January 31, 2004

They’re not too heavy, but you don’t hear me not complaining!

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 1:18 pm

“Count on me to keep you posted in this space,” I wrote about teaching a couple weeks ago. Well, I haven’t really done that, so let me try to set things right.

Basically, the fact that I’ve only managed a handful of entries in the weeks following my first class should tell you most of what there is to know. I’m so much busier than I was last quarter, you’d think I just had a kid. Between my coursework and my teaching/grading, if I get back from class and play video games or surf the internet instead of getting on with my reading or lesson planning, I’m slipping behind. I’m not sure when the hell I’m going to work on my blog paper, or learn to drive, or work out, or do any of the other things I was going to do this quarter. But what am I doing complaining? I’m getting paid for this. This is my job. In-N-Out’s right across the street if I want to do something that allows more free time.

But how is my teaching going? I think it’s going okay, although the real test of that will be the 22 papers which are sitting in my bag, waiting to be read. These are the first drafts of the first paper, which we’ve been prepping for this past week and a half. Here’s a sign that I’ve gotten into teaching: last quarter, I couldn’t wait to read all the wacky things my students were going to write. I couldn’t wait to join in all the other teachers’ stories about how this student wrote about “the infamous Martin Luther King,” or how that one was astounded that Jonathan Swift advocates eating babies. I’m not looking forward to that any more. Mind you, I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with it–you have to get the tension off somehow, so I’ll probably be participating in it along with everyone else. But the prospect doesn’t make me happy; I really want all my students to do well, for their sakes and for mine.

I really don’t know what the students think of me as a teacher. Sometimes I feel like the king of HICF 100D, covering all kinds of ground, answering questions and facilitating discussion adroitly and with my inimitable brand of humor. Other times I’m just a stammering monkey in slacks. Little things throw wrenches in my lesson plans. Last Wednesday, the copier was broken when I went to make my very-last-minute copying for class, so the centerpiece of that class was ruined. I tried to wing it. By the end of class, half the chins were resting on hands and one guy was making a paper airplane. I guess I should count my blessings that he never threw it. Then Friday’s class was totally awesome, I had them eating out of my hand. I don’t know if it’s my biorhythms or what.

But all of this work and stress has one good aspect: wherever I go, I’m going somewhere important. Whenever I spend a day tackling work, I feel like a million bucks. It’s been this way since high school–when I’m juggling three or four things at once, I’m suddenly super-organized and diligent, even though my room’s still dirty. It’s like the expression says: “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

But seriously, don’t ask me to do anything. I’m completely serious. I’ll fly off the goddamned handle, just don’t do it.

January 27, 2004

Do you has?

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 10:40 pm

Like so many good leftists, I am constantly besieged with e-mails from They urge me to sign petitions, to give money, and to pass the e-mails on to my friends. I usually sign, I very occasionally give a little money, but I almost never forward the e-mails. (Maybe the people in my e-mail circle would disagree.) I don’t like bugging people all the time; I figure if they want to hear from MoveOn, they’ll sign up themselves.

But this one I’m going to make a stink about. As you may have heard, MoveOn had a big contest where they invited people to make anti-Bush ads, with the winner to be aired on national TV. They had the contest, they picked the ad–a pretty good one–and they went to CBS to buy airtime during the Super Bowl. But CBS refused to air the ad.

There will be beer ads during the Super Bowl, and ads by tobacco companies, and a government-funded anti-drug ad. But the MoveOn ad (along with an ad PETA wanted to run) is “too controversial” to air.

Well, who the hell cares if it’s controversial? I think it’s controversial, or should be, to assert that there’s a link between someone smoking weed and a little girl drowning. I often take issue with ads that assert that medication or electronics will solve all your problems. No one’s shooting down those ads. MoveOn has a product to sell–Defeat Bush–and it’s got the funds to advertise it, but CBS isn’t going for it. Everyone knows that there’s no opportunity for free speech in the mainstream media. But now the American people can’t even get the commercially-available kind.

It’s outrageous. And plus I paid ten bucks for that ad to be aired.

Anyway, the ad is definitely worth watching. You’ll find it here. Once you’ve watched it, sign the petition to complain to CBS. And hey, sign up for MoveOn’s e-mails while you’re there.

January 25, 2004

The sarcastic clapping family

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 2:42 pm

Art Garfunkel was arrested for Marijuana possesion. This is like announcing that we’ve found weapons of mass destruction in an American missile silo. Good job, New York State Troopers. One of the guys who sang “Feelin’ Groovy” smokes weed? How did you ever crack that case? First George Clinton, now this. There aren’t any heroes anymore.

The judge should just throw this out of court. If we’re going to charge people for a victimless crime, they at least need to be surprising. If the only people you can charge with possession are underprivileged minorities and aging hippies and funk musicians, you lose. Go out and try again, pig, and come back when you’ve found John Ashcroft toking.

January 20, 2004

Neither liberty nor safety

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 9:20 pm

There was exactly one good moment in the State of the Union Address tonight, and predictably it happened before Bush entered the room. I was watching on ABC, and they were doing their customary tour of the room, pointing out Cabinet members, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and so on. They got to Cheney, and Peter Jennings uttered a great, albeit unintentional, truth: “Vice President Cheney, in the charge…in the chair, pardon me…”

It was all downhill from there.

January 18, 2004

I want to be somewhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 2:53 pm

The other night we were driving somewhere, and we saw campaign signs for the State Assembly election, which is apparently approaching. One of the signs said, “Jim Smith [or whoever] for State Assembly: The Conservative Republican.”

That was it. That was his tagline. Not “For a Better Future” or “The People’s Choice” or something flowery like that. “The Conservative Republican.” At least you know what you’re getting. And I should be relieved that he’s “the” conservative Republican candidate; around here, I’m sort of surprised that there’s only one.

This is a really weird place to live. I’ve done an awful lot of complaining about it, but most of that has been from a consumer standpoint–no good book or record stores, no downtown area, like some sort of Zagat’s Guide to college towns. Right now I’m talking about a different kind of weirdness, one that’s shown me how atypical a lot of my experiences have been in other places I’ve lived.

For instance, there are no sirens here. I was talking to Megan on the phone (hope you’re reading this, Megan) some time ago–she lives in New Haven–and in the background I heard a police siren. It took me by surprise, because I was out of the habit of hearing them. The police cars here don’t use their sirens; twice I’ve seen one driving down the road, silently flashing its lights.

That reaction, of being surprised by something that I used to take for granted, has struck me a number of times since I moved here. One morning, about ten days after I moved here, I was walking to campus when I saw a disheveled man asleep on the grass. I was completely taken aback, even shocked; my first instinct was to make sure he was alive, and the sight kept me shaken up for the rest of the day. I come from one of the most tolerant communities in America in regards to homelessness, and therefore one with a sizable homeless population, but in just ten days I had forgotten the standard way to deal with homelessness–keep walking, let someone else worry about it. I wonder how long you could live here and never be reminded that homelessness exists.

There are no disabled people here–I’ve seen one person in a wheelchair, and it was such a rare event that I remember exactly where it was and what she looked like. There are almost no black people here, and I’m always struck by a feeling of pleasant surprise when I see a black person on or around campus. I’m not keeping some kind of PC checklist, but I grew up in decently close proximity to a race and culture that is just not represented here and it feels strange. When I went back to the Bay Area for the first time, in October, I realized how much I had taken the presence of an entire ethnic group for granted.

Now, all of the above was true about Bronxville, too, but Bronxville had a certain character and individuality that was easier to bear. I know what it is that weirds me out about Orange County: it’s not just suburban, it’s aggressively suburban, even anti-urban. Everything I associate with city life is completely absent here, both the good–a (not just ethnically) diverse population, parks, places to walk and shop and people-watch–and the bad, or more accurately the symptoms of bad–homelessness, graffiti, crime. Take all that away and what’s left is Irvine, a city defined by negatives. To be honest, I welcome the crazy Republicans, because they give the place character; everything else is people staying inside their identical houses. Mind you, I don’t come from a teeming metropolis full of dark satanic mills. I come from Berkeley, just about the most effete example of a small city there is. But Irvine makes Berkeley look positively noir.

Last quarter I was talking with a few of the Poetry MFA students, and we were complaining about all of this stuff. One of them said something that stuck with me: “I hope I never come to like it here.” That’s similar to a fear I have. I don’t think I need to worry about liking Irvine, but I am worried that I might get used to it. And that fear is mirrored by another: I’m worried that I might spend six years here without ever getting used to it.

January 12, 2004

Introducing for the first time

Filed under: Blogs Themselves — tomemos @ 10:44 pm

My good friend Drew has started his own blog, which you can find at or in the Blogs sidebar on the left. That means that approximately all of the cool people in the world now have blogs, and while I know that correlation doesn’t imply causation, I would say it’s time for the rest of you to get on that good train.

I must speak frankly, Mr. Shankly

Filed under: IMs — tomemos @ 10:41 pm

An IM conversation between Tom and Julie, Saturday, January 10:

T: So Karen sent me a call for submissions for a new comedy magazine.

J: Hey, cool.

T: Yeah, it is, but here’s something weird: I was reading the e-mail, thinking of what I could submit, and I came across this sentence: “No “onion-type” news parodies. Furthermore, if you think The Onion is actually funny, don’t bother submitting anything.”

T: I don’t know if I told you, but I actually do think The Onion is funny.

T: I’m still thinking of submitting, but it just strikes me as really asinine.

J: Wow.

J: Don’t bother submitting. I think that’s the mark of a really amateurish journal.

T: Right, like The Onion is some sort of mainstream, banal humor.

J: Can I see?

T: You’ll also notice it says I can “Receive additional national exposure to about 1 Million,” which strikes me as kind of batshit unlikely.

J: Phuh. I’ve come across these before — “Our new magazine is going to be the best in the world right from the start, so send us something and if we actually like it you’ll be famous!!!!!!

J: “But don’t bother sending us anything crappy because our standards are astronomical!!!!!!”

T: Right. “The fees are modest for now”–subtext, “but once we’re the new Mad Magazine, we’ll pay you in women and diamonds!”

January 10, 2004

My name’s the teacher, or that is what I call myself

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 3:37 pm

It went fine.

Oh, sure, I was terrified and stammering at first. When I realized that no matter how hard I tried I was not going to be able to write legibly on the chalkboard, that sapped my confidence in a major way. And when I started my introductory spiel, I realized that I had no damn idea what I was saying, it was like the actor’s nightmare. So I winged it, badly, sounding like I had no idea what the class was about or what we would be studying. And when we went around the room, with everyone introducing themselves and saying something that made them unique (not a name game, I wish to point out), that somehow failed to be, you know, interesting. I felt like I was being passively attacked by a classroom of bored, silent wolves.

But then I gave them an in-class writing exercise, and that gave me time to collect my thoughts. When we came out the other end of that, I took them to where I feel comfortable: talking about a book. We discussed the introduction of Nickel and Dimed for about twenty minutes, and while everyone wasn’t jumping out of their seats to contribute, we had about five or six people (out of nineteen; it’s a start) who said something. I also identified the young Tomemos: he raised his hand every time I asked a question, and he made weird jokes in the margins of his writing exercise. I can’t believe I’m going to give the “good job participating, but you need to give other people a chance to talk” talk. THAT is a reversal.

So yeah, despite the panicked beginning–“Teaching probably won’t get any harder than that first twenty minutes,” my dad said when I told him about all this–it ended up okay. One of my students said “Thank you” as she walked by; for what, I don’t know–showing up?–but at least one person was not feeling hostile towards me. (Or else she’s starting early on her grade-grubbing, I don’t know.)

I feel really good about the rest of the classes now. Partly because I know better what we’ll all be talking about, and partly just because I’ve seen the elephant. Count on me to keep you posted in this space.

January 8, 2004

That which I would not, I do constantly

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 2:58 pm

Sorry about the long gap there, and the massive white expanse that was my page for a few days. That’s what happens when I don’t post an entry for a week. I thought about fixing it so it doesn’t do that, but this keeps the pressure on me to keep updating. Plus I don’t know how.

So, happy New Year, everyone. I’m back in Irvine, after a great (but short) spell up north. It was hard to leave, but at the same time it’s good to arrive–I missed the folks here, and I’ve got a lot of big things happening this quarter. The biggest, of course, is teaching, which I start TOMORROW. It’s dominated my thinking about this quarter, to the point that I’ve thought almost not at all about my classes, or about finishing my blog paper. I got my class roster yesterday, which was a trip. 23 names that mean nothing to me now, but that represent a good deal of work, satisfaction, and frustration over the next three months. I guess that’s probably what my name means to all of them, too.

Between my teaching, my classwork, and my blog paper, I’m going to be pretty busy this quarter. Good thing I thought ahead and bought a Gamecube last night, huh? Yeah, I really did. Pat and Joe kindly (though not selflessly) contributed to buying two more controllers, and we rented Mario Kart and had ourselves a time for a couple hours. Then they left and I sat down to play some more. The next thing I knew it was four a.m. and I had a Gamecube controller in my hand. Whatever I said about pleasure reading being my next big thing, I take it all back.

The first game I bought for this thing is called “Beyond Good and Evil,” which is also the name of a work by Nietzsche. It occurred to me that Nietzsche’s books–The Will to Power, Thus Spake Zarathustra–make better video game titles than, say, Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason.” Any other great works of philosophy, literature, or art that should be game titles? I’ll give you “Crime and Punishment”; you come up with the rest.

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