Journal Entry: September 15, 2009

Yesterday sucked.

I mean, actually, I had a pretty pleasant chat with Julie, and one with N–, too. That was nice. And I got a call from B– that was news-packed, and at least half of it was good! That was nice.

But really I wasted most of the day (and significant parts of each of those conversations) feeling sick about my class today. I’ve got to get over that.

On the drive home from work, I cranked up some inspirational music, and made plans to work out when I got home. AB wanted to play with her daddy, though, and that wasn’t something I could turn down. So we talked and read a book and watched TV for a while.

Then D– brought over leftover brisket from last Saturday’s birthday party. T– made up some homemade mashed potatoes for a side, and it was a phenomenal dinner. After that I moved to the couch and played WoW for three hours, hoping to distract myself. It didn’t really work, but I got a lot done in WoW. We also watched a new Leverage and a new Psych, both of which were great.

Then around ten D– went home, and I went to the office to do a little more prep work for my class. I spent about half an hour on that, then headed to bed.

And lay there. And did not fall asleep. My mind was racing, fixated on class and everything that could go wrong.

So after about half an hour of that I jumped up and went back to the office. I read through all my students’ business letters again, I watched Gail Nash’s online lecture on document layout and design again, I reworked my class notes extensively, and I prepped some exercise materials for class today. All told, it was well after midnight when I went back to bed.

And lay there. And did not fall asleep. I wasn’t really worried by that point — over the course of that last hour in the office, I’d completely worked through every minute of today’s class, and I knew I was thoroughly prepared. I’d go so far as to say scripted. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it — about which words to put with certain ideas, which ideas to cut if I ran out of time, and which ones to abbreviate, what sections of the discussion could (and should) be moved around and where, whether I’d captured all the necessary changes to the syllabus, and how to get that information across clearly.

Not just that, but I also found myself cutting material from today’s lecture and moving it forward to future lectures, and when I was working on how to adapt that material to the other lecture’s topic, I started working on those lectures, building them up. It was all useful work, but not at one thirty in the morning.

By that point, I wasn’t worrying about today’s class anymore. I was just wishing I could go ahead and give the class so I could get on with my life. Instead, I kept on obsessing.

I knew it, too. I kept trying to put it away, to stop thinking about it, and I kept failing at that. At two o’clock, AB cried out in her sleep and I went to check on her, thinking she’d woken up. At three, frustrated, I sat up in bed just to see how late it really was, and then lay back down. My alarm went off at seven, and I was already awake, but I got up and turned it off and went back to bed. Not to sleep, just to get a few more minutes of rest. Soon enough AB came to jump on the bed, and T– was getting ready to leave for a doctor’s appointment, and I was late enough for work that I couldn’t justify waiting any longer. So I got up, and I went to work.

I’ll let you guess what I’ve been thinking about all morning.

Other than that, though, it’s just things and stuff.

Journal Entry: September 11, 2009

Yesterday morning we woke up to a little scare. T– was having trouble with her stomach and pain in her lower back, and at bleary-eyed seven in the morning, it seemed a little too much like labor pains. So she curled up on the bed trying to find a comfortable position, and I called my boss and told him I’d be out for a while — a couple of hours or a couple of days, depending how things turned out.

Things turned out to be a stomach bug, but it incapacitated T– pretty bad for the day. I hung around the house long enough to see her feeling a little better, and then drove AB out to the babysitter’s so T– could take the day off. Then I went from there to work, and shortly after I got in, I got a call from T– saying she was really starting to feel better. By noon, we were sure there was nothing to worry about.

Still, a tense morning.

Then in the afternoon I got home from work and locked myself in the office to put finishing touches on my class lecture. I’m still wrestling with technical issues, since last week, but I got the podcast recorded and saved, at least, and I’ll post it to the website sometime this afternoon. I was able to get them a text tutorial on time, though, and I’ve already had a couple students finish and submit their assignment (due next Tuesday) based off the material there.

I gave up on the podcast at 6:30, because I had social writing plans for the evening, and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet. I gulped down some chicken fried rice that T– made (which was delicious), and finished it just before D– showed up to give me a ride to Full Circle.

When we got there, we found the coffee shop packed. At first we assumed it was a book signing, but several people were wearing name tags, and as we lingered in the other room we heard frequent bursts of applause. That doesn’t sound like any book signing I’ve been to. Probably some sort of…I don’t know, corporate event.

Anyway, it was a nuisance, but we found reading chairs elsewhere in the bookstore, and D– spent his time working on a project for the weekend, and I spent mine working on Ghost Targets: Restraint. In the first fifteen minutes I filled two pages of my scribblebook (or about 500 words), and I turned to D– and said, “I just doubled my word count for the week.” That was more a sad commentary on my week than a boast about my productivity.

Before the night was over, though, I had two thousand words, and was well into chapter eight. That’s a boast. It was a great night, and I’m climbing into the part of the novel that I’m really excited about, so I expect it to get a little easier from here on out.

We got back to the house at 10:00, and T– had the Steelers game on, so D– hung around to see how that turned out. It was a tense game (and just fun to be watching real NFL football again, even if it wasn’t one of my teams). Definitely a good time.

That took us past eleven o’clock, though, and then when I stopped in the office to check my email before bed, I had a message about my podcast and realized what I’d done wrong earlier in the afternoon. So I stayed up for another hour wrestling with that, fixed my earlier error (re-recording the whole lecture in the process), and then discovered I still didn’t know how to make it available to my students.

So, as I said earlier, that remains unresolved. And I was up late last night, and the RDO I should’ve had today got split so I could have time off for my Tuesday classes. So I’m at work, and tired, and ready to be home.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

The OC (Week 2)

Someday, one of my students is going to call me “Professor Pogue” (or maybe someone who really hasn’t been paying attention will even call me “Doctor Pogue”), and I’ll say, “No, please, call me Mister Pogue. Professor Pogue is my father.”

I’ll be the only one who laughs at that, but I will find it hilarious.

Seventy-five Minutes
As I mentioned before, my first week of classes probably felt like a wild success to my students, but I came out of there shocked and terrified about how I was going to fill seventy-five minutes with lecture every week.

And, of course, the answer I got repeatedly from seasoned professionals was, “Don’t.” Gail Nash recommended a short twenty-minute lecture to start the class, a half-hour in-class assignment, and then another twenty minutes at the end of class to discuss it. Dad recommended mini-lectures, no longer than fifteen minutes each, broken up with other activities and discussions.

One thing everyone told me, when I was panicking about how poorly that first class went, was that it would get easier once I got the students talking back to me. The problem I was running into was lecturing. It’s always difficult to deliver a message to a silent, unresponsive crowd, and especially so for somebody with no experience in public speaking whatsoever. One and all, they told me that if I could get the students to talk to me, it would be a breeze.

Getting Them Talking
Dad even told me how. Drawing on years of experience and a nuanced understanding of the student psyche, he said to start off your class by asking, “Okay, how do you guys feel about last week’s assignment (or lecture)? What didn’t you like about it?” That gets them talking, because everyone is more interested in complaining about something than in praising it. Give them a chance to vent (and provide what will be useful feedback to you as the teacher), and then follow up with, “Okay, and what did you like about it?” Then the students who had a positive experience with the assignment (or lecture) but otherwise would have remained quiet will chime in, partly because they’ve spent the last however many minutes listening to their classmates bash on it, and they feel a need to defend it. By that point, though, you’ve got everyone in your class talking, and comfortable with each other, and you can launch into new material and get good responses.

That advice struck me as so sound that it directly increased my confidence going into that class. I bragged about my dad’s genius to several people, for days before the class started. Then I showed up, put it into practice, and got…nothing. Not a word. No complaint, no praise. Nothing.

So I looked around the room, shook my head sadly, and said, “Guys, you’re going to have to talk to me. Otherwise it’s just me sitting up here at the front of the class, lecturing you about writing for seventy-five minutes. And you don’t want that. You know why? [Brief pause.] Because it’s seventy-five minutes.” That got a laugh, and it worked. After that, I got answers when I asked questions.

Business Letters
For their first assignment, they were to write me a Letter of Introduction, telling me a little bit about themselves and following the standard business letter format. To facilitate that, I prepared an online lecture (that ended up being just an illustrated tutorial, for technical reasons) going into detail on how to design a business letter.

So I started out the class lecture by talking to them about business letters, and why they’re useful. One of the things I discovered last week is that none of my students (not a one) has any intention of becoming a professional tech writer. That doesn’t bother me, but it means I’ve got to spend the semester demonstrating to them why this material matters to them.

For a first stab at that, I led off with three short stories, from my personal experience. I told them about the time I bought my first house, and along with it came the high pressure sales pitch to renew the security system that the previous owners had used. We’d initially agreed, but when we looked at our budget and saw how much they actually wanted per month, we called up to cancel it. The person on the other end of the line said, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to need that in writing.”

So I wrote a business letter.

Then, a few months after we moved to Tulsa, someone stole a bill for our Best Buy credit card out of our mail, and used it to ring up several thousand dollars in fraudulent claims. Freaking out, we called up Best Buy’s customer service and said, “Hey, someone’s stealing your stuff and trying to charge it to us, and you’ve got put a stop to it!” and the guy on the phone said, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to need that in writing.”

Then I told the students a little bit about the writing experience, the process of trying to make it as a novelist, and the unending string of query letters — every one an invitation for rejection. I told them about the importance of presenting the richness and beauty of a lovingly-crafted work of art in a sterile, one-page business letter. And then I told them how I’d finally landed a literary agent, and then had to fire her a year later, and when I contacted her to let her know I was no longer interested in working with her, she said, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to need that in writing.”

That got a big laugh. I really think it got my point across well, too. I told them that in each of those situations, in different ways, I was stressed out, and needed to communicate specific information clearly and quickly. And already having a set format, an easy template that just required me to fill in the blanks, made it far easier for me to do exactly that, and save my energy for the other things I needed to be worrying about.

Due Dates
We talked briefly about our class schedule — my plans for Thursdays and Tuesdays, and how the individual documents they’re producing fit into the document packets that I’m going to be grading. In the process of that, I discovered my timetable doesn’t work at all. I stumbled over that a little bit, thinking out loud, and that got some laughs. I think that’s a good thing. I do need to get the details worked out before next class, though….

Group Work
Next we moved into the in-class assignment. I said, “Okay, we’re going to work in groups now, and to divide up, I think we’ll use a method that I found to be very effective in grade school.” That got groans and chuckles, but they obediently counted off in threes, and then divided up into three groups per my instructions. Then I had everyone (for the first time) introduce themselves with name and major. Then I admitted why I’d had them count off in three — because my three English majors were all sitting right next to each other. As a result, I had three groups with each one consisting of four Computer Science or Information Science majors, and one English major. Or, in other words, four technical people and one writer person.

Not entirely fair to the English majors, but that’s how technical writing goes. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with another English major. I told them as much, and paused to double-check myself, and then nodded and said, “I’ve worked with a Journalism major, but never an English major. Don’t work with a Journalism major!” That got a laugh.

Technical Writing
Their assignment was deliberately vague. Every student at OC is issued a laptop, so I told them, “You’ve got twenty minutes. I want you to write me step-by-step instructions for how to do something useful on your student laptops.”

Then something amazing happened. I’d guess that half of my students probably work with OC IT, and most of the rest of them are computer people. So in each of the three groups I heard the computer people tossing ideas out. “We could do this.” “We could do that.” And in each group, I heard the English major say, “Wait, what? What is that?” And then the computer people explained it to them.

And then the English majors wrote it down.

Or, in other words, Tech Writing happened. It was a thing of beauty.

Graded by the Ridicule of Their Peers
I did warn them, just after they’d divided up into groups, “We’re going to go over these once you’re done, so you’ll be graded by the ridicule of your peers.” That got a laugh (which was a very good thing), but we all followed through on it. As they finished, they emailed their tutorials to me, and I put them up on the overhead.

We briefly analyzed each one, pointing out what was done well, and what needed work. I talked a little bit about audiences, and I told them about Mark at my first job starting off every software manual with a section explaining how to use a mouse and what “click” and “double-click” meant. That got astonished, disbelieving stares, and I think I was able to make a good point there.

Out of Time
I had a lot more to say about the usefulness of written tutorials, with some heavy emphasis on all these computer people who had to give family and friends instructions on simple tasks all the time. By the time we were done critiquing, though, I was down to five minutes left in class, so I rushed through that material and let them go.

What I didn’t get to was another personal anecdote, a story demonstrating the popularity and usefulness of tutorials, especially online. I was all prepared to tell them how I achieved some level of fame because of a short tutorial online. (If you search Google for “Alexpoet,” my onetime web moniker, my website is the top of the list because of a tutorial I wrote for XBMC Python scripting — which is another phrase that points directly to my page on Google.) I didn’t get to that, but next week’s class is about formatting technical documents, and most of what I did with that tutorial was take a flat text tutorial some Canadian dude had written, clean up the English, and apply the formatting rules I’d learned in my Tech Writing class. So, in other words, the material I didn’t get to this week becomes the object lesson next week.

The Teaching Experience
When I talked to Dad about my rough experience last week, one of the things he pointed out was that my sheer terror when I stepped up to the podium was caused by an acute awareness of myself. He said that would happen to anybody — even the most experienced public speaker, the most outgoing teacher — if he stepped in front of a crowd and spent the whole time paying close attention to what he was doing right or wrong and analyzing it. We’re too good at recognizing our own faults, we blow them out of proportion, and if that’s what you’re thinking about, you’re going to shut yourself down.

Dad said everything I described about my first experience fell perfectly into that condition, and I couldn’t argue with him. He said the way to fix it is to think about the students instead. Think about what they need to know, what I can tell them to make their lives better, and focus on their responses. I had my doubts about how easy it would be to follow through on that, but I spent the whole class trying to put it into practice, and it worked.

And I think it worked for everyone, not just for me. I mentioned the laughs I got, as often as I could, because they weren’t nervous laughter. I can be a funny guy, and when I made a sarcastic comment and the students laughed at it, I could tell they were at their ease. I think that happened as a direct result of my being more at ease, and it built on itself, so by the end of the class we really were just talking back and forth. I spent two days before the class wrestling with intense anxiety, and it was brutal right up until I cleared my throat and stammered awkwardly, “Umm, okay, I guess we should get started.” Then I took a breath, started with Dad’s question, “What didn’t you like about last week’s lecture?” and instead of feeling nervous that I’d asked a question they couldn’t answer, I just got irritated at them for not speaking up.

And from there on, I was fine. It was a great class period, and I think the lives of everyone involved are better for it.

More next week.

Journal Entry: September 8, 2009

In my blog post last Friday I went into great detail concerning a slow-build head cold I’d spent a week developing, but then never really talked about it. I talked about how I confused it with social anxiety for a couple days, but never said how I knew that was a misdiagnosis.

I knew by Thursday, though. It hit me hard on Thursday, and then kept me home from work on Friday. I went in in the morning to pick up my school laptop that I’d left behind on Thursday, and then went back in for a short teleconference in the afternoon, but apart from that I stayed home and convalesced.

Between medication and lots of rest, I felt up to going over to K– and N–‘s for dinner Friday night. We had hotdogs and watched the last preseason Cowboys game. It was entertaining, but mostly just left us wanting the regular season to start.

Saturday morning I watched AB while T– went shopping. Just before she got home, I got a phone call from a guy selling a $2,500 camera on eBay letting me know I’d won and asking me about shipping and payment arrangements.

This entire phone call came as a complete shock to me, of course, and I got to spend the rest of the morning dealing with eBay’s fraud department and getting my account re-secured. Turns out somebody had figured out my login credentials and made purchases in excess of eleven thousand dollars. Luckily (hah!) the check card associated with the account was stolen when we were robbed last December, so it had been canceled and no money changed hands.

Then around eleven T– went out again to go shopping with my little sister, and took AB with her that time, because I headed up to Vintage coffeehouse for some social writing with Courtney before T– planned to be home. Between worry over the eBay thing and a growing fuzziness from my lingering cold, I didn’t actually get any writing done. I chatted with Courtney and ate a remarkable turkey sandwich, and then begged off early and headed home.

I deteriorated from there, so when six o’clock rolled around and we were supposed to head out for some OU football at K– and N–‘s place, I decided I just couldn’t handle it. I called and offered my apologies, and then went to my room and took a nap. T– went over to hang out at my sister’s place and scrapbook, and I eventually woke up to grab some dinner and play some WoW. From what I heard, it was probably a more pleasant experience than watching the game would have been.

I wasn’t up terribly late Saturday night, even with the mid-evening nap, but I still managed to sleep through church Sunday for no other reason than that I forgot to set an alarm on my clock. I was up and dressed when T– got out of service, though, and we went to Taco Cabana with D– and my sister’s family for lunch. Then I took AB home for a nap and T– went over to my sister’s place for more scrapbooking and some maternity photos.

AB woke up a couple hours before T– got home, but we entertained ourselves with books and puzzles and counting poker chips. Then I spent most of the evening worrying about my class on Tuesday and playing WoW.

T– picked up some Chinese takeout for us for dinner, and after AB went to bed we spent a couple mostly-depressing hours watching Sunshine Cleaning. It’s got a happy ending, but it takes a pretty miserable path to get there. It’s like Uncorked for girls. Anyway, after that T– headed to bed, but I stayed up and watched I Love You, Man to cleanse the palate.

Monday morning we woke up early for a date! D– came over to watch AB, and T– and I grabbed some breakfast at Sonic before heading up to the mall for All About Steve at 10:05. The movie was…fascinating. It was good. It was Joe Dirt for girls. We had fun.

Then we stopped by Sears on the way to the car, and ended up buying my birthday present from T– a little bit early. She got me new shoes and a new watch (both badly needed), and I walked out of there looking dapper.

We picked up D– and AB for lunch at Chilis, then T– dropped D– and me at Best Buy to pick up some XBox games on sale while she ran to my sister’s place to drop off some stuff. Turned out there was no sale, though, so D– and I ended up wandering the aisles aimlessly until T– got back. It wasn’t too long, though.

After that D– went home, and AB went down for a nap. I settled in to play some WoW, and T– took advantage of my babysitting to go do some grocery shopping. She got back just as AB woke up, and we all watched TV for a couple hours. AB watched Nick Jr. videos on T– laptop, and T– and I watched a homemade marathon of season 4 of Newsradio.

T– heated up a frozen pizza for dinner, and other than that our evening looked exactly like our afternoon. At nine AB went to bed, and then I put away the computer and T– and I watched a Leverage. As soon as that was done I headed to bed, sick with anxiety over class tomorrow.

Which is to say, today. I’ve over the cold, but not the anxiety. It shouldn’t last much longer than five hours, though. So at least there’s that.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

The OC (Week 1)

Class Begins
I got to the school half an hour early. That gave me time to figure out how the projector worked before I got around to realizing I didn’t really have anything to project. My students started filing in fifteen minutes early, and kept on filing until about ten minutes into the class.

Ten minutes into the class….

Public Speaking
Okay, as a long-time Tech Writer and successful co-host of a couple Writer’s Groups (forgive me, Courtney, for bestowing the title on myself, but it was a source of some confidence), I was confident I could just show up and talk, and that would fill up the class. Whenever we get together for one of our Writer’s Groups, I try to come up with a topic or two worth discussing, and somehow two hours disappear and I’ve barely even gotten started!

Technical writing isn’t quite the same, as far as discussion goes, and I wanted to come off professional so I felt like I needed a little bit of organization to it. To that end, I drew up a list of topics I wanted to hit. Just a little outline. So one o’clock rolled around, and I stood up at the front of the class, and my well-behaved students immediately fell silent….

And I discovered that nothing has changed since college, as far as my public speaking goes. And, no, being the professor made no difference whatsoever. My heart raced, I couldn’t form a coherent sentence, and every third word out of my mouth was “umm.” Dad would’ve been mortified.

Introduction to Technical Writing
Somehow I got through that, though. I gripped my outline for dear life, and launched into my first topic. I asked them about their majors — three English, four Computer Science, and six Other. I asked how many of them thought they might want to be Tech Writers someday, and the answer to that was an easy zero. I told them a little bit about myself, my time at OC, my experience in Tech Writing class, the sudden, desperate realization on graduation day that I’d never thought about getting a job, and then my two jobs (and seven years’ experience) in Tech Writing.

I told them a little bit about what Tech Writing is like — interacting with engineers and programmers, constantly working behind deadline, researching things you know nothing about in a desperate effort to make the inscrutable make sense. At one point, trying to stress the collaborative challenges of Tech Writing, I told them that one of the hardest parts is that you’re always trying to get information from a programmer or an engineer, but everywhere I’ve ever worked the engineers are just constantly hammered.

And then I stopped, and said, “And by hammered, I mean busy. Not drunk.”

That got a good laugh.

I got nods from the CS students when I said that software isn’t finished until it’s documented. I got nods from the English students when I said most of all the writing they’d ever done so far was either creative or academic, and (except for hobbies) that mostly ended at graduation. I got nods all around when I suggested, offhand, that most of them probably had no idea what Tech Writing was, or why they were in this class.

Scheduling Issues
So I was trucking along through my outline, doing pretty well, and all I had left to do was go over the syllabus (including the homework schedule). Curious, I glanced up at the clock to see how much time I had left in my seventy-five minute class session.

And the answer was sixty-five minutes. Give or take one. I’d never intended to keep them for the full class on the first day (nobody does that), but I sure thought I had more than ten minutes’ worth of material!

So I started doing what I could to stretch it out, borrowing desperately from topics I intended to discuss later in the semester, expounding on things that didn’t need expounding on, and making my already-flustered speech even more so. I somehow dragged the class out to twenty-five minutes, and then I let them go. Of course, none of them complained.

As I was packing up my stuff, I spotted Gail out in the hall — the professor who’d taught my Tech Writing class way back when, and a friend of ours from church. She asked me how it had gone, so I ducked into her office and told her all about it.

She was sympathetic. She later told me the first day of teaching is always BRUTAL, and she had some good, specific suggestions for dealing with the big block of time. After that I seriously considered slipping out and going home, but I’d spoken with Dr. Agan (the department chair, and the one who’d hired me) before class, and I was pretty sure she was expecting me to stop by again. So I slunk up to her office, and she asked, “Well, how was it?”

And I said, “About a third as long as I expected it to be.”

She was just as encouraging as Gail had been, but I still drove home feeling miserable. Partly it was my physical response to standing up at the front of the class — I’d somehow convinced myself it wouldn’t be like that, so when it was…that was devastating. Not just for those ten minutes, but because it means I have that to look forward to for the rest of the semester. That’s daunting.

Then…well, to fill time, I’m going to have to do a lot more work than I’d realized. That’s not a terrible thing on its own, but I’ve been dreading how busy this fall was going to be for months, and that was before I learned how much more effort I’m going to have to put into my classes. I spent my drive home trying to figure out how I was going to even manage it, let alone find the time for my writing, for catching some football games, for playing a little WoW to unwind….

More next week.

Journal Entry: September 4, 2009

Big week for me, so yeah I should have been posting regularly. But, then, it was a big week for me, so I had other stuff to do.

Starting with getting sick.

(Yes, I already did Sunday, just bear with me.)

Sunday morning I woke up with the sniffles and a severe, sinus-related headache — harkening back to the Sunday only two weeks before, when I went through the same thing. That one was short-lived, though….

This one has lingered. And grown.

So, yeah, Monday morning I woke up feeling pretty out-of-it and miserable, but I just assumed (with my big first day of school looming) that it was a social anxiety thing. Every now and then I’d stop and think, “Wait, this feels more like a head cold than an anxiety attack,” but then I’d just call myself silly because, after all, I had a big terrifying Event looming. Of course it was anxiety!

I went to work Monday, and then got home to an empty house because T– had AB at the grocery store with her. D– came over, and T– brought a pizza home with her, and we all had a pleasant dinner. Then T– took AB to go shopping with my little sister, and D– drove me up to Full Circle Bookstore for social writing.

It was just the two of us this time, and we both got a lot done. We wrote about a thousand words each, in two hours at the coffee shop, then headed down to the restaurant for an hour of good conversation. I got home a little after ten, and went straight to bed.

Tuesday morning I went in to work, and spent most of my time there answering coworkers who started conversations with, “Today’s the big day, huh? Are you ready?” And my answer was always, “Sure I’m ready! I’ve been doing this for seven years. All I have to do is show up, and start talking. I’ll fill an hour like that!”

Noon rolled around, and I headed home. I took the afternoon off, so I wouldn’t have to rush hither and thither on my first day of classes. Had lunch with T– and AB, grabbed my laptop, and headed up to the school. I’ll tell you all about my first class session in a separate post.

In brief, though, it didn’t go well. And, on top of all that, I was sick. I still suspected at the time that it was a response to the stress of the day, but that certainly didn’t lessen after class was over. I drove home, desperately glad I wasn’t supposed to go back to work, and crashed on the couch, and did nothing else for the rest of the day. I did watch AB while T– went grocery shopping, but that consisted mostly of stretching out on the couch, one arm over my eyes, and half-heartedly saying, “Don’t make a mess” while she watched TV and played with her puzzles.

Wednesday morning I woke up early and went to work, then slipped out halfway through the morning to see my doctor for my annual physical. I haven’t gotten any of the lab results back yet, but for the most part everything’s good. He’s got me back on Benicar for my blood pressure, but even that is much better than it was a year ago. He said if I can get my diastolic down by ten points, I can probably go off it altogether. So that’s my six-month goal.

Anyway, after that I went right back to work. Mid-afternoon I was chatting with T– and asked her about dinner plans and she reminded me that she was going out with Becca, and I was watching AB. So that was that.

I got home, and she left, and AB and I played in the living room for an hour or so before D– showed up. Then the three of us ran up to Taco Bueno to grab some dinner. Afterward AB crawled up next to me on the couch while I was poking around on Facebook, and she jabbed a finger at the screen, at my little profile photo, and said, “That’s you, Daddy!”

And I said, “It is!” and opened the photo up larger so she could see it. Then she started looking through all the little thumbnails on the screen, trying to spot people she recognized, and we played that game for fifteen minutes or so.

When she got bored of that, I set her up on T–‘s laptop watching really, really old episodes of Sesame Street, and D– and I played WoW. That carried us through to AB’s bedtime.

Then D– left and T– and I watched some Lie to Me, and then it was tomorrow.

My Tuesday-Thursday class is what we’re calling a “hybrid online course,” which means we’re meeting in class on Tuesdays, and then on Thursdays the students go to the school’s e-classroom website and watch a recorded lecture, get an assignment, and work on that over the weekend. Next Tuesday when we meet for class, we’ll go over the assignment before I launch into my lecture.

Anyway, that meant I didn’t have to go out to the school on Thursday, but I did have to get the online lecture put together. That…didn’t end up happening, for technical reasons. I posted the assignment, and I put together a heavily-illustrated tutorial (How to Write a Business Letter) that I made available, and I sent them an email saying, “Sorry, but I’m having technical problems so your lecture won’t be available until tomorrow. If you’re in a hurry to get started, check out the tutorial posted online.”

Not the best way to get started. In the process, though, I came up with a really great process for developing my online lectures. I was able to convert the illustrations in my tutorial directly into PowerPoint slides for the lecture, and use the text as a script for my voiceover. That lets me develop the lecture to my strengths (that is, tech writing), produce a useful lecture, and also have a well-made tutorial document left over when I’m done. That seems like a good thing all around.

Anyway, I took care of that yesterday, finishing it up in the early evening. T– made sloppy joes for dinner, I played WoW, and after AB went to bed we watched the last episode of Lie to Me. It was intense.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

Watching Dreams Die

Another article worth reading.

Some psychologists investigated what it takes to get people (students) to give up on their dream job and pursue some crappy day job to pay the bills.

Journal Entry: August 18, 2009

It’s been a while, so I need to get caught up. If you don’t want to read the big long blog post, there’s this: We had a garage sale over the weekend, and I caught a cold that lasted somewhere around 36 hours. That’s it.

Last Thursday night, my little sister came over to help T– get ready for our garage sale. They spent much of the evening organizing tables and setting out stuff and affixing price stickers. When I got home from work, T– was working in the garage and asked me to help arrange some stuff, so I spent half an hour or so dragging two sawhorses out into position, brushing off the dust and cobwebs, and then setting up our old window A/C units from the Tulsa house on them.

Those big monstrosities had been obnoxiously taking up space in our garage for most of a year, but we didn’t know how to get rid of them, so we were really hoping to sell them in the garage sale. Unfortunately, that meant I had to find some way to move them into position, and that was no small amount of work. Then I spent a little more time getting them presentable before finally wimping out with the old “it’s way too hot out here for human survival” bit and going inside.

T– and my sister followed suit before too long, and we spent most of the rest of the evening in the living room. T– kept working on getting stuff ready (and I eventually went to my office and gathered some old computer stuff to add at the last minute), and my sister set up ads on Craigslist and Facebook to get more people to come by. It was a long evening in anticipation of Friday.

Friday morning T– got up around six to open the garage sale early. I woke up…not nearly so early. I think it was around 7:30, and I got cleaned up then took AB over to Miss Becky’s house for some babysitting, then from there drove up to the car dealership in Edmond to have the new car checked out. We’d spent most of the last week noticing a strong antifreeze smell whenever we were in the car, and as it doesn’t have any sort of engine temp indicator on the dash, we figured we’d be better off just taking the car in.

I elected to hang out at the dealership while the mechanics looked the car over, and I got nearly a thousand words written in my scribblebook before the guy came by to tell me he didn’t smell anything in the car, and a quick check hadn’t revealed any leaks, so I could go home.

That was a little frustrating, since it had taken up most of my morning. But I got back to the house and learned that we’d already sold one of the air conditioners. I also found E– and N– both there keeping T– and my sister company and helping them with the garage sale. So that was nice!

I ran up to Wendy’s to grab them some lunch, and when I got back I spent some time talking with N– and playing with baby Jason while we ate, then I had to pack up pretty quickly and head up to OC, because I had some work I needed to take care of and then I needed to pick up AB from Becky’s.

At OC I got my parking decal from the security office, then dropped by IT to pick up my laptop. That “dropped by” ended up being an hour-long process, though, because we had to get the laptop set up on the network in two different operating systems and the tech had to walk me through some of the specific software I’ll need to be using. It was productive time, but an unexpected delay.

As a result I was a little late picking up AB, but Becky didn’t seem to mind. AB sure didn’t. She spent the half-hour drive home telling me how much fun she’d had, and how she was not tired and she did not need a nap. Then we got home, and she walked straight to her room and went to bed.

The garage sale was already closed down by then, so I went to the office to play some games while AB napped. Then, as afternoon rolled toward evening, we got in touch with K– and N– and invited them over for pizza and preseason football.

The pizza was better than the football. Still, it was fun in a premonitive kind of way. I can’t wait for football season to get in full swing. Anyway, K– and N– hung around until about half time. For some reason I watched the whole rest of the game after they went home. It kept me up late, and left me utterly disappointed in our third-string defense. Our backup backup quarterback looks surprisingly good, though.

Saturday, again, I got up way too early for a day off, but it was still a couple hours later than T– had gotten up. By way of making amends, I took AB with me and ran up to Panera to buy T– a cinnamon crunch bagel for breakfast. AB and I shared a bearclaw.

Speaking of AB and me…we both woke up with a cough, and a sore throat. She expressed hers with a gravelly baritone. I expressed mine with much whining.

Anyway, by early afternoon I was already feeling sickly with fever, so I put AB down for a nap and then went to the office to play Fallout and ended up taking a nap of my own. That lasted a little over an hour before my brother-in-law called me up and said he wanted to try playing Magic over Xbox Live, and that turned out to be pretty fun.

I’d made plans to get together with some other people from my writing group at a coffee shop Saturday night, but around five, driving up to Taco Bueno to grab some dinner for T–, I decided with some confidence that it wasn’t going to happen. I forgot to call D–, though, so he showed up right after dinner only for me to tell him I was sick, and he should go somewhere else. He went to see The Goods which, he tells me, wasn’t.

I spent the evening lying around, then eventually went back to the office to play some more Magic, and while I was doing that my brother-in-law joined in again. Between my afternoon nap and my non-drowsy decongestant, I wasn’t close to tired, so we ended up playing until two in the morning. When I finally went to bed, I still couldn’t sleep.

Sunday morning I woke up around eight when AB jumped up onto the bed next to me, but I just gave her a hug and fell right back to sleep. I woke up again around eleven, and then again around noon when T– called to tell me they were headed to Olive Garden for lunch. I passed on that opportunity, but a few minutes later K– called to ask if I could help him hang a swing in his back yard. He had helped immensely when I hung AB’s in our yard, so I didn’t want to tell him no. I warned him I could be contagious, but he didn’t seem too concerned.

So I drove up to Edmond, and learned when I got there that his tallest ladder on its tallest setting was about five feet too short to reach the limb he wanted to hang the swing from. For a moment I thought that meant I had wasted a drive to Edmond, but he quickly set me straight. Instead, it just meant that we had to get creative.

Before everything was said and done we were chucking tethered wrenches over tree limbs twenty feet up and tying nooses. It was a good ol’ Sunday afternoon in the midwest. The swings turned out nicely, though, and it really only took a couple hours.

On the drive home I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner Thursday, but I really didn’t feel hungry. I got to the house and told T– about hanging the swings and then played with AB a little bit when she woke up from her nap, and then as evening rolled in we started talking about dinner and none of us really had any strong feelings on the matter.

Around seven I called up D– to ask what he’d had, just for extra ideas, and he said he’d been wrestling with what to eat, too. So I had him come pick me up and we stopped by Homeland to pick up some microwave popcorn for T– (the choice she finally settled on), and then we drove up to Johnny’s for a couple Theta Burgers and fries. That hit the spot.

After dinner D– went home, and T– and I watched a little TV before retiring relatively early.

Monday morning I woke up and felt completely better. Immune-wise, anyway. Obviously I wasn’t too thrilled about having to go back to work. Still, it pays the bills.

I spent the day doing excessively boring things, then got home and worked out while T– and AB were at the grocery store. Afterward we had dinner, and I scheduled another writing-at-the-coffee-shop (I’m calling it social writing) for Tuesday night, hoping I could stay well and a little bit of advance notice would garner a bigger turnout.

T– made chicken crescent squares for dinner — one of her specialties — and after AB went to bed we watched the first episode of Lie to Me. That’s one D– recommended to us months ago, and it was a good recommendation. We really enjoyed it.

Still dragging a bit, we went to bed pretty early Monday night, but didn’t get a lot of sleep. A thunderstorm rolled in around two, and that kept AB awake all night, and she kept us awake.

As a result of the long night, I woke up late. T– and I had already had plans to meet for lunch, so I just called my supervisor and told him to expect me after lunch, and took the morning off. I spent some time in the kitchen putting together my chili fixins for supper, and then got some paperwork taken care of in the office, and then we went up to Schlotzky’s for lunch. It wasn’t a terribly exciting morning, but it was pretty pleasant.

Then I spent the afternoon at work doing some excruciatingly boring stuff, which was interrupted by an unexpected summons to give a presentation to a packed conference room and try to explain to them the excruciatingly boring stuff I’d been doing.

I survived that, and got out of there just in time to head home. Five minutes into my commute, though — just as I turned onto I-44 northbound — I ran into standstill traffic and heard a traffic report explaining that a semi had knocked over a power pole and there were power lines down across the highway about a mile north of where I was, so they’d closed the highway. The recommendation that commuters find an alternate route didn’t really do me much good by that point. So instead of half an hour it took me an hour and a half to get home.

My angel of a wife had dinner ready when I walked in the door, though, and it was one of my favorites. D– joined us for that, too, but then headed home right afterward. T– and AB went to Hobby Lobby with my little sister, and I headed to the coffee shop for my scheduled social writing.

I’d said it would be seven to ten, but I overestimated the distance from my house, so I actually got there twenty minutes early. That turned out to be a good thing, though, because the place was pretty packed. I snagged a spot, and dragged out my scribblebook, and got nearly a thousand words written before Courtney showed up. A few minutes later Becca showed up, too, and we moved to a newly-free table so they could plug in their laptops.

We didn’t really do any writing after that, but it was a fun evening. Becca’s been working on her novel for several months now, but it’s the first major writing work she’s done, and this was our first opportunity to really talk about it. I’d been looking forward to that conversation, but I think it probably went a lot better with Courtney there too, giving another experienced angle. I just hope it wasn’t too overwhelming.

Still, the mentoring bit only lasted ten to twenty minutes, and then it was just discussion of all our roadblocks for most of the rest of the evening. Both of them happened to be struggling getting into the heads of their major male characters, and I think I was able to provide some useful insights on that topic. We talked a lot about vampires, too, and psychopaths and sociopaths, and the challenge of writing easy dialog. Writer stuff.

Then around 9:20 the proprietor quite politely kicked us out, so he could go pick up his brother-in-law (returning home from a deployment to Iraq) from the airport. How could we object to that? Before we split up we decided to try another one at 50 Penn Place next Monday, but before that rolls around I’ve got another official Writer’s Group meeting on Saturday.

My life is just too busy. Courtney asked me last night how many projects I’m working on, and after some consideration I believe I have five active, unfinished novels, and five finished ones that need immediate, extensive rewrites. So call that ten big writing projects, with numberless others waiting in the wings.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

Journal Entry: August 13, 2009

I’ve had a Draft email with no recipient sitting in my GMail inbox for a week now. It goes as follows:

Well, to be fair, I did solve all crime, most hunger, energy dependence on fossil fuels, voter apathy, predatory lending, and unemployment BEFORE I started working on skanky sluts.

That was never actually meant to be an email. It was a reply I had ready for a conversation thread I started on Facebook when I posted the status update “Aaron Pogue is considering the real-world consequences of on-demand real-time modeling of the statistical distribution of sexually adventuresome barflies across a city’s club district. Y’know, for my books.”

It only occurred to me after I’d posted that that I have a bunch of church friends and dear old grannies who follow me on Facebook. So I did what I could to explain what I was getting at, and came up with a clever defense in case somebody challenged me for thinking about such things at all. But nobody did. So I’m manufacturing a setting in which I can share it with you guys.

Anyway, I had a ridiculously and unpleasantly busy day at work yesterday, and so I owe two days worth of diary. Tuesday night D– came over to hang out, and T– picked up McDonalds for us for dinner. Then we left AB playing under D–‘s watchful eye while T– and I went out to the garage to start prepping for the garage sale. We boxed up some stuff, moved some stuff around, and then I brought three old, haphazard socket sets into the living room and spent an hour sorting them out so we can sell down to just one.

After that I gave up on being useful for the night and went to the office to play Fallout until my bedtime. Then I loaded up a new Magic: The Gathering game I’d gotten through XBox Live Arcade, just to play for a couple minutes, and ended up playing that until midnight. Ugh.

Then I had to go to work yesterday, and it was awful.

Afterward, D– rode with us to dinner at Moe’s where we met K– and N–. It was a little chaotic with all of us squeezing around a booth meant for four, but fun! And of course the food was delicious. Then afterward K– and N– headed home and we went to grab snow cones before heading to Office Depot, then Hobby Lobby, then a different Office Depot in search of supplies for a project T– is working on. I spent most of that time trying out a Civilization game on D–‘s iPhone, so I had a good time. AB was pretty sick of her car seat by the time we got back to the house, though.

Then we watched some Conan and a little Psych before I headed back to the office to play some more Fallout while T– did some work on her laptop.

Oh, and then just before I woke up this morning I had an exceedingly odd dream which could best be titled “Drunk-driving Miss Daisy.”

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.

Journal Entry: August 3, 2009

Last Friday I got to work to find an email from the Deputy Secretary of Transportation encouraging all FAA managers and supervisors to support a (highly symbolic) DOT Telework Day. Any employees who wanted to were encouraged to try out telework (that is to say, working from home), in the hopes of more permanent adoption.

We got that email on Friday, when 2/3 of the office was out on RDO (including, I should point out, all the managers and supervisors). DOT Telework Day is today. That was the least useful Department-wide memo ever sent.

Anyway, contractors are not allowed to telework, so it never would’ve mattered to me. Still, bummer.

I got home from work a little early on Friday, which gave me time to work out before heading out to our July Poker Night. (Yep — just barely slipped that one in). My sister let us use her place again, and D– and K– both made it. D– brought with him ingredients for a vodka cocktail called the “O. G. Diddy,” and after his clumsy attempts to make it I took over bartending and we all found the drink remarkably good. So remarkable, in fact, that it directed the fortunes of all our evenings (and most of our mornings on Saturday, too).

We defied nomenclature and played Rock Band for a couple hours, until someone’s wild thrashing brought the XBox crashing off its shelf and engraved the Rock Band disc with a shiny silver line that rendered it worthless. Instead of being concerned, we probably laughed hysterically. It was that kind of night.

Then we played poker for two hours and watched Mean Girls. After that, a little bit past midnight, my little sister drove us all home. I stayed up for a bit playing Fallout and hydrating, and cursing myself for making the same fool mistake two weeks in a row.

Saturday morning saw me awake a bit before nine, and I killed a couple hours working on the computer and playing with AB. Then, half past noon, we headed to Edmond for my niece’s birthday party.

That was at McDonalds, and we had family from Dallas up to visit, as well as my dad and brother-in-law (with all his little ones) from Little Rock. The party was two hours in an enclosed play area with, what, ten kids under ten-years-old. It was a lot of noise, with echoes. I gather from more reliable sources that it was a lovely party for a four-year-old. So I’ll leave it at that.

Afterward T– took AB to go swimming with the rest of the party guests, but I went back home for a nap. Ended up playing Fallout instead, but it was just as recuperative. T– brought AB home for a late nap, and when she woke up we headed back to Edmond for dinner at my sister’s house. There was pizza for all, and movies for the little ones. Dad got started watching The Incredibles, which he’d never seen before, and found he actually liked it.

Halfway through the movie, I had to leave to head over to K– and N–‘s place so they could go watch Harry Potter. Dad came with me, tearing himself away from the movie, but he was gratified to learn when we arrived that K– had a copy of it, too. They put the baby down to sleep, then headed to the movie, and all I had to do for the night was be there in case of emergency (and, of course, there was none).

While we waited, Dad got out his laptop and I borrowed N–‘s, and we watched The Incredibles and talked about getting published. Dad talked me into querying a new literary agent who’s specializing in science fiction and fantasy, and I talked him into starting a blog. We spent much of the next three hours doing the tedious work necessary to follow through on those ideas.

Then one o’clock rolled around and K– and N– rolled home, and we got their quick opinion on the movie and then headed home to get some sleep.

Sunday morning we woke up late enough to skip Bible class but early en0ugh to grab donuts on the way to service. Or, as I like to call it, “the magic hour.”

I delivered unto Courtney her marked-up manuscript, then hastily took our seats before service started. We ended up filling the row with family, when my sister brought all hers and the brother-in-law with his, and N– had to sit in the row behind us.

Afterward, the whole family went to P. F. Chang’s for lunch, which was a mess. I’m just saying, that’s a lot of little kids. It was awesome as always, though. Then we said goodbyes in the parking lot, and the Little Rock folks headed home, and we took AB home for a nap, and then…I guess I spent the afternoon playing Fallout.

That game has to come to an end at some point, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. That’s okay, I didn’t really want to get a book finished this month anyway.

We’d decided on the way home from lunch that we wanted to have dinner at the newly-opened Freddy’s on north Penn., so as six o’clock rolled around, we called D– and K– and N– to see if anyone of them wanted to join us, and they all said yes. When we got to the restaurant, I heard a woman call out my name just inside the door, and we turned to find our stylist, Karen, there with her friends. She got to meet AB for the first time, and T– and I both got to fight down the urge to introduce her to D–. Then she went back to her booth, and we went to ours, and we had phenomenal cheesesteaks for supper.

And frozen custard for dessert.

And then when we got home we had just time to watch an episode of Leverage, and then put AB to bed, and then it was bedtime for us, too. We read for a while, and gradually drifted off to sleep.

Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.