I couldn't actually post this ON Facebook because someone might have thought it was aimed at them, specifically.

I'm devising a new FB test application: answer ten questions and it will tell you whether you are narcissistic, vain, self-absorbed, egotistical, conceited, self-important, self-loving, or merely self-admiring.

Question 1:
`Ssup good looking?

# Email burnout -- or Length Matters in Love Letters -- or sab-BAD-ical attitude #1 -- or confronting the reverse transmission-composition proportionality paradigm

This is how my friend Ruby reacted when I did not reply to her email within 24 hours:

I sometimes get the same vibe from my students, colleagues, and family. Since an email "arrives" nearly instantaneously, I think we have come to expect a response in minutes or hours rather than days. If we don't get an email response from someone in that amount of time we assume that either their computer is broken or they have had a stroke. If another day passes, they clearly hate us / disrespect us / are incompetent.

When I was fourteen, I had my first and only girlfriend-via-correspondence. Her name was Rena and we met at a matinee showing of "Ghostbusters." My family didn't have air conditioning, so I used my allowance and haying money as often as I could to go to the movies in the hottest part of the day. I was a film buff, I guess. Anyway, Rena and I made eye contact during the opening credits while I was slurping my coke and in an uncharacteristic act of bravery I leaned over the two rows of seats 20 minutes into the movie and asked for her phone number. Or I got my brother to do it, I'm not sure. Turns out she lived in Grant City, MO. When you're from Agency, MO, (population 900, but just five miles from St. Joe) there aren't many places you can describe as even more of a hick town than your own. So I guess she was attracted to my urbane sophistication. Since our love was star-crossed by 105 miles of rolling missoura prairie, and since neither of our parents' would allow us unfettered access to the long-distance phone lines, we had no choice but to correspond through the US postal service.

Imagine this: while the windows steam up from the humidity outside, you labor all morning over your 16th letter in five weeks, carefully sculpting an image of yourself, "I've been lifting wates and practicing with my marshal arts a lot. That's not flowers on the back of this paper. I traced my 2 favorite throwing stars. They're called shurikens. I've got 4 of them. I'll probly get some more this summer." Since she doesn't know any of your friends, you pretty much portray yourself as a sort of teen-aged Territorial Governor--a leader in your community, respected for your fairness, wit, and fearsome roundhouse kicks (oh yeah, I was Napoleon Dynamite..and so was EVERY one of my friends). And since your devotion is best calculated in page count, rather than action or clear sentiment, you can ramble on for pages about your parents, your friend's dad's truck that you "rutinely" drive in the pasture, your favorite shows, your hunting conquests, your complete collection of the Conan, Tarzan, and The Horseclans book series'. And since you're also sensitive, you can confide that you still almost cry when they play the Ghostbusters theme song on the radio every 10 minutes. Then you tell her about all of the money you've saved from haying and urge her to arrange a visit to her cousin in St. Joe in a few weeks... all the while DYING to reveal to her that you bought her what just may be a gold bracelet at Montgomery Wards for $20. At 12:15, you put on a$.19 stamp and stumble out into the heat, put the letter in the mailbox and flip up the red metal flag. At 12:35 the mail-lady pulls up in her station wagon and takes your letter, leaving a wad of mail behind. There's one from her (in response to your 14th letter)! You leave the rest of the mail in the mailbox and tear into her envelope before you even get to the door. She doesn't waste much time: "Scott, I think we have to be just friends, Scott. I've been really confuse because I [heart] you soooooo much but I also love the other Scott too [here, she was referring to her ex-...well, suddenly CURRENT (again) boyfriend with the same name] and he's here and he knows all of my frens. He has a lisense too..."

You see what I'm getting at? If she had waited two days to send that letter--and to make up her mind between that hillbilly Scott and this cultured Scott--she would have seen that I had THROWING STARS and SAVINGS (i.e. I could protect and provide) and BOOKS (i.e. I was going to be an English Professor someday and earn big and the respect and adulation of my community). I'm not bitter all these years later. I'll bet she is, though.

Has email made us more patient? Has it made us consider what is worthwhile to communicate? Duh. As frenzied and ridiculous as my correspondence with Rena was, is it really sillier than the many times YOU have sent out a brilliant email then put off all meaningful work to hit the Send/Receive button every 15 seconds for an entire afternoon waiting for replies? What about the times you've labored over an indignant response to a colleague's email--pointing out the unprofessional tone, the errors, the miscalculations--only to hit send and see in the meantime that they had already sent out a heartfelt apology and explained that their wife's heart attack that morning had left them "out of sorts"?

But none of this gets at the real reason I started writing this post. My students understand email better than my colleagues and my family and myself. They realize that there is now (and always has been) a transmission-composition proportionality paradigm. Simply explained, they spend time writing an email or letter in proportion to the time it will take for it to travel from them to its recipient. It took two days for my letters to get to Rena. I spent hours on each letter. They were always several pages. It takes 3.52 seconds for my email to reach someone on the other side of the planet. Therefore, I should spend no more than 2 seconds composing it. Less if I'm replying to something whiny.

Instead, we professionals too often succumb to the reverse transmission-composition proportionality paradigm which posits that all of the time our correspondents save in waiting for the postal service should now be spent composing a three paragraph response to our query about borrowing their scotch tape.

I'm therefore compiling a list of my future email responses (with an ear for tone, as demonstrated by the carefully placed exclamation points) starting with some of the standard responses in a magic 8-ball. Feel free to suggest additions:

• As I see it, yes
• Better not tell you now
• Don't count on it
• It is decidedly so
• Most likely
• My sources say no
• Outlook good
• Outlook not so good
• Signs point to yes
• I'll get right on that, honey.
• Ha!
• Here ya go!
• thin mints, 4 boxes
• I'll get right on that, Liz.
• No, thank you.
• Okee-dokee.
• I'll get right on that, President Steen.
• Is this student-centered?
• LOL!!!
• whatever
• Why yes, I DO have some expertise with shuriken.

# Goodbye snow thrower

What you have heard is true. I shot my snow thrower. Dead.

Six years ago I bought a cheap snow thrower at Sears. When I lived in Henniker, with a 30' blacktop driveway, it was a great thing. I could hardly wait for the snow to fall and often didn't wait for the storm to pass but instead went out and cleared the driveway two and three times.

Then we moved to Wentworth. My driveway is gravel and I no longer have a garage to keep it in. Those two factors began to take a toll...over the past three years I spent approximately \$710,000 in repairs (I'm just guessing...the figure may be much higher). The thing NEVER ran when I needed it. And this winter, with almost ten feet of snow, I needed it a lot. Worse--far worse--than not owning a snow thrower in New Hampshire is owning one that never works no matter how much you spend on it.

I don't have that problem anymore.

When I finally snapped--breathless and sore in the back from pulling the starter cord 922 times--I started by kicking the machine. Then I tried to swing it into the yard like an Olympic hammer thrower. When I got up off of the ground, I tried to imagine loading the thing into the trunk of my car and taking it to the same small-engine repair joint in Plymouth that has managed to put in a hot-tub and a chandelier since my snow thrower and I moved to town.

But instead I pulled and yanked and wrestled the piece of junk around the house to the back yard and positioned it on the edge of a drop-off above the brook. I stomped back into the house where Tab asked how it was going out there. Her father was sitting at the table so I tried to control my language. "It's going great." I said between gritted teeth. "I'm going to shotgun the snow thrower now." Tab just watched me stalk off down the hall.

When I emerged with the shotgun and a box of slugs, she seemed genuinely surprised. Maybe she didn't hear me the first time. But neither her nor her father said anything as I stomped out the door with gun in one hand and the shells in the other.

By the time I loaded the gun and then repositioned the snow thrower to reduce the chances of an errant slug hitting my neighbors' house, a few minutes had passed. I imagined stalking the snow thrower in it's natural habitat (probably the snow-less deserts of New Mexico for this particular species--crapicus norunicus). Here and there in the sandy soil, a tell-tale wheel track would give away it's direction. By pinching a sage leaf, I could smell the 40:1 gas mixture and determine how many hours before the snow thrower had passed through. Here and there, receipts and check stubs indicated where it had fed. Finally, as the sun came over the mountains, I spotted it on the rim of the canyon. What's this? It's about to charge that campsite full of sleeping children below?

Not on my watch.

BLAM!ch-chunk.

BLAM!ch-chunk.

BLAM!ch-chunk.

Was it good? Damn right. So good that I reloaded and pumped three more shots into it. Oh sure, I would have loved it if, as in the movies, the force of the blast had blown it over the lip of the drop-off. But it was flippin' sweet.

The following picture shows the damage, CSI New Hampshire style:

But the story get's better. Flashback: last summer, while Tab and I were away on an errand, our daughters were playing outside with the dog when a strange car pulled into the driveway. One of the two women in the car asked my oldest if her parents were home. When she said we would be right back, the woman asked, "When your parents die, do you think they'll go to heaven? Do you think they're saved?" My daughter didn't know how to answer that so she gathered her sister and said they needed to go inside.

I was furious when I got home.

Fast forward six months. The church ladies are out saving souls and they see by the number of cars in our driveway that there may be sinners inside. They walk carefully up the unshoveled driveway and knock on the door. Tab answers. "Is the man of the house home?" they ask. Oh yeah, the man of the house. Before Tab can formulate a response appropriate to 1958 all three jerk their heads toward the back of the house -- BLAM!... BLAM!... BLAM!

Tab turns back to them. "That's him," she says. "He's shooting the snow blower. He should be in in a minute."

They didn't stick around.

Got a machine that won't cooperate? A chainsaw that won't start? A mower who's wheel keeps coming off? I can take care of that for you. I can make it look like an accident or I can send a message to all of the other machines in the shed: "Briggs and Stratton sleeps with the fishes."