My young life

Looking back, I’m amazed how many activities I took part in as a child and teenager.
At about age 10 or 11, I trapped fur-bearing animals to sell their pelts and mowed some yards for pay. I still cannot believe my mother helped me to skin small animals!
At age 12, I started working as a dishwasher on the weekends at a local BBQ and catfish joint. I continued working there as dishwasher, and later also as a cook, every weekend and summers until age 18. It was hard work, but the owners were very fair and I learned a lot–mostly how to work hard.
During high school, I participated in the following school-sponsored activities:

  • Choir (all four years)
  • Marching and concert band (all four years)
  • Stage band (two or three years)
  • Madrigal (elite choir–we didn’t have a class meeting; practiced after school)
  • Band and choir solo and ensemble (I received a 1 at state solo and ensemble for my vocal solo my senior year, only the second such honor in our school’s history)
  • I started a speech club, was its president for two years and participated in informative and persuasive speaking events
  • German club: took part in various competitions, and served as an officer one or two years

In addition to those school-sponsored activities, I also tried out the following outside of school, though I didn’t stick wtih any of them for too long:

  • Barbershop quartet singing with the SPEBSQSA chapter in New Braunfels
  • Community theater: I got a part in one production, but the organization was such a mess that I withdrew before we got to performance
  • Square dancing with a local club

On top of all that, I’m proud to say that I graduated third in my class of 170–though, to be fair, every year, two or three of my six courses were music-related (I got As), which certainly padded my GPA.

Seen in traffic…

As I was stopped in traffic this afternoon, I looked over into the car next to me, and the driver was pulling ear hairs with tweezers. When he finally looked my way, I continued staring at him for a second, smirking.

What’s the real story?

Stephen Roberds, a popular professor at Southern Utah University, was just fired, supposedly for using ‘the F word’ in class.
This story causes a flashback for me. When I was in high school, my health teacher, Coach Mac, was fired, also obstensibly for using the F word in class. I was in the class in question, and she did indeed use the word in the context of a lesson–though she never actually said it, opting instead to say ‘firetruck’ (it was some lesson about cognitive development or the like where Coach Mac used an example ‘little Johnny hears this word…’). She was a great teacher, and I, along with most of my classmates, attended the school board meeting and spoke in her favor.
Unfortunately, Coach Mac’s use of said cuss word was just a front for the real reason she was being fired: she was a lesbian and girl’s coach. Of course, nobody ever stated that publicly, but it was common knowledge. I honestly don’t know if she did anything inappropriate, but most likely, some parent deduced her sexuality and complained out of general homophobia.
As I understand it, the school board could have (and could still today) legally fired her for her sexuality, but they were chicken shits. They chose to use a front case.
This really makes me wonder what is really going on in the case of Professor Roberds as well.

Follow-up to ‘Conformity and consumption’

In my recent post, Conformity and consumption, I linked to and quoted from The Rebel Sell. The article’s authors argue that our attempts to reject mass culture just lead to different types of consumerism. The authors believe that there is no real way to avoid this trap:

It is tempting to think that we could just drop out of the race, become what Harvard professor Juliet Schor calls “downshifters.” That way we could avoid competitive consumption entirely. Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. We can walk away from some competitions, take steps to mitigate the effects of others, but many more simply cannot be avoided.

Maybe we cannot avoid all forms of competitive consumption, but I want to believe that we can consciously avoid many of them.
Today I received an email from someone who had read my earlier blog entry. This correspondent lives on a kibbutz in Israel, and writes:

We are 20 families, living in smalltown Israel. Each of us has his/her professional life. All salaries go to one bank account and split
No member owns a private car. Not owning a car makes you indifferent to what make and model and year it is, as long as it goes from here to there with minimal comfort. It makes you indifferent to cars as objects.
What counts in this kind of life is what kind of a person you are to
your friends and kibbutz members, and not what you own.

Living in such a communal intentional community certainly seems to be one way to avoid many forms of competitive consumption, but it’s a pretty radical step for most people. From my research a few years ago into intentional communities, it takes a pretty strong commitment to withdraw together from the mainstream (it helps that so many intentional communities have a spritual basis, I think).
Many intentional communities just don’t make the break successfully. Or at the least, instead of competing with everyone in the culture, the members end up reproducing the same types of issues within their much smaller community.
The question is still open if and how I can ‘downshift’ in meaningful, though less radical, ways.


The brilliant Heather Armstrong writes:

I am constantly surprised at how different my child is than what I thought she would be, and therefore I am SO MUCH MORE understanding of people with children in public. So when Beth mentioned that she was going to bribe her boys to sit still for the picture, I thought, WHATEVER WORKS! The old Heather would have said, “Ok,” with skepticism dripping from her voice and would have thought silently LIKE A TOTAL FUCKING IDIOT, “I will NEVER have to bribe my children.”

Katie and I were married for nine years before we had kids, and throughout that pre-parental period, I would occasionally make statements about what I would and would not do as a parent. Whenever my father-in-law Harold heard these proclamations, he would just snicker quietly and shake his head, which usually prompted an “I’m serious. Really!” from me.
Now that I’ve been a parent for over ten years, I am beginning to understand Harold’s responses. Parenting is life’s most humbling experience. Pretty much every conceived notion I had about raising children has been stomped on by little feet and flushed down the toilet (only to stop it up!). In my more reflective moments (approximately once every 4-5 years since having children), I think this is a good thing. I’m coming to realize that a life well lived is all about questioning everything.

Annals of health insurance insanity

One of my coworkers has decided to leave the company. His last day will be this week. Since his last day at our company would be just a few days before Christmas, I asked him if he would be able to take the holidays off and start his new job in January. Aside from needing the paycheck to support his family, he said, he needed to start his new job in December so that he would not have a month without health insurance.
In our industry, it’s common practice for companies to continue a quitting employee’s benefits through the end of the month and to start a new employee’s health insurance benefits on the first of the month after the employee’s start date. My coworker is using this system as designed to ensure he has continued health insurance through his transition.
After talking to my coworker about this, I realized that this same consideration has played a major role in two job changes for me as well. So much for ‘fringe’ benefits (I notice that in recent years, the ‘fringe’ has been dropped). If you think about it, it’s a somewhat crazy system.
Of course, I try not to take for granted that I work in an industry where good health insurance that starts soon after employment is a pretty standard benefit.

My online persona

If you’ve made it to this blog, then you’ve probably also seen that it is part of my personal web site, which contains a lot of information about me. I love the contacts I get based on my personal web site. These have included:

  • A woman who found my needlework page when searching for information about four-way bargello. Turns out, she runs a needlepoint shop just a few miles from us. I loaned her my old bargello book.
  • A man who bought an antique he thought was a grain probe. He found my eulogy to my grandfather and emailed me to help identify his object.
  • This morning, I got an email from a programmer in St. Louis whose mother works at a community library in Austin. She was concerned about the quality of programming work being done to their cataloging system. Her son found my resume when looking for software quality assurance resources in Austin. I offered to talk with his mother about her concerns.

Conformity and consumption

I’ve long thought of myself as an independent thinker and a skeptic of conformity and consumerism. In the last few years, however, it’s occurred to me that much of what I thought of as my rebellion against conformity was, in fact, just a different type of conformity.
Go back to high school. For reasons that I do not fully understand, in the U.S. we tend to think of teenagers socially as falling into two groups: the ‘socials’ and everyone else. As a non-social, I thought of myself back then as a rebel against the conformity of that group. In actuality, I now realize, I conformed quite well and willingly to the norms of other groups: band member, speech nerd, etc.