East and West

At the graduation ceremony, I was sitting next to my Ukrainian colleague.

“Have you noticed how many last names that are just like ours there are in this region? They all sound so familiar,” she said as we listened to the names of our graduates.

“What do you mean???” I asked. “There are no last names that sound familiar here.”

“But listen: Wiezniewski, Kaczmarek – they are all just like ours.”

“These are Polish last names,” I said.

“Yes, exactly. So familiar.”

And this is how we discovered the only real difference between East and West of Ukraine.

Just Our Luck

The wind and hailstorm in Saturday brought snow to the lucky folks of Colorado and Wyoming. To me, however, they brought nothing but an interruption in my Internet service.

Now if I want to check my emails or blog, I have to stand in front of my dentist’s office and catch her Wi-Fi signal. My constant hovering by the dentist’s office has already prompted the receptionist to call and say that even though my next appointment is scheduled for Wednesday, if I’m in pain, it is OK to come in right now.

Why couldn’t it have snowed here instead? I have no doubt the folks in Wyoming are not nearly as appreciative of the snow in May as I would be.

The “Aggrieved Kids Write” Genre

I get a feeling that we are witnessing the birth of a new genre of writing: articles by over-fed dumb rich kids who manage to attract enormous attention by writing whiny pieces about how upset they are that the world is a bit too complex for their understanding.

First, there was that Harvard kid who wanted to abolish free speech because it hurt her sensibilities. Now my blog roll is exploding with discussions of a piece by a Princeton kid who’s unraveling because somebody said something he doesn’t like to him.

I’m not troubled by these kids being confused and overwrought. They are young, feeling aggrieved is their natural state at this age. What I find strange is how seriously people take this kind of writing. I had colleagues who went into fits over the silly Harvard piece.

“If these ideas are gaining currency AT THE TOP,” one colleague said, “it’s just a matter of time before this becomes governmental policy.”

Many young people don’t handle the transition to college all that well at first. For the first time, they are not Momma’s little darlings but lost among many. So they erupt in disaffected tantrums. I work with students and I know enough about their emotional states not to take these outbursts seriously.

If you read the linked piece by the Princeton kid, you’ll see that there is such a wild mish-mash of unconnected bits of ideological talking points that all we can do is smile sadly and nostalgically for the times where we were just like this. But whatever we do, we shouldn’t take these tantrums seriously.

Bildung 12

Nature has conspired to create a real break for me from anything that can make me feel restless. There was a massive hailstorm in our area on Saturday and now the Internet is out. I can only access it when I’m around public wi-fi, like right now.

When I was thinking about the next post in this series, the following old joke was coming to mind. A Russian nouveau riche brings Christmas lights to a store and says, “They are broken, I want to return them.”

“What’s wrong with them?” the shop assistant asks.

“They light up, they are bright, they are pretty,” the nouveau riche says. “But they bring no joy.”

In college, I discovered that intellectual growth brought unrivaled, almost physiological pleasure. In the undergrad years, I had a calendar where I crossed out the days left until the end of holidays because all I wanted to be back in class.

And these days, I have books, I’m enormously better equipped to do my own research, I have a lot more time to dedicate to intellectual growth, but the joy is elusive.

One reason why joy has left the building is that academia is very depressive. Even the best among us sigh more than they speak and find joy exclusively in swapping worst-case scenarios.

Another reason is that experiencing life as joyful is incredibly much harder in tiny towns than in big cities. Nobody makes an effort to live beautifully, and that takes all joy out of existence.

Every once in a while, I do manage to recreate a distant glimmer of the enthusiasm and happiness I felt at a library or with a book in my hands 15 years ago. But turning this into a permanent state of being is still a project in its early stages.