Monday, January 31, 2011

Blame the Poet

Students usually have fascinating reactions to Millay's "I, being born a woman." Some students totally read their expectations into the poem--the speaker's in love and she really wants him--and don't get beyond that. Some still want to think that the speaker's a male, at least for a while.

But this semester, I had a bunch of students who blamed the speaker for not taking responsibility for the "relationship."

It's as if they've never had carnal thoughts about someone they didn't want to have a relationship with. Or they've never admitted even to themselves that they've had carnal thoughts. Or sex.

And yet, evidence suggests that students today do have sex, just as students in my generation did. And in the generation before. Sex among students wasn't invented in 1967, but it didn't end in 1980, either.

It's a rough reminder that I, too, was a prude at 18. I probably would have thought that this speaker should keep her pants zipped. (Though I wouldn't at least have idealized the idea that she should get married as a "need.")

Perhaps this one should be up there with Austen as something people should reread after 30?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

What to do?

Our computer system will let students enroll in classes without any signatures or special permission (unless they need those for another reason) up to a certain point, say into the second week.

In my role as a minor cheese, I got an email about a colleague's advisee this weekend, asking my advice about this:

The student added a course on the computer at the end of the first week, when the computer allowed it. The student then emailed the instructor, explaining the late enrollment and asking for a copy of the syllabus so that the student could work on catching up, having missed the first week of the class.

And the instructor emailed back saying that the student couldn't take the course because s/he'd missed the first week.

What to do?

I understand the instructor's irritation about the late enrollment. Yes, it probably means an extra bit of work to catch the student up on things, but most of our students can be told to get notes from someone else and then visit during an office hour to clarify any confusion. And most of our students are quite capable of doing that. Personally, I don't think it's a huge imposition on an instructor. But I understand that it is some extra work.

But the student is enrolled. The computer put him/her in there. And my understanding is that we pretty much teach anyone who enrolls (barring some special safety situation).

But, if this instructor is pushed to take on the student, the instructor is quite capable of being, well, harsh and nasty.

This is one of those situations that makes me really glad I don't have responsibility for this instructor's behavior, because I'd really be frustrated. But this instructor is also quite senior, and capable of being as harsh and nasty to a junior colleague as to a student. I don't like feeling that way about colleagues, and I don't about most, but there it is.

What to do?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Hill

I went night skiing with a friend for the second time last night. There's a park near here that has several kilometers of trails lit until 10pm every night during the winter, and with the light from the snow reflecting the moon and such, and the nicely groomed trails, it's pretty much wonderful.

The last time I was here doing night skiing was my first time trying to skate ski. I was totally awkward, to say the least. I managed no glide whatsoever. None.

But I've improved pretty significantly. I still struggle awkwardly, but for moments at a time on a flat or slight downhill, I hit a rhythm and float along pretty darned well.

So last night my friend and I were skiing along, and near the beginning was a hill, and it was fun. With skate skis, hills seem way more fun. I think this is partly that the skis have a different edge and so more control, and partly that I'm in a wider groomed area (not the grooves), and partly that I've gotten used to picking up one foot and moving it and them picking up the other (with skis) and so I can actually change direction slightly. Whatever it is, it's way fun.

I was getting tired, and so we decided to go to this one last hill. It was a pretty big hill for me, probably up to bunny slope difficulty for downhillers. So up we went. If you haven't cross country skied, you should know that there are a couple ways to go uphill. Really good skiers fly up the hills, using basically the same gliding that they do on flats, except with a bit more effort and a bit less glide. People like me do this V thing, a sort of reverse snowplow and step up the hill. It's awkward, especially for me, since being heavy for my weight, I need skis that are longer than they would be if I weren't heavy, so I tend to get the backs crossed sometimes.

I fell going up the hill. Happily, I fell forward, and since it was pretty steep, getting up just involved making my skis into a V and pushing up a bit. That was good.

And then I made it to the top finally, and caught my breath. It looked STEEP going down.

And then we went down. And I yelled something about the thrill of it all.

Of course, if this were a good fiction, there'd be some big happening along the way or at the bottom: I'd fall spectacularly, crash into a tree, end up in the hospital, and learn a life lesson. Or I'd hit a deer that decided to cross at just that moment, and end up in a hospital with a side of venison, and learn a life lesson.

But this isn't good fiction, thank goodness. So, I skied happily down the hill, contemplated climbing back up to do it again, decided against it and skied back toward the warming hut.

I practiced the going without poles for a bit near the warming hut, and then we went home. (I need to learn to push off more effectively with my skis, and then I'll depend less on pushing with my poles, and I'll have an easier time floating along. But it's hard and tiring to practice without poles, so I've started to do it a bit, just on flat areas. IF I were dedicated to getting really good, or getting good faster, I'd probably go poleless more and longer. But it's not as fun, so...)

And that was that. I'm beginning to wonder how much fun I'd have downhill skiing. I gather that downhill skis are even better at giving you a sense of control. And not having to V my way up a hill would probably add to the fun, too.

In conclusion, last night, I V'd up and skied down a hill that would have been too difficult for me a year ago. And it was good. Better than good, in fact.

The end.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Good Advice from Dr. Virago

Here's some good advice from Dr. Virago for students interested in grad school, especially potential medievalists. But worth reading for others as well.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wrong Number

I just got an email sent to the whole English department from someone over in a very different area asking who our Flaubert scholar is.

Not it!

Candidate Visits - We aren't all bad

I don't want to give the impression that we're all horrid to our candidates. In fact, I was so irritated at how horrid that dinner was in part because I don't generally have that sort of experience.

Here's something that happened the next day: When there's an hour or so, especially before the lunch or something, we often have a meet and greet in the lunch room for the candidate. We get campus snacks and coffee, someone hangs out with them, and people come chat. I went in to chat the next day. Other than me, there were Y, and Z in the room, along with the chair and the candidate. (Y and Z have worked really, really hard on a program that should give us some great opportunities to improve our first year comp teaching.) They were chatting about our students or something when I walked in, and a moment after me, X walked in.

And at a lull, X graciously asked if Y and Z had told the candidate about the cool program they are working on. Y beamed. Z smiled and thanked X for the kind words, and then they talked about the program and their hopes. And we talked about the benefits to our comp teaching. And the candidate shared some good stuff from his/her comp experience, and Z dovetailed that into how this program works. It was hopeful and positive, but not BS or unrealistic.

So, we really do some things nicely.

We also make sure to plan a lunch with pre-tenured faculty folks. We all know it's a make or break thing. We all know (or have been) candidates who've had such a lunch and been honestly told that the place is hell and they shouldn't accept a job offer.

But we also know that our pre-tenured folks are treated pretty decently here and it shows in their general happiness. They don't get stomped on in meetings or treated unfairly. Their schedules aren't the worst we can give them, nor are we abusive. Sure, we're not a perfect place, but we mostly treat each other with respect and decency. And we know that our pre-tenure folks can talk about their experiences with performance reviews, mentoring, students, committee work, finding housing and such, and that what they have to say will help a candidate make a good decision about accepting a job offer if we make it.

We also make sure the candidates get down-time before the teaching or job talk stuff. And they get a couple hours before dinner so they can relax a bit. But they do have to be fed. And we're aware that candidates might be concerned that we're pretty small town and so might not have places to eat, and we want to show them that we do, indeed, have some places to eat.

Here's what we're up against (that a candidate is likely to notice quickly): We're a pretty small town in a cold winter climate. Having someone visit during snowy season is tough. It's not easy to get here from just about anywhere. We're not an R1, and we all teach composition most of the time. We have low pay compared to our "peer institutions." Our faculty and student body is overwhelmingly white, and it shouldn't be (because our high schools, for example, have a LOT more diversity).

Here's what we have to offer: a job. A department that treats people pretty decently. Decent benefits. A community where housing's not too expensive, and there's more to do than you might think at first sight. We have a good number of folks who are committed to serving the diverse community better than we do now. We're better than a lot of places at welcoming and caring for families and glbtq folks. We're big enough as a department, school, and community that you're likely to find people to be friends with, even if you don't hang out with everyone.

Part of our interviewing process should be to let the candidate know that we recognize what we're up against, but that we also have things going for us, and that for a lot of people, we're a good department to be part of.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dining with the Candidate

First, let me confess that I'm not the most socially adept person in the world. I'm fairly shy, and in larger groups tend to either be a bit quiet or try to make jokes. (I manage to teach because I've developed a teaching persona.) I tend to do okay in most small conversations because I find other people interesting and am happy to learn about what their interests. That said:

I went to dinner with some department folks and a candidate last night. The department folks included a married couple (TT), parents to two toddler types, an adjunct married to one of our TT folks, also parent to two toddler types.

There was a LOT of discussion of nannies, pre-schools, and other toddleresque topics among the two married women. The married man talked about bourbon and his beloved porch drinking club. (He's the type who babysits occasionally, so he didn't have much to add to the parenting discussion.)

The candidate listened politely but didn't seem to contribute. I don't know if s/he is a parent or a partner (s/he didn't contribute that information, and we sure don't ask).

But I can't help wondering if that dinner was at all useful to the candidate in terms of learning about our university, department, programs, etc.

I tried to move the topic onto program stuff, but it didn't really work, because the two married women really, really wanted to catch up on the latest pre-school news. I tried to get to know the candidate a bit, but there wasn't much room, since it's hard to move from diapering issues smoothly into pedagogy issues without an intermediate step that involves bringing the candidate in on the diapering issues. And I have little to say about diapering issues. I tried to move the topic onto things to do in the area, and the married man was just a tad snide at me (as he tends to be).

Do you ever wonder why someone who seems reasonably intelligent would marry a man who's a jerk? I wonder that a lot.

I left the restaurant and immediately wanted to check the other candidate meal lists to make sure I'm not eating with these folks again. Please, dog, no.

So, if the candidate is interested in small children issues in our department, then s/he likely thinks we have a reasonably decent place. If s/he is not, then perhaps s/he thinks this is the sort of place where only straight, married parental folks have a place.

In a purely social setting, I'm happy to hear from parents about their parenting, their beloved children, etc. It's not like that's the only thing I want to talk about, but it's certainly a fine thing to talk about as part of a conversation. But for a job dinner, I think we could do a lot better.

Monday, January 24, 2011

First Day

It's funny, but I find the first day of a semester exhausting, mentally, anyway. I only taught for a couple of hours, and before that did final checks on the course materials, made sure everything was set up on the internal web thingy, and had copies made.

Between classes and such, I took care of advising things, answered advising questions, figured out petitions, and tried to get things in order for the semester for that.

I think I'm tired mostly because I run high on adrenaline when I teach, and at the beginning of the semester, I'm pretty excited and worried about teaching. I worry about silly things: what if I forget when Shakespeare lived? And I worry about not so silly things: what if my students don't get my sense of humor and hate me?

But, as usual, the opening day went okay.

In poetry, we did the syllabus thing and then talked about a poem a bit. A goodly number of people were willing to try out ideas and talk, and I think that bodes well for the semester. But I did have to suggest that people take notes, so that they'd begin to learn poetic terms. I hate the idea of people memorizing terms for the sake of memorizing, but I think it's really helpful to know terms for when you want to talk about specifics. If you know what a caesura is, for example, you don't have to write a whole sentence about the pause at this or that area of a verse line, and then explain what you mean by a pause. So I try hard to make the terms meaningful, and use them with explanations, write them on the board, and so on.

Today, we talked a little about accents, stress marks, unstress marks, caesura, and that was about it, technically. They did a good job with two short lines.

In Chaucer, we did the syllabus thing and talked a little about basic contexts (what century? what language, that sort of thing). If you're in the habit of reading about the 14th century and such, then it's important to remember that most people don't do that, and don't know a whole lot about the period. But across the class, we figured out that a bunch of guys named Norman invaded and then the vowels shifted, and Edward III's survivors were a tough bunch of so and sos. And I sang the glories of antibiotics in talking about the plague. Antibiotics are pretty darned wonderful!

People laughed at my army full of guys named Norman, and that gave me hope.

One thing I try to do on the first day is have students read a bit of the syllabus aloud each. Usually, it's fine. Sometimes, I really get a sense that a student has reading difficulty. You know, they stumble over familiar words and skip important words. (I'm not trying to diagnose the problem, but I get a feeling that there is one. Or the student might just be really, really nervous.) And then I try to figure out what to do to make things work. I don't know how someone with reading difficulty succeeds at Chaucer, but I'm going to try to make it happen.

Happy first of the semester!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Syllabus Done? Check

I've finished both syllabuses/syllabi (? I've heard people way smarter than I argue for one or the other. I generally make an effort to not have to say the plural.)

I still have to get them printed off and copied in the morning, but I'm happy with both of them. They both have a good balance of assignments, with different things to give people with different strengths opportunities to do well. I like the assignments pretty well, and I think they're moderately painful to plagiarize, too, and that's a good thing.

Tomorrow, the start of a new semester. Wish us all good learning and good luck!


I just found out that the Assistant to the Headmaster has chosen a new deanling for certain stuffs, and I'm sort of in shock. And a lot of other folks are, too. The new deanling has a bad reputation for micromanaging and being secretive and controlling in previous administrative and semi-administrative positions. And now s/he's going full bore into administration.

There was no "if you're interested, apply for this interim deanling position." Nope, he found out that the previous person is leaving, and camped out at the AH's door, and voila, got the spot. He wants more money (I'm told), and administration is the way to go to get it.

We have this habit around here of filling "interim" positions that way, and shockingly enough, they always go to white men. I bet you're surprised. And then the interim positions either get stretched for a few years and then guess who is best qualified! Or the people get moved from one interim to another, and then, guess who is best qualified!

And so, I'm dismayed. The semester is about to begin, and we're going to have this petty, secretive micromanager in charge of certain stuffs.

It seems like the fort is in disarray, more than usual these days. And yet, mostly we'll muddle through.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bird Help?

While I was out visiting, my Mom was amazingly patient. She has no interest in birds, but she put up with my gawking and stopping at every moment to look for and at birds. She even enabled me by taking me out to a very cool place (pictures from there, soo).

But, I'm at sea with two birds I saw and took pictures of. The first, I have no clue whatsoever. When I look at the bird book and think I have a clue, then I realize the beak is all wrong (for a female tanager, for example). So, if you have ideas, please help.

Then there's this one. I think it's a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, but I'm just not sure. What do you think?

Here's another image from a different angle.

And another, a cute one, I think, because the bird seems to have noticed me noticing it. Unfortunately, it didn't come down to pose more near me.

(Pictures taken at San Juan Batista, CA, in cast that helps.)

****Edited to add: it's a California Towhee!****

Friday, January 21, 2011

There is Nothing New that is Not Old

I've been emailing with a student while I was away; this student doesn't have the courses he needs for next semester, and is complaining that his advisor hasn't helped him get into the courses.

I don't know what the advisor has or hasn't been doing, but unless it's the advisor's own course, she doesn't have a magic button to press to put the student into a class that's already full. We don't just overload other instructors' courses (though the deans have already raised our enrollment caps again).

I know that frustrates students. But there's a cost to overloading, not just in terms of an instructor's workload, but in terms of how a course works. It may seem like nothing to add one student to a 20 student course, but we're already raising enrollments, and there's a large supply of students who'd want to overload in, not realizing that a writing course with 30 students doesn't work nearly as well as one with 20 students.

I don't know why this student didn't enroll during the primary enrollment period, but I'm pretty sure the courses he's complaining about had spaces then. (Though, yes, of course, that would have meant a different student might be emailing me, or just feeling frustrated all alone.)

When I was an undergrad, we had the same problem with students not always being able to get into the courses they needed. People who could afford to put a downpayment on their registration fees got to put in their class choices earlier than those who couldn't. For me, that meant I usually got the courses I needed when I needed them. My friends on financial aid didn't always have that good fortune, and so didn't always get their courses. That meant it took longer for them to finish sometimes. NWU recently implemented a policy to holdover the downpayment from the first semester so that it could apply to all the semesters (or something; I'm not quite sure how it works), so at least that's not supposed to be a problem now.

I wonder if there's ever been a public university that actually had enough seats for all its students to take the courses they wanted/needed to take when they wanted/needed to take them?

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I went to visit my home state this past week. I hugged trees, and it was good.

And now I'm back in my new home state. And it is cold, very, very cold.

I took so many photos that my camera is having trouble passing them along to my computer.


Edited to add: I added a picture of me hugging a tree. This is a tree. When you hug one of these trees, unless it's a little one, you don't really put your arms around, more just snuggle up close. The bark feels so good.

When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I imagined the Ents as this sort of tree. Imagine if Sarumen had seen Ents like these trees coming from the forest. He'd have known they'd wipe his armies out. Also, if the Ents had been like these trees, the Entwives never would have dumped them and left. (I've always thought the Ents losing their Entwives was incredibly and unnecessarily sexist. So then I figured that the Entwives got tired of the boring conversations and took off.) At any rate, I was unimpressed by the Ents in the film. I must admit, having grown up with these trees, even the little ones in our neighborhood, I'm not easily impressed by other trees.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


There's this committee, which is responsible for a program, and I'm lucky enough to be on it, except the lucky part isn't so much what I think of as luck.

The thing is, this committee's program has had changes that have to be approved (like all the program changes of similar committees) by a high level Not-A-Deanling (NAD) before it is really supposed to go into effect. Such things are written officially in the Program Program, which is supposed to tell everyone (and it's supposed to be a publicly available document) what the Program does and how we programatically do it.

Anyway, things seem to become much more formalized around here, and there's probably a good reason for that. We can't have committees that run programs just running them to the best of their abilities now, can we? They need to be overseen by NADs so that they don't run amok! And, of course, there have been, in the history of the world, more than one or two occasions where committees such as this have, indeed, run amok and messed with people in unethical, improper ways, and those people have, very occasionally, rightly sued. And so, much paperwork must be done to prevent suits and to make sure that all proceedures having to do with the program this committee runs being approved and so on.

Unfortunately, three things have been changing rapidly around here: the program has developed, because that's what it needed to do. And the committee has been running to push that development, and so changed things on the run. And it's not always done the best job keeping records. And the NAD in charge has been changed both in terms of the person filling the job, but also in terms of the job descriptions. So a NAD that's got the title NAD1 was in charge from 2007-8, then the job description was changed so that NAD2 was in charge from 2008-9. But then the person who'd been NAD1 in 2007-8 took over the NAD2 position, and didn't like what the previous NAD2 had done. And now there's an interim NAD1 who has been given the older job description because the two people who'd danced around there have both left the university.

The new NAD was all over everything being super legal and up to date earlier this year. But then, when asked in an open meeting, the new NAD admitted that the NAD approval of the programs our sort of committee runs is at least two years behind, but, of course, it's not his fault because he only took over last year.

I'm willing to bet that almost any other public institution of higher learning has similar problems somewhere along the way.

The upshot is, our committee decided that we really did need to get on top of this, and actually have our Program Program (the written rules and procedures) reflect what various committees over the year have voted into place, and that the actual practices should reflect what we say we're doing. But there being little time for such work during the semester, several of us took it on for break.

We met yesterday and went over what the NAD's secretary (because, of course, he has one) had, including letters from various NADs to tell us this and that about our Program Program, and reports of this and that thing. We can't even find that last officially sanctioned version of the Program Program, because we've made changes piecemeal, and the various NADs haven't reviewed those changes before the Program Committee made another change.

So I've spent the past several hours going through meeting minutes (and here I thank the dogs of committee notetakers for putting them all in place properly) and finding out when the committee has voted on something, and try to figure out the language that was supposed to go into the Program Program. It's lovely.

There's the whole thing on reviewing the program that was revised and revisited in minutes, but not actually added to the Program Program.

And then there's the part about changing the committee structure that runs the program, and which is changed in practice according to the vote, but recorded nowhere in the Program Program.

There's also a part about the Chair of the Program, a position that doesn't actually exist in the Program Program, but that several people have filled for successive years, quite successfully, thank you. And the arcana of how that chair was chosen is just, well, laughably complicated and arcane for no reason except that it totally made sense some years ago to the people involved, none of whom actually wanted the responsibility. (So much for Nietzsche's will to power thing.)

I think it's time to go play outside in the snow.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I'm heading for a visit to the homecountry this week, or at least a visit to where my Mom lives now.

The big reason for the visit is the funeral of an Aunt. My Aunt was elderly and had a low quality of life in so many ways for so many years, that her death strikes me more as a release than a tragedy. But of course for her kids, I doubt that's true.

For me, it will be a chance to see and visit with some cousins and family I don't see very often.

I'm spending a week because I can, and because it's not nearly as cold there, (When people complain that it's cold there, I sort of have to laugh. I used to think it was totally, miserably cold there, too. Now, not so much.) and because my Mom wants me to visit.

The last time I visited for very long, I asked my Mom to do two things: to go to a special place about an hour away, and to eat out at ethnic restaurants.

We did neither. She didn't want to go to the special place, so we didn't, but went to a nice museumish place instead. We ate out once, for lunch at a fish and chips place (near the museumish place). She didn't want to miss meals at her residence place, mostly, I think, because there's a lot of cachet that comes with having your kid seen visiting and having all your friends meet your kid. Still, it was frustrating for me to be so close to good ethnic food and not go out to eat it.

This time, I asked to go to a different special place. I didn't bother asking to go out to ethnic restaurants. But no, she doesn't want to go to the different special place, but back to the museumish place and somewhere else she likes. I'd be happy to go to those places, but I'd really like to go to the different special place. If I named it, everyone who has ever been there would understand how disappointed I am. I think she just doesn't want to drive that far (it's a two hour drive each way, but there's a really worthwhile stopping place half way). But she wouldn't be willing to let me drive, either.

I'm more disappointed than I can say, almost unreasonably disappointed. But it's not worth arguing about, either. If she doesn't want to go there, and I want to go, I could just rent a car and go. But that would bring a lot of conflict, and there's nothing good to come of that much conflict.

I think my Mom is feeling increasingly unwilling to drive places that she's not used to, and unwilling to admit it. It's an uncomfortable thing, this dealing with an aging parent, and our history of conflict makes it all the more uncomfortable, since nothing I say about it will be taken as anything other than an attack.


I'm utterly saddened by the shooting in Arizona. And equally impressed by the folks who tackled the shooter, disarmed him, and held him until the police/sheriffs got there. It's somewhat sort of amazing to me that they didn't try to kill him in anger.

When I was a kid, my neighbors had a son who was a fair bit older who was seriously mentally ill. I never met him, but my neighbors were fearful that they would someday be told that their son had killed someone. This was shortly after the state decided it would no longer house/treat mentally ill people who hadn't actually been found guilty of a crime, and put them on the street. My neighbor's son was one of those; as an adult, he could do what he wanted, and his parents couldn't do anything really. But they lived with this fear.

I'm thinking that the shooter's family is living that nightmare now, as are the families of the victims in a different way.

(Let me acknowledge that people who are mentally ill are FAR more likely to be victims of crime, especially violent crime, than to commit such crimes themselves.)

Friday, January 07, 2011

For Want of a ...

I went to give blood earlier this week. It was less than wonderful, but I think if I remembered to drink a LOT more water during the day, it would have gone better.

As I was sitting in the post-donation "canteen" area, I noticed that they'd changed the wall decoration. They used to have a number of sections with Polaroid shots of different people, each with a gallon number, to show how many gallons each person had donated. So, eight pints (a pint is about how much you donate at a time, except it's really 500 grams rather than a volume now) to a gallon means that someone who's donated five gallons has donated 40 times. That's something like 5 years of donating steadily.

There were pictures of people on the wall who have donated 13 and 14 gallons. Now, if you think about it, that means they've never been really, really ill, probably never traveled to places that defer donation schedules (I was deferred for five years after living in a malaria area with prophylaxis), etc. So maybe they've been lucky and safe homebodies.

When I passed the five gallon mark (for this center) this past year, I was sort of surprised that they didn't take my picture, but I figured maybe they weren't thinking of it.

And then this week, the pictures have all been replaced by little red paper crosses with names on them (I donate at a Red Cross center) in the gallon sections. So I noticed and asked the nurse who was making sure I didn't faint while I ate my mini-Oreos (I love Oreos!), and she said that since Polaroid no longer makes instant film, they can't take quick pictures, so they don't have pictures up any more.

And I was sort of sad. I liked seeing the people who donate. Some of the pictures had been taken while people were sitting in the canteen where I was sitting right then. Some were taken with people's arms with the needle-bag contraption still attached. A few were taken post-donation, with someone smiling while s/he held the one arm straight up and held a gauze pad against the inside elbow with the other hand. In all of them, people were smiling, looking happy.

And now we have these crosses, which are too like the crosses you sometimes see in cemeteries (or maybe it's just the American Cemetery at Normandy from D-Day whose image is so stuck in my head?) to have the same sense of, I don't know, happy service?

And all for want of Polaroid film...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Not MLA Post

I'm not going to MLA this week, and I'm very happy about that.

You see, I hate MLA. MLA isn't about intellectual exchange, it's about networking and reconnecting with friends.

The thing is, the best friends I had in grad school are mostly not in TT jobs. None of my undergrad friends went to grad school. So I don't have those folks to see. (I'm guessing of the 28 people who entered in my grad class, maybe half have TT jobs? The best people I knew in grad school, smartest, best teachers, best writers, kindest, etc, don't have TT jobs.)

I've mostly been to MLA in years when I was interviewing, so it's been a while. There are things you notice about MLA behavior, though.

1) The nametag glance: no one at MLA looks at anyone's faces until they've scoped the nametag. The nametag gives everyone a sense of their pecking order, and since it's so angsty what with the job interviews (and interviewers get as exhausted and cranky as can be, too), everyone needs to be able to sneer at someone else for whatever reason. And no one wants to talk to anyone who isn't important to them.

You're first check the name: Do you recognize the name? Do you need to suck up?

Then you check the school: are you interviewing with them? Are they an R1? A CC? Does your school tag outrank their school tag?

(You lose points in a big way here if you're from a flyover state. Everyone sneers at the state my tag shows, and no one is subtle about it.)

2) Everyone's drinking and having conference sex (except me, apparently). MLA has a reputation for hookups. I'm neither a drinking nor a hookup type person. What's gross is the older, upscale men with young grad students. Power play.

3) No one actually goes to listen to the panels unless someone famous is on it or, in the case of famous or crazy people, they hate someone on the panel and want to be rude. Most of the papers are last minute, rushed pieces of crap anyway, so you're not usually missing much. (I admit, I finished a paper at 2am for a 10am panel once. I'm not alone in this.) Count on your fingers the numbers of really good MLA papers you hear in a year, and you won't finish even one hand.

4) No one who asks a question at a panel actually asks a question; instead, "questions" are a time to pontificate at length about your own ideas. These may be brilliant or they may be crazy, but once someone has the floor, watch out.

5) Job interview angst. The whole conference is brimming with it, from arrogant a-holes to terrified and desperate folks, there's a definite odor of angst and desperation. Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn.

And so, while most MLA folks are doing their networking thing, I'm going to read some poetry, maybe some history, work on my syllabus, get some of the snow off my deck, and go donate blood. I hope your MLA is as wonderful as mine will be this year!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Here I am at the office. I've puttered a bit, cleaned up stuff and put books from last semester back in place (I keep the books I'm using for classes in a given semester on one shelf, and then reshelve them in their proper place eventually). I saw two delightful students today, both were grateful to get the help I could give them.

I've just about finished the reading calendar stuff for one of my courses, and took care of a bunch of email stuff.

And all in all, it's quite relaxing to know nothing HAS to be done this minute, and that if I spend an extra ten minutes, I still won't be late for class.

I'm in the middle of three books: one on early modern history of Europe (it's an overview sort of book, but puts things together pretty well), one's the Mary Oliver book Dr. Crazy recommended, and one's a Sherman Alexie book. I shouldn't do this to myself!

And now I'm off to go change out of sweats so I can take a friend out for a belated birthday dinner. Mmmm, food!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

I had a wonderful New Year's Eve. It might not be for everyone, but it was perfect for me.

My friend rented a movie, Breaking Away, and we took our bikes down to her DVD player and put them on the trainers next to each other. As you can see, my bike is already slightly ahead!

We had appetizers (yummy marinated veggies) and punch (with cranberry and amaretto), and then we turned on the movie and rode until our rears were getting unhappy. (That seems to happen MUCH faster on a trainer; I think we don't move around nearly as much because we aren't balancing and going up and down and sutff.) Then we had a perfect dinner. And we rode some more. Then we had dessert, courtesy of another friend who left me a treat for taking care of her cats for a couple days. (I'm very lucky to have friends who are great cooks.)

And then we rode to the end of the movie.

And you know what, it was pretty much a perfect evening. We had fun and played on our bikes. The movie would have been better with more biking and less talk, but it was fun to bike along.

Here's my trusty Trek, ready for a winter ride.

Here's wishing you all a happy new year, good health, happiness, and oh, yeah, world peace.