Thursday, July 21, 2011


It is 3 am, and there are piles of books all over my bedroom floor. I have finally finished a draft proposal for a textbook, which has taken me much longer than expected due to publisher submission requirements. The heat index is supposed to hit 105 degrees today, so I have turned on the air conditioners already to cool the house down before I go to work. I am conscious, but cognizance comes slowly.

While I am pleased with this writing milestone, it is only a beginning, and I still have 3 articles to reformat and write abstracts for in at least one other language besides English. In addition, I have to put a proposal together for my fiction collection as well. So, life has been busy, and needless to say, blogging has fallen by the wayside.

During my researching binge this past week, I stopped in a restaurant very near to the library where I was working to get some dinner. For some reason it seemed there were a lot of children in the restaurant that evening. I think five or six of them belonged to a blonde woman who appeared to be in a Xanax-induced haze. They swarmed the area around their table like vengeful locusts, while she was the picture of Stillness, staring into space with perfect detachment, blissfully unaware of her brood. But the locusts could not compete with the wailing I heard two tables over. Turning around, I saw an Indian family--a young woman, her daughter, her mother or mother-in-law, and her baby son. It was the latter who was wailing like a goete. I expected spirits to appear from the underworld momentarily.

Seeing the family suddenly jarred my memory with a thought. I recalled being in Hindu temples, and at pujas, and the way I was treated when I walked in, looking decidedly out of place in a sea of colorful saris, chanting and ringing of bells. Even when I am dressed accordingly, I still look out of place. I remember sitting for Shiva puja, and an older Indian gentleman leaned over to me. He said, "I don't mean to sound rude when I say this, but--what are you doing here? Are you Hindu?" "Yes," I replied. "Ah. Then that would be a good reason for you to be here." He then asked me many questions about why I would embrace Hinduism, which is what usually happens if I appear in such places. There is a certain fascination that a "foreigner" would be interested in their religion. They are not unwelcoming, just curious.

"Otherness" is usually associated with a kind of xenophobia--a suspicion of strangers. The Devil is always the stranger who sweeps into town, and people seek to eject him and protect themselves. I have discovered, however, that there is a strange kind of reverse discrimination that goes on in many cases. When I mingle with traditional Indian families, they always ask if I am married. When I say I am divorced, they nod and say, "Are you going to get married again?" I tell them probably not. They will then nod vigorously, "ah well, that is good then." By contrast--I have Indian friends who are divorced. When they enter these communities, they are shunned like lepers. I noted this discrepancy to a friend of mine, who replied, "No offense when I say this, but it's because you are white. They worship white people." She was not the only one to tell me this. A friend's daughter in Dubai told me that I should go there--it would be easy for me as a white American to get work. It was the natives and Indians who were shunned for the high-paying jobs.

So, it is a case of the foreigners having elevated or exceptional status in the community. It is as though a deity has swept in, and is exempt from the normal social rules. I wonder why that is the case. Perhaps the long-standing effects of British colonialism? I didn't think that was too well received, though I've also been told that British-style education and culture is the norm in parts of India; the British are gone, but their cultural impact remains. It may be a financial thing as well--there might be an assumption that white Americans are wealthy. I don't really know. But I find it peculiar, just as I find their treatment of their own communities peculiar at times. But human nature is the same regardless of nationality.

I finished grading for my summer course, and I'm starting to notice a new trend, not specifically with these students, but over all of my classes. There are a rising number of students who are clearly very smart, but believe they can pass a course without doing any of the work or reading. They are cultivating the art of bullshit. I have to confess that this is a useful skill in the world; no one knows everything, and sometimes you have to appear as though you know. So, you "bullshit", and some people are more convincing at it than others. Politics is a career based entirely on bullshit. So is television journalism. Unfortunately for these students, I don't do "bullshit". Call us elitist if you will, but in the academic world, I need to see that you understand what I've taken the time to teach you. Even if you just understand a little.

In checking my faculty e-mail, I noticed that there was a long thread of discussion about teaching critical thinking to students, and how you know you've done it. I'm still making my way through the discussion, which is quite interesting.

But now, it is time to go to work, and brave the heat, humidity, and bloodthirsty bugs outside. I'll write on critical thinking tomorrow if I haven't melted or been drained of all my blood.

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