Paper Chase

(Claire Kirkconnell was the actress who played Rita Harriman in the HBO series version of “The Paper Chase” in the 1980’s. I wanted to be her so bad when I was 15. Maybe I should be thinking about law school after all instead of pouring my mental energy into learning more science. Does anyone out there think this is a good idea? I mean, I wouldn’t need to take any preparatory coursework to apply, and I am good at the things real lawyers really do, as opposed to the things most aspiring lawyers actually want to do. On the other hand, what about my quest for life skills that will support me in the Zombie Apocalypse?)

Establishing a payment plan with the IRS has not gotten easier since the last time I had to do it, back in 2007 or so. I suppose I should just give up on trying to do it online and just mail in the paper form that says “I would like to establish a payment plan, please.” But according to the website, the IRS seems to really want people like me to request payment through one of its automated services. If only their phone service would stop hanging up on me and their online system for establishing payment plans would quit crapping out! As a Public Service Announcement, Muppet Labs Financial has asked me to let you know: it’s always easier to pay the fine for over-withholding on your federal taxes than it is to pay back Uncle Sam for under-withholding.

The automated systems at NoVA, on the other hand, are perfectly happy to siphon my cash away. So I did sign up for the second semester of Biology. It appears that the final exam date may be during a business trip I already have scheduled, but said business trip involves a visit to Casa Bonita as well as the continued payment of my salary. So I’m sure the professor (the same one I have this semester) will understand. It looks like I will be getting a B for this semester if I do not significantly mess up on the final.

In other paper-related news, Podrostok is trying to enlist in the Army after high school. This is quite a surprise. I am nervous for him but I am also thrilled at the prospect of him having a plan that could significantly broaden his career prospects and earn him some decent money and benefits at the same time. The recruiter came by this weekend to get our signatures on the papers authorizing Uncle Sam to take him away overnight next week and conduct his pre-induction physical. He was somewhat taken back that I did not also sign the portions for the form transferring custody of my minor child to the U.S. Army for the purpose of his immediate enlistment, but he recovered. (Every Army veteran I’ve talked to has been totally enthusiastic about Tim signing up but has also said “SIGN NOTHING UNLESS YOU HAVE READ IT VERY, VERY CAREFULLY. BEWARE OF FINE PRINT.” Even people who don’t normally talk in upper case.)

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Next Question

Time is coming to decide whether to sign up for next semester of biology. I am trying to be financially responsible because we have some increased expenses to deal with (taxes, Babushka move to apartment in Alexandria, Podrostok graduation) and the class is like $700. So I think maybe I should wait til fall or even spring. But taking classes makes me happy and it is a wholesome endeavor which supports my mental health. What should I do, internet?

Moments in the Culture

This post by (apparently) a professor at a British university highlights some of the aspects of Utopia of Rules that I found most striking. It also draws attention to a university protest in Europe that I didn’t know about. The More You Know and all … In keeping with the Graeber FanGirl motif, I recommend his recent Baffler piece about neckties and the strange gender/power language of business clothing.

My cultural quandary of the week: The novel Gone With The Wind and the film adaptation thereof were two formative cultural influences on my life. I recognize that both were appallingly racist and that no reference I make to GWTW will ever scan as culturally appropriate to a person of color. The issue is that one of my friends with whom I share a guilty love of GWTW is coming to work in my office next week. He occasionally addresses me as “Katie Scarlett” in a fake Irish brogue and I say “Pa!” If one is not an obsessive GWTW expert, this is a fairly obscure reference. Is this going to create a hostile work environment? Related question: is there a term of art for things one loves even though one recognizes that they are philosophically appalling? (Other than “grandparents,” of course.)

Binge-reading everything I can get my hands on by Erich Maria Remarque (except All Quiet On The Western Front for some reason). So far I have read two of three novels I found at the Alexandria City Public Library – Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph are the ones I’ve finished, and I still have A Time To Love and A Time To Die to go – and have had my heart broken by two. It’s just a festival of emotional catharsis over here. Does Philip Kerr channel Remarque’s heroes consciously in his Bernie Gunther novels?

Skipped biology lecture on Thursday night to attend an Art Jamz event at the Sackler Gallery with Turtleduck, marking the first time since grade school that I have attempted to actually paint a picture. Picture was awful and is living in the back of my car, but the process was fun. In related news, now procrastinating from my biology homework to write a blog post.

New Achievements

Today I will attempt to unlock the Parking On College Campus During A Weekday achievement. I missed a test during my travels, so I am taking this afternoon off to take the make-up test. Since I never missed tests or owned a car in college, these are both novel experiences. Then I will come home, make dinner for the Dino Brood, and return to the lab for tonight’s thrilling installment of Biology 101.

It dawned on me last week that I would care a great deal less about finding a meaningful professional purpose in life if I were happier as a person. That being said, I’m still geeking out on cells or whatever it is I’m learning about this week. I guess the main thing I have to try and remember is that it’s not a zero-sum game. Maybe I could be happier and change careers.

Or I could be late for my test. Oops. Bye.

Chartsengraphs

(Before I commence ranting about the horrors of modern academe, a word about this article about how smart language choices contributed to overcoming anti-cyclist “bikelash” in Seattle: is there a way to successfully apply this – if it’s true – to discussions of discrimination? I’m thinking of “When Talking About Bias Backfires” and the argument that talking about bias may encourage more bias.)

(Also, this is a PSA for parents of adult-looking teenagers: check if the kid has his/her ID card before leaving home for two-hour drive to visit kid’s friend in hospital instead of halfway down I-95 to Richmond. It was a long day of driving today. Thank God I called the hospital to check once I realized that Podrostok hadn’t brought his learner’s permit or school ID with him. They totally would have turned his 17 year-old hiney out of there without some identification!)

The wee hours find me once again doing my biology homework. My main complaint tonight is that I have to use a spreadsheet graphing function to complete a lab report. I know, boo hoo, but I hate making charts and graphs and graven images of all kinds using 21st century technology. I don’t hate making data tables, but the only way I can think through the process of turning data points into pictures is by literally plotting dots on a piece of graph paper. The art of graphic design – hell, the art of superimposing a headshot of myself onto a cartoon dinosaur body – passed me by in roughly 1987. I got through most of the first chart tonight by trial and error, so now I understand enough (hopefully) to get through the rest of my rebooted undergraduate career. Still, ugh. Boo. Hiss.

The Bridge To Knowledge

Scantron bills itself as “the bridge to knowledge” on the packaging for my six virgin copies of form 882-E, procured from the NoVA student bookstore for $1.99 Tuesday morning. That’s about $.33 per sheet compared to the $.12/sheet price for buying direct from Scantron. The only plus of the weather delay for the Alexandria city schools yesterday was the opportunity to visit the bookstore on my way to the office.* Did I mention that the bookstore is closed evenings and weekends? On the other hand, I would never have had the chance to find an inflatable unicorn head** if I hadn’t had to browse. Student bookstores are so much fun.

Speaking of Scantron, I just finished the open-book quiz that was our first homework assignment. Going to the first lab session for the biology class and successfully handling termites (with a paint brush) got me geeked out and ready to Science. Somehow I didn’t expect it to take me three hours to finish the  60 questions, though. If I factor out the messing-around-online factor it was probably more like two hours, but still.  I’m starting to regret my zeal, it being after 2 AM, but it’s so awesome to be learning something that doesn’t feel like the set-up for a “how many bureaucrats does it take to change a lightbulb?” joke.

* Technically, my shopping trip was on the way back from dropping off TeenBot and Mouse at their schools to pick up Podrostok, who was trying to finish an overdue assignment, then drop him off on my way to work. Only TeenBot texted just as I pulled into the parking garage at work to say he wanted to go home sick. So back I went. The morning commute wound up taking about 2.5 hours by the time I finally hauled myself into the actual office.

** To say nothing of the inflatable moose head. I could not restrain myself and bought both.

Nails On A Chalkboard

My poor oldest son: the first victim of every parenting theory I carried into motherhood, the primary beneficiary of my blindness to my own quirks and how just how weird my own youth actually was! He told me middle school was bad; I didn’t believe him until his brother went to middle school. He needed my active involvement in his schooling; I didn’t see it because I was so certain that I was teaching him self-reliance by not checking his homework. He needed social help as a kid; I didn’t understand until his siblings started developing friendships.

He’s a senior in high school now. He has always hated Blackboard. I assumed he just hated school. Then I resumed my studies after a 24-year hiatus.

Oh my Lord. Blackboard! The all-in-one IT “solution” for classroom communications and institutional information sharing. It’s the worst whatever-it-is that I have seen! It makes me nostalgic for custom-developed federal government software. I can’t believe this thing has established such a stranglehold on public schools and colleges in the U.S. It’s hard to tell what I hate most. Is it the way that it insists you create a new, institution-specific e-mail account to interface with it? The database set-up that logs you out after 10 minutes? The multiple levels you have to click through to find an assignment? I will grant you that I like the whole concept of being able to apply for admission, register for classes, and pay my tuition without having to spend five hours in a line with thousands of other people. I like the idea that I can submit assignments remotely and communicate with my instructor and fellow students without them actually having my real personal contact information. But I can’t imagine how the kids in school now – who have spent their whole lives surrounded by user-friendly information technology – don’t simply riot. The only possible reason I can think of is that they don’t really use e-mail or blogs these days, so they don’t realize that long-form electronic communication doesn’t have to suck.

The other thing about the modern academy that I hate, at least so far, is the fact that the “homework” for my classroom-based class is a quiz posted to Blackboard that I have to complete and submit to my instructor in hard-copy on a Scantron form. Specifically, a Scantron form that I have to purchase. It was one thing to have to take exams in Blue Books back in the day, but I was on campus all the time, and I only had to use them once or twice per semester. But having to pay for a special, magic piece of paper in order to submit homework seems unfair – especially since the student book store closes at 7 PM and isn’t open on weekends. Oh, and they don’t sell the Scantron sheets online, either. I can buy them in packages of 500 online from the Scantron store for $60, or I can try my luck with the allegedly “Scantron-compatible” sheets sold on Amazon. You’d think, since this is the future and all, that there might a .pdf of the damned things out there for me to download, but no.

My instructor seems well-intentioned and knowledgeable. His English is sophisticated and he obviously knows the language well. My only beef is that he talks faster than he can fully articulate the words he’s trying to pronounce. It’s not that he has a bad accent, he just needs to slow down. Because “chemical attraction” and “Kim Kardashian” are sounding a lot more alike than I think he means them too. This isn’t as bad as the engineer I met at a meeting who used to mean “floorplan” and say “foreplay,” though.