Monday, July 31, 2006

A different perspective on the job changing issue

Recently, Dr. Crazy over at Reassigned Time has been discussing her decision to go on the job market to look for another academic job. Basically, she's thought through some aspects of her life that are good and not so good at her current job, and thinks she should look for a job that's a better fit.

She got two distinct sorts of responses, in favor, and against, as you might expect, and has been discussing those responses in more recent posts. Other folks, notably New Kid on the Hallway have also posted on the issue (and here).

I posted a response to Dr. Crazy in which I encouraged her on the market, and wished her luck. As I said there, I changed jobs and am very happy I did.

But some of the responses got me thinking, especially the responses that said she should work to change the problems at her current job rather than leaving, and responses that noted how difficult junior faculty leaving is for remaining faculty.

I'm sympathetic to those issues, but I have a slightly different take. I'm now on my way to mid-career as a faculty member, I suppose, though not to most minds having a notably stellar career in many ways. But I really like my life, and especially to the point, my work, colleagues, students, department, university, and community. That doesn't mean I think they're perfect, but I'm overall happy.

I've left a job I wasn't happy at, and I've had friends and colleagues leave the place where I'm pretty happy. That puts me sort of in the middle.

The thing is, as someone in mid-career now, fairly comfortable in my department, when I look around at junior members of my department, I see two types, the people I really want to stay, and people I'm indifferent to (or worse). When I think about the possibility of a couple people leaving, it makes me ask myself, why would they want to leave.

Okay, there are a LOT of reasons one would want to leave, some of them very important and valid. Many of those things, I can't really change. Trust me, if I could make the Northwoods winter a little shorter and less cold, I would. If I could make the state pay us twice what it does, I'd be happy to do that too.

But there are ways I can affect the lives of my junior colleagues. And if I want them to stay, I want them to be happy staying, then it's in my interest to take some initiative and try to make the university and community a good place for them.

In my department, that means mentoring folks, making sure they have honest feedback on their work, giving them opportunities to learn and gain experience, helping them pick up the pieces after mishaps.

In my university, that means not sitting back when a department is being notoriously sexist. (And boy, this is a hard issue; but I was pissed off recently when a very senior member of another department was talking about the notorious sexism of another department in years past, and complaining that the dean didn't do enough to change it. Here's the thing: once you have tenure, then it's your responsibility to act, even if it's uncomfortable. I have a feeling this one's going to be hard for me, because I'm not very good at uncomfortable.)

That also means taking a stand against the good old boy favoritism that's ruled and still rules many parts of my university. (Another hard issue!)

When am I sure that favoritism is favoritism, and not just coincidence? What about when things might appear to be favoritism, but may not actually be? Should deans and their buds not play golf together because they talk shop, and may make decisions that put the buds in positions of power? After all, a dean might nominate his bud for some position without really thinking hard about the fact that they golf together; he knows the bud, knows they can work well together, and the bud seems an obvious choice. But to those on the outside, the bud's getting favoritism, and it's bad. (Yes, deans should be aware enough to avoid such problems, and when you find one that really is, give me her/his name, please.)

One of Dr. Crazy's issues has to do with the difficulty of being a single person in a community of mostly married folks. I really get this problem. I think by the time folks are done with grad school, most are married. Certainly, in any job I've held, most colleagues are either married or divorced.

Still, is there a way to make single folks more comfortable in communities?

I think there are ways.

First, married folks should socialize with folks who aren't married, and vice versa. Really. And you're allowed to socialize outside of a couples' setting.

Offer introductions: If there's a biking or poker or Friday afternoon at a certain pub thing, invite your junior colleagues, even, yes, the single ones! And not only the junior good old boys. If there's a gay or lesbian group you know about, make sure junior folks know and feel welcome.

If you're in a small town, make sure the junior faculty member knows where s/he can buy liquor and birth control without getting jerked around (even if it's the next town over), make sure s/he learns about bookshops and restaurants in the nearest cities.

Make sure junior faculty get opportunities to meet faculty in other departments, especially on mid-sized and larger campuses.

Which is all to say that I think changing schools for the better is primarily the responsibility of people with tenure who have a sense of the schools' history and the power to effect some kinds of changes.

(Okay, while I'm sounding off about stuff, can we get OB/gyns' and family doctors' offices to have at least a FEW magazines that aren't focused on breeding, breastfeeding, or raising spawn? Seriously, I'm radical enough to imagine that women who have spawn also have brains and might enjoy an Utne Reader or something. And I know for sure that after years of putting energy into trying NOT to have spawn, I'm uninterested in reading magazines about how to create and raise spawn. Thanks. /psa off)

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Act Five

On Friday, S pretty much led the students working with Act 5, and did a great job. First she ran through the scene bit by bit, asking the actors to think about what the characters would be thinking and feeling, and how they could show those thoughts or feelings.

Then she chose a completely different casting (not the ones cast in those parts for the play they're preparing) and had them run through the scene, taking on different thoughts and emotions.

The new choices were very interesting, and I really got a sense of which students were focused and intent on learning. I got that sense even more so when we talked to the original cast folks about the different choices and what they'd learned. A couple clearly stood out for understanding how the other person had taken on and thought about the role, and their reactions were really interesting.

Mostly, though, they don't pay close attention. Boy, sometimes it really stands out how young they are. It's not that college students are that much older, but after a year or two of college, they have a good read on what professors are going to ask, maybe? So they pay better selective attention, perhaps?

It was a fascinating exercise, and I learned from it, anyways!

We also gave the students a questionaire. We'd given them one on Monday, mostly asking about their experience with Shakespeare and acting, about their goals for our workshop, and about their concerns acting Shakespeare. The Friday questionaire asked followup questions about their goals and concerns, and also what they liked and what suggestions they'd make for next time. S is looking at the responses this weekend, and will bring them to me next week.


The plays I saw this weekend were enjoyable and made me think lots, so a success from my point of view. It's really interesting when you talk to someone who doesn't think about theatrical stuff about theatrical choices: how to play the final scene in The Taming of the Shrew, for example.

One of the things we spent a lot of time on in the past week was trying to get our students to think about different staging possibilities for scenes and characters. I think that's valuable, especially for people acting and interpreting plays. There's so much space in plays for actors and directors to think and rethink representation.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging and Questions of Rape

This week I've been working on The Tempest with students at a local theater group's program (as those who read regularly know). Sexual issues are big in The Tempest, mostly centered around Prosporo's desire to get his daughter married to the "right" guy, Ferdinand, Prince of Naples. In order to do that, of course, he has to keep her from having sex before marriage (with either Caliban or Ferdinand), has to avoid incest, and get both Miranda and Ferdinand to want to marry each other.

Act 2, scene 1 has a bit where Prospero accuses Caliban of having nearly violated Miranda's honor. One one level, he may be accusing Caliban of trying to rape Miranda. On another level, even if Miranda and Caliban were both consenting and wanting to have sex, Prospero would interpret it as a dangerous violation of Miranda's honor.

Caliban's response is all about peopling the island, making little Calibans. He doesn't conceive of his sexuality in terms of violation or honor, but in terms of reproduction. It's perhaps amoral, but not immoral. It certainly doesn't necessarily give a sense that Caliban used violence towards Miranda.

Miranda's response is more in line with her father's, which doesn't say much about her attitude before or during, but gives a sense that she now feels Caliban's a threat or potential threat. Still, before the near encounter, she seems to have been close with Caliban, teaching him language and such.

So, as Caliban matured, and Miranda matured, he became a sexual threat on some level, at least through Prospero's paternal eyes.

In Prospero's show (in Act 4) for Miranda and Ferdinand, Ceres comes on and mentions how she doesn't want to appear if Venus or Cupid are around. That's a reference to the Prosperpina story, in which Ceres' daughter is taken by Hades (aka Dusky Dis), driven by Cupid's arrow.

Partly, he's trying to teach Miranda and Ferdinand to value marriage as a long term practice, including sexuality and fertility, and partly he's keeping them busy so they don't get busy, so to speak.

Thus, threats of rape and storied rape are on my mind this week, along with trying to teach some students (some of whom are scarily conservative) about how this play talks about sexualities.

One of my favorite poems is William Butler Yeats's "Leda and the Swan." Leda, in case you aren't all into mythology, is Helen's Mom. Yes, that Helen, the famous Helen of Troy. Helen's Dad is Zeus, a god whose sexual and violent nature is often dangerous to those around him. When Paris steals Helen away (or rapes her, in one old sense of the word, abduction), his actions lead to the Trojan War and the eventual destruction of Troy.

Rape's a difficult subject at best (and should be), but all the more difficult when it somehow becomes a thing of beauty through art. I love this poem, and I'm troubled by it. I love the way it imagines that one act of violence may engender more violence and more violence down the line, even to the point of destroying a culture. And in the final line, the horror of imagining that Leda might gain a sort of omniscience about what's to come without being able to do anything to affect or change the future. This poem just leaves me with chills.

William Butler Yeats

"Leda and the Swan"

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By his dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
How can anybody, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins, engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?


I'm headed out of town for a couple days. I understand there are some people who actually take Shakespeare's texts and put them on stage! Imagine! I must explore this activity! /grin

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A not so sad case of vandalism

I'm moving offices this summer, taking over the office of my colleague who graduated (aka retired), in a quieter area of the building with a way better view. I'll actually be able to see trees and stuff!

The office was a not so lovely mint green, sort of that institutional green I associate with bad 60's movies about psych hospitals or something.

So, I asked about getting it painted. What I learned is that the university, to save money, no longer does routine painting for maintenance. But the maintenance folks will paint an office institutional off-white if the department pays for it. And it only takes three to six weeks.

Like all state universities these days, I imagine, we're short office space in my department.

So when I move out of my old office near the elevator and right across from the department, another faculty member will get to come out of the English department diaspora and join the main floor. Then an adjunct will get to move into her office (and out of a less convenient one) and so on down the line. (Yes, when I heard that this office was going to be empty, I put in my request to move pretty instantly. My old office is in a loud space, not only because of the elevator and proximity to the department office, but because there are some loud folks in nearby offices.)

So, if I put off moving for three to six weeks, the others won't get a chance to start their moving until the beginning of the semester. That seems like a bad idea for our little community.

Then there's the institutional off-white thing. When I was in grad school, several of my graduate professors had offices painted really great colors; someone had pink, someone else green, and so forth. Since I've had hopes of having an office, I've long thought it would be great to paint my office some really great color.

So I talked to the chair. What would happen, I asked, if my office were to get painted some nice color? The chair said he didn't think anyone else would notice, and if they did, well, what would they do, order up a new paint job just for the joy of it? But the department could only pay for me to get institutional off-white painted, and he'd order that up if I wanted.

(In the old days, before money got quite so tight, the university would actually paint people's offices whatever colors they requested when they moved into one. Not so anymore.)

I chatted with R, the guy responsible for our building's maintenance work. R has to balance the timing between my colleague cleaning out his office and my moving in, and in between, he has to move all the furniture out of the office, wash walls for the painters, strip the linoleum, put on coats of wax, wait for the painters to do their deed, then move the furniture back in. I asked him what would happen if the office were to mysteriously be painted some afternoon after all the furniture is moved out?

He said it would be handy if he knew when so he could wait to strip the floors.

I asked him if there might be a ladder that could be left in the room? He said he'd find one.

So, this week, my new office got emptied, and R pulled out all the furniture and washed the walls. Conveniently, a ladder was left in the office, and a fan to help things dry and get aired out. (R has been so helpful! Thank you, R!)

Then, mysteriously, on Tuesday, that blue tape appeared around edges, and then the walls got a coat of paint, two a light ivory off-white, and two a nice, relaxing, deep green.


I told the admin assistant when I came in the next morning that my office had been vandalized. I told the chair, and he said it was a shame, and that he thought the building maintenance department would be so upset about the vandalism that it just wasn't worth mentioning it to them. (Then, yes, there were the predictable jokes about Germanic tribes running rampant around the NorthWoods.)

That very afternoon, another coat of paint mysteriously appeared!

Okay, so I've sort of broken the rules, with lots of helpful complicity, especially from a friend who helped me paint and the maintenance guy who scheduled his floor cleaning around my painting. But I bought the paint myself and provided the labor (with a little help from a friend!), so it didn't cost the university any money. (Okay, it cost a little in chatting time with the maintenance guy.)

And it bought the university a faculty member who is VERY happy with the wall colors of her new home away from home!

I figure I'll be in this office maybe another 20 years, if I'm lucky, or more if my retirement planning doesn't go smoothly or Social Security looks scary or something. It's well worth the money and time to have an office that's going to make me smile when I walk in.

It also bought the university a bit of laughter for our admin assistants, the maintenance guy, and the chair; and who knows, maybe that laughter prevented some stress problem?

Act Four

We did Act Four today; I adore the Ceres story hinted at there and what it means for Prospero's little theatrical. I think I got it across to our students, even. Several of them are already working off book with their parts, and mostly they seem to be coming together.

The director is having several of the "spirits" do some of the songs together. I guess that their voices aren't strong enough to sing alone (these aren't the students with the best auditions, after all). But I'm really trying to get them to think about what they're saying as they say stuff, and focusing on communicating with the audience, and I just can't figure out how they can do that when they're basically chanting ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunkety verse.

Yes, it reminds me of going to church when I was growing up, how I learned to do all the responses long before I actually learned what the words meant, and how little meaning most people got across in those grouped responses. I wonder if that frustrates priests or ministers?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Act Three - challenges met!

Today's session went much better!

Before we started, I had a chance to talk to D; she said she's been working on the problem of speaking out of turn in classes and such.

And I told S that I'd sit down in the theater audience space and try to keep more quiet.

Then we started.

First, S did a fantastic job working with the students. She worked through 2.2 with the actors playing Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, first reading through the lines, then they tried acting the lines, then pantomiming, and then again acting. (That's the scene where Caliban hides under the gabardine and Stephano and Trinculo find him and such. It's hilarious.)

The fantastic part was how they changed from really doubtful starting the pantomime to just getting way into it, brilliantly.

And I mostly managed to stay seated and kept my mouth shut.

Then we split the troupe into groups, and S worked more with Stephano, Trinculo, and Caliban, while I worked with Alonso and the court gang.

And through it all, D was GREAT! She was active and cooperative, and didn't disrupt at all!

Tomorrow is Act Four; S is going to spend the evening working through it, and decide what she wants to do, and we'll get together ahead of time to discuss and plan things out.

I'm very excited!

Act Two - challenges

We started Act Two yesterday; S, the student who's working with me on the project was going to lead part of it.

I find it incredibly difficult to sit back and let someone else teach a class I'm responsible for. I find the difficulty increased by S's different style: I'm up and moving around, a frustrated Robin Williams-wanna-be. If I had his wit, his humor, then I'd be... a rich comedian.

But I don't, so I teach.

S, in contrast, is more willing to sit and talk. I know that different styles work for different people, but it's very hard to sit and shut up. The project for today is to sit and shut my face.

The second challenge is related to the first. There's this really smart student in the show; let's call her D. She's obviously got a really good understanding about how staging works, how theatrical spaces work, and so forth. The problem is, she blurts out suggestions or directions or information in ways that disrupt the group.

Because she's smart and such, she's right a lot. She has good ideas. And I don't want to silence her or discourage her active participation.

But, at the same time, she disrupts things. And, as she moves to the next level (from high school theater to college theater, or whatever), I'm guessing people aren't going to put up with her trying to give directions.

So there she is, in a way, mini-me. I can't keep my mouth shut sometimes when I should, and neither can she.

I'm not sure if she's not aware that she's disruptive or if she just can't control herself quite yet. After all, she's in high school and still has some growing up to do. Me, on the other hand, I'm supposed to be an adult and all.


I think I'm going to sit my rear OFF stage and in the audience section of the theater today, and that should remind me to give S her space better.

And I'm going to have a quick chat with D during the break. I'm planning to frame my suggestion to recognize that she IS smart and understands theatrical stuff well, but that she has to help her teachers or directors by holding onto her tongue a bit more, responding when asked rather than blurting out. And then I'll point out that she's pretty much ready to work at a level where people are going to be far more harsh about disruptions, and that she'll do way better at that level if she exercises more self-control.

I'm not used to working much with high school students; I can be fairly up front with college students, at least in the contexts of classrooms. But she's not quite at that level yet. She will be soon, I think!

Self-control and keeping pie holes shut are the themes of the day.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Act One

Today was the first day of the high school project I'm working with, and I had a great time. We worked partly through the first Act of The Tempest, starting with the storm scene.

I think I know the play fairly well; I've taught it a fair number of times. But, of course, thinking about the play on stage teaches me to approach the text differently, as a theatrical rather than literary text. (I try to think theatrically AND literarily, but I don't always.)

For example, I found myself thinking a lot about imaginitive spaces, geography, and staging. In 1.2, Miranda starts off by asking Prospero about the storm, and talks about the ship she saw. So, it makes sense that she's going to direct some level of attention or action to the imaginitive space where she "saw" the ship. That is, in 1.1, the audience sees the sailors on the foundering ship. Then in 1.2, probably in the same theatrical space, the audience sees Miranda talk about seeing the ship.

If Miranda directs her attention to an imaginitive space (say, just into the audience on the left side of the stage), then that becomes the place we think of the ship having been.

Similarly, when Ariel comes on in 1.2 and talks about the people separated after the wreck, Ariel can set up a sort of imaginitive geography; Ferdinand was left there, behind, stage right, and so forth. Then Ferdinand can reinforce that geography by entering from that direction.

The other thing I noticed was how absolutely central Miranda is to all the exposition Prospero gives in 1.2. We were talking today about why Prospero interrupts himself to check if Miranda's paying attention, and talked about the option that either Miranda isn't paying good attention, or she is, and he's just not a very attentive speaker. The text makes pretty clear that Miranda is paying attention, I think.

Theatrically, the problem is that Prospero has to give a bunch of background information to make the rest of the play make sense, and doing that all in one go could be deadly dull.

But, Miranda's already set up for us (in her beginning speech) as our stand in: she's seen and been fooled by the storm, as have we. And now she listens with us as Prospero fills her (and us) in on the background.

My point is that Miranda can really make Prospero's exposition much more effective if she is really and obviously interested. I think it could be especially funny if he's parading around orating and misses her when he checks to see if she's listening (because he looks where he thought she was sitting but she's been following him, for example). And funny makes exposition stand out.

Of course, someone experienced with theatrical performance and direction would probably see these things when they read the text right off. But for me, they're neat little discoveries, and I'm really enjoying learning.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Mostly, this faculty development thing is interesting and gives me lots to think about. I have a few frustrations, though.

I'm supposed to be team leader for my campus group (aka team). Okay, so I've chaired committees and such before, and I'm fairly focused on getting stuff done.

One of our team members makes this exercise something akin to herding cats. Really. I'm going nuts here. He's a loud talker, and not very focused on the project at hand, and interrupts the women in our group all the time (but not other men). Grrrr. I feel some feminist education coming on.

There seems to be this male male connection thing happening with a few men. I have no objection to the connection thing; connecting is good. I object to the decibel level at which they have to have these connections, and to the connections happening during times when the rest of us are trying to talk about faculty development or something. Or they're making the connection across a table of quiet conversation, so that no one else can really continue.

The upshot, though, is that I'm really aware today of how wonderful most of the men in my department are. They manage to speak at reasonable decibel levels, to listen to others and not interrupt, and to get committee or other work done in groups.

Part of the issue that gets me is ironic. We've talked about the difficulty of getting students to go to presentations by other students, to visit poster days, or whatever. Students (like bloggers, perhaps), like to have their say, but don't necessarily want to engage with what other people are saying through respectful reading/listening and thoughtful responses.

Faculty, though, we spend a lot of time hearing ourselves talk, often, and lots less time listening to others talk. So we aren't in general good at listening respectfully. Instead, we tend to jump in and try to make our own points and take the stage.

Yeah, so we're not perfect, I guess. Even me.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Dorm room blogging

The Faculty Development thing is housing us in a college dorm. Makes me smile.

First, these are NICE, spacious rooms. Mine has two beds, so I'm guessing it's for two people. My college would have housed three in the space. But, kids these days (so I'm laughing at myself here, in case you didn't guess). They've put three rooms (two singles and a double, from the looks of the bed distribution) in a mini-hallway, sharing a bathroom space with separate single toilet and shower areas, so you could conceivably have a person showering, while one used the SSHH, and two others used the sinks. Still, at ten til eight, I bet there's a crowded feeling!

The mini-hallway doesn't feel like a suite because there's no central gathering place or place to sit. So there's the advantage of having a little more privacy and not sharing a shower space with 35 other people (the number of women who shared the bathroom on my dorm floor; the other bathroom was shared by the 35 men). But, the extra doorway and mini-hall also changes the dynamic I expect from having lived on a hall where lots of bedroom doors were open when people were around. We pretty much went in and out when doors were open, knew who was in and might go for frozen yogurt or a movie or whatever, and hung out in the central hallway as a social space. This hallway doesn't feel like a good hanging out area.

The space is also sterile with none of the noises and decorations of a living dorm. (Yes, I do remember that some of those noises and decorations weren't so pleasant, especially on a Saturday morning!) So that probably adds to the feeling that it's not a good place to hang out.

Were I to design a modern dorm (and this one's quite new), I'd make sure to put in a bazillion electric sockets, because even I manage to have plenty of things to plug in. Let's imagine your average college student: computer, printer, tv, hair dryer, clock, radio/stereo, re-charger(s) (phone and so forth). Then microwave or heating thing, electric blanket, and game thingy for luxuries. That's ten, right? So say your average student needs 7 of these?

This double room only has six sockets. You KNOW there's going to be a huge surge protector thing from each of the three outlet areas.

Sharing a dorm "suite" makes me aware in ways I usually ignore of other people's quirks and habits. Usually, I really don't care how long it takes someone to shower in the morning. But when someone announces that they need at least half an hour in the shower, I notice. And when someone wants to plan out a shower schedule ahead (for three people), I notice. I still don't really care, though.

So, I've showered and dressed, and I'm off to get breakfast. Stirrings in the shower area now, so my roomies are up and about.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Blogging a faculty development workshop

I'm here at the undergrad research faculty development workshop. I got up at 3:30 to head towards the airport, flew out (and man, are my arms TIRED from kayaking yesterday!), and got here to listen to some presentations.

There's something ironicly unsettling about listening to a lecture on learning that's supposed to be based on questioning, action, doing, and participation.

And powerpoints. Could I hate them more? Yes, I probably could. But when someone hands me a printout of their powerpoint slides, I just cringe inside. Why can't they just hand me a nice, clean one page outline of their presentation? Why must it take up six pages, because each bullet point is on it's own separate powerpoint screenshot thing? Wasting paper!

The bad news so far is that no one in the humanities seems to have much luck using the science model of having students to research added onto a lab or field project centered on a professor's research. I have some ideas about why this is, mostly that the add ons that students are doing are less real "research" than data collection.

But the corollary that folks seem to have found, that humanities faculty research doesn't generally benefit from collaborating from students is disappointing to me. Not unexpected, but disappointing for sure.

Well, off to an early bedtime, freezing in an over air-conditioned dormitory room.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Doing the undergraduate research thing

Today, I had my second meeting with my undergraduate researcher, a theater and English student who's working on teaching Shakespeare through performance issues.

Starting Monday, I'll be working an hour and a half a day for a week with a group of high school students who're working together to put on The Tempest in a program run by our local theater group, and directed by one of my colleagues at NWU.

The mesh for my student is very promising, and she's got lots of potential. But I'm a bit worried that I haven't pushed her hard enough on the library thing to this point, so she hasn't really been reading theoretical stuff about teaching through performance. She's done a much better job preparing to work with the students on the play specifically.

On Tuesday, we spent an hour and a half basically going through each Act and figuring out broadly what we'd do each day, and what additional stuff we'd introduce. My thinking is that over the course of an hour and a half, we need to do two or three activities, and get different people up and moving around. I asked her to think about and prepare what acting stuff she wanted to do with them for Act 2, and she had four ideas, of which we'll probably be able to run with two, and that's VERY good!

Tomorrow, I'm heading to a small conference thing on undergraduate and faculty collaborative research, so I'm hoping to learn lots.

Meanwhile, today I actually went with a friend to rent kayaks. We carried the kayaks (which felt heavier than the reported 54 pounds, but then, I'm a total whuss) down the famous campus hill to the river to put in, kayaked for an hour and a half, and then had the good sense to put the kayaks in the back of my wagon to take them up the hill (one at a time).

The kayak rental guy said that the only time he'd ever tipped the kayak was when he'd tried on purpose. And as my friend and I were talking about that and getting ready to get in and going, I naturally proved my personal tipping talent, and tipped it getting in. So now I have a boo boo on my elbow. And boy, did the water feel GREAT! It was worth the boo boo.

After an hour and a half of kayaking, and carrying the kayaks around, my shoulders are so tired tonight that I don't want to much move my arms.

What could be better?

See you in a few days!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I went and picked up the play script for our production of The Tempest today, and also had a chance to talk to the director. It was a bit odd in a way, because she started out by sort of apologizing that since only four males tried out, many roles would be filled by females, as if I would think that's a problem. Then there were other things she started apologizing for, like cutting the script and stuff.

I'm not sure why she thought she should apologize, especially for casting the actors who showed up.

There's been a little discussion lately on Shaksper, prompted by someone complaining about a single sex production of Shakespeare.

I have no problem with any production casting any capable actor in whatever role. I saw a woman play an absolutely stunning Richard III a couple years ago, for example. Her being female was an interesting aspect of her performance, but mostly her acting and ability to control her voice and dominate the stage had my full attention.

One of the things I love about theater is that you can try things, casting actors in unexpected ways, costuming, lighting, set design, all sorts of things. Non-professional productions, because they aren't really trying to make a profit, and usually aren't going to try to fill a theater for more than a few productions, probably allow even more freedom for experimentation and thinking out loud. And whether the production is fantastic or not, it's over when it's over, and totally ephemeral.

And all the time, new people are trying out new experiments at staging plays, trying to bring plays to their audience in meaningful ways, trying to please and entertain and make people think. So even if a particular production of The Tempest fails in major ways, well, another production is another chance, and the people involved may learn something new about the play, staging, themselves, audiences, all sorts of things.

I'm really looking forward to working with this cast, and seeing how the director works conceptually with the cross-gender castings (whether by cross-dressing female actors, or by making "male" characters into "female" characters). Gender on stage, and performative gender overall (thinking Butler, here) is always fascinating, and thinking about how ProsperA would work as a matriarchal kind of figure sparks my thinking in fun ways.

I met with my research student this morning, and we talked about what we're thinking about doing with the students. One of my very favorite bits to talk about is the Ceres scene, when she comes on and talks about how she doesn't want to see Venus or her son.

[The background here is that Cupid shot Pluto (aka Dusky Dis, aka Hades) with an arrow, and he "fell" for Proserpina (aka Persephone, and also Ceres' daughter), and kidnapped her, taking her to Hades. Ceres got upset, and that made the Earth unfruitful, so the other gods got involved and said that Hades had to let Proserpina go. Unfortunately, she'd eaten in Hades, so she has to spend half the year down there, and can spend half the year above with her mom, Ceres. While Prosperpina is up, Ceres is happy, and the Earth is fruitful; it's summer. But when Proserpina is down, Ceres is unhappy, and the earth isn't fruitful, and it's winter. So Ceres hates Venus and her son for starting the whole problematic thing: the moral, if there is one, is that lustiness and horniness without rational control pretty much sucks.]

Here's one of the things about Ceres in The Tempest: she's a spirit PLAYING Ceres in a play within a play, put on by Prospero as a sort of entertainment/lesson for his daughter Miranda and her beloved, Ferdinand, and also the only mother who "appears" in the play, albeit in that embedded way. So that's very cool. That is, Ceres is Prospero's choice here (as well as Shakespeare's, of course).

We hear about Prospero's wife/Miranda's mom, and we hear about Caliban's mom. But we never see them, and they never speak. But we see Ceres, and since we're all presumed to know the story (as everyone in our culture is presumed to have some vague idea about Lincoln's assassination, for example), we know that she's really important because she's a mom, and a pissed off mom at that.

So how does that all change when ProsperA gets played as a matriarchal figure? LOTS to think about, eh? This is exciting stuff!


Mystery bird stuff: I think Bev's right! Thanks! (I thought to google "house wren" and looked at several pictures AND listened to some song sounds, and I think I've got house wrens! Exciting stuff!)

Googling house wren also convinced me that my two nest boxes are probably too close together, and that I should move one, maybe to the other side of the house (the front is a very suburban micro-environment, while the back is sort of a woodsy grassy area). It turns out that house wrens are agressive about nest boxes, and the one pair probably prevents any other bird from using the second this close.

I'm also now convinced that a bird I've been seeing a lot foraging in the garden near the house lately is a Pine Siskin. How cool is THAT? (It took me a week to figure it out because for some reason the size seemed off, but then I saw her(? I think) nearish a robin, and the robin was HUGE in comparison, so that helped. I'm really bad at judging sizes of birds even a few meters away.)

I did it!

Yes, single-handedly, I appear to have solved the heat wave issue in the upper midwest and provided at least a little rain. How did I do it, you ask?

Yesterday, I talked to several people about my intentions to try renting a kayak today and going out on a local river or lake.

I woke up and it was sort of overcast. Not satisfied, I then called the rental place about renting a kayak, got all sorts of information, and told them I'd probably be over before long.

Within minutes, I heard thunder in the background.

And now we're getting rain.

Heat wave solved! Dang, I AM good!

(It may not be much, but even a little thunder and lightening is enough to discourage me from a casual attempt at kayaking.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuesday Tempest in a Teapot

Starting next Monday morning, I'll be working with a group of high school students to help prepare them for their production of The Tempest. I spend an hour and a half with them for a week talking about the text, playing with ideas, helping them with cultural, language, and historical issues. Meanwhile, each of them also spends time working on set design/building, costume design/making, and prop design/making (they choose which they want to work on), and they all start rehearsing and learning lines and stuffs. The next week, they make and build stuff and work lots more on rehearsing.

Pretty much all theater and film productions of any given Shakespeare text cut and adapt the text in some way. In our production, the director does the cutting. Basically, the idea is to shorten the play a bit, since our theater practices lengthen playing times dramatically by doing scenery stuff and having scenery changes, moving curtains up and down, and having an intermission. It's a trade off, maybe not my ideal choice, but there you are. (And some companies work very hard to get the feel of an early modern production; if you haven't seen the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, and get a chance, DO!)

So, I'm not having my little personal tempest about the fact that the play's going to be cut in some way.

As far as textual problems, The Tempest is lots less difficult than lots of Shakespeare's plays. The text is first printed in the First Folio (Mr William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies, printed 1623), and doesn't have a separate quarto edition early on. Still, modern editors make decisions about uncertain line readings, and prose lineation varies considerably in different editions (that is, the number of lines a section of prose occupies on a page differs. A broad page of print uses far fewer lines than a thin column does.) Lineation differences aren't a huge tragedy, of course.

So, here's my little tempest for the morning. I've emailed the director (a couple of weeks ago) asking which edition she's using for her text. And I've gotten no response.

I need to get hold of the playtext she's using, and the edition she's taken it from!

I've been prepping with my old Oxford, which is a nice, useful text with good notes and plenty of margin space for layers of my own notes.

But if lineation's way off with the players' text, it's going to be a real pain.

Okay, I originally was going to rant for a while, but what I really need to do is call the theater and see if they've got copies of the playtext (oh, I guess I COULD be all modern and call it a script!), right? /nod

So, talk amongst yourselves while I try to take a little personal responsibility for a change.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


As I mentioned a few days ago, one of the less delightful things awaiting me in my campus mailbox when I returned was a copy of a letter from our dean to one of my advisees, explaining that her petition to remain a student has been denied, so she's suspended from school. To return, the letter explains, she'll have to reapply for admission.

She's not a stellar student; since I've been her adviser, she's been on and off probation (for grades) a bit. I tend to send out emails to students on probation, inviting them to come talk to me about how to do better and such. She hasn't responded. When she was in my class, she never came in to talk about the texts, ask questions, get help on papers, nothing. So it's not a surprise. Still, I feel somewhat responsible.

I emailed her a short note, inviting her to come talk to me (or call me to talk) about strategies for reapplying, what she should do in the meantime, and so on.

She emailed back that she knew when she came reapplies in spring, they're going to make her take a study skills class.

One of us is confused, and it might well be me. I'll have to call over to the dean in the next couple days and see. Either she's right, and readmission is going to somehow be a breeze, so taking the study skills class here is the worst of things. Or I'm right and she needs to do something while she's off school to demonstrate that she's made some academic change.

I didn't think about the first possibility when I emailed her back, though. So I suggested that in order to reapply successfully, she should do some things to show that things have changed. I suggested taking a study skills class at a local community college (if there's one near her), and at least one other class.

I've never had a student suspended for bad grades (or anything else) before, so I'm sure I should have thought of several more, or more useful suggestions. Help, please? What do you suggest?

I don't think I'm in a position to step up and advocate for her to come back as things stand. I'm not sure college is the right place for her. But I'd love to see her turn things around and change my mind.

How would you help her do that?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Reading, Being Behind, and Planning for The Tempest

I know how I got behind, of course, enjoying myself way too much on my trip and all.

And I spent most of yesterday reading Octavia Butler's Kindred for my reading group. That woman can WRITE! Why is it that a good novel (or play) compels me to keep reading? For me, it's all about the plot! What's happening next, and how interesting is it?

Then language, characterization, yep, those are nice, too. But I really like plots. (No wonder I'm so much slower at reading theory and criticism?)

I have a conference thing to go to next week, and while one of the departmental administrative folks made my plane reservations (while I was away! How much does she rock?), I still have to figure out how to get myself to the big city airport without spending a ton of money parking my car and such. There's a shuttle, but it takes forever, and blah blah blah.

And as soon as I get back, I have a thing to do for a summer Shakespeare "camp" thing for high school students. I did it for the first time last year, and it was more fun than I would have imagined, so I'm up again this year. We're doing The Tempest, which should be a blast!

But I need to be completely prepped, at least for the first day, before I leave for this conference.

I've got two basic strategies for starting out when I teach the play, but I can't do both on the same day at that same time.

The first is more theatrical: The play starts with a HUGE storm. So I have volunteers to take parts to say lines. Then I assign everyone else in the group to make one of several sounds when I point to their area: swooshy storm sounds, drum on the desk thunder sounds, and so forth.

We do the first scene, with me trying to constantly point to the noise groups so that the speakers really have to work to get out their lines. THAT should work really well in this space (the theater) and with this crowd (self-selected students who want to be in the play).

We talk a bit about the storm, and how to make storm sounds for real on stage and stuff, and then start the second scene. About the first thing we learn in the second scene is that the first is a total fake. It was a fake storm. The problem with a fake storm in a theater is that you can't tell if it's supposed to be a real theatrical storm, or if it's a fake one. So the play starts out by posing a metatheatrical problem, and then pushes on that problem throughout.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I think we'll start there, with that way, and I'll save the other starting mode for the second or third day. See, freewriting really IS useful! Thanks, all!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Bird Blogging

There's a mystery bird in my yard. Well, two of them, and they seem to be nesting in one of the silly bird boxes my Mom and I painted a couple years ago (we were watching my niece and nephew, and did several craft projects to keep them busy for the ten or so days; my Mom's so good at that stuff, it's stunning!).

The birds have wren-looking beaks, and in fact have coloration that looks exactly like the House Wren in my Peterson guide. But, in all the pictures, House Wrens stick their tails up at about 45 degrees. And these birds always have them down, straight down from their backs.

They're making me crazy. Any ideas?

They're also really small, easily able to sit in the diamonds of a hurricane fence with lots of room to spare.

They're happy today, though, because I was weeding in the backyard (otherwise known as fighting the prairie "grasses"), and seem to have disturbed bunches of bugs. I was probably more effective at that than at weeding.

I remember hearing or reading somewhere that insanity involves doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. That pretty much defines my gardening (and weeding) experience. I keep expecting that there will somehow be fewer weeds if I just try to pull them all out.

In honor of the birds hanging about my yard taunting me about my birding ignorance, here's a poem for the day by John Skelton (1460-1529).

Philip Sparrow

PLA ce bo!
Who is there, who?
Di le xi!
Dame Margery,
Fa, re, my, my.
Wherefore and why, why?
For the soul of Philip Sparrow
That was late slain at Carrow,
Among the Nunnės Black.
For that sweet soulės sake,
And for all sparrows’ souls,
Set in our bead-rolls,
Pater noster qui,
With an Ave Mari,
And with the corner of a Creed,
The more shall be your meed.

When I remember again
How my Philip was slain,
Never half the pain
Was between you twain,
Pyramus and Thisbe,
As then befell to me.
I wept and I wailed,
The tearės down hailed,
But nothing it availed
To call Philip again
Whom Gib, our cat, hath slain.

Gib, I say, our cat,
Worried her on that
Which I lovèd best.
It cannot be exprest
My sorrowful heaviness,
But all without redress!
For within that stound,
Half slumbering, in a sound
I fell down to the ground.

Unneth I cast mine eyes
Toward the cloudy skies.
But when I did behold
My sparrow dead and cold,
No creature but that would
Have ruèd upon me
To behold and see
What heaviness did me pang:
Wherewith my hands I wrang,
That my sinews cracked,
As though I had been racked,
So pained and so strained
That no life wellnigh remained.

I sighed and I sobbed,
For that I was robbed
Of my sparrow’s life.
O maiden, widow, and wife,
Of what estate ye be,
Of high or low degree,
Great sorrow then ye might see,
And learn to weep at me!
Such pains did me fret
That mine heart did beat,
My visage pale and dead,
Wan, and blue as lead:
The pangs of hateful death
Wellnigh had stopped my breath.
Like Andromach, Hector’s wife,
Was weary of her life,
When she had lost her joy,
Noble Hector of Troy;
In like manner alsó
Increaseth my deadly woe,
For my sparrow is go.

It was so pretty a fool,
It would sit on a stool,
And learned after my school
For to keep his cut,
With ‘Philip, keep your cut!’

It had a velvet cap,
And would sit upon my lap
And seek after small worms,
And sometime white bread-crumbs;
And many times and oft
Between my breastės soft
It would lie and rest;
It was proper and prest.

Sometime he would gasp
When he saw a wasp;
A fly or a gnat,
He would fly at that;
And prettily he would pant
When he saw an ant.
Lord, how he would pry
After the butterfly!
Lord, how he would hop
After the gressop!
And when I said, ‘Phip, Phip!’
Then he would leap and skip,
And take me by the lip.
Alas, it will me slo
That Philip is gone me fro!

Si in i qui ta tes
Alas, I was evil at ease!
Di pro fun dis cla ma vi,
When I saw my sparrow die!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sending your kid to college

CNN today seems to be running a special on getting ready for college, especially from the parents' angle. First, there's what to pack, and then there's easing your kid's transition to college. It seems just a little early to panic, or maybe I'm in denial.

But, the articles left out some really important stuff. So here, direct from the fingertips of a gen-u-ine college professor to your monitor is some advice.

What to pack:

Birth control. If you've got a daughter, make sure she has whatever birth control is appropriate for her, along with emergency contraceptives. If her doctor won't prescribe these without some danged good medical reason, then find another doctor, or your local Planned Parenthood. For either a son or daughter, send along a box of condoms. If s/he doesn't use them for sex, a friend or roommate may, and your kid will make the world better or at least safer. Or you can use them as balloons at a party at the end of the year.

A while back now, one of my first year students gave an informational talk on birth control pills; as part of the talk she talked about how her Mom had taken her to get a prescription and stuff. And all I could think was, "smart Mom!"

I don't think kids are lots more likely to have sex if they're on the pill. But they're LOTS less likely to get pregnant when they don't want to! (Being on the pill helps reduce risks of ovarian cancer, too!)

I speak from personal experience on this: one of my college roommates swore she and her boyfriend weren't going to have premarital sex. Next thing, she announced she was pregnant. Then she dropped out of school.

Good shoes, comfortable clothes, and outdoor toys. Ideally, a frisbee should be part of every college student's belongings, or a hackeysack. Or skates, a bike... something to get out of the dorms and get some fresh air and exercise.

An extra pair of glasses, contacts, or medical prescriptions. 'nuff said.

A copy of Making the Most of College (Richard Light) or a similar book. Read it yourself, and then pass it along to your kid. For most students, college is a great experience; but it can take a long time to figure stuff out, especially for first generation college students. Books such as this (along with campus services) can help. Encourage your kid to talk to advisors and faculty!

A good dictionary. Maybe two! (One big desk dictionary, and one small paperback pocket dictionary.) (Hey, I can dream, can't I?)

What not to pack:

A television. Seriously, there will be plenty of televisions to see, but they're still not a good alternative to studying.

A cell phone. Okay, if you MUST. But don't call your kid more than once a week without a very good reason. Be supportive, but don't hover. Most kids make it and do fine. A few don't. Yes, that would be bad if it's your kid, but hovering isn't really going to help your kid succeed as an independent adult. And teach your kid how to turn the phone off, and keep it off, especially in classes!

Helping your kid transition:

Teach your kid to manage a budget. NOW. Have him her practice over the summer if s/he hasn't learned the skill before. Teach him/her to balance his/her checkbook, pay bills, and plan ahead. Visit a local college bookstore and get an idea what texts cost (but don't buy them unless you're sure your kid will be using those texts and editions), what housing costs, and so on. If you or your kid will be taking out financial aid, then involve him/her in every step of the process. Figure out how much each hour of classtime (figure 15 hours/week on average) costs, and make sure your kid knows.

Work on time management skills. NOW! Also look up what kinds of programs your kid's college has to help students transition, and make sure s/he knows that getting help and stuff is what the best students do early. But late is better than never.

Invite your kid home for Thanksgiving, and not before (unless there's a VERY special occasion). Most kids will be homesick at first. And then, in the tradition of college students since colleges began, they'll make friends and start to feel more comfortable. Going home on weekends delays that, and it takes travel time away from studying.

Write a letter once a week, and ask your kid to do the same. Save the letters (or copies). Don't call every day. This is an opportunity for your kid to learn to be an adult, and the changes as s/he grows will be enormous, and wonderful to look back on; letters are a great way (along with journals) to record those changes.

Teach your son about rape prevention. Men can do a lot more to prevent rape than any number of women being careful can. All he needs to do is refuse to rape someone.

Check out the different student organizations your kid's school has and encourage him/her to get involved. Start by getting him/her involved with tutoring or some other community activity now. Students who get involved in their school or community say they have a better college experience than those who don't.

Majors. Don't worry about your kid's major, or whether they're taking Anthropology, Shakespeare, or Nuclear Physics classes. Most students change majors a couple times, and fussing isn't going to make the changes easier. Studies show that most employers are looking for skills rather than specific knowledge sets, so help your kid focus on learning to read and write well and critically, learning math, learning to work well in groups and lead groups, learning to speak comfortably in public, and learning to listen carefully and critically. Research suggests that kids in this generation will change jobs or careers several times, so it's better to focus on skills than on learning Fortran or C plus whatever.

Wanting your kid to study teaching or business because they seem most employable is understandable, but it's a mistake. Encourage your kid to find his/her passion and follow it, and things will likely work out.

Finally, if your kid has successfully graduated from high school and gotten into college, give yourself a pat on the back. Then sit back and watch the magic happen, because a good college experience is just that, magic.

Now I'm going back into denial mode... classes don't start for months. MONTHS, I tell you!!!!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Last Hurrah?

As I was driving during my trip, and especially when I gassed up the BardiacWagon, I couldn't help but wonder about roadtrips, and whether I'll do another long one. It's not the length I was thinking about, but the gas. Will it get prohibitively expensive?

The road trip's a sort of fantasy for me, in some ways. When I was in the Peace Corps, I read Kerouac's On the Road, and loved it. I imagined myself hitchhiking across country, or at the least, biking my way.

When I was in grad school, I reread Kerouac, and hated it. By that point, the sexism really stood out. Yeah, I could hitchhike across country. But I'd be risking rape all the way, even now that I'm middle-aged. I bet Kerouac didn't worry much about that, eh?

So between those times, I'd (finally?) experienced enough threatening situations that the danger stood out in my mind far above the chance of adventure. I don't tend to be really paranoid when I travel alone, but there are times when I'd be very happy to have my old dog in the back with me. Don't get me wrong. I love travelling, and always hope for some adventure. Just not certain kinds of adventure.

(What is it with men sometimes? I was putting gas in my car in Texas last week, and there was a country jail bus at the gas station, too. The bus's windows were covered with metal with smallish holes in it, like you'd put in for some poor animal. And through those, I guess, the occupants of the bus could see me. And yell out comments. Was I supposed to be impressed? For a bare moment, I felt embarrassed. Then I started thinking, "Hey, make all the comments you want: in a couple of minutes, I'll continue driving across country in my car, turning on the air conditioning if it gets too hot for comfort. And you'll still be in that bus." I was sort of glad the commentors were stuck in the bus, because I sure wouldn't want to meet them face to face saying that stuff; I'd feel really threatened.)

I seem to have fallen out of the habit of blogging, and reading blogs. Maybe that's a good thing?

In other news, I got the small grant I wrote for to work with a student this summer.

One of my advisees got suspended from school recently. I found a copy of the Dean's letter in my box when I went yesterday. I think I need to work harder to get the advisees who are in most danger of being suspended in to talk. But I don't think that would have really helped this particular advisee, alas. I should drop her a note and offer to talk to her about the situation if she wants. I'll have to check to see if she still has access to campus email.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Northwoods report

I made it back today, after 8200+ miles of driving on the longest trip I've taken in all sorts of ways, physical and metaphorical. It's like trip zeugma. (Zeugma is one of my very favorite words; just saying it makes me grin and think of stained honor and brocades.)

Thanks for all the responses to my last post. I had a good visit with my Mom overall, and I do recognize that I'm lucky to have parents who were caring, good parents, responsible, and so forth. Sometimes I wish they'd been a bit more willing to take chances, but it's not for me to judge a life I didn't lead. That's the first lesson for me; the second is that I should take more chances myself.

I listened to four really interesting books along the way, each of which intersected with the others and my trip unexpectedly. First, I listened to Guns, Germs, and Steel, which makes an argument that the array of domesticable food plants and animals on the given continents, and the ecological / geographical distributions enabled the history of human social development. Very interesting stuff.

Second, I listened to Blue Shoes and Happiness, one of Alexander McCall Smith's novels from the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series. They're set in Botswana, and it was a nice sort of prep as I headed to my Peace Corps Reunion.

Third, I listened to To See Every Bird on Earth; it's a fascinating combination of a social history of birding (especially in the US), a biography and autobiography, and birding stuff. After listening, as I was driving through the Texas Oklahoma area, I instantly recognized the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. Its interest in the biodiversity and speciation of birds intersected nicely with Guns, Germs, and Steel, too, and with a bit of Blue Shoes, even!

I love birds, though it took me a long time in life to get to that point, having always wanted to focus on mammals through my college years. Having a conure while I was in the Peace Corps was my first intimate experience with a bird, and brought me to a point of interest and respect. Someday I should post on waking up to an intimate grooming of my eyelashes.

I really never understood big lister types in birding; my preference is to settle down and watch for a while, and try to get a feel for birds I see. But I also like seeing birds. I'm thinking of writing down my personal list, which I've never done; I think I may have a hundred birds, which is a far cry from serious birders!

Finally, I listened to Salt, which is a social history of, you guessed it, salt, mostly but not only sodium chloride. It was also fascinating, and took me back to thinking about evolution and geography and stuffs again.

I usually choose history and biography type books to listen to when I drive long distances; for me, literature is more to be enjoyed visually, on some level, and savored in rereading bits, going back and forth making connections. But listening to history or biography works pretty well for me driving, especially since I often listen to the same text more than once, to pick up stuff I missed.

More on the highlights of the trip later!