Wednesday, February 28, 2007


"I have come to the conclusion that my subjective account of my motivation is largely mythical on almost all occasions. I don't know why I do things." -Anonymous

While I find this quotation funny, I hope beyond hope that I do know why I do things more often as not. However, motivation has been on my mind a lot lately, primarily because I've been feeling an extreme lack of motivation in my own life. Further, I'm beginning to realize that it's hard to motivate others when experiencing such a lack.

I am tired, my students are tired. I can chalk most of it up to it being spring semester, and having many graduating seniors in my class. But I have to also take responsibility for some of it. It's always more inspiring when your teacher is excited. I've been spending a lot of time trying to justify my annoyance at their low-grade performance, but I need to practice what I preach. We see each other through other people's eyes, right?* So, I am going to try treating them like the brilliant students I know they are,** and see what happens to their motivation.

Wish me luck! At the least, I just don't want to de-motivate them.

"It's not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It's my job not to de-motivate them." - Lou Holtz

*This is one of the many social psychological principles they are supposed to learn by the end of the semester.
**I know that the people who inhabit my fiance's office will likely differ with my assessment here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Esperanto? Give Me Music

"Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without." - Confucius

Anybody who knows me well knows that music is an important part of my life. From the time I was four until I was eighteen, I rarely missed playing the piano for several hours every day. Starting in fourth grade, I also started regularly singing in school plays and choir. In high school, I combined my talents by singing in, and playing for, the school choir. In college I also participated in school choirs. My involvement in school choirs only ended after my first year of graduate school, when I realized that it was just too much to be a Ph.D. student and a regular member of the choir. However, this hasn't stopped me from singing in the shower!

Music still has immense restorative power for me. As long as I can remember, it's been the outlet with which I release emotion. The most notable example of this was the "Phantom of the Opera Phase," in which I would periodically bang out my teenage angst on the poor, innocent piano. As I type this I am listening to iTunes on random. In the last half hour I've heard Aimee Mann, the Indigo Girls, U2, David Grey, Radio Head, REM, and Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers (thanks to my friend, Julie, for introducing me to them) have just come on. After a hard day in class (I had to give exams back), this is JUST what I needed to sooth my nerves.

Recently, I enjoyed watching another group of people enjoying music. My fiancee and I attended a beautiful wedding last Friday. This wedding was unique, in that the groom is American and the bride Belgian. This meant that many of the guests couldn't communicate with each other verbally (or at least couldn't communicate very well). In the early part of the evening, there were scattered groups of people all speaking the same language. But then the DJ switched from jazz to pop.

All of a sudden, everybody, regardless of nationality was gyrating to the music on the dance floor. Young and old, American and Belgian, geek and non-geek. This didn't surprise me that much. However, I was quite amused to see the Europeans singing along to old favorites like "Livin' on a Prayer," and (even stranger) the themesong from the old show "The Jeffersons," "Movin' on Up."

In my most cynical moments, I would bemoan the prevalence of globalization transporting American culture all over this world. But that would be the sociologist talking. The girl in love with music can only smile at the joy they were all having from the collective experience of the music, with every shouted word, and every twirl on the dance floor. As Longfellow said, "Music is the universal language of mankind."

I'll take music any day.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

What I Wish (If I may be so bold)

"Things do not change. We change." - Henry David Thoreau

This morning I am a bit sad. There's no physical reason - the sun is shining, the leaves are swaying and casting a lovely shadow on my fence...

Every once in awhile this happens, mostly when I know that others are hurting and I'm not sure what to do. Anger, betrayal, and most of all, hurt, are difficult emotions to leave behind. It's hard to realize that certain things can't be changed, and be able to (and I hate to put it this way) "move on" with life. It hurts when I feel that others are stuck with the memory of past hurts, past wrongs that others have committed against them, and some that they have committed against others.

One thing I have come firmly to believe is that there is a balance to what happens in relationships; in other words, there's always two sides to the story. To use an example, it would be really hard for me to be domineering if the person with whom I was in a relationship didn't allow me to continue being domineering. Relationships (romantic and otherwise) are systems of behavior. We are constantly adjusting and readjusting based on the other person's moves. Eventually, as the science shows us, we sometimes "ossify" into particular ways of seeing ourselves and others within our relationships - we've repeated the behavior long enough, and gotten enough positive reinforcement, that we've become the person that we've acted out for so long.

The important part is that, like with all social situations, it takes more than one person to create the reality.

This is a difficult fact to face, but I actually find it comforting because it gives me more power. No longer do I fall in the trap of blaming somebody else for what happens to me, for we have created it together. I know that people will read this and think up myriads of counter-examples, like a cheating spouse. But there again, there is either something in the relationship that encouraged the cheater to seek succor from another source, or there was another dynamic between the two partners that allowed infidelity to creep in.*

Taking power over our lives is immensely important for both men and women, and what I wish all of us would have the courage to do. At that point, perhaps the bitterness, anger, and distrust will simply fall away because we will have given ourselves such an important gift - our lives.

In the meantime, I will try to let my sadness go, and realize that experience is the best teacher. No amount of science or wisdom from others can help heal anger, hurt, and bitterness...they can provide guidelines, but in the end, it's the self that heals itself. So I'll content myself to be a friend, as Thoreau says:

"The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend."

*I'm speaking here of relationships between normal, healthy individuals, who aren't impaired by mental illness or psychopathy.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Wisdom(?) from Bear and Company

"Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known." - Winnie the Pooh

This morning I was reminded of Winnie the Pooh, and of all the things I love about that little bear and his archetypal compatriots, while walking the dog with my fiancee.

Winnie the Pooh and his friends are often useful to me in my daily life. On inevitable windy days, it is always fun to quote Piglet, who says, "It's a Windsday Pooh!" Some days it's just easier to compare myself to Eeyore, rather than go through the bother of explaining my grumpiness - the Eeyore reference can say it all. And every now and then my tendency to adopt Rabbit-like behaviors come out as well, both the good parts and the not-so-good parts.

However, on this particular morning, my fiancee raised my ire a bit when he deigned to desecrate the sacred religion of Pooh. What did he do? He added a new, and highly unusual character to the existing pantheon...Mrs. Orangutan.

Yes, Mrs. Orangutan (which he pronounces orang-oo-tang for the effect).

"Why wouldn't there be an orangutan in the Hundred Acre Woods?" he queried. "There's two kangaroos, a bouncing tiger, a talking bear, a sweatered piglet, a bespeckled owl, a lisping gopher, a busy-body rabbit, a blue donkey, and a precocious little boy. Why not an orangutan?"

I argued, loyal Pooh-lovers. I protested that there couldn't possibly be an orangutan in the Hundred Acre Woods. Unfortunately, my ultimate retort came out to, "Because!" not a good answer, especially in the world of make-believe. In the world of the Hundred Acre Woods, the particular logic would not necessarily preclude an orangutan. There are two kangaroos and a bouncing tiger, after all, both of which are quite exotic and non-native to English woods.

However, I have since realized that the particular animal is not so much a problem, as the social category of that particular animal. The Hundred Acre Woods does not need another mother figure - it already has Kanga. My fiance's insistence on Mrs. Orangutan, however, connotes maternal images in my head, a connotation not devoid of merit, as seen here. I'm afraid to say that either Mrs. Orangutan or Kanga could remain in the Hundred Acre Woods, but not both. So, there's the answer, and it's much better than "Because!"*

And now I leave you with a little less silliness. I hope a hum or poem finds you today:

"Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you." - Winnie the Pooh

*I credit my extensive sociological training for this particularly grand insight. Maybe I can use it to publish a paper... Then again, maybe not.