. The angst has returned with a vengeance but first I will discuss the personal and the happy.

The Personal and Happy

I am happy.

I have spent more time with my daughters after an extraordinarily busy semester during the middle of which I took on classes for a colleague who died of cancer six weeks after first diagnosis.  It was a heavy overload, but I felt obligated to take it on since my colleagues had twice in the past taken on classes for me when I had cancer.  There was a debt to repay because  I had the good fortune to live.

I am teaching a more reasonable load this summer.  Two of these classes are very small classes for students “bridging” high school and college who for various reasons do not translate into numbers high enough on paper to go directly to college. They are lovely students who work hard and enjoy class.  They want to be enrolled in college in the Fall.  Sometimes they enjoy class a little too much. Really. Class went over ten minutes last Tuesday.  I had to insist that they leave while promising we would get together again the next day.

My quite beautiful and smart oldest daughter (I am not prejudiced) is graduating from high school and moving on to college.  My graduation present to her was to pay for decorating the three areas of her new dorm room including bathroom, living area, and bedroom as if she and her new roommate had just married.  Every item from trash cans to shower curtain to bedroom rug matches. This was expensive but both young women are counting the days until they move into their personal paradise away from their families so it was money well spent.  Everyone got to live out their inner HGTV fantasies.

My also quite beautiful, brilliant and funny as heck seven-year-old daughter has been going to gymnastics camp in the afternoons and spending the mornings with me.  After months of  prepping/teaching/grading, prepping/teaching/grading . . .  I am spending time with her. She is amazing.  How amazing you are not asking?  After returning from the weekend at her father’s house she reported she was making her own museum of her artwork.  Her father brings home large maps of highway systems from his work and she creates huge creative murals on the back of them.  She said she had decided to allow art by other people in her museum, but she was still considering whether to allow statues.  One night I thought she was asleep in bed so I was working on the computer and talking to a friend on the phone.  My youngest daughter came to get me and took me outside. She had been in the front room on the couch by the window looking at the stars.  She thought they were playing tricks on her.

She said, “Mommy look at that star above the pine tree.  It changes from blue to yellow, but that other star just stays blue.  I have been watching for a long time. Why does that happen?”

All the stars looked white to me.  My youngest daughter has decided that I need a personal assistant and she has taken on the job.  She asks me in the morning what I need to do that day and makes a checklist with boxes for an big X on completion. She is ruthless about asking if I have completed these tasks.  She has also been scouring advertisements to make grocery lists and really was counting how many rolls of toilet paper we had to see if we needed to stock up at Publix for $5.00 for 12 rolls or at Target for $6.00 for 12 rolls.  My youngest daughter has developed a habit of drawing pictures of various processes and making small presentations about them. The processes detail answers to questions such as, “How does a spider build a web?” and “How do you do a cannonball in the pool?”  She is seven-years-old.

I have been the kind of happy and occupied that involves travel, good music, excellent food, and excellent company.  That company includes fireworks on the beach, riding the New Orleans trolley car at 3 a.m. under the moonlight, really nice hotel rooms, late mornings, cabernet, and cognac.  I realize it is nauseating to read the first two sentences drawn straight from B grade romantic comedy.  However it has been and is real so I have not spent a lot of time on angst driven writing.  Enough said.  There is a reason female blues singers recommended one not advertise one’s personal life.

I have been blessed with times with old and good friends. When I write “old” I mean old as in long talks with my best friend of 42 years about how to deal with this odd and terribly irregular happiness of work, family, and the good life.  She is a therapist in San Jose whom I first met in the second grade.  I talk on the phone every day to my other best friend of 30 years who works from home in international banking.  I am not sure what she does but rest assured that when people or banks transfer money around someone somewhere is watching that process.  These daily conversations are a gift.  I am anticipating the arrival in 10 days of my old college boyfriend with whom I am going to South Beach and on a ridiculously cheap Groupon cruise to Nassau.  Cable Beach here we come!  This is not an issue with anyone else since that old boyfriend revealed he was gay many years back. He could not tell me in 1982 when we broke up because such confessions were not well understood in the Deep South when dinosaurs walked the earth, the Internet had yet to be invented, and we all went to church on Sunday. Since then I have visited him several times on Castro Street in San Francisco which he calls Gay Disneyland.  He has been home in rural Oklahoma dealing with family matters for a year and needs a break.

So I am really ridiculously happy.

The Political and Terrifying

I killed my cable yesterday. Really.  I just took the cable newsfeed out of our home because cable news was causing me to agree with a statement made by Sarah Palin and that is a terrible situation.  Palin calls cable news “lamestream media” when referring to what she calls the liberal media.  I am starting to think the entire spectrum of cable news is “lamestream media.”  The media is lame because ALL reporters, news writers, and commentators are allowing one politically influential group to define terms and frame arguments. For the love of whatever anyone considers holy please read the linguist George Lakoff’s theories on framing and definition.  Any of his books will do. The shortest is Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (2004) and the longest is Metaphors We Live By (1980, with Mark Johnson).  Lakoff takes great pains to deconstruct how language use contributes to our worldview.  He presents many many pages of explicit detail that basically supports George Orwell’s statement in 1984 that

. . . if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth.  ‘Who controls the future’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. Book 1, Chapter 3

When everyone of any stripe refers to “climate change” as “global warming” and “tax increases” as “job killers” then one group is controlling the present conversation. Thus that group controls the future, as well as the future representation of the present.  This has to stop.

I am a ridiculously happy person living in a time in which terror has becomethe new normal.  I don’t know if this ridiculous happiness derives from personal good fortune or from some gut feeling that if I and we are not happy now then we may not be able to have that happiness in an uncertain future.  Perhaps I am not really happy but secretly frenzied.  I do not believe that frenzied is good.

I think about the normalization of terror and woe as I live in Central Florida surrounded by empty housing developments along the highway and in a neighborhood in which fully one-third of the homes are empty due to foreclosure. The lock on the door handle has become commonplace.  I take my youngest daughter to the movies at a once prosperous mall surrounded by an acre of empty parking lot that now had less than eight stores in its cavernous space.  I see empty storefronts on every major road.  I see my community college and online classes swelling with the unemployed and current or former soldiers.  The unemployed are seeking respite from long term unemployment and too many of these soldiers show signs of PTSD as they try to get their lives back on track.  Then I turn on the TV and do not see the rage that this new normal should create in us.  I see the hubris of politicians who would bring the country to ruin because one party had framed the debt ceiling as the sky is falling.  We are all accepting that definition. We are all Chicken Little.  We are not thinking.

The terrrorists have won.  This is true whether those terrorists be Islamic fundamentalists in airplanes or greedy Wall Street financiers who gambled until Rome began to burn and still “sell short” earning money predicting further financial ruin — as they precipitate that ruin by framing lamestream/mainstream arguments.  There are other terrorists along that spectrum but we are all using the same terms and feeling inner terror.

I did not want to hear the terms any more.  I killed the cable.  I want to think on my own.

We All Need to Get Mad and Get Happy

For example, last week when taking my daughter to see Cars 2 on $5 movie  Tuesdays at the empty mall I entertained my bored self through 30 minutes of previews and 80 minutes of animated car crashes by thinking about uses for the dead mall.  I spend a few days every year in a cabin in Devil’s Den which is a state park in Arkansas.  Those cabins were built from rocks dug from the ground and trees cut down on the property by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the depths of the 1930s depression.  Men who would otherwise be starving or driven to revolt by despair became craftsmen with some money to send home to their families.  The mall is empty.  There are two fully prepared large restaurants in that mall. There may be a mile of empty storefronts in the mall if one walks in circles enough.  We need a new Civilian Conservation Corps using empty dead assets we currently have. Why can’t that mall be turned into an arts center much as the WPA photography project in the 1930s depression? Why can’t artists use those storefronts as studios while living in foreclosed or currently empty properties eating food in the restaurant spaces that they help to prepare?  There is a huge movie theater in that mall.  It would be a tremendous arts center for artists, film makers, and culinary experts.  The restaurant could feed the homeless as well.  The artists could assist in entertaining and teaching children in daycare centers in that space.

We need to start thinking and stop being ruled by fear.  We desperately need to get mad.  We desperately need to get happy.

I may sound ridiculous but it is worlds better than sitting terrified in front of the 24 hour news cycle being told how to use my brain.

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Teaching is NOT Fortune Telling Wed, 29 Jun 2011 19:30:21 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

Disclaimer  #1: I could never be an elementary school teacher.  When I go to my seven-year-old daughter’s class 20 children seem like 100 children.  I cannot get out of the classroom fast enough.  All 20 of them are short, they run faster than me, and they are loud.

Disclaimer #2: There is no such thing as compulsory college.  If a student is rude and disruptive in my class thenI can just ask the student to leave.  If the student refuses to leave then I can call security.  After so many shootings at colleges rude and disruptive scares students and teachers.  K-12 teachers cannot follow the same practice and I am sorry they have to deal with such people.  They must get very tired.

That being said . . .

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.

My secret is out there now.  I was really a victim of phonetic spelling that was popular for a mercifully short time in first grade classes in 1968 in Little Rock, Arkansas.  What is phonetic spelling?  Look at a dictionary and see how the word is spelled in parentheses.  That is phonetic spelling.  I already knew the alphabet when I began first grade.  My father asked me to say my vowels before I went to sleep every night . . . A – E – I – O – U.   I could not understand why I was being asked to learn a new way of reading.  I did not see phonetic spelling again until an advanced grammar class in graduate school over 20 years later.

My best friend of over 40 years is named Wendy.  OMG. We are old. She was held back a year because she was also a victim of phonetic spelling. We bonded over our mutual misfortune. She is now a respected therapist in San Jose.

I was intelligent when I was seven-years-old.  If it matters, then I also went to Kindergarten at the Smithsonian.  Kids could do that back in 1967, particularly if their fathers worked in the Treasury building a block away.  I only remember big objects such as the paper mache whale on the ceiling and the stuffed elephant.  We had to walk single file holding onto a rope through hallways lined with polished oak bookshelves with glass windows.  There were lots of rocks on the bookshelves.  All that stuff is still there in the castle building at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.  My friend Liz took me to see it all again earlier this year.

I am intelligent now on my good days.  I am a college professor of sorts.  I am an adjunct college teacher.

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.  You are not a fortune teller.

I wanted to scream that bolded statement at the top of my lungs during a parent-teacher meeting at my youngest child’s school.   She is a year behind on her reading skills.  This does not surprise me because as I said . . .

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.  You are not a fortune teller.

During that meeting the teacher was trying to explain to me the importance of developmental skills and hitting benchmarks.  Apparently, if my daughter  does not hit these benchmarks there is cause for concern that she won’t ever catch up.

Right then and there, to borrow a phrase from the song “Losing My Religion,” I thanked a “God I don’t believe in” that I am just a plain old adjunct college teacher who teaches writing.  Period.  I teach writing.  It is my job to help 18, 25, or 30 people  (class sizes differ among schools) who enter class one week and leave 15 weeks later to learn how to write essays etc.  I do not have to predict what will happen to them in their lives after week 15.  I don’t have to determine if they will be successful . . . if they will fall in love . . . if they will win the lottery.

During this meeting the teacher/specialist asked a lot of personal questions about my pregnancy, former marriage, as well as my daughter’s eating habits and clothing preferences.  She wanted to know what time my daughter went to bed at night.  I guess I understand that because my youngest daughter is an old soul.  During the first five years of her life she lived through screaming parents, a nasty divorce, and her mom almost died of cancer twice.  That could stunt someone’s growth and cause emotional tension and worry.

I still hated that meeting and hating answering personal questions for this stranger who wrote down the answers and put them in a “permanent record” somewhere in the elementary school buiding which rumor has it is chock full of “permanent records.”  I refused to answer the questions when they became about my personal perhaps sex life as in “tell me if you have a significant other.”  I said that was irrelevant since my daughter does not date and does not meet my dates.   She is seven-years-old.  She does not date.  The teacher/specialist asked again and I told her the question was intrusive and irrelevant.

I do not do parent/teacher conferences well.

Again as a college teacher I am blessed by something called FERPA or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  If a student is over 18-years-old  then I can’t talk to parents about grades or even admit I ever met a student unless the student completes a form and a Dean of some sort is likely consulted.  This is true even if parents are paying for tuition, a car, food on the table, and an apartment.  This angers some parents.  I am BLESSED and have no desire to ever be a college administrator.  They earn their salaries because they have to talk to parents.

I have an older daughter who is now 18-years-old with a Kindle filled with Shakespeare plays that she reads for fun. She downloaded The Heart of Darkness the other day because someone told her it was good reading.  When she was seven-years-old  I erupted with a bolded statement similar to that I kept to myself this time around.  Her second grade teacher who was teaching second grade for the first time told me said daughter would never learn to read and write well unless she could spell well.  Huh?  I asked her how she knew this and she showed me the page in her teacher workbook that told her so.  I then told her about the hundreds of studies she could find say on Google Scholar or in the university library indicating that spelling well has no bearing on if one can learn the rhetorical skills necessary to write well.  There are people in the world who know no spoken let alone written English and they write well.  Maybe even more than a few such writers exist since libraries have been in existence since say the ancient times of Alexandria, Egypt.

I informed her that I earned a Ph.D. specializing in Rhetoric and Composition and the author of her workbook was incorrect.

My former husband who is a career politician/diplomat then started handling teacher conferences.

I did not really learn to read until I was seven-years-old.  You are not a fortune teller.

I feel better now.

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Lecturing About Collaboration, Then Refusing To Do To It Myself Mon, 13 Jun 2011 14:39:31 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

This following is what I tell students about conflict and collaboration both in academia and the workplace. I tell them this in person for f2f lecture, as well as as part of a much longer lecture in online courses.

Experienced writers and communicators always communicate. They show work to peers in early stages, bounce work off colleagues when they have completed drafts, have lovers read a completed draft to get an opinion “outside the field”,  and take criticism from editors and reviewers.  Not only do experienced communicators share their writing with others; they also share ideas.  They share their ideas in two ways: first by reading the work of others, and second by joining an intellectual community.  You will notice that I use the word “collaborate” and not “cooperate.”  This is because while collaboration is almost always valuable  — it is rarely always pleasant or smooth.  Sometimes collaboration is downright nasty and unsettling.

Learning to collaborate well may be difficult, but it is an important skill for anyone hoping to work for a living or to well just live.  A friend who once worked as an executive at Time Warner noted:

A big positive of learning to write through discussions and work groups  is that is much better prepares the student for the work world.  You have to learn how to deal with “difficult” people, the people who don’t pull their own weight and the general conflicts that arise during problem solving.  This seems difficult when you are trying to prepare a project or pass a class.  However, it is not nearly as difficult as when you are trying to complete the projects related to your job. In that case, you will deal with difficult people, people trying to steal your job, people with conflicting agendas, people who will try to take all the credit for a job well done, and upper management that might be clueless.  A big part of getting ahead in the workplace is learning to navigate through all of this.

Rev. Don Williams, the Director of Goodwill Industries-Manisota, supports my friend’s beliefs when he explains to a Florida Trend interviewer,

We are basically fed a bunch of lies when we are children.  Number one, that there’s such a thing as a right answer.  The second is that there is such a thing as 100%.  The third thing is that it is cheating to collaborate.  You get out and you find that there are very few right answers; there’s a  bunch of gray.  There is no 100%; if you are lucky you make 51?% or 52% in life and you’re doing good.  And number three, the best way to live life is to collaborate; to look over each others’ shoulders, and to steal generously from each other.  And we wonder why our children are so confused.

That is what I tell my students after carefully recounting my experience working with the mediation services unit administered by the Florida Supreme Court.  That is me the teacher talking.

From My Knocking Knees and the Pit of My Stomach

I spent the last four days either at orientation at the university my oldest daughter will attend in the Fall or in another Florida city (conveniently near a beach ;0)) where my oldest daughter met her new roommate. As a graduation present I had offered to pay for the decorating of her dorm room by my daughter and her roommate. This was a grand plan until I learned my oldest daughter’s stepmother, as well as the roommate’s mother also wanted to assist/advise on this project.  The new roommates had more advice from others about what do to do with their room than they could handle.  Collaboration did not look like an option. Instead there was conflict—both emotional and perhaps armed— around the corner.

Luckily, my two daughters and I stayed in a hotel by the beach with my best friend Jen and her daughter, who is the same age as my youngest.  We were taking advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend.  Jen serves as my daughters’ aunt, and in many cases in my life as the mediator who keeps me from messing up more than necessary.  Apparently over dinner, when I was off with the two youngest children making Disney campfire s’mores by the sea (thoroughly enjoying setting marshmallows on fire with small children who had pointy metal sticks), the new roommates explained the dilemma.  Late that evening Jen gave me the schedule for the children at the Disney resort and said, “There is a change of plans. You are taking care of the youngest children tomorrow. I suggest they go to the finger painting and shark tooth necklace sessions. And please watch them while they are in the pool. I am taking the girls shopping.  You can come by later an pay for stuff.”

She was nobody’s mother. Just Switzerland.

My feelings were hurt.  Nobody wanted my opinion.  Nobody wanted to be with me.  I did get a nice rainbow finger painting and shark tooth necklace from my youngest daughter.  She is seven. She still thinks I am fabulous.

Later that night I was walking along Wabasso Beach licking my psychological wounds as in, “nobody sees me as anything but  a credit card,” and was then thrilled to see a phosphorescent sea. Such a sea occurs in the summer when the seaweed washes in and reflects light from the stars and moon. The ocean looks like it glows from within and is marvelous.  In all my years of obsessive beach walking, I have only seen a phosphorescent sea twice.  I am not a religious person and have often commented that the beach and ocean are my church.

I had been emotionally down for a week anyway, because I was recovering from a personal argument on my birthday with someone I care about. My answer wasn’t going to  work, and dammit it was my birthday and I wasn’t giving up.  Now, I have to collaborate or lose my friend.  I had to collaborate—albeit with the help of a semi-professional aunt, or offend my daughter. I don’t care what my academic teacher self says about the value of conflict and collaboration when working or communicating with others.  When it is just me, myself, and the pit of my stomach, conflict sucks.  I don’t want to go through it, and I don’t want to learn from it.

However, that seaweed in the waves reflecting the light is some nasty stuff once it makes it way to the beach. It is only glorious when reflecting light as it rides the motion of the waves.

My stomach still hurts.

The American Express fraud department called when I was making the purchases at the fifth store of towels, trash cans etc. to ask, “Is this you? Why are you shopping in this town, and buying two sets of what you rarely buy? Do you really want to be doing this? Are you physically holding your card?”  I explained I was paying to decorate a freshman dorm room. The cashier smiled and said, “Honey, your fun just started.”

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Turn Off the Computer. Get Out of Your House. Wed, 01 Jun 2011 14:00:05 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

The editor of found me through an article published about two serious bouts with cancer and the effect of that on raising my children. In that article I explained that blogging at Salon had allowed me to create an online identity for my children should I not survive and served as a way out of isolation both emotional and physical during treatment.  The editor asked that I consider writing about how to avoid isolation as an adjunct which is something faced as well by all of you out there planted in front of a computer screen teaching online courses eight hours a day.

Avoiding isolation is important.  Many people rely on the workplace as a place to meet friends and lovers.  The workplace becomes a family as demonstrated by modern sitcoms such as “The Office” and older sitcoms such as “The Mary Tyler Moore” show.  Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) famously said  that people have to have two needs met in order to be happy “work and love.”  For a great many of us those two become one in our lives.

What worked for me and lead me here was blogging at a writers’ site called “Open Salon.” I have done so for over two years now and it is an outlet from the more academic writing and discussion that take up the rest of the day.  Over the years, I have met in person many other writers on Open Salon who live in Florida or arranged visits when they travelled to Florida.  We also often organize trips together to hang out at places such as Las Vegas.

Locally, I used something called and understand there is a hook-up element to many of the groups one might find locally at that site.  That is not what I was hunting for, but if it is for you great.  I was looking for like-minded people to talk to and hang out with, and found them in the local philosophy group, independent music group, and eccentricity club. The eccentricity club is my favorite because the only requirement is to somehow feel like a perennial square peg and we have wonderful times together. We are also a large group with perhaps 800 members ;0)

My advice is simple.  Once the teaching workday is done turn off your computer.  Get out of your house even if your house is dirty—mine is from dealing with two weeks of grading hell.  I will clean it on Thursday and it will look great for about three days.  Instead of cleaning house, working in the yard, or watching TV, try to reach way back in your mind and remember what interests you or makes you happy.

Here is my list of what interests me and makes me happy: beach/water, live stand-up comedy, live theater, live music, and poetry.

Luckily, my daughter and at least one one other partner in crime indulge me in leaving the house to find that which makes me happy.  All of the listed interests are easily found in Central Florida.  However, If I write about the beach again the editor may strike me dead, so today I will discuss live theater and poetry.

On the the first of May, my partner in crime surprised me by taking us to see The Southern Discomfort Tour featuring a wonderful blues guitarist from Louisville named Tyrone Cotton, a legendary beat poet named Ron Whitehead, and a New York Mets obsessed poet named Frank Messina. The event was free.

Their performances were amazing.

I give you Tyrone Cotton playing Breaking Away. You will find him at

I give you Frank Messina who presented Psycho Chick with background music.  My partner in crime found this poem a little too amusing ;0)  You will find Messina at

Ron Whitehead has been a poet for many years and claims to have been identified as one of Hunter Thompson’s favorite poets.  He had the kind of demeanor Thompson might have liked ;0)  He also has the honor of knowing one of his poems is framed and hanging in the office of the Dalai Lama.

His poem Tapping My Own Phone was amusing and prescient in this time of ever less privacy in our lives.  You can find out more about him at

I’m going straight bought myself a flat top

haircut so stiff I can carry a tray of martinis

waiting on people someone to open up her

purse and give me a tip cause I don’t have

a clue anymore as to what’s going on but

I do know that I’m one step ahead tapping

my own phone to hear myself talking with

people who used to be my friends listening

so I can correct myself before they do and

I’ve got a surveillance camera in my abandoned

car across the street watching myself replaying

the tape so I can see if I’m acting funny before

they catch me doing something I shouldn’t

like yesterday I spotted myself walking too

fast and I heard myself talking too loud yes

I’ve got the deep fear paranoia anxiety despair

and suicide blues but I’m making sure I don’t

do nothing else wrong cause I done screwed

up so many times I cornered myself into a

backstreet deadend alley of paranoia and every

time I hear an airplane or helicopter or car

door slam I know the Secret Service the FBI

and the IRS Swat Teams have finally arrived

cause I published a poem by the President of

the United States of America without his

fully conscious permission and I’m sure I

haven’t paid enough taxes cause I’ve got no

income yet somehow I keep on doing things

like eating every once in a while and paying

a light bill or two but how do I do it they’re

gonna ask what’s the source of your income

and how come you don’t come to see us

anymore so yes I’ve become a little jumpy

but I’m staying one step ahead tapping my

own phone videotaping my every move

watching myself day and night replaying

the tapes cause I got a bad bad bad case

of the deep fear paranoia anxiety despair

and suicide blues.

This last weekend I again turned off the computer and got out of my house (along with the partner in crime) to a cabaret festival at the local independent theater company called Mad Cow.  We heard Lulu Picart take us on a journey through the music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.   Her simple presentation of  “Maybe I’m Amazed” reinforced what a fine writer of love songs the Beatles had been. We also saw Son of a Preacher Man, or How Barry Manilow Saved My Life! with Kevin Kelly and Terry Thomas, who delighted the audience with tales of growing up as the gay black sheep in a religious family.

Next weekend, I plan to turn off the computer and get out of my house to drag the partner in crime and my oldest daughter and her boyfriend (it will be my birthday so they are indulgent) to the 2011 Orlando International Fringe Festival.  It is described as “100% uncensored. 100% accessible. 100% non-juried”  theater festival and is the oldest operating fringe festival in the United States. Fringe festivals began in Europe hundreds of years ago.

We are to see Joe’s Cafe by Rupert Wates and friends who will present a music revue comprising original songs based on true stories.  Tales of ordinary Americans, recast in song: each a piece in the mosaic that is the story of America itself.

We are also to see Captain Discovery: The Edible Musical which is a tasty little sing along in which every patron attending the show will receive an edible puppet to eat and sing with during the show.  I was never much for birthday cake so I am all for it.

This is what happened in May when I turn off the computer and get out of the house in Orlando. We have gone nowhere near a theme park.

My point is this: whatever your interest or whatever makes you happy, those particular “whatevers” are available where you live now outside your house. Go. Life is not going to find you sitting in front of your computer in your favorite white comfy bathrobe unless you are really Cinderella. In that case, someday somehow a fairy godmother will make sure you get to the ball.

If that happens, let me know.

Writing when tired is always a bad idea.  Many thanks to Frank Messina who proofreads on the side ;0)  It is Tyrone Cotton and not Scott.  Frank is named Frank and not Ron.  The word in the poem title was chick and not bitch. And Cotton is a blues and not jazz guitarist.  That last blurring of the blues and jazz is a sin for which I hope Cotton will forgive me.  My musically inclined partner in crime is probably shamed by my ignorance ;0)  They have lots of wine at those poetry readings.  Names. Words. Musical genres.

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Teaching in A Company Town of Dreams Tue, 24 May 2011 17:32:57 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

Orlando was once a company town and the company was Disney. The success of the Disney theme parks and hotels begat more theme parks and hotels. Nowadays, it would be more accurate to describe Orlando as a theme park industry town. It is possible on a given day when visiting Orlando to take the kids to breakfast with Sponge Bob at the Nickelodeon Hotel, drop by the Holyland Theme Park to see Jesus crucified in bloody glory that afternoon, and to watch fireworks over Cinderella’s castle at midnight. Jesus is crucified just right across I-4 from the Millenia Mall, so after tourists are done with that they can head over to Chanel for some overpriced perfume.

Many if not most of my students work for that theme park industry. I have yet to teach a Jesus (it sounds like a tough gig) in my class, but I have taught several Snow Whites, a Jasmine, and the showcased dwarf from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. The manager of the Holyland gift shop lives across the street from me, and should I the atheist ever have a need for Jesus-related items then they are available at a discount.

Years ago there was a wonderful and almost mythical bar in Kissimmee called the Big Bamboo at which Disney or other theme park cast members hung out. That bar has since been torn down in the name of urban renewal—of which blighted Kissimmee is in great need. Disney cast members such as princesses, Goofy, and trolley bus drivers came in after work to listen to big band music—the only music allowed—and to drink only the bar owner’s favorite beer while discussing the the travails of working at the “happiest place on earth.” The beer was Miller, Michelob, or PBR. I just remember it was cheap and I don’t drink beer. The Big Bamboo was located in a nondescript building with tiki bar decoration inside. This is supposed to be an academic blog but it is not written by a robot. I fondly remember making out under the stars on the back porch of the Big Bamboo with a good friend who worked as a boat captain on the Jaws ride. I heard the stories of the cast members at the Big Bamboo and believe me — there is a dark dark side to many of the happy places at which my students work in Orlando.

Much like Hollywood, Orlando is a dream factory. The most iconic dreams Orlando produces are Disney princesses derived from fairy tales. When I teach the second half of composition focusing on the elements of literature as represented in poetry, fiction, and drama, I try to bring in pop culture to enhance student interest. Thus, when learning about the elements of fiction student’s revise a fairy tale several times—once for a change in plot, once for a change in setting, once for a change in point of view, etc…. After they do so, they share their revisions in peer review and discuss how the changes affected the elements of the tale. The real graded assignment the students produce after several weeks is an essay in which they examine their different versions of the story and discuss how the elements of fiction work together. What elements change when one changes a particular element? Do the elements work together or are there some that can stand apart? I could lecture a few hours on those subjects but having the students discover that one can’t change point-of-view without then limiting the plot elements presented on their own is more pedagogically sound and more fun.

This assignment is not particularly novel, because other authors have produced stories such as “Bitches of the Kingdom,” a one-hour play scheduled to run at the Orlando Fringe Festival this month. In this play/musical the authors debunk the life of happily after as various Disney princesses sing about the mundacity of royal life. And yes I know I made up “mundacity,” but it implies both mundane and mendacity and it was perfect for the sentence so I used it. The musical was rated 15 and up, but I took my seven-year-old daughter anyway because she is the susceptible target audience of Disney’s princess factory. I explained there might be some dirty words, but she could live through it. There would also be silly jokes like those on Spongebob Squarepants.

She asked, “Like when Spongebob farts in Patrick’s face?” and I told her she got it right.

“Bitches of the Kingdom” has a feminist viewpoint in that the emaciated Barbie-like princesses sing about their need to eat, as well as how their royalty came about in part because of having big breasts. My daughter’s favorite line for which I am sure I will be punished for letting her hear was by Beauty bitch of the kingdom who complained, “I have to pick up my husband’s poop.” There was much discussion of their prince husbands, none of whom were to be seen. The only princess without a man was Mulan, and she came out during her song as a cross-dressing lesbian.

The feminist viewpoint was best summarized by my seven-year-old when we were leaving the theater. She looked up at me with her wise little face and said, “Mom there are no handsome princes.” My work as mother is done on that point now. Disney’s princess factory creates fantasies that we then measure up to our own reality with which we find fault and displeasure. My daughter learned that there are no princes and sometimes you have to pick up poop.

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A Recipe For Dealing With Student Complaints: Cruises, Karaoke & Fighting Fair Thu, 12 May 2011 18:22:32 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

Over 90 percent of the time I feel lucky to be paid to teach writing.  The other 10 percent of the time that I do not feel lucky is when posting final grades and dealing with grade complaints.   That is when learning to write which has been a cooperative exercise with as much pleasure and fun that I can throw into the mix over the semester boils down to . . . “I want an A.”

“I want an A.” It does not look like a dangerous sentence, but represents a dangerous concept that spreads cynicism in students, teachers, and administrators like a virus.  The “I want an A” virus has always been around, but “teach to the test” programs such as Florida’s FCAT in which teachers and schools are graded has created a breed of students who become “I want an A” godzillas at the end of every semester.  They have been programmed to believe that earning the “A” grade is paramount to all involved in the educational system.

I have just spent the past two weeks  of grading  in the final scenes of a Japanese horror movie in which there are “I want an A” Godzillas to the left of me, to the right of me, behind me, and in front of me blocking forward motion.  The Godzillas will not be denied. I am so very tired.  I used to escape the second round of grade complaints by gleefully booking a cheap cruise out of Cape Canaveral an hour from my house for the weekend after grades were turned in.  Most of the time the boat was just 20 miles off the coast to make gambling legal in international waters but I did not care.  Dr. Fox was temporarily out of the country and unavailable by either cellphone or email.  There were always a lot of teachers on that boat, and we loved the karaoke.

Then my friend Glenn said he owned part of the company which provided Internet service on cruise ships and I could have a laptop and free access when I was on board so I could keep writing my blog at sea.  Sweet man who ruined my escape plan.

The “I want an A” cynicism means that teachers and administrators spend many hours dealing with baseless complaints as well as with legitimate ones.  It means that I speak softly and quickly to both administrators and their staff and stay out of their way as much as possible during the weeks of final grading.

The “I want an A” cynicism breeds websites such as the well-known Rate Your Professor, where students praise or revile their teachers.  Many but not all of their comments are grade-related.  Until now I thought that teachers had no counter website until I discovered Shit My Students Write through a Facebook forward from a friend.  It might be the fatigue I feel from fighting off the Godzillas, but I do not find Shit My Students Write to be amusing or professional.  I understand the need to put these feelings of being under-appreciated and used somewhere, but posting samples of bad student work only for the purpose of ridicule is not the answer. Unless students specifically allow teachers to post their work on this site then much of the content represents a serious FERPA violation.  Teachers and administrators do not own student writing even if the writing was created at the teacher’s behest to fulfill an administrative requirement to graduate. Students own their writing.

I understand what it feels like to be pummeled—a combatant a few weeks a year during final grading.  I don’t like it.  However, I am not fighting dirty like sites such as Shit My Students Write do. That thing I get called a paycheck encourages me to act as professionally as possible the desire to thrust a flamethrower at an attacking Godzilla would be mighty satisfying.

I am telling you the midnight karaoke on the waves with my fellow fleeing teachers used to feel great ;0)

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Partying Like It’s 999 Fri, 22 Apr 2011 17:01:07 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

I spent one day at Inismore in the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, Ireland in December 2009. The Aran Islands were occupied by the Romans when they attacked Ireland thousands of years ago. There is an area at Inismore called the Seven Churches where the Romans built Catholic churches on top of a sacred Celtic site. Stonework from both cultures is still apparent in the ruins.

Apparently most everyone who died in Inismore until about 1940 was buried in the surrounding graveyard.

Ireland was enduring one its coldest winters in recent history. We could not go the normal tourist destination of the fort so the tour guide took us to the site of the Seven Churches. The tour guide explained that the churches had functioned as a training facility for nuns and monks who then went in to Europe to establish universities. As a university professor it felt strange to stand where other professors had learned and worked 2000 years before.

I thought that the society in which I work as a university professor was vastly different than the society in which the nuns and monks worked. Those professors who trained as Inismore were after all dealing with educating a populace enduring feudalism supported by the church.

According to the less than venerable Wikipedia (and I apologize for this academic sin): Feudal systems in antique societies usually had the common feature of being ruled by an extremely wealthy and powerful upper class (nobles and aristocrats) with nearly complete legal power over the lives and well-being of the impoverished lower classes of laborers, craftsmen, service professionals, farmer workers, and bond-servants (individuals with debts so excessive that their only legal options were debtor’s prison, life as homeless “outlaws,” or service to the upper class as serfs or house servants).

The feudal upper classes were not subject to the same set of laws as the lower classes. Thus one of the basic criteria for categorizing a society feudalistic or neofeudalistic might be simply that its laws and customs are designed to best serve the landed and wealthy while offering substantially lesser legal protections to the landless and working classes and those in debt.

Such a system need not evolve out of any deliberate desire to oppress the working classes but rather may arise simply through a process of gradually changing the legal systems of a country to best serve the common interests of the upper classes (i.e. less taxation on unearned incomes and interest, more privileges for the wealthy than for the working class or landless, lighter penalties for committing “white collar” crimes, right to purchase expensive exemptions from wartime drafts, etc.).

Recognition of similarities between such ancient social systems and a given current society is the condition most likely to lead to accusations of neofeudalism, regardless of the ongoing controversy over what actually constitutes neofeudalism.

I strongly believe that I am working as a teacher in a state of neofeudalism and am beginning to wonder what role I play in educating the current populace.

Dr. Patricia Angley of the University of Central Florida recently notified faculty members that members of the Florida House of Representatives filed HB 1023, a variant of the anti-union legislation that was introduced a in Wisconsin. HB 1023 would eliminate collective bargaining at all public institutions where fewer than 50 percent of the members of the bargaining unit are union members.

• If the bill passes, unions (including UFF-UCF) would have until July 1 to achieve 50 percent membership.
• If they don’t achieve 50 percent membership by then, the union will be decertified.
• If a union’s decertified then the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that was negotiated between the university and the union becomes null and void.

Why does this matter to you?

• The CBA protects and governs conditions of your employment at UCF. Without a CBA, you might lose tenure, promotion, paid parental leave, sabbaticals, evaluation procedures, TIP, RIA, And SOTL, copyright and patent rights, and protections from arbitrary or discriminatory discipline and dismissal, to name just a few. These are all contained in our current CBA.
• The CBA also grants you the right to file a grievance if any of these policies have been violated.
• If UFF is decertified, the CBA will be null and void. The continuation of its employment protections will be solely at the whim of the administration. While we are currently benefiting from collegial conversations with our enlightened Provost and several of his staff, we also prefer to have our rights protected in writing.

Losing a CBA would nullify the differences among full-time and adjunct faculty since adjunct faculty have none of the rights described by Dr. Angley in her bullet list. I do not think this would be beneficial to the university even if the bill might bring full time faculty’s attention to adjunct concerns. Such union busting bills make it less likely faculty members will be able to educate students when teaching in a threatening atmosphere.

Proponents of the bill question why faculty members should have more rights than someone working in the private sector. I argue that those working in the private sector should have the same rights as faculty members. Reducing employment benefits to the lowest common denominator sets up a state of neofeudalism that serves mainly to benefit a minority of members of the upper class. This is an ugly state of affairs and attitude best demonstrated by the poet Zyskandar A. Jaimot from Orlando, Florida who died on the evening of March 30, 2010. The banana republic he describes is similar to the neofeudalism the Florida House of Representatives House Bill 1023 would help to create.

The Nutritive and Therapeutic Uses of the Banana
(A treatise in horticulture funded by the United Fruit Company)

And I was serving tropical drinks
In that posh cafe
quenching arrogant souls
perfumed against the heat
all of us dying by degrees.
And in you walked
your school years past
full of private boarding snobberies
where hired help tended
only the best cloistered gardens
camouflaging whispers
uttered by selfish tongues
cultured with proper generations of money.
And I was serving tropical drinks
quenching arrogant souls
when you told me in that fashionable cafe
during the passing of a happy-hour
your boyhood recollections
of Central America’s bountiful harvests
all those “Great White Ships”
of your dear father’s fleet
and the power
of true Yanqui dollar diplomacy.
Gathering fruit from a continent’s loins
your elegant arm outstretched
beckoning me to refill your glass
you said watching dark-skinned natives
carrying circumcised limbs
of banana trees up those rotting planks
deposited in the bleeding maw
of America’s dark hold —was difficult.
And all the while
I was serving tropical drinks
perfumed against the truth
wondering about natives losing their colour
bleached away by a benevolent company
planting wreaths of pure pain
as you solemnly explained how one poor fellow
stung by a tiny green snake
dropped his precious cargo.
Sliding in death — down that walkway You plopped another oyster
of grey remorse into your mouth devouring it like all the others
harvested without thought to feed only appetite
as you told me you would never forget that sight
full of imported rum
and the fresh snapped spines of bitter lime
in that fashionable cafe
all of us dying by degrees
patronized by your family’s yellowing wealth
passing a life of supposed happy hours
as you confessed to me it was such a pity
such a dreadful pity
about those poor fellows dying by degrees
and to charge this brief afternoon’s penance
to your chilling account of privilege.

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Eating Guilty Pie Tue, 29 Mar 2011 17:49:40 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox
I am spoiled rotten by living in Florida, because I originally wrote this while eating a cheap prime rib lunch in a restaurant on the Flagler Beach pier.  I had a window seat and it was a beautiful day along the Atlantic Ocean.  Little kids were running in the waves watched by parents pulling cold ones from coolers between their camp chairs.  One elderly couple walked hand-in-hand through the waves. I would soon drive down the road to walk alone along the beach at Gamble Rogers state park. The beach is my church and I needed the sermon of the waves that afternoon.

This is a personal essay but I think pertinent for those teaching first year students who walk in the classroom the first day hopeful but scared and who bring emotional baggage from home with them.

I was heading home from Jacksonville.  My daughter had been accepted to the University of North Florida (UNF) and it was open house day for the parents. Her father and I are rarely in the same room, and I promised myself that I would bite my tongue off if I had to so it would be a good day for her. We also rarely agree, but would both like her to go to UNF. I did bite my tongue a lot but can never really make such events stress-free for her. I was being too quiet and she knew why.  She was aware that the UNF hoodie I bought for her was a bribe. It was inappropriate for me to tell  her that I found the electrical engineering professor who discussed robotics to be “hawt,” but he was Irish and gorgeous and he made friggin’ robots. She said she agreed with me totally, but had noted he was too old for her. It was a Galway accent too. Not Dublin. I know the difference now and just . . . damn.

An amusing articulate but frighteningly cynical attorney friend of mine does not think much of marriage. He refers to the institution as “monotonous monogamy” and reminds people that familiarity breeds contempt.  My ex and I had 20 years of familiarity that bred hip deep contempt, and it is no fun for any of us to wade through that bullshit.  Nor is it fair for them. I do admire my daughter for doing the best she can in a bad situation because being 17 is hard all by itself.

So I was feeling guilty about being part of a situation that causes my daughter pain when I got back to the hotel. I did what any sensible person would do to deal with guilt. I went to the Bob Evans next door for French Silk pie. I do love pie.

I was eating pie and worrying about my daughter when I saw the most beautiful sight. There were three 10-year-old girls out with the birthday girl’s family for a birthday dinner. In North Florida, nothing says celebrate like chicken and dumplings, fried cheese, and loaded baked potatoes. The girls were all dressed in identical polka dot dresses, fake leather page boy caps, and leather ankle boots. The girls were giggling and dancing their way through the restaurant much as my daughter would have done when she was 10. Their total confidence and joy at being alive was a shining light in a dark night of the soul for me.

One of the reasons I spend so much time thinking about and seeing stand-up comedians is because the comic balances out the tragic in life and I sometimes have a need for that.  I had a ticket to see a comedian named D.S. from Washington D.C. at the comedy club located in my hotel at 10:00 that night.  My room was close enough to the club that I could hear loud laughter from the 8:00 show. However, it was not enough that night to combat the emotional fatigue that accompanies being “the mother-who-screwed-up” in my daughter’s eyes.  I just did not want to think about it anymore and went to sleep at 9:30 with the sound of laughter coming through the walls.

So as soon as I finished the key lime pie (I do like pie) then I was off to try to walk away the guilt caused by knowing my daughter was just like those 10-year-old girls before her father and I decided we had generated enough contempt and needed to get out.

It is a state park so the stretch of beach is long, but it could never be long enough.

My daughter is 17 and will be barely 18 when she begins college.

I belong to a writing group and one exercise earlier this year was to write a letter to our 17-year-old selves. Perhaps there is something of value in this for my now 17-year-old daughter.

Dear 17-year-old me,

In about a year when you are 18-years-old you will fall in love with a pure heart and one serous mind. You will spend your life trying to find that again. One of your life’s blessings is you don’t marry that man so you and he cannot disappoint each other over the years. You will both have that golden time when it was love. So 30 years later he is a phone call away 24/7 and when he says “I love you” he means it heart and soul. That is golden. Always.

Your biggest regret will be never having his child.

However, you will have other children with a much lesser man who are still beautiful, smart, and wonderful children who will make life wonderful . . . and make life sad. They can’t help it because they don’t know how to do all this right either, and they were kinda hoping you might show them how. Many days you won’t have a frigging clue. They are smart kids who realize, that and it scares them.

Your mother scares you in the same way.

You wanted to be different than your mother and you are still trying and it pisses you off big time when other people don’t get that and sling the insult, “You are just like . . . “ as if they were throwing acid.

Your hope will be that when your children get older they respect you for not pretending to know what the hell you were doing.  Those who seem to know are pretending.  And when the pretense fails much hurt follows.

Stop being so afraid 17-year-old me and 47-year-old me. You are always afraid and of the same damn things. What will I be when I grow up? Will someone love me?

Some days you will get it. It is all a process. In flux. You will get the love you want and it will be glorious. Then you won’t get the love you want and it will hurt. Then you will. Then you won’t.  It is endless.

You will learn you have no control over when you get and when you don’t. When that sucks ass and it often will find a beach. Walk along it. Think about the map of the very large country in which you live as you walk along the beach.  You are small. The world is big.  You are on the edge and over that water are whole other countries where people are walking and looking over the water thinking the same thoughts.  Move to Florida so you can get in the car and drive less than hour to that beach.  It will keep you sane. It will be your church.

Right now at 17-years-old you are afraid that others won’t like or love you if you are not nice enough.  Get over it. You can be nice.  You can try hard. You can love sincerely.  People are fickle. They can be friends, family, lover, or co-workers and whether they like you or not loving you back up to them.  You have no control over that.  And it hurts like hell when they don’t. It hurts a lot.

Someday you will get very sick for a long time. It will be a gift. That illness will cure you of the illusion of control over anything or anyone.

The friends, family, lovers, or co-workers who remain were forever. The others were for a time in the past.  That was what happened. Waste of time to cry over it.

I can only tell you about today with any clarity.

You will go to a meeting in the city where you lived as a child. You will stay in a lovely old hotel with an 80-year-old elevator that has to be run by an operator in a uniform. That hotel has a cozy little bar with fireplaces and beautiful couches and chairs and needlepoint on the walls.  You will go to the meeting and see your incredible boss who climbed mountains of administrative paperwork to make it possible for you to have health insurance after your COBRA ran out. He will hug you when you walk in and hug you before you leave and say, “Take care.”

Whenever you make a comment in the meeting he will announce to those attending on Wimba, “Dorinda Fox said something very smart.”

You will go to a play at a small theater in DuPont Circle where Irish playwrights are celebrated and see a one-man show about a Kansas tabloid journalist who finds out that he like everyone else has a soul despite his best efforts to be an angry bastard. After that you will go to an Irish bar near the Metro station. It is cold and you will ask for a hot whiskey and lamb stew because you went to Ireland in December and that is where you think you belong. You briefly met someone who might have that heart and mind, and that memory tastes like warm Jameson’s.

You will go back to the hotel and work for several hours teaching classes online.  You will go downstairs to sit by the fireplace quietly drinking a glass of wine listening to two elderly gentlemen hotel guests recall old times and sing a Boy Scout song, “I would rather wear a Fleur de Lis than be the Prince of Italy.”  One of the elderly gentlemen is accompanied by his frankly elderly retarded daughter who sings along and then tells her dad about what she made in arts and crafts on Wednesday.

I cannot tell you about tomorrow.

Dear 17-year-old me you will realize that it is likely you will never know what you are doing or why you are doing it.

Nobody does.

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I Am India Tue, 15 Mar 2011 17:53:29 +0000 dorindaBy Dorinda Fox

A lightbulb went off over my head the other day while I sat listening to the budgetary woes of an academic department during a faculty meeting. Dire solutions are needed for dire situations.

I am India.

Meet dire solution #1:

  1. The per credit hour cost for me to teach a course will always be less than the per credit hour cost of a full-time faculty member.
  2. I don’t get benefits.  Therefore, I do not complain when benefits are cut for cost saving reasons.
  3. I am not physically present to complain to administrators about office space, parking spaces, phone services, or copier privileges.  Administrators do not have to see me.  One of us would have to buy a plane ticket in order to meet.  I don’t want an office and wonder how full-time faculty can go to the same place and see the same people every day.
  4. I don’t have an opinion that I care to express on the following: the merits of linguistic theory a la Chomsky vs. Lakoff, whether literature should be taught through the lens of Shakespeare or Stephen King, or if technical writing courses should be taught with a focus on service learning or emerging technologies.  This does not mean I do not have an opinion.  It means full-time faculty do not ask me for that opinion so I learned not to care to express it.
  5. I teach my course in a specialized area relatively well. That is it.
  6. I don’t expect a promotion.
  7. I don’t expect a sabbatical.
  8. I am grateful.  I don’t complain.  I am rather like those older women Benjamin Franklin advised young men to appreciate.
  9. I am efficient.  I work every day.  I have to.  My continued employment is based on the most recent student evaluations or the latest two grade complaints by students. I have written a dissertation.  I make conference presentations.  I publish in academic journals. I try to keep up with the research in my field. Remember the Chomsky and Lakoff reference?  I know when one theorist is snarling at another.  None of this matters.

This was not a pleasant epiphany.  Epiphanies are not meant to be pleasant.  Ask James Joyce.  Epiphanies make one ponder, and I am going to ponder on this page right in front of the reader.  I will ponder with a parable.  Like Jesus.

I dread calling tech support for just about any service or product. This is because I know I am calling India. I show India no respect because of the scripted conversations I have been forced to participate in the past with deep-voiced customer service reps. with Indian accents, who ask me to call them names like Natalie.

This is a real conversation I had with Natalie last month when I had a password problem with academic email.

I know.  Tech support and pizza guys at 3 a.m.  These people tend to behave in a similar fashion.

I do work at 3 a.m.  I have a young child.  The house is quiet at 3 a.m.  I can think to write reasoned responses to student work and administrative requests. My students tend to often work at 3 a.m. so I am available for them.

Me: I am sorry it is late.  I mistyped my password and I am locked out of academic email.

Natalie: Are you a student or a faculty member?

Me: I am a faculty member.

Natalie: I will have to escalate your request to campus support.  An administrator will contact you through email in the morning.

Me: I am sorry it is late.  I mistyped my password and I am locked out of academic email.

Natalie: You will be locked out of academic email if you mistype the password three times.  How many times did you enter a password?

Me: Seven.

Natalie:  That is more than three.

Me: Natalie it is.  Yes it is.

When I am feeling like a smart aleck and forget that everything I ever say or type will be archived for an administrator to review should three students make grade complaints at the same time I rebel.  I refuse to role play with Natalie at 3 a.m. by playing along with the script.  After all, Natalie and I have just met. I provide nonsensical answers to Natalie because I have no respect for Natalie.

Natalie: You will be locked out of academic email if you mistype the password three times.  How many times did you type a password?

Me: I am a cow that jumped over the moon but stopped on the way to graze by the moon rocks while contemplating global warming made apparent by the changing colors of the earth’s atmosphere.

Natalie: You will be locked out of academic email if you mistype the password three times.  How many times did you type a password?

Me: Plagiarism distresses me.  Hinder’s new song called Strip is a blatant rip-off of the song Porn Star Dancing by My Darkest Days and Ludacris.  I saw Hinder perform it after My Darkest Days set and that was just plain rude.

Natalie:  You will be locked out of academic email if you mistype the password three times.  How many times did you type a password?

Me: I like cheese dip made with the white rather than the yellow cheese.  White cheese dip is more authentic and not nearly as Tex-Mex Frito Lay comes in a can kinda dip.

Natalie:  I am transferring you to my supervisor.

Me: Thank you Natalie.

A lightbulb went off over my head the other day while I sat listening to the budgetary woes of an academic department during a faculty meeting.

Dire solutions are needed for dire situations.

I am India.

Meet dire solution #1.

Full-time faculty often have little respect for me.

When legislators such as those in Wisconsin and elsewhere strip full-time faculty of their rights, then where will they work?

Hi Natalie.  Welcome to my world in which I have seniority.  I will treat you with the same respect you afforded me.

Ooops. Wrong story.  That is Cinderella after she married and had to deal with the wicked stepmother.  I tell my daughter when she hears a fairy tale that upsets her,

This is not real honey.  This will never happen to you.

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Glenn Beck, Benito Cereno and Black Wed, 02 Mar 2011 15:47:35 +0000 By Dorinda Fox

I don’t watch Fox News and don’t want to. However, many of my long suffering students, who patiently read what I ask them to read and perform academic tasks I deem worthy, do watch Fox News. If they can read material that might not be their cup of tea or perform tasks they don’t want to do then I ought to be able to do the same.

I was able to learn more about the prophets/pundits or Fox News when Fox News literally set up camp five miles from my house in the spring of 2010 for the first stop of Glenn Beck’s “American Revival” tour associated with the recent TeaBag conservative political movement.

I went.  I saw.  I came away thinking about Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno and its prescient warnings of the racial divisions that prevent true understanding of much of anything in this country since its inception. This is going to take some serous explanation later on.  If you have a spare few hours then go read the book here Melville is a far better writer than I am ever going to be. Compared to Melville I am a monkey hitting random typewriter keys.

Pre-Conceived Notions

My expectations were based on news reports of egregious behavior by those attending previous TeaBagger events. I was rather tired the day of the event because I had spent the previous evening seeing Lewis Black perform in  Orlando.

White Anger

There are some very angry white people in this country. It was my observation that weekend that such angry white people in the age range of 30 to death are drawn to entertainers/prophets/pundits who express that rage and frustration onstage. I give you Lewis Black and Glenn Beck as representatives of the polarities at either end of the range of this white anger.

I feel qualified to discuss this anger because I saw Black perform in Detroit, Gainesville, and Orlando. I am a fan. I am drawn to Black’s comedic interpretation of my frustration about political events in this country. I see stuff on the news every day that angers me, and watching Lewis Black makes me feel better.  He gets it.

In line to see Lewis Black in Detroit I started counting the number of black people in the line with me. This may seem like an odd fixation but, I had just spent 36 hours in downtown Detroit for the weekend and I was the only white person most everywhere I went—until Black’s performance.  There were less than ten black people in the line to see the performance in downtown Detroit which has one of the largest concentrations of black residents in the country. The crowd was made up of white people from the suburbs and mainly me—who ranged in age from 30 to death. The second performance was in Gainesville on the University of Florida campus.  Again, there were less than ten black people in the auditorium and three of them were ushers.  There were also not that many college students in the audience even though they could have walked from their dorm to see the performance and paid only $10 for the tickets if bought 30 minutes before the show. The crowd was white people (mainly men) who ranged in age from 30 to death.  The performance at Orlando drew the same demographic.

You may wonder why you had to read that paragraph.

Beck draws the same audience or at least he did at the first stop of this Revival Tour on a college campus where college students could walk to the event and get tickets at a reduced price.  There were some, but most seemed to have attended the event with their parents. There were black people working in concessions and security, but in the audience I saw three black people and all were sitting in the cheap seats behind Beck’s stage with me. One couple was to my right. One black man came in late and the people sitting in the row for which had a ticket would not honor his seat assignment. That was distressing so I asked if he wanted to sit with me. I asked why he was there and he said he owned a small business, and was quite concerned about new insurance fines from healthcare reform.

I had the exact same view of the crowd as Beck did—a sea of white and the middle aged faces.

During Black’s three performances, he repeated a story about a gig he had a casino in what sounds like a truly awful small town of three casinos and trailer parks located in the desert along the Nevada and Utah border. One of the town’s many deficiencies was its newspaper in which the reviewer described Black’s act as consisting of “mental breakdowns” on stage.

“Mental breakdowns” on stage also aptly describes Beck’s performance—sums up the whole six hours in two words.  He cries about his children a lot when he worries about their future.  He does not want to be right about the awful state of our world and its future.

Both Black and Beck engage in social commentary.

Black’s is based on current events such as healthcare legislation, the legalization of marijuana, and perceptions of the America by citizens of other countries. He centers his remarks on the present. He also riffs on religion, identifying himself as a Jew out of sync with the dominance of Christian religion in American culture.  He is particularly mystified and intimidated by Vince Gill and Amy Grant whom he had a tough time following on stage a few years ago as the “angry Jew.”

Beck’s social commentary centers around a rose-colored vision of the American past and Christianity supported by quotes cherry picked from George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.

Several times Beck asked the crowd to get down on their knees in prayer every evening to thank the Lord for Fox News.  This is because Fox News is fighting to preserve the moral values of faith, hope, and charity while under serious interference from the White House.  He explained that he has a red phone on his desk with a phone number only provided the White House so they can call to discuss their differences but they never call him during his Fox programs. He does not know why.

That sounds crazy to me.

I expected the crowd to be made up of people who acted as crazy as Beck. Not the case at all. The mood in the arena was that of a church service.  There was no name calling. There were no offensive signs.  There was only one souvenir booth in the lobby with derisive bumper stickers but it was located on the end and hard to find.

The only boos were at the beginning of each segment when videos were shown with photos of Pelosi, Reid, and Obama. The boos were almost Pavlovian.   The positive responses to such videos when military personnel were shown seemed equally Pavlovian. Otherwise the crowd was quiet and listened intently.

On the way to our seats Beck provided a three ring binder of materials for our Beck University experience.  Much of this material was similar to that presented by David Buckner, who is Beck’s economics faculty member. Buckner is identified as being a faculty member at Columbia. He was an adjunct once. I looked it up. Being an adjunct once and being a full professor are two different animals. His primary degrees are also not in economics.  This became apparent during his PowerPoint presentation centered on emotional appeals. He made frequent references to his children. He showed a video of a clueless black businessman and a young white woman on a broken escalator wondering how to get off.  His slides had unattributed figures related the national debt and interest owed to China and Japan.

Buckner’s appeals did not get to me and make me sad. I found his incompetence amusing.  However, I looked around that arena and saw thousands of people pen in hand scribbling notes from this great man’s lecture.  They were not only angry,  they were scared and confused and looking for answers. During breaks I saw many of these people sitting quietly on benches eating pizza and reading the notebook material. I paid $20 for my ticket in the cheap seats.  Many of these people had paid hundreds of dollars.

Beck and Black are not equivalent.  Beck has a medicine show. Call me cynical but toward the end of Beck’s remarks someone called out “we need a doctor.”  Beck brought up the house lights on section 204 and began to hum Amazing Grace.  The crowd hummed or sang along with him as paramedics tended to the ill person in that section.

In contrast to Beck, I believe Black is trying hard to be the Shakespearean court jester to our King Lear.  That is a more noble intention. However King Lear was as crazy as Beck. When Hamlet makes his “To Be or Not To Be” speech the skull he holds in his hand belongs to Yorick who had been the court jester. Being a court jester is no easy gig.

Regardless of intent both men are playing to same crowd of angry white middle class (mostly male) Americans whose world is changing.  Whites will no longer be the majority. Whites won’t be guaranteed a better life due to ethnicity.  The world is global and, as George Carlin noted on more than one occasion, that world is brown. Whites are scared.

So What About Benito Cereno?

Basic plot: White sea captain boards slave ship in distress to find Hispanic sea captain attended by a helpful and wise black slave. Takes several hundred pages for the white sea captain to understand the slaves have overtaken the ship and are presenting a play to the white sea captain in order to obtain food and assistance. There are many clues such as one of the Hispanic sailors saying “Help me!”  or the black slave holding a razor to the shivering and fearful Hispanic sea captain’s neck as he shaves him.  He then wipes the man’s face with the Spanish flag.

After that rather obvious scene, the white sea captain observes what excellent man servants blacks can be.

I’m just saying the white sea captain is blind to any reality in which white is not dominant. He can really only see the world in one way. This almost gets the captain and his crew killed.  Through a convenient plot device the captain finally sees the light and saves the Hispanic slavers. The Hispanic captain spends the rest of his days in a monastery that functions as a mental hospital blubbering about the black devil.  The black slave who led the insurgency has his head cut off and displayed on a post as a warning.

Melville based the novel on a true story about a sea captain who was an ancestor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Melville ends the novel with this conversation among the white and Hispanic sea captains:

“You were with me all day; stood with me, sat with me, talked with me, looked at me, ate with me, drank with me; and yet, your last act was to clutch for a villain, not only an innocent man, but the most pitiable of all men. To such degree may malign machinations and deceptions impose. So far may even the best men err, in judging the conduct of one with the recesses of whose condition he is not acquainted. But you were forced to it; and you were in time undeceived. Would that, in both respects, it was so ever, and with all men.”

“I think I understand you; you generalize, Don Benito; and mournfully enough. But the past is passed; why moralize upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright sun has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.”

“Because they have no memory,” he dejectedly replied; “because they are not human.”

“But these mild trades that now fan your cheek, Don Benito, do they not come with a human-like healing to you? Warm friends, steadfast friends are the trades.”

“With their steadfastness they but waft me to my tomb, Senor,” was the foreboding response.

“You are saved, Don Benito,” cried Captain Delano, more and more astonished and pained; “you are saved; what has cast such a shadow upon you?”

Beck’s Rallying Cry

“We don’t want change.  We don’t want TRANSFORMATION.  We want RESTORATION.”

The End of the Sermon

The world is changing.  The United States population and its economy will no longer be predominantly white.  This is why the polarities of Beck and Black exist, and why they have similar audiences.

Transform or restore? Which polarity are you going to choose?  If you think Black is funny and speaks to you, or if you think Beck can save this country, then you may have already chosen. It also likely means you are angry and scared.

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