Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sometimes a Great Student

One of my students was so brilliant today; we were discussing "The Prioress's Tale," and he talked about how he'd hated it (but not in a "so I didn't bother to read it" but in a smart, engaged way), and when we got to the latrine description, he said that that's where he'd basically slammed the book shut and been done with it until later.

It was just great, you know?  I love when students have a strong, engaged reaction, and how can you have that reaction to "The Prioress's Tale" without wanting to slam the book shut at several points?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The April Time of Year

There's this activity, a poetry related activity, that someone organizes every year.  I've participated in the past, more than once, even.  But I have to confess that I don't find the activity much fun, and it's hours long, which multiplies the unfunness.  (And the way it's organized, if you're participating, you pretty much have to plan on being there from the beginning, and likely staying most/all of the way through.)

My participations in the past have been popular, so popular that the organizers asked me specially to participate again.  (I already had an obligation, however, so I declined.  To be honest, I was relieved to have that other obligation.)

The activity was mentioned recently in a department meeting, and a number of people raved about the wonderfulness of the activity.  (I appeared as interested as I could, but kept my mouth shut.)

The thing is, these people don't participate in the activity.  Nor do they go (and as non-participants, they could go for a little while and leave, or go late, etc.)

The thing that made my participation popular, pretty much anyone could do something similar, but it takes preparation, and a willingness to laugh at yourself and your stuff.


I don't know: does everyone absolutely love this activity, but doesn't participate or go?  Or do they feel as I do, but are way better at making politic noises than I am?


My additional irritation with this activity is that the organizer (who puts in a fair bit of effort, I'm sure) writes this up on their review materials as if it's the second coming of Shakespeare or something.  But as a participant, I get no credit.  It's nothing for me, but my work counts as someone else's success.  And the organizer is someone who doesn't bother to do anything that isn't totally about themselves and their self-interest.  And at the same time, the organizer is someone who makes hugely sympathetic noises.  Now, if this organizer were someone who contributes to other folks' work, then I probably wouldn't resent this activity.  I might even be willing to participate just to be supportive.  (I've been known to do that, and in fact my other obligation is partly that.)


In looking for my post linked above, I went through a bunch of Aprils on the blog, and I realized that I complain a lot in April.  It's a hard time of year, of course, the end of the academic year, with lots of projects and lots of programming to go to, spring teasing us while we get a bit more snow or cold weather, and so on.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Question Is...

... not whether I will become insufferable, but just how insufferable I will become.

I just got a fitbit thing.  And I'm unreasonably excited. 

It's charging now. 

I love toys.  I hope I love this one in the long run.  (Some toys I do, some not so much.)

Best toys?  Bike, skis, kayak, car, camera, snowshoes, computer.  Will the fitbit fit on that list?  It's more of an auxiliary toy, no?

So, if you have a fitbit, do you have advice or thoughts for me?

I am aware of this funny piece by David Sedaris, at least.  Maybe that will help me be less obnoxious?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Optimism: Spring Garden

I put the first plants of the year in the raised beds today.  First I dug them up (or, as the weeds think of it, gave them a deep massage), except for the strawberries that made it through the winter (lower left of the first picture).
 
 

Here's a bit closer look at the strawberries.


And here's the new plants.  Not much to look at!  I planted three each of kale, broccoli, spinach, and a lettuce in this bed.  (I'm trying to be a little more sane than last year.)


We're expecting more cold weather, but if these plants don't make it, I'll put seeds in directly, and that will probably work, too.

Last year, it looks like I planted the beds in early May, about the 7th.  But then, I had to wait until they were built last year.  Still, given how prolific the garden was, I'm not too worried if I have to put seeds in after some more cold.  And the other three beds aren't planted at all yet (except for the strawberries from last year).

I'm thinking of carrots in the strawberry bed, and then one "hill" each of summer squash and zucchini, and then I'm going to try to grow sugar pumpkins on the deck in planters, and tomatoes in planters, maybe, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Concert Success

The concert I mentioned here happened this week.

Luciano, Dean, and Beverly were fantastic.  I was good enough, too.  Maybe even a bit better than good enough. 

We had a pretty fair crowd, including some folks who watched on the live feed, which is something our music folks do for pretty much all their in-house performances (they're set up really well).

It was fun and I've received a good bit of very positive feedback.  Several people I didn't know stopped to chat after the concert, which is good, and people I do know also stopped. 

And the best yet: we're discussing what to do for the 400th anniversary of his death next year, and already a number of people are on board with ideas!

Finally, working with these folks was a real pleasure, and that's the best!  And Shakespeare!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

NPR Gets Me Riled in the Morning - Baptism Edition

This morning, I half caught an NPR story about a pastor talking about whether or not she'd baptize a baby of a lesbian couple.  So then I went and read the story when I had a moment, and here it is.

From the story, a pastor some 15 years ago refused to baptize a lesbian couple's baby; according to the story, "The pastor said because the child had lesbian parents, there was no way he could get a Christian upbringing."  That pastor has move on, and there's a different one; it's the different one I caught a bit of this morning, saying that she'd have a tough decision.  At the end of the story, she has the last word:
"If the only reason for there to be reservations were around that, issues of sexuality," she says, "that would not be something that would keep me from doing it. I absolutely would."
 I'm no ordained pastor; indeed, I'm an atheist.  But I do read some religious stuff, and I was raised in a household religious enough that I still remember a fair bit of catechism and so forth.  And I think these two pastors have forgotten the point of baptism.  It's not about the parents.  In Christianity, baptism is a sacrament that marks the "remission of sins" (in the Nicene Creed I was taught in the old days).  That is, baptism provides for salvation for the person baptized.  (This is apparently a church that practices infant baptism, so that's not it.)

So, theologically, I'd think that if anyone wanted their baby baptized, and the pastor (or priest, or whoever does baptisms) thinks they're serious in that desire, they baptize the baby.

Let's take an extreme example:  say a parent was excommunicated or out of fellowship and thus couldn't partake of any of the sacraments of the church, but wanted their child baptized (and let's imagine there's only one parent in this overly extreme example).  Would most churches baptize the baby?  Would a church baptize the baby with only the Godparents there for the naming?   (That would keep the excommunicated person from participating in the sacrament.)


---

When I was a little kid, and first heard of excommunication, someone told me that it basically meant no one, even your parents and family, could ever talk to you or interact with you again.  It seemed like a horrible punishment, and I secretly worried that I'd be excommunicated somehow.  (I didn't realize that I wasn't Catholic, so wasn't really part of it all anyway.  Nor did I realize that it's pretty darned rare.  If you look at a list of people who've been excommunicated on Wikipedia, though, you can see that it's being used still, and it looks like it's being used a whole lot more now than before.  Our culture seems to think the Middle Ages were crazy about religion, but we sometimes seem crazier today.)


Monday, April 13, 2015

The NPR Interview with David Brooks

I caught a bit of an NPR interview this afternoon, and it irritated me enough that I went back to look at it when I got home.  It's an interview with David Brooks about his new book.

In it, he talks about seeing people who "glow" and gives the following example:
I remember I was up in Frederick, Md., visiting some people who tutor immigrants; they teach them English and how to read. And I walk in a room — 30 people, mostly women, probably 50 to 80 years old — and they just radiated a generosity of spirit, they radiated a patience and most of all they radiated gratitude for life. And I remember thinking: 'You know, I've achieved career success in life, but I haven't achieved that. What they have is that inner light that I do not have. And I've only got one life — I'd like to at least figure out how to get there.' And so I really wrote the book to save my soul, if you want to put it grandly, to figure out: How can I be more like that? And writing a book doesn't get you there, but it at least gives you a road map.
It strikes me that a couple things are in play here, and he really doesn't think about them.  First, the people he's looking at are mostly women, and women of a certain age, mostly doing some work that's either volunteer or not super well-paid.  But he says they've got something he doesn't have, a gratitude for life.

I think he's romanticizing these people.  But if he's right, then maybe he really does know how to get that glow: give up being an overpaid journalist and go help someone else for little or no pay.*  If it works, good.  If not, well, start asking the other people you then work with, the ones who glow, what you're missing.

But writing a book, and then giving interviews about the book so that you can sell more copies, all the while noting that professional success doesn't bring happiness, seems all wrong. 

It also denigrates the professional or volunteer success these teachers may be having.  He seems to think professional success is all about bringing in bucks and having (some) fame, but it's really about doing a job well, whatever that job is.  Maybe those teachers glow because they do their work really well; they may not get paid the big bucks for their work (and may in fact be volunteers), but they may do it better than he does his work.

I wonder what the age thing has to do with it?  Is there a certain level of security (of housing, food, and perhaps social connections) that (mostly) women from 50-80 have before they tutor other people how to speak English and/or read?  (In other words, I'm guessing that the tutors have a reasonable level of security and happiness BEFORE they start tutoring.)

Enough.  I doubt the book provides a road map, but I bet it provides him more money, more of what he thinks of as professional success. 



* And while he's at it, he can donate the better part of his savings.  As he's found, money doesn't buy happiness, but it helps stave off hunger and homelessness, which make it a lot harder to find happiness.

Concert Time!

I'm doing a concert.  Yes, me.  Here, on campus.  It's probably not what you think, but it's tomorrow.

A voice faculty member, let's call him Luciano, and I were talking, and he mentioned that he gives his voice students art song settings of Shakespeare's songs, mostly from the 19th century.  We talked some more, and decided to do a concert.  That's how amazing the music folks are.

He contacted two other music faculty, let's call them Beverly and Dean; Beverly's going to sing, and Dean is going to accompany them on piano.

Me?  I'm going to talk, which is a good thing because I can do that, but I can't sing like Luciano and Beverly can.

In the early stages, Luciano suggested that his students don't know the contexts of the songs in the plays, and that's where I come in.  So, for the songs we're doing, I've put together a short lecture bit, introducing the program and song in Shakespeare's plays, and then a short bit giving context for each of the songs they've chosen.

I'm excited, but also a bit nervous.  I'm sure once Luciano and Beverly sing no one will worry much about what I have to say!

I like the idea of our collaboration; it's neat to do something with these folks.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spring Starts Now

Meet the two newest members of the BardiacShack household!


 
They're red pines, and they're about 3 feet tall right now, maybe 4.  (It's hard to get the combination of heights right when you plant on a slope and want to leave a nice berm to help hold in water.)  I know they don't look like much, but about five years ago now, I planted some white pines, and now here they are:
 


So things do grow!

Happily, my neighbors' dog is here and helped me.  (NOT.)

At any rate, she is always lovely to have around, very good company!

When I first moved here, about 11 years ago now, I planted 6 trees.  Two white pines (not the ones above), two tamaracks (one has died, alas), a hawthorne, and this sugar maple.  It's always a bit slow to leaf out in spring, but it sure has grown!

And finally, some crocus in the back yard, because they're beautiful.
I saw my first ever Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on Thursday.  At first I thought it was a scruffy Downy Woodpecker, but then I saw that it wasn't, and voila, it was a Y-B Sapsucker!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bringing it All Together

Yesterday, my Chaucer class had its second day on "The Clerk's Tale."  I'd put together a handout with passages to look at, and things to think about, finishing with looking at how the tale responds to "The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale." 

Let's just say that if it wasn't disastrous, it wasn't hugely successful, either.  My students can't seem to remember the basics of what happened in the WoB's prologue or tale.  I'd put suggested places to look on the handout, and also suggested they refer to their notes, but their notes seem remarkably skimpy overall. 

I've now put them on notice that they have to be able to make connections between the various texts in order to do well, and I'll try to encourage that further in class discussion. 

Count me: disappointed.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Verse Moment

I was teaching "The Clerk's Tale" the other day, and wanted to talk a bit about how the rhyme royal stanza works as a stanza.  And then I realized that my mostly English major students have no idea how to talk about verse as verse; they have no idea because we aren't teaching them in our lit courses.

So, I tried on the fly, and I don't think I did terribly well.  (I used "Adam Scriveyn" to try, and I should have gone with something different, probably.  But there it is.)  We did get to talking about how meter feels in the mouth, how repetitions work in the mouth and ears, and so forth, and a little to how the stanza builds.  Let's just face it: it wasn't my best teaching moment.

So the question of the day:  where/how do your English majors learn to read verse as verse, if they do?

And how do you teach students to read verse as verse, if you do?

What strategies do you use?  What examples?