Sunday, June 21, 2009

Channeling my inner Patton

(Please listen to this music in the background as you read the post.)
Theme from the movie Patton

I have learned this week a very important lesson:

You can take the girl out of the Army, but you cannot take the Army out of the girl.

Although I graduated from West Point twenty-four years ago and have not worn a military uniform since 1990, the Long Gray Line lives on within me clear as a bell, night and day, no matter what. All I have to do is look inside myself and draw from my core. Or my Corps.

I am by nature shy, quiet, and nonassuming, but when I believe in something I can do what needs to be done. Or give it my best shot.

I remember well the statue of General George S. Patton, Jr. that stood on the edge of the Plain, across from the Library at West Point. I loved the way he stood, holding binoculars in his hands, looking solid and resolute and determined. Like he knew exactly what he was doing.

I think they have since moved Patton, or temporarily relocated him during construction of a new library. And I think he may well be moving somewhere else around the Plain in the near future. A man of maneuver! But one who will be standing tall at West Point for some time to come. Inspiring untold generations of future cadets to service and leadership.

I work in a university library, and I had to call upon the spirit of Patton this past week to guide me in a particularly difficult chore. You might think a library would be a very quiet and peaceful and stressfree place to work, but you would be wrong. A library is like any other organization, full of people who must somehow work with one another to accomplish a variety of missions that ultimately serve its users.

I do not relish standing up in front of a group of people and leading them in a move that many question or doubt or fear. I like to stand up in front of people and teach them or entertain them, but when it comes to convincing them to adopt a course of action they may not totally believe in, that is another story indeed.

But this past week, I was called on to do just that. I was called on to convince my colleagues to adopt a new, expedited process that would help guide them as they establish a more professional organization. Two years ago, the group voted, after considerable contention and hours and hours and hours and months and months and years of meetings and debate, to adopt a promotion process more in line with the promotion and tenure process of the university's faculty. Librarians as a rule don't much like change (even though their field is rife with change!), and this was a huge change. A scary change.

By virtue of my position as the elected representative to Faculty Senate and hence, Chair of the Library Faculty Committee, I felt it fell to me to be proactive and take the initiative, to help develop a process that would move us all further in the right direction. I felt strongly that if we all worked together, we could employ positive peer review and assist one another in preparing for promotion. We were colleagues; we should be helping each other to be the best librarians we could be.

I am not a politician. I tend to be obtuse when it comes to seeing the inner politics and workings of an organization -- and even a library has inner politics, believe me! I always expect people to do the right thing. That is just the way I am wired. Perhaps this is a weakness on my part, or perhaps it is a blessing. If I cannot see the obstacles that others see, then I continue to drive forward.

I went into my meeting this past week pretty much scared shitless. I was expecting the worst: contentious debate, overwrought emotions, the whole nine yards. But I was hoping for the best. I went in prepared, I went in having given everyone documents ahead of time, explaining what I was proposing. I was ready to explain. I was ready to answer questions. I was ready to ask for input. I set a clear agenda, with a set timeframe, and announced that our meeting would end on time (or earlier) and that we would leave the meeting having voted on the resolution I had proposed in my documentation.

To my surprise, everyone was civil, everyone was calm, everyone had good questions, and everyone contributed positively to the discussion. It was a very productive session.

At the end of the meeting we voted. Ten people voted for the resolution, none voted against it, and one person abstained. We created a task force to accomplish some tasks that need to be done before we can fully implement our plan, and we gave them a deadline to report back. We adjourned the meeting on time, and everyone headed off for lunch or wherever they needed to be next.

I was stunned. Pleased. But stunned. I was not sure that I had it in me still. To be assertive and firm in guiding a group to make a decision.

The only thing that could have made it better would have been if there had been a huge American flag behind me and I had been wearing a Patton outfit and ivory-handled pistols and I had talked about crap flowing through a goose.

It is not only on battlefields that we must lead. It can be in classrooms, in meetings, in boardrooms, in our homes, on the street, just about anywhere really.

Anytime, anywhere.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I love books.

The physical artifacts. The feel of them, the weight of them in my hand (not so much in heavy book boxes whilst moving, but individually, yes), their appearance, how they line up on my bookshelves and atop my nightstand, verily, in every room of my house.

Love them.

Am addicted to them. Can’t resist them. Work around them every day. Gravitate towards bookstores and libraries and bookshelves wherever I go. Find them comforting and sexy and revealing. One of my favorite things to do when first meeting someone or going to their office or home is to check out the books on their shelves. Reveals a lot, I think, about the person and how they think and read and what they are interested in.

So, you can imagine my dismay when I enter a house completely bereft of books!

Unfathomable to me.

I love books.

What is inside them. The type and the font and the layout, yes. But more precisely, the words. The words upon the page. The thoughts and ideas and images from the writer that have made their way onto paper or a computer screen and then ultimately upon the printed page.

The narrative. The story. The images. The evocation.

The writer Robert Coover wrote: “The narrative impulse is always with us; we couldn’t imagine ourselves through a day without it.”

Isn’t it this which makes us humans? The ability to tell stories.

And record them permanently for others to read. Later. At another time. In another place. On another planet. Decades, centuries, even millennia later.

I feel joy, euphoria, contentment, security surrounded by my books, my friends, my compatriots. Each one, like a separate treasured memory, holds a special place in my mind and in my heart. Each one elicits certain thoughts and memories and ideas and moods and feelings. Each one marks a different point in my life. I feel that if someone were to come into my bedroom and look over the books in my bookcases that line all the walls of my room, he or she would see into my very soul. And, so, I do not often let people into my bedroom. Other than my children, who already know me and pay no nevermind to the books on my shelves.


I love to read.

In the bathtub, on a plane, in the doctor’s office, in bed, in the Adirondack chair on my front porch, at my desk, on a blanket at the beach, in line at the DMV. In my car as I drive to and from work or on long trips (audio books, of course!). Anywhere, everywhere, but not at the table whilst eating with others. That is a time for conversation and community, although if we talk about books, that is fine with me, too!

My hunger for reading knows no bounds. I read fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose. Drama and grammar guides. Magazines. Mysteries and biographies. Histories and politics. Science and philosophy. Religion and art. Realistic fiction, creative non-fiction, fantasy, memoir, mythology. Classics and popular fiction. Bestsellers and obscure tomes.

What am I looking for?

The word upon the page that moves me. I am looking for the story, the description, the narrative, the dialogue, the turn of phrase that reaches deep inside me and jiggles things around and makes me think and feel and say: “Goddamned, I am glad that I am alive and that I can read!”

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Baby, you can drive my car!

I keep remembering a family vacation we took when my kids were three and one. It was a Club Med vacation that we had saved up for forever, to Punta Cana, where the beaches are truly pink.

The allure of the Club Med vacation was that we could spend part of the time all together as a family and part of the time alone as grownups while the kids went to Kids’ Club or whatever it was called. When your kids are babies and toddlers, you don’t ever really get any adult alone time. And we really wanted some of that.

I remember walking up to the playground, and seeing the kids all lined up and playing on the slide. I heard a little girl call out, “M, M, save me! Save me!” My three year old son moved forward and came to her rescue. It struck me that these young children in their play were modeling the story of the ages: the hero coming to rescue the damsel in distress. My son seemed to take it all in stride. While the little girl sounded panicked and desperate, almost shrill, he moved slowly, confidently, and with purpose to “save” her.

It was as if he were doing his own thing and all of a sudden, out of the blue, someone was calling on him, asking for help, and he felt it was part of his job, his duty to step forward and assist. Because he could. Kind of like, “Oh, all right. I am really over here doing something else that is important to me, but if you need my help, here I am!”

Today my older son took his driver’s test.

Which he passed with flying colors.

And I had no doubt that he would.


I, the mom, could not sleep very well last night, worried about it. Dreaming about it. I actually dreamed that he passed the test just fine. That wasn’t what I was worried about. I was worried that I would oversleep and we would be late and he would miss his time slot. His driving instructor had told us, “You need to be there 15 minutes early, and then 5 minutes ahead of time, you need to drive up in front of the building and have all your paperwork ready to go. They have different appointments every 15 minutes, so if you are late, you might miss yours.”


Aye, aye!

My son’s appointment was for 11. I figured it would take us about half an hour to get there, all things going smoothly. I was sure that all things would not go smoothly, so we should allow some cushion time. I figured if we left at 10:15, we would have plenty of time. Which we did. I think, actually, we left before 10:15 and got there around 10:30. The DMV site is about 15 miles away, up the local highway. Not an interstate, but one of those local highways that has stoplight after stoplight, strip malls, the whole nine yards. The speed limit changes from 40 to 45 to 55 and back and forth all the way there and back. I had my son drive us there (not something I was wild about, but the driver instructor had let him do that on the very first day he took him out driving, so I figured it would be bad form if I didn’t).

So, my son drove us there. Did a great job! All was fine and dandy. Most of what makes me nervous when we are driving, aside from the fact that he insists on driving with one hand, is THE OTHER GUY. Other drivers. You never know what other people are going to do. I see it every day on my commute downtown to work and back, and it is something I cannot control.

Of course, there is very little in this life I can control, so….

Anyway, we got there early, which was fine, and parked. Unfortunately, the driver tester dude was about half an hour behind schedule, so we had to wait extra, extra long. I personally found this very painful and stressful. I was already nervous and stressed out, but trying not to show it, because I didn’t want to make my son nervous and stressed out, too. He started telling me, in minute detail, about some science fiction book he had been reading. He seemed totally non-plussed.

I kept turning around, craning my neck, to see if a space had opened up in front of the driver testing building for us to go ahead and pull up, as we had been instructed to do. I had all of our paperwork in my hand: my son’s learner’s permit, my driver’s license, my registration, my proof of insurance, and this form I had to sign saying my son had driven 50 hours of supervised time. My hand was sweating, so the learner’s permit on top was starting to wilt. The cars were not moving. In fact, the same two cars that were there when we arrived, were still sitting there.

At least it wasn’t raining, I thought to myself.

“Aren’t you nervous?” I turned to my son, finally.

He looked at me, his eyes squinting up, you know, that look that teenagers always give their parents.

Like you are deranged.

“It’s not really in my nature to be nervous,” he said. And he was serious.

And it is really true. It truly is not within his nature to be nervous.

Of course, I am sitting there, a nervous wreck. I had woken up early, after a fitful sleep, and had been experiencing severe gastrointestinal distress ever since. I could hardly wait for the driver tester dude to take my son on his test so I could flee to the bathroom.

I had a hard time understanding how my son could not be nervous. But really, I do not think he was. I am not sure why I was nervous. Verily, I thought my son would do just fine on his test. If anything went wrong, it would be a fluke, a silly mistake, a trick.

Maybe it was because I was having flashbacks to when I took the driver’s test. It was at this same DMV site, and the test course was the same. I had failed my first time, because after going through the entire test just fine, the tester had said, “OK. You’re done. Just pull up in front of the building.” And so I did. Only I drove right through the final stop sign. The tester guy said, “You just drove through that stop sign. You fail.” Of course, silly me had thought (since the whole test course was fake anyway and not on a real street): he said I was done, I don’t have to play this silly game any more. He thinks I know how to drive, he just wants me to return to the test building. Fine.

But, no!

So sad, too bad, dear dad. You fail!

Plus, there was that whole parallel parking factor. I guess I had to parallel park to pass my test, whenever I did eventually pass it on the second go round, but I have to tell you, I avoid parallel parking like the plague!

I am terrible at it, it makes me nervous, I would never do it in traffic. My idea of parallel parking is when there are all these open spaces and you can just drive into one of them. I would NEVER choose to park between two parked vehicles. Ever. Just wouldn’t do it.

Which made me think that if I were taking the driver’s test this morning, I might very well fail it.

Even though I have been driving legally for thirty years!

Finally, the cars in front of us started moving up. The tester came up to us with his clipboard and asked if my son was my son. He checked off my son’s name. Then he told us to make sure we had all of our paperwork in order and informed us that he was running thirty minutes behind schedule. We watched him as he tested the drivers in the two cars in front of us.

I watched as he brought the first car back around to the end of the test; clearly the driver had failed. I looked closely at the driver tester guy as he methodically checked things off on his clipboard. He was white-haired, around sixty, kind of looked like a former football coach or high school gym teacher.

I turned to my son.

“Oh, my God!” I said. “I think that is the same guy who gave me my driver’s test.”

My son looked at me, skeptical, but not dismissing it out of hand.

I was suddenly bombarded by flashbacks.


I broke out in a sweat.

The paperwork in my even sweatier hands was starting to disintegrate.

My son’s eyebrow raised. “You really think so?” he asked.

No, no, of course it was impossible.

I had taken my driver’s test thirty years ago, and the driver tester dude had been old then.

He would have to be like a hundred years old now.

My son chuckled. “Wouldn’t it be funny if this guy was the son of the driver tester you had?”

I looked at my son. This was no time to be funny! This was serious.

To make a long story short, my son passed the test with no problems whatsoever.

He said the only thing the driver tester guy corrected him on was driving with one hand.

Aha! Hadn’t I told him that???

My son explained: “I prefer to drive with one hand because it relaxes me and I drive better.”

(Never mind that I often drive with one hand!)

The fact of the matter is that as the parent sitting in the passenger seat, I have to consciously prevent myself from stomping my right foot down on an imaginary brake. And sometimes I think my son is too far over to the right of the road, and it makes me nervous.

And on the way home, he ran a red light. Well, in all fairness, it was one of those cases where you are not sure if you should speed up and go through a yellow light or slow down and stop early. I think he made the wrong choice: speed up and go through. But I think he did it because he has only been driving for like three minutes and doesn’t have the experience to know when you should do which.

Of course, if he had been driving with both hands, I am sure he would have… still run the red light!

All I know is that when I got home, I had to go take a nap! I was totally exhausted and drained from the whole experience.

I was so glad my son passed, which I really thought he would do, because the thought of having to drive all the way back out there to the DMV and do this all over again was, frankly, just more than I could bear.

I cannot think about how I have a second son who will be going through all of this next year.

I will think about that tomorrow.

For, afterall, tomorrow is another day....

Beep beep'm beep beep yeah!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fly Away from Here

“We’ll just fly away from here
Our hopes and dreams are out there somewhere”
-- Aerosmith

My younger son flew down to visit his father today. It was the first time he flew on an airplane all by himself.

As he is now 15, he is old enough to fly all by himself, and not as an “unaccompanied minor.” His older brother was not accompanying him on this trip, as he has a summer job here, so my younger son was “on his own,” on his own. I was a bit leery of letting him go through those security gates all by himself and head off to the train and then to those distant gates. (Never mind that the Pittsburgh International Airport is really not all that big!)

The airline probably would have let me get a gate pass and accompany him (albeit for a fee! – I couldn’t get over that I actually had to pay money for my son to check even ONE suitcase!!!), but he said he felt fine doing it by himself. I did make him call me on his cell phone when he reached the gate, and then again as they were actually boarding the plane so I would know they were taking off on time. So, I could then call his father on the other end and let him know that he was on his way, as scheduled. Even though the Departures board kept telling me that his flight was “On Time.”

I think my son realized that these phone check-ins were more for my benefit than for his own, so he didn’t argue. But I think he didn’t really mind, either. Next time, he probably won’t want to do this. This morning, both of us might have been thinking about the time we were all at the departure gate together and I let him go to the bathroom all by himself and he got lost and almost missed our flight!

Of course, I also had my son call me when he reached his destination and got picked up by his dad. Am I a paranoid, worrywart parent? Probably. I mean, his flight was only about an hour or so, and he didn’t even have to switch planes or anything. Still, I think doing anything like this for the first time, alone, as a “grown up,” is a bit nerve-wracking, a rite of passage, and once you complete it, you gain more confidence. I think that works both ways, too, for the parent who needs to let go as well as the kid who yearns to be more independent.

In the past, my younger son had always flown either with me or his dad, or with his older brother. For a while, they were both “unaccompanied minors,” and then for a while my older son was old enough to accompany my younger son as his “guardian.” Interesting that when my older son was my current son’s age, I had no qualms about him being in charge of not only himself but his younger brother as well. Although I have to say, my older son has never had the occasion to fly by himself yet, even though he is older. So, in this case, the younger son is doing something that the older son has not yet done.

This is a strange phenomenon with siblings of different ages. In some respects, I think my older son is much older than my younger son at that same age, and my older son gets put in charge and held responsible for not only himself but his younger brother, too. In other respects, I tend to let my younger son do some things earlier than I did my older son, maybe because my older son is already doing them and my younger son wants to, too, and I can’t think of a good reason to say no. Or sometimes just because it ends up that way.

So, the older son gets put in charge more often at a younger age and responsible for the well-being of others, while the younger son gets to do certain activities (that aren’t age-dictated by law) at an earlier age than the older son. I am sure this must have some effect on how one develops as an individual.

What really stunned me this morning was how genuinely sad I felt after my son disappeared through those security gates. Seriously, there were a few times this morning I almost had to fight back tears! As I sat alone in the airport terminal waiting for his call, as I kept checking the Departures board to make sure his flight was still “On Time,” as I was driving out of the short term parking lot and leaving the airport. I was sad to see him go, yes. Although I certainly want him to spend time with his dad and have fun. I mean, in an intellectual, adult sense, anyway. Maybe I am also a bit sad that he is growing up and away from me. And maybe I am just lonely without him. He is a funny, lively, active, at times kind and generous, at times crabby and annoying as hell kind of guy. You know when he is there, and you really know when he is not.

It is true; when my kids are not with me I feel out of sorts, like all is not right with the world. Maybe this is natural. It didn’t bother me when each of them went on their 8th grade class trips to Washington, DC. Or to band camps or football camps. I didn’t even care that I had no way to contact them or talk with them on these occasions. I knew they were having fun and doing things they wanted to do. But when they go away for longer periods of time, holiday breaks or summer vacations, I have to turn a part of myself off. Because I start to feel sad, and then I feel guilty that I feel sad.

My sons have never really been apart from each other for any real length of time before, either. Only a few days or a week at most when one or the other was on a trip or at camp. This summer my younger son will be gone for well over a month. It will be interesting to see how his older brother copes, if he will miss his younger brother. And vice versa. My younger son confided to me in the car on the way to the airport that he was surprised by the big bear hug his older brother gave him, saying good bye. He said, “Maybe he’s going to miss me!”

Life flies by quickly, and within a few years both of my sons will be leaving home for good – off to college, careers, their own adult lives. That seems so strange to me. Good, of course, because isn’t that what we as parents are trying to prepare them for? But at the same time, sad. I am going to miss them. It was only yesterday that they were babies and toddlers and little boys who played with action figures and Legos. Now they are young men, taller and bigger than me, with facial hair and deep voices, and a desire to explore the world and discover who they are. These are all good things. Afterall, our hopes and dreams are out there somewhere.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

To the Point: Reflections on Reading

The first book about West Point that I ever read was probably the Landmark series book that I got from my elementary school library: The West Point Story by COL “Red” Reeder (USMA ‘26). (To show you what a nerd I was, I probably read EVERY book in the Landmark series that our school library had, along with every single Young Biography book.) The next book I read about West Point was an old, dog-eared paperback copy of West Point Plebe – also by the prolific COL “Red” Reeder. It is a G-rated kids book written in the 1950s. I actually found this book in my younger son’s room recently; I think he may have been reading it. The only thing I remember learning from West Point Plebe (aside from the fact that the protagonist, Clint Lane, was a gorgeous hunk) is that it is not a good idea to put grapefruit juice in a metal canteen!

THE classic novel on West Point is, of course, Dress Gray by Lucian Truscott, IV (USMA ’69). It was published in the late 70s right before I went to West Point myself but dealt with a West Point of the late 1960s, when Truscott himself had been a cadet. I read that book, of course, as well as the just-published Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy. While the latter was about the Citadel (a place where people pay to get hazed!), I figured it probably wouldn’t be too far off from West Point. I remember going to R Day thinking that I would have to “Drop those bags!” and “Pick up those bags!” just like in Dress Gray, and I was rather disappointed when no one ever asked me to do that. I won’t say I actually practiced doing it for real, but I certainly imagined myself doing it until I was, I thought, pretty fast on the draw.

Over the past several years, there has been a small slew of non-fiction books about West Point and what life at West Point is “really” like. Both Absolutely American (2003) by David Lipsky and Duty First (2001) by Ed Ruggero are worth reading and have their pluses and minuses. Lipsky, a reporter for the magazine Rolling Stone got approval from the Academy’s administration to follow a group of cadets through all four years at West Point. On the other end of the spectrum, Ed Ruggero (USMA ’80), former infantry officer, West Point P, and leadership speaker/writer, portrayed a year in the lives of several cadets at West Point in an attempt to give a glimpse inside the mysterious “leadership lab.” It is really hard to write about West Point if you have never gone there and experienced it yourself, but Lipsky did an admirable job. Of course, it is really hard to write about West Point if you HAVE gone there and experienced it for yourself, as Ruggero did. West Point is a different world, a different universe, with a different language and different rules; everyone going through it with you understands exactly what you are saying when you talk about West Point, but no one else really ever does. Or so you think.

If you have an interest in reading about West Point, there are three books I would recommend:

The first is a novel. Honor and Duty (1994), by Gus Lee, an Asian-American writer, is phenomenal. You may have read or heard of his first novel, China Boy, about growing up as a first generation Chinese American in San Francisco. Lee went to West Point in the ‘60s but didn’t graduate, failing out because of “Juice” (electrical engineering) his cow (junior) year, and this book is in many ways, I think, a roman a clef. It is very hard to capture West Point and what it is really like to go there, but Lee is a wonderful writer and does an amazing job. There are two things I remember most from this book, which was set during the Vietnam War: one was how as an Asian cadet, he was hazed for being Vietnamese (even though he was actually Chinese) and the other was a mentor character, a junior officer, who was a thinly disguised young Norman Schwartzkopf. I highly recommend this novel, especially if you prefer fiction.

The second book is a non-fiction book that will break your heart. I wrote about it a few months ago on this same blog. In a Time of War: The Proud and Perilous Journey of West Point’s Class of 2002 (2008) by Bill Murphy, Jr. The Class of 2002 was the “Bicentennial Class” as West Point was founded in 1802. They were already cadets when 9/11 occurred, Firsties, in fact, and they did not know what they would be getting into after graduation. Almost immediately, as brand new second lieutenants, many of them found themselves in Iraq or Afghanistan, and then Iraq or Afghanistan again. If they didn’t get killed first, that is. This is a very hard book to read. I cried through most of it. I don’t want to ruin the story, but if you have loved ones deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan right now, you might not want to read this book at this time. This is a very powerful, very moving book that talks about duty and honor and service and the realities of serving during wartime.

The final book, also non-fiction, is Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature through Peace and War at West Point (2007) by Elizabeth Samet, a civilian English P at West Point. I found this book to be extremely moving, thoughtful, and well-written. When I first read it, I wanted to write the author, who is still an English professor at West Point, but I was too shy and embarrassed. I wanted to tell her what an amazing book I thought she had written. She was an insider who was really an outsider, or an outsider who was really an insider, depending on how you want to look at it. She brings a different perspective to West Point and the Army and the cadet experience, and she captures a lot of the spirit of what it means to be a cadet. My only qualms were that the cadets she wrote about seemed so much smarter and well read than any of us ever were! I think West Point is one of those places where the more things change, the more they stay the same, and cadets are basically the same kinds of young people they have always been: motivated, gung ho, naïve, innocent, overachieving, patriotic, and determined to do their best. (Which, at times, can produce a few who are cynical, jaded, and/or proudly underachieving.)

I really loved the way Samet could talk about literature and poetry and why they are important for soldiers. And how her cadets showed her how important literature really was in their lives, especially as they headed off for Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t really think of soldiers as being thoughtful or thinkers or contemplative. We think of them as being readily obedient, doers, active, following orders, accomplishing the mission. Samet and her cadets show how it is possible to be both.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Term End Exams

As my kids were taking their final exams this week and wrapping up the school year, it brought back distinct memories of final exams at West Point and what that was like.

First of all, West Point doesn’t have final exams. It has Term End Exams, or TEEs. (West Point, like the Army, has to have a weird term and acronym for everything.)

Believe it or not, West Point was most like a “regular” college during exams. Why? Because a lot of the military stuff was kind of put on hold. We were allowed to keep our rooms in permanent PMI (PM Inspection), as opposed to AMI (AM Inspection) in the morning and PMI afterwards. And there was certainly no SAMI (Saturday Morning Inspection, THE most stringent form of inspection that usually happened each… Saturday morning) to worry about. Plus, meals were all optional and we didn’t have to march anywhere and we had fewer formations. We were also allowed to stay up later and hang out in more casual uniforms (Gym Alpha and sweats, mostly) in the barracks. Plebes got hazed less and were pretty much left alone; the upperclassmen had more important things to worry about – like studying for their own final exams. We would get together in groups and study and go over material. They would bring snacks to the company area – hot water for cocoa and coffee and cookies or other snacks. We were pretty much left alone most of the time to study and take our exams.

The exams were three hours long, and you could certainly have more than one exam per day. It would just really depend on what courses you were taking and how the schedule played out.

For most people, final exams week was the time to cram in everything you were supposed to have learned all semester long but never really did. Or it was a time to go over facts and figures and dates and make sure you had everything memorized. There was a lot of “spec and dump” mentality. You only needed to know stuff for the final exam, and then you could forget it. Usually there was a LOT of material covered in any one term in any one course, so there was a lot to review and go over.

This was a very stressful, high pressure, adrenaline- and caffeine-fueled time, but it was also, curiously, very relaxed and laid back, militarily. I actually really enjoyed final exams week. Not having to take the final exams, but how everything else was more relaxed and laid back so we could focus on studying. Or staying up late. Or just bull shitting in the hallways or in our rooms.

I guess you could say final exams week was the least military time of the year. So, that was why we thought it was more like what “regular” colleges were like, not that most of us really had any idea what “regular” colleges were like.

I think it is kind of odd, in retrospect, that final exam time, probably THE most stressful time at “regular” colleges, was for us what we considered the time most like what a regular college was like.

Monday, June 01, 2009

If the shoe fits....

OK, am I the only woman out there who is not made orgasmic by high-heeled platform shoes?

Sometimes I feel like I come from another planet!

Honest to God, these women were on TV this morning going ga-ga over these shoes with insanely high heels. They called them Skyscrapers, or some such.

And then there were these gladiator shoes (which even I know are all the rage right now and I still think they are butt ugly) with high heels and platforms. The fashion coordinator consultant, who probably made more money for this one segment than I do all year as a librarian, said, “Now, wouldn’t these shoes just make you feel like a goddess?”

I am looking at these shoes, squinting really, because they are so ghastly ugly and obviously uncomfortable, and I am thinking: “No, not really. They would make me feel like a cross between Victor Mature and the Lady Chablis from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

The best shoes, though, were the – now, get this! – toeless boots. Honest to God, toeless boots. They looked just like boots, black leather and all, but they had obscenely high heels and platforms , to boot! (ha), AND… they were open toed!!! I am thinking, OK, we wear boots to protect our feet from snow, cold, mud, falling trees and I-beams. What the hell good are toeless boots going to be? But everyone was going super gaga over them. And, guess what? They only cost $1200! A true bargain, if I ever heard of one.

And just because I am a librarian, does not mean I wear orthopedic shoes! I have a whole variety of shoes, in different styles, for different purposes. Granted, a heel of two inches would pretty much be stiletto for me. When I go for shoes, I go for comfort. My favorite pair of shoes, by far, is my Dansko clog-like things. They are great for having to spend a lot of time on your feet, which I do as a roving, teaching reference librarian. I also have a wide variety of slip on shoes, loafers, low-heeled pumps, and sandals. Right now I am wearing flip flops, which I quite enjoy but which I do not wear when it is twenty degrees outside and snowing, which I have seen many a teen girl -- and boy -- doing! New Balance running shoes, several pairs of mocs, Teva’s, Bean boots from 1980, hiking boots, and even a pair of Doc Martens. (All of my boots have toes, thank you very much.)

Now, I really don’t care if other people want to wear really high heeled monstrosities. That is their personal business. If they like them and feel comfortable wearing them, go for it! Hell, I guess I shouldn’t really care if they feel comfortable in them or not. They are all grown ups. If they are happy with their shoe choices, more power to them! I just don’t “get it.” But then again, I guess I don’t have to.

Now, where the hell did my other flip flop go…?