Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekendings

I went to a potluck dinner last night, the first this particular group has had in about two years. And it was so very good in so many ways.

Some of the women came from far away, 60 or so miles. This is their community. How hard is that? One of them spoke about losing her partner of 30 years, and living in a small community. Another spoke about seeing the first political signs from a certain party when she drove up to the house; in her community, all the signs are for one party, and no, that's not a party that's particularly friendly.

I have to think about that more when I feel cranky about this city, and be grateful that I don't have to drive 60 miles.

***

Next week, there's a fundraiser in town that involves people getting on a bus and going from house to house, eating one course of a multi-course dinner at each house. We're raising funds to help local women have the money to get abortions. (It's expensive, especially for women in areas such as this, where you have to travel a ways and do a 24 hour waiting thing.)

I have a great house for gatherings. It's a fine living house, but it really shines when you put 30 or more people in it and it's comfortable.

My friend A is a great cook. So, we decided to team up and use my house and A's cooking skills to participate.

Over the past several weeks, I've been working on de-uglifying the yard and cleaning house stuff that should be cleaned for a large contingent of guests. (Thus the office getting cleaned last week.) I dug up, split, and replanted some Siberian irises and daisies yesterday, and planted the last of the bulbs I got earlier this fall. Now I have some cutting back of plants as they die off for winter to take care of, but other than that (and cleaning leaves off the front stoop at the last moment), the outside is pretty good. I always seem to stretch the backs of my legs a lot when I garden, which probably means I should stretch them more. But right now, they're a little sore.

The inside needs some more cleaning. Today is cleaning the windows on my barrister bookshelves. I love barrister bookshelves (though, strictly speaking, mine are, I think, fake because they're not individual boxes), and mostly they do a good job keeping dust off books. And they just look cool.

And then there's grading, endless grading.

Meanwhile, A is planning the meal. There are, of course, some allergy and special eating requests. I'm glad A will figure those out, because I'd throw up my hands in confusion.

***

My weekend activities give some folks on the right wing nightmares, don't they?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Kingdom for a Theme

There's an emphasis here on doing themes. No more, we're told, can you just teach first year writing; nope, you need a theme. Preferably, this theme should be exciting to students! Pop culture! Vampires! I don't feel much connection with pop culture; I've never been hip, even when I was in my 20s. I'm less hip as a 50 year old.

I teach two such courses a year, every semester, pretty much year in, year out. I rotate some essay topics in and out, change up some things, but mostly, I do slow changes, rather than big ones. That means I don't have to redo the whole syllabus every year.

So this year, I chose my theme as something to do with education and the individual. I added some essays to the reading, dropped other things, switched out an essay topic, and so forth.

They want us to come up with new themes every year. I'm sure that sounds good to the folks who teach the same intro to chemistry course every semester, but if you really prepare seriously, it's hard to come up with new themes all the time.

***

We do senior seminars for our majors; each major has to take a number of these seminars, depending on the program. And they're great. They give our lit folks, especially, an opportunity to be in a small class (the other lit courses tend to run 30-35, while the writing folks' courses are capped at 15). It's also their real opportunity to be in class with people who aren't GE students, but have taken theory and other lit courses. The quality of discussion is just wonderful, especially compared to the GE courses. (It's not that our GE students are bad, but they don't know how to talk about lit in the same way that people who've practiced talking about lit do.) (It's hard to quantify for assessment, but our students really do learn a lot of critical skills through our majors, especially in terms of reading lit and talking about stuff.)

Our seminar situation is, in short, a grad student's wet dream. It's that ideal interview question: if you were to teach a senior seminar in your field, what would you teach? Now imagine answering that question for the next 15 years without constantly repeating yourself. It gets more difficult, doesn't it.

This year, my seminar focuses on the Other in early modern drama. I've taught the same basic course a couple years ago, and it was good, but this one is going even better. I've read a lot more recent work in the area, and there's a lot of work being done on the Ottoman empire and early modern Europe and such, and I'm grateful for the historians and lit crit and po-co folks who are leading the way.

Last year, I did death in early modern culture, and it wasn't as good as I wished it were. Previously, I've done a sort of staging history (history plays, mostly), and I did a Marlowe course.

Now it's time to think of next year. I really like the Other course, but I want to give it a year's rest, because students who are fairly advanced might want to take two seminars in early Brit, and I want them to be able to if they'd like. (This mostly happens with linguistics folks.)

Our undergrad programs give majors and minors a fair bit of breadth, but relatively little depth, canon-wise, so almost anything, even if it seems "old" in a grad program, will still feel pretty fresh around here. And our area is pretty conservative, so doing a queer Renaissance sort of course would seem scary to a fair number of our students (and perfectly normal to others).

I'm mostly a drama person, but I could do a poetry oriented seminar. I don't think I could do a Milton seminar without being miserable (because I don't keep up on Milton criticism, so I'd have a lot of catching up to do).

Who's got a great idea? I have the summer to work it up, along with the three courses I'll be teaching in England, and the other two courses I'll be teaching when I get back (a new theme for writing will probably be necessary, for example; the other course is likely to be Shakespeare GE). (Isn't it great to have summers "off"?)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dissent

I was the lone dissent on an important committee vote today.

We don't do dissent well here. But I think I was right. And now I feel crappy partly because everyone else thinks I am wrong, partly because I wasn't able to convince them, partly because I feel like an alien here.

And I now need to hope that the rest of the committee was totally right. I'm not there yet, but I need to get myself there. And I need to do it without resorting to sugar this weekend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Question for the Interwebs

I'll admit, I haven't watched much professional baseball for a long time. How long? The last major league game I went to, McCovey was on first, not a fake name for China Basin. (I went to a game in Japan and saw the Hanshin Tigers more recently, though.)

So, didn't we used to sing a rousing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the seventh inning stretch? What's this religious singing I keep hearing? Am I remembering wrong?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Body

I got my hair cut the other day. It's short. I like it short.

It's so short that the cowlick stands straight up.

That's what they mean when they talk about "body" in shampoo commercials, right?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Past Tense

When I went into each of my classes today, I was caught up on the grading for that class.

The most important word in that sentence is "was."

:(

I have new stacks now.

Resistance

My writing students have been reading some essays about education and liberal arts, specifically. One of those essays (I'm not going to name the author or the essay because I don't want it to be googled easily) argues that students from working class backgrounds experience conflicts with their families when they go to college. In the essay, the author talks about his/her experiences, and other peoples' experiences, and talks about why s/he thinks the conflicts happen.

My students almost universally hate this essay. If they don't identify as working class, they don't see that the author is talking very specifically about working class experience, and claim that s/he's wrong. If they identify as working class, then they say that they'll never have these sorts of conflicts with their parents.

And they want to write about how wrong the author is. The thing is, the author may not be speaking for all working class experience, but s/he's reporting his/her experience, and the experiences of other people. And you can't really write in a comp essay that those experiences didn't happen.

You can write that you hope your experience will be different, and here's why (and there's another essay they can turn to for support with that). You can say that the author's wrong in interpreting his/her experience, and thus wrong in talking about the reasons for these experiences (but my students don't go there because they really don't get that deep yet).

I just chatted with a student about his/her paper. This student has asserted that the author is basically wrong, and that his/her parents and s/he can talk about anything without serious conflict. So I asked the student to think about the fact that s/he is living in dorms, and unlike the author, not trying to find a space to study in the house every day, not discussing school stuff with parents every day.

Have you gone home and visited since you came to college? "Yes," the student said. And did you talk about school stuff? The student pondered, and said, no not really. "Why not?" I asked. And the student suddenly got it. S/he had chosen not to talk about school stuff much, because his/her parents wouldn't "get" it.

Then s/he said that a sibling had recently graduated, and had lots of arguments with their parents about just the sort of think the author was talking about.

So, now s/he's got a new take on the essay, about how s/he's going to make an effort to not let conflicts interfere with the family relationships.

I have a feeling this is going to be a much better essay.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Clean Office!



I cleaned up my home office this weekend. I'm a clutterer, but I put things away. It's still not perfect, but you can see that there's a desk under the stuff now.

A Question of Privilege

I'm sure I'm not the only person around who teaches students in one or another class about privilege, specifically the race privilege that white folks in the US have, the gender privilege that men in patriarchy have, and the class privilege that folks such as myself have.

When I do so, I think I do so for a couple reasons. First, I want students to be aware that life isn't just, and that they aren't where they are solely because of merit.

And second, and probably more important, I want students to resist unwarranted privilege when they can. I know there are times when you can't resist privilege for a variety of reasons. Or times when you haven't figured out how to resist privilege. As a white woman, I notice when the bank is willing to write me a mortgage for a house without asking if I don't have a husband. But I don't know if the bank is treating people of colorin the same way. I don't know if my realtor is showing me houses in all the neighborhoods that might suit my needs, or is s/he's showing people of color with the same housing criteria different houses.

But there are times when I can resist privilege. I can make sure that I'm not waited on ahead of someone else in line, for example. And I can work myself to make sure that I treat all my students (and other folks) with respect. Those are little things.

If I'm not willing to try to resist white privilege (or middle age privilege), then I figure I'd have no right to expect the white men who run things to resist their privilege even a little.

Recently, someone led me to question my hope there. This is someone who's committed to teaching about privilege, but who doesn't seem to think that recognizing privilege entails some responsibility to try to resist privilege.

So, I ask you, wisdom of the web, why do we teach students about privilege?

Do we consider ourselves successful if a white male, having learned to recognize privilege, does his best to take advantage of his white male privilege?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Choose a Major Day

I spent several hours at our campus choose a major day event. I talked to a lot of students.

The idea is that you're supposed to tell students about the wonders of the major you represent. In my case, that's English.

I do a lousy job. Oh, I can tell students about our English major, but then I always want to talk about how they can learn the skills they'll need in all sorts of majors.

So I don't know that I sell the English major well.

Maybe it's because I wasn't an English major?

I'm tired of talking. I don't want to talk to anyone about their major for a bit. I don't actually want to talk to anyone about school stuff for a bit.

But, I'm going bowling with some of my students this evening. I hope I don't bowl too miserably. I hope none of them wants to talk about becoming an English major.

Watching TV

Since I didn't have grading last night, I turned on the TV. I'm a lazy TV watcher, which I'm sure the networks appreciate; if I see a show I like and turn it on, I'm likely to watch the next show unless it really irritates me until bedtime.

So it was last night. I watched some comedies. One is good, and then they get less interesting to me. And then there's this Donald Trump show.

The basic premise is that two teams are doing little business things to gain Trump's approval. For each task, there's a team leader on each team; the team leader of the team that wins the task gets to meet with some business person. I'm assuming someone wins the overall season, and gets to meet with Trump or something? And then someone (or more than one?) person from the losing team gets "fired."

The teams seem to be broken down along gender lines. Is that how it always works?

Anyway, yesterday the teams had to do pedicabs in Manhattan. One team went around a tourist area, and the other chose Wall St. Both teams had gimmicks: the tourist area team (the men) did some Roman chariot theme. The Wall Street team (the women) did a "Babes on Bikes" theme. The tourist area team did way better.

The Wall Street team, wow, what a disaster. They sounded like they were TV prostitutes out to pick up customers in public. Seriously, what Wall St worker is thinking, "Hey, they're filming prostitutes picking up men. I want to be filmed getting a ride!" (The cameras must be fairly obvious, right?)

Anyway, the key seemed to be that these are tourist things, not worker bee things, so the tourist area worked better.

(The producers have obviously chosen a cast of folks who are, at least the women are, thin and fairly attractive and quite young; the men aren't necessarily thin or as young looking. So the women are playing the prostitution thing. ICK.)

Then there's a part where cast members talk to the camera about their team members, usually negatively. I'm unclear whether the judge(s?) (do Trump's kids act as judges, too, or are they just advisors?) sees the talking to the camera parts.

Finally, both teams meet with Trump to talk about what they've done. And that was both really, really irritating and fascinating in a sick way. He'd ask a seemingly smart and pointed question, and the cast member he'd ask would evade and avoid, rather than anwering. Either s/he wasn't actually listening carefully, or s/he didn't respect Trump enough to think he'd notice and actually want the answer to his question, or s/he thought he could talk around the question. It was weirdly like watching students not answer a question in office hours.

(You know: "What's your argument?" "Well, I'm thinking that it's really interesting that there's this, you know, and then I was wondering about the other stuff, but then I thought I would try to answer without doing any research and so I don't know, but I wrote this high school paper where I talked about otters.")

And then there's the unwillingness to take real responsibility. All the cast members are too afraid, as if they're really, really going to get physically hurt if they did something wrong.

Trump asked the women's group who chose Wall Street, and the blame game started. (I admit, I hadn't been paying really close attention to who made the suggestion, but they all went along, even though one woman said during the talk to the camera part that she had some doubts; she hadn't expressed and explained those doubts to her team members.) Suddenly, the team leader had no responsibility. Nor did anyone else. I really, really longed for someone to stand up and say, "I did; I made a mistake. Here's what I was thinking. And here's what I've learned from my mistake."

But, of course, that doesn't happen.

And then at the end, the team leader is asked who to fire, and she really, really should say, "Sir, you should fire me. I'm responsible."

I mean, she got fired anyway, so why not get fired like a responsible adult?

I can't imagine any sane boss thinking, "This woman was on TV and was a total bitch and didn't take responsibility, let's hire her!" (I can imagine a horndog boss thinking that she's attractive and was on TV and will probably be willing to get laid, however.)

You'd have to pay me an awful lot to be in that room listening to the whiny nastiness of the cast, because I think I'd be inclined to quickly fire anyone who whined in the meeting room. (I'm guessing if Trump had done that during the first season, the show wouldn't have survived; but if it had survived, there'd be a lot less whining now.)

But then, I'm no Donald Trump. And I have the grey hairs to prove it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Moment of Quiet

My day started calmly enough; I got to the office at 7:30, recorded some grades, prepped for class, did some advising preparation.

I taught from 9 to 11, and had what I felt was a good class. Yesterday evening, most of my class went out to dinner together (at an on-campus cafeteria with vile food) and then to a talk. The talk was brilliant, the sort of brilliance that makes me feel like a total failure except insomuch as I can actually see someone else's brilliance and appreciate it. Dinner with the class is a little awkward, but got more relaxed after a bit. Today, we worked with thesis statements on the board, trying to make individual thesis statements stronger, talking about how they map essays, and so forth. We worked on questions for the research paper. It was good, and moderately taxing as a class.

Then I had office hours scheduled from 11-12. At 1:40, I finished talking to students, looked up, and realized what time it was. I had twenty minutes to answer a colleague's question (frighteningly enough, I'm apparently the department expert on finding certain things on the new registration and advising system) and have lunch.

At 2, I had scheduled office time to meet with prospective students for an admissions program. (Remember, without admissions, we don't have anyone to teach!)

At 3:10, I finished talking with a prospective student, and had a few minutes to take care of some paperwork and get myself to my 3:30 meeting.

And now, I've returned from that meeting at 4:45, and am sitting down to think about tomorrow.

My class isn't prepped; I have to do that yet.

Tomorrow, I have three hours at a program for students thinking about different majors, mostly "manning" a booth and talking to students who might want to study English.

And then the weekend comes, and prep for next week, when I'll get two big stacks of papers and one small stack.

And now that I've relaxed a bit, I'm going to do my last hour of prep and be off. I can't even count how many students and prospective students I talked with today, but it was a lot. It's fun, and a good reminder that we get to work with some pretty impressive folks here. But usually my day has more down time, more time to think about the next step, do a little reading or grading, have a bit of conversation over my lunch. Today felt more like what I imagine a lot of people's days are like, non-stop talking with one person after another with the next people already waiting outside. As much as I enjoy chatting with students, I could have used just a little more space between visits.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Scary

We're about halfway through the semester, and as of this very moment, I'm almost totally caught up with my grading. I have perhaps half an hour for one course, and an hour for another.

I've done almost all the "data collection" for my research project, and am in the process of having our student workers put stuff in the computer.

Tomorrow and Friday I have nearly endless meetings both days. But still, I feel, for this one moment, incredibly and amazingly free.

I have two and a half hours before I'm meeting my writing students for dinner (and then we're going to a talk). I could grade, or I could go play outside a bit.

Somehow, that's feeling like an easy decision.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Petty Little Stuff

Over years of grading, I've gradually come to understand some of the frustrations my mother had with me as a kid. For example, I would dither and dally about my household chore, which was emptying the dishwasher. Then I'd have to ask where something went just about every time. I knew where the regular stuff went, but things that weren't used much went in special places, and I couldn't bother to remember them. And so my Mom would get frustrated.

I graded my stack of papers over the weekend, and little things frustrated me. For example, why do students persist in italicizing essay titles, even though we've talked about the format, and they have the format for these specific essays on the assignment sheet, AND they have another checklist sheet to use before turning in papers? In the moment of coming to that italicized title, it's frustrating and seems like mere carelessness. In my calmer moments, I know it's just something they don't perceive as important, and haven't internalized.

In the moment, I want to just give the essay an F and be done, because it's just frustrating. But, of course, I don't.

But I sometimes wonder how much my reading of an essay is subconsciously (and negatively) affected by things such as italicizing essay titles, adding extra spaces between paragraphs, and other petty missteps.

I can be grading along, and then come across that one stupid italicized title, and I thnk "GAH!" and get distracted by my frustration, and want to stop. I think my over-reaction is one of the things that makes me slower at grading than I could be.

Have I mentioned using the term "novel" when what we've read is non-fiction or a play? That really tends to make me cranky in upper-level courses. But I think it's because my sense of what a novel is (prose fiction of a certain length) is uncertain. Is Beware the Cat a novel? Sidney's Arcadia? Why or why not? I've never quite gotten that far in my understanding of the term.

(Since I'm obsessive, of course, I decided to look at the earliest usages recorded in the OED, because, did I mention, a bit obsessive?

C. 1500, someone describes The Decameron a novel, in the sense that it's a collection of stories.

On the other hand, with the definition:
A long fictional prose narrative, usually filling one or more volumes and typically representing character and action with some degree of realism and complexity; a book containing such a narrative.

novel is first used in 1639.

Here's the problem with that definition, though: a lot of works now commonly called "novels" don't fit in terms of representing with some degree of realism and complexity, do they? There's stuff out there that misses totally on the "realism" front, and other stuff that misses on the "complexity" front.

Beware the Cat isn't particularly realistic, but then, neither is Frankenstein; should we go back and call it a novel, even though the term's an anachronism? (We call some of Shakespeare's plays "romances" though they weren't called that in the period.)

And how embarrassing is it that I had to roll back and find a novel on my bookshelf in order to name one that isn't an early modern text?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

From My Aunt to the World

My aunt forwarded this to me. Take a look for yourselves, because it does a really good job of explaining why "I'm Voting Republican."

(It's a little old, but still amusing.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Me, Too

Do you ever look at someone, or read about someone, someone who's supposed to be reasonably intelligent, and just think, "What the dickens were you thinking when you did that?" Or, you just think, "Didn't you know that was going to happen?"

That's happened a lot recently. There's a local news story, and I just can't even imagine how one of the people in the news thought s/he could do what s/he did without causing problems.

There's someone I read, and I just can't imagine why this person made the choice s/he did, because from outside, the outcome seemed overwhelmingly likely. And yes, there it is, the expected outcome, but the person seems surprised.

Or you have a student, and you think, well, it's a learning situation. And then s/he does the exact same thing again.

Or you look in the mirror and realize you still have that pile of papers to grade you've been procrastinating about.

:(

I suppose I should be grateful that I'm not on a reality TV show, making a fool of myself in public. Except, the whole blog thing is sort of public.

Erg.

Friday

It's been a week, a longish week, with lots happening. I'm done teaching for the day, and it looks beautiful out my window, but I have two hours of meetings starting later in the afternoon.

I should grade.

I could go out and play outside for a bit (I have play clothes in my car). (It wouldn't be playing on my bike, but it would be playing).

I could nap, but in order to sleep at all, I'd have to go home, and I can't quite see going home, napping, and then coming back.


In the good news department: Remember the research project I was blogging about before? (Here, for example.) Well, I filled out all the IRB stuff last month, and got the approved IRB (because the most dangerous potential for my research is a paper cut). And I've distributed some questionnaires, and even gotten my first one back!

I have two appointments to get student responses on my questionnaires next week.

And a couple of other folks have gotten back to me on dates and we're working things out.

In mid-November, the research preparation group has a meeting; my goal is to have done a significant portion of all the questionnaires and be ready for help starting the analysis.

I deserve to go play outside, don't I?

***

Addendum: I played outside for almost half an hour, and it felt GREAT! I walked on the gravelly hills (one , but other than that I "ran" the whole way.

There's a park area bordering campus, sort of. One part has a drive that you can drive slowly through or walk, partly along a marsh, and then behind a neighborhood near campus, and then to a groomed "park" area. The other side is across a road on campus, and has a trail going along up a bluff area, and then into a woodsy area which was donated to the city/campus (I think) with the reservation that they can't do more in there than maintain a couple of trails. There's a main trail that's sort of a figure eight, and then a smaller trail at the end of that leading out to a bridge. It's lovely in there. I think it's where students go to neck; at any rate, I interrupted some happiness (they both looked happy). But since I was playing outside, I'm guessing my heart rate was higher than theirs. (They weren't doing anything inappropriate for a public space.)

I played for the first part of the figure eight, and out and back from my office building. The trail out there's very soft on the feet, but there's a gravel hill up the bluff that's not at all nice for the happy toes things. So I walked that.

Still, it's lovely out there, and makes a great break in my day. I'm going to aim to do the second part of the figure eight soon!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transfixed

Since late last night, I've been transfixed by the rescue of the miners in Chile. I watched the first couple of miners come up, and was so happy for the second guy who brought up rocks to hand out.

Through the day, I've watched on and off as I had time. And now they're bringing up the last miner, and then, I guess, they'll bring up the four rescuers.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be the last rescuer there, hoping that just one more time everything would work, alone below the ground so very far.

But, it's gives me a little bit of hope that so many people were able to put things together to rescue these men.

How Much Do I Hate On-Line Learning?

A lot. I hate on-line learning with the intensity of a double sun. A very lot.

I was asked to be on this committee. The asker told me that it's an easy committee, just meet a couple times a year. There's pizza involved, she said. And so I said yes. Saying yes, I need to learn, is always a mistake, even when there's pizza involved.

After I said yes, I got a phone call, and again, was told there's pizza, and only a couple of meetings a year. So I said yes. That time, the person who called me, strangely enough, grew up and went to a high school about ten miles from where I did, in the suburbs of a big city. Again, I need to learn how to not say yes.

Then I got an email from an assistant in charge of some stuff, because over there, they have assistants in charge of some stuff. The email said, you need to fill out these forms, and do these trainings, and you can find it here on our course website thingy.

And so the other day, I started in, with some tiny bit of resentment.

One of the trainings needs to be done through the flagship university, but I need to email, and then send them stuff to prove I'm who I say I am, and then they'll send me a code thing so I can go in and learn stuff. I obviously waited too long to start, and so I won't have that finished by the meeting today. But what are they going to do, kick me off the committee? (I should be so lucky.)

One of the trainings, let's call it the outside group training, I needed to type in a LONG url from a pdf to get to the training and such. I typed, but working from a pdf, I couldn't tell a zero from the letter O, and so I never got it. I emailed, and the assistant sent me a link, which didn't work. I emailed again, and the assitant told me how to find it within the site. That would have worked the first time. So I spent an hour or so yesterday, reading the stuff in little modules. It's a tremendously inefficient way for me to learn, reading little modules on a web site. If it were really important, I'd need to take notes, and it would be hard from a little module. It would be helpful to have this in a little booklet; here, the booklet could say, read me, make notes in the margin, and then keep me to refer to if you have questions. But no, I read on the module. But I was at home, and in order to prove that I've taken and passed the test, I needed to be able to print it out, and I don't have a printer at home, so I had to wait to take the test until I was in the office.

I took the test this morning. I opened two browsers, and referred when necessary to the second browser to look things up. That's not learning, that's just filling in web bubbles. But it took a good half hour to fill in those bubbles. I passed, and made my print out. And didn't learn much in the process.

Then I went to find ome of the other things I'm supposed to learn. One of them is a massive pdf, which shows up sideways on my screen (and I couldn't figure out how to make it not sideways because I'm a computer idiot). I tried twisting my head, but then the direction changed, so instead I printed it out. I have several pages now with six BIG words. Again, a little booklet or two page thingy would have been way more efficient and effective.

Then I went to find another learning module thing. I looked all over the site, and couldn't find it. I emailed, and the assistant said to look under "training" but there's nothing on the site labeled "training." I emailed again, and she said maybe I hadn't been given access to that, and emailed me a big powerpoint file. Again, I have MASSIVE words, six to a page. Is this really an effective way to learn for anyone? Really?

Because now, I'm going to have to click through, and then take another stupid clicky test where I'll keep the powerpoint open in front of me and then fill out the test on paper (because I can't get at the non-paper version).

And I wonder, is this what things are like for students who take on-line courses? Do they have as much trouble accessing stuff, and have to twist their heads around, and waste paper with six words on a page if they print it out?

I wonder that as someone who does put pdfs in a campus course site for students. But I darned well make sure those pdfs open on my home computer, and I don't make students run all the hell over.

Am I just an old cranky codger who wants to read sentences rather than six words bulleted on a powerpoint? Is that sort of presentation actually effective for other people? How can it be effective if there aren't the logical relationships structured by subjects and verbs and sentences?

/Cranky off

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Poetry Teaching Thoughts and Questions

I'll be teaching our intro poetry course this coming semester. Typically, I use an anthology; on occasion I've added a few other poems. And I use Hollander's Rhyme's Reason.

This year, I'm thinking of also teaching a book of more recently written poems, you know, by someone who's alive. It's shocking, isn't it.

I have a colleague who's a good poet, so I could teach one of his books. And I have a friend who's a good poet, but not, alas, a colleague, so I could teach her book.

If I teach one of the colleague's book, I could ask the colleague to come chat with my class. I can't ask the same of my friend, because it's just too far.

I'm a little hesitant about teaching a book of poetry. I've never done it before, so it would be new. And new is scary. Okay, I can handle that. But the temptation, especially if the book's by a poet you know, is that you read a poem and feel like you "know the answer," though, of course, there's no "answer" to be known in a poem. It's not like once you figure out that "The Flea" is doing an extended sexual metaphor you're done, and that's that for the poem. There's the metaphor, but it's not just a metaphor. In "The Flea," there's also the beauty of the structure, and the way the poem leaves the "beloved's" words out; there's a world of depth that isn't about being an inside dirty joke, though sexuality is certainly important in the poem.

When I started back to school, I took a lit theory course from X, and for that course, we read a book by Y, who, it turned out, X considered a friend. And I remember, we were reading a poem, and I offered up what I thought was a reasonably plausible reading of some line, and X said, no, it couldn't be that because Y wouldn't say that. Instead, X informed us, Y was writing about this other thing, and to know that you had to know Y (or, perhaps, have read Y's full works).

It struck me at the time as incredibly unfair. If it's in the poem, then anyone with appropriate language and cultural knowledge should be able to get something out of the poem. There might be other stuff there, stuff that only someone close to the poet would know, but the real there of the poem should be there for all readers. If it's just an inside joke, then it probably doesn't work really well as a poem.

When I teach poetry, I try to be really cognizant of teaching students the language and cultural backgrounds to understand how to read the poem, but mostly I focus on reading skills, on feeling and listening to the words, making out sentences, and figuring out how the poem works as a poem, rather than as an inside joke.

In other ways, too, I try not to be like X, whose definition of hermeneutics was all about what hermeneutics wasn't, so that I went around that semester complaining that while I knew what hermeneutics wasn't, my car was none of those things, either, and I didn't think that helped me understand hermeneutics. I still feel nervous when hermeneutics comes up as a term, by the way.

And then there's the other end of the thinking you know the poem because you know the poet. I don't know my colleague all that well. I mean, we chat about poetry, and I enjoy our interactions. And sometimes we chat about other things. But I don't know about his deepest love, or what his favorite food is, or why he chooses to write about what he does.

And my friend, though I know about her deepest love, I haven't seen for a number of years, so maybe what I think I know is totally wrong. Maybe her deepest love isn't what I think at all. And maybe the poem I read, that I think I know a context for, isn't at all about that.

Most of my students have some cultural differences from my friend, which would be good, because they'd learn about a culture they have little contact with. On the other hand, one of the advantages of teaching more contemporary poetry is that my students have a better sense of cultural contexts than they do reading Sidney or Wyatt, and teaching this book would mean I'd have to do a fair bit of cultural explaining, which would seem to edge a bit into the "I know this person, so I know this poem" problem. My colleague's world would seem way more familiar to my students, though I think his background provides some important cultural differences. I don't think those differences would require explanation in the same way because my students would feel like they "got" the cultural contexts.

My colleague and I have talked about teaching this poetry course, and I know he likes to teach a full book of modern poetry in there, because he thinks there's a rhythm and special meaning to reading a whole book. But he doesn't teach his own books of poetry there. And, because he's a poet, he reads a lot more contemporary poetry than I do, so he does a new book of poetry almost every time he teaches the course (in addition to using an anthology).

For those of you who teach poetry courses, do you teach a book of poetry? (By a single author, for example?) Which books have you taught (or do you love) that seem to work especially well in the classroom?

Does anyone notice a blip when a bookstore orders up 30 copies of their poetry book all at once?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Great Egg Disaster and Other Stuff

One of my friends invited me to a potluck last night. I decided to make deviled eggs (after checking with my friend). I love deviled eggs. Everyone (almost) loves deviled eggs. But I rarely think to make them because they don't travel well in my lunch thingy, and if you're going to make one, you may as well make ten, and who eats ten eggs... unless you're taking them to a potluck!

I boiled up the eggs. I'd heard that you can use hummus rather than mayonaise and mustard to mix with the cooked yolks, so I did about half the eggs with hummus and they were good, so yay.

I put all the eggs on a plate, and then covered that with a mixing bowl that can sit on the plate nicely, and put that on the floor of the passenger side front seat of the car. And off I went.

And the first curve I hit (which is at the corner of my street), of course, the eggs slid. A bunch of them slid right off the plate and onto the floor; they slid without rolling at least, so only the egg white part was on the floor.

I felt almost like crying. You know, you just want to take some deviled eggs to your friends' house, and they slide off the plate. I've learned to realize that when something totally unimportant makes me want to cry, I'm either tired, low on protein, or stressed. But then I thought, these friends, they'll understand about the great egg disaster.

So I moved them from the floor to the mixing bowl, and drove carefully home. Then I re-covered the ones that hadn't slid off with another bowl, and piled jackets around that so the bowl and plate were immobile. The eggs could slide around on the plate, but they couldn't get out. And they now had plenty of room to slide around on the plate, since most of the eggs I'd fixed were in the first mixing bowl.

When I got to my friends' house, I explained about the great egg disaster, and we laughed, and then before the other people got there for the potluck, we cleaned off the ones that had fallen and ate them. And they were good. And if I get fatally sick, well, that's that.

Thus the great egg disaster wasn't so disasterous after all. I appreciate having friends who can laugh at the egg disaster.

The other stuff: It's fall.

My little lone maple tree (see above) down in the "prairie restoration project" (which is sort of more a woodland restoration project, actually) has turned colors. The photo doesn't quite do it justice.

I have some tiny blue/purply flowers in the restoration project area. I think they're some sort of aster? Any thoughts? (Also above; this one has a bug on it!)

I also have this weed thing, but no clue at all what it is. There are a LOT of bugs on it, though, so someone's happy. It's got these pod things, and then there's fluff in there (and probably seeds, which is what I'm guessing the bugs are eating).

When I first moved into this house, about 7 years ago (wow, can it really have been that long ago?), I planted seven trees in the yard. (It's a fairly new neighborhood where they've taken out trees to put up the houses, except in the back area where it's steep enough that they won't be allowed to put up more houses, or so I've been told.) In the front, I put a hawthorne and two tamarack/larch trees. On the side, a river birch. (Yes, I live at the top of a hill, so why did I put in trees that like water? I'm not the brightest gardener.) In the back I put two pines, and in the far back (the prairie restoration area), I put the maple. The trees up top get water when it hasn't rained for a while. The maple doesn't, because I'm a bad gardener. But it's a native, and is doing fine. (Plants have to be pretty tough to live with me, I'm afraid.)

More recently, about three years ago, I put two small pines in the prairie restoration project. They were pretty small, because that's what the tree farm had available, and I didn't protect them very well, so the deer really hit them hard that first year. But they survived the winter, and have been doing better each year. This one is further out, and really got eaten the first year. This year, when I bought a weed whacker, I whacked some of the weeds from near the little trees (and the maple, too), so maybe they'll have a little less competition and will grow better. (I whacked a path down to them, too, and wore out a whole weed whacker spool doing it. A machete would have been a LOT more efficient!)

This one is closer in. I'm hoping that in 20 years or so, they'll provide a tad more privacy for my deck. It's funny to think about 20 years down the line. I'll probably be retired, and may well have moved. So I'm really planting for someone else's privacy. And who knows, those people may think that the pines get in the way of their view and cut them down.

Back in June, I took a photo of one of the older pines that I'd planted, which was growing its first ever pinecone. Look here. And now, that pine cone has done it's pine cone thing and opened up. (I'm not sure the seeds would have been viable, since there may not be other pine cones around spreading pollen, but maybe they do that younger, so the other tree might have had some? Do they self-pollinate?) It's sort of cool, if you look from one picture to the other, you can get a sense that the tree put on a lot of new growth in that area over the summer. The baby cone is pretty easy to see, but the open cone is more hidden by foliage. In the June picture, the growth coming off right above the baby cone is really new and looks it. In the current picture, it looks much more hardened.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Looking for Blogs

It struck me the other day that some of the most interesting blogs I read are people who are doing new things. New professors, for example, or people who are going to grad school. There are blogs I've followed a bit, and I enjoy them, but now the people are more stable, and sometimes they don't blog as much because they don't have time or aren't doing new things that seem blogworthy. But I read them because they're still interesting to me, especially the ones who blog pretty regularly.

So I'm looking for a few good blogs to read, grad student blogs or new professor blogs interest me especially.

Who's out there blogging about academic life that I don't read? (You can see on my blogroll the folks I tend to read a lot.) Please tell me a little about your suggestions and why I might like their writing.

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Endless Parade of Meetings

I love teaching. It takes lots of energy and preparation, but it's exhilarating to try to engage other people to learn stuff. And then there's grading, but asi est.

I like talking to students. In my cheesiness role, I do a lot of meeting with students individually, giving them initial advising about English majors and such, and getting them set up with a specific advisor for their studies. It's mostly good, though there's a lot to remember and keep in mind. And it takes a lot of time.

But then there are meetings. I feel like that past few days have been chock full of meetings for this and that in addition to all the other things. But when I look at my appointment book, there are only three four meetings that don't directly involve students. So why do I feel so tired of meetings?

I met with a representative of the program I'll be teaching for next fall. I was doubtful about this meeting. But it was wonderful; I learned a lot about the program and expectations and how things work and I'm even more excited about it. It made me realize how very little guidance I got from the program in Japan before I went.

I met with folks from the campus advising office, and once again, I learned about their rules and more rules, and then there are other rules. The thing is, for all these rules I'm supposed to keep track of, they might actually mean something for one or two students a year (in my cheesy position; I've had ONE student since I've been here for whom they mattered at all). There's this thing where if I say X, then X goes on some "books" and is so forever and ever until someone changes and says Y. That's sort of scary. I hope I don't need to say "X" about anything, ever.

I gave these folks some information about how our department works, and they seemed, well, less than interested. Clearly, this was supposed to be a one-way street, with them telling me, and I was just supposed to listen. But if they knew something about how we work, it might help them with the few students who want to do stuff with our department.

I had a regular committee meeting. I'm increasingly irritated by this committee, and its been building since I was elected for the committee. Basically, we rubber stamp administrative stuff. And the deanling, who is smart and knowledgible about stuff, and a decent person, gets frustrated quickly if anything moves beyond the rubber-stamping to real questions. And dog forbid anyone suggest anything ever change in a substantial way.

I have one more meeting today, and students, and then I get to turn my attention back to grading and preparing for my big group advising meeting next week. EEP!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The Benefits Dance

It's open season on benefits plans here at NWU. I think it's the same at a lot of places: you get the month of October to change plans or whatever, and then it takes effect in January, and no switching in between.

Yes, we're lucky to have benefits. I was talking the other day with a colleague who hasn't had benefits for some years and now does, and what a difference it makes when you get something such as a urinary infection. The thing about urinary tract infections, at least in my limited experience, is that once you've had one, you're pretty sure what it is the next time you have one. You may even know what medicine you took to cure it. But Shakespeare doctors are useless about this sort of thing, and even if my colleague was sure enough that it was a urinary infection, and sure enough that a given medicine had cured her before, without insurance, she'd have to pay $150* up front to get an appointment with another sort of doctor and then get the $4 prescription at whichever store has the cheap prescriptions in your town.

Of course, it's not the $150 up front to get an official diagnosis and prescription that makes uninsured people wake up in the night in a cold sweat; it's the possibility that it wouldn't be $150, which you might have in savings or be able to borrow from friends, but $15,000 which you don't have in savings and couldn't borrow easily (because if you don't have health insurance, it probably has something to do with not having a "regular" job that gives benefits).

Anyway, it's open season here.

I have to admit, I know diddly about health insurance and medical stuff. I know a fair bit about Shakespeare, but useful stuff? Not so much. Let me give you an example:

When I came here, I asked around a little and chose a health insurance plan that some other people had and didn't hate too much. Five years later, I thought I might be ill and asked around to get suggestions about a primary care doctor. Then I took the list, checked which places were listed in my insurance handbook thingy, and called around to find if one of the people recommended by my friends and on the list was actually taking new patients.

Receptionist: Hello, [Clinic Name], How may I help you?

Me: Hi, I'm looking for a primary care doctor and wondering if Dr [Name] is accepting new patients, please?

Receptionist: No, I'm sorry, Dr [Name] isn't accepting new patients.

Me: Okay, thank you. [click]

About half the people were at one clinic, and most of the others at another, but I hadn't quite figured out that I was calling one or the other clinic again and again until the poor receptionist at one of them stopped me and offered to just tell me which doctors at that clinic there were taking new patients. I felt stupid. I also didn't realize that almost no one was taking new patients. (And that made me wonder if it meant something bad that someone was taking new patients when almost no one was, but there wasn't much I could do about that.)

But I got my appointment, and after waiting two months for the actual appointment, I learned that I wasn't actually ill. And that was good.

Then, a couple of years later, the insurance I'd chosen decided that not only did it not want to do business with the clinic I'd been to, but it didn't want to do business with anyone in my area. Bye.

I signed up with another, a cooperative one.

The next year, the cooperative one sent around a thing saying that while previously you could be referred to one place out of state if you got really sick and needed more scary care, now you couldn't go there, but would be referred somewhere else. The thing is, the old referral place was one of those places that people who have a lot of choices choose if they get really sick. The other place isn't. The other place may be perfectly good for whatever gets you, but it doesn't have a good reputation around here. Who knows whether that reputation is deserved? I hope I never do. (Neither is close to here, which has really messed up more than one friend who got ill.)

So that year, I switched to another, one associated with the big place (which the clinic is also associated with), but one that was being newly offered in our area.

And this year, that insurance company has decided that it won't do business with the local clinic, even though it's affiliated with its affiliate.

And so I'm going to change back to the cooperative one, and hope I don't get sick and sent to the scarier big hospital. On the other hand, in the middle of the year, my dentist signed up with the cooperative so I'll have some dental coverage. (Before, I could have gone to the one dentist in town who was with the cooperative, but he didn't have a very good reputation. My dentist was highly recommended to me by several friends and seems very kind and humane.)

And the thing about all these recommendations: I'm basically flying blind. I have no idea that my dentist is really any good. He seems nice enough. My teeth feel nice after the hygenist has cleaned them. But until I need a cavity filled or something else, well, how do I know? I suppose I might figure out gross incompetence, the sort where he looks at your toes instead of your teeth, but minimal versus strong competence? Not a chance.

The same goes for the doctor. She's licensed and manages to keep a job. She seems pleasant enough, and hasn't made me think she's grossly incompetent. But how the hell would I know?

And the same goes for the insurance company. There's never a problem with just really basic stuff, I'm guessing. It's if I get totally sick that they're going to want to deny every claim I try to make.

So I just filled out the benefits change form to change back to the cooperative. (Do you know, in my state, you can now count domestic partners as dependents, but you have to pay taxes on the benefits and attach all sorts of legal paperwork to prove that you're partners. You don't have to pay taxes OR attach any paperwork to prove that you're married.)

I wonder what news they'll have for me next year?


* $150 is a random number. I have NO idea how much it costs to walk into a clinic and get seen and diagnosed for something like a urinary tract infection. Anyone have any ideas? (I just looked on the web sites for a couple of the local clinics, and no one has any pricing information. I guess you'd have to ask before you made an appointment if you didn't have insurance?)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

On Task

When I was writing my dissertation, I turned in an early chapter for a grad seminar I was taking, to a professor who wasn't on my committee in any way. That professor, though, took the time to really read the chapter, and suggested a revision strategy that brought out the argument of the chapter way better. It was the best response to a piece of my writing I ever got, more insightful and revision oriented than any other, ever.

When I read advanced student work, I try to model myself on that professor. I try hard not to want to make the argument mine, but to help the student revise the argument to make it more effective at what s/he seems to be wanting to get at.

Tonight, I think I did a pretty good job. I suggested a reorganization, one that will be fairly simple to undertake, but that will restructure the whole in a way I think will be more effective. And I suggested that the student is trying to focus on X, Y, and Z, and if I'm right, the student should revise so that X, Y, and Z come through in the introduction and in ever section of the work.

The work is far smarter than I made it seem in my biking analogy earlier today, and I think with revision will pull away from the things that bothered me and get stronger as an argument.

It's weird, though, because I'm not the last word, and I sent my response to the last word person and the student both, so that they can both see. And now I feel sort of anxious that the last word person won't shake his/her head about what a total idiot I am and how could I possibly suggest what I did.

Off Task

I'm supposed to be reading a paper by an advanced student today, but I'm having a hard time getting to it, so instead of reading it, I've stupidly been thinking about why it's hard for me to get to. And I think I've figured out why: The basic argument is that a certain technology is deeply patriarchal, and that the writer figured this out by analyzing her experience when the technology didn't work for her.

Imagine, then, that our writer embraced road bikes with great enthusiasm, only to find out that her back problems are aggravated by the position. And now the argument is that road bike geometry is anti-feminist.

Through what I've read so far, I really have the sense that if the road bike geometry had worked for the writer, I wouldn't be reading the paper, because she started out embracing road bikes with great hope. But that hope was crushed, and the writer is sort of working this out by writing this paper, and it can't be about a back issue, because blaming oneself is bad.

Okay, the road bike anthology is clumsy, but you get the idea.

I feel like I'm reading someone's therapy, and it's not that I don't basically agree that the technology IS patriarchal and such, it's just that I don't think that's a very original idea. And I really don't care about this person's experience with road bikes, because, really who gives a damn unless they ride road bikes. (Again, the analogy is lousy, but it's lousiness is appropriate. In this analogy, I ride a recumbent.) There's still a level at which the rider is mourning the fact that her road bike just didn't work out.

But that very mourning is within the patriarchal system that loves road bikes, and neither recognizes that, nor recognizes that there's no way out of the patriarchal system that loves road bikes except to accept the patriarchal rejection that comes with riding a recumbent. But this writer doesn't seem to see that riding a recumbent is even an option, and so is rejecting biking because the road bike doesn't work for her back.

Mmmm, my bike looks very appealing right now.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Slow Thinking

I've been thinking a lot about the young man, the student at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide recently. Prone to Laughter has a short post up listing the names of some other young people who've committed suicide in recent weeks, all of then in some sort of response to bullying and harassment, some of which has been targeting their sexual orientation or practices or supposed sexual orientation or practices.

Our campus is celebrating National Coming Out day on October 11th. Well, celebrating probably isn't the right word, since it's not on the official events calendar, though there will be events in the quad area most of the day. Folks have been invited to get and wear special t-shirts. Yes, I'll be there.

But it seems like very little, doesn't it, just acknowledging that some members of our community are gay, lesbian, bi, transgendered, and queer? But even that's being handled sort of on the quiet side, since by golly we wouldn't want any potential students or their parents to know it's happening.

I've read a few blogs, and there are good words there, better than I can do mostly.

But on one, there's a whole Christian thing about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, and whether it matters if one is "born" gay/lesbian, because would the Christian God have created people to be sinful, and then there's the comeback that we're all born with original sin and so on.

Can I just say, just once, I'd like to see the Christian community put as much energy into condemning greed and envy as it does into condemning consentual sexual practices.

Just once, I'd like to hear a Christian preacher on TV talk about greed and human rights and justice, and not be asking for donations to his/her own organization.

And really, if you aren't troubled by the basic premise that a beneficent greater power, omnicient and omnipotent, created the horror that is cancer or rabies (or any number of other horrible diseases), all of which hurt beings which can't have original sin because they have no capacity for sin within Christian theology, then I really don't get how you do it.

Meanwhile, I'm going to get my t-shirt and worry about how many of our students are being bullied and harassed.

Certain Smells

You know how some smells, even if they're not particularly pleasant in themselves, have such good associations that you just feel good when you smell them?

Gasoline does that for me. I either grew up in a family business that made its money off getting insurance for burning houses down (not) or went waterskiing as a kid a lot (nod).

My office chair, a lovely oak relic from the 50s or so, squeaks. So I brought in some lube from home to lube it. And the lube I brought, because it's the lube I have at home, is teflon bicycle lube. Mmmm, my office smells like a newly lubed bike waiting to go out and play. And my chair wheels are so smooth now that I could push off from the floor in front of my computer desk and fly backwards across the room to hit the back wall, some 10 feet away, without any effort at all. We should have chair races in our hallway! The leany part still squeaks, though.

This weekend, I went for either a walk (my term) or a hike (my friends' term) with some friends in a local park. (What's the difference between a walk and hike?) We walked through the different sorts of woody areas, pines and hardwoods), and up to a firetower, which we climbed. We spent a while up there because the air was crisp and lovely, and we could see for a long ways, over little rolly hills with farmland and woodlots with trees in the stages of fall color. It was as perfect a walk or hike as one could hope for.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A Sonnet for the Academic Times

That time of year thou mayst in us behold
When lateness sometimes seems the only way;
Late nights, long nights before the dreary cold
Sets in our bones and slows us in our way.
That time of term thou mayst in us now spy
When reading seems just too hard to get done
And grading takes so long we want to cry
And evenings feel so short we have no fun.
Our students come to class half dressed or less
From staying up too late, at who knows what;
They're showing the results of too much stress
And not enough good sleep with eyes well shut.
But years of teaching teaches us too well
That most of us will yet survive this hell.



And this is why I study literature and don't write it. (You already know why I'm not an artist!)