Grad Assistant’s Nightmare

So, I spent a couple years working as a graduate assistant while I was getting my master’s degree.  (Actually, I’m still getting my master’s.  But referring to it in the past tense gives me some hope that I’ll complete it someday.)

Anyway, as anybody who’s done it will tell you, being a GA has its ups and downs.  Usually you just spend a lot of time responding to emails with “READ THE DAMN SYLLABUS” and then deleting that line and typing something way nicer but still passive aggressively wishing you’d sent the first email.  You’d be amazed by the number of college students who have (somehow) never learned to read directions or utilize the resources available to them.

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I taught music theory for non-majors at 7:30am for two years (yes, pity me.) I was responsible for creating my own lesson plans, homework assignments, in class worksheets, tests, and exams.  Everything.  Which was actually really nice because I could teach in a way that made sense to me.  It also meant there was a giant learning curve for me in terms of learning how to teach well.

By my second year of teaching, I was pretty sure I had it figured out. I’d seen all the curveballs before, and I was READY.  My attendance records were impeccable, my paper trail on struggling students was pristine, and I’d even gone out of my way to try to make class interesting and fun.  Did I sleep very much? No.  But that’s beside the point. (Side note: working part time and going to school full time is the best.)

But, such things can’t last, and just as I was about to say goodbye to another semester of students (90% of whom would promptly forget everything they had learned) I made a mistake.  A terrible, terrible mistake.

You see, I had created the final exam a few days early, and sent it to my supervising professor for him to check.  I was actually pretty proud of it – writing tests that are fair but not laughably easy is actually way more difficult than I thought it would be.

My supervising professor okay’d my final and it got sent to the office for copies. I picked them up, and that was that.  Let finals week come – I would be ready with my stack of exams and a red pen.

So you can imagine my surprise when, as I passed out my beautiful exams, everyone stared at me strangely.  After an awkward silence, my best student sort of cleared his throat quietly and said, “Um…you know this is the midterm…right?”

NO. NO I DID NOT KNOW.

My heart stopped. It had never occurred to me to check under the classroom label to make sure the stack of papers I was handed was the right one.  Yet, here I was, at 8am, without my final exam, and with a bunch of college students staring vacantly at me.  Looking back, they were probably all wondering if they were about to get 100%s on their final exam because I clearly couldn’t get my life together.

ran to the School of Music office, praying the administrative assistant would be there.  After some confusion, and near hysterics by me, she managed to print me an older draft of my exam.

By this time, I’d taken up 20 minutes of the exam period.  In order to be fair, I had to let my slower test takers have their full two hours.  Which meant we had to relocate to the library after our official exam time was up AND I was late for everything.

On the list of “moments of sheer blind panic” in my life so far, this one is pretty near the top.

The moral of this story is: Always check the stack.  Never trust the label.  Always check the stack.

Always, always, always.

ALWAYS.

(**Side note: You ever notice that if you write a word enough times it starts to looks super trippy and then you start second guessing whether you spelled it right? Like, “always” is such a strange word.  Who decided it should look like that?  Weird.)

In Which I Am Not A Chef

So, I had to make pudding one time for a thing at work when I was an intern.

Which, you might think is sort of strange.  Literally no one brings pudding to anything.  I mean, don’t get me wrong – I like pudding but…it’s just not something that you eat a social gatherings.  Right?

Pudding is weird and smooshy and you have to be a certain kind of person to want to eat it.

Be that as it may, it was tradition (apparently) for the old intern to make pudding for the new intern.

From scratch.

Because that’s a normal thing people do to welcome other people.  “So glad you’ll be working with us! Here’s some….pudding….yes.”

I mean, this is just me, but wouldn’t cookies or cupcakes be slightly less, I don’t know, strange?

But.  I was determined to do this tradition justice.  Especially since the intern that welcomed me had made perfect salted caramel pudding.

I would make pudding if it killed me.  And, knowing me, it probably would.

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^^actual footage of me trying to make food

So.  I found a recipe that had cute little pictures of pudding bowls and happiness on it and went to pick up all the ingredients.   And let me tell you, there are so many egg yolks in pudding.  SO MANY.  I had no idea.

Everything was going swimmingly until I actually read the recipe.  There were like seven different layers of ingredients that all had to be made separately and then added together, first of all.  Nobody has enough mixing bowls to make pudding.  It requires an entire cabinet of mixing bowls.

And then, every line said something like “boil the thing and then gradually stir in the other thing until it smells right and then add that other thing but just enough otherwise everything will explode and life will be terrible.”

Listen, website recipe lady.  I’m not a magic miracle pudding ingredient stirrer, okay? I have no idea what “the right amount” of anything is, much less any idea of how fast to stir stuff into other stuff.

However, I pushed on.  By that I mean, I gave everything my best guess and tried not to think about the likely results.  I stirred the stuff into the stuff and heated it all on the stove and tried to make caramel out of water and brown sugar and it was crazy.

So then after you heat everything and stir it and dump it all together, you’re supposed to chill it in the fridge for like a day.  And I thought finally, a thing I can actually do.

But, when I removed it from the fridge the next day, it looked like this:

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Obvi, I snapchatted my failure to everyone because why not

The pudding had not solidified at all.  And I know you’re wondering what those brownish lumps are.  They are cookie crumbs, I’ll have you know.  And they were supposed to be a delicious crust on the bottom of the cups, not floating all around like that.

Anyway, obviously operation pudding was a complete failure.  I didn’t even try any of it, I was too afraid of my own creation.  All of it was summarily dumped down the sink (so many wasted egg yolks…).

I made chocolate chip cookies instead, late that night.  Come to find out, the “tradition” was fairly new, and none of my coworkers were that attached to the whole pudding idea.

I could have spared myself the emotional rollercoaster.

But, hindsight is 20/20.  And hey, at least now I know. Pudding isn’t my thing.  Pudding will never be my thing.

And that’s okay, because pudding is sort of strange anyway.

How a Kite Ruined My Childhood

They say most phobias and irrational fears are formed as a result of a traumatic childhood event.  Someday I’ll be in therapy, telling this story.

When I was around four years old my whole extended family went on vacation together in Sanibel, Florida.    We spent days running around on the beach finding seashells and sand dollars and chasing seagulls.  It was magical, as only a week by the ocean can be (when you’re a kid and don’t realize that everything in the ocean can kill you.)

Then one day in the middle of the week my parents bought kites for us kids.  By which I mean just for me and my big brother.  My little brother was two, and was mostly just excited that my parents weren’t making him wear pants.

I was thrilled.  We’d flown kites before at home, but I’d never had one of my own – especially not one with a high-tech hot pink string spool.  I knew that I would be a pro at kite-flying.  Way better than my brother.

It was a perfect day for kite flying, and mine leapt out of my dad’s hands to meet the sun in a beautiful sky dance.  I kept paying out the line, willing it to climb higher.

But then, all of my four-year-old dreams came crashing to the ground.  Or rather, blew away.

Because it turns out the end of my kite string had never been secured to my state-of-the-art hot pink spool.  And so while I gave my beautiful kite more and more line, eventually it got to the end and then – slipped through my fingers.

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And that wasn’t even the worst part.  It was a windy day and we’d been flying them over the ocean and so I was doomed to watch my precious kite drift further and further away.  Minutes ticked by and I could still see it – the symbol of my failure growing gradually smaller in the distance.

My brother offered to let me fly his.  My parents even bought me a new kite.  But it was too late.  I knew that anything airborne that I touched would inevitably abandon me and float across the sea to some other, more deserving little girl.

For years afterwards I collapsed into a pile of tears if anyone tried to get me anywhere near a kite.  This also extended to helium balloons – a distant cousin of the kite.  They were traitors too, as far as I was concerned.

It would be the perfect dramatic ending to say that I never, ever flew a kite again.  But that’s not true.  Over time my subconscious repressed enough of the terror so that I was able to tentatively take up kite-flying again.

But.

I’ve never forgotten the day my kite flew away.

 

 

And I’ve never let my parents forget it either.

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Australia or Bust

This is a story about the day we mailed my best friend’s little sister to Australia.  The following account is mostly true except for the parts that are a little fuzzy in my memory so I fabricated them slightly to keep the story from falling apart.

You remember iMacs?  I mean, I know we still have them, but I’m talking about the old ones.  You know, the colored ones with the convenient handles on top.

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Believe it or not, these were once the height of technological achievement.  Ours was green, and more importantly it came in a fantastic cardboard box.

Being the a) weird and b) imaginative children that we were, my brothers and I immediately discovered that you could fit any one of us in that box and close the lid easily.  Our new favorite game involved shoving someone into the box, closing them in, and rolling it around on the basement floor until he (or she) could no longer see straight.  It was sort of a contest to see who could endure it the longest without brain damage.  (My parents had no idea we did this until about a year ago).

Anyway, one afternoon my best friend and her little sister came over to play with my brothers and I.  My little brother and I and the two of them were inseparable. This day was special though, because my older brother condescended to associate with the unenlightened and played with us as well.

We rolled each other around in the box until everyone was dizzy, and since my friend’s sister was the youngest, she had to go last.  (Duh.  Everything is about age hierarchy when you’re a kid.)

We were terrible children, and rolled the box onto the lid so that she was trapped.  And then we hatched a plan.  Looking back on this story, the rest of us usually blame my big brother for what happened next.  He was the oldest, he should have known better.  But really it was all of our faults.

After rolling her enough to disorient her, we let her out of the box but blindfolded her immediately.  We then proceeded to make her walk around our basement and up a fake flight of stairs that we had created out of pillows.  While this was happening we helpfully said things like “yeah, let’s go upstairs” and “hey why don’t we take her outside” and “why don’t you pick her up and carry her for a sec”.

We also said things like “ooo put her in the box” and “hey, let’s mail her to Australia!” and “yeah write ‘Australia’ on the box with some stamps” and “Hey, look! Here comes the mailman!”

At this point, either she started crying, or she freaked out enough to take off the blindfold.  Either way, “here comes the mailman” was the breaking point.  There are few things that strike fear into the heart like the possibility of the immediate presence of a U.S. Postal worker.

We were still in the basement, but she was convinced she was seconds away from a trip to Australia.

Oops.

And that’s how we scarred my best friend’s little sister for life.  It still comes up, pretty much anytime we’re all together.  “Remember that day you pretended to mail me to Australia?”

“Yup.”

“You guys suck.”

Which just goes to show, you should never trust your siblings, or your friends.  They might try to mail to you to another continent, just for kicks.

Oh Hai, 2017

It’s a been a rough year.  The internet is pretty united on that front.  Like a zillion famous people died, and then there’s this whole election thing, and yeah.  Things are maybe not the best.

But hey, now we have a whole brand new year in front of us.  And I was thinking, maybe it’s time to change some things about how we do this whole “resolution” deal that everyone seems so fond of.

Not that I’m against resolutions.  It’s a new year, obviously let’s decide to do some things differently.  But I feel like so many people resolve the same things every year.  We all want to exercise more, eat better, work harder, be nicer, whatever.  Blah blah blah.  And while these are all good things, they’re so, um, boring.  In fact, they are so uninteresting that most people forget they’ve made them within a matter of hours.

So if you want to lose weight or start eating kale or whatever in 2017, that’s great go ahead and do that.  If not, I’ve compiled a short list of some slightly more interesting resolutions you may want to consider.

 

  1. Resolve to disregard a meaningless social norm.  Just pick one.  For example, you could resolve to say hello to every person you walk past, or you could resolve to turn off your phone every time you’re eating a meal with another person.  Or you could resolve to start answering the question “how are you?” honestly instead of just saying “good” in response.  Dance to the music in the mall.  You get the idea.
  2. Resolve to DO things with your friends instead of “hang out”.  People want to get together?  Say “yeah” and then suggest bowling or laser tag or hiking or a picnic.  Make NEW memories instead of rehashing old ones.
  3. Make a list of people you love who live at least an hour away to randomly  send snail mail too.  Resolve that by the end of 2017 you will have written each of those people one letter, just because.
  4. Find one societal issue that really bothers you, and resolve to do something about it.  Whether it’s by donating money, materials, time or all of the above.  If you’re having trouble thinking of or finding something, here’s a link to this cool charity social media app that’s getting released soon. http://www.pointapp.org/
  5. Find one or two other people and resolve to explore new music together.  Take turns finding new albums and spend one to two weeks listening to each one.  By the end of the year, you could potentially have found up to 52 new artists.  The best part is you can do this even if your music group is crunched for time – discussion can easily happen over group text.
  6. Resolve to discover the ways the people around you give and receive love.  Think of concrete ways you can change the way you love others based on their primary means of giving and receiving love.  If you’ve never heard of the 5 love languages, you can read more about them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Five_Love_Languages
  7. Google the tourist attractions in either the city where you live now, or the city where you grew up, (funny how we never really get to know our own homes).  Visit at least one in the upcoming year.
  8. Resolve to eliminate the words “maybe” and “we’ll see” from your vocabulary.  Either say yes, or say no.  Be the one person who isn’t afraid to make decisions.
  9. Take something that you love, and find a way to enjoy it differently.  For example: I love Mario Kart.  I think it’s great.  You know what’s also fun?  Blind Mario Kart.  One person (blindfolded) drives, another person gives verbal directions.  It becomes an entirely new interaction.
  10. Think of something in politics that you actually care about.  (I know we’re all pretty fed up with politics but…if we don’t participate nothing will change).  Actually write a letter to your congressman about it.  Or heck, you could write the president I guess.  But really.  Write a letter.

 

There you have it.  A list of 10 interesting things that you might choose to do with your new year.  Happy resolving!

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” – G.K. Chesterton

A Story In Which I Amazingly Do Not Die

When I was in grad school, I lived about an hour and a half away from my hometown, which meant that I could go back for important things like birthdays and weddings and holidays and such.  I loved getting to still be part of my home life from time to time, and the drive never bothered me much – it was a straight shot down the highway, easiest drive in the world.

 

Amazingly, the drive didn’t usually bother my cat, either.  He would whine for a bit, and then give up and go to sleep until I got to my parents’ house.

 

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This is Paco. Any excuse to include pictures of him is a good one.

 

But all that changed one fateful day.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure why I was driving home this particular weekend, (to clarify – “home” meaning my parents’ house, not “home” meaning my apartment, I used the word to mean both things most of the time.)  It was probably midterm break or Easter or something.  I don’t know. It’s not important.

 

Anyway, I was driving back on a Friday night, with a full tank of gas and definitely expecting to be home before food would be happening.  Let’s be honest, I’m pretty much always up for food options that don’t involve me making it for myself.  (Side note: food is hard.)

 

So I’m driving down the highway, eating an apple, talking to my cat, super normal, when I decide to try to pass the semi that’s in front of me.  As I edge around the semi, I start to smell burning rubber.  Pretty soon after, the right front side of my car dips dangerously, accompanied by a terrifying thumping sound.  I remember throwing my half eaten apple across my car, busting in front of the semi (how he managed not to hit me I’ll never know) and after that I just remember being parked on the shoulder trying not to freak out.

My right front tire was shredded, like the kind of shredded where if I hadn’t stopped when I did, it probably would have come off the wheel entirely.  Like the kind of shredded where you drive by the pieces of tire blowing around on the highway and you thank God that your tires will never do that. That kind of shredded.

By some miracle, I didn’t completely go off the rails, despite being trapped on the highway shoulder during rush hour with a cat.  I called AAA, they promised to send someone to fix it, I unearthed my spare (which looked suspiciously low) and sat in my car to wait.

…and wait.

 

Until finally, a very nice state trooper found me and made sure I was okay.  He put some flares behind me so that people would give me room.

 

An hour and a half later, a very nice AAA man drove up, changed my tire for me, and blocked traffic so that I could drive off with my spare.  However, it’s a spare.  And apparently, you can’t drive over 50mph on those things or they die.  So I’m going 50 in 70mph zone with my flashers on, praying that no one hits me or yells anything rude.  My cat, mercifully, is silent.

So then about 10 minutes later, I hear a sort of whooshing sad sighing sound, and my car is (yet again) tipping dangerously to the right.  And then there’s a lot of thudding and slapping, and yes my spare tire is quite obviously flat.  Keep in mind it’s still rush hour.

I’m 200 yards from a rest stop, but there’s no way I can limp all the way there in the traffic, so I’m stranded on the shoulder yet again.  Still with a cat.  This time, I can’t call someone to come change my tire because I don’t have a spare.  So.  I call my dad.  Dads are great.  My dad is great, and he jumped in the car to pick me up.  But he was an hour away.

So Paco and I sat in my car for at least an hour.  My phone was dying, it was getting dark and cold and scary and WAY past dinnertime and I had to pee.  The thing that sucks about being stranded places when you’re a girl is you can’t just go pee on stuff if you have to pee.  You have to hold it.  Also, it’s not like I can just leave my cat in the car on the shoulder while I find a bush to pee behind in the dark.

Then, THE SAME STATE TROOPER found me again (so embarrassing) and very kindly gave me some more flares.  Paco and I sat.  And sat.  Until rush hour was over.  I limped into the rest stop.  Where there was nobody.  Except me (trying desperately not to pee myself) and some truck drivers.

And then FINALLY my dad came.  He graciously sat with my cat while I (thank heavens) ran to the rest stop to pee.  And he brought me food, because he’s a parent.  We took the wheel off my car, left it at the rest stop, put all my stuff and my cat in my dad’s car and drove home.  I got home like five hours after I was supposed to and my poor cat was a nervous wreck.

The next day we took the wheel in to get a new tire, drove BACK to the rest stop to put it on and I drove my car BACK to my parents house.

Also, it turns out they don’t make spares for my car any more.  We had to buy a whole other wheel.

 

But hey.  At least I’m not dead.