Friday, March 31, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

I'm filled with existential angst and despair, can you tell?

Seminar problem

My Chaucer seminar is mostly a complete joy. The students are reasonably interested and motivated, and several of them are really sharp and just top notch. And then there's the Chaucer thing, which damn, just blows me away every time.

The students are working in groups at this point, and doing group presentations and leading discussions about the various tales as groups.

Some of the groups have done a pretty good job actually reading up on the tales they're presenting on, and so have some idea of the critical conversations about their specific tales. They choose the issues that interest them, and we focus our discussion on those. Now, I may think other issues are more interesting, but I can live with other issues being more important to them if they're leading a good discussion.

The most recent group, however, really fell down on the job.

I was worried last week when this group hadn't come in to talk to me at all, and lent them my Oxford Companion, hoping they'd get some help there.

One person wanted to talk about genre issues, but, when asked to define the genre she wanted to talk about, couldn't. (An issue directly from the Oxford Companion, surprise surprise, except that she hadn't thought through the issue carefully, and was woefully unorganized.)

Another wanted to talk about a specific interpretive issue, but had no idea about how medievals interpreted the issue, nor about how any critics think about it (although one of the recent book reviews for class has been all about that interpretive issue).

None of them had really considered how the teller of the tale might be important to the tale, and how narrative interruptions might be of interest. (And they're all over this tale.)

It was miserable, to be honest.

On one level, I'm sort of willing to let people flounder a bit in class. Let's face it, no one dies from a bad student presentation in a Chaucer seminar, at least not in my experience.

On another level, letting people flounder wastes the time of everyone in the room, and doesn't really help any of us understand the work better. I don't think it much teaches discussion skills, or critical skills, unless I jump up and talk explicitly about discussion skills or critical skills at that moment. (And I'd do that so clumsily that every student in the room would be cringing, seriously.)

I have a really hard time not being a bit too directive, or something. Or maybe not.

Alas, my memory of graduate student presentations was that they were, by and large, miserable. We mostly did a horrible job doing presentations. I think a lot of the misery had to do with how much we felt we were supposed to display for the professor, and how little we conceived of helping other people understand or connect with an issue.

Maybe teaching should be completely focused on student learning, but it's also (in my experience) partly performance art. It's a complex negotiation, and, when done well, everyone leaves having learned, or something.

I think I need to take time on Monday (when happily, no group is scheduled), and talk about giving presentations and leading discussions, and what they think makes for good ones, or rotten ones.

So, what does make a good seminar presentation?

For me, preparation. I think students sometimes think we teachers tell them everything we know about a topic, when really, I try to really focus on the things I want to communicate, knowing that I'm leaving out important stuff all the time. It's partly the problem Barbara Johnson talks about in her essay "The Frame of Reference: Poe, Lacan, Derrida" (which is on my mind because I've been teaching it in the theory class), the problem of quotation and paraphrase.

And second, organization.

How many presentations that you folks see or take part in break into groups? At what point is that useful? Does the utility break down at some point for you? (It's beginning to for me, I think, but maybe they're just done badly.)

I get the feeling that many of my students find it difficult to make connections between different meetings of the same class; for example, we've talked about how often it's interesting to think about the teller of a specific tale in relation to the tale, and did a lot with that with "The Miler's" and "Prioress's" tales. Should everyone pretty much think about that strategy while reading other tales now?

It's even more difficult for them to make connections between different classes, of course.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

On sale!

There's a First Folio coming up for auction. Wow, I can't even imagine.

I tried to put in a book order with the library committee, but I don't think they took me seriously, alas.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I laughed cruelly...

at this.

It is, in fact, quite funny.

And then I remembered a shockingly similar incident from my own past. So I stopped laughing.

And now I feel the need for a penitential confession of my own stupidity. Here goes.

In a far away land, long ago, or, once upon a time, or, whilom, I got myself an internship through a friend's connection and my surprisingly gutsy willingness to walk into a stranger's office and offer to work for free for the experience. Just as surprisingly, the stranger accepted my offer, no doubt because of the connection, because I can't have inspired any confidence whatsoever.

I was totally out of my league. Let's be clear. Completely, and totally out of my league. I was the softball player on a tennis court or something, yes, that far out of my league.

The first day was an absolute whirl of confusion. The bossguy, let's call him Bossguy One (there was also a Bossguy Two), was an incredibly brilliant guy who spoke so softly I could barely hear him.

He gave me a book to read, which would provide background for the research project I'd be helping on, and which was WAY more appropriate to someone doing a post-doc in the field than to my first year in college stupidity, which I'd like to call innocence, except it was stupidity.
Then he handed me the computer manual to read. It was clear that he expected me to read them both, and to be pretty much up to speed and quickly.

He showed me the computer, which took up most of a wall, and taught me how to boot it up by using toggle switches to enter a series of numbers in base 7. He had to remind me of base 7, but at least I'd heard of it.

The second day, the real work would begin.

The next day, the real work began indeed. I'd spent the night reading, pretty much, and got there bright and early in the morning.

A very basic part of my work involved taking the rectal temperature of a cat. I'd never had a cat in my life, and hadn't spent much time looking at the backside of a cat. And did I mention my stupidity?

I lifted the cat's tail. And there were two holes. I stopped. And then because I was more willing to let my stupidity be known than to mess up a cat (or other people's important work), I asked...

With WAY more kindness and gentleness than I deserved, Bossguy One explained which hole was the rectum, and that the other was the vagina. Because, really, I was that stupid.

So I shouldn't have been laughing so hard at the poor intern guy in the linked post, except, well, I'm a cruel, heartless, horrid person. I only wish I had half Bossguy One's brilliance, patience, and gentleness with students.

I learned a LOT from that internship. The most important thing I learned, though, was what I didn't want to do with the rest of my life. That's a damned important lesson. Even more important, I think, than how to take a cat's rectal temperature.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Flying Spaghetti Monster and Me

Today, I put the rack back on the not so old and quite remarkably clean (for the moment) wagon, where it looked even better than it did when the wagon was dirty, and took my friend to pick up her bike at the bike place, where they now know me by name.

(Is it a bad thing that I have an instant crush on anyone who has serious mechanical abilities? The only thing sexier than someone mechanical is someone mechanical who also knows how to cook and do dishes.)

We parked behind the bike shop building, which is also where there's outside seating for a local coffee shop, and where I got some free dog therapy from someone friendly enough to let me pet her head and tell her what a fine dog she was and wouldn't she like to come home with me, but no, she didn't want to. The person with her seemed friendly, too, except when I started talking about the dog candy I have in the car.

And then it happened, as we finished strapping the bike onto the back.

"Excuse me, but could I ask, what's that symbol just above [the car symbol] on your car?"

I was momentarily confused, and then I realized! "It's my Flying Sphaghetti Monster symbol!"

And I got to tell him a little about the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and being a Pastafarian and all, and he laughed and seemed to get a kick out of it.

He asked me if I read the local paper, because I'd enjoy one of the people who occasionally writes in, one X... and of course, X just happens to be one of my favorite colleagues, so that was fun, too.

I sent him off to google the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and promised him much fun if he did. And he agreed that it would probably be more fun to be "touched by his noodly appendage" than to feel the touch of some other frequently invoked dieties.

It's the first time anyone's actually asked me about the FSM symbol, and I'm still grinning.

PS. There are a few daffodil (?) sprouts coming up in my garden, about an inch tall. But the Tamarack needle buds on my treelings are only swollen, but not yet showing green.

Pluto!!! Back off, buddy!!

Can we please please have spring now?

Monday, March 27, 2006

A quick question

I was almost convinced that spring was on its way, for about 20 minutes today, and then it got colder and overcast.

Now, not that I'm obsessing about spring or South Dakota or anything, but I have a question:

Given Ceres' response to the whole Pluto thing, what would she do with Bill Napoli?

And wouldn't you like to watch?

napoli (From Smart Bitches who Love Trashy Novels, and as seen elsewhere, such as Heo Cwaeth):

napoli (not to be confused with the proper noun, which indicates the Italian city)
Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): napolied
Pronunciation: nA'poli

1. To brutalize and rape, sodomize as bad as you can possibly make it, a young, religious virgin woman who was saving herself for marriage.

2. To hella rape somebody.

Etymology: From State Senator Bill Napoli's (R-SD) description of an acceptable rape that would merit an exemption from South Dakota's abortion ban.

What's a GoogleBomb? Glad you asked!

For a brief time, I was heartened by the assertion of President Cecilia Fire Thunder that she'd open a Planned Parenthood clinic on the Oglala Reservation in SD if the law actually went into effect. Unfortunately, it looks like she and Planned Parenthood aren't quite on the same page. Still, it's a great idea. But I wonder if the tribe could carry it off, given US government interference in all sorts of ways. Would only women of the tribe be able to obtain services, or anyone?

I taught theory, writing, and "The Prioress's Tale" today. The PT seemed especially poignant; we talked about the possibility that Chaucer's representing the Prioress as pregnant (or recently delivered?), and focused on the little child because she knows what must happen to any baby she births.

I'm not totally convinced, but I can't find the reference to the argument, only my old notes, so I can't reread and rethink. (I hate when that happens, and I take MUCH better notes these days; I'm also way more careful about telling students where arguments come from rather than just presenting them as being.) O blogosphere of wisdom, can you help, please?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Back and behind...

How can I be behind after a week of break? It's a mystery (think old George Carlin routines).

But, I'm back, and had a good break. So, my friends may be right that I'm crazy, but "it just may be a lunatic you're looking for"! Anyways, I had fun.

I took my friend to the airport this morning after a near sleepless night. My friend missed a flight on the way to visit, and I was determined not to let that happen on my watch, so to speak. So, I pretty much woke up every few hours through the night.

At 2, I was about to scream into my friend's ear, "Get up! You missed your plane!!!! We're HOURS late!" when I realized that it was still dark out, and that either there'd been a major catastrophe and the earth isn't rotating any more (in which case, missing a plane was going to end up a minor problem), or it was actually 2 AM and not 2 pm. Not wanting to figure out the realy situation, I decided to let my friend sleep on, which turned out to be a good idea.

And when 4 came around, I hardly even had to look out the window for more than a few minutes to realize it was still dark and I still didn't need to wake up my friend.

I think I missed my true calling: I should have been a rooster. I tend to wake up a lot during the night before even minimally important time stuff. I've been known to get up, shower, and be ready to leave before realizing that it's still dark out and I'm hours early.

Let's just admit that I've had a couple extra cups of coffee of late, and so was a little, err, hyper, but I'm coming down now. (As little coffee as I drink lately, I may lose my academic status if people at work find out!)

So, yesterday we went to another state and saw water, lots and lots of water, ate well, drove lots. All in all, we played tourist, and experienced the joys of local foods and beverages, which all appropriately enjoyed, I think.

The wagon's newly washed (that always makes me feel oddly virtuous for some stupid reason), a state it deserves after driving safely along ice roads and gravel roads and all over the place.

My friend kept insisting that it's officially spring, but you know how it is with such things: everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. My Tamarack treelings aren't greening up yet, and until they do, it can't be officially spring.

I have a personal message for Hades/Pluto. Let her go! NOW!

Let the rest of the term and teaching commence!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


(I've been playing with this post for a day or so now, and waited until the link to me fell off the main page at IHE. I assume we're pretty much back to the usual crowd today.)

I blog. So it's logical to assume I want people to read what I have to say, right? If I didn't, I'd just put it all in drafts, and no one would be the wiser, or I'd just keep some journal or whatever. But the fun in blogging is in communicating, and especially in having people communicate back.

Thus, getting a nod from a carnival, IHE, or whatever should bring great pleasure. It certainly does bring pleasure. A lot of the pleasure is that someone thought you were interesting enough to link to, and there's an implicit approval there, a "hey, Bardiac said something cool." And I've always wanted to be a cool kid.

But since I've been blogging now a couple of months, and before that started reading blogs for about a month or so, I've gotten a sense of blogging communities. There are people I read regularly, mostly because I find them engaging and interesting; I'll often respond to them. Some people I feel a bit inadequate to respond to, as if my response is going to be read as being from fangirlBardiac or something (because we've read those, right?). I'm not saying I'm logical about this.

A couple of people I find really provocative because I sometimes disagree with them; but I only respond to those if I like the blog a lot, if I think the blogger is worth disagreeing with. Because I don't see a point to being just disagreeable, but good disagreement is helpful because it makes me (or someone else) think or rethink issues.

I read a couple blogs just because they hold the macabre fascination of a train wreck for me; I don't respond to them because the logical train wreck in progress is just fascinating, and because I don't see the point in going to someone else's turf and being nasty, especially when it's not likely to provoke rethinking or a fun discussion.

(Yes, I realize that some people who read here must think of my blog as a train wreck in progress, just waiting to see what stupid nonsense comes off my keyboard next. )

Sometimes I respond here linking to posts I've read elsewhere; sometimes it's because I disagree with those posts, or don't understand something. Other times, it's just outright admiration. Usually it's some combination. I try to characterize those posts fairly.

So, the ambivalence thing:

I've confessed before to my infatuation with sitemeter. One of the things that's fascinating about the sitemeter is that you can see where referrals come from. Recently, IHE linked me, and pretty much every referral was from there, with a few regulars, mostly people I regularly read. And then there were a couple referrals from sites I hadn't seen before, so I looked at those.*

I'm not quite sure how to read the commentary on one of the linking sites. I think s/he was being very mildly snarky, but I'm not even sure. Mostly s/he was taking issue with something said in the comments, but even there I wasn't sure what the blogger's take on the comment was, in agreement or not.

The final comment seemed again, mildly snarky, about my being anonymous along with the commenters. That's a legitimate issue. I respect folks like PZ Myers and Michael Berube for using their real names, but I've chosen not to.

There's the unpleasure of feeling uncertain that I quite understand what's being said about me, but mostly there's the unpleasure of feeling that I'm being taken to task for saying things I didn't say because both sites I noticed (I think) mischaracterized my words, implying that I'd said my students who didn't get into grad school were applying in lit or top lit programs. (And both used quotation marks, as if they were quoting, though they weren't.)

Reading them, I thought, "Gosh, Bardiac, did you really say 'lit' or 'top lit' programs?" So I checked, and no I didn't. (And yes, I do actually say "gosh" and stuff, because I'm just such an effing sophisticate.)

It makes sense that I didn't because several of the students I was thinking about are specifically aiming for composition or sci/tech writing programs; I respect the students' interests in these areas of study. Indeed, I encourage students to look into those areas both because they're incredibly interesting AND because there just may be future jobs in those areas, so I don't feel like ethical scum and have to give them the "the job outlook sucks in lit" talk.

Social class-wise, my students rarely try to get into top tier graduate programs. I have a vague sense that most top tier programs don't favor students from places like Northwoods U. I don't know if some people really realize how classist their programs are (it's the unpacking the backpack thing, in a way).

So, after reading these blogs, I feel like I've been set up as a straw-Bardiac for things I didn't actually say. I know I say plenty of stupid things, so to be mocked for stupid stuff I didn't say feels weird.

It's not like I'm injured or outraged. It's more like being a kid and having people laugh at me, but not really being sure why, except that it's at me, and not with me, and it feels sort of bad (until my inner Robin Williams kicks in and wants to go all out for whatever laughs I can get).

And then there's the realization that surrounding my post (the one about grad school questions that other blogs were linking) were silly entries about my athletic team, break plans, and such. Or posts like this one, just thinking out loud, because there's no way to communicate to the usual friendly readers/bloggers who help me think things through and make useful suggestions without also exposing myself to the train-wreck-watchers. I feel all sorts of ambivalence about "strangers" reading about my new rack. (I hope regular readers found it somewhat amusing.)

So, this is for the train-wreck-watchers: I profess literature, but I teach in an English department. My department includes lit folks, comp/rhet folks, sci/tech folks, linguistics folks, creative writing folks, ed folks, and film folks. It's become clear to me as I talk to, say, linguistics folks, that they sometimes feel like outsiders because lit folks dominate and don't realize how much we dominate. That's a problem and I'm learning about it.

I unabashedly and unashamedly love teaching Shakespeare, Chaucer, drama, early modern lit, poetry... and I struggle and work hard to teach theory. If loving what I do for a living seems stupid, well, then, I'm pretty darned stupid.

I teach composition pretty much every term. It's the most difficult class I teach, and not my favorite (though I prefer it infinitely to having to teach Whitman), but I take my responsibility to teach it seriously, and I work hard to try to teach it well. I learn from my colleagues (and researchers I read, etc) and try to use their ideas and methods to do better.

If you see me disparage people for studying in any academic field, then for sure, take me to task. But the straw Bardiac thing? Naw, too easy, don't you think?

One of the other things I learn from looking at my sitemeter stuff is that most people who get here by searches get here by searching for information on paragraph organization, help with letters of recommendation (or this one), and stuff about the St. Crispin's Day speech. For an elitist Shakespearean, I suck at this blogging about Shakespeare thing.

*I thought about whether I should link these two posts, but decided not to. If anyone's really curious, I'm sure you can find both with a quick search of blogs, or you could email me. PS. I won't be on for the next couple days since I have a visitor coming into flyover country from out of town!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I did it. I went wild. I've been thinking about doing this for a LONG time now, and it's break, and supposedly spring and soon summer, so I finally did it. Nothing will ever be the same!

Go ahead. Ask about my new rack. /nod Looks VERY good, doesn't it!

I also just finished Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. Darned good book! I could get used to this break thing.

Excitement tomorrow!!! Meanwhile, I'm going to go out and put the newness to use with joy!


I have a habit of playing with posts before I actually "publish" them. Then when I "publish" them, I need to copy them into a new entry or the date shows as the original date when I started playing with the post, rather than the date I'm publishing it, even though I've usually revised a bunch between.

Does anyone know how to change the date on a post easily? Thanks!

Welcome visitors

I see Inside Higher Ed has listed me in the "Around the Web" section. Thanks, IHE!

I'd really appreciate hearing further opinions from folks, especially about the grad school admissions things. Thanks!

Monday, March 20, 2006

You may be right...

Think Billy Joel. Yeah, now you'll hate me for the rest of the day.

Last week, at our athletic event, we talked about our plans for this break week. When I revealed my plans, one of my teammates said, "I worry about you."

I tried to explain that she really didn't need to worry, but I don't think she's convinced. And, yes, she may be right... but I don't think so, not totally, anyway. And even so, you have to get out there and take some chances, right? I don't want to just sit in my basement all the time worrying.

So, anyway, if I disappear forever from the blogosphere in the next week, you'll know my teammate was right, and I was wrong. Meanwhile, I'm planning to enjoy spring break!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

It's a Mitzvah

I got stuck in my driveway coming home on Monday after the big storm, and had to dig around my car to get it unstuck and into the garage. I went in, planning to dig out the driveway later, after some food and a break, but when I thought to go dig, I saw that one of my neighbors had snowblown!

After the snow later in the week, I made it all the way into the garage, and went out to dig out after a shorter break. One of my neighbors was snowblowing his drive, and we waved at each other. When he finished his place, he crossed over and began on the really nasty icy stuff in my drive that the city plow always leaves on the side of every street. It was so nasty that he decided to start from the upper end of the drive so he could use the machine's weight to help break up the ice or something.

Now, most snowblowers have a blower part that spews snow 4-5 feet up and to the side. My neighbor's snowblower, however, blows it about 15 feet up, and a good 20 feet to the side. Let's just say I read way too much psych theory and leave it at that.

I asked if he'd done the drive on Monday, explaining that I didn't know who to thank, but he said it wasn't him, and that maybe it was the neighbor next to him.

It took him a good 5-10 minutes to clear what would have taken me an hour or more. Now that's a good neighbor!

My neighbors since I've moved to the midwest tend to quietly do nice things like clear snow, or offer extra bulbs during fall splitting/planting. I've lived mostly in areas with youngish families and kids, or older retired folks, and I don't really fit, but everyone's friendly enough. In winter, we wave while digging, maybe chat a bit about the snow and weather. When I had a dog, I had lots of friendly dog conversations, since every little kid seems to want to pet a big dog, and my dog adored little kids and pretty much everyone else. (What does it mean that I remember my neighbor's dogs' names, and not their kids' names?)

When I lived in my urban grad school city, I went to my neighborhood watch sponsored block barbeque one day, and one of my neighbors commented on how weird it was that my roommate and I were the only two women over 18 on the street who didn't have babies. She wasn't actually right, there were at least a couple others without kids, but the overwhelming majority did have kids. (Let's just say we weren't exactly living in the hip student neighborhood.)

Mostly, my interactions with my neighbors in the city were good. One of my neighbors at one apartment was an older woman who would occasionally ask me to help her with some little thing around her apartment, which was in my 7 unit complex. And so off I'd go, to change a bulb or something simple, yet difficult for her.

When I'd finished, she'd tell me it was a Mitzvah and we'd often have a cup of tea and chat. (Now, I'm an ignoramus about Yiddish, so she had to explain to me that a Mitzvah is a blessing, and that I was blessed for being helpful, and she was blessed to have me around.) Ever since I learned that, I love the saying. I'm not religious, but nonetheless, I want to say to my neighbors who snowblow my drive, "thank you, it's a Mitzvah."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging and Humiliation

A blog that I find fascinating, the Bioethics Blog, recently had a discussion about how ethical discussions of aging might reflect the age of the ethicist (or in the case of this blog, in the case of the person responding). Down in the comments, there's more discussion of whether one's ethics can really be objective, or should in fact be subjective. Is objectivity something to be desired, if even possible? Or should we value subjectivity?

I have a smart and thoughtful colleague who's a few years older than I, and recently we were discussing organ donation. My colleague said that when he was younger, he'd easily checked the organ donation box and signed up, but that as he got older, he felt increasingly less comfortable about checking the box. We talked about how feeling closer to death or old age changed his views.

Another time, we were discussing aging, and how we feel about growing older, and my colleague said that as he'd grown older, he'd grown to see how one might find death almost a release or resolution, explaining that he felt increasingly less in touch with younger people and with our technology, and he could see that at some point, it would be a relief to let go of that sense of alienation.

Now, what does a bioethics blog have to do with Friday poetry blogging? The entry starts out with a poem, a poem which was written by an author who died in her 40s, probably of appendicitis. It seems to me that a lot of the very best poetry about old age and such gets written by fairly young poets.

Shakespeare was, what, in his 30s when he wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang;
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all in rest;
In me thou sees the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by;
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

But Shakespeare's not, surprisingly enough, my Friday poetry blogging, because good as he is, I don't think he's any better at obsessing about youthful loss than Milton, who was all of probably in his 40s when he wrote

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied,"
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Nope, it doesn't get a whole lot better than that, does it? I love wrist slitting poetry.

Having pulled out my old ratty Milton, I had to reread some of my favorites, of course.

Remember the game "Humiliation" in David Lodge's book (Changing Places? Small World? One of those)? The basic idea is that you get a bunch of lit types around a dinner table, preferably including a job candidate. One person names a book s/he hasn't read, and everyone who HAS read it raises his/her hand. The number of hands raised is counted as that person's score. So, the idea is that you have to humiliate yourself by admitting that you haven't read a text that everyone else has read. As I recall, the candidate in the book wins the game by confessing that he hasn't read Hamlet; and of course, he loses the job by admitting as much.

When I was in a study group for the GREs, we assigned ourselves to read Samson Agonistes, but I just couldn't manage to get through the text. (I not so secretly hate closet dramas.) For a while, I thought that I could win "Humiliation" with that one, but apparently almost no one has actually read it.

Round's up! What text wins "Humiliation" for you?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Grad School Reality Check

It's fallout time in my little world. Around the department, several students have found out that they didn't get into the grad programs they applied to and some of them are wondering why.

I've talked before about discouraging students from going on to grad school in English lit, and about some of the problems relating to the NYU grad student strike. ) My posts have links to others, too.) But if a student really wants to go to grad school, then part of my job is to help them put their best foot forward to get there.

So in order to help me give my students some realistic and helpful feedback, I'd appreciate some feedback from you folks out in the blogosphere. When you answer, please say generally what kind of school you're at (for example, I'm at a regional comprehensive, with an MA program with X and Y requirements/expectations). I'm most interested in PhD programs, but will gladly learn from folks elsewhere, too. Feel free to give feedback based on your PhD program experience, even if you've moved on.

First, what's your sense of GRE scores for various places? (My school doesn't require a GRE for the MA program.) If you're a grad student, do you have a general sense of what kinds of scores folks got who got in? (There's a student here who got in the low 600s, and I'm thinking that's lower than s/he realizes.)

GPAs? What are minimal expectations, and what do averages seem to be like? (We "require" a 3.0 overall, and a 3.2 in English courses, but some students get in with slightly lower GPAs.)

Source schools? Where do students in your programs come from? (Our students are mostly local people, HS teachers wanting an MA, or geographically local students who want to go on to a PhD program but stopped here along the way because they're geographically bound or whatever. We also get a few people who aren't sure, and are taking another year or two of study to figure things out.)

Thanks, all!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Guaranteed to disappoint

I love sitemeter. Things could be said about me and sitemeter, and it would be hard to deny the most base of them.

I stare with fascination at the little pie charts showing the countries people visit from. I have an occasional visitor (or several?) from a small city wherein lives a friend of mine who doesn't know about my blog, and I weirdly hope that somehow my friend has found my blog and will comment in a way that will make her identity clear, if only to me. (If that's you, hi friend!)

But I'm most filled with wonder by the searches that get people here. I get lots of searchers for paragraph analysis and such. Okay, that makes good sense; I hope my little post actually helps the searcher learn about paragraph analysis. Maybe I can do some good in the world after all!

The other day, though, someone got to my blog from a Google blog search for "sex." Yes, that one word, and apparently, after paging through however many pages (because I paged through several and didn't find myself), that poor reader opened my blog to find a silly joke about metathesis and commentary on reading some Chaucer or Shakespeare. But really, s/he has to have been disappointed, I think.

What's more, this particular searcher was searching from Saudi Arabia. Now, I must admit I have pre-conceptions about what a Saudi might be looking for in a blog with a "sex" search, but I'm pretty sure it's not "The Miller's Tale," if you know what I mean.

More seriously, though, it concerns me that someone was so unsatisfied with a Google blog search using the term "sex" that s/he explored 10 or more pages of links and ended up on mine. Is the blogosphere really that pathetic?

Or maybe s/he should get some help with search terms? I bet you'd hit Pharyngula pretty quickly if you googled "cephalopod sex." Oh, yeah, good stuff there! The take away lesson is that learning effective search strategies will take you to the "information" (or whatever) that you're looking for way more quickly!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fantasy life

I'm a lousy cook, but even I can have a fantasy life. Take a look at the scone post on The Blog that Ate Manhattan.

I've never actually made scones, but I think I've eaten them a couple times, maybe? At a museum or something in another life. Nonetheless, they look good. TBAM put up that post on March 4, and it's March 14th now, and I've been fantasizing about those scones, or any scones, or, to be honest, any halfway-good light and wonderful sweet baked thing.

Nerd alert

This week is the final week of our athletic season, such as it is, and we're going to go out to dinner for some sort of consolation celebration tonight, because once again we won't win the T-shirts.

But we've had a really great season (greatness defined in terms of laughter), and now we'll move into stealth practice mode for next season. We've been doing this athletic stuff for a couple years now, and despite our stealth practice, I don't think I've improved much at all.

We did our athletic thing last week, and once again, no one was injured. So all in all, it was a good night. The opposing team was lots of fun, and we cheered for each other and teased when they did so well that it got "boring" and told them they should back off to raise the suspense for the television audience. We did our cheer for them and they duly admired our PINK and black shirts.

The best team laugh recently was when one of my teammates asked, "Did you hear the joke about methatesis?" (Look below ** if you have doubts about your true nerdliness.)

I swear, I screwed up my next three attempts because I couldn't control myself rethinking it and laughing. Yes, my athletic team, we're like what you get when a mob enforcer starts reading lots of Derrida, an offer you can't understand.

I couldn't wait to tell my Chaucer class, and they tried to laugh politely. Then later in the week, one of them teased about it after class and got big laughs from the others standing around. They've also begun to make queynte little jokes with Middle English puns and such.

**Bardiac's team nerdliness quiz, the answer: Metathesis is a word to describe linguistic change when two sounds (often a vowel and consonant) change position in a word over time. The classic example is that Middle English "brid" becomes Early Modern English "bird." There are LOTS of "r" plus a vowel changes, it seems: thrid>>third, thourgh>>through, and so forth.

I think "aks">>"ask" is also an example, as would be the reversal (back to "aks") that happens in various dialects nowadays.

Oddly enough, "flutterby" >> "butterfly" is evidently NOT a real metathesis, since the Old English was "buttorfleoge" where "g" represents yogh because I'm not a real linguist or Anglo-Saxonist, and I don't have a special phonetic or other alphabet set downloaded.

On the other hand, Heo Cwaeth IS a real Anglo-Saxonist, and apparently a nerd in the best sense of the word. She has a great post about a medieval woman she adores. Read it with admiration! Then look around and read some of her other posts. Good stuffs!!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Not a snow day

It's snowing, and has been for hours now. Being still a relative noob about snow, I asked one of my more experienced colleagues if this counted as a blizzard. But she said no, except that it's windy... maybe if there were already a lot of snow on the ground and it were picked up by the wind and blown around a lot, but for now, no. I've never seen a blizzard; I guess I still haven't.

Northwoods U is defiantly NOT having a snow day, despite the fact that all the local K-12 schools and day schools are closed (which means that folks with younger kids are in a day care mess, of course). Since I got here this morning, I've been getting emails and phone calls from students to tell me they're not going to be in class. I have no problem with people deciding not to drive to class on a day like today.

I'm ambivalent about the phone calls, though, in ways I'm not about emails. Email is like a note in my box; I glance at it, drop a quick response if necessary, and I'm done. But a phone call by it's very nature demands more attention, and to be honest, that attention comes when I'm prepping for classes and such, and takes longer than an email. On one level, I appreciate that students care to let me know that they're not driving from the next town over or whatever; it seems a simple courtesy, and I appreciate it. On another level, I don't feel the need to get these calls. One one level, students should think I care, and I do care. But I still don't much care for these calls.

I guess part of the problem is that I can expect any number of calls or emails on a day like today. I teach some 75 students this term, and I don't really keep track of them closely. I certainly don't want them all to call.

On another level, I get the feeling that my students want my approval somehow. I really have no problem approving of people who decide not to drive 20+ miles in these conditions. But the calls also remind me of the calls from students who decide to go on vacation and want my approval or permission, somehow.

Thus, I suppose, my ambivalence. And then, of course, there's my guilt at being a bad person who doesn't cherish every call from my students.

My average speed driving in this morning was well under whatever speed limit there was. I drove down the hills in third (in my automatic transmission car). Usually, I tend to be impatient about speed limits, but not today. Today, 20 mph seemed excessive by far.

I cross a highway at a four way light on the way to work, and there I had cause once again to admire the way most Northwoodsians manage in the snow. I watched one woman in a HUGE SUV slide across the intersection, barely slowing, against a red light. She turned her head towards me, since my lane and the one next to it had the green, but we'd all waited, and she slid through without hitting anything or being hit. But as she turned towards me, her eyes were wide in that horrified way. It looked like she was giving play-by-play on the phone she held to her ear. I redoubled my efforts to drive carefully, and promised myself lots of stopping room, just in case.

For the writing class, I have planned perhaps six days over the term that need pretty much all students to be there in order to work at all.

One of those days is today. Could you guess?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Twofer plus

I got two pieces of wonderful mail this past week.

The first was an email from an advisee who'd graduated last December telling me that she's been accepted by a very good grad program. The bonus? She's NOT going into English literature, but into a field where there are a reasonable number of jobs for MAs and PhDs.

(What does it say that I discourage my best students from studying to do what I do? I love what I do, after all. But the job market is horrid, and anyone coming from Northwoods U, and competing against students from Ivies or near Ivies is going to have a heck of a time getting into the best programs or having any real shot at jobs. )

The second was a real letter from a Peace Corps friend. I'd written to N a while back, at the closest thing to an address I could find after some ten years about the reunion this summer, thinking N might want to go. But I was getting worried that either my letter had never actually made it, or worse, that something had happened to N and the letter had no destination anymore, despite Derrida's assertions to the contrary.

But no, there in my mailbox was a return letter from N.

N's one of those people I felt an instant connection with when I first met. I haven't had that feeling all that often in life, and certainly N and I had little in common when we met except that we were both Peace Corps volunteers in training, both spoke English, but we had that connection.

One of the hardest times for me in the Peace Corps was after my first Christmas. My fellow trainees and I had just moved to our service sites, and mine was pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. The closest volunteers were (so far as I knew at the time) 2+ hours away by bus, and while I'd heard rumors that there were American missionaries in the area I lived in, I didn't know them, and pretty much didn't have anything in common with them when I did.

Anyway, I went up to the capital near where we'd had training, having been invited to spend Christmas with the family I'd lived with during training. Christmas was quiet and nice, the family warm and friendly as always. I'd pretty much prepared myself for a hard Christmast, my first away from home, and I was fine.

The day after, I went into the capital to go to the phone office to call my own family back home. Basically, you'd go into the office, sign up, pay down a deposit, and then sit and wait, and depending how crowded things were, in the next hour you'd hear your name called, and go into a booth, and when you picked up the phone, it would ring, and if you were lucky, someone would be home and you'd talk for a few minutes. (Usually I arranged by letter with my family, promising to call every month or so on this or that day or weekend within a couple hours, after working out the time differences.)

So, I waited around the office, went into the booth, spent a few minutes talking to my family, an experience at once incredibly satisfying, and also a total reminder of how cut off I felt, and how alone. I hung up, and walked outside, and there, also leaving after calling her family, was N.

We hugged, and then I think we sat on the phone office steps for a good hour and cried together. Of course, we were young, stupid, and blah blah blah. But it's not everyone you can remember crying with like that.

(I should remember how lonely I was then when my students talk of homesickness.)

I need to go visit N again, and soon. Of the many incredible people I met in the Peace Corps, she's the one who stands out for me, still.

On the plus side, a friend from afar is actually visiting me in flyover country this coming break. No one willingly visits flyover country much, so this is a special treat. I need to find some great stuff to do!

And on the even more plus side: I went for a two hour bike ride today, and saw the first Robins of spring, and a Cardinal singing his heart out. There were people ice fishing, still, on one of the lakes along the bike path. (In case you're wondering, there's a sport I just don't see myself getting into.)

I also went to the pet store (where I haven't had much need to go lately) and got a new thistle bag feeder and some suet for the yard.

And now, for everyone who's been wondering: I made chocolate cake/chocolate chip cookies yesterday for the practice session for a team I'm on (to raise money for a local charity), and they went over well. So, thumbs up for the chocolate cake mix cookie thing! (The cookie dough itself also got an A!)

Okay, back to grading!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hopes of spring

Usually by late February and March, I'm pretty much nuts about the weather up here in the Northwoods. This winter was fairly mild, though, so I'm not as cranky as I usually am by this time. Still, I'm plenty impatient for spring, even so.

On Thursday, I scoped out the earliest sprouting areas on campus (along a sunny area protected by being in a courtyardish space between buildings), and saw some sprouts, a couple inches high, browned on the tips from the latest snow, but still seeming alive.

Yesterday, I talked a friend from work into taking a bike ride. She called her partner, and the three of us went together, about 10 miles, over the course of an hour, a slow, easy, early ride around town, crossing mud where the trails aren't completed yet. The local counties are doing amazing things putting together bike trails that join up and can be ridden from city to city.

We ran into another of my friends walking her dog, so I introduced them and got some dog therapy as a bonus, which always helps me hugely.

We were pretty much all wrapped up against the chill, but the sun still felt great. We don't see the sun nearly enough around here during winter, so I'm pretty desperate around now. But for the moment, I was one happy Bardiac.

This afternoon, when I walked out to check the mail, I took time to check the areas where I'd put in bulbs last fall, and one area near the mail box shows just a few plant tips above the wood chip mulch. (I need to get some deer off or the local rabbits are going to have a feast.)

I think spring really is on the way.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Textual pleasures

This evening was the second session of my community Winter's Tale reading and discussion group at the local public library.

Basically, for four weeks, I'm teaching an extra class. What was I thinking?

Well, it's Shakespeare, and that's what I was thinking. And it's The Winter's Tale, and that's about as wonderful a play to talk about as any.

The first week, we talked a bit about romance as a genre, and then worked through a bunch of Act 1. There were about 8 people there, and all of them participated in reading, and talking about the passages we read. They were great, I must say, very interested and engaged.

I was nervous before last week's session, but it went well enough. And today I planned Shakespeare Show and Tell, which is what I call days when I take in text stuffs and talk about the material production of plays as print texts, and Acts 2 and 3.

Once upon a time, or, as Chaucer would say, whilom, my Mom was asking me what I wanted for some holiday or birthday; we were in a used bookstore, and I'd longed for a copy of the Norton facsimile of the First Folio, and had told her about that before. Once again, she asked me what I wanted, and I mentioned the Norton, and then she asked me what it would look like, and by chance, I saw one right there and said, it looks like that. And there was my present, and the one of the stars of Shakespeare Show and Tell.

Being able to show people the First Folio facsimile, and facsimiles of various quartos (which are widely available), really helps them see what texts are like, and helps them see how interesting textual problems are. I also have a copy of Michael Warren's Parallel King Lear, which shows corrected and uncorrected states of the Folio and Quarto versions of the play, and helps people get the ways that early modern print text correction worked.

The biggest star of Shakespeare Show and Tell is a 1711 print text of The Knight of the Burning Pestle. It's just torn out from a bigger printed edition, and really not worth much, but it's about the best teaching tool I have. The cotton paper's about as beautiful and well preserved as you can imagine, and I love for students (and people) to be able to touch something three hundred years old, and to feel the paper, smell it, and hold it up to the light to see the chain marks. Texts are just incredibly sensual, and I love to watch people react to the experience of really touching, smelling, and seeing that one text.

After Shakespeare Show and Tell, we talked about Acts 2 and 3, and when we got to where Paulina tells Leontes that his daughter is a very print of him, we talked about how important imagining print was in the period. Where we'd use a photographic image, print was really the one way to reliably reproduce stuff; it's cool the way the metaphor makes Perdita a kind of text, which is how we experience her when we read the play, too.

And we spent time talking about how we know what's real when we see it on stage, how we, like Leontes, have to constantly interpret what we're seeing, and try to figure it out.

I'm having a fantastic time with the group because they're really coming to each scene in the moment, and mostly haven't read ahead, so we were really able to take Antigonus's dream of Hermione's ghost seriously in a way that doesn't work sometimes when students have read the whole play. We also talked about Hermione's death, and the interpretations of what we were seeing when someone "dies" on stage.

What a play. It awes me. Times like this, I really become hyper-aware of the privilege of my life, that I get to enjoy texts in this way, publicly, and share that pleasure with others. I probably won't sleep much tonight, but it's an excuse to reread Lacan and "The Miller's Tale" for classes tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Blogging against sexism

It's blog against sexism day here in the blogosphere, organized by Vegankid, as much as such things are organized.

Here's a great post from Flea, very apropos for today.

I don't know what to say today, and I've been thinking about it all day. How do we fight sexism? Sexism is so structural, so much of everything in U.S. culture, intertwined with racism, classism, imperialism, colonialism, heterosexism. How do we fight any one part of the structure without taking it all down? And do I really, from my rather privileged position in the power structure, dare to take it down? Do I dare to fight against my white privilege? My middle-class educational opportunities and the subsequent benefits? My property ownership? My ability to use enormous amounts of resources for my personal pleasure?

Because I'm sitting here in a warm house, and it's cold outside, so I'm happy to be sitting in my warm house, and I'm sitting on a couch with my laptop computer which cost more than the annual salary some people can earn in a year, and I'm blogging against sexism. That's the idea, anyways.

When what I really should be doing, if I'm serious about this whole thing, is reducing my impact on the world (in terms of resource usage), because sexism doesn't just affect middle-class white women, but it hurts women who are poor, especially in developing countries, women of color, and women without educational opportunities a lot more than it hurts me. What I really should do is turn off the computer, sell the house and buy or rent something much smaller (either renting or buying is problematic in its own way, really, and being homeless doesn't seem beneficial as an alternative), and put my own resources (time, skills, energy) to better use, and use fewer of the overall resources.

I try to take baby steps, and try not to fear losing my privileges in hopes that others will gain some. And more, I fear what happens as we hit the Malthusian wall harder and harder.

And recognizing that I fear losing privilege helps me understand why even emphathetic men still fear real change or mis-recognize their privilege so they don't have to own up to it. That doesn't mean I give them a pass about sexist crap, but that I try to recognize the systemic issues, too. But it means I don't get to give myself a pass, either.

So, my baby steps today. I taught three classes. I taught Lacan in theory, his essay on Poe's "Purloined Letter." In first year writing, we brainstormed about essay topics. And in Chaucer, a group of students led the beginnings of our discussion of "The Miller's Tale," that most incredibly structured, and yes, sexist, of narratives.

One of the hardest things for me as a teacher has been to admit that I'm a sexist. I was raised to be a sexist, and I've read research on how teachers at all levels treat male and female students differently, and I recognized that I do it, too. The good thing, there, is that in recognizing my sexism, I can work against it. I can become more conscious of how I treat students, and try to push them all to learn as much as possible, treating them as gendered individuals, valuing their genderings. I think I'm a better teacher for all of my students, female and male, because I think about how my sexism enters in.

How do you teach Lacan (or Freud, for that matter) without teaching sexism? I try to show how sexism is inherent in their system(s), and problematic within the system(s). I try to show that sex isn't sex, but a signifier within the system of signifiers. But I'm not convinced, and I don't think my students understand the distinction. On the other hand, we'll soon be reading Barbara Johnson, and then Virginia Woolf, and bell hoooks.

Chaucer, well, "The Miller's Tale" is a wonderful way to see how medieval English culture valued females in certain ways, and conceived of especially very young women as rather amoral, and incapable of real moral understanding. At least in Chaucer's tale, Allison isn't punished for her amorality, and her willingness to have sex with Nicholas, or to make Absalon kiss her ass (unlike, say, the ways that some "moralists" today want to punish women for having sex by making them responsible for the "consequences"). We didn't get to talk about that aspect of the tale yet, but we're heading there soon enough.

We did talk about compulsory heterosexuality in the "Knight's Tale" because really, considering a tale that begins with a war-enforced marriage, and then basically tells the story of a woman who has to marry even though she doesn't want to, you have to talk about it. In a way, Saturn prompting Arcite's death shows that the patriarchy is willing to kill even its own sons to enforce heterosexuality.

And I talked to colleagues, male and female, and shared my super secret knowledge of Romeo and Juliet performed by Peeps (which really, with the Peeps oriented religious holiday coming up, is totally appropriate, right?), and the even more secret Lego Bible stories (both of which are just slightly less secret than they were before, I suppose). Laughing at the patriarchy is so much more fun when it involves Legos.

So, baby steps. Joy and laughter when possible.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Auctoritee and Experience

Yesterday, my Chaucer class was finishing up our work with "The Knight's Tale" by looking at Theseus' Prime Mover speech.

What I really wanted to do was help them make a good connection between their own education, and how we know or think we know, how we decide what we think is reality.

In case you don't remember the speech off hand, Theseus does this big set speech to try to deal with Arcite's seemingly meaningless death (he's killed by his horse during the victory lap after winning the battle; his horse is scared by a fiendthing sent by Pluto at Saturn's request, because Venus and Mars were bickering since both had promised Palamon and Arcite what they'd asked for).

Theseus begins by saying that he doesn't need authority (especially in the sense of famous authors who've written) because his own experience has been enough to lead him to assert that there's a Prime Mover, a god-like figure who's set up the world and set things in motion, and who basically gives meaning to human experience and activity. (Does this sound familiar? ID anyone?)

I wanted to get my students to see that a lot of college discussion is really about how we know, to what extent we value authority, either professorial, written, or whatever, to what extent we value experience. I especially wanted us to question how Theseus thinks he knows that this Prime Mover has really gotten things under control, when the readers know that Arcite's death was merely Saturn's way of stopping the bickering of Venus and Mars. I wanted us to think about experience as anecdote, and how suspicious we are of anecdotal evidence compared to aggregated experience, especially when it's analyzed statistically, or represented scientifically.

There are some days, though, when I just can't seem to lead a real discussion. I kept talking, and they nodded, but I wasn't getting the connections across at all.

Maybe it's more important to me, because I'm thinking about the ways I use evidence from unique texts, letters, and so forth, which is always anecdotal. I think anecdotal evidence helps us realize how complex early modern English culture was, just as ours is, how much relying on broad statistical evidence or generalizations can oversimplify important issues. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence can mislead us when we treat it as metonymy, as well. It's difficult to "know" how to read unique evidence, and I don't think that problem's as real to my students as it is to me at this point. And I couldn't communicate it to them.

On the other hand, how critically do we look at authority in modern culture, even when we really should suspect the motives of those in power? I often don't think we read authority critically enough, and yet, of course, I don't want students constantly questioning my own authority, at least not too much.

Tomorrow's another day. And we're taking up "The Miller's Tale." Now there's pure joy in the offing.

Reminder, blood, and cookies

Tomorrow's the day for blogging against sexism! Check out Vegankid's site and sign up if you want, or just go wild and blog against sexism anyway! You know you want to!

Yesterday, I went to give blood at the local Red Cross. Yay me. I felt all virtuous and all. I don't have great veins, so it's just as well I didn't try to go into a career in shooting up heroin, but the nurse who stuck me did a great job (they seem really good at this office).

And because I'd been virtuous, I enjoyed one of the cookies the volunteers had brought (because if you've just given blood, there are no calories in the cookies, right?). In that typical midwestern way, the cookie-serving-make-sure-they-don't-faint volunteer and I chatted about the snow, the weather, and, of course, about the cookies the other volunteer had brought. And she told me about using cake mixes to make cookies.

Now, I'm an innocent to the ways of hot dishes and such, and I have to admit, I've never heard of using cake mix to make cookies. But here's what she said to put together:

Cake mix or whatever kind you want (1 box)
1/3 cup of oil
2 eggs

Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes.

We spent a good ten minutes imagining what kinds of cookie mix would be good: chocolate or fudge cake with chocolate chips, or with smashed up Heath Bars. Lemon cake with white chocolate chips. We pretty much had a cookie party in our brains right there.

Has anyone ever heard of this?

PS. If you qualify, and are lucky to be healthy enough, hie thee to give blood. Tell them Bardiac sent you.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Advice, please?

I'm an evil, rotten person. I'm stating that upfront, just so you know.

I'm on the email list of a relative who's senior. Usually, R sends along jokes and such to numerous friends and family on the list, including yours truly. And that's fine and good! I sometimes reply about how funny the funny ones are. I ignore some for a variety of reasons.

Today, though, for the second time in as many weeks, R sent me one of those really irritating urban legend sorts of things, this one the infamous "ship high in transit" endlessly circulating email fake etymology. Now I enjoy a fake etymology as much as the next person, but not so much when it pretends to be real and I know it's not, and it's spread over the internet indiscriminately.

I checked Snopes and the OED, and then performed my evil act: I hit reply to all, wrote a short note about the real etymology, linked the Snopes page, and then hit send.

I immediately regretted doing so.

Last time, R sent the less famous urban legend about how car-jackers are using flyers put on rear windows to fool innocent people into getting out of their cars, at which point the car-jackers do the car-jack thing. (Here's the Snopes page.)

Anyway, last time, I sent a Snopes link and said the thing was an urban legend, and hit reply all.

Unfortunately, that hurt R's feelings. She said I made her look bad. I answered that worrying people unnecessarily about a crime that doesn't happen that way was a mistake. She argued that even if it had never happened, it MIGHT, and she was doing a good thing warning her friends. I countered with the argument that putting out a ton of flyers would be a stupid waste of effort for car-jackers, and especially since in most parking lots we approach our cars from the back, we see and remove any flyers on the rear window anyways. I insisted (stupidly, no doubt) that critically thinking about things before passing them along in mass emails might be a good strategy.

R was unhappy at me. And R is going to be more unhappy at me for doing it again.

My problem is, I just can't keep my mouth (or keyboard) shut sometimes, and I'm tired of people asserting "truths" without even an instant of critical thinking, and I'm more tired of a lifetime of R communicating BS as if it's absolute truth. All my life, I was just supposed to shut up and listen uncritically to anything R said, and nod agreement.

Now, just so you know, R is way smart, smarter than I am by far (okay, so not difficult). She just chooses to use her smarts very selectively sometimes.

And really, R is also a relative, and I shouldn't alienate or hurt her just for the sake of alienating or hurting her.

R is scared in the way that some people are when they feel vulnerable, often beyond comprehension and logic (except not of things I think she should be cautious about, naturally). So really, attacking R is beyond the pale of what I should do, and yet...

How do you balance these issues? How do you try to help someone more realistically understand risk and use critical thinking? Or do you just not bother?

In other news: My colleagues spent the day telling me how wonderful my meeting notes were, and how much they enjoyed them.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Shopping excursion

My bag balm was close to running out the other day; in the Northwoods winter, running out of bag balm is painful, and certainly something to take seriously. I learned about bag balm in the Peace Corps (right up there with Where There is no Doctor in terms of life utility, I swear), and I've been a big fan of both ever since (along with Tevas).

So I took advantage of Saturday to run to the store on a shopping excursion. Of course, it's for veterinary use only (hey, it's for the cows in the back yard /nod), so you have to choose the appropriate store (but don't worry, they come in all sorts of handy smaller sizes, in case you have, um, small cows, yeah, small cows, or cows with small udders, or something), the farm store! If you live near stores called Farm King, you know exactly the kind of store I'm talking about. These are a dream store for me, with everything you could possibly desire in a store--hardware, clothes, food, snow survival gear, shovels, animal food, lawn chairs, garden gnomes, you name it, you can find it at this store, including bag balm.

I got my bag balm (they have three brands, but the others don't seem to work as well for me), and then wandered through other the store. New, freshly-dyed denim smells just perfect, and for me evokes college life. I love jeans that have been washed three or four times, and are fuzzy and darker blue than before or after, and still have a hint of dye smell. (I quit wearing jeans while I was in the Peace Corps, because they're really impractical when they stay wet for weeks at a time, but my habit reformed.) Hardware, bright, and shiny, leather work gloves, grills the size of small rooms, small tractors and riding mowers, horse tack. I love wandering the store; it's even better than those huge mega home improvement places.

And then I saw the seed and bulb display. Yes, dreams of spring. I gawked, and stood admiring, picking out first one package, reading the back, and putting it back.

Another woman was also looking at them and had already chosen a small handful. She asked me about starting them indoors, and I confessed that I'd been hoping to ask her about seeds, since I was clueless. So we talked about the planters on my deck and her ever-increasing garden, about my need for vines to disguise the neighbor's offensively ugly HUGE white plastic fence, and about the gardening she'd done to prepare for her kid's wedding last summer. We talked about my back area, a hill covered in weeds, and about how many flats she'd had to get last year, and why she wanted to start from seed this year. We talked about luring hummingbirds and bees. We talked about spring, and how we yearned for flowers and green outside, and rain and warm days gardening.

As I was leaving, I realized that I had almost an identical conversation with another woman in the grocery store earlier in the week, while admiring a much smaller seed display. Winter simply lasts too long here, and we're all impatient for some warmth and growth. Standing at the seed display, we become comrades, the displaced academic and the born and bred grandmother.

I finally settled on five packages, Purple Cone-Flowers, Black-Eyed Susans, Bee Balm (balm seems to have been the theme of the day), Cardinal Climber, and a Wildflower mix. The Black-Eyed Susans can be started inside, 4-6 weeks before the last frost, so if I start them in a couple weeks, they should be good to go by May sometime. Still, I don't go out to the farm store all that often, and they have the best seed choices around, so I figure I saved myself a trip of sorts.

Last week, I took a couple Amaryllis I'd forced into the department office because they're on the verge of blooming, and I spend more awake time there than at home. And this afternoon I potted up the last of the bulbs I refrigerated this past fall, a few left-over tulips, which should be starting up and flowering in a couple months. (Because, really, who can grade adequately when bulbs need to be potted?)

I'm SO ready for spring.

Today it's snowed pretty much all day; some friends and I went out for a brunch, and it took about an hour to make what's normally a 20 minute drive, and it was unfun, slippery slow driving all the way.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Peace Corps Anniversary - 45 Years of service!

For those who aren't aware, this is the Peace Corps' 45 anniversary, and this is Peace Corps Week. Yeah, made all the big news, didn't it? Because peace is so newsworthy these days.

Enough cynicism.

I'm proud to be a returned Peace Corps Volunteer. It's probably the best thing I've ever done in my life, the greatest adventure, the most selfish and selfless at one time. My experiences challenged me and changed my life, and I'm grateful I had the opportunity to serve.

More than that, I'm privileged to know other returned PCVs, and they're an amazing bunch.

My Peace Corps group is having our second reunion this summer, and I'm so looking forward to it.

If you've thought about joining, think more. If joining isn't for you, check into other opportunities to donate expertise or money. And make sure your elected representatives know that you value the Peace Corps as the most effective and productive contribution to US foreign policy.

Department meetings and grading avoidance

How much did I want to avoid grading last night?

This much: It was my turn to take notes at the department meeting. The notes are in verse. Not good verse, mind you, either.

Here's an blessedly short sample from my new epic poem "Four Ways of Looking at a Department Meeting":

Two C. W. courses passed;
Three courses dropped; buy books FAST!
Post-tenure review. News!

Within an hour of sending the notes out, two people actually emailed me about them, one of them to ask how much grading I was trying to avoid last night. Gotta love friends who know me well!

(Other selections include really horrid alliterative verse, and a section in Spenserian stanzas.)

THAT's how desperate I was to avoid grading last night.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Poetry

This is part of Arcite's death speech to his beloved Emilye, in Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale." My seminar talked about this speech today. It really got to me, but not so much to my students. I wish I could communicate effectively about it so they'd get it, but I really didn't have the words.

(In case you don't know the story, Arcite's just won a tournament against his cousin, Palamon, and so has won the right to marry Emilye. But while Arcite was taking his victory lap, an infernal fury sent by Pluto at the request of Saturn scared his horse, which went down, smacking Arcite's head and crushing his breastbone. Thus, having won the tournament, and at the height of his glory, he's struck down by the gods to resolve a minor conflict between them. Of course, he doesn't realize what caused his horse to start.)

Naught may the woful spirit in myne herte
Declare o point of alle my sorwes smerte
To you, my lady, that I love moost,
But I biquethe the servyce of my goost
To yow aboven every creature,
Syn that my lyf may no lenger dure.
Allas the wo! Allas, the peynes stronge,
That I for you have suffred, and so longe!
Allas, the deeth! Allas, myn Emelye!
Allas, departynge of oure compaignye!
Allas, myn hertes queene! Allas, my wyf,
Myn hertes lady, endere of my lyf!
What is this world? What asketh men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave
Allone, withouten any compaignye.

I think what gets me here, in addition to the repetition of "allas" and his realization of what he's losing, is his sense that he's moving from a world of warm companionship (especially his earlier companionship with Palamon), and heading alone into a cold grave. ("The grave's a fine and private place / but none, I think, do there embrace.")

Why am I so death obsessed on a fine Friday? No clue, really, except that we worked through this in class, and I started to tear up. What a sap I am.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer

John Lee Hooker owns my office this morning.

After our big meeting on Monday, the Dean (not the Deanling, mind) sent out an email to the faculty he'd seen there (in other words, yes, he'd taken attendance) saying that since there was so much interest, we should have meetings on campus to discuss this stuff.

I sent him a carefully worded email (which I had a colleague read to make sure I didn't sound nuts or whatever), explaining that while the issue is important, having extra meetings on campus is going to dilute our energy.

Within a few minutes, I got an email CC'd from the Dean about the teaching abroad thing. Now, what happens with teaching abroad, as I understand it, is that I write up my app (done, check), and the Chair fills out a support statement, basically saying that my department would be able to work around my not being there, and then the Dean has to basically fill in a support statement saying that the college will be able to work around my not being there. So this email, which had the names of several faculty members on it (including mine), basically said he was forwarding our names but couldn't actually say the college could work around our not being here. In other words, no support.

It was surprising to see few names on the note, because I expect more people than that to apply from our college to teach overseas in a given year. And indeed, when I checked with a colleague who's taught overseas, she was surprised to see so few names, and she's never seen this sort of response in her experience, and was surprised to see it.

In my paranoid moments, that makes me wonder if there's another letter with the names of people the Dean says the college supports and can work around.

In my more common unparanoid reading, I'm guessing that only the few of us applied, and that the Dean's being straightforward about the budgetary problems. It's a year and a half into the future, and he doesn't know the budget. So this is NOT about me.

Again, NOT about me, just less than wonderful timing. (Because if it is about me, what could I do anyway.)

A few minutes later, I got an email from the Dean basically saying that he appreciated my feedback but really thinks we need more meetings on campus to talk about these important issues.

The first email, the one about teaching abroad, suggests that he MIGHT be able to work it out if we teach courses here in an on-line format in addition to our responsibilities to overseas programs.

Can I just say, John Lee Hooker may have a really good idea here.

Meanwhile, I'm reading less than stellar submissions for a campus competition, and I'm going to run down and grab some caffeine, which at least won't get me fired.

I have a public library presentation thing tonight, and I'm completely underwhelmed and nervous. Logically, I KNOW it's not a test, but illogically, I feel like I'm heading to do a defense with 20 random people. At what point am I going to feel moderately competent about what I do, and doing it in public?

How stupid is this? I have an almost irresistable urge to study my Variorum instead of preparing for the essay competition meeting this afternoon. Yes, the Variorum. Could I be more 19th century?