a barbecue

It begins with a barbeque. I’m at a park with an old friend of mine and we need to clean a grill in order o barbeque. So I suggest that we take the grill to a building close by. We try a couple of locked doors before one finally opens.

Inside there are long rows of paintings. This is some sort of art gallery, although there are not visitors milling about. We ask someone who looks like a staff member where we can clean this grill, and he directs us to the other side, where we exit into a large industrial yard, with welding and activity going on. We enter another building, which is a warehouse, and are then directed by another staff member further away to a concert hall. We have to climb through a broken window to go between the buildings. Then there is a very narrow elevator with three floors. We try in vain to find the floor with a cleaning sink, and finally end back up where we first entered the building. The worker who had helped us then walks us down the hall to a large kitchen, which is filled with activity. My friend cleans the grill.

By now, however, I am feeling a growing rage, an insane anger. It’s not directed at her, but at everything around me. I can feel my heart pounding and my pulse quickening. I don’t know why I feel so upset. I feel like I’m going to explode. So I duck out of the kitchen to try to walk about a bit to calm myself down.

This hallway has painting as well. They are almost all portraits, nineteenth century portraits of well-dressed people. Now something is different about them. I had missed it before. Now I can see that every few paintings, the eyes in a painting come alive. They move, follow me. And they glow. Most paintings have dead, painted eyes. But inexplicably every third or fourth painting stares at me.

I find myself in the concert hall, which is empty except for a television. I click it on and see the middle of the movie Jaws. I watch it for quite some time, because I am relaxed and surprised when one of the original workers who directed me here bursts into the auditorium and orders me out.

Now the halls are bustling with activity, and I try to warn every one I see about the eyes in the paintings. No one listens. I am becoming very frustrated at my utter inability to spread the word of this menace. Then a very tall, elderly black man grabs me by the arm and pulls me aside.

He announces that he is a paleontologist for the Smithsonian, which is evidently where I’ve been wandering about. He directs me to a cluttered alcove and together we remove crates and boxes in order to access a locked cabinet tucked far in the back.

This cabinet is full of fossils of oviraptors—dinosaurs who ate eggs—and fossils of dinosaur eggs. As the paleontologist leaves me to explore this cabinet, he explains that as a child in Haiti his mother had laid an extensive curse on him because he had stolen some chicken eggs. It was this curse he had also put on the paintings, and this was why some of them were coming alive now, infecting visitors, and reaching out from the paintings themselves to grab and strangle people.

I find myself out on an airport tarmac. A continuous stream of jets lands close to me. People are assembled, awaiting the arrival of some VIP. I am fearful that whoever it is will visit the portraits and hence become infected with rage, as I have been, but looking into the eyes of the portraits. I have to stop the plane from landing.

Nothing I say or do has any affect. I am distraught with frustration. Then out of the plane comes a female singer, whom the crowd identifies as my wife. She is very famous. I am continuously complimented by the crowd for being married to her, but as I look at these sycophants in the eyes, then I see that they too have become infected by the paintings.

I have no idea what this dream means, but it disturbed me greatly.

tachyon tableaux

It was recently proven that light can be made to run in reverse:


This is a startling concept, especially in that in seems to violate the law against speeds faster than light. You inject a beam of light into a fiber optic cable, but the instant that it begins to move into the cable, it is greeted by the same beam travelling out in reverse from the cable. One resolution is that the lightbeam moves backwards in time, as is thought to be the case with the elusive class of particles called tachyons. Clearly something is at work here.

After I read this I had a dream. I was invited to a special Kripalu yoga group, in which about twenty other people had previously participted. It was my first time, so everything was explained to me. We stood at random intervals throughout the room and were not to move from our spot as we struck various poses. A large cardboard sheet was randomly thrown in the air, and as it sailed, we would attempt to catch it while not deviating from a pose. Each time the cardboard landed near one, you were supposed to pick it up and write something personal on it. You then flung it around the room again. This was a mixed nudity class, and the thought occurred to me as we conducted our poses and tossed the cardboard, that we were creating a performance art piece, both written and physical, in the style of Vanessa Beecroft.

However, the writing on the cardboard means something else to me now that I have thought about the dream. The prohibition against faster than speed of light travel most accurately stated says that information cannot move faster than C. Was the group poem we composed meant to represent information itself?

After the session ended, one of the participants, an elderly man, invited me to look out a window, and as he pulled back the drapes, I saw the vastness of space--utterly dark, punctuated only by specks of light. The man told me that something was wrong. Our ship had stopped moving. We should have thought ahead and placed rescue stations along the way. I told him I didn't understand.

Outside in the parking lot it was night, although it had been day when I entered. The parking lot was barren, just a few cars that looked as if they had not moved in a long time. A high chain link/barbed wire fence surrounded the parking lot. I was alone, and of course, my car wouldn't start.

And it was then that I realized that there was no wind, no sound. Birds hung in the air, midflight. Time itself had stopped.

This is how it must be, I realized, this is how it must feel the moment that a beam of light travelling backwards through time meets its own beam tunneling foward through time.

the bear in the forest

Yesterday I ran a very fulfilling field trip to Salt Point State Park. I had never run this trip before, although I had been there numerous times before. I was filled with anxiety: a big component of the trip was tide pool marine biology, and I ain't no marine biologist. I was worried that people would get lost on the long road to Salt Point, or that no one would show up. I was worried that I was misreading the tide charts and that the water would be too high to see anything interesting.

All of these fears turned out to be unjustified. As Mark Twain said, "I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

And it was very good for my head to have a few hours away from my troubles here. I actually forgot, for perhaps six or seven continuous hours, that because of my career troubles this might in fact be the very last field trip I ever lead. I hope, I dearly hope, this isn't the case, but if this was to be my last trip, then I'm glad that it went off with such a good sendoff.

In some ways, returning to Salt Pont completes a cycle for me which began so many years ago. Perhaps my earliest clear memory, when I was 5 or 6, was camping with my family at Salt Point. My memory is this: looking down from the campground into the canopy of trees and ferns and seeing a bear standing among the plants. I alerted my parents, who assured me that it was only a tree.

I was so insistent about what I saw, however, that I cajoled them into walking with me down the hill to where I had seen the bear. I saw the old tree stump they were referring to, but no bear. We hiked back up the hill to our campsight. Then I looked down again and saw the bear.

I found it hard to believe that my eyes were playing tricks on me. Yet the core of science is seeing the world despite our preconceptions and agenda; to see things as they actually are is more difficult than the non-scientist might imagine. I could go down and touch this tree stump, examine the minutae of its bark in as much detail as I pleased, but when I went back up the hill it would still look to me like a bear standing on its hindlegs. I learned something about the need for proper perspective that day.

For years I didn't know where this had happened. We camped at so many places when I was a child that my parents didn't recall this incident. Indeed, so malleable is a child's memory that I wasn't even quite sure it had even happened. I have many false memories, lying somewhere between a dream or a wish and the ooze of the juvenile brain.

When I was in junior high school my classmates took a weekend trip to Salt Point. Chance would have it that we camped in the same spot. And as I sat alone from my peers (as was my habit) meditating in the stillness of the woods, my eyes abruptly came upon the very same tree/bear that had intrigued me so many years before. The vision and recollection hit me like a lightningbolt.

It was a moment of enlightenment. Not, of course, full enlightenment but perhaps a tiny, baby step in that direction. I found it interesting to learn later of the long history of sylvian associations with enlightenment (Osiris trapped in a tree-coffin, Jesus and his tree-cross of olive, Buddha and the Bo Tree, Tolkein and his forest-consciousness).

Even as I write this, the fog shrowding my path is lifting. My mind is shifting through the morass of my thoughts, trying to tell me something. These examples come from Joseph Campbell. I recall his injunction that all people must first learn what is their passion, and then passionately pursue it, though it might well cost them everything. To do less is to sell one's soul at a discount rate.

LOST and found

Perhaps it is a sign of the state of my head right now, but I find it hard not to think constantly about the tv show LOST.

This last Weds--like, oh my God! I was jolted, I was gasping. I mean, I suspected that Michael's story was false: He was in very bad shape for just having been on his own, scouting out The Others. If the jungle was taking so much out of him that he drops unconscious at their feet, then it didn't make sense that Michael would have the wherewithal to stalk people as adept in the jungle as The Others. It didn't make sense that The Others would be as weak as Michael described and yet able to do so much evil. Considering Henry's earlier taunt about leading people into traps, Michael's story sounded like maybe he was setting his people up. In any event, things just didn't seem right.

The "line in the sand" was probably close to some structure, perhaps another hatch, that The Others occupy, and they simply released Michael when Kate and Jack came close. Remember that Claire met, and scratched, Rousseau in a similar way after Ethan kidnapped Claire.

Although I suspected there was more to Michael's story, it was still a shock when he turned the gun on Ana-Lucia. Pisser. Michele Rodriquez is a great actress; I was inspired by her in Girl Fight. I think about that movie when I'm working out.

Could it really be a coincidence that both Ana-Lucia and Libby were shot within seconds of each other when in real life they were pulled over for DUI's within minutes of each other? Most studios insist that they be able to carry insurance on the actors, so that if some important actor dies in real life and they need to reshoot an entire big segment, the insurance will cover that cost. This is why Robert Downey Jr. isn't working any more--he's had such a bad drug arrest record that no insurance company will allow him on the policy, and without all the actors covered by the policy, no studio will financially support a project. Ya kinda gotta be on good behavior. Hollywood doesn't have "morals" clauses in contracts any more--they don't need to because it's been replaced by insurance requirements. So I think that the LOST producers just killed off Ana-Lucia and Libby to guarantee that future DUI problems wouldn't affect the show.

As you can see, I spend _way_ too much mental energy on this show. :)

Years ago I had a similar affinity for the movie Titanic. I admit that I really liked it. I confess that I saw it three or four times in the theatre. I mean, everyone thinks about the Titanic when they're a kid, asking themselves what they would do as the ship slowly sank beneath them, but that movie just brought out in me a longing for genuine experience. I found myself wishing that I could be on that deck that night, though it would mean my end, because the realness of those two hours would be more genuine than all my years of waking up too early/rushing to work/struggling against deadlines/fighting through commute traffic/crashing alone in my pad and starting that process over again each day. I think it was Eliot who said that the person waiting on a train platform to go to work dies inside a little each day.

validate your ticket here

Thanks to "anon" for those comments... you're right in so many respects. :) I don't need personal validation from the admins, who with the exception of the odd hour or two of observation, have no idea what actually goes in my classroom. When I am periodically evaluated, the response is glowing with praise.

The response from most students, however, is what really count for me, and what validates my work. The comments I get are so positive that I know I'm doing something right.

Because of the quickly-deteriotating state of the school--the poorly constructed concrete literally dissolving before our eyes--it is probably a blessing in disguise to be done with it. Chances are that the Big One will happen at 5 am, when no one is around. But if the Big One does happen to occur when that school is full, there's a likelihood of terrible casualties.

When did colleges become businesses?

It seems obvious to me that the product (classes) should come first, that everything should be directed toward having the best teachers with the optimal facilities. I really don't understand the need for all this administrative overhead. If this truly were a business, then it would be a situation where half of the employees are running around trying to hinder the other half from getting any work done. Meanwhile, the customers (students, in this metaphor) are left at the cash register wondering if the employees behind the counter will stop yelling at each other long enough to ring them up. I don't blame, and could only expect, that customers in such a situation would take their money elsewhere.

Students are going elsewhere in droves. Enrollment is dropping by double-digits. Since enrollment is tied to the money schools receives, the vicious cycle has begun: Classes get cut, you can't find a class you want at the time you want it, you go to another school, enrollment drops, so money drops, so classes get cut, et cetera.

We need an earthquake. We need a huge earthquake. We need an earthquake that shakes California colleges to their foundations and sweeps the bullshit away in a tsunami. This is what California colleges need, but I'm not holding my breath.

blinded by ingratitude

Well, it's official: my jobs at the Peralta District, College of Alameda and Laney, are over. I've been there over four years and come to rely on these sections for steady work. This is a devastating blow to me.

An administrator was recently fired in the district. Admins have a "return to teaching" clause in their contract. This guy is exercising this right, even though he has never taught before, and is not a geologist. He gets my job, nonetheless.

Peralta to Steve: So long, and thanks for all the hard work!

Just so you all know: As America's science education continues its precipitous decline, as other competitor nations produce legions of skilled workers, we are mired in this kind of bureacratic bullshit, tangled in technicalities, unable even to fire someone cleanly. How did it come to this?

I just wish that somewhere, someday, I would receive a phone call or a letter that actually contained good news. I dread listening to my answering machine or opening my mailbox. Will this flurry of bad tidings ever cease? Can there really be no single thing for me that is going in the right direction?

I had meant to spend this afternoon working on a field trip for tomorrow. I have to create the trip and all its stops and information from scratch. I will probably work until around midnight; this is how I spend my Friday nights this term. I want to go out and celebrate Cindo de Mayo, but I simply have too much work to do. What am I doing all this work for? Does it get me promoted? No, I get fired. Does it yield me a pay raise? No, DVC cuts everyone's salary 7%. Can colleges sustain themselves when their every action annihilates the hopes of all who work for them?

It's a wonder to me that higher education in this country functions at all.

no rest for the wicked

Despite having 12 hour+ sleep sessions this weekend, I cannot shake this fatigue. Usually one 12 hour binge is enough to recharge me for a week of 5 hour nights, but something seems off. It feels as if I cannot wake up these last two days. Perhaps sleep apnea, if I indeed have it, is becoming more acute; several times in the last week I've woken up gasping for air, feeling as if I've just had the wind knocked out of me. I used to hate that feeling when I played soccer and took a ball to the chest so hard I couldn't breathe for a minute afterwards. There's nothing like the panic of not being able to breathe. Of course, my asthma has made me very used to the sensation of suffocation.

Feeling better: A recent email has improved my head a lot. Also got a good classroom review from a teacher I respect, and that is the sort of positive feedback I rarely get. It's so hard to know how my lectures come across, how effectively the information is actually transmitted, that it is very helpful to know what people think.

Weight: Stubbornly the same. Despite trying, per my doctor's instructions, to increase protein in the diet, I still have no feeling of satiation. I must be firmer with myself about not eating even when I'm hungry. Light-headedness: increasing. No discernable cause. I wonder if my body, like some perverse food addict, isn't making these fainting spells up psychosomatically, so that I will eat to try to stop the shaking/light-headedness. Humph.

Your tired working boy,


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