In August 1986 I started school. I was 2 1/2 years old, and I think my mother figured it was time for me to get out of the house and see the world, or at least the preschool at Thoreau Park Elementary School. In a few short months, that will have been 30 years ago. And while those first 3 years of pre-school (my mother really wanted me out of the house…) may have consisted only of half-days, they did run the entire length of the school year. This means that, as of Spring 2016, I’ve completed 30 school years, as either a student or a teacher.
I’m writing this post, the first in over a month (my bad!) from a hotel room in New Orleans. I’m down here for the Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA) conference, having brought with me 5 of my undergraduate students from Delta State. The conference seems to be having the desired effect – students are excited to see the very real possibility of themselves presenting material here in subsequent years. What seemed big, ominous, and unknown, is now something they see within reach. It means a lot more work for myself in terms of advising students, but it’s work I’m happy to do.
The topic of this post isn’t about my academic pursuits, or the symposium that we presented on perspectives on a campus shooting. While the symposium was a success, thanks to the lead author Sally Zengaro, and my collaborators George Beals and Franco Zengaro, there isn’t too much I can say about it that hasn’t already been said. And while the academic nature of the conference has been fulfilling (I’ve seen some interesting talks, and gotten some ideas for my own research as well as my students), it also doesn’t merit my putting electronic pen to paper. My topic tonight is the one part observation of human behavior, and one part my own warped philsophy of the world. And it’s best summed up by the title, Defying Classification.
Psychology conferences are interesting places. Scores of undergraduate students looking to get their feet wet, teams of graduate students trying to be noticed on a larger stage, and professors presenting either to fulfill pre-tenure obligations, out of respect for their science, or out of love for their field (Sometimes all 3!). You tend to notice trends in how they walk, talk, and appear. Undergraduates dress in typical teenage and early 20’s style, with some (who were clued in, like my students) dressing slightly nicer and more professional. Graduate students tend to dress in the most professional attire, with professors taking a more laid back approach. Professor standard attire for men tends to be jeans or slacks, with a button down shirt or polo, and occasionally a sport coat. No suits, few ties. We look, more or less, like grown up versions of our undergraduate students. Other conferences differ slightly – the business school crowd dresses more formally, and I assume other professional schools clean up a bit more than us ratty PhDs.
Today I was wearing my standard professor uniform: Khaki cargo pants, black shoes, dark blue Carhartt t-shirt covered by a black polo shirt. On my belt I had my camera in a case and my cell phone in a holster. I like to keep my pockets open during conferences to (a) have a place to put my room key without depolarizing it and (b) have a place for business cards and my conference name badge. After the last session tonight, I went out in the same ‘uniform’, adding in a black 2600 hat. I tend to shy away from logos, but I make an exception for brands I like to show support for, and 2600 is a publication I feel is important to the technology community.
Anyway, I proceeded to ‘take myself out on a date’, (because I’m awesome and I’d date me if I were single). I hit a few shops, watched some dueling pianos, caught the sunset over the Mississippi River, and picked up a gift for Karey and a birthday gift for a friend. On the way back to the hotel, I decided to get some food, but didn’t feel like having anything fancy. When you’re alone, sometimes all you want is something simple. Tonight I thought of something I hadn’t had in awhile: Popeyes Chicken. So I wandered over to Popeyes, walked in, placed my order, and walked back out. Holding my drink and Popeyes bag, I noticed a shorter scrawny gentleman come quickly up to me on my left. “Cocaine man, I got good cocaine”. I shrugged him off, and wandered across the street wondering if dealers with subpar products strategically make fewer promises. As I got nearer to the other side of the street, a security guard from one of the hotels spied me and asked “Hey, are they busy in there tonight?”. I replied “No, they’re pretty open” and she thanked me.
It was then that it hit me: I looked like a security guard or a bouncer. I had things on my belt, I had a black polo on, I had cargo pants, I had a black baseball cap with some strange number on it, and I had just bought food in between two other similarly dressed gentlemen who were off to work at different places according to their polo shirts. The lady who put my food in my bag at Popeyes asked how my day was – I had replied “Busy”. She replied “The more you do the more you make, huh”. I absentmindedly agreed, despite the fact it isn’t too true for me. I am huge, a trait normally found in private security personnel. As I came into the hotel, I realized that absolutely no one on the street would have guessed I was a professor, or a scientist, or a published author, or a computer programmer. I looked like a security guard, and likely New Orleans local.
And I’m just fine with that. The point of this long rambling post is simply that joy can be found – true, unabashed joy – in simply being yourself. If you defy classification, than so be it. If you are the epitome of who you’re supposed to be – own that too. Be the professor with the tweed jacket and elbow patches (on a side note: I hardly see those anymore). Be comfortable in your own skin, and let others think what they may. Honestly I like blending in – it means people are more likely to treat me as a peer and tell me their story (After all, that’s why I got into psychology in the first place). Others prefer to stand out, signaling to the world that they are individuals. Both mindsets are perfectly fine. And switching day to day is allowed. What you shouldn’t allow is yourself to be consumed by the tyranny of the shoulds, to use a term from Karen Horney. Be all the bouncer professor you can be.
(But stay away from cocaine, good or bad!)
Recently I’ve found myself writing comments on other people’s posts and then deciding at the last moment not to post them. Obviously it’s a good idea to always read over what you intend to say before you say it, and it’s usually at that point that I realize that what I’m about to say isn’t as much helpful as it is selfish. How can one be selfish when virtually commenting? It’s really easy – it starts with the “Oh yeah, I do that too!” feeling.
For example, friend A posts that they’re thinking of trying a new restaurant, and you feel a sense of comraderie since you’ve also eaten at that restaurant (or eat at new restaurants too). You rush to post something like “Yeah, I love that place – I stumbled upon it a few years ago and really liked it”. Then it hits you – that’s an absolutely useless comment. All it does is tell the person that you agree with them, and that you did what they propose first. A better response? “Yeah, I love that place. The chicken marsala was good, and the salads were unique – not just a standard salad you could get anywhere”. Now you’ve given some actual information – a mini review – and held off the urge to say “I did this first!”. Your friend finds your comment useful, as do others, and it doesn’t sound like the internet equiviliant of the old message board mantra “Me Too”.
My goal is to try to add more substance to my comments and less selfish boasting. I’m sure I’ll fail multiple times in the process, because talking about oneself is so easy to do, we do it without thinking, but at least I’ll be making the effort!
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Thanks to the always enlightening Judie Stanford for posting this pic – I couldn’t resist making a post just to try out the headline formula.
I did a Google search today for the phrase “my relationship with my wife is the easiest thing in my life”, and this is what I got:
Google is a full text search engine, which means that, apparently, according to Google, no one has ever said that phrase before. In my experience, when you are with the right person, your relationship is not marred by regular conflict, and I’d choose spending time with my wife over dozens of mundane things because it’s easier (I.e. Spend time with her or solve a Sudoku puzzle: I like Sudoku, but I’m not in love with it.)
So I’m writing this post to rectify the situation. Yes Google, someone out there does say:
my relationship with my wife is the easiest thing in my life.
Back in the day (“the day” being 5 years ago), I used to use Windows Live Writer to compose updates for my blog(s). Loved it. Then I switched to a Mac, and Microsoft more or less abandoned Windows Live Writer. Now I’m trying a new piece of desktop software for blogging named Blogo. We’ll see if this gets me writing more. No idea, but I suppose I will get at least 1 post out of my $14.99 investment: This one.
So far the interface looks pretty clean, and easy to use. I worry I might miss my thousands-of-customizable-widgets thing on my generic WordPress installation, but maybe ditching those is a good thing. This actually reminds me a lot of the WordPress app on iOS – simple, clean, easy to post.
So perhaps a new chapter of blogging on JonWestfall.Com is upon us. Or more than likely, I’ll still stay busy, and forget to blog!
For reasons I’ll never understand, the WordPress Jetpack social plugin that’s supposed to be able to publish my stuff everywhere (i.e. FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+) sometimes doesn’t want to publish it to the network I get 70% of my traffic from: Facebook. Not sure what that is, but I’m back to the old grind of deactivating plugins trying to find out why. This post will probably go to FB, simultaneously helping me (by fixing the problem) and mocking me (by fixing the problem) at the same time!
Earlier this month, Karey & I celebrated the 15th anniversary of the first time we met in person (We met online before it was cool – actually it was still heavily stigmatized!) In honor of that, I’ll post this anecdote.
A few months ago we were driving on an epic road trip and stopped at a Wendy’s. While there I bought a six-piece chicken nugget for us to share. I tried to give Karey this nugget, but she protested “It looks like a heart”. I think we compromised by both eating it, a half-bite each.
A little over 10 years ago, on March 24, 2004, I posted the first entry on my LiveJournal blog – what would eventually become JonWestfall.com (I actually mentioned in that post that I was trying to figure out how to show the RSS feed from my LiveJournal blog to the relatively static homepage of JonWestfall.Com). 10 years and counting!