Friday, January 25, 2008

It's More Than a Living

Tenured Radical tagged me to write about the reasons that I love teaching history (or something to that effect). Articulating our reasons for teaching, she reasons, will be a modest attempt to break apart the notion that universities provide a mere commodity for eager cogs in the capitalist machine (or something to that effect). I figured it would also be a good balance to my previous post. GayProf doesn't spend all of his time complaining about students.

Here are the reasons that I enjoy teaching history:

1. I can facilitate students discovering that they actually do enjoy learning about the past. Until college, most students’ education worked to crush their interest in learning about the past. Social Studies (which many people confuse with “history”) most often required them to memorize names and dates until they were ready to puke. How could anybody come to like history as an academic discipline if their only exposure required them to mindlessly spill out things like the exact date of the Treaty of Paris? Does knowing that it was signed on September 3, 1783 really do much for our understanding of the nation? What does that date even mean without any sense of context about what else was happening in the rest of the world in 1783? Most students, after dutiful memorizing such things, promptly forget them twenty-four hours after their high school exam. All-night cramming leaves a bad taste in their mouth. No wonder they are often filled with dread when they see that their university will require that they take six hours of history credit.

Yet, I have found that most people are quite curious about the past outside of academic environments. That curiosity might run the gambit. Some people might wonder how certain individuals became president or why we don’t remember other presidents (*cough* William Henry Harrison *cough*). Others might wonder how our modern assumptions about race, gender, and sexuality appeared. Still others might be more interested in questions about day-to-day life in the past. Some might ask, how and where did people take a shit in New York in 1833? I am thinking of you, Torn.

All of these questions have answers if we know where to look. If I can free students from the date/name phobia, they actually start to realize that learning about the past is – gasp – interesting.

2. Teaching history encourages students to develop skills in critical thinking. This is related to number one, but so important it deserves separate mention.

Memorizing all those names and dates? It does nothing for students to acquire actual abilities to think on their own. Now that we have entered into the “No Child Left Behind” era, things look even more grim. Apparently the marker of being educated is no longer being able to reason or form arguments. Nope, the marker of an education is the ability to play Trivia Pursuit: Scantron Edition.

Teaching history at the university level offers students the opportunity to think about the ways that others have created stories about the past. They learn that there is never one true history. Instead, there are always multiple and competing narratives about the past. This requires all of us to think critically about sources, perspectives, and context as we piece together the meaning of the past.

3. It beats shoveling coal. Teaching history also doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting.

4. Teaching history can help students feel less lonely. The contemporary U.S. can be a grim place: unwinnable wars, a looming economic depression (don’t kid yourself – It’s nearly upon us. Cutting taxes again will only exacerbate the problem and continue to push the nation into debt), racism, sexism, and homophobia.

By studying the past, we learn that other people have dealt with similar (or worse) problems and survived. Individuals who identify as racial or sexual minorities, in particular, can find people in the past who weren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Knowing such people existed can make one feel not so isolated. Because school boards mostly refuse to consider that history isn’t only about dead, white, straight men, the university classroom is often the first place that people even learn about the existence of different perspectives about the past.

5. I get to provide students with numerous anecdotes for their future cocktail parties. As I mentioned in number one, people are usually interested in the past (even if they are scarred off from the actual discipline). Interesting vignettes from history make excellent small talk for parties. Taking my class with undoubtedly improve students’ future social standing.

Did you know, for instance, that the nineteenth-century inventor of the Graham Cracker, Sylvester Graham, was obsessed with ending masturbation in young boys? Graham believed that one’s carnal desires were directly related to the food one consumed. Indeed, his cracker was imagined as part of a homeopathic system to “cure” all sorts of sexual vice. Think of that next time you make s’mores.

6. I learn a lot from students. Because history depends so much on discussion and trying out new interpretations, the classroom is not just a one-way venue where knowledge is imparted from behind the podium. I also take away new ideas.

Do I learn something from every student enrolled? Well, no. Still, there have been several students who arrived in my classroom with a different set of life experiences and/or a different intellectual trajectory that challenged and enhanced my own presumptions about the past.

7. Teaching history provides a means to buy sweet, sweet liquor. Hey, I might have noble sentiments about teaching, but it is also a paycheck. That paycheck permits me to eat, have shelter, and keep my bar quasi-stocked. Besides, with students like those mentioned in the previous entry, teaching history sometimes becomes a reason to buy sweet, sweet liquor.

8. Teaching is easier than trying to have a career in stand-up comedy. Both stand-up comedy and teaching require a lone individual to talk for an hour in front of an audience. Students, however, are usually so grateful that I make any attempt at humor in lecture that they will laugh at my corny jokes. In a night club, I would be booed off stage and possibly burned with cigarettes. Moreover, my students don't show up drunk -- most of the time.

9. By teaching history, I can provide an antidote to contemporary misuses of of the past. We would be in a sorry world if our only interpretation of the nation’s past came from politicians, CNN, Fox, or the National Treasure movies.

Teaching history gives students access to histories that were written based on, you know, evidence. Because it also provides students with critical thinking skills (see number 2), students are better prepared to identify when people are interpreting the past for their own political ends (whether it be the left or the right). Knowing that an argument is ahistorical is as important as knowing a reasonable historical argument.

Besides, any job where I can trash Nicolas Cage is well worth my time.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I Get Questions

Teaching is generally a part of the academic job that I enjoy. More times than not I enjoy engaging with my students. Most of them are serious – or at least serious enough that they are willing to do some work. So, don’t take the rest of this post as a universal complaint about my students. Most of them are fantastic.

Still, I think that we are all dumbfounded by the astounding sense of entitlement that some students bring with them to the classroom. Given how twisted and out of shape parenting has become in this nation, it’s hardly those students’ fault. All of their lives they have been told that they are remarkably special and deserve only the best. The sad truth is, though, that you actually have to do something – anything – before that becomes true.

One of my colleagues also speculates that their parents have created a scenario where students imagine that as long as they are honest about their less honorable elements, then everything will be fine. It probably goes back to some childhood incident where they stole some cookies and then confessed. Their confession was greeted with such enthusiasm and a “thank you for being honest” moment that their theft was dismissed entirely. This, it seems to me, sets up an unreasonable expectation about how their life is going to go – particularly if you enter GayProf’s classroom. Steal my cookies and expect to go to jail. Issuing a confession just makes it easier for me to speed you through the trial.

Alas, some students imagine that their personal schedules and desires supersede their own responsibilities in the classroom. “My family is planning a trip to Paris this Spring,” one student recently informed me, “Is it going to be a problem if I miss two weeks of class in April?” This came on the heels of another student who asked, “This class conflicts with another one on my schedule. Would it be a problem if I show up to lecture half an hour late every day?”

One wonders how these students will make the rocky adjustment to the working world. How would IBM respond to an employee who approached their supervisor, “Gee, I have another job. Would it be okay if I didn’t show up to this one until noon? Also, since I will be arriving late, could you have somebody pick me up something for lunch?” Does Procter and Gamble have a flexible vacation program that allows its employees to blow off work for a vacation when ever the whim hits them?

Then again, those questions were better than, “How hard is your class? This is my last semester and I am not really interested in doing anything too serious.” Yes, a student really sent this to me in an e-mail. Granted, it is an honest statement. My only response could be that the class was a significant amount of work. I wonder, though, if s/he really expected that I would respond, “My class? No, it’s a total joke. We never doing anything important. Most of our class time is spent hanging out in the bar.”

After leaving Texas, I thought that I would also be free from students who stated, “Reading about gays and lesbians offends my religious/political sensibilities. Can I substitute another book instead?” Not so. The bizarre Right-wing exists everywhere. They also bring with them the notion that reading a perspective different than their own is “indoctrination.” To me, this always suggested that they knew their own positions were intellectually weak for they fear that they will not withstand scrutiny.

My response to this has become well rehearsed: The reading selected for this class explores a diversity of experiences and perspectives. It is not necessary for any student to agree with all the reading, but an important part of a college education is learning how to respectful grapple with view points different than one’s own. Questions and concerns about sexuality are currently at the heart of many people’s sense of the nation. If we can’t discuss these issues at universities, places designed for intellectual engagement, where can we?

What I really want to say is that this ain’t a buffet and I don’t assign reading a la carte. My goals are not to force students to agree with me. Grow up. If I avoided anything/anybody who had a different political perspective than myself, I would never read a newspaper, watch mainstream television, or see 99 percent of the movies out there.

Sometimes the questions aren’t all about trying to get out of work or being challenged. This semester I also had a student ask me, “What country are you from?” Unlike the other questions, I don’t think this is bad per se. Every few semesters, though, I am periodically asked this by a student. It’s a question that mostly confuses me. Why would they imagine that I wasn’t from the U.S.? Is this something other profs are asked often? It is even more mysterious given that on the first day I outline my life history and point out my birth and being raised in New Mexico.

Then there was the student who asked, “GayProf, you are clearly the smartest, most interesting, and best looking of the faculty at Big Midwestern U. Do your colleagues ever get jealous?”

Okay, nobody asked me that last one. They are probably thinking it, though.

Monday, January 14, 2008

GayProf's Limited Vote

Up until this point, I have largely avoided writing about the various presidential candidates. Acknowledging them only encourages them. Alas, tomorrow my state has its primary.

Your ol’friend GayProf feels quite frustrated by his options in the primary. You see, officials in my state moved up the date of their primary because they desired to be relevant. Silly Midwest – The rusting factories and crushing unemployment should have long ago indicated that the empire has abandoned you.

The Democratic Party responded by “punishing” my state for moving up its primary. My state's delegates will not be permitted to participate at the Democratic convention. Moreover, many of the top Democratic candidates refused to put themselves on my state's ballot.

So, I am left with the option of casting a vote, which has already been explicitly stated won’t count, for a candidate for whom I don’t want to vote. Way to empower the people, Democrats! You suck.

The Democratic Party has decided that I, as a voter, need not weigh in on the decision between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton . Nope – Obama isn’t even on the ballot (which won't be counted anyway). I can vote for Clinton, however (but it won't count).

Maybe I am just bitter because my choice for the Democratic Party was already out of the race (not that I could have voted for him anyway because, guess what?, not on the ballot in my state). Who was that? Bill Richardson. A Latino from New Mexico who, despite one or two major gaffs, has a basically good track record on gay issues? Yeah, it was a real mystery who I would have supported.

Think I might solve my voting problem by writing in my selected candidate? Nope. The rules for write-in candidates for the primary in my state are extremely narrow, meaning my vote would simply be discarded instantly (rather than later by the Democratic Party).

My state has offered that I could vote in the Republican Primary instead. Gee, thanks. I would rather eat a bowl of hot glass than vote for any of the candidates in the Republican Party – under any circumstances.

Those who think McCain is an “independent thinker” or a person of principles, let me just remind you of this:

Let's see what eight years of Republican mismanagement and greed have given us: the nation’s economy is in shambles, we are mired in an unwinnable war, the military is over extended, and our global reputation shot. As far as I am concerned, there shouldn’t even be a Republican Party. Running for President? The Republican Party doesn't deserve to field a candidate as city dog catcher.

Personally, I think that anybody who voted Republican in 2004 owes me cash money. Not only did they legitimate a coup, but they have really lowered each person's standard of living. Their greed or hatred (whichever pitiful motive they had for voting Republican) has cost this nation, and us as individuals, a great deal. Now it's time for them to pay up.

Before the Republicans took over, my U.S. dollar used to be worth €1.27. Today, one U.S. dollar is worth €0.67. By my calculations, therefore, the dumbasses who voted Republican owe me around $38,400. I would prefer, though, if they paid that to me in Euros. I am not sure those dollars are going to be around much longer.

If they aren’t willing to give me cash, they could always pay me in gasoline. In 2000, it was considered unusually high to pay $1.43/gallon. Now I am lucky if I find someplace to fill up for under $3.00. Bush’s oil cronies, on a completely unrelated matter, have been reporting record profits every year that he has been in office.

When I drive up to the local Shell station, there should be a Republican voter there in overalls waiting to fill my tank. And, just because of that whole Larry Craig nonsense, they should wash my windshield too.

We should start requiring anybody who wants to vote Republican to bring their Mastercharge card with them to the polls. You want to trash the nation because of your xenophobia? Okay – but it’s gonna cost you. You think that you have the right to prevent two men from getting married? Alright, but we are going to need a cashier’s check from your local bank. Voting for Huckabee? I hope you have a gold card.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Hate Spunk

Long time readers of CoG know that I have an unhealthy obsession a strong interest in 1970s television. Actually, even short-time readers of CoG probably know that as well. Hey, I never claimed that this blog would be topical.

So when went on-line, you can well imagine that I was the first to sign up. While the site could use more work and content, it is a means to pass time when I should have really been working on the Never Ending Research Project of Doom.

Many revelations have emerged from hulu. Who knew there was a sequel series to Knight Rider called Team Knight Rider? Who knew that a show could be worse than Knight Rider?

Skipping over the utterly unwatchable, I went to Lou Grant. It’s a show that I have vaguely warm feelings about, but not enough that I would actually bother acquiring the DVD’s.

While it has mostly been forgotten today, Lou Grant had substantial ratings in the pre-cable days of the late seventies. The show’s titular character made a highly unusual transition from its origins on a 30 minute sit-com (Mary Tyler Moore) to a one-hour drama.

At the end of Mary Tyler Moore, the fictional Minneapolis television station fired all the main characters. Grant, in his spinoff, decided to move to Southern California where he found a new job as the city editor of the Los Angeles Tribune.

Part of the show’s popularity developed from its reputation to tackle serious social issues. Yes, Lou Grant wasn’t afraid to take bold and radical positions like “Spouse abuse is bad” or “falsifying school records is wrong.” Those were heady times.

Watching the old reruns reminds me (again) of how poorly the mainstream media grappled with the major social movements of the 1970s. Lou Grant’s setting in Los Angeles opened the opportunity for the show to engage the Chicano and Chicana activists who were challenging the nation’s status quo.

All through the U.S. Southwest, some mighty determined Chicano/a young people demanded more equitable access to education, an end to police harassment, protection of their civil rights, and greater investment in urban neighborhoods. In 1968, Chicano/a students walkout of their public schools in Los Angeles, Denver, and South Texas in protest of racist policies. Revolutionary movements appeared in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and California.

Among their other concerns, Chicano/a activists demanded that the mainstream media provide better representations of people of Mexican descent. Most images that circulated of Mexicans/Mexican Americans presented them as either ignorant buffoons for laughs or as dangerous villains. Frito Lay even engineered a means to merge the two stereotypes in order to sell their fat-laden snacks. Between 1967 and 1971, the “Frito Bandito” appeared on television speaking broken English while robbing innocent Anglos of their salty snacks.

While Chicano and Chicana activists were able to win some important victories in terms of education, voting, and the law, the media proved remarkably recalcitrant. Lou Grant’s location in Los Angeles did not mean that the show’s regular cast would include an actual Mexican American (that would just be crazy talk). Sure, the city has the largest urban Mexican population in the world after Mexico City.

Producers of Lou Grant might have even looked around at actual Southern California newspapers that had prominent Mexican-American writers. This included the Los Angeles Times columnist Rubén Salazar who wrote a number of articles documenting the LAPD’s abuse of Chicano/as during the late sixties. Salazar died when police launched a tear-gas canister into his head during an anti-war protest in 1970.

Instead of thinking about that type of story, Lou Grant served up a fairly ambivalent image of Mexican Americans in the city. Lou Grant mediated the demands of Chicano/a activists by either renaming their complaints as problems entirely internal to the Mexican-American community or the fault of just a few bad Euro Americans.

An early episode entitled “Barrio” delivered a classic “message” Lou Grant. The plot centered on the newly-arrived Grant learning about East L.A. after a story comes across the wire that a Mexican-American mother was shot by a gang. On one level, the episode did acknowledge that minority neighborhoods were often cut off from city services and disproportionately poor. Yet, it also upheld the notion that the “barrio” was riddled with violence because it was populated by irrational residents who refused to conform to middle-class standards.

Grant assigned his (apparently only) woman reporter, Billie Newman, to the shooting story. Newman discovers that the pre-teen son of the shooting victim plans revenge on the gang that shot his mother. This permitted the show to offer up a gratuitous scene of a drive-by shooting, which we are informed is basically a daily event for residents in the barrio. Indeed, it is such a non-event for the Chicano family that the three-year old girl spends her time comforting Billie (!).

To get the audience further invested, Newman takes Grant on a fantastical tour of the mysterious and inscrutable section of the city known as East L.A. While there, Grant learns two important lessons: first, tacos are good!; second, that Chicano L.A. is populated only by gang members, want-to-be-gang members, or people who were once gang members. Unless, of course, you count the victims of the gangs (who are, of course, the immediate relatives of gang members).

Grant never meets any Mexican American who wasn’t, at some point in their life, a gang member. Even the hero of the story, George/Jorge Santos, was a former gang member who now serves as a youth counselor in the barrio.

While the show pointed to some problems that existed in real life, it placed the onus of those problems on the Mexican American community. East L.A. wasn’t in trouble because of a lack of economic development, minimal city services, or the disenfranchisement of the population. Instead, the Mexican-American community was simply dysfunctional. The youthful character of Henry explained to Grant, “The gang is like your family, No, it’s more than your family. It’s everything. It’s always been like that. My father was in a gang and his father was in it too.”

In many ways, this episode of Lou Grant anticipated the gangxploitation films like Boulevard Nights or Colors that would be so popular in the 1980s. It gave mainstream viewers a notion of Chicanos as predisposed to being gang members because they were both hyperviolent and also senseless followers.

Obviously gangs do exist in inner-cities. Young people’s motives for joining gangs, however, are more complicated than the bizarre “family tradition” or sense of inevitability posited by Lou Grant. Gangs provide actual economic and social benefits to their members which are mostly closed off to them by the larger society. Jobs and income (from illicit sources) are one of the main reasons that gangs are appealing, especially in areas where unemployment or underemployment are high. Likewise, gangs offer entertainment and protection for those who participate.

Of course, gang membership also represents a remarkably small percentage of the Chicano community. Lou Grant’s decisions to make gangs appear all pervasive in the barrio only replicated stereotypes of Mexicans and Mexican Americans as “lawless” and in need of civilizing by benevolent white authorities (where gang violence apparently never happens).

Another episode entitled “Judge” presents a similarly compromised response to the period’s Chicano activism. The episode starts with an irate Chicana, Luisa Sánchez, visiting the Tribune to demand that Grant investigate the shoddy trial of her Chicano boyfriend, Esteban. This episode, like “Barrio,” acknowledges a certain level of unfairness in U.S. society. Indeed, it even starts fairly promising by exposing Grant’s own racist presumptions. When Sánchez challenges Grant, he offers to find a reporter who can speak Spanish. She observes that she does not need translation as she is clearly speaking to Grant in English.

The show kinda went off the tracks after that point. “Judge” got to play both sides when it came to Chicano/a complaints about the U.S. On one hand, the show exposed the injustice that many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans faced in the U.S. courts. The judge who presided over the case made racist remarks about the defendant, biased the jury, and clearly presumed the guilt of the defendant.

Yet, the show never suggested that the entire criminal system was biased against minority defendants. Instead, Lou Grant put forward the idea that it was only a few rogue judges who were causing problems for Chicano/as. If those rare individuals could be removed, then everything would be fine.

The episode further stipulated that Chicano/as would not do the figurative housecleaning of the U.S. judicial system. The two Chicano characters at the center of the plot are quickly sidelined as irrelevant. Esteban expressed extreme fear at bucking the system and passively resigned himself to his fate. While Luisa had started the episode with a zeal, she showed herself to be too emotional to handle the task. Both Luisa and Esteban need to depend on the Anglos to do the hard work of solving their problems.

Moreover, there was never any question that Esteban was truly guilty of the crime. By making his guilt unquestioned, the show suggested that Chicanos who faced the courts were there legitimately. They just deserved a fair trial before being sent to the slammer for the rest of their life. Rather than acknowledging the actual Chicano/a activists and lawyers who were demanding fair treatment from the judicial system, Lou Grant claimed that it was good-hearted and enlightened Anglos who would bring about social change.

Alas, Lou Grant wasn’t the only seventies television program to fumble with the social movements of the time. Even my beloved Wonder Woman had a troubling episode, "Knockout," that equated the Chicano/a movement with international terrorism. In an otherwise forgettable plot, Diana (played by real-life Chicana Lynda Carter) is dispatched to Los Angeles to investigate the disappearance of dreamy Steve Trevor.

Like Lou Grant, Diana must explore dangerous East L.A. to find answers. Also like Grant, she stops off for some tacos along the way (what is it with the tacos?). Unlike Grant, Diana has no sympathy for the Chicanos that she encounters.

After a quick costume change, Wonder Woman discovers that Chicano-criminal Angel Velasquez has all the answers. It turns out that a shadowy organization known as “the movement” engineered Trevor’s disappearance. In a unique twist, Wonder Woman presented Chicanos and African Americans working together within “the movement.” Caroline, an African-American police woman has teamed with Velasquez in a plot to kidnap high-ranking U.S. officials.Velasquez boldly proclaimed that the movement would "change the world by taking power away from those on the top and set free those on the bottom." Such proclamations were intended to make the movement seem crazy.

Wonder Woman’s vision of the Chicano movement was like Lou Grant’s in the sense that both presented the motives of Chicano violence as entirely irrational and without merit. Velasquez and Caroline are both misguided (the latter more than the former). Indeed, it turns out that a white man is the real leader of “the movement” who was simply using Caroline and Velasquez in a Soviet-driven plot (!). The message from this episode was that minorities shouldn’t rock the ship of state. If they tried, they were probably being mislead and duped by the supposedly smarter whites. Instead, Chicanos and African Americans should have faith in the system and, perhaps, Wonder Woman.

After watching such shows, one realizes how badly suited the mainstream media was to addressing the concerns raised by the Chicano(/a) movement(s). Keep in mind that these were considered positive visions of Chicano/as in the lat seventies. At least Mexicans weren’t being shown with a murderous desire for corn chips any longer.

All the same, these images only half-heartedly considered Mexican Americans' roles within the U.S. With friends like these, it is small wonder that the Chicano/a movement remained (and remains) mysterious to most Americans.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

When in Doubt, Meme

Well, the semester is off and rolling. It seems like time is going by so quickly. There are still Christmas packages that I have yet to mail.

As a result, I am a bit slow in doing this "End of Year Meme" that I saw over at Maggie's. I am confident that you will forgive me.

1. Will you be looking for a new job?

No – Why? What have you heard? Should I be looking?

2. Will you be looking for a new relationship?

Well, I am always looking. Everybody needs a hobby.

3. New house?

Oh.My.God.No. My horrific experiment with home ownership has left me traumatized. I am content to keep renting my little cottage. Besides, I am so broke and in debt that I probably wouldn't even qualify for a mortgage on a porta-potty.

4. What will you do different in 08?

I will be drinking bourbon in ways that I never expected to do. For most of 2007 (and earlier), I shied away from the brown liquors. Foolish! I was blind, now I see.

5. New Year's resolution?

I pledge to master the Manhattan Cocktail. It will be my gift to human kind.

6. What will you not be doing in 08?

Running for president.

7. Any trips planned?

At some point, I need to go to Chicago (which I love). My family is also planning some sort of group-trip to the east coast. I still have not been to the core of Decaying Midwestern Urban Center. Finally, I would like to return to Boston. Only a fraction of these are likely to happen (see aforementioned brokeness).

8. Wedding plans?

As a gay man, it is my apparent responsibility to undermine the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. It’s what keeps us gays looking youthful.

9. Major thing on your calendar?

End of Semester: April 17.

10. What can’t you wait for?

End of Semester: April 17.

11. What would you like to see happen differently?

It would be nice if American voters a) actually voted and b) voted based on what would be good for the nation rather than voting based on their hatred of gays, feminists, Mexicans/Mexican-Americans, African Americans, people in the Middle East, non-Christians, or any other group. I am not optimistic (Hello, President Huckabee).

12. What about yourself will you be changing?

The snail’s pace at which I am completing the Never Ending Research Project of Doom.

13. Will you better your relationship with your family?

Ah, family. Can’t live with them, can’t shove them in a trunk and drive them over a cliff.

14. Will you be nicer to the people you care about?

Well, I don’t think that I am exactly mistreating them now. Why? What have you heard? Oh, right -- That trunk thing.

15. Will you dress differently this year than you did in 07?

Yes – In addition to the star-spangled panties, you can expect more time in white jumpsuits.

16. Will you start or quit drinking?

I would quit drinking, but I don’t want to.

17. Major lifestyle changes?

Have I mentioned the bourbon thing already?

18. Will you do charity work?

Currently I am slotted to host a cocktail fund-raiser for the local MFT queer youth group in March. That is my ideal type of volunteer work -- One that involves serving liquor. Beyond that, I am not sure. My other volunteer effort has been thwarted so far.

19. Will you go to bars?

In my mind, I am already there.

20. Will you be nice to people you don’t know?

Um – Yes. – Who wrote this meme? All of these questions about being nice suggests that somebody clearly ate their birthday cake in 2007.

21. Do you expect 08 to be a good year for you?

I try not to expect anything.

22. How much did you change from this time last year till now?

It is hard to measure – Unless we are talking about my hairline, which has sadly moved significantly backwards. sigh

23. Do you plan on having a child?

I do not. It would be infinitely preferable to have a fully autonomous robot who could tidy up my house.

24. Will you still be friends with the same people you are friends with now?

Of course. Why? What have you heard?

25. What happened in 07 that you didn’t think would ever happen?

I moved to Midwestern Funky Town.

26. Will you be moving?

I really, really, really hope not. Moving suuuuuuuuuuucks.

27. What will you make sure doesn’t happen in 08 that happened in 07?

I intend to trust my instincts about people much more. Usually my big mistakes involve disregarding what I know to be true and, instead, believing what the other person tells me to be true (It's a little life lesson that I keep failing at over and over again).

28. What are your New Year's Eve plans?

I went to a friend’s house.

29. Will you have someone to kiss at midnight?

I did, but did not avail myself of that option.

30. One wish for 08?

A happy end to the Never Ending Research Project of Doom.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Alone and Dead

Classes resume tomorrow at Big Midwestern University. I am having a hard time coming to terms with this ridiculously short winter break. Most of my peeps who work at other universities don’t go back to work until after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Even my nephew’s public school starts later than we do.

Nobody has really offered a satisfactory explanation about why we must return so early. All they promise is that I will be grateful when the semester ends in April. That seems like cold comfort. I am exhausted now. My current fantasy-life focuses on sleeping for a week (Maybe I have mono?). Alas, I have to earn those coins. Back to the classroom for GayProf.

Perhaps one of the reasons that the university is going back so early is because they figure there is little else to do in Midwestern Funky Town in the middle of winter. Well, we have nothing else to do except shovel snow. Let me tell you, that shoveling shit is for the birds.

I lived in the Midwest for six years in grad school, so this isn’t exactly my first time at the Ewing Bar-B-Que (so to speak). During those years, however, I lived in an apartment. This meant that somebody else always shoveled the snow out of my way. When they didn’t, I could curse them out. Now, when it snows, I just curse. On New Year’s Day, I awoke and opened my rear window to see this:

Oh, my fate is a cruel one. Why – WHY – does my driveway need to be so long? At least Bourbon keeps me warm.

Of course, the snow isn’t just hard on my aching back and little stick arms. Just as when I lived in Boston, the snow kills my interest in having any type of social life. It takes forever for me to lace and unlace my winter boots. They are such a hassle to take on and off that they work better than a chastity belt. Given that I live somewhere where the state flower is an icicle, this means I am in for some quiet introspection over the next few months.

All of it contributes to making this my least favorite part of the year. Faithful readers of CoG know that we consider the period between New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day the dreaded and bleak void time.

Seemingly I am not alone in my estimation of this time of year. Over the past couple of weeks, two friends of mine had almost identical conversations with me. They don’t know each other (in fact, they live in different parts of the nation). Yet, they both expressed the same measure of forlornness.

My friend in New Mexico felt that his life was passing him by and wondered aloud if he would ever find a permanent boyfriend. When I pressed him about his reasons for why he wanted a boyfriend, he expressed his fear of dying alone. Or, more accurately, he fears that his death will occur without notice.

This was repeated with a friend in MFT only a week later. They both speculated that, if they died tomorrow, it would take weeks for anyone to find their body. This struck me as an odd reason to want a boyfriend.

True, I have sometimes had similar macabre thoughts. Anyone who lives alone surely speculates about how long it would take before somebody noticed their absence. We all shudder at the notion that our untimely demise will only be discovered because some neighbor complained of the “smell.” Nobody wants to be that story on the 5 o’clock news.

When such irrational thoughts take hold of me, I say to myself, “Get a hold of yourself and think positive thoughts. You won’t mind if nobody finds your body. You’ll be dead.”

When they doesn't work, I turn to my other reason for not worrying. Deep in my heart, I know that there is one special person in my life who I can count on coming to my house almost instantly if I disappear: My bartender.

Let’s be honest, my disappearance would greatly impact his child’s college fund. My drinking is his kid’s future. Nothing is going to keep him from those tips. Shoot – He would use the jaws of life to save me.

All the same, I have never considered the fear of having an undiscovered lifeless body the primary reason to find a boyfriend. My friends are relatively young men. One of them is my age exactly. This means he is very, very, very young. As far as I know, they are both pretty darn healthy. If they get into a relationship now, that little deathwatch of theirs could take several decades. It seems like they are kinda fast-forwarding to the end. What will they do in the meantime? Are they just imagining the boyfriend will enter their house, light a candle, and sit at their bedside until their time has come?

Okay, I understand their basic sentiment of feeling lonely. Still, it is odd to think that we want relationships for the worst times in our lives. When was the last time you heard somebody say, “I really want a romantic partner because my life is going so fantastic that I want to share that with somebody else? I am just having way too much fun for one person. I need to spread these good times around with somebody else.”

I never hear that. Actually, I often hear the opposite. “Boyfriend? No way, man, my life is too good right now. Relationships will just screw it up. Crap – Even saying the word ‘relationship’ probably jinxed me. I better go and have some anonymous sex just in case.”

Saying that they want somebody who will tend to their deathbed also sounds like they expect a lot of work from that boyfriend. 'Cuz you know it isn’t just watching them die that they want, either. They are going to expect you to call their family and work with the funeral home to give you a decent burial, too. It wouldn’t surprise me if they asked to proofread the many drafts of your eulogy before they kicked the bucket. Heck, you're going to have to fill the next forty years doing something.

All that death talk sounded too much like a job. Do they want a boyfriend or a live-in nurse? At least a registered nurse can legally give you drugs.

If you really want a boyfriend to do work, why not make it something that you can enjoy while you are alive? Forget the deathbed scenes and shoot for something that will make the here and now more tolerable. “Gee, I really want to put up some drywall in my basement and turn it into a t.v. room,” I’d like to hear, “Better get a general-contractor as boyfriend by this weekend if that is going to happen in time for the Project Runway finale. Oh, shoot, I also wanted to install that new sound system and needed a boyfriend who worked at the Best Buy. Looks like I am in the market for a menage a trois.” At least at the end of that relationship you wouldn’t end up in a pine box.