Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Blood, Texts, and Spenser

Today was an important day for me.

To mark it (and because I was eligible as of yesterday), I went to give blood.

Sometimes, it's important to remember and honor something really basic, and blood is pretty much basic from the donor point of view, though the science behind transfusion and such probably isn't.


When I was working with my text class last term, I was trying to explain to them some basic ideas about a project that centers on their use of various texts to explain themselves to a reader. I pulled my donor card out of my wallet, passed it around, and asked them what they learned from it.

They started out with basics:
Blood type
Red Cross info (and area info), including the symbol of a red cross.
Web site information, and a phone number.

Then they got creative and started looking at the bar code, donor id, and stuff that was there but that we couldn't "read" in a traditional sense.

What I was hoping they'd "read" (and what I finally told them), is that the donor card also has health info (my blood pressure readings). AND, the donor card also indicates something about my health (good enough to give blood) and something about my attitude (I give blood regularly, as one can tell from the blood pressure entries). So in that way, it represents some things about me that are important to me.

And on a day that's important to me, what's important is pretty basic.


If you're me, you think of Spenser's Red Crosse Knight when you see it the Red Cross symbol. I'm awed by the wonderfully cinematic opening of that Gentle Knight [] pricking on the plain...

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde,
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
The cruell markes of many' a bloudy fielde;
Yet armes till that time did he neuer wield:
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
Full iolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

But on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore,
The deare remembrance of his dying Lord,
For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,
And dead as liuing euer him ador'd:
Vpon his shield the like was also scor'd,
For soueraine hope, which in his helpe he had:
Right faithfull true he was in deede and word,
But of his cheere did seeme too solemne sad;
Yet nothing did he dread, but euer was ydrad.

Spenser's totally bizarre, but I learned so much from a prof one day explicating this opening that this opening stays deeply in my heart and mind.

I try not to be "too solemne sad" and try to dread nothing; whatever the right balance is, it's a difficult one, but I feel like I'm closer to getting the joy without the fear. And, of course, without the whole Christian thing, which wouldn't make any sense at all to Spenser.

Summer Email, Student Edition

Yep, one of those emails. Summer emails from students are rarely good. The best one can hope for is a request for a letter of recommendation. Those I don't mind much.

Legally, I'm not on contract until well into August, and don't have to respond to anything from students until then. But in real life, if I'm able, I'll respond, even if to say that I'm out of town when I am. And I'll try to take care of basic stuff (letters of recommendation and such). Students, of course, don't realize that we're not under contract, and not paid, for the summer months. We have plenty of work to do, but no pay. And the June paycheck is short because the school takes out our contributions to health and other insurance for the whole summer. (And I'm grateful to have insurance coverage for the summer; trust me on that.) So there's no requirement or incentive to do extra stuff that takes away from research and pleasure.

Today's email was from a student who took an incomplete in a class several years ago. Last fall, she met with me to talk about the work she needs to do to complete the class, and left promising to do it over the winter break. She's a high school teacher, and I know how difficult it is to get things done. Really, I do! I wasn't holding my breath.

And now she emailed me for an appointment to talk about the same incomplete, promising this time to finish the work in August.

I'm guessing she doesn't even have notes from our last meeting, which means I have to dig out everything from the syllabus and reconstitute it. And I'm guessing she hasn't done any work on it, either, so is starting from ground zero.

Ground zero, as I recall, wasn't the best starting place. For a theory oriented class, she wanted to do a paper on how theory isn't useful or something. Theory bad, something else (I'm not saying what) good. I remember being less than enthusiastic about the topic. I'm less enthusiastic about rehashing it again, now.

I have no desire to guilt her, but I do have an evil desire to prod her about what she's done on the project since we last talked and such. It's not that I want to make her feel bad, but I do want to stop the circling back around.


If I could give grad students a bit of advice, it would be to avoid letting incompletes go cold. Everyone in my program took incompletes now and then. Most folks seemed to finish them up in the week or two between terms; those worked out well, and often enough the person was actually able to make the paper worth the wait. Some people ended putting them off. And then put another off. And then they were faced with finishing up two or three incompletes before they could take their exam, or before they could qualify for an extra year of teaching or apply for a fellowship convincingly. Those seemed utterly painful, and the papers were never worth the wait.

Monday, July 30, 2007

At the Risk of Being Totally Boring

I went for a ride this morning out on Joe's River Road. I've been meaning to ride out there for a while, but the hills seemed intimidating, and it's way out there, past where one of my colleagues lives. And have I mentioned how lazy I am? There's that, too.

But I rode out there this morning. Three miles out from my house, I passed my colleague's street. Wait, I thought, this isn't as far out as it seemed when I drove out here. Hmmm.

There were a couple areas where stands of more grown up pine trees graced the sides of the road, which made me feel more like I really was out in the country. Boy, did they smell good! What is it about the smell of pines?

I pedaled down a smallish hill on the third ring! The bike felt like I belonged with it.

I turned back to come home so I'm not late for some afternoon stuff. At the last bit of Joe's River Rd, I crouched on a longish downhill, playing the brakes (because the road narrows as a bridge takes it over the freeway, and it's a bit rough), and suddenly I realized, "I pedaled up this!" And I just started laughing.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What Was I Thinking?

Last fall, I signed up to do another library presentation thing. What was I thinking?

And I agreed to teach a class I really would rather not teach this coming semester. (It's our intro grad research methods class; I've taught it several times, with reasonable success, but I've decided I seriously need to revise it.) What was I thinking?

And I'll be taking a language class.

And teaching a new to me seminar.

What was I thinking?


I got an email this past week about the library presentation, setting up dates and so forth, which reminded me to look at the proposal again, and dang if it's not an exciting proposal! I'd forgotten!

I'm going to show scenes from different film versions of Shakespeare's Henry V, mostly contrasting Olivier's 1944 and Branagh's 1989 versions, with a bit from the BBC version here and there.

We're going to start by looking at the theatricality, metatheatricality, and filmic issues. We'll look at that great "hey, it's London and the theater!" opening of Olivier's, and then the "this is FILM!" opening of Branagh's, and so forth.

So I brought home the department's dvd of Olivier's version. What a treat!

I think doing film stuff is going to be fun for the library crowd, less difficult than reading a full play themselves, but really interesting in thinking historically about the films, and a pleasure to see parts of the films themselves.

There's a moment in Branagh's film that brings me to a full stop. It's after the battle, and Henry's walking through the field. A woman (looks like a French peasant, perhaps) is on the field, and seeing Henry, starts as if to charge him, but is caught and prevented by the French messenger. It's such a little thing, but so beautifully telling.

Friday, July 27, 2007

If Bikes Could Talk

Garage door begins to shut and the door to the kitchen closes.

Old Bike: Well, you were out for a good long time today, and she didn't take you on the car, so hills?

New Bike: HILLS!! (sings) hills, hills, hills, lovely hills!

Old Bike: How'd it go?

New Bike: She didn't get off to walk up even once today! She's slow, but she kept peddling.

Old Bike: She likes the granny gear, eh?

New Bike: She needs a great granny gear, to be honest.

Old Bike: How'd she do on the downhills? She used to drive me crazy riding the brakes.

New Bike: I convinced her to go down ONE hill without touching the brakes. Now if I could convince her to pedal! (sings) hills, hills, hills, lovely hills! And she needs to use the big ring to go fast!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

All the World

When I got to the theater this morning, the acting class part was sort of still in session. It looked chaotic, and the woman who works on scenery/costuming primarily told me that the acting teacher had been trying to work through scenes, but that we were missing a bunch of our students.

Evidently, two of the students involved in the play had been seeing each other until recently, had broken up, then had both independently signed up for the program. One was supposedly quite upset to see the other there, but then they started talking, and, it seems, spent most of the session this morning getting back together.

I'm laughing inside. The play we're working on spends a lot of energy laughing at young people who are goofy in love, and showing that most of us will be, are, or have been goofy about love and sexuality.

And here are these students, being goofy.

I don't think the rest of the students got the connection.

Sometimes, it's good to have adult perspective, if only because you get to laugh and know that you've been laughed at with good reason, too. (Sometimes it sucks to be an adult, though.)

This Shakespeare guy just gets at things pretty darned well!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


"I'll see your pencils and raise you a set of magic markers."

Can you guess the context?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yay Student!!

One of our actors had a great question after our session today. It was one of those questions that showed she'd been thinking and processing and put things together, AND is willing to take the next step.

I'm so impressed!


Various sorts of drug or whatever are supposedly common in professional (and higher level amateur) biking competition. The Tour de France, from everything I've read, sounds like utter torture, even for the most fit, most effective riders. So, people try whatever they can, including stuff that's illegal or against the biking rules.

People decry this practice, and with good reason.

But I ask you, if you could take a drug that would make you ten percent smarter, would you? (Let's pretend that "smarter" can be meaningfully measured in this context and isn't merely a number, but something that measurably affects performance.)

How about if you were likely to die five years earlier than otherwise?

Five percent smarter?

Ten years earlier?

I have to admit, in grad school, I would gladly have taken that risk to be ten percent smarter. And I don't imagine the competition in my grad school/field was one tenth that of being a professional bike rider. And I'm pretty certain that almost every other grad student would have taken the drug, too.

Today, yes, I think I'd probably take something that would make me even five percent smarter, even if I thought it would kill me ten years earlier.

However, I would be pretty darned reticent if the something were illegal, especially illegal to the point where people with guns (sellers or law enforcement) were interested. So let's think something that's maybe semi-legal, or prescription.

Would you take it, Smart Pill X? Why or why not?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Biking Commentary

You know those sculpted not an ounce of extra body fat legs on the Tour riders?

The only thing my legs have in common with those legs is that mine also reach the ground (when I'm not on a bike).

On the other hand, no one would even think to accuse me of using steroids (well, not male steroids or muscle building whatevers) or blood doping. Nor would anyone mistake me for a male in his prime in top athletic shape.

I went on a hilly ride today, short, but hilly. The Tour riders need not fear me in the polka dot jersey competition.

So here's something I've noticed: after I ride hard, especially climbing what counts as hills around here, my lungs feel really big for hours after. Normally, I don't think much about my lungs. But after a ride, big lungs!

On the other hand, riding up a hill, I must look pathetic, like I'm about to collapse or something, because I'm dripping sweat, breathing hard, bright red. But I'm getting much better at just keeping my legs peddling. I'm also getting braver about letting things go when I'm headed downhill. And that's fun!

Starting All Over Again

Today was the first day of my dramaturgy gig. It should be easy. I should be able to do this with the text tied behind my back or something.

But I was totally anxious about it last night and this morning.

I reviewed the script, and dang if they didn't cut a bunch of my favorite parts! My reaction caused the director to laugh and joke with the scenery person that she just knew I'd come in and rant about the cuts.

The students are high schoolers, with all that means. There's some wonderful enthusiasm. They wouldn't be in the program if they weren't interested, after all.

But sometimes they just run their mouths. That happens in college classes, too, but in my college classes I can pretty much cut the excess noise with a simple request.

Enthusiasm can make me crazy. You know the kind. And yet, I'm also happy they're enthusiastic. Some manage enthusiasm that doesn't make me crazy, others manage to make me crazy. I can't quite articulate the difference.

I'm also driven crazy by a student who insists that women were all X or something during the period. Yes, women were oppressed. But just as today, life was complicated. But it's hard to convince high schoolers of that. AND, it's hard to confront them with the fact that women are still oppressed today.

The semester begins soon, too. Eeep!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Little League

Little league was obnoxious when I was a kid: girls weren't allowed. Period. There was nothing even remotely comparable for girls where I was, no activity to get us outside playing with others.

I don't know what happens these days. I spent a bit of the weekend at a little league tournament, and not a single girl was in any sort of uniform or playing on the fields. Girls were playing or hanging out, in fairly large numbers, under the pipe and wood bleachers. And occasionally a parent would even notice they were there, or wonder why they weren't watching their brothers playing on the field. I counted six baseball diamonds; I gather that all were in constant use from 11am to 9pm on Saturday, and scheduled for more games on Sunday.

I see parents put a lot of time into the boys' little league thing. Practices during the week, batting practice places, games a couple times a week.

One of the parents I was with talked about how much boys learn about teamwork and such, but I was thinking that what the boys learn is that boys playing sports are important, and that girls, or boys not playing sports, aren't valued.

A boy playing baseball gets Dad's attention for hours at a time, playing catch, batting, shagging grounders. And Mom takes the boy to practice during the week, while his sister tags along, bored, to hang out under the bleachers. All the while, the boy learns that he's the most important person in the family so long as he's playing sports.

Girls don't get that sort of attention, that I see. Maybe in the world of girls' beauty shows? (I've never met anyone involved in those, so I'm totally clueless.)

In academics, there's been noise in the past several years about how boys in high schools aren't doing as well academically as girls, so that more women than men get into colleges by the numbers. Then there's noise about how men need special consideration so that sex/gender ratios in colleges don't become "imbalanced." So there's a sort of quiet undercurrent of movement to give men special "consideration" in college admissions.

There are a LOT of factors going into who applies and gets into colleges. But I wonder how many of the parents of the boys at the little league tournament this weekend spend as much time encouraging and cheering for their boys' academic efforts as they do for the little league stuff.

(This entry is based on my own observation. Feel free to tell me that as much attention and money is spent on girls' sports for ten year olds. I'd love to hear it. I'm not saying that these parents spend no time working with boys on school work, or that no one pays attention to girls, or that all boys play little league.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

TV Shows I'd Like to See

Procedural Initials in the NYC/Miami Library - Watch a librarian investigate and track down answers to the questions we all want to ask. What's the origin of the title "Prince of Wales"? What's a "2 R Rule"? Is Marlowe really dead?

Survivor: College Composition - Contestants get voted out of college for poor peer editing participation, vapid content, and under-developed paragraphs! The final survivor gets a full-ride scholarship for the rest of college!

Tweeds - Young phuds start their first post-doctoral years; two are in tenure track jobs, one's adjuncting, and one decides to blow off academia and work at an office selling conveyor belts. Watch the comedy as tenured colleagues harass and threaten, while the academic "deserter" pays off her loans in record time and tries to find meaning in a mortgage.

So You Think You Can Theorize - Theory heads compete at spontaneously explaining post-modern concepts to state legislators and voters. The winner's library gets an actual journal subscription for a whole year.

Prof Swap - David Lodge meets reality television! Faculty from R1s swap positions for a semester with faculty from community and regional colleges and universities. In other episodes, faculty from elite SLACs swap with faculty at open enrollment colleges.

Antiques Roadshow (Campus Visit) - The antiques roadshow visits my office to admire my 1950s metal desk and bookshelves, dial phone, linoleum, and window that can't be opened without a special tool available only with top secret, double-oh clearance.

And just for me:

Pimp my Ride (No Motors) - Instead of pimping out some motorcycle or car, this show allows the lucky participant to pimp their bike, skateboard, or whatever. Watch the participant put Dura-Ace components on a Schwinn Varsity from the mid-70s! Another participant puts tri-bars on a three speed. I put a cut out seat and new handlebar tape on my steely!

Feel free to play along!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Need Notes!

I like the director I'll be working with for this production, but she's not always on top of answering email. I'd emailed last week about the time I would be working with the students this coming week and about what edition she'd be using, and cuts and such.

If the two of us are in any way exemplary, we lit people think very differently from theater people. I've read plays without the benefit of notes, but I depend on notes. When I don't have them, I spend a lot of time looking up words and phrases, trying to figure out how metaphors work, what's happening that I'm not picking up in the language. And I read early modern English fairly fluently.

When I order books for my classes, whenever possible, I order editions with good notes. There's a balance, of course; you don't want notes that feel overwhelming for whatever level of reader you're working with. So basic glossing is most helpful for less experienced readers, while more experienced readers might find collations, and discussions of rhetorical or specialized language helpful.

Since I hadn't heard from the director, I dropped by the community theater company office today to find out about the time and text (I feel like a poser saying "script," but that's what it is).

The time was easy.

But the script, not quite as easy. The office director person made me a xerox of the cuts, but there's no indication on the xerox what edition it's from from, and no notes. There are, thanks be to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Act, scene, and line numbers! But that's it.

I can't imagine giving people a Shakespeare script without basic glossing. It just doesn't make sense to my inner English professor. And I want to know who edited it and such.

So basic glossing, vocabulary stuff, is where I start. Of course, even with glossing, that's where I'd start. And it's a good place to start, since the language is such a glorious romp in this play.

I'm getting all excited!

I'm also going to have to go through and check line numbering between my Oxford (which is what I've used with AYLI and have my notes in) and the script. I hope they're close, but there's a fair bit of prose, and that always makes for variations.

/Bardiac happy dance

Shakespeare time, baby!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Doing the Dramaturgy Thing Again

On Monday, I start a short gig with the local community theater group's high school production of As You Like It.

It's fairly prosaic to notice that new comedy (or romantic comedy, as we tend to call it) sets up the younger generation to make the next generation in socially acceptable ways. Depending on the play, characters may struggle with leaving homosocial/sexual bonds to forge heterosexual bonds, with changing family relations, with ambivalence about sexualities. On some level, it's all about getting the right people married off to the right people, and convincing everyone that things will work out well enough. And, of course, the play ends with marriage (or shortly before or after), so we don't really "know" what happens after. (Except, of course, that in the long term, life is more tragedy than comedy.)

Rightfully, everyone's noticed for a good number of years now that the plays are overwhelmingly heteronormative. Sometimes, in plays, male characters get "left over," reminding us that heteronormativity doesn't work out well for everyone.

Gender choice in marriage is important, but focusing on gender exclusively shifts our focus from other choices made about partnering, especially social status or class (it's awkward to use "class" in non-capitalist economic systems, but you get the idea). But As You Like It reminds us, even while it plays wildly with gendering choices, that gender isn't the only thing to think about, and that class is also important.

It's hard to communicate about social class and mate choice with students, especially high school students, in our culture. Our culture shares a widespread fantasy that "true love" will overcome all other factors, even as we date and marry almost exclusively within our social class. I'm as guilty as anyone. I don't date homeless people. Nor do I date elite people. Neither is within my scope of preference.

I'm thinking about how to talk about that issue with the students in the program. Most of the students are pretty middle class, and a fair percentage are home-schooled.

It's going to be an interesting play to discuss with this crowd!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Random Bits of Blogging Happiness

*My friend came through her surgery well! I was expecting as much, but it's good. She's been doing better each day since the surgery. She's got a longish recovery ahead, but I'm so happy she's doing well. (Another friend suggested a "reacher" for her, so I got her one today, and she laughed and said that she'd been wondering about getting herself one.)

*Another friend is out of town, so her cats gave me a little therapy today. Yep, even the more snooty cat came and sat in the room with me, chatted a bit about how the birds on the other side of the window really needed to show respect, and got her share of pets. And, shockingly (to me), she purred loudly! The more social one was as wonderfully relaxing to pet for a bit as I've come to expect. I'm way more a dog person than a cat person, but contact with any relaxed and happy animal feels good to me.

*I got some good news today in the general life front. It eases my mind a bit.

*BIKE RIDE! I went out for an easy 16 miles today, and it just felt really good. And my tush didn't hurt. My wrists were happy, too. My legs were semi-tired, but not super tired; they were at the point where I noticed them when I pushed (against the wind, small hill, whatever), but not when I was just smoothing along in a good rhythm. I was thinking about my friend, enjoying the weather, and I realized that a couple years ago, a 16 mile ride wouldn't have been the easy, relaxing hour it was today.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Metric Century

100 Kilometers. 62.3 miles (what I actually rode, which is slightly more than 100 K, but not enough to worry about). It took me just under 4 and a half hours.

Yes, I realize the TdF riders rode that in about an hour and ten minutes today, including inclines that would make me throw up at the side of the hill, going up or down. I also realize that those folks are professional athletes. I, clearly, am not.


I only went out for a 30 mile ride this morning, but the weather was perfect, cool enough and warm enough, minimal wind, clear skies. So at the 15 mile turn-around point, I decided I'd ride out to the malt shop and get myself a malt.

I rode a couple miles beyond the malt shop (so I wouldn't be short on the century), and then went back and scooted up the hill into the little town. Alas, my malt shop is still closed. (I'm sort of worried. I don't really know these folks, but I really like their shop, and I've had nice conversations with them.) I stopped at a little place and had a grilled cheese sandwich and a so-so malt, and then rode back.

I love grilled cheese sandwiches, and they're one thing you can get at just about any small town place that will be very good. It was, indeed, very good.

I'm tuckered now, and my tush may just be a tad sore. (I'm hoping I haven't given myself a real saddle sore. We'll see after a layer of neosporin and a night's rest.)My wrists are surprisingly happy, though.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Best Search Ever

How to detest plagiarism

Detesting plagiarism isn't difficult at all. First, respect people's efforts, ideas, and work. Then recognize that plagiarism implicitly treats such efforts, ideas, and work with utter disdain and contempt.

Second, understand that cheating is unethical. Then make the connection with cheating and plagiarism.

And voila, suddenly, you, too, can detest plagiarism!


I was in a sort of casual off-campus conversation with an administrator the other day, an administrator in the academic chain of command. He asked me about my summer activities, and I told him I was prepping to do dramaturgy for the local Shakespeare summer group performance. I talked about how interesting it is for me to see Shakespeare from another point of view.

And he asked me how it changes my classroom practice. I tried to explain that while I use performance strategies in my teaching, dramaturgy is more about teaching the actors to enhance their performance and such. I told him about helping students in the campus production last term.

And stupidly, I asked him if he'd seen it. He gave me one of those disdainful looks, and said, no, he'd missed it.

I'm not saying we have the greatest theater productions ever, but the disdainful look says a lot about how much this administrator values the arts, especially the more ephemeral arts.

During public meetings, our headmaster talks about going to different athletic events with gusto, but I've never once heard him talk about going to an art show, concert, or theatrical performance. I would LOVE during "commons questions" some day to ask him which concert performance he most enjoyed this year, or which theatrical performance made him think. But I fear the silence would be damaging to my future career.

On the other hand, I clearly didn't make points with the administrator I was talking to off-campus, either. (This was as clear to one of my colleagues, as he mentioned afterwards, when we were alone.)

Friday, July 13, 2007


On campus, we have something we call the hill. The picture above may or may not be OUR hill, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the sort of hill I'm talking about. I've wondered about trying the hill. It's intimidating. Scary. Steep enough that students talk about it in epic terms.

I've been having a little wrist soreness from riding my new bike, and have tried out a couple different ways of alleviating that, because I depend a LOT on being able to write and type and such, and I'm not willing to risk hurting them for real.

After reading up on a website for women bikers, I've been trying to hold my arms and hands more relaxed, not using a death grip on the handlebars. And I've been trying to keep the wrist aligned straight, and changed the tilt on the bars. (I tend to ride "in the drops"--that is, on the bent down part of the road bike handlebar.) If you look at real riders, they have their elbows bent fairly deeply, but I don't. I have to work at bending my arms and keeping them relaxed, rather than leaning on my hands. (And that also means more core strengthening, which I'm working on, slowly!)

One of the suggestions I read about was to measure my shoulder width and my handlebar width, because wide handlebars tend to make you angle your wrists. I measured, and compared my new bike handlebars with the old bike handlebars, and they were about an inch and a half wider. An inch and a half is more than you might think when you're thinking bike fit, when the width of the handlebar is 13 or 14 inches or so.

I dropped by the bike shop the other day to ask about narrower handlebars, and they happened to have a pair of handlebars that were basically on par with the ones on my new bike, but from an even smaller women's frame, and thus narrower. I asked them to change them out for me, in hopes that this will help my wrists.

I picked up my bike this afternoon, and went for a quickish 15 mile ride out on the trail, to get a sense of how my wrists would feel. I could feel a real difference, and could ride on the hoods more comfortably, even. I felt that I could move my hands around more (thus changing the ways the wrists bear weight and such), and that seemed good.

Then I met up with a couple friends for a relaxed ride. We went on a dirt road behind campus for a while, a lovely ride that took us under the local Bald Eagle nest, where we saw and heard one of the fledglings way up near the nest! Way cool!

We approached the bottom of the hill, and I couldn't resist. My friends held up, and I stood up and started peddling my legs off. Then I sat down and kept peddling.

A campus cop car passed me, giving me lots of room, but I couldn't look up to see what the driver was looking like. I can imagine some possibilities, though!

And I made it! Yep, I just kept peddling, even though I was barely moving the bike forward in my granny gears, and then I was at the top, legs not quite believing what I'd done, panting like a fool, but at the top!

We did 17 miles, easy and relaxed, but my legs weren't convinced about the easy part after the hill.

I'm feeling stupid happy about making it up the hill. It's silly, because compared to what real riders do, that hill's nothing. But for me, it was psychically huge, and I'm amazed that I made it up there. My wrists are as happy as the rest of me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Today I Realized...

I've been incredibly lucky through my life. In lots of ways, yes, I've been incredibly lucky.

I spent a fair part of today at a local hospital, keeping a friend company while his partner (also a friend) had surgery. We're told that it worked out as well as it possibly could. So that's very good news indeed.

But I realized later that the likelihood is that even if I'm lucky enough not to be sick myself, the fact that my family and friends are aging about as fast as I am means that I'm likely to spend more time in the future hanging out in hospitals.

I'm mostly okay with the whole middle-age thing, but right now, the future looks sort of crappy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Midweek Update

I've ridden 1000 miles this year.

I don't know if I'm going to do the 100 mile thing this summer. It takes a TON of time just to build up. But maybe a metric?

I saw a couple of Bobwhites the other day. Totally cool!

A couple of days ago, I went out on the hills south of town. There's a long straight downhill with good pavement (and at that time, no other traffic), and going down it I reached about 32 mph. I was scared, but held on, not peddling, but not braking either. It was GREAT! (And lots easier than peddling up the hill on the way out had been.)

The next day, I was watching the highlights from a stage of the Tour de France, one of the long, fairly flat stages. And the riders were averaging about 33 mph. Sort of just a tad faster than me!

Except that they were all peddling to go faster, on a flat, riding in the midst of a whole bunch of other people, and had been riding for several hours already.

On the deck: A while back, I blogged excitedly about seeing a couple of Rose Breasted Grosbeaks. Yesterday, I saw a female looking one feeding another female looking one from the suet feeder. So I guessed that there was a fledgling!

Today, the male was feeding a fledgling from the suet feeder. And there were two more female looking ones right near. So maybe two fledglings?

It cracks me up that the fledgling will be perched right next to the suet, within easy reach, and still to the fluttery wings, open mouth thing to get fed. Lazy kids!

Alas, sort of reminds me of myself as a fledgling!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Deforestation on NPR in the Morning

This morning, NPR ran a story about how "Unlikely Allies Battle Deforestation in the Amazon." The basics of the story are that Cargill (yes, the mega-agricultural company) is teaming up with The Nature Conservancy to get local small farmers to reduce the amount of land they have under soy production and reforest that land. How? Cargill has agreed to put a two year moratorium on buying soy grown in any newly deforested areas. The idea is that the moratorium will greatly reduce pressures on farmers to cut down more and more forest.

I'm all for stopping deforestation and reforesting areas where possible.

But here's what I'm wondering: the article doesn't say what they're doing to help farmers eat while they comply. Soy is (mostly) a cash crop; you raise it, sell it, and then use the money to buy food and whatever. In the case the NPR article relates of Viteu Holzbach, in order to comply with the law, he has to leave 80% of his land un-cultivated (as opposed to the 50% he has under cultivation now). He's supposed to cut his income by 60% (more or less), or else?

I have to be honest, if I cut 60% of my income, I'd be in deep trouble. So I looked in the article, and I couldn't see what Cargill and the Nature Conservancy were doing to mitigate the difficulty of losing 60% of his income.

When I was in the Peace Corps, I worked in a forestry program; basically, I planted trees in the rainforest. Mostly, I helped farmers comply with reforestation laws designed to promote agro-forestry and such. We spent a LOT of time trying to figure out how to help farmers grow food/cash crops AND trees on their land, and it's tough! It's vital on the most local level, because deforested rainforest soil deteriorates quickly, and so becomes less good even for crops. But it's tough. Most crops don't grow well in the shade of rainforest trees, nor, to be honest, do most crops developed in Eurasia do really well with the amount of rain we got where I was.

The people I worked with were farming where they were because they were poor and trying to make a go on the margins. What are they going to do to make up the lost income? (I don't know what I'd do, but it might involve highly illegal, and thus very profitable cash crops.)

Another thing to wonder: Cargill's making a commitment to not buy soy from recently deforested land. Where I was, the best land had been farmed for a long time, and usually by the wealthiest folks in the area. They were either wealthy because historically they'd own the best land for a long time (true of those who inherited land from Spanish colonists, where I was) or because they were wealthy and using wealth to buy up the most profitable land they could.

So I'm wondering if Cargill's strategy has them buying soy from the wealthiest folks, and if so, is that an intended consequence or an unintended consequence? If they buy from the wealthiest, are those folks then in a position to buy up land from the poorer folks very cheaply, then once it's not "newly deforested" use it for mass soy production?

Cargill isn't in this to lose money. They wouldn't have survived very long as a charity in business. So I'm wondering where they're aiming to make their profit, because we know they need to make a profit to stay in business. And, I'm pretty sure they don't much care what happens to anyone in their way, especially poorer people.

One more thing. Yes, it's important to conserve rain forests. Indeed.

But much of the US has been seriously deforested or had the prairielands ruined. What would happen if the government of the US supported a program requiring farmers to return some fairly large percentage of their agricultural land to forest/grassland? As I understand it, temperate forests don't hold quite the amount of carbon and organic material, or transfer quite as much oxygen, as tropical forests, but they could make a much larger contribution if we hadn't deforested so much, and if our agricultural practices weren't so focused on industrialized mono-culture farming.

We (people in the US, including US government programs and conservationists) pressure developing countries to conserve their wild areas, but we don't put ourselves under nearly the same pressures. If you look at most of our big national parks, they're not in great agricultural land but in serious mountain country. Yes, the mountains are beautiful. But the state and national forests in the Northwoods seem to be in magical rows, and I'm betting they weren't that way 200 years ago. It's incredibly hard to balance peoples' needs to use resources with the long term needs to conserve resources. We don't do a very good job in this country (or in many other highly industrialized countries).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Interview Meme

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:


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.

Friday, July 06, 2007

On the News

Several years ago now, a non-trad student took my Shakespeare class. Let's just say that I wasn't the oldest person in the room that term. I learned afterwards that he's an artist in town, who does a sort of art that's often publicly displayed. He invited me to his studio one day, and it was delightful.

I run into him in town sometimes, and we always have a nice chat, and often he tells me about this or that art piece being installed here or there.

Tonight, I had the news on in the background, and I sort of glanced over at just the right moment, and there's my student. It took me a moment to figure it out, since it wasn't a great picture of him, but then it became clear it was him. There he was, on the local evening news.

He wasn't on the news for his art, though.

Nope, he was on with his father and son, three generations who play in a local community band. Sometimes, the whole smallish town know lots of people around thing really is a whole lot of fun. You realize that seemingly quiet, unassuming folks contribute in significant and various ways to the community. And it's good for me to realize that.

I'm feeling stuck in my writing; I can't bear to even look at it, and I need to be revising.

And there's this family, three generations, doing their thing.

I think maybe I'm especially charmed by this story because when I was in high school, I played in the bands and orchestras, concert band, marching band, jazz band, concert orchestra, pit orchestras, you name it, I was pretty much in it (I played a few woodwinds, none of them well). My Dad had long played violin, and since they always needed strings in the pit orchestras, he and his friends from the community orchestras would play.

So we played in orchestras together, and eventually I played in community stuff with him, too. It was a wonderful way for me to develop a more adult relationship with my Dad, more good for me than I can really articulate. And my student's son, interviewed in the story, sounded like he had a great time making music with his dad and grandfather, too.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Eight Random Things Meme

The Combat Philosopher was kind enough to tag me. I'm slow about doing memes and such, though. Sorry. I just have difficulty thinking of stuff that isn't beyond boring.

The idea is that the blogger chooses 8 random facts, and writes them down. And tags people, and explains rules and such. But I'm a rebel, so that's it for rules, and I'll leave people to tag themselves!

1) I hated English in high school so much that I didn't take a single English class during my undergraduate degree. Looking back, I can't remember why I hated it, though. The teachers were all decent folks, but I was totally turned off.

2) When I was in the Peace Corps, someone in the area gave me a conure (a small parrot). We became friends after a bit of effort, enough so that once her primaries grew out, I'd walk around the community with her on my shoulder; she chose to hang out with me, I guess. One of the most sensual experiences I've ever had was waking up to her perched on my forehead preening my eyelashes. It's hard to imagine trusting a wild animal like that, but there you go.

I never was really into birds until I got to know them up close. Now they fascinate me on a visceral level. When you preen a really relaxed bird, you can see and feel muscles, veins, and bone under the skin, and feel the warmth. And then, a little noise, and the bird is in flight. Just amazing.

3) I had braces forever, and any number of nasty things done to my mouth and teeth when I was young. I've been told by dentists since that I had very good work done, but it wasn't fun.

4) I've never smoked or used tobacco. I thank one of my grandmothers for this, since she smoked a lot and it made me feel ucky. So I've never had an urge to try.

5) I taught myself to needlepoint in college. One of my grandmothers needlepointed and quilted, and taught my female cousins when they were young, but I wasn't interested. When I got interested, I learned, and I've done a couple of very cool projects.

6) When I was a kid, I spent so much time in the sun that I tanned through my bathing suit pattern on more than one occasion. One year, I sported an anchor on my front in different levels of tan.

7) Artichokes are my favorite vegetable; when I was a kid, my Mom let my sibling and I each choose a veggie to plant in the yard. We got two artichoke plants for me, and those plants (or their offshoots) were still producing artichokes 30 some years later, last I checked. And they were GOOD artichokes.

8) I seriously dislike the taste of beer. It's considered sort of unAmerican to dislike beer up here in the Northwoods. The only way I can really tolerate beer is mixed half and half with Coke. But then, why mess with a good Coke?

That's it. I'm supposed to tag other folks, but I've been seeing this meme go around for a while now, and I think most folks who are interested have done it. If you haven't, and you're interested, please be tagged!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

There are 10 kinds of people

Those who think in binary, and those who don't.

I just laughed when I saw that and couldn't resist passing it along. But I don't remember where I saw it! (Sorry!)

Happy Independence Day

When I was a teenager, my older cousin's husband was British, and at some point, had some funny bumperstickers about the revolution. My favorite was "Tea Dumping Pollutes."


Quite by accident, the book I'm listening to at night these days is David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing, a book that recounts the military activities and issues leading up to (so far) the famed crossing of the Delaware in December 1776.

It's a fascinating book, performed well.

When I was a little kid, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. There, among other things, we went to the National Archives. I still remember my Mom helping me make out the writing on a letter on display, and her explaining so that I'd understand. The letter was from a husband to wife, I think, and what I most remember is that he talked about how he'd be treated as a traitor and hung if he were caught, and that he didn't know the colonists would win the war.

For some reason, that astounded me. It's hard to remember that the people who fought the revolutionary war WERE traitors as far as the British were concerned. It's even harder to remind myself that what seems obvious to us, that the colonies became the states, developed an astounding constitution, and grew to be a pretty amazing (though far from perfect) exercise in governing and being goverened.

Fischer's book talks about the occupation of New Jersey by the British, and how colonists would gather in small groups and ambush British patrols, shooting them, stealing their stuff, and then taking off. As every U.S. schoolkid learns, the colonists did this without wearing uniforms, making the occupying army rework its tactics in response, and making small patrol duty extraordinarily dangerous.

One point Fischer makes that I'd never thought about in these terms is that Europeans had developed rules of war that worked within European contexts, and one of those rules was that combatants have to wear uniforms. In the revolutionary context of 1776, the British felt within rights to treat un-uniformed armed men to immediate death by hanging without benefit of trial (when they could, of course).

The problem of non-uniformed combatants was in the news from Vietnam a lot when I was a kid, and is in the news from Iraq now. The difference is that this time the U.S.ians are the ones insisting that not wearing a uniform is wrong, and that non-uniformed combatants are worse than criminals (though, I think, not usually subject to immediate execution). And this time, the U.S. is the occupying army.

But we're now seeking to impose or re-impose European rules of war on a non-European population. Or not? I don't know what Iraqi practices would be without European influences; it's not like there hasn't been European influence for centuries.

I'm deeply disappointed by Bush's commuting of Libby's sentence this past week, not surprised, but disappointed. The day it happened, I wondered what it would take to make a significant portion of the U.S. population rise in revolution.

For one thing, of course, we can sue the government for redress a whole lot more easily. And whether we like taxes or not, we do vote for our representatives, and even vote on tax referenda.

There's something stunningly amazing at the fact that I know with as much certainty as I know pretty much anything that Bush will be out of office in a couple years, and that there's some chance that the government will change fairly substantially.

My irritation and disgust at recent Supreme Court decisions is tempered by my knowledge that eventually those justices will retire. I would like to encourage a number of them (five, to be exact) to retire in just about two years, but I don't want to blow up the Court or anything. Or maybe I just feel powerless to change things? (Because blowing up the court would just enable Bush to appoint nine younger justices, right?)

I fear war, but I'm in awe of the bravery of the people who stood up as revolutionaries, knowing they were traitors, and not knowing if they would win. My admiration isn't limited to those revolutionaries who won, either, though that's an important factor in the U.S.

I wish you all a safe Fourth, whether you're in the U.S. or not. I'm going to celebrate by sitting on the deck with friends, watching fireworks from two or three nearby towns (if all goes as it has in the past).

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

I'm SO Excited!

Sing it with me!

I finally went to see a travel agent today! I'll be teaching in Asia in the spring semester, and want to bookend my teaching with travel on either end, one trip in late December/January, and one in May. I figure, the heck with retiring (ever).

My fantasy vacations are Malaysia/Indonesia (especially Borneo), Thailand, and ?

I'm sort of open-minded, but I'm interested in seeing wildlife, especially birds (and orangs! or gibbons!). And I'm interested in seeing cultural stuffs. But not so much in big cities (I've spent some time in some big cities, and they're great fun! But now for something different).

Nepal and Tibet would be wonderful, too. She tried to talk me into China, but I don't tend to have fantasies about China. I want an adventure!

And I'd love to have some suggestions. (There are more places to visit than time, alas.)


I stress way too much over stuff I shouldn't. Today, I had a mammogram, just the usual bleeping middle-age screening thing. But I lost sleep over it worrying, felt ucky in my gut. It's not fun, no. (Seriously, last time my breasts hurt for four days.) I haven't been manhandled like that... I was going to say since high school, but more like since my last mammogram. But it wasn't worth the energy I put into fretting. And now it's done.

The thing is, I don't worry about my breasts or breast cancer, except when it's time for the mammogram. And now I'll have this undercurrent of stress until I hear or get a little postcard in the mail. (Someday, I'll tell you all about my telegram from hell weekend.)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thinking Blogger

The Blog that Ate Manhattan nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award. (There's a graphic thingy there, and rules too) Thanks, TBTAM!

The idea is that I now get to point to five other blogs that make me think. I'm trying to choose people I haven't noticed being already nominated, but I may have missed something or forgotten.

Dr Virago over at Quod She. First, it's rare that the title of a blog says so very much in two short words. Dr. V teaches me a lot about teaching, and generously shares ideas.

Terminal Degree plays the kazoo, teaches music, and writes a great blog. I love reading about her teaching experiences, especially this past year, her first at a new school.

A Ianqui in the Villiage, yet another academic who makes me think, often about environmental issues and the good life.

Heo Cwaeth writes a feminist blog about graduate school and beyond. My only complaint is that she doesn't post as often as I'd like. But then, she's a busy woman! And a medievalist.

New Kid on the Hallway has been going through some changes, and she always makes me think. What is it with all these medievalist types?