The deck is always stacked against you

Recently, my wife and I moved to the Pacific Northwest for work where we’ll both be working for the same university after 3 years of long-distancing it. We got here late June/early July and have (mostly) settled in. Adjusting to living together has been great…except for the financial insecurity.

Let me explain: see, we’re both in higher education. In the corporate/industry world (with a few exceptions), when you’re required to move, the company pays for costs up front. That can include: apartment hunting, renting a u-haul/trailer, dropping a deposit, gas for moving, plane tickets, etc. That’s not the case in academia: we’ll get reimbursed, but not until our first paychecks…in late September.

Right now, my wife is doing some side-work to help with the bills. I’ve been teaching a couple of online writing sections for the past month-and-a-half while doing some side editing and will be flying out of town to teach for my previous institution to make some more money. We even saved up several thousand dollars in anticipation of this move. Even with all of that, though, we’ve got car payments, rent that is outrageous (the PNW is not cheap), cell phone bills, grocery bills, utilities, regular credit card bills, you name it.

Earlier this year, I wrote about academic burn out. This situation certainly contributes to that and, consequently, I’ve been seriously considering going into industry (and have actually sent some resumes out and talked to some people). I do like teaching. I like the neatness of a life organized by semesters/quarters. The new feel of an academic year – there’s a reason I’ve spent most of my life in some kind of education setting. But what sane person wants to work in a field where you’re expected to pay for your costs up front, wait (sometimes months) for reimbursement, and only get paid for 9 months out of the year even though you’re almost always going to be doing some kind of work year-round.

Before graduate school, I was a reporter with a pack-a-day smoking habit and much smaller student loan bills. Before that, I was musician in a touring band while also working as a barista, substitute teacher, junior high tutor, and full-time college student. Sometimes, my life feels just as unstable as it was then.

I want to publish. I want to teach and help students. But I’m 37 years-old. I went through yet another year on the academic job market, which is a soul destroying endeavor on its own, gave a presentation to about 5 people in a 140 seat theater, and had another death in the family, and I’m tired of this.

I love what I do; but love doesn’t pay the rent.

Missing Transition(s): A tribute

Last Monday I received news that my aunt Martha had passed away. It’s difficult to articulate what my feelings were, beyond immediate sadness, because death is one of those fundamental concepts that our brains can’t really comprehend. So mine did the same thing it often does: move the weight of the processing to my subconscious. My wife has been excellent about checking in on me, since I’m basically finishing out my last weeks at my current university while attempting to pack my apartment up for the first part of our move across the country and prepare for her graduation this week. I’ve been doing a lot of journaling these past few weeks and it has been helpful.

But as I’ve started and stopped packing over and over I’ve felt myself a bit…paralyzed. Since I graduated in 2016 I’ve basically been moving every single year, from apartment to apartment. Really every year since I’ve left home, I’ve treated the spaces I’ve lived in as temporary shelters. I rarely, if ever, put any artwork or photos on the wall because I figure I’ll be moving soon. Always moving. Always transitioning. As I look at these boxes in my apartment, I think I’ve been simultaneously unpacking deep seated feelings of my family. Of my friends. Of the ones I can’t visit anymore.

One of my favorite memories
Martha (left), Socorro (Middle), and my sister (foreground) at my cousin’s wedding

One of the things about this transient lifestyle, or one of my coping mechanisms rather, is that I always said, “I’ll get to visit [insert family member] later. Next year…” Then next year becomes two years, then after graduation, then after settling into the job, and so on and so forth.

My great-aunt Nana. My aunt Socorro. My uncle Pablo. My uncle Frank. My grandma Mary. My grandpa Pepe. My wife’s grandparents. And now Martha.

It’s hard fighting my inclination towards self loathing and guilt. Guilt that I haven’t been able to be there for my family during their time of need. Guilt that I never made that visit to these people who have been a big part of my life that I’ll never get back. And the guilt, turned inward, turns into anger. At myself for not having my shit enough together to not be able to do more, to be there more. Fighting that urge to just yell, “GOD FUCKING DAMN IT” and just punch something until I’ve exhausted myself.

I pack up pictures and think back to the summers my family traveled to Nebraska to visit our aunts and uncles. Lot’s of bike rides (and unfortunate bike accidents). A LOT of land. Cookouts, fireworks, and staying up late with my cousins. My uncle Paulo cracking up a Schlitz and being the lovable curmudgeon befitting us Reynoso men. My aunt Socorro sitting back in her chair, laughing (I loved her laugh). Right now, I think of the way both she and Martha said my name. Martha especially, when I’d say something funny, would laugh and say, “Riiickyy…” and the end of my name would just trail away in the air. I always liked that.

Pictured: Lovable curmudgeons

So I’ll continue cleaning, packing, decluttering and getting rid of the stuff I don’t need. But right now, while my family mourns, I’ll keep those memories of late summer Nebraska nights. I’ll hold onto them and think of playing card games and fighting my uncle as he tried to cheat by looking at my cards. I’ll think of the smell of big breakfasts in the morning and maneuvering around countless grandchildren. The infamous wedding where my sisters and cousins literally outran the bartender while absconding with bottles of liquor. Right now, those are the things that I need.

An old pic of my wonderful uncle Frank with my cousin Christy

I don’t know if any of my cousins read what I write and I really wouldn’t blame them if they actively avoid it. But on the off chance that they do, I want to say that I love you all. To Christy and Cassie: your mom meant the world to us all and we’re richer for having been a part of her life. To the Whipple, Vergil, Reynoso, Dominguez, Molina, Garza and Ramirez families–I will continue to send all of my adoration and love your way. I hope, however small, it can be of some comfort. And especially to Lisa, Mary and my dad: lean on each other and on us.

Academia and Empty Rooms

It’s been a long year, and I’m tired. As most of my friends know, I’ve been on the job market for the past year and, after holding down a full-time, tenure track job, maintaining a long-distance marriage, my partner and I are now looking forward to living together and starting this new chapter in our lives. But I still can’t help but feel disillusioned with the state of the academy.

I’ve been teaching in higher education since 2009, when I first entered graduate school. Started with 1 class a semester while a full time student, increasing to 2 classes, then 2 classes and administrative duties. At my current job I teach three classes a semester, plus advise a student organization, not to mention the myriad department, college, and programmatic meetings. That’s tiring, yes, but it’s the research that has me questioning whether it’s even fucking worth it.

I’m a border boy. My hometown of Weslaco, TX sits across the river from Mexico. My grandparents (with the exception of my maternal grandmother) were born in Mexico. I have memories of South Texas as a child: large swaths of citrus fields, dirt roads leading into my family’s neighborhood, the sweet smell of burning grapefruit peel from the nearby TexSun factory, outhouses instead of toilets.

High school: noticing a lot more of my peers are from Mexico (we would refer to them as “fresas“). More planned communities and outlet malls. My dad, an accountant working for a multinational company and working both in the US and in Mexico, telling me that the largest amount of credit card purchases by Mexican nationals in the US was at La Plaza Mall in McAllen, Tx. One summer, I work for several weeks with my family picking melons in the hot Texas sun. After graduating from college, I work for a couple of years as a reporter and two experiences stand out to me: 1) I take a kayak with a local activist and paddle up and down the Rio Grande, and 2) I get a tour of the “Levee Barrier” in Granjeno, Texas: a concrete and steel reinforced barrier that the Department of Homeland Security swooped in to build in 2007 post Katrina.

Graduate school: I research this stuff and write about it, with my colleagues telling me it’s a fruitful path of inquiry. I mention the “checkpoint” near Falfurrias, TX and my cohort seems shocked that such a thing exists within US borders. Amazon proposes delivering via drone and, while people were up in arms over the very idea, I remember the drone footage I saw as a reporter back in 2007 and chuckled at the fact that no one seemed to give a shit then. I meet, become colleagues with and present in front of other Latinx scholars. They support and give me feedback and I finally think I’m ready to share this with a wider audience.

2014. The Rhetoric Society of America Conference in San Antonio, TX. The theme is “Border Rhetorics”. I felt it a perfect place for me: it’s in my home state, I live and breathe the border, and am excited to present in front of as many people as possible.

Presentation time: 7:30 A.M. the last day of the conference. At the same time as many of my fellow Latinx scholars. 2 people in the audience, 1 of whom is my friend. I look at the “performance” of borders in the other presentation titles with better slots: “Borders of Writing”, “Borders between this sub discipline and that sub discipline”. “Bordering the writing center”.

My friend Adam will be forever in my debt for coming to thiswhen he didn't have to...

This past spring: the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve got a “featured” spot with one of my friends from the NCTE Latinx Caucus. Friday morning, but at 9:30 this time. I change tactics: I decide to change my topic to what this blog is about–presenting work about brown people by brown people and feeling defeated when no one listens. I think, “NOW people will listen…”

What a "spotlight panel" looks like.

I was foolish to think it would be any different.

This thing, this border thing has been gobbled up and spit out by academics trying to shore up their cv’s. They did the same thing with critical pedagogy, they’re doing the same thing with “decolonization” and critical race theory, and they’ll keep consuming these (O)ther theories and spitting them out when they’ve outlived their usefulness. And the scholars of color who have worked hard to bring these theories and experiences to the forefront will be left behind, because academia doesn’t give a shit.

I start to blame myself: maybe I need to be better about publishing. Maybe it’s my fault for not promoting better. Maybe I need to be more craven. Maybe I need to work harder to network. Maybe….maybe…

When you are Other, your otherness will be used against you. One way or another.

[Your Pedagogy Here]

 

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I get my height from my mother and grandmother. B.A. in English, 2007. UTPA

I began my college career as a computer science major. What I had envisioned (initially at least) was that I would learn how to code and develop programs for some software company anywhere. I probably got the idea from years of reading gaming magazines and thinking, “hey, these people that made Metal Gear Solid were programmers. I could learn to do that.” When I was a little boy, I once took apart my family’s apple computer and put it back together–I’d later try it with an Apple IIe and get into a LOT of trouble for being unsuccessful at the latter part. I had a portable 8-inch television that my grandmother gave me that I would disassemble on a semi-regular basis, staring at the CRT and wires, enthralled at all of the connections and plastic and metal. I think a lot of this got me to that point.

But a series of mishaps, fumbles, transfers and changes in later years resulted in me becoming an English major. When I transferred to the University of North Texas, I thought I wanted to be a music major (side note: I was on a music scholarship my freshman year in college. I was a CS major who auditioned and got a music scholarship due to years of classically trained singing). But I knew UNT had a very rigorous jazz program so I thought to myself, “I’ll apply as an English major cause I know I can bullshit my way through an essay, get in, brush up on my sight reading, then audition so I can change majors.”

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My sister and I doing what we do best: being assholes

That didn’t happen. I took one HUGE English lit class where I was one of at least 100 students (it was where I first learned what a Teaching Assistant was) and was weirded out by it…BUT I also was in another lit course that was much smaller. The professor was a really nice dude by the name of Robert Upchurch, and I just enjoyed being in his class. He was a delightful man who would talk about books in between stories about his family and I just thought, “this dude is alright”.

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Probably looking at some dumb shit my sister was doing. MA in English, 2011. Purdue.

Cut to a year later, I’m back in the valley living with my mom and sister and transferring back to Panam. I had failed out of UNT and felt like I had wasted all of that academic potential everyone in my family had talked about. I was demoralized. I was 5 years into a 4 year degree, in debt, and felt subhuman. But then I ended up taking a senior level class with a new faculty member by the name of Colin Charlton, a dude who would radically change the trajectory of my life. At that time I was a heavy smoker (both in weight and packs-a-day) and it was one of those long evening courses. I believe it was his first semester teaching there and after a couple days of class, we had a smoke break (he smoked at the time too). I remember talking to him about how fascinated I was about how he was structuring the class, asking him about his pedagogical style. He paused, looked around, and said, “honestly dude, I have no idea what I’m fucking doing right now.” I was instantaneously loyal to him. I’d never had a teacher admit that they were winging it before. That same semester in a “Rhetoric of Power” course, my professor, Danika Brown, suggested I look into the idea of graduate school. Those two people placed that idea in my head that I could actually do that thing after graduating.

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My wife is one of those “have it together” teachers. PhD in English, 2016. Purdue

I never saw UTPA (or UTRGV as it’s now known) as “well known” outside of the valley. Growing up there, it was the university you knew and, most of the time, went to after high school. I never fathomed that it could be a stepping stone to a larger world–one that would send me clear across the country and into a field where, after 7 years of graduate school, I’m that teacher now.

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Pictured here: technical writing

I also never thought of myself as a good teacher. I have ideas about stuff, but I always felt like my other colleagues had more of their crap together than I did. But now I’m in my second year as a faculty member. Most of my students are working class, many from farming communities, who work multiple jobs while juggling school and their personal lives. Exactly like I was. A student came up to me not too long ago after a campus event and said, “Ricky I’m sorry I was such a terrible student in your class,” to which I responded, “you can’t possibly be worse than I was as an undergrad.”

I got home pretty late tonight. My Tuesdays tend to be like that, since I’m the faculty advisor to the student newspaper, and it can be time consuming. But then I get to sit in as these students talk about their lives, their future plans, arguments over which member of One Direction is best (so far it seems the consensus is “Liam”, but that changes with their mood). Most of all, they really want the paper to survive. They take pride in it. So, yeah, I’ll give up my Monday and Tuesday afternoons (and sometimes Fridays) to look over stuff with them. I’ve got colleagues here who value my opinion and trust my input when we talk about new courses and the future development of our program. And for some unknown reason, they seem to think I know what I’m doing.

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Me and the soulless mascot who will one day end my life

 

This isn’t an invitation for people to say, ” no you’re a great teacher, Ricky”. That’s not the point of this post: I’m mostly thinking aloud about what it is I do and how I do it. Like my desk it’s messy, disorganized, with some cool stuff interspersed in all of the messy texts and printouts. I hope to figure out a better system someday. At least to pay homage to those people like Professors Upchurch, Brown and Charlton who were the first who gave me permission to fail upwards. Lord knows the world has been paying for it ever since.

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Not pictured: random pages on the floor and a whiteboard my students constantly vandalize

On the spirit and social justice

On tragedy, spiritual badasses, and service

My wife and I were talking about hurricane Irma today and how horrible it is that there’s already been so much destruction thanks to Harvey, but now we’re hearing reports of places where 60% of homes have been decimated. More specifically we were talking about that feeling of being powerless in the face of absolute destruction, especially when you hear stories about the Red Cross mismanaging disaster relief funds or the US refusing relief help from other countries. It’s easy to get a bit jaded about this.

For those that don’t know, I met my wife my fourth year of graduate school through a mutual friend. Many of you already know the story about how our mutual friend set us up and basically tricked us into sitting alone together at an ihop on a random Saturday morning. What most people don’t know is why that bit of matchmaking worked so well: from the time we sat down, we just started talking and talking about our lives and our goals and grandiose things like that. Then we started talking about religion and spirituality.

People who have known me my whole life know that I was raised Catholic and because I was always a good student, I did well at our church’s CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine…basically Sunday school). I remember one particular day at CCD the teacher quizzed me on certain scriptures or something or other and I must have aced it because he said, “you know you would make an excellent priest.” I went home and bragged to my parents about what my teacher said, to which my dad said, “…no you’re not gonna do that.” I didn’t quite get it at the time, but in retrospect he was probably right. I grew up in Catholicism and our family found a church that we went to almost every Sunday. Like most other people, I struggled with questions of God, religion, doctrine and at some point I learned to keep most of my thoughts and fears about that to myself. I know and have many friends who are openly devout, others who are atheist or agnostic, and I never had a real problem with any of it.

Cut to ihop years later and I’m now sitting in front of this cute girl with curly brown hair, Purdue hoodie talking openly about her God and her beliefs and it was startling to see someone who was so kind and thoughtful when talking about it. So I just opened up: we spent hours there at ihop just talking and haven’t stopped since.

Tonight was one of those same scenarios. After talking about Irma we started talking about one day starting a foundation to help with disaster relief, which lead to me talking about my not-so-hidden love of the Jesuits, particularly people like Father James Martin.

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Father James Martin, seen here doling out the harshness

Ever since I became aware of them I’ve found the Jesuit mission extremely compelling, particularly their focus on education, service and social justice. My graduate program at Purdue was hugely influenced by the Jesuits. As I said to my wife, I love when churches dispense with the hand wringing and directly say things like this:

“We believe that the criminal justice system in the United States disproportionately affects poor people and people of color. We believe that prison reform and the abolition of capital punishment will support necessary systemic change.”-Ministry against the death penalty

or this:

“We sponsor over 30 ministries including three Catholic high schools; tutoring and literacy programs; spirituality centers; social service programs; spiritual direction; and pastoral assistance. We are also involved in and support numerous justice and peace initiatives including anti-racism efforts, the abolishment of the death penalty, fair and just immigration policies, non-violence, especially in regards to gun violence, ending the modern day slavery of human trafficking, and care of the environment and Earth.” – Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph

This is what religion should do: service to the spirit and the person. They should have signs that say, “we are here to serve, but we’re not f*#king around”. Every religion and/or belief system has its problems, but this is not me promoting any particular sect. This is me taking the time to untangle the beautiful, messy, confusing, sometimes painful journey that is life and self-discovery. I don’t even know if I ultimately have a point beyond showing how badass certain priests, nuns, or churches can be. But we’re all humans and anything or anyone whose explicit mission statement involves helping other humans gets a hard cosign by me, and I hope to use this moment as inspiration to at least guide me in the future.

Imperfect Strangers

People are weird. Some are weirder than most and I am most certainly in the latter camp. I have some strange habits: I’ve been told repeatedly that I seem unapproachable or even angry at times. I walk everywhere with ear buds because I can’t imagine a life without music or podcasts and when I walk, I have a tendency to scowl–not because I’m angry, but that’s just my resting grump face. I like people a lot and I genuinely think humans are wonderful creatures, but I also can only stomach being around people for so long before I get irritable. My family and my significant other know this about me. It seems most everyone else in my life is aware of my weird habits and I’m the last invited to the “obvious ricky” party.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because so much has happened: I moved to Wisconsin, defended a dissertation, graduated and am about to embark on this next chapter in my life. Yet I’m still learning a lot about myself. I’m so used to deferring and focusing on singular things that I haven’t really stepped back to see my life as a whole. I’m used to thinking, “ok you’ve got this bill and this bill to pay, money’s tight right now, how are you gonna do it”. I’m used to not telling anyone about my worries because…it’s just what I’ve done. I’ve grown accustomed to being the “stoic” one in the family and not because of anything they’ve done, it’s more how I’ve operated my whole life. But it takes your friends and loved ones to push you towards recognizing these things that may seem like coping mechanisms, but are really emotional and spiritual crutches.

I think about my weirdness in the context of my family. I think about how often people say I remind them of my dad, about his habits and his way of thinking and moving in the world. I think about the things that frustrate me about him and think about things I want to do differently. There’s a difficult balance between being comfortable with where you come from and where you want to be and sometimes you [read: me] can get angry when you default to instincts that feel like genetic traits.

I remember talking with my s/o about my father and these “frustrations” and us coming to the realization that those particular things he does that straight up piss me off sometimes are things he does because he cares about me. That’s a huge revelation: this guy that I’ve known all my life is human, just like me. And I realize I do many similar things that can frustrate others, particularly my insistence on working things out on “my own” (i.e. not talking about my worries).

Choosing not to feel

Those of you that know me know that I’m a huge Star Wars fan, but what you may not know is that I also really like Star Trek. I have a particular fondness for Spock: there’s something about that level of logic that speaks to me. In the first JJ Abrams reboot, you see that moment when Spock beats the everloving piss out of Kirk and you see it again when he goes after Khan in the second movie. Half-vulcan, half-human you know deep down he WANTS to be pure Vulcan but his emotion always trips him. My s/o joked that I was totally Spock when I first showed her this movie, but there’s a lot of truth to that. I tend towards habits that disconnect me from the present: I focus on day-to-day things because that’s what you do to survive. You think about one step then the next because you don’t want to freak out about all of the unpredictability that comes with being human.

And I identify with the ideologically polar opposite of Spock when it comes to Star Wars: the Sith use emotion, anger, to fuel themselves. Philosophically, I think the Jedi, with their child kidnapping and staunch anti-interventionism, are delusional while the Sith actually work within a framework that accounts for human irrationality. I wanna be Spock while I wanna be Sith.

But I’m neither of those things. I’m just some dork who is coming to terms with the fact that often times, your loved ones know better than you know yourself. I’ve been in school my whole life and am starting a career as a college professor, but I’m still learning what it means to be human. Always learning.

Not so fast

194292_671206821017_1406013724_o“Automobiles are what we use. Cars, are what we are.” – Chris Bangle

2006 was a strange time for me. I was nearing the end of my undergraduate career after a failed attempt at going away to college 9 hours north of my family. A long-term relationship had ended. My parents had just split up after 20+ years of marriage and my family was still recovering from that upheaval. I was in a band that occasionally toured around texas to dozens of raving fans. I was also in the market for a car.

See, my dad owned a black 2000 Corvette. Six-speed manual, gray leather interior. A fantastic car, it must be said, and one I was driving on a daily basis because dad worked in Mexico and, really, you don’t wanna be driving around Mexico in a low milage, pristine Corvette. But I was in my mid twenties and insurance on a Corvette was absurd. So I decided, with dad’s permission, to trade-in the ‘vette for something more responsible. I wanted practicality. I wanted fun. I wanted to row the gears (read: manual transmission). So I went with an 06 GTI. Yes, I traded in a ‘vette for a Volkswagen, something younger Ricky would’ve scoffed at.

Even at that age I’d had a history with cars, and not in a bad way. I started out driving my mom’s Ford escort station wagon and I didn’t mind it, for the most part. What I did mind was sharing the car with my mom: see, she was (and still is) the type to hang shit from the mirror: beads, tassels (from my graduation cap you pervs), all the weird adornments that obstruct the front view of a driver. If I wanted to listen to my Deftones CD? I had to plug in a tape adapter and connect it to my discman because all it had was a cassette deck. I even once harrowingly drove through a muddy road, sliding past hopelessly stuck lifted pickup trucks as I Tokyo drifted my way back home from Whataburger. It was a decent car: good to learn on, but nothing crazy.

Then my mom upgraded to a Chevy Tahoe and handed me her 99 Volkswagen Jetta, a mistake I would later pay for through the GTI. Now THIS car was actually good: ran well, had really decent speakers that could handle the hottest Bone-Thugs cassettes. I drove that car for about 4 years and never had a problem with it: regular maintenance, swapped out the cassette deck for a CD player using money I got from a minority scholarship. It was a genuinely great car that suffered at the hands of my sister, who ripped off the front bumper, repeatedly failed to change the oil so much that she even had to sign a waiver at a Walmart oil change place stating that she brought it in that condition. You KNOW you’ve fucked up when even Walmart doesn’t want to touch your car.

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Hell yeah

After moving to Dallas, I got a 2003 Sonic Blue Mustang GT. 5-speed manual, black leather interior, 6 disc cd changer. That thing was awesome American muscle. For a while at least. Then driving around Dallas traffic using a heavy clutch became tiresome. And things started falling apart on it. When I moved on to the GTI, my mom drove the car and had to replace the clutch several times.

Which brings me to the GTI. Grey. 6 speed. CD changer. Audio jack for an iPod. In 2006, this was cutting edge shit. I even had satellite radio! But apparently, the Germans got a little complacent in the years between 99-2006. I had to replace the multifunction display (the dash, essentially). $1200. There was an intermittent knocking it would do–I think it was probably the AC compressor. Countless “service engine” lights. That audio jack, by the way? In the glove compartment. So if I wanna listen to my tunes, I gotta run a cable and either a) leave my phone in the glove box, or b) drag said cable from the glove box to the center console in a haphazard way, like a goddamn animal. Who designed that shit? Assholes, that’s who.

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Pictured here: a pile of garbage

Did all of the regular maintenance: 50k mile service, 100k mile service, 120k service–the last of which cost me 1300. A month later the car stopped running. I stopped taking it to the dealer and instead took it to another shop: a wire had rusted, shorting the alternator. It ran for 2 more months then completely died. This car, this fucking Volkswagen, couldn’t even limp its way through graduate school. It always struggled in Indiana winters: no matter how new the tires, it seemed there was never any grip for the car. And still, I tried working with it. Until this past March, when it finally said, “FUCK YOU AND YOUR JOB MARKET YEAR, RICKY!” Thankfully I have a significant other gracious enough to lend me her Honda Accord when I need it. I tried to hold out though: I even said I would save up money for a few months once I got a job in order to get me something nice. But all for naught. I looked and looked and finally bit the bullet and found a new car.

Cool story, right? But that’s not the point. I’m weeks away from defending my dissertation and about two months away from starting my new job. My first real job in years. All of these changes have made me contemplative and I can’t help but think about how these vehicles have been sort of reflective of me and my life at the time. Each one with its own story. Each one with a Saint Christopher medallion that either my mom or my grandmother gave me.

Literally and metaphorically green, in the case of the Ford, it did what it needed to do. More than a little worse for the wear, but solid.

The Jetta a reflection of youth: new, no expectations but a promise of a future where my tunes rule the world and I can at least pretend to be an adult–it was the year they moved from the boxy mark III style into the BMW-wannabe style.

The mustang a world of reckless abandon: loud, brash, technically works but you’re dealing with a plastic interior that shakes and rattles and you know if you push it too much you’re gonna end up dead.

The GTI: lowered expectations. Life goals put on hold while you tend to emergencies.

All of these cars tended to parallel my life and I think a car should do that. There’s something about the endless potential a long road trip provides–it’s why I still prefer driving back home to Texas. It give me time to think. To reminisce. To look out on the American landscape and think about all of those homes in all of those rural towns, wondering what their lives are like. Wondering what my life would’ve been like had I grown up in Three Rivers, Texas instead of the Valley. Imagining what sorts of lives hide behind those farms in the midwest, what dreams hover over the beds in those dark towns along I-40.

I haven’t had my new car long enough to feel any emotion other than relief that I’m rid of the VW. But I do know that it’s gonna be logging a lot of miles. And I also know that if I ever meet an engineer for Volkswagen, I’m gonna punch ’em in the dick.

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Fuck Volkswagen

The Sports Defener Part Deux: Sports and “Disruptors”

Listen: I’ve written about sports before. That was coming from a personal angle, obviously, but I feel like it needs revisiting because, a) it’s much deeper than I initially discussed, and b) some of you assholes are still asshol-ing.

First, please read this article. Basic summary is this: the now former GM of the Philadelphia 76’ers, Sam Hinkie, had a tactic he referred to as “the process” wherein he blatantly abused the NBA’s lottery system and had his team “tank”, e.g. they would lose purposely so that they could get a higher draft pick. The underlying idea was that by tanking for several years he could build up a combination of fresh talent from the draft and assets he could trade for established players. Tl;dr be a dogshit team for a few years then run the table once you’ve got a kickass team.

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All part of the process

Except, it never worked out that way. The 76’ers were/are an abysmal team. Last year they went 10-72. Yes, in an 82 game season they won 10 fucking games. This was Hinkie’s LAST year, mind you: in 2013 when he took over, they were 19-63. The next year, 18-64. So they got progressively worse. The thing is, Hinkie kept repeating a mantra throughout his dumpster fire of a tenure: “trust in the process”. See, he ain’t no ordinary sports GM. He’s a business guy: graduated from University of Oklahoma and got his MBA at Stanford and was lauded as being an “analytics guy”, the obvious implication being that his “process” was so complex that something as simple as a win-loss record shouldn’t be a major marker for success.

Except that it is. Players, coaches, and, yes, even GM’s are expected to produce results and the main result that owners want is more asses in seats. You don’t get asses in seats unless your team wins. Ask yourself: would you pay good money, fight traffic, overpay on stadium food and beverages to watch a team openly shit all over the court? No, you wouldn’t. No one wants to watch that. But Hinkie kept assuring us that this process was a long game that would eventually pay off. The operative word here being “eventually”.

This is a problem. You can see from his resignation letter/madman rantings that he’s one of those TED-talking, Silicon Valley types. Now see, sports IS a business, so you gotta run it like one, I agree. Except he’s purportedly pushing “innovation” through losing and it doesn’t fucking work that way. You can’t put an inferior product out there year after year under the guise of “disruption” and expect fans to keep buying in. No human being wants to do that.

Why is this important to academics? Because these same shitbrained “innovators” are the ones currently in charge of universities across the country (if no the world). People who think that public education should be run like Microsoft. People who aren’t willing to just “think outside the box” but want to “burn the box entirely”. Yeah, real vapid, obtuse, TED talk bullshit that keeps pushing for heavily validated data. These are the same people who would, I don’t know, cut millions of dollars from a liberal arts department as part of an “initiative”, leading to less classes that serve a growing student population. The same people who would research and publish on poverty and public policy, yet enact cuts that exacerbate less than living wages for departments whose faculty and staff are primarily women and minorities.

In sports, this sort of thing gets reckoned with: GM’s, coaches and athletic directors get fired. Consider this: even the University of Texas, a public university with one of the largest football programs in the country, fired their AD because even the DONORS thought he was too sketchy. But people will support a criminally investigated biotech firm despite its questionable research practices because “disruption”. And universities administrators will continue to grow their own departments and push “innovations” like cutting the very thing you go to school for: classes.

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Pictured: someone with no background in medicine

I want you academics to think about that really hard the next time you make that clever “sportsball” joke. The next time you roll your eyes at that student athlete in your class. The next time you drink that free drink at a publisher’s party. The only difference between your university and the Indiana Pacers is that the Pacers are trying to win without shooting themselves in the foot.

Godspeed, Thin White Duke

But Bowie was…something to aspire to. You could be a fan of specific types of Bowie: Berlin-era, Ziggy, Thin White Duke (my personal fav) and you’re still looking at deep catalogs with each one.

It was 1999 and I was a senior in high school. Like most high school students I was preoccupied with bullshit, but unlike most high school students it wasn’t my whole world. On weekends I was at UIL competitions that mainly consisted of hours of waiting and about half an hour of actual writing–it was basically a journalism competition. Yeah, I was one of those dudes that the ladies were just lining up for. I’d have to call my mom on a payphone an hour before we finished so she could pick me up.

One week I called and my mom said, “your dad’s gonna get you. He’s in San Antonio right now but he should be there when you get out.” It was weird because my dad NEVER picked me up from school, but whatever. We got to campus and I waited outside with some friends–I was probably awkwardly flirting with someone (or imagining I was) when all of a sudden a brand new, black corvette Tokyo-drifted its way into the parking lot. As it careened closer the sounds of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” blasted through the air–the car pulled up I saw that it was my dad. “You gonna get in?” I jumped in the car and my dad tore ass out of the parking lot, leaving burnout tracks in a sign of not giving a fuck. It was probably the coolest I ever looked in high school.

The reason I bring up that memory is because it’s the strongest association I have with David Bowie. The thing is, my dad’s music tastes were mostly AOR with a heavy dose of the Eagles and some Yacht Rock rolled in (I think that’s where my love of pre-Cetera Chicago comes from). But for some reason, my dad also loved him some Bowie. He always had his 4 disc greatest hits album on regular rotation in said corvette’s CD changer. I grew to like Bowie more and more, particularly when I got into Nine Inch Nails and saw the work he did with Trent Reznor.

If you don’t like this song you’re an asshole

I admit to being a bit of an anglophile: many of my favorite bands, from The Smiths to Radiohead and The Cure, are British. But Bowie was…something to aspire to. You could be a fan of specific types of Bowie: Berlin-era, Ziggy, Thin White Duke (my personal fav) and you’re still looking at deep catalogs with each one.

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I always admire people who could inhabit so many different identities and Bowie was a master at that kind of shapeshifting. Maybe I, being a short, dumpy brown dude, saw him as that kind of effortlessly cool artist who could simultaneously blend in and stand out in any era. As a musician, there’s much to respect about him: from his work producing for people like Iggy Pop and Lou Reed to the producers he worked with like Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, he always seemed to surround himself with brilliant musicians. I once read an interview where he described himself as a “tasty thief”and I’ve always like that idea–of picking apart those things that influenced you and unapologetically making them your own. I mean his vocal style was undoubtedly due to Anthony Newley, and he even admitted it:

I respected and really liked Lemmy–dude was the baddest of asses. But this one hits hard: Bowie never quite seemed human and that’s what made him awesome. He was ethereal and otherworldly and he’s finally phased himself out of this realm. At the very least I’ll have that memory of when, for one small moment, David Bowie helped make me feel like the coolest dude on the planet.

In Defense of Jack White

I'd be pissed too

I’ll admit that I’m kinda late to the White Stripes/Jack White/Jack-Whites-Various-And-Sundry-Projects game. I never really listened to the White Stripes too much before, not because I didn’t like them, but because it never really caught me in that way. But I respect him as a musician: that abrasive, garage, cheap guitar sound is fun as hell for one. He also seems to have a knack for pushing other bands and formats (his recent experiments with and push for vinyl are amazing). But recently, he’s taken some slack for an article that OU-Daily wrote up about his tour contract, rider, etc. 

Now, I wonder what the purpose of this article is? Was it a slow news day? Were they lacking for content? It seems to me that when a newspaper, any newspaper, writes up an article that breaks down the cost of certain events that there’s an implication that the cost warrants some investigation. It’s suspect at best, insipid at worst. And once the media got ahold of it, all hell broke loose. The paper defended itself, citing FOI and a need to hole “public figures accountable”.

Here’s the thing, OU Daily: I’m calling bullshit. When your headline is “‘We want it chunky’ and other gems from Jack White’s contract with OU'” you’re playing the clickbait game. You found specific details, fucking REASONABLE ONES at that, and saw a bright, high-traffic light to push you into the blogosphere.

“As for harm, no harm was done to White unless you count his ego. But it’s important to understand that we didn’t publish that information to embarrass White. We published the information because students need to know how their money is being spent — even if it’s being spent on homemade guacamole and aged salami with a sharp knife.”

And yet you devoted a whole article to his demands. Is this responsible journalism? Do you really think that we’re buying that? You can’t purport to hold a public figure accountable while jumping on the opportunity to say “hey! LOOK AT THIS GUY! HIS FRESH GUAC IS CRAY!”  There’ve been recent examples of people jumping on the “ethics in journalism” bandwagon, and your argument is just as specious.

But even stereogum pointed out that this is COMPLETELY mild compared to other tour riders. White is understandably pissed because he caught on to your game. Look at the Van Halen example–one of the basic reasons for tour riders is to be able check if the venue is adhering to the little details the artist needs in order to keep a show running smoothly. In Van Halen’s case, they had the infamous “sorted M&M’s” clause that Diamond Dave explained was a way too see if promoters were paying attention: see, they had a highly technical (and sometimes dangerous) lighting setup that could potentially hurt someone if directions weren’t followed. If a venue was paying close enough attention to the rider so as to sort the M&M’s, then VH’s camp knew they would be just as thorough with the other details. We’ve seen what happens when things go awry…

So $80,000 and guac. That’s what this is about. Meanwhile, your football team is worth how much?

Yeah, Jack’s the asshole here.