Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Leaving On a Jet Plane...And Coming Right Back Again

Toby is having his first major art opening at Harvard tonight and a panel discussion tomorrow evening. His photography is showing up among the top names of night photography. You can check out the details at: I'm so proud of him and I've been so excited for this chance to go to Boston and see his first big opening!

So Toby and I had different flights to Boston since we had to book them separately (long story, not worth telling). His flight went through Denver, and mine went through Dallas. So yesterday we got up at 4 am to catch our 6 am flights. My flight was just approaching Dallas when the captain got on and said he had bad news. Dallas was experiencing lightening, thunderstorms and tornadoes. They were evacuating personnel out of the towers, closing down the air space, and so we wouldn't be able to land there. So they re-routed our plane to Abilene, Texas...which is this little po-dunck town, where the airport basically consists of a couple of silos in a cornfield. We got off the plane to find several other full flights had been re-routed as well, so hundreds of us were stuck together in this tiny little terminal built to serve maybe a hundred passengers. They gave us no information and just kept extending their estimate of when we'd get out of there. Meanwhile, everyone was starving after long early morning flights (since they no longer serve food these days), but there was only one tiny restaurant and a vending machine. I didn't want to wait in the hour-long line to get food from the restaurant, since we had no idea how long we would be there, so I only had a cinnamon roll and a bottle of water from the vending machine.

Finally, after 5 hours of waiting around they said we could get back on our plane and get to Dallas. Meanwhile, of course we had all missed our connecting flights. So I got to Dallas and said if there was any way I could get to Boston tonight I would try to go, but I absolutely had to be back in Santa Barbara on Thursday, so if I couldn't get to Boston soon enough then I'd just have to go back to SB. Well there were no flights left to Boston, so I had to catch a plane back to SB which was leaving in just an hour. So I had to tell Toby I wouldn't make it to Boston, and was gonna miss his first big art opening. I got back on the plane, and finally made it back to SB around 8 in the evening, only to discover that my luggage didn't make it with me--interesting, considering I left on the same plane I came in on, so apparently just keeping the bag on the plane posed too much of a difficulty for them. I checked today and they still haven't located my bag. Sucks. My cell phone charger is in there and my phone is now out of battery.

I guess I can be glad I made it safely and don't have to worry about being back on time. I've been trying to find news reports on it, and it looks like American Airways canceled around 720 flights, and American Eagle (the airline I was on) canceled around 260 flights. I wonder though...Dallas Fort Worth is a large airport, so what happened to all the other airlines? Not that I really want to be carried away in a twister, but why weren't other airlines canceling their flights? The airline industry astounds me sometimes. Basically my lesson for the day: direct flights only from now on.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Awakening

For those of you who don't know, the past few months I've started doing yoga, partly to be healthier but also partly because I felt I needed greater balance in my life. I've spent so much time chasing intellectual--and to some extent, spiritual--pursuits, but I've come to a point where I felt I really need to begin integrating the intellectual, the physical and the spiritual. I've turned more to Buddhist philosophy for guidance. Through the influence of my parents, especially my mom, Buddhism has always been in the background of my life but now I am making a conscious effort and decision to make it a bigger part of me.

Through yoga, I've slowly been learning to quiet my mind, to sit still and to have greater awareness and sensitivity to my self. But for the first few months I didn't feel quite ready to meditate. I didn't know how to keep my mind from drifting to other thoughts and I didn't quite know what to get from meditation or how to get it. The last few days though, I've started to feel ready for meditation. I got some great instructions from yogi Erich Schiffman ( and set aside about a half hour this morning to give it a shot.

Meditation combines sitting so you're comfortable, aligned, and grounded, finding your breath and going inside yourself and feeling what it is to be you, then opening yourself up to the universe. You begin to feel in tune with the world around you and the yogi suggested asking a question and listening for an answer. He explained what you'd be likely to feel and that you should try to carry this feeling with you through the rest of the day. However, all I had read and heard did not prepare me for what I actually experienced.

I set out some lemon grass scented candles, turned on a CD of ancient Sanskrit chants (which helps me stay focused and inside myself--and not paying attention to the gardeners mowing the lawn outside), closed my eyes and began to meditate. It took me several minutes to actually be able to quiet my mind and go inside myself. I had trouble getting totally aligned and comfortable and keeping my mind focused without straining. But then, once I was totally there, it was amazing how everything just clicked. Suddenly I felt light and there, but not totally's hard to explain, and no, I wasn't on drugs. :) I spent a couple of minutes just enjoying the sensation and then tentatively began to reach outward mentally and ask my question. I listened for a bit, then reached out a little more strongly and all of a sudden there was a rush. Answers and more questions, and more answers came flooding at me. My brain couldn't keep up and that was okay, I just felt the answers (because thinking takes far longer than feeling does) until they came to resolution. I was so excited and so overwhelmed, I could do nothing but just feel amazed and grateful. It was such an intense experience-similar only to some experiences I had at Burning Man. I sat for a few moments more to just absorb it all before opening my eyes again.

I realize this all sounds a little like hippy-dippy, granola talk, but I gotta say...those yogis know what they're talking about. I learned a lot from this little experiment and I hope I can carry those lessons forward through this day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Home Schooling Hullabaloo

So I was listening to NPR earlier today and heard about the latest buzz over a California State judicial ruling that homeschooling is not a Constitutional right parents have and thus all forms of homeschooling are in violation of state law. If parents want to teach their children at home rather than send them to schools, they must have certified teaching credentials.

I heard this whole ordeal originally came about because some parents who homeschool physically abuse their children.

Is it just me or is this the most ridiculous policy response, ever so typical of politicians wanting to look like they're doing something when they're really not doing anything? While I'm somewhat sympathetic to the notion that it would be better if homeschooling parents had at least some teaching background or some sense they're qualified to be solely responsible for an entire education, I think that if this ruling came in response to physical abuse then it is wholly inadequate. Physical abuse happens and as long as some parents are prone to abusing their children, they're gonna do it whether or not the children are schooled at home or through public education. Moreover, just because the parents have teaching credentials doesn't prevent them from engaging in abuse.

Some homeschooling parents called into NPR to extol the benefits of homeschooling: full attention to the needs of the child, greater ability to integrate daily life into the learning experience, greater attention to balance of mental and physical health, etc. I'm a bit on the fence about it. I think homeschoolers also have to be really careful to integrate social time for their children to interact with others their age. There are important lessons that parents can't always give to their children, that only come with the experience of interacting with friends, enemies, peers and strangers. Homeschooling could be a really powerful way to help develop a child, encourage curiosity and an ability to approach life in a wiser, more holistic manner...but it would be very difficult to do this properly.

But when I think about the day I have my own children, this is where I reach a dilemma. I think the greatest tragedy of the mass education system is that it all but extinguishes children's natural curiosity. Children (and later as adults) get caught in this cycle of reading, memorizing, and regurgitating and the only real measure of learning is the grade at the end. Eventually grades become the sole motivator, not the actual learning process. (I might be over exaggerating, but probably not by much.) The measure of a good student is who got As and Bs, not who was curious, resourceful, inquisitive or pushed themselves to greater heights.

When I have my own kids, what will I do? Do I pursue my chance as an educator trying to help hundreds of students in what little way I can, or do I devote my time to saving my own children from boredom and complacency? And seriously, how is it even possible to afford homeschooling your children? Can people actually afford to live comfortably on one income in this day and age? Even if I decided to homeschool my kids for only part of their education, say through grade school, and then put them in junior high or high school, it would be so difficult to re-enter the workforce after 6 or so years of not working.

::sigh:: I guess these are the decisions we have to make.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Is it Really the End of Empire?

Ok so occasionally I will have to use this blog as a forum to vent about my students. As much as I love them and I love teaching, they do seem to continually find inventive ways to shock/disappoint/dismay me and force me to ask: what the hell is this world coming to?!
Now, there is always a mix of bright, inquisitive students, and then not-so-bright, bored students and you go into the classroom kind of expecting that. That's all just the nature of the game. But there are some trends I've been noticing, and I think might be getting increasingly worse as time goes on and these are extra-special problems that give me pause:

1. Self-entitlement: many students these days seem to hold the belief that just because they turned in an assignment they automatically deserve an A. I call it the "But-I-Studied-So-Hard-Why-Did-I-Get-a-C?" phenomenon. Well...did you go to lecture? No... Did you participate in section? No.... Well maybe that might have something to do with it. I think they're so used to getting As in high school with little to no effort that they automatically assume the same amount of effort will yield the same results in college. They seem to forget that everyone else here in college were also A-students, so the competition becomes somewhat greater. And I think this trend is cycling its way out into every day life as well. I remember when a good tip used to be 12%, and for average service, 10%. But nowadays you're miserly (aka it's your fault) if you give less than 18-20%. And now there's tip jars in all the coffee bars and smoothie's like why do I have to give you a tip for just doing your job? At least in a restaurant it makes sense because the service contributes to the quality of the experience. But in Starbucks, as long as I get what I ordered in a cup and not, say, all over me, basically the quality of the experience is not overly subject to the quality of service.

2. A Lack of Resourcefulness: It seems that many students, when they encounter a challenge, too often just throw their hands in the air and don't know how to deal with this. Maybe they've been babied their whole lives and were able to get someone to do it for them? I dunno. But it worries me because when they go out into the job force they are certainly not going to impress employers with the lack of initiative or ability to roll-with-the-punches. For example, last week in class (International Relations) I ran a simulation where the students got to role-play and pretend they were actual negotiators from the UN, US, and various other countries/organizations and try to come to a resolution in dealing with the aftermath of genocide in Cambodia. It was a fantastic experience and went really well, but before the simulation started, when I was prepping the students for it, I got some questions that really stumped me. One student asked, "Ok, so what happens if I prepare all my arguments and responses, and come in totally ready, but somebody says something that I totally hadn't thought of. What then?" ... What the heck was I supposed to say to that??! Welcome to the real world? Maybe you should have prepared better? I hope you can think on your feet? I mean, duh! There's a reason these negotiators are highly-skilled, highly-paid professionals and not just the average Joe-Shmoe on the street.

3. Lack of responsibility: So my basic point of view is that these students are all adults and are capable of making decisions themselves. It's up to them to decide whether or to show up to class and to participate. They are totally free, as long as they are willing to take responsibility for their choices. If they sit in the back of the room and sent text messages all day long, fine, but then they can't complain if they don't get credit for participation. But some students don't seem to quite grasp this notion of "responsibility". For example, my professor overheard two female students talking as they walked on campus, and one of them was explaining that last night she was trying to study for a midterm and her boyfriend was over and he kept trying to have sex with her, but she really needed to study. He argued that he really needed to spread his seed. [yes, I know...] So she was like, "Well what could I do, he really needed to spread his seed!" So she had sex with him and then they fell asleep. She woke up at 9:45 and realized she had slept through her midterm. So she went to the professor and told the professor about how her boyfriend really needed to spread his seed and how it prevented her from taking the midterm, and could she take a make-up exam or something? Turns out the professor said no, and so the girl complained to her friend: "How unfair is that?"

I've learned just to teach to the students who really do want to learn and try to forget about the students who are just killing time until they get their degree and get out. Obviously I don't make this distinction in the classroom, I only do it mentally for my own personal sanity. But sometimes the next generation really scares me. It really feels like it is the end of empire.

Actually I really feel we're at an extremely critical juncture, where we have the choice between politics-as-usual, and a whole new direction: change towards America's true potential and promise. Do we want to be just a hegemon and a selfish aggressor, or do we want to be a leader and an inspiration? We'll see if Americans are really ready for change as this crazy election unfolds...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Hello again world!

Once upon a time, when I used to be bored at work, I had a blog called "The Chinaman Is Not The Issue"--a reference to The Big Lebowski. But that little habit kind of faded into oblivion when I started grad school. However, now inspired by Nicole's new blog, I thought it was about time for TCINTI to make a reappearance. I can't quite say I'm bored at work, but at the very least this might help me in my quest for ever new ways to procrastinate actually writing a dissertation. (Pray my adviser doesn't see this...)