Monday, January 01, 2007

A New Year's Meme

Laura McKenna has tagged me with a "Five Things You Don't Know About Me" meme--though Jacob T. Levy insists it's not a "meme," just a "blogospheric parlor game." Whatever. Sounds like a good way to start off a new year of blogging to me.

1) From about age nine until I left for college, I milked cows both morning and night. We weren't dairy farmers in any real sense, but we lived on farms and we always had animals around, as my father was in the feed business at the time and he would sometimes buy (or be paid by bankrupt ranchers in) livestock. So one day he came home with a couple of Holsteins, and said that we kids (I was the third child--and second son--of nine) could save the family some money and make some ourselves by milking cows, selling the milk, raising and selling calves, etc. And that's what we did, rotating through about a dozen different dairy cows over the years. They terrified me at first, but in time I grew to like them; you could talk to them about anything on hot summer afternoons or cold winter mornings in the barn, and they'd always listen patiently. To this day, I have a soft spot for dairy cows (and can tell difference between a Jersey and a Guernsey from 50 yards or more).

2) My mother has said before that, were I a child attending a public elementary school today, I would very likely be put on Ritalin or some other drug, and she's probably right. As a kid, I would hum nonsense tunes to myself while skipping along the back fence of the school yard during recess, frequently not hearing the bell. (I would do this at home also, singing to myself and skipping back and forth in my room, lost in a fantasy of one sort or another.) I was a hideously nerdy show-off in the classroom, precocious and defensive, insulting people and then running away, asking intentionally pointless questions and sitting like a Buddha on top of my desk. Plus, I would throw regular tantrums and complain of having ulcers. My mother at one point worriedly sent me to a child psychologist, who among other thinks asked me to record my "unconscious feelings" on a tape recorder; I made up all sorts of outlandish stuff in response. My father was of the opinion that it was all nonsense and that I'd just grow out of my weirdness, and he was right (mostly).

3) I'm fairly certain that any competent doctor could diagnose me as suffering from a mild obsessive-compulsive disorder. All our books, CDs and tapes are organized by genre and then alphabetized; Melissa knows better than to put them away once the kids get into them, because I won't be able to sleep until I go and put them back in the way I like them. My books at work are organized by genre and chronology, and the same dynamic holds: if during the course of the day they get mixed up or piled on my desk, I can't sit down to get any work done until I put them all back. I will occasionally be overcome by a desire to stop whatever I'm doing at work and spend five minutes sharpening every pencil I own. I regularly make prioritized lists of things I need to do one any given day or week or month, and then throw them away and write new ones if subsequent events throw my prioritization out of whack. For years I attempted to keep a regular journal, then gave up after I finally wearied of writing an entry, going back to it a week or month later, deciding I didn't like it, tearing it out and starting over. (I do the same thing to my Day-Timer, tearing out pages or erasing previous appointments to create artificial "beginnings.") If I discover a grammatical mistake in one of my syllabi, even if it's halfway through the semester, I'll correct it and make all new copies to hand out in class. I fold my underwear so that each piece is pointing the same way in the drawer. And so on.

I can identify ways in which my presumed OCD has probably interfered somewhat with my peace of mind and personal productivity, but I don't believe it's ever really been bad enough to interfere much with my relations with other people. Along with all my obsessive habits, I've also developed strategies for avoiding situations that would trigger my habits. Melissa could list all these, I'm sure. I'm very fortunate in the person I married, by the way, in that she probably has a bit of OCD in her as well. (Try to convince her that the house, on any given Saturday, isn't particularly dusty. No really, just try.)

4) I don't care for cooked fruit of any kind--strawberry jam, apple cobbler, you name it. I can eat it, don't particularly object to it, but would probably never choose to eat it if given a choice. I was actually embarrassed about this for a long time, because for several years my father owned and ran some restaurants that specialized in pies. Not wanting to seem disloyal, I would keep making excuses about how full I was before desert was ordered, or else I'd just order the chocolate cream.

5) My junior year at Brigham Young University I was fired from my job as a columnist and political editor at the regular campus newspaper--"The Daily Universe"--because I was simultaneously writing for and helping to distribute (and had lied in my job interview about working for) a rabble-rousing student magazine--the "Student Review"--that had been banned from campus. (My pseudonym at the Student Review was "Michael Ho.") It was Election Day, 1992, and I snuck out of the newsroom early in the evening to attend a meeting with my fellow dissidents, where we were planning our decidedly less respectful coverage of the elections. Somehow my cover was blown, and when I returned I was fired on the spot; they wouldn't even let me back in the newsroom to pick up my coat. It was a pretty traumatic event for me, though as time has gone by I've come around to thinking that, as silly as the university's and newspaper's policies undeniably were, I was basically a dishonest smart-ass who got what he deserved.

All right, there you go: some of you knew some of that already, but now it's all available in one blog post for future reference. As for passing this along...well, I'm tempted to send it to some of the same folks tagged the last time I was memed, but John Holbo has already written up his five things, as has Matt Yglesias, and Jacob has already tagged Belle Waring. And something tells me Hugo Schwyzer has already done this one as well, though I can't find it on his blog (and anyway, really, once a man has written at length about his own circumcision, what more is there he could reveal?). So let me send it officially out once again to Noah Millman and Peter Levine, then throw in the mix some friends of mine who have gotten into blogging in the meantime: Rob Fergus, Matt Stannard, and Aldo Edwards. (Nick and Scott, I know you only do food, and Mary Ellen, you just did something just like this, but you all can play too if you'd like. Oh, and Melissa as well, of course...)


Anonymous said...

I have a strict no singing in public and no meme policy. 

Posted by extramsg

Anonymous said...

I remember you sitting on the tops of desks... and I remember finding out that you wrote at the Student Review — and worrying about your rebelliousness.

: )

Cows, thought?! Cool!

We had almost an acre down on 6th avenue ( a couple blocks from your uncle's place ), and most of our acreage was dedicated to food production: a run for chickens (slaughtered about 100 a summer); rabbit hutches (they can jump up, but can't jump down); a small orchard with cherries, plums, pears, apples, and peaches; a patch for raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb (but no snozberries); and a garden with a larger footprint than our house.

But never cows.

* sigh * 

Posted by Silus Grok

Anonymous said...

* cows though

Laura said...

Really fun post, Russell. Russell the singing rebel. My kid, Ian, also likes to hum little tunes to himself and run around in circles. Being odd and smart seem to travel together. How many academics would be drugged up with Ritalin or something, if they were born today? Probably a lot.  

Posted by Laura