Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning on the Job

Today was the day to meet our first year special classes, beginning with breakfast with our mentors, and then meeting our classes, just in a "get to know you" way, with no "content" allowed. That stuff ended at 11:30.

So I did that. And during our class, the students had some questions. One of the questions was about where a meeting for majors was. My ears perked in terror. A meeting for majors? I haven't heard about it, but if there's one for English majors, I'm probably supposed to be in charge. OOPS!

So I asked the chair, who didn't remember hearing about it, and then I made a call and found out where we were supposed to be at 1pm. I found out from my colleagues when organizational meetings are happening and so on. And then I spent the next hour figuring out what to say to our new majors.

It went pretty well, at least the overview part did. But the questions, boy oh boy, do I feel unprepared. And partly, of course, there's no way to be prepared.

For example, there's an international student here for a year who wants to know how our courses will transfer to his/her school. No way I can know that on the fly.

And then there's a student who took AP, and wants to know exactly how the credits work. And someone else who took some college courses while in high school program, and how does that work?

I spent the next several hours after the meeting talking to individual students, trying to figure out how to solve problems and send them in a good direction. I didn't get much of the other work I'd planned to do done at all.

Our students are good, but they're understandably anxious that everything go perfectly in college. I sympathize, because I've been known to get pretty anxious about new things, too.

But here's what I'd like to say to new college students:

1) It probably doesn't matter what your major is this week, or what it is next week. If you're like most people, you'll change majors a couple of times during your college career. That's perfectly healthy and normal. But, if you can hold off on doing the actual paperwork, so long as you can take whatever courses you need, then you'll save yourself some paperwork.

2) It probably doesn't matter what your major is. Few jobs have a specific major requirement. It's more important that you learn critical thinking, data analysis (in the broadest sense), research, communication, leadership, and how to learn.

3) Most people in your generation will change jobs/careers a couple of times. It's quite likely that one or another of your jobs will be something that doesn't even exist now, except as someone's dream. (If it's your dream, yay you!) Your job in college is to learn the skills I mentioned in #2, especially the "how to learn" part, so that you can go in whatever direction(s) work best for you.

4) And finally, I'd like to say, welcome to college. I hope you love learning in college and through your lifetime, develop wonderful friendships, and change in ways that seem totally unpredictable. Good luck to all of us this semester!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Connected, but not in Obvious Ways

I was 22 when I joined the Peace Corps and went to live in a little town in a different country. When I first went, I was the only volunteer in the town.

It seemed "normal" to me, going off to live way apart from my family and all.

But to the people I interacted with mostly, it seemed sort of crazy. They'd wonder how I could leave my family, how I could live alone, and so forth.

I'd grown up mostly having my own room, in a culture that valued "independence" and expected kids to do their own thing as yound adults, even if that meant moving to a different continent.

Many of the people I interacted with had grown up sharing a room with multiple family members, in cultures that valued family ties. They told me they just felt uncomfortable sleeping alone at night. It was normal to share rooms.

Of course, the way I'd been raised seemed normal, natural even. Kids were supposed to be independent; it was healthy. It's also really handy for making a work force that will move to jobs and think of themselves as independent contractors, of course. It's almost a precondition of the industrial revolution that you have to have lots of workers who think living apart from their families and moving somewhere else makes sense. (There was a long period in London during which the population of London didn't reproduce itself but depended on immigrants from elsewhere in England to sustain it.)

I had a father who was a really good 1960's USian dad. He was kind and caring, and worked hard at his job to support the family. He wasn't around during the days, but we ate dinner together pretty much every evening when he came home. He did his own thing (tennis) on Saturday and Sunday (after church) mornings. My mother was also a good 1960's USian mom. She stayed home with the kids, was involved in school volunteering, and was our primary disciplinarian. She encouraged us to do our studying and learn independence. It was all very middle class and WASPy.

In comparison, my sibling is also a good dad, but with some real differences. He's arranged at various times to work from home part of the day so that he'd be around his kids, or to go to work at 5am so that he'd be home early enough to be with his kids after school. He's changed more diapers in a week than my dad did during his fatherhood. (My dad was the eldest of six; he'd changed plenty of his siblings' diapers.) He's just way more involved in his kids' stuff, shares disciplining more with my sister-in-law. My sister-in-law has been a stay at home mom, like my own mom, but has gone back to school and shared household chores and such with my brother more.

For my dad, kids were mostly what my mom wanted, and he was happy to be a good dad. For my brother, kids were more a shared desire, and he wants to be more involved.

Now, in both cases, these are middle class, WASPy families. But I think there's a real difference in the ways my generation is parenting. At its extreme, we hear lots of complaints about helicopter parenting. But I think we're also seeing a reduced emphasis on being independent for the sake of independence. My students seem to think of their parents as friends as well as parents, and I don't think most kids in my generation did.


I got a call yesterday on my cell phone from a number I didn't recognize (and neither did the phone). But the area code was one of the area codes from where I grew up. So I was a little worried. It could be one of my relatives calling, but not one my phone recognizes. Or it could be a hospital calling to tell me that my Mom's had a stroke or something.

There was no message, so I called back, and I got the voice mail of daughter of my Mom's friend, someone I grew up knowing, but haven't talked to in years. It turned out that she was tryingt to get my Mom's cell phone number, and there wasn't an emergency or anything.

But, you know, it's likely that someday I'll get a call from a number in that area code and it will be an emergency, or someone calling to tell me that my Mom has died. That's how I found out my Dad had died; an EMT from the next suburb over called, and then put my Mom on the line after he'd told me.

That's the other side of the independence we've historically valued: my sibling and I are 2000 miles from "home"; we're both reasonably successful in terms our culture cares about. But we're also distant from family in ways that are difficult sometimes.

On the one hand, I really like living alone, being independent, doing my own thing. On the other hand, there's something to be said for being close to family and such, isn't there?

I wonder how this next generation is going to find things; yes, there's still a lot of emphasis in our culture on independence. And this coming generation has been criticized for being self-centered and such. But self-centeredness is nothing new in USian culture, and hasn't served us well. And independence for the sake of independence doesn't always serve us well, either.

Maybe the students coming up, the ones whose fathers have been more involved in their lives (even if that's a class issue), will figure things out a bit better, will manage better balance?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Big Cheese

I spent a little time today going over my new responsibilities with the person who had those responsibilities, and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed. Maybe more than a little.

I need to go talk to some folks in other offices across campus to learn more about what they do and how I can use their expertise to help our students.

At this moment, I feel like I can't quite hold the basic organization/concerns in my head enough to organize myself to take the next steps.

1) Figure out office hours for the advising part.
2) Figure out how the careers, advising, and skills offices work.
3) Figure out who's doing what in our advising.
4) Figure out a big overarching "watch for this date" schedule for our students.
5) Figure out big meetings.

The person I'm taking over for did a GREAT job setting up these big advising meetings to talk about stuff. One a semester was for group advising, one for people who are thinking about grad school, one for careers, one for scholarships and other activities. But scheduling them is a nightmare.

I have big shoes to fill. I'm hoping my new fingertoes shoes will help.

Just writing down stuff helps a little, anyway.

How am I going to implement the new biking requirement?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Run Away!

I took my new FiveFingers with me to the office today, and about half way through the day I put them on. I felt vaguely transgressive.

How pathetic is it that my shoe choices seem transgressive? What's worse, how pathetic is it that I enjoyed feeling vaguely transgressive?

I'm acting out by wearing shoes. How's that for a deep and meaningful rebellion? Not so much, is it?

We're going to retreat tomorrow to the sportsman's (yes, man's) club with the deer ass (and many other dead animal parts) on the wall, because that's how we roll here.

I may wear my new FiveFingers, and enjoy the vague transgressiveness.

They are increasingly comfy.

Shoe Report

In the quest for fun, some weight loss, and better biking, I try to do a variety of activities, which is why I got the shoes. If they're as fun to run in as people say, then I will have fun running, and add it to the mix. But I'm not a runner, really.

I went for a short run with a friend yesterday to try out the new shoes, and it was fun. Mostly it was fun because of my friend being a good friend. The shoes contributed, as did the beautiful day and lovely area to run. (We mostly ran in a field near my house.)

I think this is a weird case where it's really good not to be much of a runner, because I've heard that real runners get so excited by these new shoes that they tend to go out for a long run, and then because the shoes sort of make you run differently, they use different muscles and get REALLY sore and sad the next day.

I, on the other hand, went such a short distance that I'm not really sore or anything.

I'm trying to think why I stop running and walk. Mostly it's not that I'm out of breath, because I don't sprint around and I have okay fitness. I think it's that my legs get lazy, lazy more than tired.

So, the shoes were fun, but my friend is more fun. And we'll go again before long!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Shoe Blogging

You know there are whole blogs and stuff dedicated to women's shoes, right? And lots of women who blog talk about shoe shopping and stuff. So I decided to do that for a sec. (Are there blogs dedicated to men's shoes?)

Here's what the shoes typically look like on those other blogs.
This is called a Carolyne Pump in Dark Brown by a famous designer named Manolo Blahnik. Perhaps you've heard of him?

So maybe you're the type of person who sees this and thinks, yes, that looks GREAT! I should get some!

I'm not. I look at that and think about pain, a lot of pain. First off, my feet are about a size different, so any shoe that fits my right (bigger) foot, has to have some mechanism to make it tighter or my left (smaller) foot floats around finding ways to get blisters. If you can tie the shoes, that works pretty well. Or you can put something in the shoe, but that's significantly less comfortable. (Trust me on this: stuffing something into the toe of a high heel shoe so your foot doesn't slide around does not make for happy toes.)

Second, the strap there at the back. I know that's going to wear a hole into my right heel fast, but not before my toes are all smushed and crying for freedom from the pointiness. My left toes, especially, will be crying, because everything will be pushing them forward extra hard. I have a sort of bent little left toe; it might be the only toe that doesn't actively rebel under such conditions. (Does anyone have toes THAT pointy?) And the balls of my feet will be crying along with them.

Third, you have to know I'd break my ankle and fall off the heels. Not in that order, probably. I think I'd lose all the supposed sexiness that heels supposedly give women's calves if one of mine were in a big cast.

Fourth, I've been told by my students that I can be a bit intimidating sometimes. Now imagine me four inches taller on death stilletos. I think we can all agree that's a scary thought. It could be worse than scary, though, because IF I ever made it all the way to a classroom, you know I'd fall into a student's lap when I looked down to try to take roll, and that would probably be as uncomfortable as just about anything I've done in a classroom.

So, my shoe blogging isn't going to be about Manolos or about death stilletos, or even about pumps. My shoe blogging is going to be about my new shoes, that I hope will be as fun as they look. Here I am modeling them:

My toes do feel a little strange, all spread out. I think the only thing they have in common with the Manolos is a heel strap. And a stiff price tag--though not in the same league as the Manolos, now that I look. HOLY COW! People pay $700 for a pair of shoes????? It's a good thing I was sitting down. Who has $700 to pay for a pair of shoes?? And they don't even have steel toes to protect you from stuff falling on your feet, or lining for arctic or Everest expeditions! (Am I the last person on earth to realize that some shoes cost $700--or MORE!--and it isn't because they were custom made for an Elton John concert tour?)

My shoes do have one more thing in common with the Manolo shoes, though, a dedicated blog!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Begin Again

Today's the first day of the new contract period, which is the official beginning of the school year for instructors. Staff and administrative folks have been around all summer working, of course (and paid for it). Most students aren't here yet, but the band is already busy practicing, and so are some athletes.

I dropped my international students off at their dorm this morning, and now I'm at the office, feeling sort of overwhelmed by how much there is to do, and hardly knowinig where to start.

I think I'll start by cleaning up a bit, and getting some stuff in order for the Big Cheese job. And then I'll go home and read/prep some more.

Happy New School Year, all!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

School's Around the Corner

I've lived in other countries a few times, and traveled a little, and something I've learned is that when I'm in a new situation, especially when I'm trying to live in a second language, I'm pretty much tired all the time. It's exhausting. But it does get easier.

So I'm not surprised that my student visitors are pretty tired.

We did go out for a bit today to walk around campus, and went into a couple dorms that happened to be open. It was nice to see their rooms, and to see how suddenly seeing their rooms seemed to relax them. I think they were sort of worried about their housing (would it be okay, familiar enough, something they could adapt to?), and now they feel that yes, the rooms are okay and they'll be able to adapt. And that's a big stress reliever.

A few of the dorms were open because the band members have come early to have practice, so campus was having that feeling it gets when more students are around, and things are getting more exciting.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

International Airport

I'm housing a couple of international students for a few days before they move into their campus digs. One of the students I picked up around midday on Friday. The other flew into our local small airport at midnight last night, so we both went to pick her up, along with our handmade sign saying "Welcome [Name]!"

We weren't the only ones there with signs. Nope. Apparently, a fair number of international students were flying in from Asia, so the local airport looked, for a short time, remarkably international and sophisticated.

After our "All American" lunch of pb&j, we went to Goodwill today, to pick up some dorm supplies, and then out to a friend's house in the country, where we picked some raspberries. I picked maybe a pint in the time it took them to pick ten. I think they were really uncertain about picking fruit off bushes and taking it home. And for some reason the local mosquitoes went after them way more than me.

And then we went up to a local park and tiny zoo that includes a petting part and some big cats and bears (not in the same enclosure). So we fed and petted some barnyard type animals, saw some bears and pumas, and then some bison. All the animals were pretty sleepy today because of the warmth; I should have taken that as a hint and brought us all home sooner, because they're resting right now before dinner.

Yesterday I took the one who was already here to an Asian market in town, and she was really happy to see that she'd be able to get some familiar foods (even familiar brands) here.

It's always cool to think about seeing something through different eyes. For example, Goodwill has great used stuff. But it also has stuff that makes me deeply wonder who would have ever bought this tchotcke (sp?) in the first place. You KNOW someone thought that little decorative knick-knack was perfect at one time, but you have no idea why. That's how I feel about a lot of the little decorative stuff at thrift type shops or sales. I guess folks will buy just about anything?

Later, we're going to get some vanilla ice cream and I'll introduce them to just why I was so enthusiastic about picking all those raspberries!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rising Blood Pressure

I went to campus today to get a book that I may need to read at some point, and so I walked by where "they" are putting in a new parking lot. The lot will replace a small part of the parking being lost to where we're putting a new building (our first in lo these many years). But it won't replace much of the parking, just the metered parking (short term for folks who don't have any permit).

We have two non-student sorts of parking permits on campus, the regular folks and the OMG I have to be able to park permits. The OMG permits are supposed to be reserved for folks whose work includes doing off-campus stuff so that they need to be able to get parking on campus at whatever time. For example, people who supervise student teachers need to be able to park when they return. The rest of us can just get to campus early and not leave until late. At least that's the thinking.

The OMG permits are set up for specific lots, and there's a reserved place in each lot for each permit holder. They also cost more, though the cost of the regular folks' permit has doubled since I came. (No, my paycheck hasn't doubled. Hmmm.)

"They" have decided to double the OMG permit places in the lot where I park; between that and the regular folks displaced by the construction from their usual parking places, we'll be extra crowded. Not to worry, though, "they" tell us, because you can always park in an away lot. It's only a couple blocks more to walk. And that's true.

But, you know, I'm willing to bet that "they" will have OMG permits and be parking in the lot near my building.

In the past, to be pretty darned sure of getting a space in the parking lot near my building, I had to be on campus by 8am. I'm guessing this next year is going to see a lot more early arrival.

Here's the thing. Yes, it's only a couple more blocks to walk. But that's a couple more blocks when it's 10F and there's ice, and I have the Riverside Chaucer to carry along with a set of 30 papers.

That and, I'll admit it here: I'm a Californian. I didn't teeth on a silver spoon; I teethed on car keys. I'm at least a third generation Californian through every grandparent, and a fourth or fifth through a couple. (So when I complain about winter, you have to realize that my ancestors hit the east coast of the US and headed west until they could go no further because there was water. And rip tides. If it weren't for the rip tides, I could have been born on the Farallons. Not really, but you get the idea.)

You know that scene in the Steve Martin movie about LA where he drives his car to visit the house next door? That's just logical to me. I see nothing wrong with that. But walking when you're in the suburbs? Bleargh. Double Bleargh. (I have no problem walking in Japan or in a big city, or riding my bike in the middle of no where. Everywhere else, I drive.

There I was, walking to and from the library, and getting increasingly cranky about the idea of walking. (I know: it's not about logic.)

I want to go into a meeting next week where the administrator of the moment asks us to make suggestions about how to make things better, and I want to suggest that all administrators should have their OMG spots in the away lot. But you know that won't happen.

But what I really need to do is just not go to some of those meetings next week.

I need to not go to the meeting where I'll stare at the deer ass on the wall and think about the sexist jokes about violence against women.

I need to not go to the meeting where the headmaster will thank all the local bigshots for supporting his favorite sport and tell us how wonderful his wife is as a [sport] mom, because that's the best thing ever for a woman to do, be a [sport] mom.

I need to not go to the meeting where the crazy administrator will unload on us for being "local yokels."

I need to not go to the meeting where the administrator who makes decisions with his buds on his porch drinking single malt scotch will hold forth about how wonderful it is that we've all taken a 3% paycut.

I need some good excuses, folks.

I will go to the meeting where we try to decide about departmental searches. And I'll go to other meetings where useful decisions might be made or information shared.

But this year, I need to skip things that don't contribute to my doing a better job or being happier.

I need some good excuses, folks, because I could feel my blood pressure rising.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Links I Like

Remember in the stone ages of blogging, when people would share links to things they were reading that they liked? And then, after a while, people don't do that much. (Me, included.)

These are worth looking at! If you've found something really good recently, please share.

Brilliantly funny: Hyperbole and a Half - You know how some people just hit your funny bone? Allie hits my funny bone just right. I especially like her bicycle post! If you read back, you get to watch her style develop.

Hit the mark: "Eat, Pray, Spend" from BitchMagazine provides a helpful critique of the much popular book and movie. (No, I haven't read them, but I've been hearing about them.)

Birds, yay!: GrrlScientist is doing her bird posts here, at Maniraptora.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Learning Yoga

I had my third beginning yoga class this morning, and yes, it was still fun.

But it got me thinking. Unfortunately, my mind races around thinking when we're supposed to be doing the relaxing, focus on the way your feet root into the ground sort of thing.

I was thinking about my anxiety about the last pose, or more specifically, my anxiety about getting the last pose (or any pose) "right." On one hand, the teacher talks about doing what feels right for one's own body, and that makes sense. On the other hand, there's also an emphasis on specific aspects of the pose.

Take something as "basic" as downward dog. The goal seems to be mostly about having a sort of neutrally straight back; you want your normal lumbar curve but also want your back sort of stretched. And you want your head in line. And your arms. But also you want your knees tending toward straightness, your hips raised, and your heels nearing the ground. But also, the goal is to not hurt yourself and challenge yourself at the same time.

I can't tell how "well" I'm doing the pose. But I'm trying to do it "well." That goes for all the poses.

What makes a pose "right"? I'm guessing some combination of physically possible without injury and tradition. And both of those seem to be things I'm anxious about. I don't think I'm unusual in wanting my body to do what I ask it, whether that's biking up a hill or tying my shoe. And at the same time, if there are other people around, I want to seem somewhat successful and capable. That seems to be one of my sources of anxiety.

Then I started wondering about my anxiety. Why am I anxious about this stuff? It's not like the instructor is going to be mean to me about not doing a pose well. This isn't army boot camp.

So I started thinking about the other things I've done that require practices that are taught specifically. Biking, for example, wasn't taught that way to me. It was more, just keep the bike moving. Okay, get back up and do it again. But no one was worried about my specific hand position or cadence. So that's not what I mean about specific movements being taught specifically. In contrast, when I learned fencing, I was taught specifically how to hold a foil, how to put my legs, how to step, reach, where to put my off-hand and on and on. The specifics were important in terms of safety, but also very much because of tradition.

We spent a few minutes in the resting pose, and my mind settled on two specific sorts of practices that are taught specifically, and for which tradition is really important, more important than practicality sometimes.

The first is learning to use a spoon or fork to eat. I was taught to form my hand very specifically to hold each implement, and any time I didn't, I was reminded, again and again. The hand form wasn't at all "natural" to me until I learned it pretty well, and now, of course, it feels like I've been doing it all my life.

But I wasn't taught to hold my spoon and fork that way because it was the most practical, but because that was how "polite" people in the US hold theirs, and people do judge others on their eating practices.

The second is learning to hold a crayon, pencil, or eventually a pen. Again, it's not necessarily the most "natural" way, but the teaching was enforced over and over again. And in school, that enforcement was public and sometimes probably humiliating. I'd been taught the "right way" to hold a pencil before school, but I remember other kids getting publicly corrected again and again.

Both of these practices indicate a level of educational or class status, and thus there's a fair bit of social pressure applied, and for me, at least, that provokes some anxiety. There's definitely a "right way" to do these things that's not quite the same as the yoga poses, which seem more adaptable to people's bodies.

It seems to me that one of the best things about my mind running wild when I'm supposed to be focused on stuff (if there's a positive in it) is that it gets me thinking about how much anxiety people (including my students) have about learning, especially public learning when someone might correct them.

It's okay to be anxious when you're learning something, even helpful. But it's not helpful to be too anxious.

When I'm standing in front of a class of 20-30 students, how do I challenge them all to feel a bit anxious without making anyone too anxious?

Friday, August 13, 2010


Summer's drawing to a close. I've been moderately productive, and that's okay.

I know summer's close because I finally got around to shampooing the rugs/carpets. They'd probably be a lot less gross if I shampooed them every six months, but they're done for now. I should have chosen a less humid day, but I turned the air conditioner on and all the fans I could find, so I'm hoping things will dry out okay.

Another hint that summer's coming to a close is that campus stuff is gearing up. I went in yesterday, and the maintenance folks have cleaned our floors. They look remarkably good.

In the past couple of weeks, I've:

Acquired an MA student because a colleague left for "greener pastures."
Gotten an inquiry about serving on a supposedly easy campus committee.

I also heard that the trickle down thing happened, so I'll be the Advising Big Cheese for my department. In my will to power, I've decided to require all English majors to start biking. I'm trying to figure out how to get this into the computer system. It will also give me a chance to institute the Shakespeare major.

/raises fist in defiance and yells: Taking over the world for Biking and Shakespeare!!

It also means that I don't have to finish prepping the theory class I haven't taught for five years, and I won't have to prep the spring class I haven't taught for at least that long. It's a wash, since those are good classes, I suppose.

I also heard that the next step is happening for my semester in Disneyland Shakespearelandia. I'm waiting for the final official word from a higher up over at the Fort.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I saw that tonight is supposed to be the best night all year to see the Perseid meteor shower. I have a confession: I've never seen a shooting star or a meteor. I was raised in the suburbs, and I guess we just didn't look up at night or something. (And there was plentiful light pollution, too.)

So tonight I looked up the "where to look" information on the net (isn't it amazing!), turned out all my lights and went outside on the deck to sit and look north/northeast. The problem is that I live on the south side of town, so looking north/northeast near the horizon means there's enough light from the city that I can't see any starts. Nonetheless, after about 10 minutes, I thought I saw something. Then I waited, and after a while more, I thought I saw another, but more easterly.

There's also lightning off to the north and east of town at various moments. I could see the sky lighten a bit in the distance, but it was too far (or blocked) and I couldn't see the lightning. And it was far enough that I couldn't hear it over the traffic noise. (Sitting outside in the evening makes me really aware of the traffic noise in my neighborhood. It's a quiet area, so that you hear noise you wouldn't notice in an actual city.)

Then I went to the front yard, and got behind a tree so that it was mostly blocking the streetlight to the north, and sat on the driveway for a while. After about half an hour, I saw what seemed more definitely to be a meteor.

But it was nothing like the pictures I was seeing on the net of multiple streaks of light. I wonder if those are really powerful lenses or long exposures or something?

Trying to figure out where to look got me thinking about the ancient folks who made up the constellations. I could never figure out the constellations as a kid. They don't look anything like anything to me. And every time I see three stars roughly in a row I think it's Orion.

I can reliably pick out the Great Dipper when I'm in a planetarium and the "guide" is showing it with a laser. Otherwise, I can't seem to do it.

I think the ancients had some good drugs to see all those things in the sky.

And then I got to thinking about why we see these meteors at the same time every year. I can sort of hold a mental image of the solar system, but I don't generally populate it with all sorts of comet dust and such in my head. I guess we're passing through a part of the solar system on our earthy route around the sun that has lots of comet dust, and when that hits the atmosphere, zing.

So, anyway, there are these meteors of comet dust, which are close, close enough to be hitting earth's atmosphere. But they seem to be coming out of a constellation that's WAY outside our solar system. Sort of mind blowing, isn't it?

And then I start thinking about the ancients and early moderns who looked at the sky and mapped out stars, and tried to figure out how the stars changed, and eventually how the earth moves relative to all the other stuff in space. And it's mind-blowingly complicated.

And most of the time, I think of the earth as unmoving. But here we are, spinning through space around a big ball of hotness. It sort of makes me dizzy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Behind the Times

I got spam email today offering me a genuine "anti-ed" solution.

Who could possibly be against education?

Or maybe someone really didn't like Mister Ed a whole lot? (Granted, it was a silly show, but who couldn't like a talking horse! Besides, it's not like there are constant reruns playing.)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Trickle Down

I got a call today, asking me if I were interested in doing X interim job for the department if the person currently doing X job decides to do Y interim job, which has been requested because the person who was doing Y has accepted an offer to do Z, which was only settled at the last minute.

Z is pretty much a decision made way high up in the NWU structure. Y is a decision made at the midlevel of the structure. X is a departmental decision, but if I do X, which involves a course release, then the high up decision will trickle down to benefit an adjunct who will get offered another course.

The problem is, the Z decision should have been made way back in the spring term, but it wasn't. And everyone knew that the Y job would need to be filled if the Z decision were made, but no one could be asked to prepare for it on the off chance. And so on, and so forth.

So when I got the call today, I knew it had to be one of two possible requests (because we're just that poor at decision-making around here). And the one request pretty much means the other won't happen. Either or none is fine for me. (And the other is something that depends on a Y level decision; that decision should also have been made in the spring.)

At the Z level, the delay in decision isn't really that big a deal (as I understand it). The Z level folks know what they're doing and can step right in. At the Y level, it means the Y person (should s/he decide to accept that) has to move into a new area of responsibility and be up and running, so to speak, within a very short amount of time. And for me, the X decision would mean I have to get up to speed on a new role very quickly.

It also means that I'd have a course release. But, there's a rub, because I've spent a good bit of time this summer prepping two new course iterations, and a second go at a seminar. There's no one else qualified to teach the seminar, so someone else (an adjunct) would be asked to teach one of my other courses (hopefully it's someone who's taught the course recently, so there's not much prep involved).

But the trickle down will also hit the bookstore, because suddenly they'll have a bunch of unwanted books I've ordered and have to get hold of the new person's book choices quickly.

These are decisions that should have been made back in the spring semester. I don't know why they weren't. Everyone (even me) knew they needed to be made, knew funding had been allocated, and so forth. But the administrators who need to make the decisions have become notorious for being slow at making decisions.

The brunt of the problem here falls to the person who will step into interim Y and his/her chair, to my chair, to whatever adjunct(s) are offered our courses, and to me. The administrators responsible for making timely decisions just go on their merry way, apparently unaware (or uncaring) that their slowness causes problems for multiple people down the line.

For me, it will be a learning situation, and that's always good. The course release will help. And I think I can do a good job at it. But, of course, the decision at the Y level hasn't quite been made, so I haven't officially been asked to do X. So I can't stop preparing my courses, even now. (It's not quite clear which of the two courses I'd be released from in each semester.)

For the chair(s), it's a matter of finding adjuncts who are qualified and interested, and not already scheduled at those times. We don't have lots of well-qualified adjuncts hanging around our neck of the woods, though, so that's not nearly as easy as it would be if we were in a more urban area.

Somewhere out there is a moose with a muffin hoping for some jam. You and I both know it's true.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Yoga, Lesson 2

I had my second day of yoga class today, and it was good. We learned cow and cat and downward dog and child poses. I'm almost as good at child as I am at corpse pose. But I was surprised that downward dog was one I could do, because somehow I thought I wouldn't be able to (because my arms are whussy). We also did some lunges things, with chairs to help us balance.

But then we did this one where you lie on your back, hold one leg bent up by the knees, and then raise your head a little up. And I thought I was going to black out and throw up, in no particular order. I used to get the same feeling as a kid when we had to do somersaults, but I hadn't been thinking about that. Ugh. I don't know what it is, but it sure isn't a good feeling.

Mostly, I enjoyed it, and it felt like good stretching and working some muscles. I practiced last week's stuff this past week a little, and now I have several more things to practice, but I'm going to totally skip the raising my head up a little one.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Not My Best Moment

I was chatting with X from another area of campus the other day, someone whose opinion I respect greatly, and X mentioned another person from a different area of campus, Y. And I sort of frowned.

And later, X was telling me that a third person, someone who's long been considered an unofficial campus leader and whom I've had a fair bit of contact with, really hates Y.

And all of a sudden, I realized why I had frowned. I've been influenced by the campus leader without realizing why, or really even caring.

It's not that I've gone around bad-mouthing Y or anything, but I haven't taken Y's contribution to the campus community as seriously as I might have. And now I have to rethink that, and probably go learn something about Y's contribution.

I wish I were above being unduly influenced by the campus leader person, but I'm not.

We all have our agendas, the things we consider important, and sometimes those aren't the most logical, and certainly aren't something everyone should adopt without thinking hard. But there I was, and I'd adopted this attitude without really thinking about it. (Not that I want to adopt X's attitude without thinking, either. The thing is to remind myself to think more.)

Sometimes, I think, hey, I'm sort of "done" growing, and then I realize, no, not really. I've learned some stuff, and I try not to be a jerk, but I've got a lot still to grow into and learn. ("Try not to be a jerk" sets the bar pretty low, doesn't it. But still, if that were everyone's agenda, we'd treat each other a bit better.)

New Calendar

I use academic year calendars, so I recently got myself a new calendar.

When I was a kid, my Dad and Mom tried to help me be a little more organized about getting schoolwork done. My Dad worked for a small family business, and one of the promotional things they'd do was to send out little calendar pocket books before the new year. My Dad used one, though my Mom used a bigger book that lived on a kitchen counter or in a cubby thing in the kitchen; but then, my Mom had to keep track of everyone's stuff.

I started with the shop calendar, and used those for several years. They were great, just the right size (the size of a checkbook), with each opened page area showing a week. At the end of each week, my Dad turned down the corner of the page, so that he could open it to the current week without searching, so that's what I learned to do. When I was on top of things, I'd write down my homework stuff, band stuff, and even family stuff. Mostly, I wasn't quite on top of things.

I'm a bit more on top of things nowadays, thank goodness. It helps not to be 13 or 14. And I use a slightly larger calendar now, because that's what our campus sells. The one I choose has a plastic cover and shows a week at a time, but doesn't fit in a pocket nearly as easily as the old ones did. But it does show some of the more important campus events. Weirdly, it doesn't preprint information about finals week, classes starting or stuff like that. I suppose they do a sort of general printing with the big, common holidays, for lots of schools and then put our specific cover on.

Part of today's plan is to fill in the calendar, the school stuff, family stuff, obligations, fun stuff. I sort of like doing that because it's a way of reviewing the past year and anticipating the coming year, and mostly that's good.

But no, my calendar doesn't "link" to email or anything. I can use it walking between classes, though, and I don't have to worry about recharging it.

I know some academics like regular calendar year calendars, but I'm not quite sure why I don't use one. Habit, maybe? Are there advantages to one or the other?

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Is Lit "Universal"?

Fie Upon this Quiet Life mentioned the universality of literature as the reason why we might read it in the last thread. Dr. Mon expressed a wariness of using an idea such as "universality" to substitute for "relatability."

I wanted to talk a bit about why I don't find "universal" a useful way to teach or think about literature.

My initial resistance to the idea of the "universal" comes out of my understanding of feminism. Most of what I was taught as "universal" as a kid was white, male, patriarchal, straight, etc. It pretended to universality, but really was about white, patriarchal imperialism pretending to represent humanity.

Now, one could say, all humans share certain universal characteristics and experiences. But I think there's a point where we reach a kind of emptiness if we truly reach towards universality. It's the same way that when everything is sexual in Freud, sex gets emptied because if sex is basically anything having to do with pleasure, then taking my contacts out when they feel itchy is sex. It's certainly pleasurable to take them out, but it makes sex a rather empty category compared to the complicated ways most of us experience our sexualities.

Back to the universal in lit. One might say that I haven't experienced war, but I've experienced conflict, so the conflict is universal. But I've never felt that my life was in danger in the way someone who's being shot at or gassed or bombed in war seems likely to. I imagine that's a really different experience, not a universal one.

I think the non-universal experiences someone can express in art are actually the most important artistic expressions. It's the specificity of expression that makes art so important to me.

That doesn't mean that shared common experiences aren't important; I have to be able to read (or be read to) to get lit. I have to be able to hear to listen to most music. But we can't make "universal" dependent on those things because there are lots of people who don't share those experiences, but who certainly need to be included in any universal humanity.

Put it this way: all humans breath. But reading about that universal experience doesn't sound like great lit to me. Who cares?

Contrast that with the non-universal experience related in Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est":

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

I don't think that poem is brilliant because it connects with the universal human experience of breathing. I think it's brilliant because it expresses an experience that's not at all universal, but one that's specific to a time, place, and context. I stretch to read and understand the poem. It rewards my efforts many times over.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Relatable Reading

I hate it. I do.

And yet, there it is in the OED. And there it is in usage all the time. And still I hate it.

1. Able to be told or narrated; suitable for relating.
2. Able to be brought into relation with something else; capable of being related or connected (to something).
3. That can be related to (RELATE v. 9); with which one can identify or empathize.

The first usage for the 3rd meaning listed is from 1965, and yes, it seems to be reporting student usage

(OED. "Relatable.")

I was reading a piece of student work today, and there it was. The student was talking about the need for what students read to be "relatable" and at the same time arguing that a group that's underrepresented in the canon should be read more in classes.

So, by "relatable," the writer means something that students can identify with, because, apparently, that's how students are taught they should read. They're supposed to look for a character they can identify with, identify, and then take some sort of moral lesson or something. (Or in the case of Twilight, get all turned on by the abusive patriarchal BS.)

People who are underrepresented in the high school canon learn to read a lot of stuff about white men because most of the canon is by and about white men. And you know, those students learn to read and think and stuff. These same folks see a lot of TV representing white people at home, at work, in relationships.

White men (or boys) in our US system, however, aren't as fully taught to read works by women, minorities, people from non-Anglo cultures, and so on. That's part of white male privilege, right?

If you say at the same time that the value of literature is to be "relatable" and also say that students should read literature by underrepresented people, then there are going to be white boys who complain that they can't relate to some Hispanic person, and shouldn't be asked to read the work because it's "not relatable."

But if you take out the "relatable" and say that the purpose of reading is to learn about experiences you don't have, to broaden your horizons, to understand the greater world and stretch your thinking, then suddenly, yes, the point of what you read in school IS to read what's not easily "relatable," but rather what is most challenging.

I have a true confession to make: I listen to books on CD and tape a lot. My "reading" is dependent on what the library has available that's not mysteries (because I've tried but don't much enjoy them) or self-help (because if it's something I really need help with, I'd need to read and take notes). Lately, it seems like the tapes have been very 50s canonical. I've listened to Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and most recently For Whom the Bell Tolls. And you know what, I found FWTBT quite compelling and interesting, despite my high school aversion to Hemingway (which was about his sexism, mostly, though I couldn't have articulated that in high school). There were some parts that were a bit repetitive, because Hemingway likes to repeat himself a fair bit. But mostly it was a good book; I stayed awake listening for a couple nights way later than I normally would. (I still found TSAR a bore. I'm bored by people who drink a lot. There, I said it.)

One of the things I really did like about FWTBT was that it caught some of the nuances of spoken Spanish in English nicely. But I doubt I would have gotten that before I was pretty decent at Spanish.

So why did we read TSAR and not FWTBT in high school? Did the powers that were not want to have to explain the Spanish Civil War, especially since we were scared witless of communism and vaguely supportive of Franco's fascism? Did they not want to deal with the sexuality or the cussing? (But then, we read Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, which has some cussing as I recall.)

But neither book is really "relatable" to me. I've never been in war, or lounged around drinking day after day, or blown up a bridge, or serially slept with one sexist male after another.

To what extent is it the author's or work's responsibility to be "relatable" and to what extent is it the reader's responsibility to stretch intellectually and think about different experiences? I tend to think it's mostly the reader's responsibility. Chaucer, for example, couldn't possibly have imagined himself being read on a computer screen; it's simply impossible that he could have tried to be "relatable" to a 21st century woman living on a continent he knew nothing of, speaking a language he wouldn't have understood. But I think Chaucer rewards his readers for stretching and reaching out to understand him, no? The same holds for Shakespeare. And, possibly, I'm willing to admit, for Hemingway.


On Sunday, I got one of those early warning sort throats, where you feel the scratchiness sort of hurting at the top/back of your mouth, just at the throat, and then the nose gets stuffy, and the throat gets really sore. Ugh.

Monday, I spent cleaning a semi-disgusting refrigerator (a 4/10 on the disgustiness scale, and not my mess, I'm happy to say). And then cleaned a rug, washed floors, and just cleaned.

This morning, I needed to meet the handyman at 7:30, so between knowing I had to be somewhere early and the semi-sore throat, I didn't sleep well last night. I kept waking up and looking at the clock, knowing that it was hours before I needed to get up, but still not sleeping much.

Then I ran errands to the glass fixer place (second visit in two days) and the dry-cleaners (dirty drapes). Then since I was close, I went to campus and bought my new parking permit (no line!) and a calendar planner booklet thingy.

Usually I get sort of excited filling in the dates on a new calendar thingy, but today I'm just sleepy. I think it's time for a nap before I go back and do the second cleaning of the rug (working in a different direction).

(The good news is that the throat isn't feeling more sore, and I don't have swollen glands, so my judicious use of medicinal bourbon may have worked. As an aside: when I was a kid, I got strep a couple times. One of those times, I got taken to the doctor who asked if my throat hurt. I said that it only hurt when I swallowed. And he mocked me in a petty, nasty way and said that it always only hurt when you swallow. And then I got the usual penicillin. The thing is, though, my sore throats sometimes hurt when I'm not swallowing; they just ache sorely. I haven't had a really sore throat since I hit my teens; I sort of outgrew them or got luckier or something.)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The big party was last night, and it was good. Much yummy food was eaten; the cake was fantastic, the company even better.

I'm grateful to the NW friends and family who made it a wonderful day.

My birthday present to myself was a short series of beginning yoga classes. The first day was yesterday, and it was fun, and not too hard. I'm sure it will get harder.

I'm pretty much an empiricist, so when they start talking about my energy flow, I sort of nod and tune out. But I'm hoping the muscle tone and flexibility and such will work without any energy flowing that doesn't involve atp and such.