Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

3/4/2005

My union just served 72 hours’ strike notice.

File under: Righteous Indignation, Those Who Can't, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:00 pm.

I’m so angry over this that I can’t even work up any sarcasm, if that tells you anything.

Picket lines go up next week, unless a settlement is reached, which seems unlikely: the university president claims (and I believe him) that the administration doesn’t have the authority to meet our demands even if it wanted to, and anyway it doesn’t want to. I’m still optimistic enough to postpone setting Wednesday’s precalculus test, however.

The TA Strike of ‘03 was phenomenally stressful, and that was back when I sympathized with my union and wasn’t even teaching, anyway. I felt little guilt over stopping grading for three weeks (yes, three weeks) when the administration told us that we were just kids and hence didn’t need anything grown-up like health insurance. This time, I don’t agree with my union’s demands, and even if I did, I have a hundred students to keep in mind. And if did…I’d be torn up about being in a situation such that only by abandoning the people I am responsible for, could I be provided with the means to continue my work.

So here’s how it’s going to go down, if it lasts more than a few days: my students will later have to cram n classes’ worth of work into n-k classes - if they’re lucky enough not to lose the term entirely; I’ll have to work overtime figuring out which parts of the course are essential and which can be left out for when work resumes; the secretaries, who make half of what I do, will have to respect picket lines, but won’t get paid for their trouble; the administration won’t be affected. And in the end, we’ll all get legislated back to work anyway, because that’s what this government does to striking workers. (Back in ‘03, when the back-to-work legislation was tabled, the provincial government argued - in the same breath - that we TAs were a bunch of spoiled kids who were doing useless, low-skill work that didn’t deserve a cost-of-living wage increase; and that we were essential workers who therefore needed to be legislated back.) I’m having trouble working up the mandated solidarity over a losing battle that I don’t even think is worth fighting.

Vegetables of revolution

File under: Those Who Can't, Queen of Sciences, Talking To Strangers. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 12:06 am.

There’s a science to selecting produce, I know. The serious chef evaluates colour, texture, elasticity, and any number of other physical properties before choosing a peach or a pepper. But I’m not a serious chef, and I wasn’t planning my meals this morning at the grocery store, anyway. I’d found a butternut squash that spun nicely in my hand - perfect - and I was especially pleased with the abnormally short, plump, and smooth carrot I’d pulled from the shelf. But what next?

I must have looked extraordinarily lost, because the fellow unloading the heads of lettuce asked, “Are you looking for anything in particular, miss?”

And I was so engrossed in my own thoughts that I replied without thinking, “Symmetric vegetables.”

“I beg your pardon, miss?”

I looked up, at once amused and embarrassed by my own obliviousness, and shook my head. “Sorry,” I said. “Just talking to myself. I don’t need help, thanks; I’m fine.”

“No,” he said. “What did you say?”

I laughed. “Symmetric vegetables,” I repeated. “They’re not for cooking…I’m a teacher, I’m looking for props for a lesson.”

“What do you teach?”

He was genuinely interested. He’d abandoned the lettuce, and was looking directly at me. I took a moment to appraise him; early twenties, polite but laid-back; probably born and raised in a small Island town.

“Math,” I said. “Calculus. At the college.”

“Calculus?” he said. “I took that at the college last year. What are the vegetables for?”

“Did you do integration?” I asked.

He nodded, still confused, still curious.

“I’m using these to demonstrate volumes of revolution. Did you do that stuff?”

He nodded again, slowly.

“Well,” I continued, “You have a function, like say this one” - at this I traced an outline of the squash with my index finger - “and you rotate it around the x-axis, so it traces out a three-dimensional shape, like this squash.” I turned it in my hand, and said, “That’s what I said before, ’symmetric vegetables’. This one’s perfectly even, see? - turn it around and it doesn’t wobble. Same with this carrot.”

At this his eyes widened. “Oh, yeah!” he exclaimed. “Cool! I remember that stuff now.” He paused, and then said, less confidently, “Well, kind of.” He thought about it for a moment again, and then added, “Probably would remember more if we’d used vegetables.”