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Verbose Venting

Part 2

Play away: Yona Zeldis McDonough wrote a “Mothers Who Think” article for Salon today titled “A life without play dates.” I am a fan of Salon—I read it almost everyday, and although they’ve got their share of utter shit (read: David Horowitz, Christopher Hitchens ...), most of their articles and such are very entertaining and informative. MWT is not my favorite feature, per se, but every so often I read through it, and today’s article brought back memories of my own rural childhood—one rather different than the urban and suburban landscape presented by McDonough.

McDonough writes:

None of the children, even in the fifth grade, go to school alone. Nor do they go unescorted to the park, or to each other’s homes, the way Arthur and his friends do. And never do I say to my son the magic words that so many of us remember: Go out and play.

I didn’t walk to school—my elementary school was 2 miles away; unless you lived within a quarter-mile of the school, you could and were expected to ride the bus. We had no parks, of course, unless one went into town, but we only went there—occasionally—during the summer. And “going out to play”—usually with parental permission but never according to a schedule—was how I filled up most of my time. McDonough continues:

Playing, for my children, is a highly formalized, scheduled affair, with play dates arranged in advance and numerous telephone calls to confirm them.

Such a concept is highly foreign to me, and I can only hope that this is not the fate of many of today’s children. Schedules—or at least planned events—were reserved for school functions, birthday parties and team events (games and practices). For other things one simply walked down the street, or hopped on a bike and rode down the road a ways. Such scheduling must be—according to my little mind—a recent development, for even my friends who lived in larger subdivisions (in what we might call the suburbs) seemed to have unfettered reign of their neighborhoods.

As much as I love large cities (Budapest comes to mind, as do Berlin and a few others), I rather despise suburbia and I can’t really imagine to raise a family in either environment. The author adds:

When I take my son to the playground, where we have agreed [...] to meet several of his classmates, four other mothers are there with me [...]

The idea of parents knowing the parents of their child’s friends, etc. seems perfectly fine and even a good thing to me, but mothers sitting at a park looking over their children in that way doesn’t seem (to me) to be the stuff of which free play and a happy-go-lucky nature are made.

In contrast, I would much prefer an environment of country roads, rural schools, minimal traffic and not-infrequent farms. A life of constant surveillance (either as the object or subject thereof) definitely holds little appeal for me. Instead, I think back fondly on images of the rolling green hills and lush fields of the Willamette Valley, or even the remote small towns at the base of snow-covered granite walls somewhere in the high desert, for example. Of course, I’m one to be talking - living in a tiny apartment/efficiency located right downtown.

“March 22, 1999

What a gorgeous day: It must have been at least 65 degrees this afternoon. Perhaps more, but for the past two weeks I’ve been having a hard time judging temperatures. I take that back—I’ve had this problem at least since December, when I went x-mas shopping in a t-shirt, thought that it was “around” freezing or so, and only later discovered it was actually around zero. Oops. Recently, I would make the claim that it was 50+ out, but someone would counter and tell me that it was really only in the mid-40s. So, as for today, I can’t really say, but if the radio is to believed, tomorrow might reach into the 70s. I’ll believe, I’ll believe ...

Saw a nice page online today of original pieces—digital stuff done with various apps (the 3D with Bryce—would I enjoy that app? would I waste time with it? would it bore me in the end?). The most impressive—or at least that, which I enjoyed most—were the Kanji works. At times I come to the conclusion that I would like to try my hand at digital art. Then I tell myself that 1) I have no artistic training and 2) I should stick to pen and paper—sure, it doesn’t transfer very well (scanned drawings can’t compete with digital stuff when viewed online, but “in real life” I prefer pencil and ink drawings, and paintings). Another online gallery I enjoyed (yesterday) was devoted to redheads—most of the stuff wasn’t too interesting, but one series of underwater photos was very nicely done—“ah, if only I weren’t limited to my little auto-focus camera...”

Thinking back a bit—one of the best things about Pomona was the “good” it did to my academic output. On the one hand, Steve Young and Robert Woods, as well as Eric, forced me to tighten my essay style. Woods, in particular, tore things apart, and left me to put them back together in a meaningful and improved fashion. Young simply put the fear of ... hrmm ... him into me—that is, he game me (and most everyone else) a low enough grade on the first paper (the first several, actually!) that I had to revise and think about what I was doing in order to get the A that I wanted. Eric, of course, forced me to do lots of work, to write on stimulating topics, etc. However, what I was thinking of really was how much certain peers influenced some of my work. Freshman year was fruitful in this regard, as Leena, Nathaniel, Abby, Erin Chuck, and others from ID 1 helped to edit my papers. Such aid dwindled after that year, and the rather obscure subject matter of my papers (in German and in Math), as well as the language (either German, or mathematical-English) was obviously one of the reasons. Living in Oldenborg was another, living in Europe yet another, etc. However, my most productive evening must have been during senior year (not counting the 35 pages written in 12 hours sophomore year) when, after a mild argument with Leena regarding the worth (or lack thereof) of my thesis topic, I went upstairs and wrote in two hours about seven single-spaced (TNR 10) pages justifying my thesis topic and organizing my argument into three main areas. Out of that grew my 60-70 page thesis, which before that time had no topic per se, no structure, and no focus.

That is the problem of living alone in a small little apartment off-campus now in grad school. One can’t bounce ideas off walls, only off friends (and friends off walls, but that’s another story for another time). Now papers are written in isolation. Shortly before they are due they are cranked out on a word processor (why do they call it a word processor? well, you’ve seen what food processors do to food...) and saved to disk, to be printed out the next day, or later that afternoon, at the computer lab. On rare occasions a preliminary version is presented to a class as, well, a presentation. However, that presentation is rarely critiqed point for point, if at all. Perhaps I’m just bitter because I have at least 30 books checked out from Memorial Library, but to date I’ve written nada on any of my papers—for the most part, I don’t even have paper topics. May 6th is coming soon...

—March 29, 1999

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