Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Living Conditions

We must all decide what we are willing to live with. For my part, I am unwilling to live in a house with paint chipping off the walls. I am also unwilling to live in a place with windows that are painted shut. And I am unwilling to live somewhere that will never look clean no matter how many bottles of bleach are poured into it.

It is the season of apartment viewing, at least for me since my would-be landlord pulled the plug on my apartment at the last minute. Three days previous to move-in day, I received a letter in the mail that "explained" (that word is in quotes because very little was explained) why I may not move in to the apartment I have patiently been waiting to move in for two months. Electrical damage of some kind, it says. Cracks. Extensive. We have no idea when it will be fixed, it says. Find somewhere else, it says.

And so for the last two days, I have been trying to do this, all the while waiting patiently for a return phone call from the would-be landlord. No phone call, no request that I wait it out, no suggestion of another available unit -- I smell a rat.

After viewing exactly 20 apartments in approximately 30 hours, here is what I have learned:

Landlords are in fact landlords.
Of the 20 house owners I met with, only two of them were women. I found this very curious and unsettling and other unpleasant things.

Landlords must be salespersons.
I don't like the strong sell. I don't like being told, "Three other people are dying to live in this unit. They are ready to move in tomorrow." If they are so ready to move in, why are you showing me the place?

Grand Rapids is confused about its housing status.
We are getting very close to becoming a big city. We really are. Grand Rapids is one of those towns that keeps getting bigger and more exciting and the downtown area in particular is thriving. Those in a position to rent out housing to prospective tenants are aware of this and they want to profit from it. The problem is we're not there yet. We're cool, but we're not Chicago cool. Translation: Quit trying to rent out your piece of crap apartment for $850/month.

Slapping paint sloppily around the joint is not really renovating.
Enough said.

Landlords like to explain furnaces and breakers to you.
I don't care how it works until I live there. Seriously, quit taking me to the basement and wasting my time with explanations of why apartment two and apartment three use the same water heater.

Speaking of basements ...
They don't know why it's called a Michigan basement either. And they don't know, despite my asking every single one of them who took me down to that dank, smelly area of old homes, if they call them Indiana basements in Indiana and Ohio basements in Ohio.

Single white female, no smoker, no pets = High Demand.
One of my favorite things, I must admit, about looking for apartments is watching how hungry landlords get when I tell them I am a professional who does not smoke and who has neither pets nor children. I like to have people over for dinner, but I'm not a big party girl. In other words, I am an ideal tenant and they all want me ... desperately. It almost makes up for all the times I was overlooked and ignored as the chubby girl in high school.

After 6 places, I'm toast.
My capacity for remembering layout, how many bedrooms, whether the price was with or without utilities, or whether the fireplace is decorative or working is tapped out after viewing 6 places. You might as well spin me in a circle with a blindfold over my eyes at that point. I'll pin the tail on something - just don't ask me what.

I think I've found a place. I am hoping. I've had enough. Show me nothing more. Stop looking expectantly and hopefully at me as I examine the underbelly of your sinks. I just want a nice place with room and charm and maybe a porch. I am prepared to live with nothing less.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Toward HAPPY as more than an intellectual concept

Happy is almost mythological, isn't it? (Your agreement here would do a lot toward that whole "your misery loves company" thing). I am trying to be happy. I am trying to attain happy. I am trying to embrace happy. 'Odd how many verbs attempt to bridge the gap between "I" and "happy".

Here are some goals:


I. Craft and create more.
A. Make a quilt.
B. Build a dollhouse.
C. Make creepy little dolls that I will love.

II. Divorce self from television while reminding self that television is not the devil.

III. Learn bird calls.
A. How?
B. How? (This second is redundant, but I was trained to never have a B without an A in a Harvard outline - not that this is really a Harvard outline).

IV. Stop being a gatekeeper of the English language.
A. Get new job.
B. Find new career.
C. Care less.
1. Possibly use drugs.
2. See B****.

V. Go to coffeehouse for no particular reason with no papers to grade or books to read.
A. Look out window.
B. Listen to birds.
C. Identify each individual sound.
D. Write them down on paper.
1. Turn into poem.
2. Submit to nice journal.

VI. Stop suspending belief in that neo-academic way and learn to trust own instinct.

VII. Develope new relationship to food.
A. Eating is right and good.
B. Food is God's number one gift.
C. Food smells good.
D. Food can make us very, very happy.

VIII. Watch Bill Murray more.
A. Also, Will Ferrel.
B. Also, Eddie Izzard.
C. Also, Anthony Bourdain.
D. Also, for good measure, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, and Grace Allen.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Student as Customer

Oh, I am loathe to continue this discussion and so this will be brief. Lately, I have had reason to be concerned over the idea of student as customer as many universities are applying business models to academia and turning the student into that most impossible of entities: the customer who's always right.

I have graded approximately 50,000 essays over the past five years, and I assure you, the customer is defiantly not always right. (That was a little treat for English teachers out there ... I'm sure you'll get it, while the rest of you might think that something in that sentence sounds funny).

Encouraging students to think this way would yield very positive results if 1) the students were highly motivated people, and 2) they knew exactly what they were coming into the classroom for. I'd say one in every ten students is highly motivated and knows what they need from the class they are taking.

I know I'm no math teacher, but I can figure that sum. That leaves nine students who are very busy sending me demanding e-mails, not showing up for class, or deciding to drop my class because "they're struggling" and "it's too hard." And I worry over these things, but not because they are my customers. Instead, I worry over them because I am a teacher and I am invested in these people. (Did you notice that transactional language there? I "invest" in them? Interesting.)

When they walk into my classroom, I am committed to making them as strong and as confident of a writer as I can. But this has absolutely nothing to do with a service I am providing to a customer. It has everything to do with my desire to make the world a more intellectually curious and interesting place. It has to do with me not wanting to see mispelled signs or menus or billboards. And it has a little something to do with the teaching moment, that hallowed thing, when I am sitting with a student and we share a moment of mutual discovery that makes every paper I grade worth the misery. I tell you what - you cannot put a pricetag on that moment. And if you could, I assure you, it would cost a lot more than what they are currently paying.