Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Drinking Holidays

The Drinking Holidays

I had meant to write an essay last Tuesday, but it was St. Patrick's Day, and other things happened instead. It did get me thinking, though, and what I was thinking about was holidays.

First, it occurred to me that here in the United States we can clump our holidays into various groups. One of these would be the drinking holidays. Given our willingness to drink, perhaps it would be easier to examine those holidays which are specifically NOT drinking holidays. Veterans Day, for instance, is not really an occasion for getting drunk. I suppose fellow Vets might raise a glass in honor of fallen comrades, but no one goes to the liquor store and cheerfully suggests that they're buying this case, or that bottle, "for the holiday." Christmas, too, even with egg nog and hot toddies, is too much about kids to be about booze. Similarly, Easter.

On the other hand, Christmas, Easter, and Valentine's Day clearly are about gifts and candy in ways that Labor Day or President's Day never will be. Labor Day CAN be one of the food holidays, though. Admittedly, it's typically grill and picnic sort of food, rather than the kitchen full of smells that we enjoy, nay demand, for Thanksgiving. Have you ever gone out to a restaurant on Thanksgiving? It can be a very quiet experience with a fairly dispirited staff at your service.

Naturally, some people may decide that every Friday is a drinking holiday. Saturdays, too. And I suppose the best way to truly establish which ARE the drinking holidays would be to ask the liquor store clerks and managers. When is it normal for people to make extra purchases because of a particular upcoming holiday? New Year's Eve, certainly.

In our current culture, we might find that the answers include days that aren't even holidays at all. For instance, Super Bowl Sunday generally involves house parties with food and drink. Basketball tournaments and the World Series can, too. Not so much with the Olympics, though. Perhaps because few of us could survive constant drinking for a week or more.

And that got me thinking about the annual nature of most of our holidays. In soccer, the World Cup comes around every four years, like the Olympics. But I couldn't think of anything with a longer term of orbit. I suppose a certain amount of drinking goes on at High School or College Reunions, and many of those are held at five or ten year intervals. But I can't think of anything else.

Of course, there is the once-in-a-lifetime drinking holiday so common to our College campuses, the twenty-first birthday. In my new job I get to meet some of these celebrants, awkwardly dashing themselves at the first day of their legal drinking age. I can see why it's not usually considered a family occasion, but I certainly wish it could be developed into a proper rite of friendship. It's just plain sad to see these kids celebrating either in solitude or to self-destruction, all for the lack of wise companions.

Perhaps that's just the universal challenge of finding and keeping worthwhile friendships, a problem from which there is never a holiday.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Younger Son's Chair

The photo of the chair now gracing my page is actually two views of a chair made for my younger son, Hunter. He's just six and a half now, and already starting to outgrow this chair. It does point out the difficulties in establishing scale with photographs of art.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Degree of Difficulty

Degree of Difficulty

For a while, last week, I had four part-time jobs to go with my part time class load (six credit hours) in graduate school. That’s a bit misleading, because one of the jobs is self-employment as a potter/sculptor/furniture maker, which is ongoing, and chronic, and usually only as demanding as I make it. Still, I do have a new chair drying and some pots to take up to the Omaha salt kiln next week, so that job hasn’t been entirely dormant. The fourth part-time job, as an instructor at the local Arts Center, had been dormant (too many other teachers) and now it’s gone, so I’m back down to three.

I mention this because I’ve been thinking about how some of us make going to college more difficult than it has to be. And even without ‘pilot error,’ and poor choices, each of us has factors which can make it harder for us to go to school, or finish our degrees. I’m going to lump all these issues together under the title, “Degree of Difficulty,” and see what insights I can find.

I think we can agree that the GPA, Grade Point Average, is an incomplete measure of academic success. It does nothing to reflect the specific qualities of each class the student attended or the demands placed upon them by their professors overall. Usually, people will also ask about your Major and your institution. A high GPA from a local community college, in something as unintellectual as, say, ART, will never be as impressive as the same GPA, in aerospace engineering, from MIT or Cal Tech. Furthermore, no one will ever know just how hard you actually had to work for your GPA, wherever you went to school.

On the other hand, I can think of a few factors that would likely make any degree more difficult to earn. For instance:
· Blindness or deafness
· Being unable to walk
· Going to school in a foreign country
· Going to school in a second language
· Working full time, or its equivalent, while going to school
· Having a baby while going to school
· Having kids while going to school
· Learning disorders, such as dyslexia or Attention Deficit Disorder
· Being hospitalized for an accident or illness
· Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other major distractions
· Chronic insomnia, anxiety attacks, or other mental health problems
· Poor choice of friends or social circle
· Over-enrollment (an unrealistic number of classes simultaneously)
· Crippling shyness (a self-defeating reluctance to seek help)
· Having a high maintenance or abusive romantic partner
· Spending too much time looking for romantic partners
· Clinical Depression
· Poor mental health, or abusiveness, of a particularly important professor

Any one of these issues might be expected to interfere with earning a perfect 4.0 GPA as an undergraduate or graduate student. How much influence each has, particularly by itself, is hard to quantify. Maybe it’s just .2 over the total term of your course of study, but once you start collecting two or more of these handicaps, it’s easy to see the price you pay or the steepness of the slope.

I don’t wish to be entirely negative on this subject, though. There are counter-balancing positive factors to be considered, as well. For instance:
· A supportive soulmate
· Financial independence, through family, loans, or departmental support
· A great, mentoring professor or professors
· A family tradition in higher education
· Perfect health and sleeping habits
· Excellent preparatory training in reading, writing, and time management
· Talent

I don’t think we can assume that everyone who goes off to college has the talent for it. Some students make it look easy because for them it is easy. Whatever the subject, they just ‘get it.’ They still have to take the time to do the reading and write the papers and do the projects, but for them it’s only time. It’s not sweat, and doubt, and dithering, and confusion. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the subject for which you have that sort of talent, but there’s no guarantee and there’s no rule that you have to. What you choose to do, and work to achieve, that’s what you accomplish, regardless of how difficult it might be, or become.

And in the end, very few people will ever know, or ask, about the Degree of Difficulty you had to overcome to earn your degree(s). You might get a few stories out of them, but they’re just part of your internal armor, protecting you psychologically from future difficulties, and giving you the strength to get past those, too.