Friday, June 29, 2012

A Bad Taste for French Postmodernism

In the second semester of my second year as an English lit. undergrad, I begrudgingly enrolled in Practical Criticism and Research Methodology.  It's a convoluted way of saying, "This is how English Lit. People do research."  Hardly anyone likes taking it; it's a necessary evil.  Besides just taking the class, I had the misfortune of having to take it with a new professor.  No one knew what his teaching style was like, and that was a double whammy for a class such as "Practical Criticism," as it was abbreviated by all the students in the department.

He was a small, short man.  I put him at about 45.  Although his dark-brown hair was graying and thin at the time, I suspected he was once a very hairy man; it might've been his thick, unruly eyebrows that tipped me off.  He had an accent that sounded like one I'd heard before.  New YorkIf it's not New York, I'm sure it's close.  He mentioned some things we'd be learning in the course, and then . . .  Then his voice got loud as he went into a diatribe against the modern classroom.  He spoke of Michel Foucault when he explained that education is not about the teacher giving knowledge to the student.  "Knowledge is power, or so the saying goes," he explained, "but Foucault subverts that idea by pointing out that 'knowledge' means something different to different people."  He went on:  "Foucault's philosophy was to show that people with knowledge unduly exert their power on others who have seemingly less knowledge than they.  In education, the professor stands at the front of the classroom, displaying his power as the Knowledge Giver."  My professor, however, would do no such thing.  He subverted this Western notion of power and stated that we would learn from him, and he would learn from us.  As such, we would rearrange the classroom.  Hmm.  This should be interesting.  For the rest of the semester, we would not sit in rows; we would sit in a circle.  In a circle, everyone faces each other.  Everyone is on equal physical ground to reflect their equal intellectual ground.

So we rearranged our desks.  After about five minutes of pushing and shuffling and getting settled, we sat in a circle.  A circle of faces all looking at each other.  But where was the professor?  Where was the professor who would also play the role of student?  He was standing.  In the middle of the circle.  But only for a minute, of course.  After that minute and for the rest of the semester, he sat on a chair.  With his backside on the top of the chair's back and his feet on the seat.  Higher than everyone else.  Higher than the students he was "learning" from.  The Giver of Knowledge.  Right.

It was one of the worst classes I have ever taken.  It put a bad taste in my mouth with respect to Foucault and Derrida and the rest of the French postmodernists.  Perhaps that is why I've never had the inclination to see France.

Thing I'm thankful for: Aubrey and her awesome yoga skillz.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ockham's Razor

Something I simultaneously love and hate about bookshops are the sale tables that are strategically placed at the entrance to the store -- directly next to the front doors, even!  It is nearly impossible for me to ignore those tables.  One minute, I walk into the store to get a book on usability that will help me with a school project, and the next minute, I am in a daze, standing in front of said tables and asking myself, "Do I really need a visual reference guide to architecture?"  Oh!  They have one on classical music, too?!?  I have bought many a needless thing from these sale tables -- from a Hershey dessert cookbook to a learn-how-to-speak-German CD (and it wasn't anything close to Rosetta Stone).

A few months ago, however, I stumbled upon a real gem.  I mean, the sale tables usually have gems, but this book in particular was a great find.  It's called Essentials of Philosophy: The Basic Concepts of the World's Greatest Thinkers.  I have somewhat of a soft spot for philosophy, and since it has been years and years since my intro. class, I figured a refresher would do me some good.  Boy, was I right.  I'll probably share my thoughts on a few philosophers over the next several months because I find them all so fascinating, but today I want to write a little bit about William of Ockham.

William of Ockham lived in the first half of the 14th century.  He was an English Franciscan friar believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey.  He studied at Oxford and wrote works on logic, physics, and philosophy.  He held many progressive beliefs that got him into trouble with the Catholic Church; here are just some of them:
  • The Church was not infallible.
  • A pope should be able to be impeached.
  • Women should be permitted to play a more active role in Church affairs.
  • Rulers and royalty are not there by divine right and should be ousted, if they become tyrants.
He is most famous, though, for the theory that bears his name: Ockham's razor.  Ockham's razor is the belief that when all things are considered, the simplest answer is usually the right one.

I'm not quite sure what to make of such a philosophy.  When I first read about it, I thought it must be true.  It felt true, and yet, my overly analytical brain said, "But Sara, that's too simple!"  And there you have it:  Centuries after Ockham's razor, people are still turning simple things into complex things.  I have spent many a night wondering whether a certain guy was right for me, when in hindsight, he most definitely wasn't.  "Relationships should be easy," my mom said.  (Clearly, she subscribes to Ockham's razor, though she would hardly know it.)  "Study something you love" is the phrase many a self-help book suggests.  And then there's the oft-quoted saying, "Go with your gut."

Adages and motherly advice, then, seem to point to the truthfulness of Ockham's razor.  What do you think, readers?  Do you believe in Ockham's razor?  Is the simplest answer usually the right one?  (Let's exclude standardized tests here . . .)

Thing I'm thankful for: laughing

Sunday, June 24, 2012


When I read a book -- for pleasure or otherwise -- I always read the Acknowledgements section.  I wonder if anyone else reads it, but my guess is that most people do not.  Why, then, do I read it?  If I have a weekend to finish a 300-page book for class on Tuesday, why do I bother to read one to three pages of acknowledgements?  Here are three reasons:
  1. There's a lot you can learn about someone from who they acknowledge.  In the book I'm working on currently, for example, the author thanks nearly everyone he has ever known, but the best part?  He thanked his students, even calling a few of them out by name.  I think that's pretty neat -- that a professor, the presumed "giver of knowledge," openly admitted that he learns from his students as much as he teaches them.  There's a humility there that tells me I can trust the rest of the book.

  2. The romantic in me likes the part where the author acknowledges his children and especially, his spouse.  It makes me think about what my future husband might say about me.  And what would I say about him?  In Archives Power, the author says this about his wife:  "Joyce has more than kept her promise that if I married her my life would never be boring."  And then he describes her accomplishments and current projects.  I like that acknowledgements such as this that aren't stereotypically romantic; they're . . . intellectually romantic.  That's what I'd like in a marriage.  I'd like to find someone who I'd feel proud to acknowledge in my own published work, and I'd like him to feel the same.

  3. Acknowlegements gives me an idea of the amount of time and effort it took for the author to write the book.  Knowing that makes me less judgmental.  I still think critically and may oppose the ideas put forth in the book, but I do so tactfully, when I know there's a hardworking and grateful person behind the scenes.  When I know he poured several years of his life into researching and writing, I gain a bit of humility that tells me I should at least give the author a shot.

I suppose the best way to close this post would be to write my own acknowledgements, but I'm gonna save that for another day.  (Can I even have an Acknowledgements section on my blog?  I mean, it is a published site . . .)

Thing I'm thankful for: sparkly make-up

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why Women Still Can't Have It All

Today I read perhaps the best article I've read all year.  It's called Why Women Still Can't Have It All.  It's all about balancing work and family life.  Yes, it's written for women, but it's also directed at men as well.  The gist is that the world needs to start valuing family responsibility and success as much as success in professional and political spheres.

The article reminds me of something President David O. McKay, 9th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in 1935:  "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."  More than 85 years later, we are still finding that to be true.  Anne-Marie Slaughter, the author of the article, echoed McKay's statement:
As a daughter of Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the university he founded, I grew up with the Declaration of Independence in my blood. Last I checked, he did not declare American independence in the name of life, liberty, and professional success. Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home.

When I read that, I wanted to make everyone in the world read it, too.  That's pretty much impossible, but I'm starting here on my little blog.  Read it.  Read it soon, and let the ideas sink into your bones.

Thing I'm thankful for: my parents, as usual.  They were and are great examples to me.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Writing Messes

I just finished writing an essay proposal and outline.  This is what my bed looks like:

As I survey the papers and piles (there are more not included in the picture), I think about my undergraduate study in English literature.  Every night before a paper was due, I would either be on the edge of my bed or in a corner of my room, with books and journal articles and notes surrounding me on three sides.  The point was that everything had to be visible.  "Everything" meant anywhere from five to twenty sources.  So you can imagine that near the end of each semester, my room was a veritable mess.  Sometimes, in order not to disturb anything, I'd just leave everything the way it was and walk around it or sleep beside it for weeks.  What a crazy, crazy time that was.  I practically had an anxiety attack at the end of each semesterin part because of the papers and in part because of the mess!

There is one thing missing from this late-night scene, though, and it is my mother.  I lived at home while I was in college, and when I was up late cramming or writing, my mom would slowly creep up the stairs and sit with me for a while to keep me company.  Sometimes she'd bring me a soda; sometimes she'd bring me chocolatebasically anything that had caffeine to help me stay awake.  (Hmm.  Caregiver by day, pusher by night?  I'm sorry I forced you into that, mom!)  She'd also talk to me or try to get my creative juices flowing when I was stuck, too.  I never told her she wasn't very good at that, but she tried.  (How do you explain the philosophies of Derrida and Foucault to your artiste mother?)  Nevertheless, she did what she could, and I love her for it.

I just wish she was here now, helping me along in the wee hours of the night when I need her to help me stay awake.  Maybe now is the age when I should just go to sleep and wake up early in the morning to finish.  Maybe I should put the quiet late-nights behind me . . .  Besides, what good is a mom, unless she can give you an early-morning wake-up call???

Thing I'm thankful for: answered prayers

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I think we get glimpses of heaven sometimes.  Sometimes the glimpse is a news story about a disadvantaged person who perseveres through hardship.  Sometimes it's a man winking at his wife.  Sometimes it's a child's bright eyes.  And sometimes it's a quiet moment on the edge of God's great earth.

Tonight I had one of those moments.  I went with a small group of friends to Austin's 360 Bridge, as it's called, and simply enjoyed the view.  It's such a pretty place.  Such a pretty place to call home.

Thing I'm thankful for: no bake cookies!

Happy Father's Day!

In honor of Father's Day, I'm posting a picture of the flower I have kept alive since Mother's Day.  It's been a little over two months.  Not bad, eh?  (For a "before" picture, see My Thumb is Turning Green!)

Thing I'm thankful for: a dad, and a good one at that.  The blessing of two loving parents in my life never goes unnoticed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Fun: Best of The Beatles

This week, my dear friend Nikki sent me an e-mail with a link to an article, USA Today Picks the 20 Best Beatles Songs, with the subject line "Do you agree with this?"

As a matter of fact, I did not agree with the list.  So today, just for fun, I'm going to tell you which Beatles songs I think are the best.  Please comment and let me know if you agree!  If you don't, let me know that, too!  (P.S. You try to do it; it's hard!)
  1. Here Comes the Sun
  2. I Will
  3. Two of Us
  4. Rocky Raccoon
  5. Blackbird
  6. Something*
  7. Yesterday
  8. Oh! Darling
  9. When I'm Sixty-Four*
  10. Hello, Goodbye
  11. All You Need is Love
  12. She Came In Through the Bathroom Window***
  13. Carry that Weight***
  14. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
  15. If I Fell
  16. And I Love Her
  17. I'll Follow the Sun
  18. Michelle
  19. She Loves You
  20. Help!
*While "Something" was my favorite Beatles song for a long, long time, I realized today that it isn't anymore.  It makes sense, though; I liked it when I was 18.  It "spoke" to my teenage heart in a way it doesn't anymore.  I still love it, though, as you can see.

**This was a tough one, as McCartney wrote a handful of similar songs, such as "Honey Pie" and "Your Mother Should Know."  I love his old-time music, but I'm pretty sure "When I'm Sixty-Four" is the best one of the bunch.

***I realize it's difficult to separate any of the songs on Side Two of Abbey Road, but I had to.  Sure, neither song really packs the ultimate punch without the songs just before and after them, but I think they are still rockin' enough to stand on their own, especially "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window."

Thing I'm thankful for: such exceptional musicians.  Music is wonderful.  :)

    Monday, June 11, 2012

    Thoughts on Traveling

    My dad always says, "There's plenty of stuff to see in America!"

    He doesn't really like traveling, or maybe it's just that he doesn't really like flying.  He especially doesn't like the idea of flying over the ocean.  So he never did it, until he was in his 50's, I think, and even then it was only to Hawaii.  He's been to Israel since, but given the option, I think he'd rather have gone to Hawaii again.  Or Alaska.  Or even to his beloved Idaho.

    Here's the thing:  I never really understood why my dad sang America's praises so loudly, when there were adventures to be had in the lands of my inheritance.  What are the flat lands of America's breadbasket to the green hills of Ireland or the castles of England?  Who cares about wide open spaces, when you can listen to bagpipes in Scotland or run through the Black Forest of Germany?  There is so much to be said for the objects of history in those countries.  Plus, I can imagine standing in an English countryside, breathing in the air of my forbears and perhaps letting their words of prose and poetry float up from the ground and into my soul.  Or maybe, I would walk through the streets of Bremervorde and see the order and exactitude of the Stellings in the buildings that stood when they were alive.

    It occurred to me a few years ago, however, that things don't have gravitas, people do.  A street, a building, a city, and a country carry the weight you place on them.  And what are things to people?  When friends publish pictures online of themselves standing in front of an ancient temple or a famous landmark, I find that I don't look at the temple or the landmark.  I look at my friend.  I almost have to remind myself to notice what's in the background.

    If that's the case -- if people are more important than things -- then I understand why my dad is content to stay in America.  I actually tend to feel the same.  Do roads and buildings and monuments signify the qualities of the people I come from?  Sure.  Would I take a trip around the world to catch a glimpse of those qualities?  Of course.  But would I be happy to visit only the cities that my living loved ones call home?  Definitely.  America is my country.  My home.  It's full of just as much wonder as any other spot on this planet, and it's the place with the highest concentration of people I care about.

    Perhaps I am writing this as a justification for the fact that I've never stepped foot on foreign soil, but I genuinely don't think so.  I think I just finally understand my dad.

    Thing I'm thankful for: smoothies

    Sunday, June 10, 2012

    Sometimes I Watch "Seinfeld" . . .

    . . . To give me a laugh.

    This week, my family shared some funny e-mails over this clip:

    I love it so much.  I love everything about it.

    Thing I'm thankful for: washers and dryers that work!

    Wednesday, June 06, 2012

    Texting while Driving

    Addendum:  Oh, no!  I am ashamed.  :/
    I misread the sentence about how Deveau had his license suspended for 15 years.  He will be in prison for only two.  Oh, boy . . .  What a post.  What a post, and I was wrong.  So I guess you can take those quotes from the District Court Judge and the NSC Director of Transportation to heart.  Let Deveau's sentence be a lesson to you:  Don't text while driving!!!

    I'll be the first one to say that texting while driving is bad.  I've done it before.  I'm not proud of it, and I will admit that it's an awful thing to do.  So awful, in fact, I would say it's unethical.  But I will not say it's a crime worthy of 15 years in prison, which is the sentence a Massachusetts teen received this week.

    Aaron Deveau crossed over the yellow line while driving one night and crashed into an oncoming truck, killing a 55-year-old man.  Although Deveau claims he wasn't texting while driving, police say he was, and ultimately, he was convicted of motor vehicle homicide by texting.  (Read the full article: Massachusetts Teen Sentenced to Prison for Texting while Driving.)

    Now, one could argue that texting while driving is the same thing as driving while drunk.  Everyone knows they shouldn't do it, and anyone would be shocked if someone didn't get some kind of harsh punishment for being drunk and driving anyway.  But 15 years in prison, really?  This kid is 18 years old!  18!  He made a mistake, and I'm sure he has regretted that decision to text (if he really did) every day for the last year.  Sending him to prison for 15 years, though, isn't doing anything for him.  One life was lost already in that accident; by sending this kid to prison, there's another one gone.  But!  At least his life is an example to the rest of us!  From the article:
    Before imposing the maximum sentence on Deveau, District Court Judge Stephen Abany said he was sending a message of deterrence to Massachusetts drivers.
    Senior director of transportation initiative at the National Safety Council David Teater had this to say:
    “People can violate these laws and there really isn’t much of a deterrence without examples like this. Clearly, being distracted is an extremely deadly thing that’s going on in this country and people need to understand they just can’t do it.”

    Really?  The 15-year sentence is supposed to be an example to the rest of us?  I'm pretty sure I read an article this year about how a teacher who sexually abused a 15-year-old only got five years of probation.  I'm also pretty sure a Texas "Teacher of the Year" was recently found to have been sexually soliciting one of his students online and has only been placed on administrative leave.  I dunno . . .  Maybe we should go all the way back to O.J. and talk about that complete failure of the law . . .

    Alls I'm saying is that 15 years seems like a lot of time, when you look at how much (or little) time other people get for far worse crimes.  Sure, maybe cases like this will decrease the amount people text while they drive, but I doubt it.  Sadly, I doubt it.  Meanwhile, this poor kid will waste his life away in prison and have a difficult time getting a job when he's out.

    Thing I'm thankful for: my wonderful parents

    Monday, June 04, 2012


    Does that title sound wrong to you?  Yeah, me, too.  Who was the first person to come up with "guesstimate," anyway?  It's ridiculous.  You can make a guess or an estimate, not a guesstimate.  Seriously, folks -- using "guesstimate" as a real thing makes you sound like you're 7 years old.  What if an architect said, "Well, by my guesstimation . . ."  Or what if a high-powered business executive said, "I guesstimate that end-of-year sales will look like . . ."  Would you be impressed?  Probably not.

    Let's all take "guesstimate" out of our vocabulary, hm?

    Thing I'm thankful for: Gala apples

    Sunday, June 03, 2012

    Come Thou Fount

    Sooo . . .  Some people may cringe at this or think me sacrilegious, but I have to say it.  Come Thou Fount, a popular hymn that is, in fact, not in the current LDS hymnal, is the Mormon equivalent of a song that is played too much on the radio.  To be sure, it is a lovely song, but it is overplayed.  Way too overplayed.*  Particularly as special musical numbers in church.  I can hear it now: a soft and slow opening followed by even slower tempos for the remainder of the song.  But don't worry; the musician will speed it up now and then in a frantic sort of style before dramatically slowing it down again.  And by the time it's finished, you'll feel like you should feel something life-changing, even though you don't -- because everybody "loooves this song."

    What I wonder is, why was it removed from the LDS hymnal?  Apparently, it was included in the original hymnbook (or so I hear), but it was removed and didn't get much exposure until Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Mack Wilberg arranged the hymn a few years ago.  Ever since then, Mormons have performed it in sacrament meetings a lot.  That's fine, I guess; I just don't understand why -- with so many choices (over 300!) -- people play "Come Thou Fount" so often.  Plus, if it's not in the current hymnal, why is it played so much?  That's an honest question, by the way . . .  I often wonder whether we should just stick to the hymnal for special musical numbers during regular Sunday church service.  (If you have an argument either way, please -- by all means -- make it known!)

    I dunno . . .  I feel awful to even express these feelings, but I had to get it off my chest.  What do you guys think?

    Thing I'm thankful for: sitting behind a blonde 3-year-old at church today.  She gave me a laugh, when it was all I could do not to fall asleep.  At one point, she said the following to her dad:  "I have to go poop!"  Hahaha.  :)

    Saturday, June 02, 2012

    Excellent User Experience!

    While doing some shopping at Wal-Mart, I noticed this excellent example of good user experience:

    Here, take a closer look:

    Pretty cool, huh?  Just a little extra effort goes a long way to making the shopping experience better, and if Wal-Mart can consistently make that happen, more people will shop there.  And they'll make more money.  And everybody will be happy.

    Welcome to what I want to do when I grow up.  :)

     Want more?  Here's A Study in Usability.

    Thing I'm thankful for: freshly-made tortillas from H-E-B

    Friday, June 01, 2012

    A Sales Call

    Around 1:00 today, my work phone rang.  It made me jump a little, as I don't normally receive phone calls at my office.  (I'm just a lowly graduate research assistant; I'm really not important enough to call.)

    It turns out that the call was a sales call from AT&T.  They wanted my business.  Here's about how the conversation went down:

    Sales Rep:  I'm calling to tell you about AT&T's blah blah blah . . .
    Me:  I don't want to be rude, but I'm not interested.
    Sales Rep:  Is there a particular reason why?
    Me:  I have another provider, and I'm just not interested.
    Sales Rep:  Even though we can save you money?
    Me:  Yeah, I'm just not interested.
    Sales Rep:  But with AT&T blah blah blah . . .
    Me:  [Interrupts Sales Rep]  "I'm not interested."
    Sales Rep:  Well, I still have to do my job.
    Me:  [Seriously?  That's your response??? Well, unfortunately for you, I don't have to listen???]  "Well, I'm just not interested, so I'm gonna hang up now."

    And that's exactly what I did.  Normally, I'm fairly amiable on the phone, but I said I wasn't interested nicely.  Three times.  I don't mind talking on the phone to strangers, either; in fact, I love it.  This wasn't a day I could talk, though, and I politely said so.  The thing is, is that I wasn't even angry; I was more amused than anything.  Since when did "Well, I still have to do my job" become a reason for someone to stay on the phone with a phone sales rep?  I guess it's as good a reason as any, really . . .  Props to her, I guess?  At least she gave me a chuckle today.  :)

    Thing I'm thankful for: fresh, cool water to drink

    This Video Brings Me Joy, Pt. 2

    It's been a few years since I posted this video; I thought it was high time I posted it again.  Happy Friday.  :)

    Thing I'm thankful for: my classmate Henna.  She's real smart.