Today, I accumulated students’ first drafts of original scientific research and prepared to send it all out for peer review. In the stack I found the best title ever:

Ooziness of Slime on an Inclined Plane

There are days when I question my purpose in life. Today, however, there is no question. I’ve pushed someone to define ooziness, on an inclined plane, even. And, they’ve justified it with data.

Maybe I’m making the world a better place after all. We all have our unique purpose.


exam fidgets

In each class there’s a wide variety. Head scratchers are prevalent. Nose twitchers and calculator tappers. Head shaking and involuntary sighs are embedded into the lecture hall landscape. There’s always one person with long hair who pull the strands forward, a left hand joining the right to stroke downward between fingers, as if to prime some thinking. There’s the typical eraser-end of pencil to the upper lip, or to the side of the cheek, or sometimes (my favorite) to the center of the forehead. Finger twiddling of a pencil is common. Sometimes you get an olympic level twirler of the writing instrument. Usually it’s just single rotations during an exam, but I’ve seen people go for the 720, even thirty-five minutes into the test. There’s the sideways glances, not really looking to get an answer from another, but simply some deeply ingrained survival mechanism at the height of stress, checking for predators ready to pounce.

presentation attenuation

“We would love for you to give your presentation to our group.”

I loved giving that presentation and I would love chance to present it again.

“We meet from 7:30 to 8:30. Just let us know what date works for you.”

Perfect. That’s a great time for me, and here’s a good day in March. I’ll work on the presentation for that hour.

Weeks later, after I check in to confirm the event that week: “We’ll help you get setup at 7:30. The group will start to arrive then.”

Okay. I can start after everyone gets settled.

“We’ll all be assembled by 7:45.”

Okay. I can start then.

“We’ll have some networking to do from 7:45 until about 8:00. You can plan to start at about 8:00. Or so.”


“We’ll go until 8:30. Just be sure to leave some time for questions.”


I spent each day this week on a different trek or run. Some routes took me over sandstone and upon rocky ledges, another took me through several inches of new snow and up a mountain trail, and most recently I ran over 16 miles around a rugged island where bison roamed. All of these were traversed without incident. Until, that is, upon finishing those final 16 miles, crossing the line demarcating the status of running from the status of finished, my toe caught its only trip in the few hundred thousand strides that week, so that I toppled and flailed forward, only to be saved by the poor woman who was volunteering to hand out mugs in which I might later get some hot soup.

overheard in lab

“What were we doing in that other lab?”

“Shut up.”

“And what was our x?”

“It makes so much sense now.”

“Did you get point zero seven?”

“So we square the velocity?”

“I’m so glad I’m not hungover for lab today.”

at the barber

At the barber, three chairs of thick tanned leather and cast iron and pneumatics were weighted down by customers. Long haired guys with trimmers and flashing scissors negotiated close cuts on clients. They advertise “proper fades” and they are happy to tip you back with a hot towel over your head, a straight blade working up your neck. Johnny Cash is playing out of a speaker encased in a modified old suitcase. “Art” and accoutrements consist of empty cans of motor oil, empty bottles of local gin, as well as the converted hardwood theater seats that serve waiting customers. Clients include doctors and bartenders, clean shaven or waxed bearded. The professionals wear wool caps and aprons.

You’ve already pictured the barber’s pole outside the broad window looking out onto the old downtown street. I don’t even need to tell you about that, nor the array of combs and blades and tonics. So it goes without saying that she didn’t fit in as she walked through the bell-ringing door and sat on one of those converted waiting chairs under an old license plate that added to the decor. She took in the scene and ambience even as she modified it with her fleece lined suede boots on a 50-degree day. She was impractical even in an establishment with empty cans that were regarded as decor.

I don’t want to judge. I know I’m less of a person for it. She was the partner of the guy getting a trim in the chair closest to the window. It’s not for me to say that she didn’t belong.

She didn’t belong.

This was clear as she chatted up the barbers and they gave their answers in atypical abbreviation. “Yes” and “no” were each their own complete sentences. It was all perfectly clear as she stood, inspected and commented on the chairs: Were these from an old school? she inquired. And have you ever thought of curtains here; there was the suggestion of a piece of artwork on the near wall. She asked if those were “real” barber chairs. And all the while she said the shop was “cute”.

Though no one said as much, I knew we were all glad to see her go. I felt the pressure of the blade on the back of my neck ease.

self diagnosis

A friend gave me the advice some time ago that, especially in times of frustration, I could picture people surrounding me as residents in an asylum, retirement home, or other care facility for individuals who needed some specialized care. That is, rather than be annoyed with others’ words or actions and what they did to me, I could see others as patients each with their own diagnosis. Instead of bitterness and anger, there’s empathy and knowing. I could just be the orderly who delivers medications on a metal tray, perhaps listening to a particular rant as I pass by their rooms. Patients aren’t deliberately trying to make my life miserable or difficult. They’re just being themselves and I’m just offering them an ear and a prescription. People I used to consider assholes are transformed into charming grandfathers or savants with interesting but harmless syndromes.

This has been a frequent and particularly useful model for me, one that I’ve even shared with others to give them a share of the strategy. Have a long meeting or a particular task with a difficult person? Just think about the diagnosis you could offer, or at least the possibilities. You might have absolutely no idea what their issue is, you just know that that seems like a lot of medication in their cup. More than a quick dig at others, it’s an acknowledgement that everyone surrounding you is a little bit off the rails, all doing the best they can. I no longer feel quite so judgmental. Most important, the frustrations others add to my life aren’t about me, and this makes it all less frustrating.

It’s taken me years and a sudden non-sequitur turn, however, to make the very important realization: Everyone else is an orderly in their own residential facility. Moreover, I’m a patient.

For completely unrelated reasons, I was reading about how individuals with certain conditions can be socially functional and successful by “camouflaging.” They prepare themselves for all that is uncomfortable to them and make accommodations suiting the milieu. A quick example was in regards to looking others in the eye. Some people aren’t comfortable looking at others directly when in conversation. This is when I realized that the article could easily be talking about me.

Looking at others in the eyes; being comfortable in the cacophony of large groups; feeling a part of a conversation rather than on the side as it goes by; tolerating everyday noises (especially chewing!); being receptive to others’ emotions and their emoting; etc. I’ve always thought that other people simply hadn’t understood my own logic because they weren’t ready to listen to me and/or because their chewing was too loud. And people are comfortable looking one another in the eyes? Really, this makes me wholly out of balance, even as I force myself to do it. But the suggestion of camouflaging has made me realize that I’ve worked with this and so many other things—including and maybe most especially my teaching—that I have worked my cog into the gears of society. I’m only mildly cognizant of it, but occasionally it comes to a head. Someone else, maybe someone I especially love, is distraught over a conversation or interaction earlier in the day and I’m supposed to be listening, but I just explained to you how to think about it to conceptualize this, wrap it into a box, put your feelings away and make it all better, so why are you still crying and can’t we just move on? Also, why are you looking me in the eyes?

I recognize that any or all of this isn’t necessarily a diagnosis of any consequence. It could just be “me.” This distinction isn’t important at this point in my life. A label isn’t necessary and the camouflaging or any other strategy or routine I’ll just embrace more and more as I get older. I’ll just see it for what it is: me, flaws and all.

Though this has put my entire role-playing strategy into question. Perhaps I’m not really the orderly in that care facility. I’m not so sure that I’m even employed there, in spite of sharing a unit with a bunch of others I imagine diagnoses for. Maybe—in fact quite likely—I’m receiving my own cup of medication and regular counseling sessions. Maybe they all let me think that I’m the orderly, a kind strategy to help me cope with my self-centered sensibilities, an intolerance for endless talking, and lack of awareness of others. I get to be myself, in control of the situation as I see it but slowly learning empathy for others, all in a setting where everyone else can try to tolerate me. Most likely we’re all there, all together, all diagnosed, all wandering the hallways. We take our pills and placebos and strategize our way through the world until our next group therapy (which sounds awful to me) at 10:30. We’re all in this together. I know I should look you in the eye and listen and say just this much, but I hope you’ll understand that writing this out at the quiet privacy of my own desk is a positive step for me.


I’m not sure that I really need reading glasses, but when I put them on—as I’ve just done, here and now to capture the words scrolling by character by character—my face relaxes. My eyes sigh, slightly, and sink into a comfortable gaze. More important, the lenses focus the sight and psyche forward, a direction that the rest of me deviates from.


I walked up to the local teacher after the awards ceremony, wanting to congratulate him, tell him I admired the work he’d done. “I don’t remember if I’ve introduced myself before,” I said.

He casually informed me that I was his professor from years ago, a course that led to his teaching degree. “It was a great class,” he told me.


I heard on the radio that we (scientists, that is) figured out how to help people improve memory retention by 15%. It involved pre-surgical epileptic patients; and also, important to note, specifically timed pulses of electric current, specifically to the left side of the brain.

So, there’s that.

Incidentally, yet of important note, pulses to the other side of the brain could actually inhibit memory. So, there’s that, too.

The takeaway, I believe, is that there’s hope for memory, perhaps. Well timed and well positioned bits of charge sprinkled into the interwoven circuitry somehow might be a help, and perhaps knowing this might help one to insert these pulses at just the right time on just the left side.

I just recently checked a conference website to see if I was on the program as a presenter because I honestly couldn’t remember. I didn’t think so, but it wasn’t outside of a likely scenario. And then there’s the repeated private moments of What is her name? and the notable Where the fuck are my socks? I’ve been taking a few more B vitamins and trying to outrun cobwebs in my head by running in the mountains and there’s always more sleep and I still think that the caffeine helps, though maybe not as much as it used to. At this point, if a bit of conducting gel, some aluminum foil, and a few 9-volt batteries in series could offer something, I might employ my children to flip the switches—left side, right time—even if only for a revelation about the hiding places of my footwear.

Though, I’ve also considered: What else is hidden in that 15% that I’ve forgotten? Certainly, a name or a word that escapes me or exactly what was the character arc of Pip in Great Expectations? But also, maybe, those things I’ve not just forgotten, but forgotten to remember: A heartbreak, or another time I let you down, or the great embarrassment of middle school, or the great embarrassment of adulthood. There’s so much I thought I’d never forget, but now I can imagine a possible scenario in which I can’t remember enough to even be aware of forgetting.

And maybe that’s okay. I’ll stick to the B vitamins, and more sleep is in order, but I’ll demur on the electric pulses for now.