Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taking Wonder and Magic to a Collegiate Level

Today I sat down in what I expected would be my least favorite class. I'm an English major, and occasionally I have to deal with Critical Theory. Critical Theory is basically studying the different ways you can critique literature by employing exciting methods such as Marxist theory, Feminist theory, Deconstruction, and more!
I'm kind of pessimistic about Critical Theory, because although it can be very useful in the hands of a reasonable person, it can wreak havoc in the hands of overachieving English majors, like this:

Marxist Criticism - "Have you noticed how this WHOLE BOOK is about how capitalism is the worst!? Gosh, I just HATE capitalism! America totally blows!"

Feminist Criticism - "Have you noticed this WHOLE BOOK treats women like they're just a bunch of dumb broads!? Have you noticed how women's bathroom signs force women to wear dresses... as if I can't wear pants if I want to like a man?! Like maybe you think I'm not as good as a man! Do you even care?!!"

Deconstruction Criticism - "Have you noticed how everything in this book means, like nothing... but like everything too!? It's like the whole word is like... nothing. Wow, like I always thought that might be true, but maybe there is no truth... it's so crazy isn't it?"

All of these things make my brain want to implode, and that is what I expected when I entered my class, since it had been billed as a Critical Theory course.
Little did I know I had actually comitted to 15 weeks of


MAGIC, AWE, AND WONDERMENT!


The syllabus actually labeled it "Ecocriticism, Wonder, and the Spiritual Imagination", but as the discussion continued, I immediately translated our main areas of study to be MAGIC, AWE, AND WONDERMENT! I soon realized this was a class designed to teach me how to take my awe and wonder with nature and magic to a collegiate level. This was helped by the fact that I'm pretty sure this woman is my professor:


Anyway, since I was awed, amazed, and wonderfied during most of our discussion, I imagine this class is doing just what it set out to do, and I figured I would present to you my translation of what I'm pretty sure the syllabus actually meant according to 1. What I heard, and 2. Things she said while commenting on the syllabus. I am keeping as much original material as I can:

ENGLISH 5910 - Fall 2009
Magic, Awe, and General Wonderment!

Professor: [Censored]
Room: TBA
Phone: Sit in the forest, wonder at nature, and call my name with your mind or send me an e-mail. (Use with discretion: PLEASE NOTE: There are many times when i do not check e-mail for a full week (or even more) because I am busy consulting the bones in a canoe somewhere in the wilderness.

If you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, it is available at video stores. If you haven't stuck your tongue into Al Gore's mouth, you should drop this class.

You will also need one notebook to use as a secret journal to write down things you think about. No one will ever check it or hold you responsible. It can be the size and style of your choice, including completely invisible to everyone but yourself. I prefer sparkley folders.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS:
Today's writing experiment: List twenty things you "couldn't live without." Then list twenty things you could easily abandon, and twenty things you believe you could leave behind if absolutely necessary. If you can't think of twenty things, do less than that. If you don't want to do this, then okay, because Buddha wouldn't want you to rush it.

Start reading The Miracle of Mindfulness, the first 35 pages are about MAGIC! Start doing some MAGIC! If you don't want to read all of those pages, just read what you want, because Buddha thinks you should work at your own pace.

Rescue a family of Quails

Start being amazed with nature!

The American with Disabilities Act If you have a disability, talk to me after class so I can reassure you that when your feeble body causes you to die an untimely death your body will become the grass, and the antelopes eat the grass, and we eat the antelope.

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Other noteworthy things about this class are:

Bridger is in it with me, and can be my witness that this class sounds an awful lot like I have described. He also shared in our "getting-to-know-you" portion of the class that he is really good at basketball.

In our class is a boy who opened his mouth twice, which resulted in:
1. Complimenting a classmate
2. Complimenting our teacher
3. Telling a story about how he is in the process of rescuing a family of Quails
- I cannot wait until I can count on this student to give me compliments.

I am unbelievably excited about this class, and am very relieved that it isn't a standard Critical Theory course.

Final Note: Here is a picture of me rescuing a quail -

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Feelings of Telemarketers Are Tender

I wrote this as a column for the Daily Utah Chronicle's Openings Edition. You can go ahead and read it. If you are itching to read the column at it's place of origin, then go ahead -

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Nobody likes telemarketers. The way they fly through the Russian night sky, cackling as they snatch little children from their beds and eat them, hiding away in their houses made of human bones and supported on dancing chicken feet! I’ve had enough of their witchy ways. In Slavic folklore, the…oh, wait a minute. That’s not telemarketers, that’s the Baba Yaga. My mistake.

After spending the past two summers working as a seasonal telemarketer, I still get the two confused. Old habits die hard.

A 2008 Gallup Poll ranked telemarketers as the second-most hated profession in the United States, right behind lobbyists, and just above Chupacabra. The ranking fell between the two this way, I assume, because while most telemarketers are repulsed at the thought of influencing Congress to act on behalf of special interests, most wouldn’t shy away from sucking the blood of goats. Anyway, aren’t lobbyists the worst? Always...lobbying stuff! Always trying to lobby stuff all over the place! Gosh, it makes me just furious, just plain furious!

But in case that didn’t distract you from your distaste for telemarketers, maybe you should consider some of the nice things telemarketers do for the world every day. For example, my daily summer commute to South Jordan is doing its part to help fund the economy of Saudi Arabia. And I also smile at people when I’m on the phone. Sometimes I try to say something amusing as long as I’m not getting the vibe that they might throw a hatchet at my face if given the chance. See, that’s three things right there. Some of us even limit the time we spend kidnapping babies and feasting on the blood of infants to when it is absolutely necessary.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a job at a call center. I once worked for a company that conducted compelling 30-minute phone interviews concerning turkey products. This was met by a lot of resistance by the local community, who carefully guarded their turkey information: “Is that the guy who wants to know about our turkey again? Don’t tell him a damn thing!”

For several weeks I painfully pried information regarding which brand of turkey people purchased, where they bought it, how often they ate it and more from the clutches of St. George residents. “Where did you get your turkey? Was it moist? Did you like the taste? Was it moist?!”

I often found the best way to conduct a good phone interview was by taking the path of least resistance. This resulted in conversations that went something like the following mostly-fact-based conversation:

Craig: Hello, this is Craig calling on behalf of (some company), may I ask you a few questions?
Phone Answerer: This isn’t a real person, is it? Is this a robot?
Craig: Umm, yes. This is a robot.
Phone Answerer: Wait, is this really a robot?
Craig: Yes, and if you don’t answer my questions, I’m going to come to your house and drill out your eyes with my drill-hands.
Phone Answerer: What are the questions about?
Craig: Turkey products.

If you think it’s rough having a strange man on the phone delving into your private turkey business, try to imagine the horrors of questioning people on the subject of turkey for many hours a day for several weeks. Isn’t that punishment enough? Compound that with the eventual realization that I possessed the expertise required to be hired for this job at the age of 15.

However, there are some very valuable things I’ve learned from telemarketing. For example, nearly all the residents of Utah wake up in the morning and attend a four-hour meeting between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., coinciding perfectly with my work day. This meeting strikes the perfect balance between casualness and professionalism to allow a person to answer their phone during the meeting, but only to inform the caller that they are in a meeting: “Oh, this is a telemarketer? Oh, I just answered the phone to say that I’m in a meeting and I…err…can’t talk…except for now…just to tell you I can’t talk.” I’ve never been invited to this meeting, but that probably has something to do with why I work as a telemarketer during the summer.

Next summer, with my English degree in hand, I plan on being able to acquire a job that is not listed as one of the top 10 most-hated professions, but would still value some of the skills I’ve learned over the past two summers. Maybe there is a Baba Yaga position open.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

For Your Consideration

Here are a couple things I've decided I don't like:

Numeric Messages - Over the summer I work at a call center. One of the things I occasionally find is the line going dead, and then a robot woman telling me that the person is unavailable, and to prepare to send my "numeric message". This is convenient, because I was planning on just leaving a numeric message over the line anyway.

Phone Answerer: Hello?
Craig: 5, 84, 17, 2, 139, 16! Figure that one out.


Sales on Honey Bunches of Oats... and nothing else - I feel like the only cereal on the planet that ever goes on sale is Honey Bunches of Oats. And not the good kind with the fruit, it's always the other kind that nearly no one actually likes to eat. Occasionally an edible cereal will mark down their prices, but to make up for that, Honey Bunches of Oats is ALWAYS on sale. It's like all the Honey Bunches of Oats that were ever made were made 20 years ago, and they just have this huge reserve of it that they can't get rid of.
Because this is the only cereal on sale 9 out of 10 times, it is one of the only cereals I ever buy. I even used to enjoy it, but the taste bud massacre caused by over a decade of Honey Bunches of Oats in my mouth has killed any interest I once had in this cereal. Please, can't someone else have a sale?


Love Shack by the B-52's - Was this song ever even popular? I have a suspicion that there was never a time that anyone liked this song. Somehow it has been forced upon the unwilling public for about 20 years. I have heard Love Shack on the radio this summer several times, and it just leaves me wondering what DJ is out there thinking: "You know what I think people would love to hear right now? Love Shack."
If you have any doubt on how bad this song actually is, here is a video of the B-52's performing it at their induction to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, just before the entire state of Georgia imploded -



The PC Laptops Kid - This is another result of my exposure to radio this summer. I've heard loads, and loads of PC Laptops radio commercials. I can usually handle the HILARIOUS antics of the regular PC Laptops guys, but I have to put my foot down with their new annoying children commercials. For some reason these kids can't talk at a normal steady pace, and they sound like this - (Imagine nasally, annoying kid voice) - "I love my... brand new PC Laptops... computer because... I can upload... videos and pictures... of my... family and friends. One day... I'm going to be... a computer... programmer... and make video... games." At this point it wouldn't be a stretch for me to begin hyperventilating and pass out, waking up hours later in a flaming wreck next to the freeway. It's like the kid can't read a script of more than four words at a time. I wish I could hold this child over a tall building and scream: "Say it normal! Say it normal or else! Diversify your inflection or reap the consequences!"
These kids are the worst.

On the other hand, here is a thing I like -

The Generationals - When they fight, they fight (This is a different version than their album recording, which is better, but I hope it demonstrates how nice this song is)



Final Notes:
- I've recently been asked by two people who do not know each other if I anonymously write Confessions from a Mormon Bachelor Pad. I don't. I really don't.
- You might have noticed that my most recent poll ended in a fierce deadlock between two people. One of those people was me. This is evidence that my blog is a success.