Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Crocus Smile, 2019

Here's a picture from April 17!

And April 10th:

Previous years: 
Year Four
Year Three
Year Two
The First Post

Week 49/66: Back from SAA

SAA is the Shakespeare Association of America, the conference I went to this past week.  I didn't take my computer, so I didn't blog.

Thoughts about SAA?

I had a good time, mostly because I spent time with a friend from grad school who's super nice, smart, and all the things we want friends to be.  I also chatted with DG, who I met a couple of years ago.

I heard people saying good things about seminars this year, mostly, more than in most years, it seems.  I thought the papers in my seminar were sort of all over the place, but our conversation was really good because it brought together the bigger picture issues well.  And many of us had a lovely dinner afterwards.

It was expensive, and none of the grad students came; I wonder if they looked up the restaurant ahead of time and decided they couldn't afford it?  One of the plusher folks picked up most of the tab for a couple of others, which was generous.  I must admit, I looked at the menu and saw no prices, and was worried--and asked.  It was a fixed price for an amazing dinner sort of thing, and delicious, but I don't think I've ever spent as much on a meal before.  (And the plusher person was exclaiming about how cheap it was, but then, they live in a very expensive area.)

Before my seminar, I was sitting outside in a nice sitting area (the hotel had REALLY comfy, relatively quiet sitting areas around the meeting room floor, which was great), and a young, white man was talking to another person, who asked if he'd had a good time in his seminar.  He expressed disappointment that his paper hadn't been talked about, and the two people who'd responded to him were grad students who didn't know much about the issues he was addressing.  He went on to say that famous person 1 and 2 should have been his respondents because they would have known what he was talking about.  He went on to say that his dissertation director really isn't an expert in his area, so he really did need that sort of response.

So, on one hand, I'm sort of sympathetic: one always hopes to get helpful responses.  On the other hand, I was sort of irritated, too.  We all want good responses to our papers, always, and yes, we all tend to be focused on our stuff more than other peoples' stuff.  But I would have had more sympathy if he'd expressed the slightest awareness that maybe his paper really wasn't as incredibly important and wonderful as he thought?

I mean, he says he's not working with an expert in the area, so maybe his director isn't pushing him, or hasn't told him that he's behind the times, and the conversation he thinks is super vital was done three years ago or more, done and dusted.

I wish I'd asked him what he learned from famous people 1&2's papers, and I wished I'd asked him what he'd learned from the papers of the other grad students.

The sad part of the SAA, or maybe not, is that I was going to good panels and seminars, and barely got outside.  And because of when my own seminar was, I didn't play tourist at all.  But I learned stuff!

It seems like a new generation has taken over, and that's quite promising.  And in the process, schools that used to be early modern power-houses, with lots of panel presentations and such coming from them, have faded and other schools are coming forward, usually public R1s now.  But still, the focus is totally on R1s, of course.

Some previous SAA responses: 2014  in which I talked about some folks who teach doctoral students and the job market.


I'm signed up to help with bird banding tomorrow!

Monday, April 01, 2019

Adjunct Stuffs in the Chronicle

In The Chronicle of Higher Education on-line, I saw an article (in the advice area), "A Letter to Full-Time Faculty Members," by Jordan Schneider.  In the article, Schneider proposes:
So if adjuncts are so attractive because we’re so cheap, powerless, excluded, and replaceable, the solution seems to be to make adjuncts more expensive, more empowered, more included, and more secure in our positions. One idea: Create a new faculty tier of "super adjuncts" who would teach three classes a semester, and be paid around $20,000 to $25,000 for the term—more than what adjuncts now make, but still less than a full-timer. Give "super adjuncts" a vote in departmental and faculty matters, require them to be involved in some modest sway in the academic life of the department (through mentoring, scholarship, research, or faculty development), and make sure they have some measure of real, contractual job security.
The thing is, full-time faculty at NWU, a regional comprehensive public university teach mostly 12 credit hours/semester, so more than Schneider is imagining for "super adjuncts."  Our full time adjuncts (most of the adjuncts in my department have full time employment and benefits) teach 15 credit hours/semester, but aren't asked to do service or research (though, of course, those who are trying to get TT jobs are also trying to keep research alive).  (We have a pretty good track record in the past 15 years of encouraging adjuncts not to do service, and telling them up front that we can't legally consider service in evaluating their work.)

The salary Schneider mentions is about what our assistant professors make in poorer paid fields (literature, as opposed to, say, English Ed, much less business).

I think Schneider thinks tenured faculty have WAY more power in hiring decisions than I've ever seen.  And from the comments, I think even most mid-level administrators have relatively little power.


We're bleeding faculty here right now.  We've had retirements in my department, and two younger faculty (one tenured, one tenure-track) have left, neither for academic jobs, both for good personal reasons having to do with preferring to live with a partner or family.

And ours isn't the only department, from the rumors I hear.

We also have a couple colleagues expecting babies this month, which means other folks will be covering their classes.

I hear next year's going to be tough!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Week 46/66: Two Thirds Through

I've been absent from the blog for a while.  I doubt many folks are reading these days; heck, why would they?  I think the blog thing is mostly done, no?

Blogs were great for folks who were doing something new and challenging: grad school, new faculty, new jobs, new positions, new hobbies, and so on.  The day to day of most peoples' lives, once they've gotten pretty good at whatever they're doing, is less interesting to write about and read about, both.  There's less to process day to day, and often, more mundane stuff keeping one busier.

I think as I come off sabbatical, I'll be learning a lot about teaching again, so hopefully, I'll have something worth writing about.

In the meanwhile, I wrote my SAA paper and am looking forward to SAA.

I took a class at the local nature center on bird banding, and have gone to two sessions.  In order to be able to do the actual banding, you have to take the class, and then go to many sessions and gain skills.  So mostly at the sessions, I've been observing, and then acting as scribe, writing the coded notes about the birds we're banding (while someone else does measurements and the banding).  I've released a bird, and learned and practiced the two basic ways of holding small birds, the bander's grip (you put your fore and second finger on either side of the bird's neck and use the other fingers to hold and manipulate the body), and the photographer's grip (you put your fore and second finger in front of and behind both legs above the ankle at the calf.  Birds' legs are sort of like a dog's hind legs in that the long bone just up from the foot is actually part of what's foot bone for humans, and the joint is the ankle, while the actual knee is quite close to the body.)

I've really enjoyed doing the scribing and observing.

Spring has hit here in a big way; we've got major melt, and I've even taken my first bike ride of the season.  At that point, I realized that my bike's shifting was really sloppy, so I took it in to the shop for a long-overdue tuneup.  That was last week, and I haven't been out again yet, but maybe today.  I got a new cassette and chain, which makes sense, since the old one had about 5k miles on it.

I went to an Alexander Technique session, and learned some helpful stuff.  I'm thinking of signing up for a summer session that's a week long.  I took in a section I really have trouble with because I'm holding my left hand too tightly.  The first time through, I played it so horribly (I'm very nervous playing in front of people, even my teacher), I was really ashamed.  But the teacher was helpful and kind, and I played it better after that; she gave me some help that loosened my hand up by loosening my back up.

I think I've mentioned viola studio before.  Basically, at the university, the students studying a given instrument (or voice students generally) meet as a group with their lesson teacher and do something together for an hour.  Often, a student will play a piece they're working on and the group will give them feedback, telling them what they're doing well, and what needs work.  As I understand it (and it makes sense, given that they're all studying with the same teacher who has a given focus), usually the comments reinforce what the teacher's been saying.  So if the teacher really focuses on, say, bowing, the students will all have learned to focus on bowing, and that will come out in the comments.  For students preparing for a recital or auditions for grad programs, playing in front of a small group also works as a dry run and helps with nerves and such.

At the last couple of studio sessions, Strings had her students make videos of themselves practicing, and Strings also made a video of herself practicing.  HOLY COW, she's really amazingly disciplined!  She was starting to learn a really difficult piece, and started off with a few notes, like a set of triplets, and turned on a metronome and played them oh so slowly, several times, until she could play them well 5 times.  Then she clicked up the metronome 5 steps and did it again, and so on, until she was playing it fairly fast.  And then she put the metronome all the way down, and started with the second set of triplets.  When she got them at that speed and clicked up, she added the first set and played them together.  And as she clicked up, every other time, she'd add the first set again.

For the third set of triplets, she started with just them, clicked up and added the second ones, and on the third click up, she added the first ones, too.  She followed that pattern all the way up.  By the end of a few minutes, she was playing several sets of triplets at high speed.  (These were in a piece of very contemporary music, and so, as seems usual with contemporary music, very difficult, widely spaced with string crossings and shifts.)

In addition to Vivaldi's A Minor violin concerto in the Suzuki book, I'm still working through the Rieding concerto, which I blogged about back in January, when I was first starting it.  Strings checked me off on the second movement, so I've started on the third movement, and this week, I've been using Strings' practice method, since this movement is pretty hard, with some fast bits.

I haven't practiced enough (I really, really have to get my mojo back in several ways, and part of why I'm blogging again is hoping it will help with that).  But, what I've done, so far, seems to be very slow but effective.  What I mean is, it takes me FOREVER to get a bit so I can play it well 5 times in a row at each metronome setting, and there's a definite limit to my speed for some parts, but once I've worked through to that limit, I can pretty much play with pretty good accuracy consistently.  But, yeah, it takes me forever to slowly click up.

In other news, I joined a weight loss app thing on February 23rd.  I've lost about 4 pounds, but it's very slow, and I'm frustrated.  Still, I REALLY need to get to a healthier weight and be more active, so I'm trying this.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!

That's about all the new stuff.  I don't know what to say about the admissions scandal that hit last week about folks with money bribing to get their kids into elite schools.  Okay, I do have a few things to say.  Really rich people have been doing this totally legally since elite schools began.  The thing is, most of the people caught up in this scam weren't really rich, but rather pretty high earners.  They may have incomes that are pretty high, but they don't have the sort of money that buys new buildings or adds wings to hospitals.  Really rich and important people don't have to bribe anyone or even make actual donations.  If Malia Obama applies to school X, the admissions folks recognize her name and she's in.  Same thing happens with George Bush's kids (either George Bush, since the elder was the ambassador to the United Nations and then head of the CIA when the younger generation was heading into college and such.  Admissions folks at elite universities know those names.  If you're important enough, you don't have to tell anyone who you are because they know.

But these folks, these folks weren't that important or rich; they were well off enough to pay some bribes.  It sucks, and it's wrong and unethical and so forth.

I don't buy for a moment that the kids weren't aware.  If you're suddenly getting a diagnosis that means you get longer to take a test or someone's coaching you about the answers, and you're a minimally smart 17 year old, you know.  If your parents are pulling that sort of BS, you know, because they've done it before.  That doesn't mean that at 17 you'd feel like you have a way to stop it even if you wanted to, of course.

And the false diagnosis thing is the part I actually hate most.  They took a system that's really important for people who actually have a disability or problem and need to take tests in a quiet room or with more time, and made people trust the system a whole lot less.  And the people who actually need accommodations are working against difficulties and disadvantages, and now these semi-rich people have made their lives more difficult.

I'm also irritated that they've claimed the bribes as donations on their taxes because it means the rest of us are helping pay for their dishonesty.  Or were.  (And I'm sure what the feds found is just the tip of the iceberg.)  But then, really rich folks do that all the time, too.

So, that's where things are.  I'm going to try posting at least twice a week for a while.  Good to be back, I hope!

Monday, January 28, 2019

Week 36/66: The Glories of the Huntington

I spent last week visiting a friend and working at the Huntington Library, and it was fabulous!  I learned new stuff, was reassured by learning some other stuff, did some organizational work, and read really neat texts.

Best of all, I learned there are some manuscripts I could look at.  And they live in the British Library, so I'll be able to look at them when I go there!

I got back yesterday evening, learned that we were expecting a big snow storm, so went and got gas for the snow thrower, and got a pizza.  Already this morning I've cleared my drive, so the gas was a good investment!  (I might have had enough, but you always want to have plenty!)

This week, I'm going to be buckling down and writing, writing, writing.  I'll also be practicing, of course.

I finished the Coursera music theory course, and am now working my way through the textbook materials for the NWU music theory course.  Fortunately, I have friends in the music department for whom music theory is second nature, so one has been checking my homework and helping me with things I find difficult.  It's fascinating and fun so far.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Delurking Week?

I gather from xykademiqz that it's blog delurking week.  So if anyone's out there, please say hello!

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Week 34/66: Happy Violin News

Work is slowly progressing.

In violin news:  I've been working on three pieces, with different emphases.

Seitz, the third piece in Suzuki book 4, has really a hard double stops passage that goes on forever.  I was working on this for a while, and then got it good enough that Strings started me on the next piece, the first movement of Vivaldi's concerto in A minor.  That one has no double stops, but serious shifting, and some fast passages where you have four notes, and one changes and the other three repeat, and so on, with other changes.


Those are difficult for me.  First, I tend to mess up the rhythm, so I have to work slowly with a metronome.  Second, well, string crossings!  (Here's Itzhak Perlman's recording.)

Finally, during viola studio, a couple of the students played a viola transcription of a violin concerto by Oskar Rieding, opus 35.  (Here's Itzhak Perlman's recording.  I don't sound this good!)  The Rieding is beautiful, really.  And it's a student piece, so not hugely difficult on the face of it.

And then there was a break while Strings and I were both away.

I have to confess, I have a pretty strong dislike of the Seitz.  The double stops get my left hand all gummed up.  But for the last week, I almost totally focused on that piece.  And it payed off!  Strings has checked it off!

She also told me that the focus of the Rieding has to be really good, smooth bowing, and that the more I pay attention to my bowing, the better.  That's a continuing thing with me (as with most students, I'd guess, you pretty much always need to improve bowing until you're darned good).

So the good news is that I can focus on Vivaldi this week, which is a total joy, though really difficult.


In other news, I'm doing a Coursera course on music theory.  It's an 8 week course that looks like it ran last year from the University of Edinburgh, and it's interesting, but also a bit irritating.  I kept failing one of the quizzes.  I finally asked Strings, who teaches music theory, one of the questions, and she explained it, but also, it was a bit unfair.  There were two or three correct answers (describing a chord), and I couldn't figure out why they wouldn't accept one of them.  But I finally passed that quiz, and now I'm onto the next section.

My plan is to then start reading the stuff from NWU's music theory courses, so that I'll get it more deeply.  I probably should have just started there, to be honest...

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Week 33/66: Welcome the New Year at the Halfway Point

Happy New Year!

My sabbatical's halfway over.  It's been glorious!

I usually give a rundown on my biking over the year, but I hardly biked this year.  Going on a long trip, even though I took my bike and used it a few times, really breaks up the summer and the biking mojo.

When I got back from my trip, it seemed to rain non-stop for three weeks.  (It didn't really, but it felt like it.)

In violin news, I'm still on book 4, though I'm working on the 3rd Seitz concerto movement and the first movement of the Vivaldi A minor concerto.  I'm also working on a violin concerto by Oskar Rieding in B minor.  I always thought "minor" meant it was going to sound saddish or something, but neither of these feels that in the least.  And the Rieding is quite surprisingly beautiful (surprising because I'd never heard of him before a couple of the viola students were playing this piece in studio).

Last year at this time, I was starting to practice again after a hiatus in the UK.  I had fun in the UK, but I'm happy to be practicing more.  There are times when I feel like I'm not making any progress, but then I think where I was with shifting and double-stopping a year ago, and I've definitely improved, especially on shifting.  Vibrato, not so much.

In 2018, kept a reading list for the first time in many years. Looking at the list, I read 52 books (not counting books for work, but including books on CD while driving). I made an effort to read books by women and people of color (recognizing that both of these categories are potentially problematic and even if they weren't, I can't necessarily tell from just names.). How did I do?
29 by women, 23 by men.
11 by women of color, 3 by men of color.
20 non-fiction (almost all the books on CD are non-fiction because I'm limited in my choices: mostly the library has non-fiction, or mysteries, or thrillers, and I avoid mysteries and thrillers; most of the books on CD seem to be by white men). 30 fiction. 1 poetry, 1 play
Top favorites for the year (in no particular order):
Tommy Orange, There There
Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
Ahmed Saddawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad
Clementine Beauvais, Piglettes
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
(Notice a pattern? Even making an effort, I didn't read that many books by people of color. And the books by women weren't among my favorites, mostly.)
The only author I read more than one book by was Louise Erdrich.

While 2018 was a political mess, it was a good year for me, personally.  
I hope 2019 holds good things, too.