Monday, September 02, 2019

The Syllabus Thing

I'm pretty happy with one of my three courses so far.  One of the others is almost done, just some passages to choose.  The other has the calendar done, but not assignments or passages.

Those all have to get done tomorrow, copies made, AND loaded up to the new course management web thingy.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 01, 2019


It's been a long while.  I didn't intend for it to be, but it was.

I'm about to start teaching again, and I'm a bit nervous.  Maybe more than a bit.  I keep wondering what it is I'm supposed to do with classes, except for Shakespeare.  Shakespeare seems okay.

But my other two courses, an intro to the major and an intro to drama, are courses I haven't taught for ten years of more.  That's a long time.  It means all new books, and a lot of new planning, because the world has changed a lot.

On the upside, though: I've noticed over the years that the most interesting blogs seem to be when people start new jobs or adventures, because they have a lot to think and write about.  So that seems healthy.

Since I last blogged much, I've become a bit more involved in the local bird banding citizen science project at the local nature reserve.  (I blogged a little about the class here.) 

In other news, my violin teacher left for a WAY better faculty position, so good for her.  Not for us, though.  Before she left, she suggested that I try lessons with a new teacher I'll call Flute.  Flute's the partner of one of our music adjuncts, and also a musician.  He's primarily a flute player, and super good, but also quite good at violin, and willing to teach.  It's a big adjustment to change teachers, and I really liked working with Strings.  Flute's less overtly enthusiastic, but very kind and I think very musically astute. 

The focus changes a bit, not a lot, but a bit.  Flute has me paying a lot more attention to intonation, which is probably really healthy.  But he's less interested in the Sevcik shifting practice I'd been doing.  He's also got me paying more attention to phrasing and flow.  (I think Strings was working on more basic stuff still.)

A thing I meant to blog about but didn't is my trip to Iceland.  So I'll include some phone pictures today, and then add more tomorrow from my camera.

Here's my hotel in Reykjavik, Hotel Leifur Eiriksson.  Dr. Virago (from Quod She) suggested it, and it was a great suggestion!

It just so happens that the hotel is right across the street from the Hallgrimskirja, an amazing, fairly new Lutheran parish.  (That's what the person in the picture above is taking a picture of.)  It made it way easy to find my hotel, since you can see the Hallgrimskirkja sitting at the top of the hill from much of the city.

It's a really beautiful church.

Other sights in Reykjavik:

I got in one afternoon, May 15, stayed May 16, and left late on May 17.  If I were to do it again, I'd spend a few more days.  There's lots to do..

On the 16th, I took a bus tour.  On the way, we went by some of the greenhouses that supply fresh veggies to Reykjavik all year around, using geothermal energy.
And on the morning of the 17th, I took a short boat trip to see puffins.  PUFFINS!!!  Here's a picture of the boat:

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Another Drowned Phone

I did it again.  I drowned a phone.  Third time!

The first time, I had a flip phone and went kayaking with a friend.  I put the phone in two "sealed" plastic bags, but the kayak was an inflatable, and there was a lot of water, so drowned phone.

The second time, I put another flip phone through the laundry. 

This time, I had my "new" smart phone (I got it, used, from my brother in December 2015, when he and his son were upgrading to the newest, latest phones; the 5s came out in late 2013, so my brother probably got his in 2014) in a lifeproof case.  But, since I put the case on three or so years ago (when I first got the phone), it had been failing, and finally failed. 

I was teaching a friend the very basics of kayaking, and the phone was in my side pocket, and got wet, and blah blah. 

So now I have a new phone, in a new lifeproof case (I figure two years and I should replace it).  I got the smallest "new" phone available, an 8, and it looks like it has 4 times the memory as my last one.  (Can I say, the salespeople at Verizon were incredibly obnoxious about the phone insurance thing; even after I said I didn't want the insurance, they kept on and on, and then a second person started in.  They must get a nice kickback from selling those.)

I lost all the contacts, except somehow there are now old contacts on the new phone, so I guess I must have saved them way back when?

And I lost pictures and stuff.  But fortunately, I have a habit (because the phone had smallish memory) of downloading pictures onto my computer fairly regularly, so I didn't loose many.

Last night, I spent a long time doing the settings thing, reloading some of the apps I use regularly.


A small rant: why oh why are they making phones bigger and bigger?  I want something that fits in my pocket, and fits in one hand easily, and the new phones keep getting bigger and bigger!  (I guess most people like them that way?)


Non-rant: one cool thing about the blog: I could find exactly when I got the last phone, and when I got my first cell phone.  Neat.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


A week or two ago, Teho, a fiddle duo from Finland came through the Northwoods, hosted by a colleague over in the earth sciences who's, I guess, into fiddle music.  Who knew?

They gave a campus concert one evening, then a master class on campus the next afternoon, followed by an evening session at a local coffee shop. 

I went to the evening concert, and it was quite good. 

The next afternoon, I went to the masterclass.  At the concert, they'd said that it was open to anyone who came, and we should bring instruments.  So I did.  Me, with the fingerboard tapes.

There were only four student players there, including me, one seemed to be a teacher, one an entering college student, and one a high schooler.  Let's just say, I was WAY out of my depth. 

They taught us two songs in a traditional fiddle way, which is to say, they played slowly for us.   First the A part, a couple bars, repeated, and so on, then more bars, and when the A part was down, the same thing for the B part.  (For both of these songs, there's an A section of 8 or 16 bars, which gets repeated, and then a B section of the same length, also repeated.) 

If you look on the media page, you can hear the two songs we learned simplified versions of: Teksan Maijan roskapuuvalssi & Pettanvalssi, and Kom hem.  They're both mostly in first position (I guess that's quite typical of traditional fiddle music).  Here are recordings of them playing.

As for out of my depth, well, it's quite embarrassing, especially at first, to sit on stage like a lump with my instrument in hand, just watching, while all the other students catch on.  One of the musicians was clearly worried about me, and I felt sorry about that.  Once I got over my embarrassment, I was having a good and interesting time trying to figure things out.  But I'm just way slower than the others were.

It's sometimes really good for me to be uncomfortable learning something.

If I'd done a very traditional Suzuki method, learning the first books only by ear, I'd probably have an easier time picking things up by ear.  But since I already read music, I learned mostly by reading the music.  Still, it was very interesting.

My Dad would have enjoyed it.  You know how we all have memories we regret?  Here's one of mine.  I must have been a tween or maybe a little younger.  On a hot summer day, my family was driving in the Central Valley of California, and we happened to see signs for a fiddle contest/festival.  So we stopped, because my Dad liked fiddle music, and played the violin (and played some fiddle music, too).  I remember he was enjoying it, but the rest of us pretty quickly grew bored.  The public hall was hotter than the outdoors, even, and I remember being impatient and whiny.  I wasn't the only one.  And sooner than my Dad would have liked, we left.  I wonder now, why I couldn't have been a bit more patient and let my Dad enjoy his music more?  I regret that impatience so very much now.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Week 58/66: Been a While

Things have been busy in my life.  I'll post some pictures from my visit to Reykjavik soon.  I hope.

In other news: my Mom's retirement community is closing because it can't be made fire-safe and is in a dangerous area for fires.  So my Mom had to find a new place to live.  Fortunately, the organization that runs her old community also runs others, and since my Mom has something called "life care," that's super important.  So she got that news.

And then she got diagnosed with cancer.  But for reasons that make total sense, the surgeon says they can't operate, and they've got her on some other drugs.  As I understand it, she's likely to die with cancer rather than of cancer, if that makes sense.  And she knows this.  But it's still really upsetting, and she wishes she could just have an operation.  But if a surgeon says an operation would be too dangerous, you know they'd like to operate if they could, so it really would be too dangerous.

At first my Mom said she didn't want me to come out and help.  And now she does.  And she's upset that my brother doesn't seem as concerned as she thinks he should be.  And so on and on.

I need to get plane tickets to go out.

My violin teacher found a way better job, and is leaving the area.  For me and the other students here, I'm really sad.  For her, I'm happy.  She's been a kind and enthusiastic teacher.

It turns out the partner of another colleague over in music can teach violin, and has been willing to take me on, among other students.  He seems very good, and pays a lot more attention to detail.  I'm adjusting, but still a bit sad.

I've been reading a lot, and now I need to just write.  And write.  Someone find me some writing mojo, please.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Greenwich, Just Super!

Sunday's when the BL is closed, and so it's my day to play tourist for real.  I'd never been to Greenwich, and thought I'd spend half a day there, and then go birding at Regent's Park or something.  I didn't.  Greenwich filled the day!

Getting there was a bit confusing.  I looked up and saw there's a bus from Russell Square Station, but it's from the Square, not the station, and I didn't find it, and the tube was there, so off I went on the tube.  I couple changes and I was looking for the DLR, but instead there was a replacement bus, so I took that to the DLR station, and then caught another train to the Cutty Sark station.

When I got off, the Cutty Sark was right there, so in I went.  WOW!  I grew up going to the Balcutha, and this reminded me a lot of that.
 They've cut a hole into the starboard aft section of the main storage deck, and that's where you enter the ship.

You can see how the construction works.  From inside to out: The white painted metal is original structural metal.  Then there's a layer of caulked wood planking, and on the outside is a copper-based metal cladding, which served (before it was copper, I think, but some other metal) to deter barnacles and such from growing on the side, and thus helped keep the ship faster and in less danger of problems (than was typical with unclad hulls).

On the inside, the white painted stuff is original metal, some showing fire damage (from the 2012? fire; I can't remember the date, but it was fairly recent, while the ship was deconstructed a lot, and so the parts that had been moved weren't damaged, but the metal scaffolding inside was).  The darker grey is new structural steel support (more on that later).

The ship was built to move tea quickly during the tea trade, but the Suez Canal opened, making steam ships MUCH more practical, so it moved to the Australian wool trade and such.

Here's looking down the storage area.

It's amazingly large!  You can see some of the displays, which were quite good, informative, and well-thought out.  You go through the main storage area, and then the "Between Decks" storage area, before climbing up to the main deck.  The complexity of the rigging ropes must have been overwhelmingly hard to learn!

 There are several "cabin" areas built on the main deck.  Here's crew quarters, with nice bunks (a bit short, but...)
 And, (if I recall correctly), the steward's area.
 The Salon, what I think would be called a "wardroom" now, where the officers and more highly skilled crew members ate together, and where the master did chart stuffs.

When you're finished looking inside, you exit, and can go down underneath the ship.  Remember those dark grey-painted steel structures I mentioned in the inside?  They're attached to these MASSIVE steel supports all along the outside.  So basically, the ship is supported by an interior scaffolding and hangs on that, and the scaffolding is supported from the outside.  So the hull doesn't have anything but gravity working on it, and thus isn't deformed as it would be if the whole weight were resting on it.  Someone really smart came up with this idea!

From the Cutty Sark, I walked up the hill to the park and observatory.  I didn't take as many pictures in the observatory as I sometimes do, because I was so busy looking at all the cool stuff and reading the information.  It was fascinating!

Here I am, standing over the Prime Meridian.  Somewhere, I've got a picture of me at the "Mitad del Mundo" in Ecuador, the Equator line, so this could be paired with that, eh?
Here's inside the Royal Observatory, which was designed by Christopher Wren.  Damn, he's amazing!
 Walking down from the observatory after, this is another Wren masterpiece, The Queen's House, set against the backdrop of very modern London.

I started out of the observatory about 3:20, thinking I'd still make it to the park, but the National Maritime Museum was right there, free, and open for another hour and a half, so I had to give it a go.  I was glad I did, and could have spent a good many hours there!  Alas, I didn't have enough time, so...

I saw a picture of Sir John Hawkins, who has much to answer for in pursuing the trade in slaves from Africa to the Americas and Caribbean.

And in a different vein, here's the coat Admiral Nelson was wearing at Trafalgar, when he was hit by a bullet, making a fatal wound.  You can see the hole from the bullet, but I think the coat's been cleaned and looks to be amazingly preserved.

When the Maritime Museum closed, I headed back towards the DLR, but along the way, I saw a bus stop for the bus to Russell Square (I remembered the number)!  So I hopped on the bus instead.  And went to the upper floor.

I had a pretty good view for about an hour.  Interestingly (to me, anyway), my university has a tradition of buying used London double-decker busses, so I've ridden them before, just not IN London.  But now I have.  For real.

All in all, this was a GREAT day.  If I had it to do over, I'd leave WAY earlier so I was there right when Cutty Sark opened, and then I'd have more time to see the Maritime Museum.


On Monday, I left the Library early and went to the Tate's exhibit on Van Gogh.  It was just superb.  I had the best time!  If you can get there, go!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Week 52/66: Working at the Library and Playing in London

What a busy time it's been!  Since I last wrote, I had a lovely visit with my cousin's daughter, M, who's studying at St. Andrew's.  (M is A's sister, the ballet dancer I visited in Pittsburgh.)  First, like A, M is wonderful.  Gosh, my cousins have been doing a great job raising kids!  M is kind and nice, also smart, feminist, and fun!

M got here in the mid-afternoon Saturday, to King's Cross, and I showed her the British Library first.  Then off to our hotel.  We had a few minutes in the British Museum (before it closed) and then went and saw The Play that Goes Wrong together, and enjoyed that.  The next morning, we went to see the changing of the guard along with a couple thousand of our closest friends.  I didn't see much, but I hope that M, being a tad taller and nearer, was able to see a bit more.  We walked from there to Horse Guards Parade, which was closed for a service (but saw a band march by), and then on to the Tower!  As usual, the Tower was fun.  We spent most of the day there, and then went over the Thames to Southwark, had dinner, and went to see Pericles.

Pericles was very good.  They played it with a cast of 8, which necessitated some cutting (They cut the "read aloud the shield things" for example).  But the energy was good, the audience reactive, and the played moved well.  I thought they did an especially good job with the Antiochus/incest part, and with Pericles communicating his fears about Simonides.

In the age of "Me, too," I was worried that the prostitution part, or the "Marina's too pure to be prostituted" part would feel flat, but it didn't.  Marina was just great at playing that seriously, but not innocently.  She was really good.

The next morning, Monday, we reconvened and M chose the Tate Modern for the morning.  We'd figured we would spend the morning at the Tate Modern and then go to the British Museum for a bit before her train, but the Tate Modern was so good that we spent the time there.  She can come back for more another time.

On Tuesday, back to the Library, except I left early to see a matinee of 12th Night.  This was played by the same 8 person cast that played Pericles, and again, the small cast necessitated some cuts (which I noticed more because I've taught it a fair bit.)  It was very good!  They cross-gender cast the four romantic roles, but not Malvolio or Antonio.  Feste was super.

I walked and ate at The George in Southwark, which is supposed to be one of the oldest staging pubs in London.  The food was okay, the ambience okay...

I have to admit that I like the uneven stuff you sometimes see with older buildings.

That night, I went to see 1 Henry IV, played by the same cast that had played H5, except with a much fuller house, on a nicer evening, and voila, much more energetic performance.  They did the fighting mostly by waving around flags, which I thought worked pretty darned well.  Hotspur was outstanding.  Hal only slightly less so.  Falstaff didn't do much for me.  A woman played the role, but I don't think that was it.  I'm not sure...

On Wednesday, I spent an almost full day at the Library, but then went to 2H4,  and it was a drizzly feeling evening (I don't think it actually drizzled, but if felt like it might), cool, and the crowd was VERY thin (and got thinner after the intermission).  And the play just felt flat.  Hal was very good in the crown scene, but Falstaff wore on me.  H4 was good throughout.  It might be that the play just has never worked as well for me as part 1.

The rest of the week was, predictably, Library time!  And a very good time it was!

I read about this travel narrative by Gerrit de Veer about the exploration voyages of William Barents (1594, 1595, 1596), and read that the Winter's Tale bear eating bit might have been inspired by an image there:  (Sorry to be sideways; I've tried to correct it.)  (Notice the Paddleboarders in the mid-ground!)

This picture is from the 1853 edition.  But I've looked at the 1609 edition, and there aren't any images, certainly not this fabulous bear eating the guy's head.  I haven't been able to figure out where the image came from, or if it's later (as I suspect) and thus couldn't have inspired Shakespeare.

I've been falling into two holes, good ones, I think, one about the bears, and one about arts and such, which I think is actually way more fruitful right now.  I was reading Henry Peacham's Graphice, from 1609, and found some fun additions:

The date of 1678 make this too late for the poet Thomas Carew, but there's a lawyer of that name on Wikipedia active at that time, who died a couple of years later.  I have no idea who the shield thing belongs to, but if anyone has thoughts, I'd love to learn!

Okay, more later on my big Sunday outing!

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Henry 5 at the Globe

I went to see H5 at the Globe last night.  H5 was played by a Black woman, who was very good, very commanding.  Overall, though, it was a cool evening, had rained earlier, and the house was probably less than half full, so the cast had difficulty developing the energy I usually see.  I like to think we're all happy with gender and race blind casting.  I thought I was.  But then the Alice and Princess Katherine scene came, and I decided maybe I wasn't so comfortable as I complacently thought I was.  Katherine was played by a middle aged white man, not in drag; that is, there was no attempt to look "feminine" except that he wore a dress.   He didn't seem to have a wig on (was partly balding with short hair), and he seemed definitely middle-aged. And boy, did that challenge me! For those not familiar with Henry 5: French Princess Katharine pretty much knows she's going to be married off to Henry, the English king; in this scene, she's with her waiting gentlewoman, who seems to know a bit of English, and starts asking for translations of words for body parts.  Hands, fingers, arm, elbow, neck, chin, feet.  For those who have French and English, there are near homophones of "naughty" words in the pronunciations, "dilbo," "cun" "foot" and so forth. Some of the amusement from the scene traditionally comes from watching a presumably innocent young woman talking sexy, and finding the license to say "foot" for example, funny.  With this Katherine, however, the humor there didn't really work for me, which weirdly made the sort of cruel gap of the knowing audience laughing at the innocent young woman stand out all the more.  So that was interesting. And when the courting scene (where Henry meets Katherine and "courts" her, though we all know this is a pretense since her father will decide and she has no choice) came, I didn't feel any of the amusement in the teasing from Henry about language and such.  Maybe the two actors didn't have chemistry, or maybe it was my hangup with the man playing Katherine? Usually, in race and gender blind casting, at least in Shakespeare, you see people of color playing white roles, and women playing men's roles.  On one level, that makes sense because there's a paucity of roles for women and people of color in the plays.  But it means that you have actors from traditionally less powerful groups (people of color, women) playing characters from a more powerful group (white men).  But in Katherine's casting, a white man played a woman, and a woman with pretty much no power at all (since she's basically a political pawn). *** Otherwise: the production seemed a bit rough at the edges, with people either stepping on each other's lines in the prologue, or not quite speaking together (if they were supposed to be speaking together). There were times I really couldn't hear well (I was in the upper gallery for the first time, front row). But usually I could. And I couldn't always understand what I was hearing, and not only because it was French... *** I'm trying to find reviews of this production, but don't see any. I'm wondering how long it's been playing? (It's pretty early in the season, after all.)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Week 50/66: Back to my Happy Place

I'm off to the British Library this coming week for a two week visit.  I have reading plans, theater plans, and fun plans.

But first, I have a lot to get done.

Today, I planted some garden seeds...

It's too early for some things, probably (given our average frost dates), but some things will probably be okay.  Yesterday, I planted some native flower seed in my deck planters, so hopefully they'll be okay.

I thnk I've made all the travel and hotel arrangements I need, and have theater tickets.

I need to do the union books before I go, and make sure all our dues are paid up.  And I need to write a check to reimburse an officer for some expenses.

And I need to get my computer checked for viruses.

I really need to practice violin (which is what I'm doing after I finish posting), clean the house a bit, and do some laundry.  And I need to find my passport (it should be pretty easy), my BL reader's card (should be easy), and figure out what to pack, and yes, pack.

I need to fill out a form for my financial advisor.

So the list is getting more manageable...

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.