Thursday, January 26, 2012


I caught a cold this past week, which was not a raucously awesome time. I didn’t get sick last winter, though, so this year I was pretty much doomed. It’s like hitting too many green lights in a row: You can only cheat the system for so long before getting stuck behind a bus for five cycles at the same intersection.

Actually, I’ve grown so used to getting a head cold for Christmas that the first warm rivulet of post-nasal drip oozed with the nostalgia of holiday tradition.

The saving grace was that my job offers not only sick days, but also the special bonus of actually wanting me to use them instead of coming to the office to spew contagion like a germ land mine.

This culture of not infecting others (Ha! Culture!) is taking some getting used to. In college I would just snargle my way through classes and into a puddle of pitiful, late-night studying and nose-blowing. During fall-semester finals of my senior year, I eventually followed the combination of an overflowing waste basket and NyQuil-induced forlornness to its natural conclusion:

In twenty-five years of phlegm experience, though, I’ve only ever lost my voice once—naturally, at the least convenient time possible. I’ve already mentioned my abortive stint as a 1st-grade teacher with Teach For America, which put me in front of a roomful of six-year-olds over whom I had effectively no control even when I could shout.

The day I started to lose my voice, I stubbornly decided not to need a substitute. I tried to encourage the class to keep their volume down so that I wouldn’t have to overtax my vocal chords, and since my go-to tactic is “THREATEN WITH RIDICULOUS THINGS,” that’s what I did.

In the end, I did have to take a couple of days off. I left some helpful notes for the sub, though.

Weirdly, when I got back to school, the students turned out to be better behaved than usual until my voice came back. They were oddly accepting of games like, “OK class, we’ll be learning about even numbers in Impossibly High Squeaky Voice today.” Maybe I was right about the substitute in the first place.

A helpful friend made sure to preserve my dulcet tones for generations yet unborn. This video features me attempting to sing our class song—music by Woody Guthrie, lyrics by me, and hand motions/frantic jumping by Miss Boling’s Class.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Congress is working on legislation to stop online piracy, which is a good goal for people trying to protect intellectual property on the internet. However, the bills in the works invite abuses that would enable censorship and cripple free speech, which is a bad thing for people trying to protect intellectual freedom on the internet.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are bills written with vague language that would give corporations and government the power to shut down websites over accusations of copyright infringement, even if the site could never be held liable for infringement in court. This is bad news for all your Justin Bieber cover videos and Garfield/Legolas crossover fanfiction.

You can find out more about SOPA through Wikipedia, which is, by the way, blacked out today in protest of SOPA and PIPA. Their page includes more detailed information about these bills, what they could mean for the future of the free internet, and what you can do about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Word to the Wise

I have an undergraduate university diploma that, if I understand the concept correctly, certifies me as an indisputable authority on all language-related topics.

With great power, of course, comes great responsibility. It’s only right that I share with the masses a taste of the heady wisdom gained during my lifelong and continuing research. Prepare to be edified by my…


1. Abbreviations are a thing.

It took years of unrelenting canine obsession before my parents succumbed and got us a dog. Before that, I had to make do with my grandparents’ string of black Labradors. After thorough study of breed nuances, I was eventually able to tell them apart from the other varieties of dog in my life (“Wishbone” and “corn-”).

I didn’t have to wait long to use my impressive knowledge. On a Moms & Kids Group trip to the park, an unfamiliar woman appeared with a tantalizingly familiar animal, and I began a thorough investigation.

After checking all the particulars—ears, size, color, lack of fried cornbread coating—I boldly proclaimed my scientific determination:

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2. Words that start the same are not necessarily the same.

My dad worked in law enforcement for the federal government for years, and we moved to Albuquerque for his job when I was in elementary school. The feds put us up in apartment for a few weeks until we could move into our new house, and during this transition the whole family got a cash allotment to spend on meals while our kitchen implements were stuck in government storage. This allotment is called per diem, as in, “We are trying out a lot of restaurants because my daddy is on per diem.”

All grown-up-related terms pretty much sounded the same to my ten-year-old self, so I tossed them all together and picked out whatever was easiest to reach at a given time.

They don’t sound the same to fifth-grade teachers, though, which explains the reaction I got to blithe announcements that “We are eating out because my daddy is on parole.”

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3. Do not change horses in midstream.

My standard in-person, casual greeting is “Howdy.” I’m originally from Texas, and I can’t help it.

(Which is to say, I can help it, but then how would others know upon first meeting that I AM A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL AND WORTHY OF SPECIAL NOTICE, OKAY?)

The trouble is that I’m also kind of indecisive. (Or maybe not. I’m not sure.)

Tragedy struck a few weeks ago with my new Native American coworker, when my mouth couldn’t choose between a rousing “howdy” and a more traditional “hi.” Instead, I ended up with an enthusiastic combination of the two.

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Now remember, ladies and gentlemen, that this research has been conducted by a trained professional. I cannot take responsibility for any attempts to recreate experimental conditions on your own. But please take video.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Take One Down, Pass It Around

The music teacher at my elementary school, Mrs. Collins, was very serious about her role in molding the morals of America’s future leaders.

She did not take chances.

That is why we all learned this song in the second grade:
Ten bottles of milk on the wall,
Ten bottles of milk,

If one of those bottles should happen to fall,
There’d be nine bottles of milk on the wall.
Mrs. Collins edited a few other songs as well, including removing all the racy bits from that salacious ditty “Let It Snow.”

I was already familiar with the flexible nature of song lyrics, though, thanks to one of my family’s several vaguely twisted hobbies. Early on, my dad taught us the John Denver favorite “You Fill Up My Sinuses,” along with Willie Nelson’s classic “Squash a Toad Again.”

Naturally, the improved editions of popular children’s songs were also a big hit at school.

It turned out that my family’s sensibilities were not quite a match for the Mrs. Collins School of public decency. I’m just glad she never found out about “The House at Poo Corner.”