November 2003 Archives

You've got to know when to fold 'em...

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On orientation day at UVA parents and students are separated, and each have full schedules. Students meet with counselors and register for classes and listen to presentations on getting along with one's roommate, while parents gather in a large auditorium and sit through a series of lectures that is essentially an enumeration of the evils of college life.

I know they were trying to prepare us for the stories our kids would come home with. They talked about sex on campus and the statistics of STDs; they talked about drinking on campus and the weekly parties in the fraternity houses on Rugby Road. They told us that bad things happen, and we weren't going to be notified "unless the police become involved", because "your sons and daughters are adults now."

I suppose they thought they'd covered everything, but they hadn't. Oh no, indeed they had not, because they never said a word about poker.

Poker is huge at UVA, and the school seems to be unique in this regard. A game can be found any night of the week and there are tournaments on Fridays, which one can enter for a twenty dollar fee. Alas, alarmingly, the genes with which my son was endowed seem uniquely suited to this game. I know that on August 23rd, Move-in Day, he knew nothing about poker, and now, this month, never risking more than his entry fee, he has cleared $300.

They say "talk to your children" and I did. I talked about sex until we were both sick of the sound of my voice. I didn't push morality as much as I emphasized practicality-- we talked about HIV and unwanted pregnancies and Men Who Throw Away Their Lives For Sex, and everytime another politician would be destroyed by the revelation of an affair I'd say See? See?

I talked about drugs and alcohol and smoking. I even talked about gambling: not the immorality of it but the stupidity of playing a game of chance in which the odds always, always favor the house. We talked about the state's take from the sale of lottery tickets vs the house's take from a slot machine, and how you might as well go to Vegas and stuff quarters into a slot machine if you're going to throw money away on lottery tickets, because the odds are better in Vegas.

But poker is different and God help me, I never talked about poker. Why would I have? I see nothing morally reprehensible about spending $20 for a fun night of poker, and if you come out a winner, well, share the good fortune around. But my son is winning real money and this is scary because there can't be many things more addictive than winning money. I couldn't have foreseen this, and what is a parent supposed to say about poker? You've got to know when to hold 'em? Know when to fold 'em?

In addition to poker, my son has taken up one other new hobby: he has decided to teach himself to play acoustic guitar. I think this is a fine thing; I taught myself to play guitar when I was sixteen and I enjoyed it very much for a good twenty years. In fact coincidentally (?) I'd recently taken out my old guitar, dusted it off, replaced a broken string, and started brushing up on my own skills (more about this in another post).

But now, the images I've always had in my head of my son's possible future, that of successful attorney, that of accomplished violinist, have been joined by another. I now have the image in my head of my son hobo-ing his way around the country with an acoustic guitar strapped to his back, talking his way into casual poker games, winning enough for a room and a meal, maybe several nights' worth of rooms and meals on a lucky day, and when he loses, sitting on a street corner, his guitar case open on the sidewalk in front of him, playing only until enough loose change has been tossed in for him to buy his way into another casual game.

What parental advice am I to bestow now? What wisdom based on experience covers this situation? Mike, if you're reading this, never bet the guitar.

Sea Change, part 2


Ah yes, the light bulbs. On the day after my husband died I went into his study, flicked on the light switch, and the bulb burned out. No big deal. During the two or three weeks that followed, all four kitchen light bulbs burned out, both hallway bulbs, both bulbs in our bedroom, and all of the outdoor bulbs. One evening I walked into the bedroom and as I reached for the lamp on the nightstand I thought Well this is one bulb that hasn't burned out. I pulled the chain, and the bulb burned out.

The outside lights that burned out included the bulb just outside the garage door, which my husband had replaced a couple of weeks earlier, remarking as he did so that in the eight years we'd lived in the house, it was the first time he'd had to replace that bulb.

I replaced the bulbs as they burned out, but after a couple of weeks they started burning out again, including the bulb outside the garage. I became somewhat obsessed with light bulbs, and I ordered some expensive 20,000-hour bulbs from a catalogue. The ones I put in the kitchen have yet to fail, but the one I put outside the garage burned out in ten days.

I had an electrician come to the house to check the wiring, and he said it was fine, better wiring than is put in newer houses these days. I told him about the rash of light bulb burnouts, and he just smiled and shrugged. Crazy lady. "Some bulbs are faulty; they don't all burn for the same length of time." But...but...

Burnouts weren't the only problems I had with lights. The bulb in the aquarium started flickering, and when I replaced it the new bulb flickered. I replaced the whole hood, and the new bulb in the new hood flickered. I finally discovered that the switch on the timer had moved slightly, although in how many years-- twelve?-- it was the first and last time is has ever happened.

Okay that's just what happens on the far reaches of the probability curve, but there were also two small bear fetishes that kept falling over in unison, always falling to the right and sometimes sliding an inch or so. They appeared to have been blown over although they were sitting on the desk in my husband's study, and had a breeze sneaked through the closed window it wouldn't have blown them to the right. At one point I tried to blow them down, but although I blew quite hard they didn't topple. These fetishes fell over once while I was sitting right alongside them but I didn't see or hear them fall. A few minutes later I went downstairs and my son asked me what had fallen, because he'd heard a loud thump coming from upstairs. I thought hard and said "nothing", because nothing had-- I hadn't even dropped a book. My son shrugged off the inexplicable, as we always do, and went on playing his computer game.

I, too, did my best to shrug off all these things. When I couldn't come up with an explanation I just said "Well, it's a mystery." I knew what it looked like: The fetishes were sitting just to the right of the box that held my husband's ashes, so it was as though... well, nevermind; it's just a mystery. It embarrasses me to add this but most couples have stupid names for each other and my stupid name for my husband had been "Freddy Bear", and he used to sign his emails "Fred E. Bear".

There was also the television set in my son's room that turned itself off. God how my husband hated it when our son left the TV on in his room. And there were dreams that seemed too real to be normal dreams. And one day it occured to me that just maybe my husband was trying in any way he could to let me know that he was still around. And I thought about how frustrated he must feel with my determination to ignore the clues, and I could imagine him saying Open your mind, Mary, open your mind... and that was when the sea change occured, and I began to think it more than possible, probable, that these things were not coincidences.

Anyway, about seven months after his death my son and I went out to Sonoma County and scattered his ashes there, on some property we own where we used to go camping. My husband loved it there and I guess he decided to stay, because since then the lightbulb burnout rate has settled down, and the bear fetishes have never fallen over again.

Sea Change, part 1


Sea change noun a seemingly magical change, as brought about by the action of the sea [ETYMOLOGY: coined by Shakespeare, in Ariel's song "Full Fathom Five" in The Tempest (1611)] (

Mary, why are you such a flake? Why do you believe these crazy things? Well, when I say "I believe", I don't really mean it. I'm just being lazy, because what I really mean requires more words to explain. What I mean is "I believe it's possible that..." or "My mind is open to the possibility that..." Saying "I believe in this" is equivalent to saying "I know this is true" and I would never claim to know that any of this is true. That said, I'll try to answer the question.

At the heart of it all is the idea that the physical world we see isn't all there is-- that it's just one dimension of something much more complex and unfathomable. And that a person is much more than their physical body, and that when the physical body dies, the unseen part lives on.

I think many more of us would believe this were it not for our phenomenal ability to brush off the inexplicable. The inexplicable happens and we say hunh and then think about it for five seconds maybe, and then carry on, incident forgotten. I was this way. I continued to be this way until the number of inexplicable incidents that followed the death of my husband became so large that to ignore all of them just seemed ridiculous.

Each incident by itself can certainly be shrugged off. The first odd occurance was the sensation I felt on the afternoon of my husband's death, while I was shopping at a craft fair about twenty miles from our house. I was standing in a booth holding a ceramic bowl when I felt a zinging sensation throughout my body, unlike anything I'd felt before. There was no emotion associated with it, and no pain. Had it been painful, I'd have thought it was an electric shock, although it was really more of a very high frequecy vibration than a shock. For a few moments I was concerned, because it seemed like a major neurological event of some kind, a whole-body seizure perhaps, but when the feeling didn't repeat itself I shrugged and forgot about it. I remembered the sensation several days later and associated it in my mind with the moment of my husband's sudden and violent death.

It was easy to make that connection because the incident reinforced an idea I'd long considered: that consciousness, or rather sub-consciousness, is a field. Each object has a gravitational field, and the fields of various objects combine seamlessly, and the associated force, gravity, acts at a distance. Each object also has a magnetic field, and the fields combine seamlessly, and the associated force, magnetism, acts at a distance. And so it is with the mind-- each person has a mind, and minds combine seamlessly on a subconscious level, and the associated force-- what is it? what should I call it? The Force?-- acts at a distance. But I can't explain it. Nevermind trying to explain it-- we don't even recognize its existence.

This was just the first and perhaps the most easily brushed-off of the incidents of those days. Others were more demanding of my consideration, and the most frustrating of all was the saga of the light bulbs...

The Search, Part 3


So, having decided that a person is a bit of spirit housed in a physical body, I can flesh out this concept, heh, in a number of ways. The first thing I assume is that the spirit is pinched off from a continuum, a spirit river, that is as infinite as the physical universe.

Being a mathematician, I'm comfortable with concepts such as continuum and degrees of infinity: the infinity of the integers, the infinity of the rationals, the infinity of the reals, the infinity of curves that can be drawn through the reals, and so on. And I believe the universe of spirit is to the physical as the infinity of reals is to the integers: far greater.

I also assume there's nothing to stop a spirit from manifesting in a body again and again, whenever the spirit yearns for the physical senses and feels ready to try again. So I've come around to a belief in reincarnation-- or at least to considering it as a possibility, because I don't think it's possible to ever know these things.

Because I conceive of the spirit world as an infinite continuum, arguments against reincarnation based on finite numbers are laughable. Oh yeah? Well how do you explain the fact that there are more people on the planet now than there were a thousand years ago? Please.

I disagree with the New Age idea that we have to keep reincarnating again and again until we "get it right". I also disagree with the New Age theory that we subconsciously control every aspect of our lives; that when bad stuff happens to us, we cause it to happen to teach ourselves something, to get us a little closer to the goal of no longer having to come back and slog through another lifetime.

I believe instead that we choose to come back, again and again. To feel the sun on our faces and a cool breeze on a hot day, to rake leaves and shovel snow, to watch the sunset, to listen to the wind in the trees, to smell coffee, to spread butter thickly on crusty bread, to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and stare into the fireplace, to stand on the beach and smell the surf, to drink beer with friends.

Maybe sometimes we come back to comfort others.

But we can't control everything that happens, and sometimes bad stuff happens and it all goes wrong and gets spoiled and becomes too hard. It's a risk we take every time.

The Search, Part 2

| which the author takes on the question "What is the meaning of existence?" without the benefit of being stoned. Good luck.

For me, the fundamental question is actually a variation: not what is the meaning of existence, but what is the nature of existence? Is the physical world a manifestation of consciousness, or is consciousness a result of neurons firing off in our brains? Or do both physical and spiritual worlds coexist in more dimensions than we can grasp?

Either I consist of an immortal spirit in a mortal body, or I don't, in which case the physical body is all there is, end of story, end of search. One might think that as one ages, one would become increasingly skeptical and this would seem more and more likely to be the answer. But on the contrary, as I age I become less of a skeptic.

As inexplicable experiences pile up over the years, it becomes hard to discredit all of them. Almost everyone, if prodded, will admit to having had at one time or other some extraordinary experience that can't be explained other than as a sighting or hearing of a spirit, be it an angel or a ghost, or as a psychic phenomenon of some kind. People will say, Look, I'm not saying I believe in ghosts, I don't know what I believe, but I know what I saw.

I myself have heard a dead man sobbing; not just any man but my husband. Not in the middle of the night, but in the middle of the afternoon. Not far away, on the wind, but up close and unmistakable. This is only one such experience; one can be brushed off, it's harder to brush off a dozen.

I've heard the argument that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs, but I don't buy it. Think how extraordinary the claim that we would one day fly in heavy machines would have sounded had it been made a thousand years ago. Or the claim that we would one day communicate with others halfway around the world nearly instantaneously. To reject all extraordinary claims that can't be proven is to close one's mind to the possibility that there are things we simply can't yet explain.

Being unwilling to brush off a wealth of evidence leads me to conclude that there is more to existence than the physical world. I guess, then, that we all have a spiritual essence, housed in a physical body. The theory that body and spirit are created simultaneously implies that the creation of the body gives rise to the spirit. But how can the physical body produce an entity that will continue to exist after the body decays? I struggle with the idea that the body gives rise to the mind for another reason: because evidence suggests that the mind is the more powerful of the two.

To believe in this simultaneous creation of body and spirit, one has to accept that the spirit is created by God, who, seeing a couple humping in the back seat of a 67 Ford Fairlane or a lab technician mixing sperm and egg in a petri dish, is compelled to create a soul for the offspring. Of all the possibilities, this seems the least likely. It seems much more likely that the stuff of the spirit is out there, and is pinched off into the body opportunistically, and then released when the body is destroyed.

To be continued...

The Search, Part 1


I guess I was in my late teens when I started occasionally lying awake at night wondering how and why the universe came into existence, and whether we are fundamentally physical or spiritual and if there is even any real distinction there, and so on. I've collected a wide variety of books that try to answer such questions: everything from a five volume set on the history of Christianity by Jaroslav Pelikan to the Tao of Pooh. In addition to these are books by C.S. Lewis, The Astonishing Hypothesis by Francis Crick, Mind in Tibetan Buddism by Lati Rinbochay, the Bhagavad Gita, The Formation of Hell by Alan E. Bernstein, a couple more on the history of Christianity, Old Souls by Tom Shroder, Life Beyond by Hans Holzer, and others.

I've come to think of this as my ongoing "spiritual search", which started with evangelical Christianity more than thirty years ago. During college I joined Campus Crusade for Christ and I was an active participant. We met a couple of times a week, and we sat on the floor and listened to our leader as though we were listening to the teachings of Christ Himself. No one ever questioned anything-- it was unthinkable to question, because Satan planted doubt in your mind, and Satan was a clever devil who used the Pride of Intellect to make you doubt, and you just had to resist the doubt and be a Trusting Child of Jesus and pray for Him to strengthen your faith.

There was a lot of popular Christian literature being passed around back then, as I'm sure there is today, and I read a great deal of it, some good, some awful. Some so awful, in fact, that I struggled, really struggled through a crisis of faith. Because truthfully, some of the popular Christian literature of the 70s was just crap. One of the defining moments of my life came with the decision that, try as I might, I simply couldn't believe all the junk I was reading. I came to a Huck Finn decision, a sort of "Well, then, I'll go to hell." After that it became easier to think for myself, until one day I decided that I simply couldn't accept the doctrine that the default outcome of life was eternal damnation. So right there, that ruled out Protestant Christianity, and although I can write about it flippantly now, it was a difficult and scary decision at the time.

I moved on to Catholicism, since the different definition of Grace opens up the possibility of salvation to anyone who lives by his or her conscience. But there were more defining moments in the decades that followed, because there are more difficult issues than the question of salvation. Questions such as What am I? An eternal soul in a mortal body or just a remarkable living breathing conglomeration of chemicals? Why am I here? To be continued...

The Insulated Jar

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My husband took his own life three weeks before Christmas, 1999-- four weeks before Y2K. He did it in the middle of a day that was, by all outward appearances, normal. He put his coffee mug and newspaper down on the kitchen table and, not waiting to finish the book he was reading, not waiting to move his laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, checked out.

When people ask me about it, I usually give a short answer: he was suffering from depression. Well, yes, but the depression had come on very suddenly, and it wasn't something he normally suffered from. No one saw it coming. Everyone who knew him was blown away.

His suicide wasn't a "cry for help"; there was no chance of failure. He did all of the classic things: he waited until my son and I left the house, wrote a note absolving us of any guilt, took off his glasses, went into a small uncarpeted room that our son never went into, closed the door, sat down on the floor, put the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

We had been together for 20 years, married for 18. I don't know a kind way to say this, but I had known for a long time that my husband was "emotionally handicapped". Because I had never heard of Asperger's Syndrome, I had no clue as to the cause.

Several years before my husband's death, while waiting for our son to come out of an orchestra rehearsal, I spent a few minutes reading over the shoulder of a mother who was doing graduate work in child development. What I read sounded like a description of my husband: uncomfortable interacting with others, reluctant to make eye-contact, adverse to change, stuck in routines. I asked her what she was reading, and she said it was a description of Asperger's Syndrome. When I asked "What's that?" she said it was a mild form of autism.

I dismissed it at the time; my knowledge of autism consisted of my having seen the movie "Rainman", and I knew that my husband, a successful and highly respected mathematician, was no Rainman. For years I tried to put my finger on just what, exactly, was wrong with him. A year or so after his death, I again ran across the words Asperger's Syndrome, on a message board, where a poster claimed to have AS, and blamed it for his being hyper-sensitive to noise.

Bells rang, whistles blew. My husband was so sensitive to noise that our son had grown up playing basketball with balloons because they were quieter than balls. I started to research AS online, and all the pieces fit. From my husband's addiction to routine-- eating the same sandwich for lunch every weekday for eight years, stacking his handkerchiefs and wearing his t-shirts in a certain order, to his need to control his environment-- insisting that the blinds in his study be open twenty-four hours a day, that everything on his desk be at right angles, to his inability to interact spontaneously with strangers-- he was an "Aspie".

When our son was two years old I had a terrible revelation: my God, I thought, Michael is more mature than Fred. And yet I knew that didn't really explain the situation, because to say that my husband was less mature than a two-year-old was to suggest that he was emotionally similar to a one-year-old, and that was nonsense.

Consider a profoundly retarded twelve-year-old. It might be said that this child has the developmental skills of a two-year-old, and yet, are they similar in any way? While they might know an equal number of vocabulary words and have an equal ability to count to five, they're nothing alike at all. Remembering my own son at two years of age, I recall standing in the kitchen while he sat on the floor and scribbled. He looked out the window and said What do you see? I pointed out some object, and he followed up with a barrage of questions. Before he knew the word Why he invented his own query by inverting Because. He said What is it for doing? What is it cause-be? And he didn't just want facts; he wanted aesthetic and moral judgements: Is it pretty? Do you like it? This is not the behavior of a profoundly retarded twelve-year-old.

My son lived for feedback at that age. Supposing he had gotten none? Might he then have appeared retarded at the age of twelve? I think so. I believe my husband suffered from an inability to register emotional feedback, and consequently he did not develop emotionally as a "normal" person does.

Some people believe that those with AS, or any form of autism, have no emotions. I and others who have lived with an Aspie know otherwise. Not only did my husband have emotions, he had a good sense of humor, although his sense of humor and mine were very different. It was the lack of feedback, not because it wasn't provided, but because it couldn't be absorbed, that retarded his emotional development.

What would cause a person to be unable to register emotional feedback? This brings me to a point at which a reader might well hit "back" on the browser, because it is based on my interpretation of the nature of life, of existence, if you will. I believe we are all part and parcel of a unified field of consciousness, call it the Mind of God if you're religious, or call it a spirit world. We are all, while encased in physical bodies, separated from one another spiritually as the air in a glass jar is separated from the air around it-- part of it, but unaware of it, or of the existence of it in other jars.

Ahh, but we're not unaware of each other, not really. Because the glass isn't insulated; when the air outside is warm, the air inside is warm; cold outside, cold inside. When we ask someone What's wrong? and they say Nothing, we know better. Through emotional feedback we learn to recognize facial expressions, to relate them to emotions. Because of feedback, we can interact on an emotional level.

I think one tragic symptom of AS is the inability to sense not just the emotions but the spiritual essense of others. This is said in various ways in descriptions I've read of AS: it's said that Aspies "lack empathy" or that they "don't believe others have minds of their own." These are descriptions of the symptom, but my own explanation grasps for the cause. While all of us are "psychic" to some extent, if being able to sense others is a psychic ability, there are those with more ability than others, and those with less. I believe that tragically, those with AS are "psychically blind"-- the jar is insulated.

I spent the past couple of days down in Charlottesville attending my first Parent Weekend at UVA. One of the highlights of the weekend, for me, was the Candlelight Tour of The Lawn on Friday night. I love taking student-led tours; the guides are invariably funny and they enjoy sharing scandalous tidbits about the history of the university.

The first time my son and I visited the university we toured this same portion of the campus, which Thomas Jefferson designed and which consists of the Rotunda and ten pavilions aligned on either side of the large expanse of grass known as The Lawn. The above picture shows a portion of one side, with the Rotunda on the right and two of the pavilions connected by a colonnade. We learned that there are still student rooms on the lawn: 54 of them. All are occupied by fourth-year students (they don't use the words "freshman" etc. at UVA), who are selected for this honor by the student body. I was amazed to see racks of firewood outside each room. I knew these rooms, having been built in the 1820s, would all have fireplaces (53 of them are still functional), but were students still allowed to burn fires? Yes they are, and I learned the story behind the well-stocked firewood racks on Friday night.

Edgar Allen Poe attended UVA from February 1826 until December of the same year, when his step-father cut off his funds and he was forced to leave. On his final night, it being a cold December night and his being out of firewood and out of money and it being his last night, after all, so what the heck, he broke up the bed, desk, and chair in his room and burned them in the fireplace. Since that time the university has kept students who live on the lawn supplied with firewood, lest they burn the furniture on cold nights.

I had known, too, that a professor had been murdered by a student on the lawn, but I hadn't known the whole story. It wasn't about exams or grades; it was in a scuffle over the right of the students to ride horses up and down the lawn while shooting firearms, in commemoration of the earlier tradition of riding up and down the lawn while attempting to shoot the hands off the clock on the Rotunda, a tradition that ended when UVA acquired the first bullet-proof clock in the US.

So much for Parent Weekend and History. Now, about the math. There's a lot of talk these days about the college search and application process, all of it emphasizing the importance of "finding the right fit" for a student. Visit a lot of schools, they say, apply to schools in three categories: sure things, target schools, stretch schools. It's said that whatever school one chooses to attend will make attendance possible by providing financial aid.

What isn't often said is that the lion's share of the financial aid will be in the form of loans. Of course atheletes still get scholarships, and oboe players and ROTC students and sundry others, but for the vast majority of students, almost all financial aid is loans.

Students can now finish school with massive debts, especially those who go to graduate or professional school after getting a bachelor's degree. This causes problems for organizations such as those providing legal services for the poor, which want to recruit good young lawyers but can't pay enough to attract those who finish law school owing $100k. My son wants to go to law school, and I don't want his choices to be limited by the need to pay off student loans when he applies for his first job.

According to US News and World Report, UVA is tied with UC Berkeley in the number 21 spot in university rankings, and all of the schools that rank above these two are private. The highest ranked public liberal arts college is Virginia Military Institute, which is tied for 70th. Seventy. In other words, the top 69 liberal arts colleges are private schools.

Because we live in Virginia, the math is simple. I can pay for UVA out-of-pocket, but it's a stretch. I have enough savings for three years of law school, but not three years of law school plus four years of private college or university. My son didn't even visit any other schools. He sent in one of the "early decision" applications that are now the focus of so much angst. Because he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST) with a "governor's diploma" and scored 1520 on the SAT, he knew he'd get in to UVA; one third of his high school graduating class went there. There was no need to look any further.

So that covers Parent Weekend and history and math. Now for attitudes. Having lived in northern California for twelve years before moving to Virginia, I know that parents in California are proud to have their kids attend UC Berkeley. Why the analogous attitude doesn't hold here is a mystery to me. Many parents in northern Virginia seem to want their kids to go anywhere but UVA.

When I told my boss (an MIT grad) where my son was going to school, his reaction was momentary silence followed by slight embarrassment, as though he hadn't realized there was anything wrong and didn't know what to say-- exactly the response I'd have gotten if I'd said "Oh he's doing great, I finally got him into rehab."

The colleague in the office next to mine (another MIT grad) argued rudely that "young people should be ambitious" and that my son should have tried to get into a "Top Ten" school.

A friend whose daughter attends Yale tried to convince me that the added expense of an Ivy League school was no big deal-- "It's like buying a new car every year" she said. And "it's the connections you make" that are worth it. Her daughter chimed in (get your barf bags ready) "I have classes with Barbara Bush."

In September of his senior year I took my son to an Urgent Care clinic for a sports physical--he had left it to the very last minute, of course. The doctor who examined him asked what his plans were and reacted with horror to his response. "You Vee Aaaaaay? Is that aaaaaall?" she moaned. Her son was a student at Boston College and she insisted my son apply there.

For the Ivy League set, well-represented in Northern Virginia, UVA is either insufficiently exclusive (about 40% of the Virginians who apply get in) or insufficiently expensive (in-state tuition is about $5k), take your pick, and this disparaging attitude has spread like a rash to the not-so-rich and the not-so-gifted. One mother I knew whose son didn't get into TJHSST wanted to disown him until she learned that so many students from the school go to UVA. TJHSST is a tough high school. "Why do all that work," she said, "if you're just going to end up at UVA."

I have to be fair and say that there are parents who feel as I do: I love the campus and history of UVA, I'm happy to have my son here in Virginia, and I feel incredibly fortunate that our "State U" is such a good school. The mother of one of my son's classmates, whose daughter was accepted at both UVA and Yale, offered to send her to Spain for a year if she'd choose UVA. It was an offer too good to refuse.

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