Dorothy W. over at Of Bikes and Books did this cool interview meme. She's interviewing me here:
1. I’ve been following your blog for some time, but haven’t learned what got you into blogging. How did you get interested in blogging and what has the experience been like for you?
I accidentally ran across some blog while surfing the web, and by following the links, started reading some other blogs. I think Dean Dad was the first academic blog I started to read, then Bitch PhD, and then through following the links, I got to reading others, and thought I'd take a stab at it. Most of the blogs I got to know at first were grad students' blogs, or newly hired folks' blogs, so I thought I'd have something different to add. I saw a fair number of medievalists out there, but no Shakespeare or early modern folks (at first). But then I got to seeing them, too.
The experience has been fun and interesting. I'm not very anonymous, and that sort of worries me sometimes, and has changed what and how I write. I write nowadays with the idea that someone else from my work might be reading it. It's not that I think I'll be fired or something, but that I want someone from my work to respect what I've written here.
2. You’ve written about studying science in college. What made you switch to English? What made you choose to study Shakespeare?
When I was a kid, I always thought I'd do the Jane Goodall thing. But I was a kid of suburbia, and didn't have the slightest idea about a lot of things. In college, I worked in a lab for a couple years, and so knew that I didn't want to work in a lab. While I was in the Peace Corps, I worked outdoors mostly, and I learned that I really didn't love mud, or being tired and drenched and bug-bitten. It wasn't that I hated things, but I saw people who loved what they do, and they had a gleam in their eye, and I didn't have that gleam in my eye.
So when I came back from the Peace Corps, I worked at a variety of short term jobs, and was basically supporting myself and not much more. One day, I got a call from my friend C. I knew C from a college club; she was in her 30s when we met, and a cancer survivor. While I was in the Peace Corps, C had decided to go back to school to study art, and to use her retirement fund to do so. The thought had scared me, but it was important to C, and so she did it. When I got the call, C told me that she had metastatic cancer in her liver. She died within about six weeks, in May.
C's death made me take a good hard look at my life, and I realized I didn't know what I wanted, except I didn't want to go on in the job I was in, or living the life I was living. So in June, I enrolled in night classes at the local community college. I went to the CC for a year, and took all sorts of things I hadn't taken as an undergrad, but had grown to value or have curiousity about since. So I took economics (micro and macro), art history, management, philosophy, creative writing, and a couple literature courses. And I started feeling a gleam in my eye. I decided that I wanted to study the 20th century novel.
My parents helped me out financially, and the local regional university in Fantasy City accepted me conditionally to an MA program in English. The idea was that I had to basically finish an undergrad English degree in a year, with good grades, and then I could be in their MA program. It was one of those incredible opportunities that community colleges and regional universities in the US excel at providing to all sorts of people.
That first semester, with minimal advising, I enrolled in criticism, Shakespeare, 20th century American novel, 20th century British novel, and something else. I had some stupid question in the Shakespeare class, and I think the prof's radar went up, so she met with me and got me to drop the something else and add Chaucer, so that I'd have a better mix for completing the requirements.
That semester, I fell in love with Shakespeare, Chaucer, and criticism, and realized that I had tons more fun in those classes than in the 20th century classes. There's tons of, say, sexism, in Chaucer and Shakespeare, but the response of my profs was to talk about how it worked in the lit, what it meant, and how we could understand a different culture. I credit the great teaching of my Shakespeare and Chaucer profs that semester, and in later semesters, with helping me learn to critically love earlier British lit. Neither of them was a famous scholar, but both were fantastic teachers.
What I do now gives me a gleam in my eye, and that's as good as things get.
3. I’m curious about your reading habits. What do you turn to when you want to read something not work-related?
I read non-fiction and novels. I listen to books on tape/cd a lot, driving or going to sleep, too. And I read blogs! I'm in a reading group, so most of my fun reading comes through those folks and our reading list. Right now we're reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.
I love teaching drama and poetry, but I don't read either for fun much these days. It's hard to read for fun when so much of my work involves the same physical process of reading. There's only so long I can physically read before I want to do something very different.
4. I admire your posts on teaching and have learned a lot from them. Can you describe one of the highlights of your teaching career?
I think I do my best teaching when I respond to student questions. Every once in a while, you get a great question, and can put things together to give a really useful and helpful explanation or answer. I love those moments.
I also love getting to see students put a project together way more successfully than they imagined. I've had that happen in several classes, with performance projects and research projects, and it delights me every time. I think it's seeing students work together really well that does it for me.
5. Assuming you could get all the training you needed and that you had the relevant skills and talents, what, besides being a college professor, would be your dream career? Why?
If I were funny, I'd be a stand-up comedian. I love the performative aspects of teaching, but alas, I'm not very funny. I think journalism could be fascinating, at least if it involved lots of exploration, travel, and investigation.
Thanks to Dorothy W. for giving me fun and interesting questions! If you want me to interview you, read below:
DIRECTIONS FOR THE INTERVIEW MEME
1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.