Friday, September 20, 2013


feels like things are going way too fast out there. painters have moved in at the house, spraying and sanding and putting paint chips all over everything including the garden. before they left today they painted wide swaths of white on an otherwise dark blue house; it's been dark blue way too long; it's held so much of this texas heat. so the wide swaths of white now make it stand out boldly with its paint chips sprayed all over the grass as we are left to enjoy the weekend.

but it's a weekend of soccer games amid a big football game which will crowd city streets and which has already caused considerable traffic. they're big on football here; these home games are big events where red and black ribbons hang from trees and they wrap up this statue with old will rogers on a horse. i should have pulled out some old will rogers quotes to describe how the situation is somewhat out of hand, but instead i drank an extra cup of coffee and headed over to the yoga bean where they were playing irish music, this isn't too far away and is, after all, a completely different world from the football-obsessed campus. i had a set of stories about culture which i delivered to some internationals who had gathered to try to prepare their dissertations; it was a kind of inspirational speech; i'd wanted to make a TED talk out of it and still might. but i got overtaken by tiredness and still haven't found my notes or begun to copy it down. got the friday afternoon exhaustion and was barely able to even play a note.

the essence of the stories was, when you're at the threshold of cultures, like all my students are, you're like a guy i saw once at a korean apartment building. i had come to visit a korean friend, and, as usual, was a bit uncomfortable because of the general custom of taking off one's shoes in the threshold of every apartment. to me, i said, removing shoes and walking around in stinky or holey socks made me a bit uncomfortable, along with the little routine of jamming them back on when it was time to leave. but there i was in the doorway when along came these movers moving a piano, a big enormous honking piano, barely fit in the door, and the last guy, who was holding the brunt of the weight, stopped and kicked off his shoes on the way into the apartment. so, i said, your dissertation is like that piano, substantial, important, enormous, a heavy weight. but you have to follow the little cultural rules of entering the academy. the a's and the's.

recently the student newspaper went out and asked international students about life in lubbock and one of them said, the only problem is the weather, back at my home, the weather is normal, but here it's completely crazy. i could relate to that statement, but it's true pretty much wherever you are. here these big huge honking clouds have been passing over, interminably, but not raining, or raining only a few scattered drops here and there, while they look big and ugly and scary. i guess it's more or less normal, at least we're luckier than, say, new mexico or colorado where endless rain is pounding them. it's gotten cooler too, so you can actually go outside, so i was outside the student center with a cup of coffee today, enjoying the outdoors as i do once in a while, and the marching band, around the corner, started playing the star-spangled banner. now of course they're preparing for the big game tomorrow, one can't blame them, you have to practice or it'll sound like crap and you can't have that. but here students were coming and going as if it were just background noise, as it was. not another person even showed recognition of the tune. i stopped and waited for someone, there were plenty of people around. finally i left to give my little talk.

a couple of ambulances came by, and all this was on campus, and they were going somewhere because someone obviously needed them. i had the usual scare where i thought they might be going around the corner to where my wife runs her department, but that wasn't the case, they were going on this side, to some other place, and where i was going, they said, they'd like to keep the students off the campus, but they can't, probably one of them ran over another one, because nobody's paying attention anymore. they all go around driving and texting at the same time, and even when they're walking, they're walking and texting at the same time, and all this multitasking has caused even bicycling to be a treacherous dangerous activity, you're likely to die at the hands of someone whose hands most definitely aren't on the wheel.

a couple more stories, i ought to put them here, because they all relate to that general idea that culture is a fleeting thing, but one you still might have to buy into, at any given time, you can't get stuck on the fact that deep in your heart, you think having to put a or the in front of every stupid singular count noun is some kind of ridiculous joke as it's been characterized by certain learners and some teachers of the english language. so there's this one student, he's from latin america, in essence he says i wouldn't dream of getting to the point without trying to establish some kind of friendly relations with the reader, in other words, he thinks the american get-to-the-point writing style is actually kind of rude. to the point that, after a couple of years, he sends an e-mail back home to his friends and they say, hey man, you are so blunt, so rude, have you forgotten to be friendly before you get to the point? and it reminds me of an old story i heard when i first came down south, maybe twenty years ago, and they told of a northern lawyer who called up a southerner and got right to business, said i'm a lawyer, i represent so-and-so, and i need such-and-such because of whatever, and finally, after a long pause the southerner says, faaahhhn thank you how are yeeeewww?

i can relate completely, to both, to the lawyer, to the southerner, to anyone who is a bit affronted by how it's done sometimes, that they can't just do it, and follow the process out to the end, and conduct ordinary business.

there was a tiny baby in the yoga bean tonight, and that meant, all that irish music was going straight into its soul, with nothing to block it. one kid claimed that babies knew the secret of the universe but they lost it before they learned to talk, so it was hopeless trying to get it from them, but he himself knew it though could no longer express it in words. that was good enough for me; people were dancing jigs, hopping around, clogging, it was kind of a wild night; outside, clouds turned various colors behind a full moon and traffic picked up as usual for the weekend. i however am home. my animals, who have been traumatized by all the sanding, pounding and loud aspects of the painting situation, all week, are now settling in to sleep at night, in hopes that we'll do the same. tomorrow, it's another wild day, and i have to get some shuteye myself, or i'll never keep up.


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