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Less than Greek

February 11, 2010

I am happy to report that thanks to doubling up on natural disasters on Tuesday night (blinding snowstorms, earthquakes), we got through last night disaster free, unless you count AJ’s waking me up at 5 a.m. And given the lack of sleep the night before, I don’t think it would be entirely unreasonable to consider that a disaster. Fortunately, though, I went back to sleep and woke up to the sun shining in my eyes at 6:45. I can’t even remember the last time THAT happened.

Three weeks from today, I’m giving another paper. This one was invited by my graduate university, so apparently this is the season of speaking at places of prior misdeeds. The thing that’s tricky about this one is that they want me to talk for an hour. When I agreed to do this, I thought the whole colloquium was an hour, which is pretty standard — speaker talks for 30-40 minutes and then the rest is questions. This is slightly longer than the typical conference paper in my field (usually 20 minutes; occasionally 30) and can usually be accomplished by adding an extra example or two to a format I’ve done so many times that I can now pretty much write them to length in the very first draft. Frankly, as an audience member, you’re lucky if I can concentrate on one thing for 20 minutes, so this length is, I think, perfect for most things. But it turns out that I’m supposed to talk for an entire hour and then take questions for another 30 minutes. I’m fine with the questions. I like conversations. But who wants to listen to me gab for an hour? Almost no one is that interesting. I mean, my students have to listen to me for that long, but it’s usually broken up by me asking them to kick in their 2 cents. Their endurance is fueled by terror, contempt, and the fact that their parents are paying a great deal so that they might have the privilege of sitting there. These people will be coming of their own free will. Maybe no one will show up.

I spent yesterday sifting through complete or mostly complete chunks of my work to see what might work. The article I wrote recently is exactly the right length, although it’s not very talky. So although I’m really kind of sick of talking about that topic, I’ve got that as a back up. Today’s project is to come up with some more interesting options, preferably some that would let me show some video and give my voice and their ears a rest. If worse comes to worst, I can always tell some viola jokes.

AJ and I are supposed to be busy preparing for Valentine’s Day, but he lacks the desire and I lack the inspiration. Valentine’s Day is difficult for boys. AJ is generally excited about holidays and he’s definitely excited about his class party tomorrow. But Valentine’s Day really doesn’t interest him at all. He wants to participate, but he doesn’t want to look like he cares. They are supposed to decorate boxes to use for posting valentines in class, but he didn’t want to decorate it. “Can’t I just take an empty kleenex box?” But since the instructions said decorate, I made him decorate. I did, however, let him do a half-assed job. He picked out stickers at the store and stuck a few on his box. End of project. He wouldn’t make valentines this year, so we bought some instead — Star Wars because those were the only ones that weren’t pink or clearly designed for preschoolers. AJ has never actually seen Star Wars, at least not all the way through, and these are clearly from some later incarnation than the ones I remember.

The one thing that has AJ excited is that his teacher said they didn’t have to sign their names on their valentines, but there has to be some kind of hint as to who sent it. AJ thought about how to give a clue and then decided to create an elaborate math problem that, when solved, reveals his in-class number (they have numbers assigned in alphabetical order that are used for the cubbies, gym bags, etc.) and therefore his identity.

AJ is generally more into the home celebrations. It’s not that we’re so dedicated to Valentine’s Day around here, but that by the middle of February, everyone has passed the thoroughly sick of winter stage and moved into the phase that borders on winter-induced psychosis. We need something to cheer us up. This is the first year since AJ started school that we haven’t had a snow day the week before Valentine’s Day. In the past, we’ve always made ridiculous pink and white cupcakes on his day off. But this year, despite a foot of snow and an earthquake, school was not cancelled. And so there are no cupcakes — tragedy!

There is one rule for Valentine’s Day around here: homemade. We make our cards, we make the food. Gifts are supposed to be homemade too, although sometimes they are embellishments of something inexpensively bought. Last year, after a particularly grueling month of snow, AJ helped me put together a Hawaiian party. I made Mr. Spy a CD of summery music, strung Chinese lanterns around the kitchen and covered the walls with vintage posters of Hawaii printed from the internet. This year I’m feeling less inspired. I could do the same thing for Paris, which might be fun. I could make crepes for dinner. But I’m feeling like I should do something different. Hmm. I’ll have to give it some more thought.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. crankygirl permalink
    February 11, 2010 2:09 pm

    This is a stupid question (sorry), but would it be possible for you to present on 2 different topics. Meaning, give the one you already gave (and add a few minutes to it) and then another 30 minute one.

    To me, that always sounds easier and more fun than one topic for an hour. Good thing I’m not in academia.

  2. February 11, 2010 2:13 pm

    It should probably be more cohesive than that, but what I’m thinking about is talking more generally about the topic and then going into detail on one thing. The other possibility, of course, is that I could tackle a more big picture type of topic, which I don’t usually get to do, since it generally takes too long.

  3. freshhell permalink
    February 11, 2010 2:17 pm

    I suggest you bring a couple of card games and, after talking awhile, break them up into groups and let them play. If it works for kids…..

    🙂

    Or, you can simply not fill all the time and let them go early. I’ve always appreciated that at conferences. Extra bathroom and snack time.

  4. February 11, 2010 4:08 pm

    My kids did the usual cutting and gluing, but this year they glued store bought Narnia valentines onto cut out paper hearts. A compromise. They’re happy with the art project still, but it disappoints me to see the results today- one kid made valentines out of two classes. About ten never even signed their name. Over half included candy, maybe a third had tatoos (we did too). Teachers request that the kids only put their own name and no recipient (for ease of distribution) but it makes it all so generic.
    We now have a four day weekend with nothing planned. Maybe we’ll get some snow tomorrow- that’d spice things up!

    On the conference topic– what about two topics with question and answer after each?

  5. February 11, 2010 5:52 pm

    Rarely do people complain if you let them go a bit earlier than scheduled. Even if they’re paying for it!

    I am so glad my kids have outgrown school-distributed valentines. We still celebrate at home (we’re going to have heart-shaped pancakes), but it’s a relief to all of us that they no longer HAVE to make anything this time of year and then we all hold our collective breaths waiting to see who will be disappointed when they come down with the inevitable Valentine’s week virus… (shakes head) I’m just glad that’s OVER.

  6. February 11, 2010 5:54 pm

    and now I’m humming Linda Ronstadt” “Is my figure…less than greek?” Do I detect a little concern about appearance, in addition to the concern about what to say?

  7. February 11, 2010 6:25 pm

    Unfortunately, I am limited by the format of this particular colloquium. Or maybe that’s fortunate, because it’s going to force me to talk for an hour about one something. It’s about half grad students reading parts of their dissertations (that’s me!) and half seasoned professors reading from their book manuscripts. It’s more of a workshop, really. My nervousness about procedures is not helped by the fact that I haven’t atended one of these things in many years. I would have loved to go to the one today, which was one of the second type by someone who’s recently written a book I think is fabulous. But Thursdays are tricky in the Spy household, and I can’t get a babysitter for after school. So the one I present is likely to be the next one I attend. And although I hinted around about talking for 45 minutes, they were quite insistent on one hour. So I’m going to have to lump it. Unless, freshhell, I can work up some magic card tricks with which to distract them. Jill, AJ’s school views valentines as a handwriting exercise. They have to write each student’s name in their class. This is the first year they have not been required to sign their own name as well. We had our four day weekend last week — and I missed it. We get a measly three days and it’s chock full of sporting events and science fair project finishing. Jeanne, I have the Sinatra version in my head, but you’ve got the right idea. Along with my discomfort with the format is my uncertainty about what to wear. It’s not really a suit event but neither do I wish to look like a slob. What to do?

  8. eleanorio permalink
    February 11, 2010 8:30 pm

    Viola jokes! Ha ha ha ha ha!

  9. teranika permalink
    February 12, 2010 6:56 am

    I am in a state of total empathy regarding your conference. (I think that’s why I’m awake right now at 4am). I wonder if viola jokes would work at an earth science conference…..

    I loved your description of Valentine’s day. I remember decorating shoeboxes in red paper and then getting all of those store-bought valentines from my classmates and naively thinking that the other students actually MEANT what was written on those little cards.

    My vote is for a low-key but very happy and disaster-free Valentines day in the Spy household…

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