Monday, December 19, 2005

Introverted Monkeytard

Not to trivialize horrible diseases, but, sometimes it seems as though being an introvert is like having something incurable and smelly. I've seen people (extroverts, of course) actually pause and then, after a moment of thinking about what it must be like to be introverted, convulse slightly. The same type of convulse I'd expect to make if I watched a child slowly pull a long wet slug-noodle out of their nostril and then eat it.

THAT'S what it must be like to be shy... huh... imagine.

So, what does a maximum intorvert do in life (besides spell introvert wrong)? I stand in front of groups of strangers for about 12 hours a week and lecture to them.

Public speaking.

"Then you must NOT be an introvert!"

Mustn't I?

When I am forced into social situations I find myself becoming incredibly interested in digital hygiene... my cuticles are beginning to grow over my finger tips (not really, but you can imagine). I am relieved to be left to myself and will simply become autistic. The more social pressure there is to interact, the more autistic I appear.

My students generally peg me as an extroverted party-person. Until the horror that is graduation and they corner me into forced civil exchanges with their parents. It isn't that I don't ever smile, but WOW... my fear of making idle chit-chat coupled with a complete inability to come up with comments related to anything OTHER than the weather puts me into perma-grin mode which begins to hurt my smiler muscles. "If you can't say anyhing, Steve, at least you can look friendly while not saying it. " At least so says my inner voice.

So when I get cornered, I try... After five minutes of what I imagine must be awkard silences deflated with occasional odd remarks... "So, are you here for the graduation ceremony?" "I see that you noticed the sky was blue today." "Did you visit the restrooms while on campus? They have fancy motion-activated paper towel dispensers." ...we part ways and I feel terrible for a week thinking about how stupid I must have sounded.

How can I teach to a bunch of strangers? At first (10 years ago), I couldn't.

I was so afraid of what the audience must be thinking about me ("Did he say 'um' again?" "Why is he touching his nose?" "Did you hear that warble in his voice?") that I started really to focus on the cues I was afraid they could pick on. Content suffered a bit back then, but I needed to make strides that meant the most to me first. I learned to fake that I wasn't scared peepee-less to talk in front of a group.

BUT, once I got rid of the danger-cues I started to imagine that the audience was hostile... or at least waiting for some excuse to become hostile. So I needed to find a way to befriend the audience.

Step 2 for me wasn't to improve the content of my talk, but to add humor. Nervour humor of course. But if I could SEE a smile, I felt a lot more comfortable. Basically I guess because I felt that I was in control of the smiles. There are a lot of reasons why your audience could laugh at you. Best to make it mostly purposeful... then those occasional times you really do mess up won't sting so much.

Even after 10+ years, the start of a new semester brings the tummy-aches of anticipation. The first few lectures every time are the hardest to get over for me. But I doubt the students notice.

===End Ramble===

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


It's coming! Slowly but surely! Spring is creeping closer. Why, in just 8 short days we'll hit December 21 and THAT means that the days will begin to get longer! Yes indeed, I can almost feel that warm weather already!
I'd best prepare by washing all of my shorts! Musn't bring in the new Spring with dirty shorts!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Holiday Spirit

When I was a kid, both Christmas and my birthday were the two BIGGEST days of the year! My mother made sure that as many of our (sister and me) wishes came true as possible. Especially festive was December 25. She spent a lot of time decorating the house (I'll have to tell you about the evil elves someday...). Lights in every window, mistletoe, wreaths, tinsel on the tree, etc. If you were in my house at night, it glowed warmly and softly with the various candles (electric and flame). Very cozy.
Even four feet of snow didn't bother us much. Although we had to shovel the driveway, it usually meant a day off from school and sledding in the back woods. We couldn't WAIT until Christmas morning!
My sister and I tried almost every year to go to bed early so that the morning would seem to come extra-fast. My parents wised up, though. They made Christmas eve our delivery day. We loaded presents in the car and visited all the relatives to drop off their gifts. (And pick some up!) We'd be pretty tired by the time we finally got home. No more Christmas mornings that started at 4:00 AM!
The rule of the house was that NOBODY was allowed into the living room (where Santa had presumably visited while we slept) until after breakfast. We weren't even allowed to peek. Every year my parents would sit and try to have a second cup of coffee at the table as part of their breakfast. I can't imagine a worse torture for a kid.
After enough snotty whining from us kids, my parents would allow that breakfast was over. My father got to enter the living room first to turn on the tree lights. Then the parade! We filed in and were always almost speechless at the sight of so many gifts. "Santa" had a way with artfully stacking boxes under the tree to make it look like hundreds of gifts.
As much as we would have liked to tear into the presents like sharks at a feeding frenzy, we were only allowed to go one person at a time. This was excruciating, but also nice as it made the wonderful morning last longer.
In 1999 my mother died of cancer (lymphoma). She took Christmas and birthdays with her. My sister does her best at holding it together for her family. She tries to make it as wondrous for her children as our mother did for us. Deep down, though, I know it isn't really Christmas for her without our mother. It's a show she puts on for her kids.
As it turns out, this will be the first year her oldest experiences the holiday knowing who Santa really is. She was devastated at learning the truth and decided she wanted nothing more to do with the day ever again. THAT won't last. The magic of seeing the decorations, the music (inescapable isn't it?), the TV shows, the shopping, the crowds, the presents... She'll come around to appreciating it again. Not quite the same, but it's still there for her.
We don't have kids, so it's been over five years since we've made any real effort to get into the holiday spirit. Maybe this year will be different.
Miss you mom.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


It seems to me that a blog should contain more than just an introductory blurb. Although blurbs SOUND like they should be part of blogs, just blurbs in blogs could get pretty shallow.

So this brings me to effort. When I had the idea to begin this, there were so many ideas flipping around in my mind that they kept bumping into the things I was trying to think about (like work, getting the car fixed, etc.). I couldn't sleep that night trying to figure out what my first real entry would cover. Then a day went by... I got busy. I shared some ideas with my wife. Time passed some more. Finally, today, I spent 3 hours at the mall waiting for my car to be fixed, then rushed to school to get ready for a meeting (buying snacks, making copies, readying my powerpoint slides for NO reason since it turned out that there was no technology in the presentation room, etc.), stopped at the library on the way home... made dinner, checked email... then almost logged off for the night. [If students are reading this, note that the previous sentence was TOO LONG and you should not emulate my creative writing styles in your own scientific or professional writing.]
I really don't feel like writing anything.
Instead, let me list the topic ideas I wanted to rant about:
  1. Course outcomes assessment (Woohoo, there's a fascinating one!)
  2. Paranormal beliefs (Better...)
  3. What I'd do if I was really really rich (Yeah, like anyone'd care...)
  4. Introversion and insecurity (Huh?)
  5. My eating disorder (Yawn.)
  6. How to build a temporal distortion attenuator for personal use or to sell for less than $8,000.00 (Ooooooh!)
  7. The story behind the title for this blog site (OK, maybe interesting...)
  8. Status on my plans to become an actual superhero (Isthey erson'spay azycray...)
That's good for now. I look forward to seeing whether I actually get to these topics or become distracted by others.