Friday, August 31, 2007


Four meetings today, including an hour and a half with my first year program writing class. I predict mentor brilliance in all sorts of ways. M led most of the class, and did very well.

I had some time at noon, and the bike was in the office, so I went out for a quick ride and settled for a snack bar for lunch instead of a burger.

I talked to a friend who's a much more serious biker than I am about biking the other day about how just fun it is to ride a really fun bike. Mine fits me pretty darned well now, and sometimes it just feels so right when I ride that it's magical. It's like legs and lungs, just pushing and breathing.

Today was like that for part of the ride. I'm not the most athletic person, but sometimes I hit a really good rhythm and it just feels really good and free.

I love the way you can see so much of the machinery of a bike, and how focused a bike's design is on turning the rider's energy into forward motion. (Still, I've read, a lot of energy is lost to heat. Even so, a good biker on a good bike is really energy efficient. I'm not that biker.)

Here's the magic machine. My friend L took the picture, and I'm posting it with her permission.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It looks sort of hunkered towards the front, I think. Partly that's the tilted toptube, a feature of the "comfort" geometry that results in the handlebars being relatively high compared to the saddle. (Mine are about the same height.) And partly that's because the distance between the saddle and the handlebar stem is slightly shorter because it's a woman's specific geometry.

But dang, this is one fun bike! I rode up a hill yesterday going to a meeting, and I was just grinning when I got to the top. (The people at the meeting were kind about my biking togs, too.) I felt like a kid out riding today, happy to get out and get into rhythm and clear my mind for the next meetings.

It's just too bad I couldn't afford a full set of spokes!

Thursday, August 30, 2007



I tend to think of Iowa as just one step from Kansas in terms of scary, right-wing states.

I take it all back. Go Iowa! (Yes, I realize this is only a district court decision, but still!)

Random Observations from Meetings

I've been spending way too much time in meetings this past week. I'm pretty good at meetings where we're trying to do a fairly specific task. I can focus well and all. I'm less good at meetings where we discuss things, even though I think the topic of discussion is really important. I lose focus, get impatient and such.

Some of these are disguised slightly. But the basics are there.

Why is it that some people are always five to ten minutes late to a committee meeting, not because they're rushing from something else, but because they're standing outside the office talking to someone? I need to learn not to take the lateness personally, especially when I'm chair, because it's not personal, just a timing thing some folks have. (I'm sort of obsessive about being on time for meetings and such, though not necessarily about other things.)

Why is it that the person talking most about the importance of interpersonal relations and sensitivity is also the person who regularly stomps on other peoples' feelings in public?

Why is it that the person complaining loudly about helicopter parents is also the person who has to leave campus by 3:30 pm to be at home when her teenager gets home from school? And why is a married woman bragging that her (also faculty) husband "babysits" sometimes?

(To be honest, I'm very torn about dealing with other peoples' parenting issues. I respect the responsibility that comes with parenting. I think we should have good, affordable child care on campus for students, staff, and faculty. But I don't want to have to schedule meetings to accomodate child care issues, nor do I think child care issues should always trump other issues.)

Why are we renting a "Men's Club" hall to have a meeting where we discuss privilege and diversity? Why do some people give us dirty looks when several of us mention that there are a lot of dead animals on the walls. And why is one of the dead animal parts on the wall the rearend of a deer with his/her tail raised? (I didn't climb on a chair to get a really good look.)

I worry when a person I respect as intelligent and able can't seem to take meeting notes without stopping us every few minutes to go back over something, repeatedly. Best case scenario, lack of sleep or something. Worst case? Way worse.

Some people always have to talk even if their baileywick has nothing to do with the topic under discussion. I fear becoming one of those people. I worry that people will think I'm over the edge because I bring up some issue more than once.

(People think I'm over the edge because I ride my bike around. I also sing to my bike when I make it up a hill or something. "Oooo, you make me sing, whatever this world can give to me, Oooo, you make me ride now, bikey, ooo you make me sing! Your my best bike!" What? Why are you looking at me like that?)

When I got home this evening and looked out over the deck, I realized that my deck planter plants looked pretty darned sad. They get dry fast, especially the sunflowers. I watered, and an hour and a half later, they're all looking much better. Plants can be amazing that way! Go go sunflowers!

Edited to add one last thing: We have a committee basically called something like the Contra-Obfuscation Collective. Yeah. COC. Speak Acronym!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I did something right, yesterday. This happens rarely enough that it's worth noting.

Today, a person with some authority said that I'd convinced him/her, and that s/he'd talked to the two other higher ups involved, and they agreed despite their initial reservations.

Dang. I actually did something right.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Head Banging and High School English

I was on campus and saw one of our graduate students doing some paperwork or something. Like many of our grad students, Rob is doing a teaching credential and working towards an MA. He was excited because he'd done some student teaching this past semester.

Rob seems like a good guy. He wants to be a good teacher. He's concerned about justice and equality in his teaching.

I asked what he'd taught, and, alas, not being much of an actor, I winced when he started telling me about the joys of teaching Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. He saw my reaction, and asked about it.

I detested The Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school. I just wasn't interested.

Later, when I thought about it after some years of doing literature, I realize that I hated it because we were taught it as if we were supposed to somehow identify with Holden Caulfield, and I just wasn't good at identifying with a prep school boy from the 50s.

Face it, I knew even in my deep innocence then that any female who'd run around doing the things Caulfield does in the novel would have been raped and probably dead.

I explained my reaction to Rob, and he momentarily protested (because really, no one was raped in the 50s... and then he realized that wasn't so). Rob grew disappointed and asked how I'd approach teaching the novel. Err, I wouldn't, really, but if I had to, I'd teach it as an example of how one sort of white masculinity works and gets represented in given contexts. I'd discourage students from identifying with Caulfield, and instead try to get them to think critically about why this book gets taught to them.

And yes, this is why I don't teach high school. (One reason, at least.)

I acknowledged to Rob that it would be difficult to work this way in a high school. And then he surprised me and said that the master teacher he'd worked with had been really open minded, ready to really challenge the status quo at the school, and welcomed his ideas for teaching the American Lit class.

Aha, I said, then that gives you a great opportunity to use The Catcher in the Rye as a contrast to other sorts of representation and experience, right? Set up Caulfield in contrast with the narrator of The Woman Warrior to talk about family relationships and growing up issues/choices, or show how Salinger's representation of masculinity in the 50s differs from Wright's or Ellison's in the 40s, or Malcolm X's autobiography in the 50s/60s! There's a world of great possibility!

So I asked what else they'd taught.

One book was by a woman. No books were by people of color or first generation immigrants.

How the heck is that sort of syllabus supposed to represent the "American Experience" in any meaningful way?

I worry that Rob thought he and his master teacher were challenging sexism, racism, the patriarchy, or anything else. The master teacher? Also a student of ours.

What the heck are we teaching these teachers in our ed courses? And why aren't we teaching them to think on even a basic level about the canon they teach?

Some days, I despair. If these are our teachers, and they're teaching the local students, I despair. And I know I'd hate English studies as much today as I did when I was in high school. That makes me sad.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Secret Lives of Faculty Revealed

What really happens at faculty retreats?

Singalong! (To the tune of "The Wells Fargo Wagon" from Oklahoma)

Oh ho the new students are a'comin' down the street,
Oh please let them come see me!!
Oh ho the new students are a'comin' down the street,
I wish, I wish they know they should study!

I got a chem'stry major for working in my lab!

In spring I have collaborative research!

And once I got a Chaucer student readin'!

Education Advisor:
Admissions sent me sixty new advisees and a printout with their names!

Oh ho the new students are a'comin' now
Are they red hots or wastrels?

One could love Faulkner!

Profesor de Espanol:
Or Spanish!

Or mineralogy!

Or it could be!

Faculty as one:
Yes, it could be,
Yes, you're right it surely could be!

Someone special!

Faculty as one:
Someone very, very special now!

For my class!

Oh ho, the new students are a comin' down the hall
Oh don't let them pass my class!
Oh ho, the new students are a comin' down the hall
Where oh where did I lose my syllabus?

I taught a sem'nar in Semantics last September,

And I'm up for some Embryology!

I'm gonna split an atom any day!

GLBT Alliance (with four part harmony, and feeling):
The provost promises some funding for our new center!

New Tenure Track Hire:
Oh ho, the new students are a comin' down the hall
I don't know how I can ever wait to see
They could be study'ing with someone who is
Full professor, but they could be, someone special
For my class!

Oh ho, you new students keep a comin'
Oh ho, you new students keep a comin'
Oh ho, you new students don't you dare make a stop
Until you sit in my class!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

How Did I Let This Happen?

I have at least five hours of meetings scheduled for every single day this week.

Why is it that when something is labeled a "retreat," I think retreating would probably be a good idea?

Since I posted about our class availability issue, I've learned a whole lot about how our admissions folks handle things to meet the target number they're given in the fall (for the next fall's admissions, for both first year and transfer students). The accuracy with which they can hit their targets is astounding.

And, I've learned who is really responsible for making sure there are enough seats available for students through the university.

I still haven't learned what, if anything, can be done to make the seat planning process more effective, though.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Campus Speakers

My campus invites a variety of speakers to come to campus to speak to our community (on and off campus). I tend to encourage my students to go to at least one campus speaker, as part of my efforts to get them to try some of the variety of intellectual pursuits available around campus.

In the past several years, I've noticed a trend, coincident with the "student life" folks' growing emphasis on "alcohol education." Evidently, there's a huge market in "Hollywood Has-Beens with Substance Abuse Problems" who go on speaking tours every fall, travelling from college to college, university to university, expounding on the ills of alcohol and whatever other substances they really like(d).

If campus rumors are true, a recent Hollywood Has-Been who spoke on campus then went out drinking with some of the "student life" folks, ending up quite drunk in a local student bar. I must admit, I'm unconvinced that having a Hollywood Has-Been speak convinces any of our students not to drink underage or to excess, or not to try whatever the substance du jour is on campus.

This fall, we have a Hollywood Has-Been coming to campus. The other speaker is a child of a famous couple who's going to speak on an imaginary non-being. Think unicorns. And no, the speech isn't along the lines of "Unicorns in the Graphic Art of Medieval France," or "Popular Marketing and Unicorns: Lessons in Selling to Pre-Teen Girls." Nope, it's more along the lines of "Unicorns!"

Two speakers. What do these speakers contribute to the intellectual life of the university?

I called the appropriate office today to suggest a speaker (the guy who puts together PostSecret is now speaking on campuses; that could be way cool), and by the by mentioned my disappointment with the speakers for this term. The person on the other end of the line said that s/he'd heard a lot of complaints. I hope they listen to the complaints!

I won't be encouraging my students to go to these talks this semester, alas.

Does anyone know if there's even the slightest bit of evidence that the Hollywood Has-Been speaker model contributes anything to changing student drinking behavior?

Our students are utterly cynical about the Hollywood Has-Beens, cynical far beyond me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's not just English and/or the Humanities

Pharyngula has got a post today about the numbers of biology PhDs coming through the pipeline compared with the numbers of tenure track jobs out there, and the numbers are pretty darned dismal.

Myers jokingly asks if the young biology PhDs are all waiting for him to die.

When I was on the market, my grad cohort had joking fantasies about Legionnaire's disease somehow getting into the air conditioning/heating systems of the big MLA hotels. (It's famous for afflicting folks at a convention and attacks middle-aged and older folks harder. It's the perfect MLA horror film disease!)

At least English folks don't usually have to do endless post-docs. It sounds like biology post-docs up the opportunity cost of doing a biology PhD hugely. On the other hand, biology PhDs tie in a bit more directly with industry opportunities than English PhDs. (Unless someone knows a major industry that wants to hire a resident Shakespearean?)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Uh Oh

Twice in the past two days I've said things that were, well, less than politically self-protective.

I asked a rather pointed question in a public meeting. When one person was asked to respond, he stood with his arms tightly crossed over his chest, toeing the party line.

And tonight, I talked too openly at a gathering about a problem. With a dean. Who is sort of part of the problem.

In neither case can I blame alcohol or anything like that, just built up frustration.

If tenure is worth anything, then it's worth being able to ask questions and tell a dean that there is indeed a problem. For too long, in too many situations, I've hunkered down and kept my mouth shut, just trying to survive and get by.

Even with tenure, it's way scarier when you don't care enough about getting by to hunker down any more.

Yes or No?

A student emailed me about overloading into a course.

On one hand, I really want to stick tough and say no. We've set course number limits where we have for good reasons, and those reasons haven't changed. When we overload classes, we dilute the educational experience of all the students in the class.

The student didn't get registered in a timely manner for whatever reason. One potential reason is that in order to register, students have to pay a deposit up front. For students who are most hard up, that deposit's hard to pay. Students rarely mention that reason, however, either because that's not the reason they didn't get registered, or because they're too embarassed to acknowledge that as a reason.

Of course, we offer fewer courses because the taxpayers are less and less willing to fund public education, and being a state school, we depend in good part on tax funding.

Ideally, we would fill every seat in every class ever term. That would mean 100% efficiency for course enrollment.

Ideally, every full-time student would be able to take a full schedule of courses every term (according to their plans and such).

If we met those two ideals, then full time students would finish in four years. When they can't fill their schedule appropriately, students take longer. When they change their minds a bunch, they may also take longer. Lots of things can contribute to students taking longer than four years to graduate. As an educator, I'm not troubled by students who graduate in five or even six full-time years.

But most taxpayers don't want to fund students for more than a minimum; many taxpayers would rather stop funding the state university system altogether, it seems. And so the system budget shrinks, and the numbers of seats we can offer shrink, but we need to maintain enrollment on our campus.

The thing is, so long as taxpayers think of a university education primarily as a private good, something that benefits the graduate, then minimizing support for the state system makes sense to them. If a taxpayer sees a university education as being in large part a public good, something that benefits the community as well as the graduate, then paying for the system makes better sense. Tax-based funding for public education has dropped across the board in the US, and that drop suggests that fewer people see education as a public good. I hear lawmakers at all levels talk about cutting taxes and I wonder at where we're headed. And I sometimes wonder how many of our students' parents think of a college education as a public good.

But in between the rock and the hard place are instructors and students. So I have to decide to allow the student to overload my class or not.

And while part of me wants to stick to the numbers, the other part of me sympathizes greatly with the student. I certainly don't want to take out my frustrations about the system, taxpayers, legislators, and poor administrative planning on the student.

How do I balance the lowered educational experience of the other people already registered with this student's educational experience? The class is already packed; how much does adding one more reduce everyone's experience? How much might this particular student add? Or not?

Monday, August 20, 2007


I got to the office with plans to accomplish two biggish projects (figuring out and setting the agenda for a committee I'm chairing at least temporarily, and roughing out the syllabus for my writing class), and one small task (checking my books in the bookstore) today before taking off to reread Perkin Warbeck. (That Ford guy isnt' half bad!)

I started in on figuring out the committee stuff. After an hour or so, I walked over to check books in the bookstore with a colleague and got coffee on the way back. All my books were in order (yay!), but my colleague was able to get a potential problem fixed BEFORE it became a real problem! (YAY!)

(Hint to new instructors: always check with your bookstore a couple weeks before classes start. Walk in, look at the books, and make sure things are what they should be. It is MUCH easier to fix potential problems two weeks before students arrive than to try to deal with them when students can't get the book you need for the first week. I've also found bookstore folks super helpful two weeks ahead because they aren't overwhelmingly busy AND because they can fix things before they become problems. One of the best things I ever learned about teaching.)

I returned to the office and got back to figuring out the committee stuff. And when I looked up, it was after 4pm.

The first good news is that we have a great administrative assistant over in the college office, and she's so great at helping me figure stuff out, work out solutions, and such. I need to get her some serious dark chocolate. My department's administrative assistants make life good here, too. Administrative assistants can make or break an office in so many ways!

The second good news is that I have some really helpful colleagues. Little things can make my life so much easier, and today several of my colleagues stepped up and took care of things with some simple email requests, things that weren't their responsibility, but that they could and did take care of. Yay colleagues!

The third good news is that I'm pretty sure I've got a good handle on chairing this committee this year.

The bad news: Perkin Warbeck will have to wait longer, which is bad because Stanley has just been arrested!

Trivia: I have this weird thing about Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. I just love the idea of someone being called "Lord Strange" (even if it wasn't pronounced that way). Pathetic, I know!. I actually looked him up in the DNB and read up on him once, and he seems pretty interesting (that was pre-Wikipedia, of course). And then he died young!

(Perkin Warbeck's Stanley is Lord Chamberlain William Stanley, brother of Thomas Stanley, then 1st earl of Derby, and thus a great something uncle to Ferdinando, or something.)

Quick, without looking, who is the Lord Chamberlain of "The Lord Chamberlain's Men" fame, and what other peer shared the name (with variant spelling sometimes) and was married to a quite famous female author in the period? (by period, let's go from, say 1580-1642).

Lord Chamberlain, name and peerage:
Other peer, name and peerage:
Famous female author and work(s):

Which ties back to Ferdinando Stanley how?

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Seems like the rain we've been missing for most of the summer started coming yesterday, and is going to keep on coming. Too late for crops (I've read), too much for the rivers.

One of the local stations says it's a 100 year event. Ugh.

For Christine

I read that a cleric soloed AoW. (Yeah, after spawning and soloing a Statue and Idol). It took just over 40 minutes. 900K hp.

I remember toes to the wall, eyes down, counting and hitting my mini-CH again and again when NO did AoW, and then us, and holy cow. I don't miss the toes to the wall thing, not at all, or the CH chains. I do miss some folks, though.

Which Chronology?

I'm teaching a class this coming term on early modern English history plays. I'm excited, and a bit nervous, since there are a ton of plays I haven't taught before on the syllabus.

I keep looking at the syllabus and thinking about how I'm arranging it.

I started off with the plays in chronological order of probable writing/performance. That's useful in terms of theatrical history. But most of my students aren't likely to be really strong in terms of political history, so how confusing is it to read, say, a play about Richard III before a play about Richard II?

And theatrical history-wise, will my students really make strong distinctions between plays written for the Theatre and plays written for the Globe? I don't, generally. How about Blackfriars? (And we'll be doing plays written as much for other theaters/conditions.)

So, I'm thinking of organizing sort of broadly in theatrical history terms:

Early/Academic/Pre-professional Theater

Professional Theater/Armada/Nationalism

Professional Theater/Later/Jacobean


I'm also thinking of having a short student presentation for each play: a five minute introduction to the writer (when known), early production history, publication history, maybe contextual stuff?

Maybe another quick introduction to the historical figure(s) in the play.

And then a longer discussion leading group who will be responsible for choosing a couple passages they want to talk about. I haven't felt particularly successful with getting students to lead discussions in the past, so I'm thinking that asking them to focus on a couple of passages they think are really interesting, and then working through those passages together with their questions and ideas might work. Ideas, folks?


I've never done a class with so many non-single author plays before!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Once More Unto the Bike, Dear Friends

The other day, I rode for the first time with a group.

I'd gone by a bike store in a nearby town recently, and asked about bike groups in the area, and they'd given me a lead. There are a number of biking groups in the area, but I hadn't known how to get in touch with them. The lead they gave me was for a group of women who ride.

I was worried about being strong enough to keep up and stuff, but I got up my nerve and called. There are three groups the woman I talked with rides with, one morning, one afternoon, and one weekend. The morning group sounded the least scary and soonest, so I joined them for a ride this week.

It went surprisingly well! I'm excited. It was fun to ride and chat, and I did fine keeping up. (I don't think they were slowing down for me.) We did 30+ miles, and while I was nice and tired after, I wasn't unpleasantly tired. We started out towards the country roads south of town, went through a tiny town I'd only heard of, and then circled to come into our town from a different direction, and got on the bike trail. We cut off the bike trail to avoid the center of town and rode back to where we'd met and parked.

South of town, we have hills. I've come to like hills once I'm up them. I look at them and think, hey, I rode up that, and I'm happy like a little kid. And then I get to ride down the other side and up the next one. (NB. These are little rolling hills, not mountainous hills, not the Rockies, Sierras, Adirondacks, Alps, etc.) Riding down, I'm trying not to be scared. Wheee!

I asked, and the women said I'd be fine with the other two groups, too. That's good, because once school responsibilities start, I won't be able to ride with the morning group, alas. But I hope to see these women again!

Sometimes on rides, I realize how far I've come, how much stronger and more in shape I am than I was when I started biking regularly a couple years ago. There's a hill off the side of the bike trail; after I'd been riding a bit, I would ride up and back down the hill as a bit of extra "training," a way to challenge myself. And it was a challenge.

The other day, near the end of the group ride, we headed up that same hill in order to avoid going through the center of town, and we just spun up it, none of us slowing much, because compared to the other hills we'd ridden that day, it was short and not too steep. I laughed, and told the woman I was riding next to about using it as a big training hill before, and she laughed, too.

Today, I went out for a short ride, just a relaxed ride. But the bike felt good. It just felt good, and I started going faster, and then I wanted to see how fast I could keep going. And I set a new Bardiac record for 10 miles: 17 mph average. For me, that's blazing fast, and a big improvement over my best speed at the beginning of the summer (when I was thrilled to average 16mph for 10-15 miles). And it felt good; I got into a rhythm of breathing with about every few pedal strokes and at certain points, it was just my legs and breathing, rhythm. I finished with five slower miles, though I think I could have kept up the speed for another five. There's tomorrow...

Tomorrow, if the weather looks okay, I'm going to try another group ride with the larger, weekend group. I'm told that they ride from some point in the area (broadly speaking), go get food, and then ride back. It looks like tomorrow's ride is planned at about 40 miles.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rock Meets Hard Spot

I work at a public university in a state which has seen economic rough times more than good of late. We've made a lot of cuts at the university, and they've hurt. We've raised class sizes, put off building maintenance (and actual building). We've cut tenure lines and hired adjuncts. We have some great adjuncts, but they're not paid adequately and we don't ask them to do committee work and such (though sometimes they do anyway). We're not in an area with a lot of grad programs, so we can't just hire someone ABD to teach a class twice a week, either. People pretty much have to be living here or move here to teach for us. The area doesn't attract a lot of random PhDs.

We've pushed enrollments to the point where we edging into less effective teaching (or gone over the edge). For example, if research were to show that the ideal class size for teaching first year composition or writing is 15-20, then once you push over 20, you're likely to be educating each of those 21+ students a little less well. Our regular first year writing classes run 28-30 students; we all think this is more than ideal, but it's the balance we've managed to work out given budgeting and such. Physically, 28-30 people is fine in some classrooms, but very tight in the space of other classrooms. Science labs only have so many lab spots; computer labs only have so many computer stations.

Grading changes drastically when you add extra students to a writing class; that's obvious. It's less obvious how class activities change. I can still run a pretty good class discussion up to about 35 students (our lit class enrollments); much beyond that and my class discussions are less and less effective. Even at 35, a student who doesn't want to be noticed doesn't get called on much, especially if there are a few engaged and energetic students in the class. But if you want to do presentations of any sort, adding students makes that less and less manageable. Some group work seems to go well with any size class, while other sorts of group work don't.

(Classes that are too small are another issue, one that I've not come up against much.)

What I'm trying to get at is that we're running pretty lean.


We faculty folk got an email the other day, informing us that X first year students didn't attend summer orientation and so haven't registered, but all the classes of appropriate levels are full.

We're not an open enrollment university, so these students didn't suddenly decide to enroll at the last minute; the admissions folks have known the numbers since they got letters of intent way back in late spring. Thus, even if these X students had gone to orientation, classes would have filled up before the last X students in orientation got a chance to enroll.

In other words, someone didn't plan well way back in spring to reconcile the numbers of students with the classroom seats we need for those students. And, of course, those students don't just take one class, they average something between four and five classes a term. So that's 4X seats we need. And they should have known that last spring.

You know, last spring when they could have tried to hire on some extra adjuncts? Last spring when they could have offered instructors already on the payroll an overload class for extra pay?

But those solutions cost money.

So instead, this email asked us all to open our lower level classes for just one or two extra students. If everyone just adds a few spots, the email pleads, these students will have plenty of room.

Remember, though, we're already at (or beyond) the upper limit of class size for effective teaching; we've been there for many years. Each student I overload at this point likely makes the class less effective for every student. So it's not just a matter of my being willing to do extra grading work. It's a matter, to use the administrative lingo, of student outcomes. And it's all about students, right?

Want to guess how many times I've gotten similar emails?

Here's what I've never seen, though:

I've never seen an administrator stand up and say, "I'm responsible for making sure we have enough seats for all our entering students, but I didn't do a good job."

And so I've never seen an administrator stand up and say, "I didn't do my job well; here's how I'm going to do this job better next year. You can hold me accountable."

I can't say how much I would admire and respect an administrator who stood up and took responsibility and who then took responsibility for changing things so we don't do this every year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Make Me Crazy

I was talking with a colleague from a different department today, chatting along about classes and such, and she started in on what poor writers our students are in her classes. And then about what poor students our students are in a more generalized sense; they don't study enough, read enough, aren't smart enough.

I hate this. I'm not perfect, and I'm sure you can find more than one occasion here where I've taken a student or more to task. Some things students do drive me absolutely bonkers.

But I still hate hearing someone put down our students, or students in general, and I especially hate it from faculty folks and graduate student teachers.

First, if you made it into/through a MFA/PhD or other terminal program, you probably aren't a typical student. You're an outlier on the curve of what it takes to get into/through an academic program. (That doesn't mean you're smarter than someone who left the program, though. And it probably guarantees you'll make less income.) That other students make choices you didn't doesn't mean they're wrong or making bad choices, though sometimes people DO make bad choices.

Second, if you read academic histories or read back in notes of department meetings or whatever, you'll quickly learn that from the first classes, instructors have complained about their students not being as good, dedicated, studious, whatever as the instructors were back in the day.

If we take these complaints seriously, then we're on a long slow curve downward, and the end of civilization is nigh. Of course, it was nigh when colleges and universities let literature be taught in English departments, instead of sticking to philology, way back when. And it was nigh when Yale went through its crisis in the early 19th century. (Not So Secret: In private, Ivy profs complain about their students, too.)

If there's any rule in education it's that people in education are always talking about the crisis in education.

Third, have you looked at the papers you turned in as a first year college student? If they're like mine, they'll horrify you. People talk about grade inflation, but it's incredibly hard to tell if the upward trend in GPAs means that we're grading easier OR if students are actually doing better work. Or perhaps we're doing a better job teaching?

Most of the people I've heard complain bitterly about students come from fairly privileged backgrounds. They went to Grand Old Ivy, and now they're teaching at Public School X, or SLAC Y, and they're certain that their students are horrible compared to themselves as students. And they're certain that their students are at PS X or SLAC Y because they don't merit admission to GOI.

There's an assumption here that drives me crazy: some students get into GOI because they're so absolutely outstanding and full of merit that they earned a full scholarship to Grand Old Ivy out of Underprivileged High. But most didn't. Most got in because they had some relatively rare opportunities and did well with them. Acceptance into GOI isn't solely based on academic merit, not when our unbeloved Shrub went, and not now. (Heck, at one time "merit" to get into Grand Old Ivy basically meant you were a white male from a prosperous family. Women weren't admitted, nor people of color, no matter how smart or hard-working.)

Our best students here at NorthWoods can compete anywhere. I know this because they earn some pretty amazing national honors. And they earn them without the benefits of GOI's name on their applications.


There's also the killer problem, the one I don't bring up in conversation with my colleague, Debbie from Grand Old Ivy, because despite tenure, I still retain minimal social skills. Debbie went to GOI, and then GOI2 for her PhD. And yet, despite what she considers her obvious superiority, here she is teaching at NorthWoods U. If she's really all that, shouldn't she be back at GOI with a named chair and all?

The thing is, there are few jobs at GOI, and most GOI phuds, even with all the benefits of the GOI background, aren't going to teach there. And of all the well-qualified, meritorious potential students, a lot won't imagine GOI even as a possibility for application.

I'm not saying that all students are wonderfully studious, or nearly as studious as I might wish them to be. But I am saying that I recognize my own nerdiness/geekiness in surviving in academics, that I recognize that I was disappointing to numerous instructors, that I chose to watch TV sometimes instead of study (or to pretend that I could do both at the same time).

And I recognize that I didn't get to college all or perhaps even mostly on my own merit, but had social advantages and opportunities that a lot of students in my generation didn't have.

So I try to remind myself not to put down my students as a group, but to see that they're individuals, and that their worth and value has nothing to do with their abilities to study, their love of Shakespeare, or their willingness to jump academic hoops for the sake of jumping academic hoops. (Sometimes, I need a kick in the keester to remember, though.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

75 Miles

Yep. Here are some highlights.

Park, unload, extra food. I carry two water bottles.

Mile 9: The trail gets rough around mile 9. I slow my spin and feel myself tense up.

Mile 10: Tiny Town A. There's a trail head here, a waterfountain, and a latrine. Also a little store where you can get food or drink. I refill my first water bottle, and use the latrine. In the Bardiac rating system, this latrine gets an A+; there's almost no odor; the floor's relatively clean, and bonus! there's toilet paper! Flies are minimal.

Mile 17: I pass through Tiny Town B. There's a building with a coke sign, but it looks like it's been closed for at least 20 years. A guy's mowing in one area, and later, a woman is hanging laundry. That's going to smell good when it dries!

Mile 22+/-: Road splits. I take the road better paved, which promises 7 miles of smooth biking happiness to Small Town C. Along in here, I break out a food bar thing and eat some. I quickly realize that I'm not really good at chewing and riding a bike. When I ride, I tend to breath through my mouth, and I just can't do that and chew.

Mile 30: I ride through Small Town C to find a gas station that's open so I can get some "rehydration drink." I lean the bike against the outside wall and walk in, and there's one of my students from last year in charge of the cash register. I get a Gatorade and stand in the coolness and chat.

She's excited to be coming back to school, and tells me about the classes she'll be taking this coming semester. She tells me about the difficulty she had adjusting her first semester, and how she hit her stride during the second semester. We talk a bit about dorms and the fun of classes. I use the bathroom and refill my water bottle (with permission, of course). My student wishes me a good ride, and I invite her to come drop by when the term begins again.

There's a state/highway patrol guy and a county sheriff guy. At least I can be pretty sure I'm not going to get busted for speeding on my bike.

Mile 37: I'm back to the road split; this time, I take the other choice, belying Robert Frost's assertion. But then, neither of these trails seems less traveled.

Mile 39: I cross the most impressive bridge of the ride; it's an old trestle bridge, maybe a quarter mile across. I love riding across bridges on my bike. I'm not sure why, but it makes me smile.

After the bridge, the trail is packed dirt. I've ridden this trail a couple times now, and I'm less charmed each time. I can feel my wrists, arms, and shoulders working hard to handle the bumpiness. I keep moving my hands around, though I like the drops best, I rotate on the hoods and on the top bar, so that my wrists don't hurt.

Mile 44: I reach Small Town D, and ride up the hill, hoping my favorite malt place is open. It's not, so I go to another little diner. There are maybe five tables here, and when I walk in, they're all occupied. A senior-looking guy smiles at one of the tables, and I ask if he minds if I share. He doesn't, so I order my grilled cheese sandwich and malt, and sit. We chat about the town, and he tells me about working at a lumbermill in the area. We talk about how the trees have changed around here, the bike trail, the pleasure of being outside on a nice day. The women making food and taking care of the counter tease him about keeping in line, and one of them sits with us and chats. He's clearly well-liked here. He stands up and goes to the counter, and one of the women tells me he's bought me lunch. I thank him, and he sits down to chat some more.

I ask about the other place, and hear that the owner's having some arcane sounding health problems. I wish her well.

My grilled cheese is yummy, and the malt hits the spot, and it's relaxing and pleasant to sit in the cool and chat for a bit. I thank him again for my lunch, and for sharing his table; we shake hands he says he hopes I have a good ride and that we meet again. And I'm off. (I take yet another latrine break at the trail head, and yet again, the latrine earns an A+ rating. And, again, I refill the water bottle.)

Mile 49: Back to the bridge. Swimmers look like they're getting ready to jump off the bridge and into the water. Hmmm. That seems like a bad idea. I hope it's really deep down there!

I'm really glad to be off the packed dirt trail and back on the roughened asphalt.

Mile 53: The trail takes me along the side of a river, maybe 15 feet up and off, with a lot of trees and brush between the trail and the river. At this area, the river is wide and seems very smooth and slow. That may be deceptive. The opposite shore is gravelly, shallowly sloped, and clear of vegetation for a long way off the water from where the water usually is.

As I'm riding, I notice (through the brush) a big and very dark thing near the shore across the river; on second glance, I notice there's white on top. I stop, turn and go look, and indeed, it's a Bald Eagle, either standing in the shallow water, or on something in the water. I can't tell from where I was. It's so quiet, just the ripples of the river and the occasional rustling of leaves on the trees.

And then the eagle takes off, and thwath, thwath, thwath, I can actually hear his wings beating as he flaps from across the river. I'm awed. He lands a little bit further along the river, in the shallows. The eagle alone is worth the price of admission.

I'm really feeling tired in the arms and wrists; I'm glad the eagle gave me an excuse to take a short break.

Mile 63: Back at Tiny Town A; I stop at the trail head and chat with a couple people there. A ranger comes by, and we chat about wildlife we've seen. I tell him about the eagle.

Yet another latrine break. And water refill.

I thank the ranger for taking care of us folks on the trail, and he tells me it's a fun job. Smiles and waves, and I'm off again.

Mile 64: Back on the smooth trail. My speed picks up a tad; my arms and shoulders relax. This feels so much better!

Mile 73: I'm back to the car. I stop and drink some of the icy chocolate soy milk I've got in a small cooler. There's still ice, small pieces, which come out with the chocolatey goodness and feel incredibly cold and good.

I get back on the bike and ride into town for a mile, and then back, so that I'll actually do a whole 75 miles.

What did I learn? 75 miles is a long way. I think I can do 100, but it's going to be long!

I was on the bike for about 5 and 1/2 hours, not counting the rest and eating stops. Another 25 miles would add at probably two full hours.

I've really begun to hate the rough part of the trail. If I do 100 miles, I'm thinking I'll either ride on some roads, or ride the first ten miles to Tiny Town A and back five times, and just do it. That would be boring, but 7-8 hours on a bike isn't going to be a thrill around here anyway. The advantage of the trail is that I'd have food/water or whatever available easily, either at the little store, trailhead, or my car. And the trail is pretty flat compared to most roads, so much easier. But I'm thinking that would be a whole lot easier on the arms and wrists.

I need to carry some ointment to add midway or something. I'm a bit chaffed (but not badly, thank goodness!).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

1500 Miles

Since January 1st. Check.

I've done well over 2000 miles in the past 12 months. I haven't lost weight. :(

Bonus: I found an "in" for teaching the book I posted about the other day, and it's NOT going to involve cussing for two weeks about the sexism. (I will inevitably talk about the way it constructs gender some, but I won't bore myself!)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Adventures in Lawn Care

I'm not one of those neighbors whose lawn is the envy of the neighborhood. For one thing, I seem to have a deep-seated unwillingness to water the lawn, especially since watering involves dragging around a hose and sprinkler attachment. (And sprinkler attachments never really seem to work right for more than three goes.) The next town over has been on water rationing (yes, here in the midwest), doing a water only every other day at most thing based on address numbers or something. I'm not sure why my town isn't rationing, but since we've gotten so little rain this year and last, I'm not wasting water on the lawn. (The river is low, and when it's low it tends to smell pretty disgusting, even from up on the bike trail. I choose not to think about this when I wade in during the spring, even though the disgusting is there beneath the abundance of water.)

For another thing, I seem to be growing wildflowers in my lawn. I choose to call them wildflowers. Others might call them dandelions, or weeds, or something.

Fortunately (or not, depending on your viewpoint), my next door neighbors have an even uglier lawn. Last summer, the side of their lawn got pretty ugly. So late in the summer, they dug it up and put in new sod. Except they didn't get quite enough sod, so there were bare rectangles of dirt. And then they didn't water the sod, so it died. Did you know that when newly installed sod dies, it sort of curls up at the edges of each rectangle? True!

Just this past week, they dug out the dead sod again. Early this week, two huge piles of sod appeared. It's Friday now, and the two piles are still piles. Have you heard about the heat wave through the midwest? It's not nearly as bad here as many places, but I'm guessing the sod piles aren't ideal for storing sod in the heat. I could well be wrong.

My back "yard" is divided into two areas (as are most in my neighborhood). We're sort of on the top of a steepish hill, so most households mow near the top, and let the sides go wild. I've got a few trees in my steep back area, including a maple I planted. I'm slowly adding to my garden, and I expect in the next year or two to add a couple more trees down there.

What with the dryness and all, I haven't mown much lately. The grass hasn't really grown much, but the prairie-type plants that thrive through it all sure have. So I mowed them this morning.

As I was mowing along, I noticed a plastic stringy thing, the kind of plastic strapping material that gets used to hold together all sorts of big packaged stuff, the kind that's nearly uncuttable. I get all sorts of plastic junk in the yard (and down in the valley below me) from either the neighbors or the highway. (People are disgusting and careless; where are those don't litter ads from the 60s?) I didn't want to ruin my mower (which is already challenged by the prairie plants), so I picked it up and put it aside. But when I went to throw it out, I realized it wasn't plastic at all. It's a shed snake skin! How cool is that? VERY!

I measured it, and it's over 23" long (I didn't straighten it very well because it's sort of delicate), but very slim. I've read that Timber Rattlesnakes sometimes can be found this far north, but there's no evidence of rattles on the skin, so I'm guessing it's not a rattler. I don't think there are any other potentially dangerous (to bigger critters such as humans) snakes around.

Can I say how jazzed I am that some snake's been in my yard?

I'm imagining that it eats insects, but maybe will grow up to eat voles and stuff? Eat snake, eat! I'd be eternally grateful if it grew big enough to eat the rabbits!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Bardiac's Bad Attitude

I've got an attitude problem.

My colleagues and I did a common text project thing in our first year writing class last year using Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed. Last spring we decided on a new text, one written by an author from the Greater Northwoods. It wasn't the text I hoped to be teaching, and I thought long and hard before ordering it for my class this semester. On the positive side, I think there's something to be said for being a cooperative colleague and trying to work well with others. And several of my colleagues have taught the book before and think it works well, so perhaps they're right.

On the other hand, they've taught the book because they decided not to cooperate and teach the Ehrenreich book. It was an effective strategy, apparently. But it seems, well, mildly irritating to me.

One of the biggest things I try to teach my first year college writing students is that their college writing should make a point. When I finish reading it, I should know why I've been reading it. I think that's hugely important.

I also think that most college writing assignments don't ask students to tell a story in an obvious way. Lab report assignments ask students to tell a highly stylized story, and then to do some analysis. Some assignments ask students to tell bits of stories, anecdotes, or such, but most focus on asking students to analyze, synthesize, and make arguments. Students start practicing story-telling from the moment they start putting together sentences. They know the basics. They don't know nearly as much about analyzing, synthesizing, or arguing. So I focus on those things, and don't ask my students to write stories, per se.

As I'm rereading this text, I've been getting frustrated. I don't hate the text in that way that makes it deliciously nastily wonderful to teach. But, I'm just not feeling an "in" to teaching it.

I don't quite see that it's making a point. It tells stories, and wanders around, but I'm not really getting a point. So I'm not sure that this is a good model for student writing. (Though it often uses language in interesting ways.)

The book starts with a simile comparing summer to an overweight "chick." That's the first sentence. And it's not talking about fowl. What the heck am I supposed to do with that? Am I supposed to be impressed because there's yet another comparison of nature and female humans? Yep, it does use a Yiddish word to describe the "chick," a word which sounds strangely out of place in the book and in this part of the midwest.

Females, as I reread, are rarely named, and grouped as "girl," "chick," "wife," or "old lady." Men get names. Men have personalities. Men have stories worth retelling.

Okay, so I've got a bad attitude about this book. I'm less than thrilled. And I don't know what I'm going to do with it in class. But I've ordered it.


I feel pretty responsible in life for making myself happy if I reasonably can. I don't depend much on other people to make me happy, though I hugely appreciate when they do (and some folks do so regularly).

So I decided that I need to do something to find my "in" to teaching this book. Today, step one. FIELD TRIP!

Yes, Adventure Bardiac went over to the Small Town featured in the text. I put gas in the tank, put the bike on the back rack, and off I went. My idea was to drive around a bit, get a sense of the town, have lunch, and if the roads seemed reasonable, park somewhere and bike around.

I went. I found some of the places mentioned in the text. I'm not sure what I expected to get out of that; I'm really not much of a pilgrimage type person, but what the heck. I drove around for a while, found some wilderness areas to look at. Fortunately, I've got the sort of middle-class white woman look that tends, in my experience, to inspire people to wonder if I'm lost rather than to worry that I'm a threat, if they notice me at all. I drove by a diner twice, but it looked particularly uninviting. And the roads didn't have much shoulder, and didn't inspire me to want to get on the bike and ride.

But at least I got out and tried, right?

I was interested to see that this small town's welcoming signage advertises some seven churches. I have to emphasize that this is a small town. Seven churches? And yet the book doesn't seem to be talking about religion or such. I wonder what's happening here? (Nope, I don't expect even a non-fiction book to represent reality in any way, but it's interesting that a small town can support seven churches but religious influence or importance doesn't seem to make it into the book.) That might be interesting to explore with my students: their sense of the importance of religious organizations in their communities?

I drove to another town, found a diner, and had my usual grilled cheese. It was okay, but not really good. I think my good cheese has spoiled me. And then I got on a local bike trail, where I rode sluggishly for 25 miles. Even 25 sluggish miles feel good, though, better than sitting around the house getting cranky about the book.


Adventure Bardiac comes complete with attitude, binoculars, bird book, and a full tank of gas. Bike sold separately.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Library Blues

I went to the library today to read some newspapers and stuff from the 1850s. I want to stop for a moment to emphasize that I, Bardiac, actually read newspapers and stuff from the 1850s, from the US. If I had wanted to be an Americanist, or a 19th century person, I would have, you know studied American lit/culture and/or the 19th century. But I didn't, so I didn't. That doesn't mean I think American lit/culture or the 19th century are boring or unworthy of study, but time and resources are limited, and I love my period. But it does mean that I'm relatively naive about things compared to people who study the period in depth.

The newspaper looked very different from newspapers I'm used to seeing. Newspapers today tend to have this title line in a big, huge font. Then they have article titles in pretty big fonts. There's the above and below the fold thing to consider, and which page things are on. The front of most newspapers today has mostly "news" and pictures, with ads on the side and on later pages, taking up increasing space in various ways depending on all sorts of things.

When I was a kid, for example, the last page of the second op/ed section had a single column by a locally important and famous columnist, while the rest of the page showed the big department store's weekly ad.

The newspapers I looked at today were way different. It was hard to tell the front page (I was looking on microfilm) because there was barely any headline. The "news" items ran along the left margin, while ads dominated everything else on the page. But the ads weren't clearly demarcated as ads, and, of course, there were no pictures! No pictures!

I guess I hadn't been thinking, but, I was surprised by the lack of pictures. Then my brain turned on for a moment and I remembered that half-tones didn't get invented til the latter half of the 1800s.

At any rate, I figured out that having students read a week or two of the local paper would be plenty. The microfilm is horrid to read from, as usual. But I'm hoping that they'll find looking at a week or so useful enough.

My other big library task is to arrange for some library instruction for a couple of my classes.

Library instruction is a minefield. With the right librarian, it's good. Finding the right librarian isn't the easiest thing. My favorite librarian for instruction retired recently. So I'm going to need to try to find a new favorite librarian for instruction.

Librarians have an agenda for library instruction. And I have an agenda for my class. The more those overlap, the better.

I've learned a lot from librarians about teaching library usage skills. Librarians know amazing things. But some librarians aren't good at communicating those things; and those same librarians tend to be less than wonderful about focusing on things that I want my students to learn.

Of course, I need to do a good job telling the librarian what I want my students to learn. And the librarian needs to meet me halfway. My favorite librarian was great at that. I would send her my assignment stuff, and we'd talk about what I wanted my class to learn, what was most important, what was less important. And she'd do a great job organizing the time and materials so that the students would learn what I thought would help them most.

Now I need to find a new librarian.

I know, though, that librarians think about the English department folks, too. I'm sure there are some librarians who think I'm an idiot for not understanding information technology the way they do, and for not valuing the way they want to teach my students to develop research topics.

It's a turf thing, maybe. I depend on them, but there are some things I'm just not interested in buying into that they really think are important. On the other hand, librarians depend on folks like me to bring classes in for them to teach. We have students assigned to us, and we can give them assignments, require attendance at classes and such. That gives us a lot of power.

My sense is that our librarians have low morale. The library budget has been hacked to pieces over the past several years. Yes, the teaching and research aspects of the university have been hurt, but the library is hurting in ways even I can see.

Sometimes it seems that a lot of librarians don't want to be librarians. They're either looking for a new career, using their library degree while they look for something better, or they did a library degree because the PhD in English or music or whatever didn't result in a tenure track job. They seem more disappointed at life than most folks, I guess.

I want my favorite librarian to unretire to teach my classes. I don't want to fumble through trying to find someone who'll work well with me, and who I'll work well with.

I've got the library blues.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Question for the Internet Photographers

I'm thinking of getting a camera. When I was in the Peace Corps, I had a really good Pentax SLR, with the bayonet mount and stuff, and a couple basic lenses. I took lots of pictures, some even pretty good ones. I played with black and white film and with double images. I had fun.

The Pentax is no longer, and for a long time I couldn't afford a camera. But now I can, and I have a pretty good reason (trip to Asia, birds, etc) to want to get one.

I'm thinking digital this time around. In an ideal world, I'd get a decent quality digital SLR with a couple basic lenses. And it would be light enough for me to carry around happily, so that I can take pictures wherever. It has to be light enough to take to Asia in January, at any rate.

I'm hoping to get it ahead of time to learn how to use it in the basic ways.

Suggestions, please?

Monday, August 06, 2007


There is little better in life than melted cheese. I have some cheddar from a local farm. It's pale, a sort of creamy color rather than the orange color of cheddar in the grocery store. All by itself, it tastes great. It also has a creamier texture than grocery store cheese, though not a soft cheese texture, quite.

I got some bread at the farmers' market the other day; it claimed to be sourdough, but it's not at all sour. It is, however, quite good, almost sweet. (I also got a bag of apples. Apples mean it's fall, alas. And what was I thinking getting a BAG? I've been eating two apples a day since, and they're still bulging out the top of the bag.)

I made a very basic open faced grilled cheese (not sandwich, just cheese melted on bread, open faced). This cheese melts beautifully, and then gets toasty looking spots on it. (Unlike grocery store cheese, it doesn't seem to separate into grease and something else.) It's so hot that I can barely pick it up to eat.

Foodgasm. Amazing how something so totally simple to make can be so very good.

I should get a gold medal in self-control for not eating more than two slices, but I'm promising myself some for lunch or dinner later. (I had some for dinner last night, too, and promised myself a good breakfast; it was as good as it could be.)

There's a balancing act here: I want the combo to last, but the bread will get gross if I don't eat it over the next few days. I could eat a ton at a time, but then it would lose it's specialness, and I'd feel overfull. So I eat my two slices, knowing a third would taste just as good, but leaving myself something to look forward to.


Today, I worked in the office from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, taking care of another book order, copy stuff, and library stuff.

When I left, I saw a number of people in dark clothes, looking sadly serious, walking into campus. Funeral on campus, I thought. And thought nothing more of it.

Later, I called a friend about biking. She wasn't up for going because one of her daughter's friends had died, and she wanted to be around for her daughter. She said in passing that her daughter's friend had been an English department grad, and then she said his name. One of those smart, fun students, she'd been in my class a couple years ago. Her death was unexpected and sudden, I gather, and a complete shock to all her friends.

I went for my ride, and thought about my student once I got into the rhythm of peddling.

I didn't connect the two until a few minutes ago, when I checked the on-line edition of the local paper to see about a memorial service. It was this afternoon, on campus. Yes, the folks I saw were going to mourn my student. I wish I'd known, because I would have gone. It's not that I knew this student super well, but I wish I'd known.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Mystery Bird?

I had a couple birds hanging out on my deck this morning that I just can't identify. It's not a matter of not being able to tell one sparrow from another, either. This bird just doesn't look anything like anything in my book.

It had an orange head and breast, which "faded" to yellow on the tail. And when I say orange, I mean Baltimore Oriole orange. Seriously orange. Like some kid had taken an orange crayon out to color a bird. It was almost the orange of some marigolds.

The wings, though, were dark sith some light mixed.

There were other birds around. One was near a female/immature Rose-Breasted Grosbeak for a moment, and the Mystery Bird was smaller, but not hugely smaller. It also had a way pointier looking beak.

It was quite a bit larger than the Goldfinches or Housefinches.

My best guess for now is a rather orangey variant female Baltimore Oriole. But wow, really way more orange than the Peterson's guide shows for female Baltimore Orioles. And the beak isn't quite right. And it seems small.

My second best guess is what the Peterson guide shows as an orange variant of the Scarlet Tanager. Except my Mystery Bird had a more yellowy tail than the picture shows for that, and was less orangy on the breast and underbelly.

Other things I noticed: no eye striping or white ring. The beak seemed heavier than a warbler beak (though I'm not good at warblers; maybe a Yellow Warbler is a possibility in the confusing fall warblers way?), and the bird a bit bigger.

At first, it was perched on the deck next to some planters, either picking at plant parts (the tops, but not really flowers) or bugs on the plants. Another was on a trellis, doing the same at a climbing plant.

The area's a hilly, suburban, grassland near some tree stands w/ oaks and birches and such, mostly.

If anyone is a hot shot birder, could you give me some idea of what it was? Or if someone knows some hot shot birders who might know what I was looking at, could you ask them to toss me some ideas, please?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Blogging Graduation

It's summer graduation time. I've read some bloggers who assert that all profs should go to their students' graduation ceremonies. We have three graduation days a year, the summer and winter ones have two ceremonies on the day (for different colleges). No thanks. And yet I do recognize that from the other side, graduation's important to the graduates, and probably even more to their families. Here at NWU, faculty folk can go to any graduation, but our departments are expected to send two representatives to graduation each term. Today was my turn.

So I thought it might be interesting to blog the graduation. Sort of. I didn't actually carry a laptop into the ceremony, but here I am, program in hand, recreating the experience, thrill by thrill.

8:50 am. After the shower and caffeine, my morning begins with getting to campus. I try to arrive early enough to get a parking space nearish my office, that is, well before the graduates and their families. I needn't have worried about that today, as I'll explain. I check my email. Apparently I've won a UK lottery AND someone in Burkino Faso has left me several million dollars. I decide not to resign until I actually see the checks.

I keep my gown hanging on my office door; I think there's some official rule about that. Underneath, well, let's just say I'm not Ms. Formality. Let's just admit that the rayon gowns would be adequate wear in sub-zero temperatures all on their own. They're nasty. I try to choose innocuous sandals. Well, I would if I had any innocuous sandals. Instead, I wear Tevas and hope no one looks down.

9:00 am. Gown on (not zipped), tam on, carry hood, and we're walking across the street to the next building over, Northwoods Gym. Seriously, we need a better space for ceremonial stuff than the gym, but the gym it is. They put the basketball things up, pull out the bleachers, and turn on the air blower. It's not an air conditioner, just a thing that moves air around a bit and makes a noise not unlike Darth Vader with an asthma attack. And anyone who moves a muscle on the bleachers causes a resounding echo.

Before the prof parade, the faculty are supposed to gather in a classroom in a wing of the gym building.

9:05 am. We stand around and adjust gowns, hoods and tams. The three things are supposed to be worn together, but by golly, they're poorly designed. You see, hoods are fairly heavy things, made of velvet and rayon, and long enough that you WILL sit on them, and they hang down your back. And ride up the front of your neck, making for a less than comfy fit.

In order to prevent discomfort, hoods tend to come with a thread or loop of thread in the front. Traditionally, one was supposed to hook the look down around a dress shirt button, slightly displacing one's tie in the process. Traditionally, of course, one was supposed to be male, wear a dress shirt and a tie. Maybe the loop thing worked that way. Those of us who aren't traditional in whatever way have to come up with other solutions. My Mom sewed some buttons onto the inside front of my gown, so that I can loop the loop there. This works pretty well, though over time the whole gown tends to get pulled up into a sort of choking position if you're standing long enough.

9:10 am. We continue standing around, trying to figure out how to make the velvet part of the hood hang properly without falling off our shoulders. No one ever seems to know how these things work.

Big Man on Campus oils his way around the room. I admire several gowns. People with mortarboards envy those with tams. Those with tams try to get just the right jaunty angle. Like we're going to look cool.

9:25 am. BMoC gives us a pep talk and and points out that they've provided donuts and juice in the corner. I hadn't noticed them, and no one was eating them. Let's think: a bunch of clutzy nerds in expensive clothing that would need dry cleaning if it got dirty. Just as well we stay away from the spillage potential. Why can't they have even minimally healthy stuff? And coffee? I didn't have enough caffeine. It's late to try for a sugar high now, I suppose.

9:30 am. The ceremony is supposed to begin. The marshals tell us that they're going to help us line up shortly. Years and years of college and graduate education in this crowd, and we're basically getting help with kindergarten skills. At least they don't make us all hang onto a rope with loops. I should be grateful.

9:40 am. We're lined up. I hear Pomp and Circumstance in the offing, and we're walking, walking. I never know where to put my hands. I usually hold them behind me, under the hood. My sleeves are way too poofy because the gold piping makes them sort of stiff. Yes, gold piping. We're walking. Should we look straight ahead? Look at the people looking at us? I'm a goof; I give everyone a big ol' Bardiac smile. After all, it's a big day, and I can do that smile thing.

And we're walking, and the gym is mostly empty. I guess not many people are doing the ceremonial thing this morning. The emptiness makes the Darth Vader asthma machine sound even louder. Faculty numbers pretty much equal grad numbers. They've never seen such a good faculty to student ratio in their careers here. Oh well.

And we're walking. Fortunately, walking in time to music wasn't part of my tenure file requirements. Neither, apparently, was filing into rows of chairs which were not designed with two foot diameter poofy sleeves in mind. We file in and stand.

9:50 am. The National Anthem. I'm always confused about the hat issue. In the not so old days, men took off their hats when they entered a building, but women didn't, since there were all those hat pins and things. We don't take off our tams or mortarboards entering a building, but do we for the Anthem? I do. No hairpins here. I'm an equal opportunity tam doffer.

A faculty member leads the singing. He's good! Once again, I'm reminded that my singing voice has a remarkable range of perhaps three notes. I should just mouth the words, but I actually like the story behind the song, so there.

I notice yet again what a horrible ceremonial space we're in. Ugh.

9:55 am. And we're off! We get to sit down, and the Campus Big Shots start talking. The gist of every comment is basically that our new alums should support NWU as much as they can, in whatever ways they can: money, get an internship for a current student, do something for the campus, and come to homecoming.

Awards are given. Who are these people? Do we award these awards at every graduation, three times a year? Or do we do different awards at different times of the year. I guess I should have paid attention better in the past.

And why are these people wearing doctoral gowns and hoods? Are we awarding honorary doctorates (I don't think so?) or do we just have a couple extra gowns and hoods hanging around the public relations office for this sort of thing? (The faculty person next to me tries to figure out what the brown hood color stands for. Business, and it's called "drab." I hate that I know that. I realize that the faculty member next to me seems to have had tuna for breakfast. I hate that I know that, too.)

10:15 am. The speaker. I pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I never have to do a graduation speech because there's NOTHING new to say. You're supposed to say something meaningful, but there's nothing you can say that's really going to do the job. Or not. At my undergrad ceremony, the speaker talked about how high unemployment was and what a fine time to go to grad school. Yeah, inspiring.

10:18 am. Did the speaker actually say the stupid thing I thought she said? I'm shamed that this is our speaker.

10:30 am. Music! Except without the exclamation point. Why do they always choose such dismal music for graduation ceremonies? Would it hurt do have a little something happening melody-wise? I'm not asking for the latest rap or something. Really, I'd be thrilled with a Bach fugue! The loudness of the air machine doesn't actually mean that it's effective, and the rayon gown is hot. So much for having a green campus, eh?

10:35 am. It's graduation time! They move their tassles. Students walk across the stage to get their hands shaken by various big shots and pick up a cardboard folder with a certificate that says says they've participated in the ceremony. First one college. Holy cow! Is that my advisee who's been suspended? What the heck? (I was going to try to remember to check her file after the ceremony, but I forgot. Because having no power in such things makes me not care a lot.)

Then another college, and another. The velvet facing on my gown is really soft. Then the grad students march across and get their hoods. Hoodies. Heh. The faculty person next to me asks about the light blue hoods. Education. Any other questions? I'm quietly grateful to have a dark blue hood (Philosophy). I look better in dark colors. Not that I look good in any colors, but there I go.

10:45 am. The student speaker. Did I mention the softness of the velvet facing? He's using a maudlin pop song as a theme. I'm going out to lunch with an alum from a couple years ago. I wonder how she's doing?

10:50 am. We sing the school song thing. It's more dirge-like than not. I don't know the words, and can't see to read them well enough without digging out my reading glasses. I never learned the words to my own college song, either. I'm just that sort of lame person. My school had a drinking song. Not that I knew it, of course. I wonder if our students have a drinking song to sing? They can't sound worse than people at my school did with ours.

10:55 am. Campus official words, instructions for the recessional, more Pomp and Circumstance, and we're walking! Walking!

Once out of the building, I realize it's starting to rain, and I sprint across the street to keep my gown from getting wet. Freedom! hey-day! hey-day, freedom! freedom, hey-day, freedom!

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Year of Reading

I've been brainstorming revision ideas for my research methods class. The central project for the class is to work with a manuscript (a letter, usually) from this area of the Northwoods in the 19th century to make an edition of it. Each student has to think about what they want/need to communicate about the contexts for the text, possible interpretive issues (with handwriting, even), how to represent the text, and so forth. It may not seem like an especially literary assignment, because it isn't. But it IS a very textual assignment, and brings students to real research questions: who wrote this? to whom? what's the context? who is this person mentioned? what's the treaty alluded to? And so forth.

When I was a grad student, one of my friends took a fin de siecle type classe, or WWI era class, or something like that, and had what turned out to be an incredibly interesting assignment. Each student had to read a full year of a periodical and then write up observations or something.

It was a great project because it made students aware of common cultural stuff we don't necessarily look at or think a lot about when we're reading lit, but that may be incredibly important. They looked at ads, at women's columns, all sorts of things. And they got a much deeper sense of what was important to the readers/writers of their periodical.

I'm thinking of having my students do something similar.

But. I haven't done this sort of project (periodicals get going after my study period), so I'm trying to get a good sense of how long it would take my students to read a year's worth of a periodical, and I'm thinking a local newspaper. When I think about it, I'm thinking that having them read a full month and then maybe one day in each other month, or something?

I need to balance the benefit they'll get from learning something much more deeply about the year their manuscript is written with the amount of time they have to spend to learn. My sense is that the learning curve for the first, say, five issues, will be very steep; they'll find all sorts of new things. And then the learning curve will slow down and finding something new will be a matter of luck or not.

On the other hand, I think a big part of research in literature has to do with spending enough time reading and reading and learning that you find things or put things together because you've been reading so much. I don't know how to teach this except by having them spend a fair bit of time reading.

I'd love to hear from folks who've done this sort of project. Did you find it useful? Do you have suggestions for organizing it? Problems I should be prepared for? Ideas about time?

We DO have microfilm of the local newspaper from the period available in our library, so at least that part works.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I shouldn't admit this. Let's hope neither the headmaster nor any deans or deanlings are reading.

I don't get Touchstone.

I don't find the part very funny. Yes, I understand and can process the jokes, adequately, I think. They just don't seem really funny overall.

But I don't know quite what to make of Touchstone and Audrey. Is she as horny for him as he is for her? And how horny is he for her? Does his horniness level change?

I'm hanging my head, clearly an inadequate Shakespeare person.

I try to imagine what William Kempe would have done with the role. (If you click on the link, they have a reproduction of a woodcut of Kempe's famous Nine Days Wonder. It's like an early modern YouTube. /nod.)

I also don't find the songs very compelling. Yes, I get how they comment on the action, sort of. But horn and cuckoldry songs just don't work in performance that I've seen.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Minneapolis Sadness

I got home from my bike ride and saw the news when I checked my email. I hope the bloggers from the Minneapolis area are okay, and that we'll hear more good than bad news from the rescue efforts. But I'm sorry to say I expect much sadness.

I'm reminded of pictures from the Loma Prieta earthquake in October 1989 or the Northridge earthquake in January 1994. But I haven't heard anything like that. They're mentioning construction, and bad weather on the way.

Minneapolis/St. Paul is a truly amazing place. I'm sorry for their tragedy.