Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A rough party experience

I think party-going with our son has stopped now, at least for a short while. That is, unless we're hosting the party here at Chesterley, which is something we enjoy doing a great deal.

Saturday night we took Son to a gathering of friends from our church at a home we had never visited. This group is pretty much our closest group of friends in town. However, we suspect they do not completely understand life with a child who has special needs.

Son obsesses over certain things like fans...he can't get enough of watching a fan spin, or even a fan at rest if he thinks there's an opportunity for it to start spinning. Air conditioning compressors are of great interest, as dangerous as they can be. We have fenced ours off so our back yard is relatively safe for him.

The home we visited Saturday has an exterior staircase downstairs to their lower level, all done in concrete. Perched on a ledge above the bottom of this staircase is, of course, the air conditioning compressor. Wife & I took one look at the positioning of this beast and envisioned son crawling up on the compressor and then falling down to the lower level. Independently of each other we thought we should just turn around and go home. However, we decided to stick it out a little while, at least into the potluck dinner that was planned for the 25-some-odd people who were there.

True to form, Son wanted to explore parts of their house we have blocked off in our own home: the clothes washer & dryer, the basement storage area, etc. It was near impossible for either wife or I to socialize, let alone eat. Son would scream when he couldn't get his own way. Now, screaming is not abnormal 3 1/2 year-old behavior, we know. However, the things over which he would scream are basically things like, "don't sit in front of the clothes washer" or "no, you can't go into the garage," and "nope, you can't get anywhere near that air conditioning compressor." If he could get involved with the other kids, he probably wouldn't obsess over these inanimate objects. The other kids encouraged Son to play with them (they're great kids), but that's not his thing. His social process is different. He didn't fit in with them. Every time he'd scream, the adults would become silent, wondering what was going on.

In the middle of dinner, we left. It was a little abrupt, I suppose, but we really needed to get out of there. We left before either of us exploded. We left before another scream. We left before either of us had to explain to all of these friends with their beautiful children why ours doesn't fit in with the rest of the world. We left and suddenly felt the walls of our social life closing in like large steel doors. But in some ways we didn't care because our house was safe. At our house, Son could be himself and do as he wants. We don't have to explain anything to anyone. We don't have to worry about him falling down a flight of steps. He says more & more words each day, but only when we're home and he's comfortable in his environment. Why would we take him away from this?

My brain went into overdrive at that point. That night, I seriously considered applying for a full-time job, just to have SOMETHING normal in my life like a full-time salary once again. I even drafted a cover letter and started getting advice from friends on the nature of this particular job. I have since decided against applying for it. I decided to sit this one out a little more, probably because I know this is the last year of my younger life when I will not HAVE TO work for someone else. This is supposed to be the year when I write the dissertation as my top priority. Just one more year of poverty before finishing up this degree and moving onward. I just hope we can handle the lack of structure, and the isolation, for just one more year. I hope son will find some more abilities to develop in order to lead a somewhat normal social life in the near future.

Son is a fantastic kid with a big heart and a very different brain. As I type this, he's humming the Vivaldi "spring" tune (of course repeatedly, but hey: it's VIVALDI!). The day before the party disaster, he started playing "twinkle twinkle little star" (tune written my Mozart, mind you) on this small xylophone we have for him. I wish I could sing to him and have him understand my words. I can't wait for the time when his music can help him excel instead of being the one beacon of light that tells us his brain is actually functioning on a comprehensible level.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

If you have to be alone, it may as well be with others

One of the things I was not looking forward to when I started my Ph.D. three years ago (THREE??) was all of the time I knew I'd need to spend by myself. I don't mind being alone if I choose it, but when I MUST be alone in order to accomplish my work, sometimes it drives me crazy, freaks me out, no Ida wanna, help lemme off this ship, etc.

During my master's degree, a friend of mine and I would study together every Saturday morning and afternoon, at a cafe that sold good food, lots of coffee, and constant classical music in the background. We'd essentially be alone TOGETHER, studying different subjects but keeping each other company. We'd CRANK. IT was a good routine to establish.

I've not really established that here in this program, probably because I do spend much of my time studying at home. I enjoy my home office, and I like hearing my wife and child in the background. But sometimes it's easier to escape the notion of mowing the lawn or being distracted by other things I'd rather do by getting out of the house. Some of my beloved work colleagues study in our office. Now, for an office at a state university, it's not too shabby. We each get our own desk, our own computer, and our own phone. Some of us share small offices, but it's OK...better than a cube in a large room, and better than sharing a computer like many GAs do that I know. However, more power to them for the focus they have: it's still a cinder-block residence hall converted into an office. The place drives me nuts on the weekends: so quiet and isolated.

Here I sit in one of my favorite SCT hangouts, ALONE, but near others doing the same thing I'm doing: enjoying a sandwich for lunch, drinking the free refils on coffee, and connected to the free wireless service. Oh yeah, and I am going to crank out some work too, right after I'm done with this post. I LOVE this place, and I'm glad I've realized the way I learn, study, and spend time alone the best.

If I ever finish this degree, and when I get a high-paying job, I swear I'm gonna send a big tip to this little cafe.

Stress level: relatively high (lots of work today)
Mood: surprisingly calm & contented, probably because of the atmosphere around this place

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"You Can't Always Get What You Want..."

I heard it again, last night.

It seems I always hear this song when I'm waiting for something to happen. It's uncanny. Sometimes it comes up when I've applied for a job and am waiting to hear the results. Other times it's when I'm almost done with a project that I just want to end; then I hear this song and I wonder if the project I'm working on indeed will ever end!

The serendipity of it used to drive me nuts.

I would then share with my wife... "I heard it again," and she reminds me the phrase ends with, "...but you get what you need." This usually calms me down and allows me to sit back and think for a minute. I then remember that I can control much of what I do in my life, but I can't control how others will react, or other external influences over which I have no control. So it helps me focus on what I can do now, and then I usually stop worrying (finally) about what the hell others may think about it later on.

I've been sitting around waiting for a response from ANYONE with some feedback on these dissertation ideas. I "WANT" feedback...now. Guess I can't always get it. I NEED the time to read, to think, to try to work out some of the ideas on my own. I have the time now, so guess I should start using it well.

One of my professors did get back to me yesterday, so the ball is finally rolling toward making some progress. This is good. Hopefully I'll make better use of my time now and focus on what I can control instead of waiting around for things to happen to me.

Apologies if this sounds self-helpish, but I suppose it is helpful to take a virtual pen in hand and get these thoughts out of my head. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Out here on my own

Sometimes I wonder where I've been
Who I am...do I fit in?
Make-believing is hard alone
Out here on my own.
---Fame
This is one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had in academia. Perhaps I'm caught in a series of paradoxes.

I should be happy that I've passed my qualifying exams, and on one level I am. On another level, the experience of it opened up a big, wide, gaping door into my dissertation. Frankly, I needed the critical feedback. However, the experience literally left the door wide open in the middle of a spring thunderstorm. The exam and coursework process essentially came to an end with no fanfare (as I've said before), and the dissertation time opened up with a storm.

And then the faculty left for the summer, thus leaving me here with only a mildly-developed topic and no sounding boards. The thing is, last month two of my potential committee members indicated they would be willing to work with me this summer.

With the summer schedule, technically the faculty are under no obligation to respond to my emails requesting, "a brief meeting to share some ideas and hear your feedback." True to form, they are being completely silent. Phoning them is out of the question because asking a professor to "work for free" during the summer months is a major academic faux pas, and I suppose I don't blame them.

But they said they'd be willing to work with me this summer, so I'm caught in this odd paradox.

If I work on the dissertation proposal on my own with no map or compass from a faculty member for guidance, then I fear that by summer's end I'll be at the wrong airport unable to find a connecting flight to anywhere worthwhile.

Makes me sing the blues on what could have been a fine Saturday night.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The summer is going to fly by

It's kinda spooky how quickly this summer is going to fly by. At my quals defense it was determined that if I want to start collecting data this summer, then I need to have my proposal defended by the beginning of August. Yes, it's only mid-May, I know. However, the prospect of having faculty away for much of the summer coupled with a couple of trips I need to take here and there, and time suddenly is running rather short (as are my ideas for the theoretical background of the dissertation).

And I must admit, while I love this one last class I'm taking right now, it's sort of coming at a bad time. It's too bad I'm saying that: the class is on "assessment of courses, programs, and institutions," and this is an area in which I see myself working. So, I'm torn (as always, it seems): do I focus on the course? On the dissertation?

Both, I suppose.

But it would be nice to have time for a life this summer. Yeah shurrr...

OK everyone: this post has been an example of how my mind works. I'm on overdrive because I'm stressing about the future. Perhaps I should just focus on the chapters I need to read this evening which will help me create an in-class presentation for next week. Yeah, that's it. Deep breath. I need to get a hold of this horse I'm calling The Summer.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Today is my 34th birthday

Thought I'd share a little something I found. Not sure I agree with all of this, but it's fun nonetheless.
Your Birthdate: May 17
Your birth on the 17th day of the month suggests that you are very lucky financially, because this date indicates a solid business sense.

Although you are probably very honest and ethical, this birthday enables you to be shrewd and successful in the world of business and commercial enterprise.

You have excellent organizational, managerial, and administrative capabilities enabling you to handle large projects and significant amounts of money with relative ease.

You are ambitious and highly goal-oriented, although you may be better at starting projects than you are at finishing them.

A sensitivity in your nature, often repressed below the surface of awareness, makes it hard to give or receive affection.

Book Meme

This one comes from John B.

1. Total number of books I've owned
I have absolutely no idea. I still have my book from my freshman-year psychology 101 class in 1989 (and I refer to it every once in a while), along with music scores, fun books, etc. In school I only sold back the books I didn't like or need...not very many of them. We have at least one case of books in every room of our house including the kitchen (cook books!), our son's room, and even the random fourth bedroom on our lower-level which is really attic space and random space for BOOKS. Oy, now I'm feeling a need to purge things before our next move. Out-of-state moves are based on WEIGHT. Wait. I digress. Big-time.

2. Last book I bought
Last week was our wedding anniversary (8 years!). We went out for dinner and then browsed a bookstore for over an hour (had a babysitter for Son). I bought two books related to my dissertation (yes, Wife encouraged me to buy a book for fun...and I did...and here's what I chose...yes I'm a geek...and I had to use APA style here...my apologies):

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins. [The author's name is pronounced "Chicks-send-me-high." I'm not kidding]

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

3. Last book I read
I always have a couple of books in process. I'm reading two books by Trudy W. Banta right now for a class I'm taking on institutional assessment. Love 'em (she's my professor, too). I've also been trying to make it through Devil in White City, but my school books keep taking higher priority. Perhaps I'll finish it after June 21 when I complete the last class OF MY LIFE.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me
  • Kipling's Just So Stories, because my dad used to read those to me as a kid.
  • William Penne DuBois's The 21 Balloons. Just found this on one of our 50,000 shelves the other day: another kid's book I adored.
  • A new book called Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter by Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt & Associates. Let's just say I know this book really well.
  • Sallinger's Catcher in the Rye
  • My much-loved and worn books of Mozart and Beethoven sonatas (OK, that's three additional books...sorry)

5. Tag five people to do this on their blog:
Hmm. My blogroll has many of the same people that John B.'s has. Definitely To sleep perhchance to dream. Not sure who else...I need to comment on some more blogs outside my comfort circle.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Romper Room at Chesterley

Wife called me at my office early yesterday afternoon and said, "Hugh's Missis called, and she's stuck in the middle of the highway with the two kids. I'm going to go help them."

I mentioned a long time ago that Hugh and I knew each other in high school. He and his family used to live here in Small College Town (SCT). Our wives met a couple of years ago when taking our respective children to a Kindermusik class; they were chatting and realized they were both married to people from suburban Chicago who attended the same high school. Badda-bing, badda-boom, a more-recent connection was made between Hugh & Rob, though we STILL haven't seen each other since 1987!

Hugh et al no longer live in SCT, but they are close enough that they come here once in a while. Unfortunately, their family car broke down on the one highway out of town yesterday as they were heading home. They were not really very far out in the country when this happened: they were able to make it to a local winery, one of SCT's many tourist attractions. Wife and Son met Hugh's Missis and the Two Kids (wine was not consumed till later), and they made an afternoon of it here in SCT while the car was being repaired. We're thankful that Missis thought to call on us, even though she and Wife hadn't seen each other in a couple of years, and she and I had never met. The car was repaired at the beginning of rush hour, so Wife invited their family back to Chesterley to detox from a rather stressful afternoon in order to avoid heavy Friday traffic on the one major road out of SCT.

I came home from Assistantship Work Day to a house filled with kids, toys, and a very happy Chester who had fun herding everyone from one room to another. It was great to finally meet The Missis and The Kids. We enjoyed pizza for all and wine for the "grownups" before sending them on their way in a repaired car back to their home. Missis called later on to report that all was well on the return trip.

What a neat experience it was to make this connection through serendipitous relationships! Hooda thunkit 17 years ago that our families' paths would cross in the middle of SCT?

Five things I just don't get

Hugh sent me this meme:

List five things that people in your circle of friends or peer group are wild about, but you can't really understand the fuss over.

The view of the peer group is fascinating to me. Perhaps the budding qualitative researcher is coming out in me now, but different people have different ontologies, or different points of view on how reality is defined. So, that which I think my friends are peers are wild about may only be my perception: it may not be accurate. They may not like this stuff either.

“Shut up, Rob, and just respond to the meme!”

OK, here goes.

Publications
You can tell I’m in academia with this one. If I have something to say, then sure I’ll write about it. However, I’m just not planning on publishing an article just to get another line on my C.V. I’d blow it off, unless I can find some passion inside of it. So, this means that if I have not authored 584 publications before I graduate sometime in 2006, then I’ve got news for you: they’re still going to call me “Doctor,” just like others attempting to publish a scholarly article on the hair growing out of their ears. Ew.

Grades
Again, they’re going to call all of us “Doctor,” relatively soon. Grades don’t matter anymore. Don’t get me wrong: learning from, and passing, our classes is essential, but perfection does not a doctor make.

New York City Superiority
I’m all about big cities, but don’t tell me that you’re better than I am as a person because you’re from, or because you live in, New York City. Yes, there are 87 million things to do in New York, and personally I think it’s a great town. But enough of the superiority complex, please. Most of the people in this country do not live there!

[None of my friends or relatives fall into the category of which I speak. Some others I know, however…]

Professional Sports
It’s just a game. I guess I’ve never understood this; I know I’m in the minority here. John is going to have a field day on this one (sorry man!). When the team name has “college” or “university” in its name, then that’s a bit different for me. But “professional sports” just seems oxymoronic.

Light Beer
Ugh. There are so many other options out there. I don’t drink beer very often. When I do, it’s usually beer that does not let much light through the glass.

I'm going to pass this one to John in an attempt to make amends (hee hee!), and to Slothshaman, for sure. And hopefully to Rachel B. to encourage her to start up her blog!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Candidacy

With no fanfare or thunder, though with quite a bit of sweat (ewww), I passed those damn oral exams and am most thankful that I'll never have to do those again. It went just fine. "Good enough for whom it's for," as my wife would say.

The Other Faculty Member On My Committee (TOFMOMC?? Good God, no more acronyms) said about two words pertaining to my dissertation topic, and suddenly some of the major theoretical constructs were being thrown away to the curb. It was as if he opened up the sky a little bit more so I could see it more clearly. I suppose this is good, as the topic was getting pretty complex, and my friend Ida would say "Ida wanna" complexity. Completion of the dissertation is a much better goal.

So, the end result: I'm now qualified to be a Doctoral Candidate.

I think I'm going to go crawl into a hole now.

Wild Ride

At 11:47 this morning (OK, technically yesterday morning, but I've not gone to bed yet), my advisor informed me that he had a 100 degree fever and was unsure he could make it to my quals defense. He could respond to things via speakerphone.

This made me a little nervous, and that feeling surprised me. I'm not that nervous about my responses tomorrow (well alright, perhaps I am just a bit). But the nerves kicked in because I'm relying on my advisor's moral support when I begin to discuss my own dissertation ideas for the first time in front of Other People. I think I mentioned before...this transition from taking in knowledge toward creating new knowledge can feel a little daunting at times. Perhaps it's just my personality and The Imposter Phenomenon coming through me? I dunno.

Fortunately, I just received an email from O Wise and Wonderful Advisor saying that indeed he will be able to attend my defense tomorrow. This is good. Cheers and happy thoughts to his good health (thank you, Lemming!).

Now I'm off to bed, and then it's onward toward doctoral candidacy!

Monday, May 09, 2005

Quals Defense Count-Down

Less than 48 hours till I defend my qualifying exams in person. I'll enter the room with my helmet and pads all ready. Can you IMAGINE, taking one's oral exam in a football uniform? Oh, how I wish I had thought of this sooner!

Well, I guess I should reread what I wrote at the end of February, huh? Ha ha, I exaggerate...OK, just a little. The real problem, however, will be deciphering some of the handwritten comments between now and then. All four of these professors know how to use a computer...I've seen them all do it. Why in the world didn't they just type out their responses?? Silly professors. As I asked before about my quals...this is an EFFECTIVE educational practice?

No, but it'll help me join The Club, I suppose.

Oy.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

My son is probably autistic

It's not full-blown autism like Rain Man, but we suspect it will be diagnosed as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). I don't think I've mentioned the situation on this blog, and it's probably high time.

Son is going to turn 4 years old in late July. He only has a handful of words, very few of which he uses purposively. His repertoire is: cookie, Momma, Dadda, Elmo, Thomas, shoes, goldfish [crackers], juice, and milk (note the emphasis on food: that's my boy!). Multi-word phrases include: "1-2-3!" when gently throwing him onto the couch or into bed; "ready, set go!" in similar situations; "I eat" (again with the food!) which he just started this past Thursday; and "YAY!"

He's a happy kid, though, and for that we're most thankful; many autistic kids are more removed socially or even angry. For those of you who know me in person, fathering a child with only a few words is totally out-of-character being that I usually have trouble shutting the hell up. So, it's not been an easy time around our household, but every day we're thankful for our little guy. He's really a great kid, and we try to focus more on what he can do rather than the things he cannot. I think what is most difficult for me is a limited ability to connect with him verbally. It's not just that he does not talk, but it is hard to tell if he understands what we're saying to him.

One thing that's truly remarkable is his musical ability. He's the product of two musicians, so few of our friends are surprised he's showing musical ability. But he has been singing Mozart and Beethoven tunes far earlier than he spoke his first word. He's learned many of these from songs in toys, Baby Einstein videos, and his Kindermusik classes, but I think a few come from things he hears around the house like my playing piano and my wife's singing. He imitiates songs on pitch with proper rhythm, some of which are difficult for many adults. He's showing scary-good musical talent; I just wonder what's going to happen in a few years. I started playing piano when I was 4, and he's just about there and is way ahead of where I was at his age. If we communicated through music alone, he'd be considered a genuis (no, I'm not biased AT ALL!).

He has been making great progress during this school year. There is a public preschool for chilrdren with developmental delays, and he fits right in. In addition, there's a therapy clinic for kids in town which we take him to twice per week for a joint speech and occupational therapy session. The more active he is physically, the better able he is to mentally focus and learn to speak. It's working really well; Small College Town has been very good to us in this regard.

There will always be the fear of the future for our son. Will he be able to lead an independent life in our society? How will he do in school? However, it's easier, and more important in my opinion, to focus on what he can do in the present day. And that's quite a bit. It's just going to be a wild ride.

Monday, May 02, 2005

And my life has changed...again

I went to campus to turn in my last paper of the semester, and of my third year in the program, just before 4:00 PM today (it was due at 5PM...so I was early this time, I'll have you know).

And yet, this paper isn't really "finished." It's a draft. I completed the requirements for this course, though. The professor wanted a draft of the results from our individual studies. I'm going to consult with the professor this summer to work toward getting this paper published.
While the semester, and technically the schoolyear, has finished, this paper has not; that's because it's the start of my dissertation. And that's just weird. It made the end-of-the-semester time extremely anticlimactic, as "the reporter" said in the post, below, because I feel torn between taking the night off and analyzing more of these interview data I have.

I guess I've crossed over the line of learning "knowledge" and have been shoved willy-nilly into the stage creating "knowledge." That may come across as a bit snooty, though it's not my intent. I've been looking forward to the end of my coursework because I could write about my own thoughts and back them up with research. It seemed to be such an ideal notion, instead of writing papers for courses. It still does seem ideal, but now that I'm very close to the end of coursework I'll admit it's a little bit intimidating. Are people actually going to read this stuff I write? And if so, then does that bring people in too close into the inner workings of my mind?

Well, no more than this blog is, I suppose.

I must run: Wife is home with celebratory Dairy Queen! Thanks for reading this odd little missive.

3 years down, 1 more to go

In the most anticlimactic semester ever, Rob has finished the 21st grade. Finished. Done. It's over, folks. He's officially a 22nd grader now, ready and raring to do the dissertation during the next year (and probably a little bit of the 23rd grade too). We spotted him this afternoon mowing his lawn in the Thanksgiving-like weather. When asked how he did it, his only response was:
Um...I dunno. I don't think I read enough.
Sigh. Coursework is just about over, and he's still second-guessing himself.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Second-to-last "Ida Wanna" Paper

So I'm here hanging out with my good friend, Ida Wanna. Together we find ways to avoid doing real work. She always speaks in the third person, i.e. "Ida Wanna do this!" Yeah, her grammar is that of a typically-developing two-year-old, but I accept these faults in my friends.
Ugh! Oh alright, I'll stop. That was getting a little bizarre. Anyhow, yep, I have been bitten by the procrastination bug. Again. This second-to-last paper is a group project I'm working on. Almost finished, though not everyone in our group has contributed how they should. Oh well...at least it'll be over tomorrow.

The last paper is to revalidate a class I took about ten years ago in my master's degree. It's not due till May 11. Writing this last paper will replace an entire class. I say it's well-worth the effort. Then I will be officially done with coursework, though I'm taking one other class this summer just because I want to learn from this particular professor. Yes, I'm truly rooted in my academic geekdom, taking a class I don't have to take.

I have another paper due tomorrow which I'm happy to write; it's writing up the results of my dissertation pilot study. Much fun...and it's just a draft. Again, this notion of handing in a draft as a final paper is VERY helpful. It makes me get the initial writing done, but I'm not feeling pressure to strive for perfection.

Guess I should get the damn draft done and kick Ida out of my house for the day. OK, bye.