Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Simple Request

Committee stuffs. I'm probably a slow study. I need to read stuff, and I need to mull. I need to think, and sometimes, I need to talk to other people to get a different perspective. It took me perhaps two committee meetings as a young faculty member to realize that I really do need to prepare.

I'm on a committee for which the agenda is usually distributed after 9pm the night before. Today's agenda wasn't distributed until I asked for it, during my break between classes. By the time it got to my email, though, I was back in the classroom earning my keep, and the actual information we were deciding on today wasn't in my box (the physical box in the main office) until less than an hour before the meeting; I didn't have time to get it as I moved from class to the meeting. And I certainly didn't read or mull it during the class discussion I was leading.

This isn't an emergency sort of committee; everything before us comes more than 24 hours ahead. This is bad planning and preparation on the part of the person responsible. Yes, we're all busy. S/he is, too.

But, at every meeting, instead of having time to read and check things out ahead, we spend time wondering what person X might need, or how rule Y applies or not. And then the person responsible says s/he'll check and get back to us. We have an hour crammed into the schedules of several busy people, and we waste at least half of it every time looking at things we should have had time to read and ponder.

The chair was less than happy with me today when I asked if we could please have the agenda and other business at least 24 hours ahead so we could read and prepare. S/he promised to try. I wanted to go all Yoda and say, "there is no try, there is only do or not do." I controlled my impulse.

We were all frustrated enough.

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate winter? And cold? And that white stuff that falls out of the sky and makes cars and people slip all over the place?

I heard a really fascinating talk about nearly local history tonight, an aspect of history in this area that I've never heard about really. But boy was it COLD walking back to the car!

I'll shush now and go to bed. Happy end of January. Can it be spring now? Please?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Defending Titus

Okay, so you guys have gone and done it now! Bev, History Geek! I'm looking at YOU! Defaming Titus! How could you?

Okay, it was easy for you, wasn't it?

I encouraged an internet acquaintance a while back to read Titus; and now, because it's playing in her area, she told me she's going to see it instead. That should be fun, eh? She's probably going to wonder what kind of sick-o I am that I'd suggest it.

But I love Titus. And I especially love teaching Titus. I think reading Titus helps students learn to read Shakespeare better, and is a great starting place for learning to look at plays as plays, for thinking about race, genre, gender, justice, family, marriage, and just about all the other fun things in early modern drama.

Think, for a moment, about a science fiction film or TV show you've seen, Star Wars or Star Trek. You watch them, and they tell stories in interesting ways; they make you think and you get pleasure from them. Then you see some pictures of the films being made, where you can see that the ships are models, held up by strings. Or the monsters are being moved around by pieces of plywood.

When you see those pictures, and then look back at the text you remember, you appreciate that text in different ways. You appreciate the ways people chose camera angles or developed models. And you also see the goofiness; I remember some shuttle model or something that used women's razor handles for skids. Brilliant, but goofy. And once you've seen "how it's done," you watch the next text more fully and carefully. You're more informed, and you appreciate what's being shown in a different way than before. And yes, you're more analytical, and yes, maybe you have to think about the gendered fantasy you could ignore before.

Or think of seeing stills of the shooting of an early sit com such as I Love Lucy. There's real genius in putting together a show that can be that good with such material constraints. Three cameras, time limits, minimal set flexibility. And yet, even today, that's a funny show.

So, Titus is where you can see the strings and plywood Shakespeare's using. By the time you get to Hamlet, it's way harder to see the strings because Shakespeare's gotten really good. Further, Hamlet's such an icon of dramatic genius that students are intimidated by it. No one's intimidated by Titus. Horrified, grossed out, yes, but not intimidated.

I'm not in any way suggesting that Shakespeare (or Shakespeare and some other person, which I think is reasonably likely) wrote Titus to "practice" for Hamlet or anything. I think he (plus mystery playwright) wrote Titus because he/they wanted to make some money, contribute to the company's success, kick ass with a play, etc. Pretty much why Shakespeare wrote every play.

But reading Titus helps my students see the strings of how revenge tragedy works, of how black or blackamoor characters function in early modern drama, of how father-daughter relationships can be represented, and so forth. And Titus is so far over the top with doing what it does, so jam-pack full of stuff and body parts and the kitchen sink, that it's all the way "to the moon, Alice!" "to infinity and beyond!" You can see the plywood pushing the monster around the stage.
And just as understanding I Love Lucy as a material production adds to the pleasures of watching The Simpsons, understanding Titus adds to the pleasures of reading or watching Hamlet, or Othello, or just about any other later Shakespeare play.

Even if it weren't a great teaching play, Titus has a couple of amazing dramatic moments that make it worth the pence to get in.

Here's where Marcus enters to find Lavinia in Act 2, scene 4. For those not in the Titus-know, Marcus is coming on to stage and sees Lavina, who has been raped, had her tongue cut out, and her hands cut off. (Did I mention over the top? Just when you think it can't get worse, it will; this is only Act 2!)

Okay, you're reading this. But think of staging. There's no way (before modern filming stuff) to represent these sorts of injuries fully and convincingly on stage. So we in the audience are going to go with what we see, yes, but also what we hear said. And Marcus's speech is going to interpret and create what we see for us. Without benefit of film at all, this speech is incredibly cinematic; it's like we start out with Marcus, seeing Lavinia turned away, then we see that her hands are off, and her mouth is a bloody font. It's fully of pathos without being maudlin. (Well, I don't think it's maudlin.) Marcus leads us to understand the depth of the horror and then begins to explain it with reference to Tereus:

Who is this? my niece, that flies away so fast!
Cousin, a word; where is your husband?
If I do dream, would all my wealth would wake me!
If I do wake, some planet strike me down,
That I may slumber in eternal sleep!
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Have lopp'd and hew'd and made thy body bare
Of her two branches, those sweet ornaments,
Whose circling shadows kings have sought to sleep in,
And might not gain so great a happiness
As have thy love? Why dost not speak to me?
Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,
Like to a bubbling fountain stirr'd with wind,
Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips,
Coming and going with thy honey breath.
But, sure, some Tereus hath deflowered thee,
And, lest thou shouldst detect him, cut thy tongue.
Ah, now thou turn'st away thy face for shame!
And, notwithstanding all this loss of blood,
As from a conduit with three issuing spouts,
Yet do thy cheeks look red as Titan's face
Blushing to be encountered with a cloud.

Marcus goes on in the speech to develop the Tereus parallel. (Tereus raped his sister-in-law, Philomel/Philomela, and cut out her tongue so she couldn't tell. But she wove a tapestry that told the story, and got it to her sister, Procne. Procne then killed her kids by Tereus and fed them to him.) The speech not only reads Lavinia's body for us, but sets up the rest of the play without smacking us over the head too hard. (Okay, there's some smacking over the head; but that's where you see the strings!)

Not convinced?

How about this bit of imagery, from Aaron's entrance in Act 2, scene 1, after Tamora's managed to marry the Roman emperor.

Now climbeth Tamora Olympus' top,
Safe out of fortune's shot; and sits aloft,
Secure of thunder's crack or lightning flash;
Advanced above pale envy's threatening reach.
As when the golden sun salutes the morn,
And, having gilt the ocean with his beams,
Gallops the zodiac in his glistering coach,
And overlooks the highest-peering hills;
So Tamora

If you want to teach your creative writing students about concrete imagery, set them to draw this speech, and they'll get it. And have them read it aloud a couple times:

As when the golden sun salutes the morn,
And, having gilt the ocean with his beams,
Gallops the zodiac in his glistering coach,
And overlooks the highest-peering hills

That just tastes good. Those resounding "g"s, golden, gilt, gallops, glistering. Read it aloud again, and tell me that's not some pretty danged effective verse. Yeah, my students need to look up some words, and I have to explain about Phoebus Apollo, but then the "gilt" takes on special meaning, as does the "zodiac."

Of course, Aaron's wrong, and Tamora really isn't safe at all, even hanging out with the emperor, but it's important that we know he thinks that at the moment, and that the tragedy part is going to be, in part, about the fall of that emperor and the end of his lineage.

So, you Titus haters, have I changed your minds? Even a little tiny bit?

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Authorship Issue

Today in the Shakespeare class, a student started in explaining that many experts think that someone else wrote the play we're reading.

I'm always a bit at a loss about what to do when a student goes off on the authorship issue and assert that person X or Y wrote whatever text we're reading. I imagine it's a bit like a student wanting to argue for irreducible complexity in a paleontology class; there's so much important, well-studied science to talk about there that one wouldn't want to spend time talking about what isn't science.

I don't really want to make this enthusiastic and eager student feel bad, but I don't want to take time from our discussion of the first play to talk about authorship issues. It's the age old issue of balancing between telling the class what experts think is important, and being open to other voices or opinions.

This student mentioned on the first day of class how much he loves early modern literature. I'm happy for someone to love this stuff; lots of early modern playwrights wrote really wonderful plays. If Shakespeare had never lived or written, the period would still be a rich source of great drama. Heck, Marlowe and Jonson alone could keep us happy and busy, but add Middleton, Chapman, Beaumont, Fletcher, and on and on, and the wealth of pleasure is almost embarrassing.

I'm pretty sure this student's assertion about the authorship thing came from genuine enthusiasm, but the usual anti-Stratfordians (the people who don't believe some yokel from Stratford named William Shakespeare wrote whichever texts are commonly associated with his name) usually have an agenda.

They may believe that a yokel without a university education couldn't have written the wonders that are Lear or Hamlet. There's a class bias there, a sense that only someone with a university education could have the sorts of sensibilities we find in those plays. Sometimes people have more at stake, such as the current Earl of Oxford, who, not surprisingly, believes that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the texts.

Or they may argue that only someone with an intimate knowledge of the court or law courts or whatever specialized field could possibly have written a play set at court or representing a trial. If we read history, though, say Chamberlain's letters or Akrigg's work on the Jacobean court, we realize that dramatic representations of the court are better drama than history. Plays don't represent historical reality any more accurately than television dramas do. They represent dramatic choices.

Anti-Stratfordians, like all of us, pick and choose their evidence, and generally believe there was some sort of grand conspiracy to put William Shakespeare in place as a figurehead for someone too important to be seen as a common playwright. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, though, and there seem to be too many early modern people who talk about Shakespeare as the playwright for me to buy easy conspiracy theories. For example, there's Frances Meres' Palladis Tamia, Wit's Treasury, which lists plays he attributes to Shakespeare as well as works by Marlowe (here's a facscimile of a page of text; the Shakespeare stuff is on the upper right side; note that it mentions Love Labours Wonne? That's a mystery! Is it a lost text, or a text we have under another name: future Shakespeareans, if you can find the text, your future is pretty much assured!).

And there are the stories passed on by Ben Jonson, recorded by William Drummond of Hawthornden, including recollections of Shakespeare's wit; Jonson was a competitor of Shakespeare's, and not reticent in criticizing others. I have a hard time believing that Jonson could know Shakespeare and be fooled into believing he were the competing playwright if he weren't. I have an even harder time believing that Jonson wouldn't have spilled the beans if he'd known, especially since Shakespeare and all the supposed candidates for authorship pre-deceased him.

I know no serious scholar of early modern literature who believes that a guy named William Shakespeare didn't "write" the texts associated with his name, and none who believe that any of the texts have come to us pure in the form Shakespeare wrote them. Real authorship questions are complex and interesting, and engage us in learning about textual transmission, the organization and economics of theatrical companies and practices, the organization and economics of printing and stationer's companies. Those authorship questions are well worth taking up class time with because they make us think about our beliefs about "authorship" and the metonymic relationships between names and works and the people we associate with them.

Now how to get that across in class without making my enthusiastic student feel too bad, or make other students think I'm attacking him? That is the question.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I had dinner last night with some friends, including a native speaker of Language D (remember, Language D?) who was kind and encouraging about my attempts to learn the language. (I can now count fairly well up to the hundreds, and say a few basic phrases. But even counting in Language D is complex!)

So, we chatted about where we'd been and what we were up to over break; one person went overseas; she's a specialist who works a lot with one language, but also revealed that she's fluent enough in another language to travel easily in that country as well. And the native speaker of Language D is also fluent in English and does scholarly work in a third language (both modern and medieval dialects). The fourth has us all beat to heck in languages, foreign and otherwise.

We fantasized about them all coming to see me when I teach abroad. :)

Ambition / Rethinking

Yesterday I wrote a post about a student advisee who told me she was planning to get a phud in English, and then in another field. Mostly, I focused on my amazment (in the Spenserian sort of sense) that anyone would want to, or that phud programs would want a student seeking a second phud. Partly my response came directly out of how miserable I was dealing with some aspects of my own grad program.

And thanks to my commentors, I stand corrected. There are, indeed, as Jo(e) and Marcelle Proust pointed out, good reasons for some people to get a second phud, and this student may end up being one of those. (And can I just say, isn't it cool that Proust comes to visit; now if only Chaucer would!)

On the other hand, as others noted, this student, being an undergraduate and all, doesn't really know what graduate work is about. NegativeCapability mentions that my advisee probably thinks of grad work as a sort of second major. And indeed, this student is planning to double major in the two fields.

The student, when she came to talk to me, was in her first semester of college work. She'd already declared her majors, so I do indeed get the feeling she's very focused, or focused and anxious. And who can blame someone for being anxious! But also, she's just beginning her undergraduate career, and at a place without phud programs, so it's really unlikely that she has even the smallest idea of what a graduate program looks like. We have tons of first generation college students. How could they know what they're getting into?

Reading the responses made me think back to my own starting out in college. I, too, declared my major during my first term, and terrified went to meet with my advisor as mandated. I had NO clue what college was about because college is pretty much like a visible secret society. There are colleges and universities all over the place, but unless you're in one, you probably don't know much about how it works. And if you're in one as an undergraduate, you only see one level of how yours works.

I was thinking, it's like being arrested. I've never been arrested. The closest experiences I've had with being arrested are watching TV shows (yeah, that's realistic). So, if I'm ever arrested, I really won't know how to act, except that my deep-seated fear of guns and people with them will probably make me meek and obedient. And then I'll ask to get a lawyer. But I don't actually know any criminal lawyers, so I guess I'd call a friend and hope s/he could find someone decent?

When you're an undergraduate, you mostly see the effects of other people's decisions, but not the decision making process at all. You see that you can't get into certain classes because they're already full; you buy books someone ordered; you fulfill requirements. There's lots of information available about the decision making, but hidden in archives or discussed in meetings you're not even aware of, and if you were, you'd be too busy with just trying to do your thing.

When you're a grad student, you may do some book ordering, and teach classes, so you begin to see how those decisions are made. If you're lucky, someone mentors you about writing your syllabus, planning a semester/quarter, and so forth. If you're really lucky, someone mentions FERPA to you, so you don't do something illegal because you're clueless. But you still fulfill requirements, can't get into some classes, jump hoops, and mostly don't see how decisions are made. (Some schools are more open than others; some allow grad students on hiring or grad acceptance committees, or on curriculum committees.)

When you're on the market, seeking to move to a faculty position of some sort from grad school, you likely become really aware of how little you know about how hiring decisions are made, contracts negotiated, and so forth.

When you're a new faculty member, you probably become way more aware of how curricular decisions are made, start learning about budgeting and scheduling decisions, and so forth. You begin to get a sense of the inner circle workings, if only because you see the effects more closely.

I, for example, don't see the big wigs on my campus talking to legislators or the board of trustee types, but I hear about those discussions. I don't know the exact numbers (I could look them up), but I know that my department's decisions about hiring adjuncts, the college's decisions about tenure lines, and whether we can actually add this or that class or program are driven by budget issues. I don't know without asking how many of our students are on probation, or how the dorm housing "works." I have vague ideas about how decisions are made over at the library, but the student health center's a cipher. I doubt many people really have a great grasp on the interweavings of how even a smallish campus such as mine works.

And unlike if I'm arrested, I at least have a clue about who to call or email here to ask questions of whatever sort.

There's a mystique to colleges and universities; I think we faculty folks sometimes embrace that mystique. But in the larger sense, it's a mistake because the people who really have power don't like feeling left out or uninformed.

In the Northwoods, the state government, especially the legislature deeply distrusts the university. Supposedly, if you talk to local representatives, they all say that their local Northwoods campus is doing great work and is the exception; they trust the local campus. But they don't see the system as a system of local campuses, but instead as the SYSTEM, and the system is untrustworthy.

If we were more transparent in our activities, our decision-making, would the elected folks see that we do indeed do good work in all sorts of ways? Would they budget accordingly, and make fewer rules for the sake of making rules?

And would our students come in with more realistic expectations?

We don't explain ourselves well to the public, but when we try, we're competing with so many other voices and advertising that we seem drowned out. I don't know how to solve that. People only have so much time, energy, and attention, and we're all pulled in myriad directions.

I'm being pulled to Love's Labors Lost at this very minute!

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Wow, I met with a first time advisee recently who casually said she plans to get two PhDs, one in English, and one in another field.

I talked to her a little, tried to give her a reality check. I don't think it took, but that's okay.

Am I wrong, or does it sound really unlikely that a second PhD program would accept someone who already has a PhD? I can see doing a joint JD/PhD program or something. But I think a program would hesitate to accept someone who wants to switch fields after already earning a PhD. If the fields are close, then there's no point. And if they're far apart, then the change seems weird, as in what was the point of doing the first PhD if you don't want to work in that field?

I barely made it through my one PhD in one piece. I can't even imagine wanting to start another, all the stupid hoops, the power trips, the grad student nastiness. Nope. No thanks. (It's not that all grad students are nasty, but enough are to make grad seminars painful.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday Poetry Blogging - Poetry and Politics

This week, Mr. Bush gave the State of the Union speech. Or, for Washington "insiders" (or people who watch West Wing), PotUS gave SotU. I don't feel that I'm on a first name or insider basis with anyone in Washington, especially Bush, though, so I'm not going there.

I had a moment of hope during Bush's speech when he said that he thought medical decisions should be between a person and a doctor. But then I realized that "person" didn't include "woman" in Bush's way of thinking. Still, it was interesting that he chose to echo that language (or that some speech writer chose, maybe without realizing it?).

And of course, he didn't mention the efforts to rebuild New Orleans and the area hit hard by Katrina. Maybe he's forgotten. And from what I read, the efforts aren't going especially well.

In honor of all the politicking, I give you one of my favorite political poems, this by e.e. cummings, of the famous minuscule vs majuscule debate. Now, I know what you're thinking: "TWO recent posts mentioning authors who've lived within the past century! What depths of depravity and modernism will Bardiac sink to next?" But I assure you, I'll be back to my usual outdated, just plain old literature stuff before long.

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Advising Fields Issues

In my department we get assigned advisees in one of two basic ways. When students register for the first time during summer advising, if they're ready to declare a major, the summer advisor assigns an advisor and sets the major. If they come to the department to declare an English major at some other time, our undergrad director sees them and assigns them an appropriate advisor.

We have five (!) emphases in our department, and each advisor advises in only one emphasis. As a lit advisor, for example, I don't advise Creative Writing emphasis students.

Over the course of this academic year, I've had a number of new students (four or five) come in and tell me that while they see from their paperwork that although they're signed up as lit emphasis students, they should be signed up as something else. Unfortunately, by the time they tell me this, I've spent 15 minutes or so prepping to meet with them for the first time, and then I have a choice. I could just tell them to change their major, get a new advisor, make a new appointment, and get their registration code then.

Doing that would force them to officially get a new advisor quickly, but it would also put them through a load of running around when they're already stressed for time (since they usually remember to make an advising appointment at the last minute). On the other hand, they'd be seen by someone who could advise them easily, a good thing. For better or worse, having gone through the trouble of prepping, I do their advising, get them their code, and tell them to officially change their major at their convenience. Mostly, that's okay. I pass along their advising folder and notes when I learn of their new advisor (and IF; the system isn't perfect around here).

But with education emphasis students, things get more complicated. They're supposed to take some skills test very early in their career here, and have to take specific courses for their GEs in certain fields. So I usually have to get up and go ask one of the education advisors to make sure I'm not sending them into trouble.

A couple weeks ago when I did this, the education advisor I asked, P, asked me with more than a hint of impatience why I didn't learn the education advising and become an education advisor, didn't I want to learn? Um, no thanks; you see, I actually like literature and want to talk to people about literature. I'm invested in the lit program, having helped construct and organize it, and teaching in it. I don't want to learn about all the legal requirements for the education program. (Legislating educational requirements from without seems weird to me, but I suppose that's supposed to regularize things, right?)

Friday, I had another one of these students pop up, and since I have more first year advisees emailing about appointments at the last minute for this week, I'm guessing I'll have more. So I decided to actually try to figure out if there's a way to avoid the problem.

I started by asking our administrative assistant about how they handle things, and what they see. They handle the data entry only from our undergrad director; the summer folks get entered elsewhere. So I looked at the files again to see which forms (summer or undergrad director) were there, to see if there's a way to tell where the error happened.

And there, on all the forms, were signatures from P as summer advisor. So I went to ask P about the form, which doesn't actually have a place to write in the major, just the advisor's name. I asked if having a place to write the student's major on the form so they could see it would make them aware of which major they were being signed up for? And P said "they" don't fill out that form until months later (but it has P's signature and a date from the summer?). Apparently there's a second form I'm not seeing that says the major and advisor?

Let's just say, it was less than satisfying. But definitely NOT P's fault. Students lie. (Yes, but why all of a sudden several this semester, and about that? It's not like students don't come talk to me about changing their major or emphasis. These students are getting wrong advisor assignments.) Students are confused despite P's brilliant advising. P's upset at me for asking.

I still don't know where the problem's coming from: either the students didn't tell P the emphasis they wanted, P didn't hear them tell, or there was some other confusion. But P put my name down as their lit advisor, so the problem started somewhere in that meeting, and not with data entry.

I'm frustrated.


Today is the anniversary of Virginia Stephen's birthday. You probably know her better by her married name, Virginia Woolf.

I haven't read lots of Woolf's works, but my reading and teaching were deeply influenced at one time by her essay A Room of One's Own. I don't think I'm unusual in that, amongst female academics who've studied literature.

She does a couple amazing things in that text, setting up the comparison between meals at the men's college and at the women's college at Oxbridge and using that to tease out the ways that economics affect women's scholarship even when we have basic access. I think that's one of the most important aspects of her text, along with the discussion of the ways men's text "other" women, in a sort of orientalizing gesture. (Yes, I realize I'm anachronistic.)

But her creation of Judith Shakespeare has been most influential. In a nutshell, she asks what would have happened to an equally talented and ambitious sister of William Shakespeare, and imagines that sister going to London to get into the theatrical scene, only to find herself forced into prostitution and ending with an early death. It's a powerful narrative, and does a good job helping readers think about the ways some things just weren't possible for women as they were for men.

On the other hand, Woolf was working on A Room of One's Own in the 1920s, and didn't have access to or knowledge of the many works of earlier women writers. Unfortunately, some people read Woolf's essay and assume that she's completely right about the absence of earlier women writers. But lots of people were inspired to look for those very women writers, and in the process gave us a much better sense of the lives of early modern English people and early modern English culture.

When I started writing this morning, I hoped I'd find something really pointed to say about the patriarchal practice of women changing names at marriage, and how that had to do with economics and male dominance and lack of opportunity. I find the practice at once totally incomprehensible (why would someone want to change her name?) and totally comprehensible (because I grew up in the culture, and women changed their names without question). I dislike the practice, and think women who change their names without giving it some good hard thought are doing themselves and society a great harm. On the other hand, I think it's totally someone's personal business what name they choose to use.

I sort of see this as relating to how some people feel about abortions being legal. They may hate the practice and choose never to do it, but they don't think their position gives them the right to force someone else to carry a pregnancy to term.

Secretly, though, just as I've never gotten married, and so never had to make a decision about changing my name to a husband's, I think a lot of those women have never been in a situation where an unwanted pregnancy was putting them in an untenable or unliveable position.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

One of our Students...

One of our students died. The news reports said he died in bed over break. He was an athlete, on the *** team, they said.

I recognized the name because he was in one of my classes a few years ago, a pleasant enough young man, not outstanding amongst the many students. He wasn't super student, but he participated and didn't miss many classes or show up drunk. I knew he was on a team because it came up, but here at NWU, athletics don't run the school mostly, so it wasn't a big deal to me.

But died in bed, over break? Wow. There's got to be more to it than that, though I'll never know.
In the 80s, I remember a code for people who died of AIDS but whose families didn't really want people to know. At least, pretty much people I knew assumed that a young person (often male) who'd died after a "protracted" or "extended" illness died of AIDS. But I don't make that assumption these days, mostly because people aren't so reticent about talking about AIDS or being gay (though IV drug use probably gets hidden more, still).

Here in the Northwoods, though, my mind goes more to some really bad drug or a drinking binge. Or an illness? Something related to his athletics?

I feel sorry for his parents. I can't imagine much harder in life than your child dying.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Law Stuffs - Background Check

A few years ago now, there was a big to-do up at the Northwoods state capital when a case of fraud was investigated at Flagship U. From what little I remember (and little did I realize I should pay closer attention), an administrator had allegedly defrauded FU of a fair bit of money. The budget crunch was hitting the Northwoods then, as now, and people were angry. Who can blame them? Fraud is bad!

Then there was another case of criminal misconduct at FU, and the stacks blew.

Several years having passed, the reactions to these incidents has trickled down to the rest of the state system in the form of mandatory criminal background checks. They've now run criminal background checks on all of us employees, from (I suppose) the administrators who handle money to the students who make copies, answer phones, and so on in my department office. And we're going to do pre-emptive criminal background checks on job applicants, too.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea of criminal background checks for most jobs. If a criminal has served time, then shouldn't we mostly wipe the slate clean and say, okay, let's try again? I know little about the law, but I'm guessing there are a lot of people who've possessed some grass or whatever, got arrested, did probation or time or whatever, and then moved on. I know more than one person who's spent time in prison, got out, moved on, and "contribute to society."

[There really are relatively few ax murderers out there. Remember, more people are murdered on TV these days, but violent crime in the US is down, we're told. On the other hand, real crime doesn't lead to successful prosecution nearly as often as TV crime. TV, it seems, isn't reality. Who knew?]

But the rules in this case make me ask some questions:

Would this information have helped in any way to prevent the alleged crimes that prompted the powers that be to make the new rule?

How are we going to use the information once we get it? (Are we automatically NOT going to hire people if they've got a record? What counts as "bad enough" not to be hired?)

And, recently, I asked these very questions at a meeting with some big wigs. The answers (paraphrased):

Nope, the people charged with the crimes didn't have a prior record, so doing a background check wouldn't have helped.

We don't know. We don't have any policy. We don't have any rules that say we shouldn't hire someone if they have a criminal background.

So I followed up and asked why we were paying for criminal background checks when they wouldn't have prevented the thing they're put in place because of AND we don't have a policy to deal with potential issues?

The bigwig shrugged and smiled his assinine smile, the one that says "screw you Bardiac and all uppity women who ask questions." (I mostly feel pretty good about our administrators, but this guy, no. He got his job as an appointment through the good old boy network previously in place.)

I'm no legal expert. Heck, I've spent a fair bit of time reading Coke on inheritance and coverture, but still, really.

Even being no legal expert, I see the Northwoods University System setting itself up for a real legal headache because somehow, at some point, someone is going to deny an applicant a job based on this background check sans policy, and that applicant is going to sue for big time damages.

And what do all these background checks cost? Individually, not much, it seems. But remember, we don't hire only a few faculty folks a year, and this is a whole university system. So every student worker hired, background check. Every administrative assistant and library assistant, check. Every gardener and groundskeeper, check. That's a lot of wasted money, money that could be far better spent on just about anything else.

And yes, of course, when they background checked all of us here, they found several people with criminal records. And made a big to-do about it. At least, they made a big to-do about the maintenance guy. They didn't make a big to-do about the others for some reason. I'm guessing maybe they had a little more power than the maintenance guy (who'd served his time over a decade ago, and been working for the campus a while with no problems).

And no, of course the system board of directors don't get background checked. They're political appointees, and we all know that political appointees are pure, pure, pure as the driven snow.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blogging for Choice Day

Welcome to Blog for Choice Day. I'm not talking about just any choice here, of course. This isn't about whether you can legally have your wisdom teeth out if they're going to cause problems or if you just don't want to deal with that potential.
I sometimes read or hear people say they think women shouldn't have access to abortions because we should "deal with the consequences" of our actions by having a baby. An awful lot of medical treatments involve dealing with the consequences of our (or others') actions, yet you never hear about rich men being denied angiograms or bypass surgery because they didn't exercise enough or ate too much. Medicine is often about making bad choices or bad luck have a less negative impact on our lives. I think that's a great thing all around.
I also think that having a baby shouldn't be a punishment.
It's strange, isn't it, that "choice" has become about one thing, the ability for a woman to have one of several medical procedures legally.
I grew up very middle class, white, and in the US. To be totally honest, even before 1972, a woman in my social situation where I grew up could have gotten a safe abortion if she'd sought one. She could have traveled to where the procedure was legal, or she could have had it at the local hospital, where it would have been labeled a "D&C" and nothing further would have been said. I know several women who had "D&Cs" in the 60s and early 70s, and who were relieved to not have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
And to be honest, were the US to outlaw abortion today, and I to get pregnant tomorrow, I would have access to an abortion. Things might be stricter medically, but I'd be able to travel and have a safe medical procedure.
Women who aren't safely middle class have and have always had far fewer options. Today, I live in an area where getting an abortion legally means travelling at least 2-3 hours, getting some "counselling" (and, legally, I can't get that over the phone; I have to get it in person), waiting 24 hours. Then, assuming I were among the large majority of women seeking an early termination, I'd be allowed to buy and take some pills. (How does your state rate in access to abortions? Find out here.)
As a middle class woman, I could afford to take a couple days off, even in the middle of a semester, drive to one of the cities several hours away where abortion services are available (because even those pills aren't available in my mid-sized city), stay at a decent and safe hotel for a couple of days, and, if there were a complication, afford further health care.
I'm not at all convinced that the most basic legal access to the medical procedures to terminate a pregnancy are assured, but I'm hopeful.
However, I don't think that basic legal access is sufficient. I think we need to work harder to make sure that all women have access to reproductive choice, including terminating a pregnancy. We need to eliminate TRAP laws, and treat terminating a pregnancy like the medical procedure it is. (I don't want to minimize medical procedures; by all means, someone should be informed about the risks of any medical procedure, be it a medical abortion or wisdom tooth extraction. But medical procedures are safer when they're performed legally, by well-trained practitioners in well-staffed facilities.)
One way to work to make sure women in the US have access to reproductive choice is to lobby your elected representatives or to support pro-choice candidates for election. Contact your US Senator. Your US Representative. You can find contact information for your local government folks through the Library of Congress site, here.
When you're contacting your representatives, remember that choice isn't only about women in the US, but also about the ways the US funds aid to developing nations, especially medical aid, and especially access to reproductive choice.
Another way to work to help women in the US have access to reproductive choice is to help pay for care indirectly. The National Network of Abortion Funds can help you find local resources to help fund care for women who don't have access for financial reasons. That's especially important for women whose medical care is paid for by the federal government, as with people serving in the armed forces or, yes, the Peace Corps.
Or you can contact Planned Parenthood to find out how to work for broader reproductive choices.
Need more information about Blog for Choice day? Go here. The official topic of the day is "why you are pro-choice," but I've gone a bit off topic. My post will earn an official F. /sigh
[I have doubts that blogging for whatever makes a real difference in the world. I don't think we're going to change anyone's mind, really. But, I do know that giving money or volunteering for organizations that work for choice does make a difference, often one woman at a time. I'll be sending off another donation to Planned Parenthood.]

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Quiz Time

Not bad for an athiest. I think I missed a number of the ones asking about book order in the Hebrew bible. It's not often that I get called "fantastic."

You know the Bible 86%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
Create MySpace Quizzes


I do that sometimes.

At a Department Meeting

A colleague says, "We're the English department, but we love literature."

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Buzz

Our classes start on Monday, so the past few days, the building's been abuzz. Mostly it's instructors and administrative assistants, a few student workers, all getting ready. Each of my classes is ready to go, except that I haven't decided quite what I'll do on the first day of my text class. It's a two hour class, so there's plenty of time to go over the syllabus and start to get to know people; it's my five hour class this semester, so getting to know people is especially important to me.

In the poetry class, we'll be talking about the Robin Williams "Martian Haiku" I love so well (Red sand between my toes / Summer vacation in outer space), asking if it's a poem, and what a poem is. It works surprisingly well for such a simple little thing.

In Shakespeare, we're going to start with Sonnet #30,

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

You know, this Shakespeare guy has a way with words.

I'm excited. I got my class lists today. I know perhaps three students already overall. So I have a lot of names to learn! I'm teaching sophomore level classes, one of them the gateway to the English major class. Yet in each class, I have several seniors and lots of juniors. I also have a few repeaters. You know there's got to be a story with those. I hope there's no need for me to hear it.

I'm nervous. I remember the first day I went to teach my very first class. I stood outside with the other people, waiting for the class before to finish up, and wondering if they could tell in any way that I was the instructor. I was terrified, but also pretty sure that the students were nervous, and that helped somehow.

I don't get as terrified now, but I definitely run on adrenaline when I teach, and I don't sleep much before the first day of classes. Once I get into the room and get started, I settle down, but that first moment, I'm a tad tense.

I have noticed that I make some of the same stupid jokes every term. "Hi, this is Math 720, Linear Regression, right?" I need better opening lines.

I have my first day handouts all made and prepared. But I don't remember where my classes are, or in what order I teach them (that could get exciting, eh?), but I'll make up my class folders and have those to carry around.

This week, and Monday, are among the busiest days for our administrative and student workers. We load them with files to be scanned, assignments to be copied, and magically they seem to appear in our boxes, collated and stapled on colored paper.

It may be just me, but I love giving out colored paper handouts. It's absurd, but they seem easier to keep track of on colored paper.

I realized that the bookstore ordered the Oxford Schools edition of one of the plays rather than the Oxford World's Classics edition. I've never taught out of the Oxford Schools edition, and I don't want to start. It's disruptively busy. So I called over, and the bookstore order person couldn't find the isbn numbers for the texts I'd ordered; they didn't exist. But, instead of telling me to just deal with it, she called Oxford UP and got the information, and the new editions are on their way, supposed to be here within the next week, plenty of time for us to do some sonnets and another play first.

I thanked her. And thanked her again. For some reason, she was just willing and able to solve the problem, and it's taken care of. Amazing.

So here's a big thank you to the people who keep my university running and who don't get much credit. Thank you for making me look less stupid than I am, for getting my copies and scans made so that I can relax this weekend, knowing they're all piled in my office. Thank you for being kind when I'm a bit nervous and antsy.

I'm heading home to finish up some reading and start the last weekend before grading.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Working towards my goal to make life as miserable as possible for administrators, I asked one of our deans here a question, and then a follow up. I know, I'm a miserable tormentor.

By way of explaining, she gave me a rough number of how many of my college's students are on probation.

I'm stunned. Between 1-2% of our students are on probation right now. That seems like a huge number to me. I'm guessing it's probably not outrageously out of the ordinary, but still. WOW.

Learning something like that makes me aware of how little I know about the workings of some parts of the university.


Thanks for your sonnet suggestions! I've chosen:

#30 for the first day - Thanks to Dr. Virago!

Then we'll do a couple more the first week of class #73, #116 (Thanks, Dr. Crazy! Not only is "admit" a great one, but "let" has a nice double meaning, and "impediments" is sort of a metrical play!)

#42 - Thanks, Miranda!

#106 and #17 (I love the "stretch-ed meter of an antique mind!)

Then later in the term, we'll come back to #20, #29 (Thanks, Bolingbroke! Not often I have an earl visiting the ol' blogsted.)

and finally #129, 138, and 147.

Horace, I'm so with you! I love "Leda and the Swan" as a teaching poem; it's devastating, especially the implication that the violence of the rape prefigures and almost predestines the violence of the Trojan War. And Owen just gets deeply to me in "Dulce." I've never taught the Sassoon poem, but after your suggestions, I made a section on war poetry, and included a couple. So thanks! The ink's practically still wet on those (compared to my usual haunts), but I think they're going to work really well together.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Raid and the Case of the Mysterious Missing Book

I love bookstores. Academic bookstores, especially just before the beginning of the semester, are among my favorites. I love looking at what books other people are teaching; it's like you get a little idea of what might be good to read. Maybe that works better for folks in English and literature stuffs than for folks in chemistry, though. It's especially good if I know that I've liked the books Sally suggested before, and I see something promising on the shelves for Sally's upper level lit class, especially if Sally teaches an area of lit I'm not really familiar with.

I raided the bookstore and got a new Language D/English dictionary, a Language D beginner textbook, and Language D beginner workbook, and yes, another book.

(No, I'm not really worried that real students will be unable to get hold of any of the books I raid. Talking to bookstore folks, I've learned that predicting how many books will be purchased for a given class within the first couple weeks of the semester is a really difficult thing. Students go on-line to get books more cheaply, borrow or resell within dorms and frats, put off buying because they don't have the money, and so forth.)


Meanwhile, back at the ranch. At some point last semester, I noticed that one of the texts I'll be using for a class this semester was in one of my bookcases at home; I distinctly remember thinking that I'd need to take it in to the office, but not doing so at the time for some reason. Last week, I started looking for the book so I could use it to make up the class calendar, but I couldn't find it. I have a pretty visual memory, so I tend to remember what part of a page a given phrase I care about is on, and totally forget what the actual phrase is. So I remembered distinctly that the book is pink; I could even picture the kind of sans serif font the book title is in, and that it's white on the spine. But I couldn't find the book. I looked in the usual places, starting with the theory and crit books (this one's a book on rhetoric), then looked in the "need to read these" shelf. No luck, so I searched the novels bookcase, and the plays and early modern texts. It was all very frustrating.

I decided I might need to buy another copy, so I checked and found out that there's a new edition. But, of course, I can't buy the new edition of the rental text I've ordered is the older edition, or I'll be out of step and worse with the class. So while I was raiding at the bookstore, I planned to pick up a copy of the mysterious missing book.

There were, as I expected, stacks of this book. But they're light blue, not pink. So I held off buying a copy, went home, and found the blue book within about half a minute of looking. I'd been so convinced I was looking for a pink book that I hadn't seen the blue one. Yep.

Why would my mind misremember light blue as pink? I find the ways I misremember things really interesting, not quite in an Oliver Sacks sort of way, but in that weird way it reveals the connections I make and such (so in a mini-thankfully-not-as-interesting-as Oliver Sacks' cases way).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Stockholm Blogging

No, alas, I'm not blogging from Sweden, nor am I learning Swedish, even.

In reading blogs, I've noticed a pattern in some blog responses, and even in blogs themselves. Here's what happens: someone with some level of authority says something about people s/he deals with that reveals that those people are less than stunningly wonderful or brilliant in some way. (Imagine, for a moment, if I were to blog about students and how they do X that I consider less than wonderful. That's a pretty common blog topic, and I, for one, would have considerably less to blog about if I didn't at least occasionally mention someone else's foibles.)

What interests me are the responses, sometimes in the comments section and sometimes in other blogs. These responses tend to say things about how, yes, those OTHER people are stupid idiots, but the responder (who might be broadly in the grouping of other people) doesn't, and needs to tell the world (or the original blogger) about his/her own experiences to demonstrate how very different s/he is. And sometimes the original blogger was trying to be funny, but the responder takes it all seriously; humor's difficult in written discourse.

(Imagine, if a student were to read my blog and think, well, yes, Bardiac's right, students sometimes DO turn in papers late, but I never do, and I need to make sure Bardiac knows that I'm a good student and not like those other students, and by golly, I hate those other students who give students a bad name.)

In other words, the responder (R) goes through some contortions to identify him/herself with the original blogger (OB), and to distance him/herself from the people OB has pointed out as flawed in some way. In that distancing, R may go far beyond OB's original commentary, and get downright aggressive about those other people.

It sounds like my vague notion of Stockholm Syndrome. By identifying with those in power (or abusers), the R tries to protect him/herself in some way, even in cyberspace, where the stakes are usually about self-representation and such. But, in making that identification, R is also losing the potential power of working with "those people" and changing things for the better (yes, even students sometimes have valid complaints about the academic system and the people with power in that system).

Here's the thing, people. YOU may not be one of "those people" and you may think those people are totally less than wonderful. But I am those people. Yes, you heard me. If there's someone who did idiotic things as a student, yes, I probably did, or would have if I'd thought of it. Similarly, if you read a blogger talking about the stupidity of other people, be sure that they're either talking about me, or could be.

Here's a recent example from Dean Dad, who wrote about an imagined beginning of spring semester address. If you read the comments, you'll see that some people take umbrage (and shouldn't we all get some umbrage?) at the Dean's internal comment about faculty members who have a month off with pay, which he doesn't get. Some people argue that they work really hard, unlike some folks; others argue that all faculty members work hard all the time.

Here's what I'd like to say. Yes, Dean, I did take some time away from the productive work I usually do. But with the semester opening just around the corner, I'm now back full time to my professional goal of making life a living hell for all administrators. Yes, you're welcome.

Makes you wish I'd get some more time off to relax, doesn't it?

Well, busy now, gotta email a couple deans about some... stuff. Maybe some traces of crushed road salt will stick to the envelop I just sent to the Head Master...

What's that you asked, Pinky? We're going to do the same thing we do every night. Try to take over the world!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Language Acquisition

I watched part of a movie in my soon-to-be (if I study lots) new language this evening.

I can say with (very little) authority that no one in the movie counted slowly to ten or asked where the bank is.

I understood the word for "yes" at one point, and took that as a small victory. (Though I'd guess that most English speakers my age recognize the word for "yes" in this language and a number of others, and even I didn't learn it from the language CDs.)

Listening to the language CDs, I get a small sense every so often of how differently speakers of Language D conceptualize numbers and word order. I have my linguist friends to thank for caring about such things, but it's darned interesting.

Links and News

Artemis did a great post about this being National Blood Donor Month. If you're lucky enough to be healthy and stuff, here's a site for getting in contact with the Red Cross (it's GiveLife dot Org; well, in the US, anyways) to donate.

Not only may you help save a life or make a life better, you get lots of smiles and probably some cookies from the volunteers there. AND free blood pressure info!

Me? 11/30/06, so I'll be good to go at the end of the month.

(Thanks, Artemis, I didn't even know blood donors had a month.)


In other news, January 22 is Blog For Choice day (via Feministing). NARAL/Pro-Choice America is asking pro-choice bloggers to blog for choice that day. You can sign up here at Bushvchoice dot com (which, frankly, seems either short sighted or really, really optimistic as a name), or just do it. There's also this way cool graphic for people who know how to put graphics on their blog:
(ooo, I THINK I just figured out how to put in an image! Score one for an easy user-interface!)

Martin Luther King, Jr Day

Thank you Dr. King.

The US actually remembers a man of peace one day a year. Most of our national holidays are focused on wars and people who led in war or served in war. But this is a day to focus on making change through peace.

One of the cool things about the day is that NPR and other folks (including the King Center I linked above) are playing recordings of King speaking. That man had a great voice and oratorial style, eh?

Wouldn't you love to have recordings of Lincoln? Jefferson? Elizabeth I? (Okay, so I tried to sneak one in!)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Favorite Word

In honor of my efforts at language acquisition (hey, I managed to remember a couple words today!), I thought I'd share my very favorite word in a foreign language, and encourage folks to do the same (though if your favorite word is in English, then that's okay, too).

This is the most perfect word I know of. Pronounce it as you would if you saw the syllables in your version of English and you won't be far off the mark.


That's it.

You could also represent it "hua-hua" or "gua-gua." (Those transliterations make more sense if you're working from Spanish than from English.)

It's Quichua for "baby."

It's perfect, am I not right?

(I know only a few words of Quichua, just what I've picked up on the street, so to speak.)

What's YOUR favorite word?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Questions for the Ages

Why is it that scholars who study the Beats tend to be obnoxious sexists and wear berets?

I know a Beat "scholar" who fancies himself quite cool. I have bad news: you have an advanced degree in the humanities, but aren't a Marxist scholar or a cultural theorist. By definition, you aren't cool. Period.

It's not like early modernists wear big Elizabethan ruffs and codpieces, right? Why do Beat folks wear black and berets?

Another question: why does every local PBS station wherever I live still play The Lawrence Welk show repeats. I swear, that show has been repeated more often than I Love Lucy and is not even one one hundreth as entertaining.

A student in my "texts" class emailed me to ask which novel we're reading first.

Notice how the question assumes there's more than one novel to read for the class?

Okay, so maybe this is one of those situations where students call anything a novel. I've had students call plays, non-fiction, short stories, and yes, Paradise Lost a novel. Or maybe not.

And my final question for the ages: what the heck is a novel that, say, Beware the Cat or Sidney's Arcadia aren't? I'm afraid I've never quite understood the distinction between prose fiction and a novel.

And don't give me the unified and believable plot structure thing, because lots of things written in the past century have neither.

Individualized and believable characters?

A pervasive illusion of reality?

Ulysses strikes me as a GREAT novel that doesn't do any of those things. Oh well, I haven't emailed my student back, but we aren't reading a novel until the very end of the term. There's just so much good lit to choose from!

Stupid Syllabus Rules

It's that time of the semester, time to make sure I'm "in compliance" with the rules of the syllabus. You'd think that would be easy. After all, a syllabus needs to do certain things:

1) The syllabus must outline the assignments for the course so that students know what they need to do, know when assignments and exams are scheduled.

2) The syllabus must state course policies re attendance, late work, participation and so forth.

3) The syllabus must state how grading works in the class.

4) The syllabus must state when the instructor's office hours are and where (that's a toughie for some adjuncts, I know. I shared a trailer. Been there, done that, got lucky and got out). And also give instructions for getting hold of the instructor (phone, email info).

That's about it, right? Or so I thought when I started this gig, and so I went on for a good long while. Each term, the chair would request syllabus copies and I would dutifully send mine forth. Each year, my reviewers would use syllabus copies along with my other materials to evaluate my teaching activities. So someone was checking and going to tell me if I weren't doing it right? Nothing was ever said.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to do a course update form; it's a sort of pro-forma exercise. You fill out a form that basically says "this course is filling a need in the way we think it should," turn in a syllabus, and so forth. Or so I was told. My form came back to me saying that the Dean's office in charge of such things requires that the syllabus list its goals and the goals from the university list that the course is attempting to achieve. (Notice my verbal handstands to avoid the plural of "syllabus"?) It does, I wondered? Since when? Since the Dean changed the rules and notified us in a rambling email no one bothered to read.

So, I started in on my goals: the goal of this course is that you should read Shakespeare's texts and learn about the contexts of the period and theatrical practices. I ticked off a bunch of the university goals, stopping short of numerical competency, despite the fact that we DO use Act, scene and line numbers, and I have been known to ask students to know what a pentameter is. Still, modesty forbids my making a math claim.

And then when it got sent back, I revised again, this time after consulting with one of our ed folks. I made the course goals purposefully vague and reminiscent of the university goals. No mention of Shakespeare, or theatrical practices. Lots of critical thinking type language. That time, it passed.

And so, now we have to put in all sorts of goals, couched in "ed speak" that has little connection to what I do in the classroom. Yes, my students do practice critical thinking and analysis, but my secret goal is to teach them something about Shakespeare.

Then I joined the committee in charge of course updates and such for our department. So I did another course update, this one on a class I've taught, but not for several years. The prof who teaches it is certifiably wonderful and has an incredible syllabus laid out. The Dean's office bounced my update back, complaining that the syllabus was "too detailed." The Dean's office administrative assistant patiently counseled me to make up a more basic syllabus. So in half an hour or so, I made a list of topics and texts by the week, one that the current teacher of the course would NEVER in a million zillion years want to teach, and turned that in. And it passed with flying colors.

A colleague on my committee turned in her course update the next week, and got it bounced back because it used the wrong language for part of the course policies statement. Evidently, if you say anything on your syllabus about academic dishonesty (the university code for plagiarism and cheating of all sorts), your language has to be very specific AND you have to include a "link" to an on-line web page. So my syllabus that quotes the student handbook definition of academic dishonesty and refers students there with a reference, nope, not kosher. I need a link. How, we ask, does one "link" in a paper text? There is no answer. That's apparently our problem. BUT, if you have NOTHING about academic dishonesty, you're good to go.

This seems stupid. It's a rule for the sake of having a rule, rather than for the sake of helping us work well with students and each other. It's better to have a definition of academic dishonesty than not, isn't it? And better to refer students with a proper bibliographic reference (you know, that's what we ask students to use in papers, right?) than not?

And that on-line web page that we're supposed to link to? It's a dead link right now. Seriously.

Then another colleague did his update. Using what I'd learned, he mocked up a fake syllabus, did his form complete with the specific academic dishonesty language required (and a url in place of a link).

And it got bounced back to him. Want to guess why? This time the Dean says that we have to use the syllabus most recently used for the class; we can't mock up a syllabus. Oh, and the goals list? That has to be really specific to the class and can't mostly echo the university goals, which have to be put in separately. And don't claim to meet more than a couple of the university goals or you'll be held to them: so does your class teach something about art(s) or critical thinking skills? Choose one, please, because you can't have both if you're also claiming that it teaches communication (you know, reading, writing). And don't claim historical contexts, because that would be too many goals!

Three or four weeks and the Dean's rules have changed again.

There are things I'm willing to go with the flow about, and syllabus language about academic dishonesty is fine. Just give me a template, put it up on the web so that we all have instant access at 2am the day classes start and I'll do it.

But I hate the ever moving target of what we're supposed to do.

So now, to be in compliance: I need either nothing about academic dishonesty, or the specific Dean's language, a list of the goals for my course, a list of how the course meets whatever university goals. You know where this is going, right? If I make my course goals about, say, critical thinking and historical consciousness, then at some point, the university is going to come to me and say either

1) Why aren't you listing communication as a goal, too? Shouldn't you be teaching writing?


2) Since you aren't teaching any writing in that class, we're going to push the enrollment from 35 to 70. (Yes, even though the course update I turned in has peer editing days on the calendar and shows grading based in large part on papers.)

And yes, all those goals statements and academic dishonesty statements DO add at least a page to every syllabus. One copy to each student. 100 students.

More dead trees.

When I moved into my current house, I planted several trees. When I was in the Peace Corps, I planted trees. (And dug latrines, and did lots of other stuff.) I think I need to plant some more trees this spring.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday Poetry Blogging - More Herrick

Thanks for the GREAT suggestions for the sonnets and poetry!

I'm working on my poetry syllabus. There's a new edition since the last time I taught the course, so I'm working on putting things together anew. This afternoon, I ran across a Herrick (who will indeed be represented on my syllabus) poem I didn't know before. (I know! Shocking! If I were a grad student still, I couldn't admit that!)

"To the Sour Reader"

If thou dislik'st the piece thou light'st on first,
Think that of all that I have writ the worst;
But if thou read'st my book unto the end,
And still dost this and that verse reprehend,
O perverse man! If all disgustful be,
The extreme scab* take thee and thine, for me.

*Scab=mange. Fun curse, eh?

I love Herrick's wit. I have a feeling he'd have been a real kick to know, someone who really liked people despite and because of our flaws and goofiness. Yeah, like pretty much everyone from the 17th century, he would probably have been obnoxiously sexist, but I figure in 300 years, if anyone reads anything I write, they'll be equally irritated by the attitudes I show that seem pretty common and normal for my culture and time.

Other Herrick poems I've blogged? Glad you asked!

There's "The Vine" and "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time." Herrick's just delightful.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Great Sonnet Contest

I'm finishing up my Shakespeare syllabus, and choosing the opening sonnets. I'll be coming back to sonnets for a couple days after the midterm, too.

So here's the contest: which Shakespeare sonnets should I start with, and which come back to after the midterm, and why?

The winner gets acknowledged on the syllabus or something if you want!


I'm also setting up a short section of my poetry class to look at how poems imagine men's and women's bodies. I'm thinking of pairing Herrick's "The Vine" with his "Delight in Disorder." But because students seem to think we should read things from after 1700, I was also looking for some other ideas. Maybe Sharon Olds' "The Pope's Penis"?

(I'm also thinking of the one about cutting off body parts, but I'll have to wait until I wake up at 2am with the author and title. /sigh)

I'd be happy to entertain other suggestions, especially poems written in the past 50 years or so.

I have to admit, one of the fun things about teaching a poetry class is that every day is a favorite poems day. But it's so hard to choose!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thrice Frustrated

I started listening to my new language tapes the other day. I feel like an idiot. I don't expect this to be easy, but dang. Part of the problem is that I seem to have a single foreign language channel. I studied Language A in middle and high school, and even a course in college.

I learned Language B in the Peace Corps. When someone speaks to me in Language A, I can often understand what's said, but when I answer, it comes out in Language B.

In grad school, I took a course in Language C and then studied to read Language C for a summer before taking a language test (because I couldn't bear to recall the high school misery of Language A, which I now realize was just part of a normal generalized high school misery and not specific to Language A). The test was a joke, but I've read plays in grad school and such in Languages B and C. I've now largely lost Language C, but I could probably pick it up for reading in a summer again, if I needed to (I could read regular short stories in the language by the end of my study).

So this new one is Language D. But Language D is in a totally new linguistic family for me. The only words I recognize easily are the ones adopted from English.

When you see a middle aged woman driving a wagon with a bike rack on the back and earnestly talking to herself, steer clear, because it might be me, and I'm doing my language tapes. Unfortunately, the tapes don't seem to have much cursing, so when you cut me off, I'll be yelling about changing money at the bank.

I have just over a year to get the basics of this language. Yes, I'm hoping to take a course this fall, but couldn't fit one into my schedule this term or last.

I'm typically obsessive for an academic, so I decided to make sure my vaccinations for going abroad are in order. I had lots of vaccines when I joined the Peace Corps; seriously, we lined up, went through a doorway, and got stuck in both arms at the same time, and then did it again at the next doorway. There were more when we got in country, and then there were the multiple delights of long bus rides after GG shots. But evidently people have developed new ones since the 1980s. (I have to admit, I think vaccines are just amazing. No Smallpox. Zip. None. Amazing! An aunt a decade or so older than I had polio; I've never met anyone in my generation who had it. Amazing. Same for measles. I also think antibiotics are the shiznit.)

Last week, I called the doctor's office to ask about vaccines, and was told I needed to call another office. So I called that office, and was told I needed to look up what I need on the CDC site and then call to talk to the travel nurse (but s/he wasn't in last week or something). I looked up on the CDC site and made a list. It looks like at least one of these vaccines needs two shots, spread 6 months apart.

Some of it makes sense: Hep A and B, maybe Japanese Encephalitis (but I don't expect to hang out on farms, so probably not; I doubt I need a rabies booster for the same reason). But I couldn't figure out if I need updates on typhoid, diphtheria, and measles. I have my WHO records, so maybe I can figure it out.

Today I called back to try to talk to the travel nurse, but the person on the phone told me that I can't talk to the travel nurse or there is no travel nurse (the person on the phone seemed evasive), but said I have to make an appointment with some specific doctor (not the one I've seen before) 6-8 weeks before I want to travel to get the vaccines in time. I tried to explain that I'd looked up the vaccines and the CDC site said it took 6 months, but the voice on the other end was having none of it and insisted I had to make an appointment 6-8 weeks before I want to leave.

I hadn't eaten lunch yet, and I could feel it, so I gave up for the day.

So, do I call back at some point in the not-too-distant future and lie about when I'm leaving to get an appointment?

Do I start back with the regular family practice office and try to get the vaccinations from them?

And finally, I went to my appointment with the retirement counselor person on campus today. I thought I was going to be a couple of minutes late, but it turns out I was a full week early. I'm such an idiot sometimes! (We set it up in a series of emails, talking about days of the week, and only in the final email did the counselor person put in a date. Unfortunately, I was lax in reading that carefully.)

When I went over my retirement stuff carefully, I got less stressed about it. I just have to plan not to retire before I'm 72, and to die quickly after that. Or maybe before. It's so hard to know: spend the money and enjoy now, and figure that my chances of living into my 90s are low, or save now and figure that all those great grandparents I knew as a kid left me those longevity genes and I'm going to need to be able to pay for care and stuffs. Do I bet on some drunk driver or something getting me early, or do I bet on those genes?

I realize I'm danged lucky to even be in a position to worry about retirement planning; it's a heck of a lot less stressful to worry about how to plan for retirement than to decide if I can afford a whole package of ramen for dinner. Life could be a lot harder than getting ready to travel abroad and wondering how best to work out positive financial stuff.

In non-frustrating stuff today: the Che Guevara onesie came today. It's just totally funny. I can't wait til the little radicals are big enough to wear it!

A Tale of Two Students

I got a call the other night from Sally, a former student. She's graduated and gone on to a professional school, but was in town and called to see if I wanted to get together.

What a joy. Sally's lot is on the tougher side of things, but she's one of those people I just feel privileged to know. She's smart, worked reasonably hard in classes, and was always a great contributor with a great attitude all around. She's doing well in her program, but worried about decisions she needs to make in the future, what to go on to next, where to live, and so forth. I don't have much to offer that way, except cheering from the sideline and having breakfast and coffee when she stops through near NWU on occasion.

I hear occasionally from some former students, mostly for happy reasons. Mostly it's a pleasure to hear from them. Sally, though, gives me hope for the future. When you're worried about whether the next generation is going to do well, think of Sally. With folks like her, they'll surely do as well as mine or the one before mine (you know, the folks running the current administration). And maybe, just maybe, they'll do a bit better.

The same day I had breakfast with Sally, I got an email from Rob. Rob basically disappeared from class about ten weeks into the semester last term, and so didn't turn in the final two essays or do his class presentation. Or lots of other work. He wanted a breakdown so he could see exactly why he failed the class.

It's easy to give a breakdown for Rob, so I did, and sent it along with a friendly email.

But it's weird. Did he expect somehow to pass the class? Does he think my math is bad and he's going to be able to juggle the numbers around to show that he should get a magical C or something? I just don't get it.

And a final note: the shower was good. It felt like everyone in the room is just genuinely happy and excited for this couple and wanted to share the good feeling.

I don't mean to be agist, but I felt really different about this than the showers I remember from my youth. There was less giggliness and a different kind of pleasure. When I was younger, a mixed company baby shower felt like challenging the patriarchy or something. Now it feels natural with men. I like that about this community.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Making Moves

A while back now, Dr. Virago did a post on academic writing and suggested a book by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein called They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. Dr. Virago made the book sound useful, so I sent away for a copy, thinking to use it in my graduate seminar next year on bibliography and research methods. I finished it today while waiting for my car to get its oil changed and such.

And can I just say, wow. Thanks, Dr. V for the suggestion! (I'm not the only one, either. Jane Dark also raves. You've started a movement!)

In a way, the templates are clumsy, but they aren't really the point. The point is that book lays out some explicit ways academics use writing to take part in a conversation about something. And there's even a great bit on using the same strategies in classroom discussion! (Something my graduate classes could have used for SURE!)

I'm not teaching first year writing this coming term, but I'm going to use some bits in one of my other classes, and then plan on ordering it for my first year writing AND graduate class in spring. It's strange for me to think of using the same book in a first year and a graduate class, but it's that useful.

I had some pretty decent training before I started teaching composition, LOTS more than your average English department gives (thank you big urban comprehensive university!), but I worry about not being up on the latest stuff. So I look for suggestions, and appreciate them when they seem really useful. And I haven't seen anything look this useful in years. I feel like it's going to change the way I teach writing on some level.

Since I was trained to do so, I tend to try to be clear and explicit in teaching writing; I try not to assume that my expectations are clear unless I actually talk about them. But Graff and Birkenstein give detailed information that I'd never thought to give in some ways, and it's just eye-opening. I'm the sort of learner who does best when things are broken down and then put back together so I can visualize or imagine them, and G and B do exactly that here, but with arguments. I can see that their book is going to be especially useful in teaching students how to read more critically. So I'm excited!

Any other suggestions for good pedagogical reading I can get to before my break ends?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Recent Listening

I think the local public library thinks I'm illiterate because I pretty much only borrow books on tape or CD from them. They have an ever increasing selection on CD, but it's always fun to go try to find something interesting, and I end up with things I wouldn't necessarily think to read as a book (like a history of China) because they seem interesting enough to fall asleep to, but not vital enough that I need to KNOW I'll remember whatever information I'm getting (as I do with Shakespeare texts).

I've started listening to a history of China at night now, and it's fascinating. The car's beginning to play CDs to teach me my new language for when I teach abroad next year! I'm going to teach abroad next year! Whenever I think about it, I'm stunned. And then I want to dance around the room. I need to figure out what vaccines I'll need; I checked on the CDC site, so I have a list that they suggest, but I don't know if some of those require two shots or time to work or whatever.

The other day, I finished listening to Sue Miller's The Story of my Father, a memoir of Miller's father recording mostly her experience with his Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's terrifies me, both for me and for others. I fear ending up in long term care, losing myself, totally dependent.

In Miller's case, she was able to put her father in a nursing home that sounds pretty good (and I've seen a few, good and not so good), and watch over his care. As his daughter, she talks about the frustrations of feeling that her siblings aren't doing enough and that her father's care sort of takes over her life. It takes a huge commitment to someone to care for them during a long illness.

The book also brings out something for me as a non-parent. Miller's in a position financially to care for her father pretty well, and has a good enough relationship to do so. There's a sort of fantasy we in the US have (and elsewhere, no doubt), that one's children will take care of a parent when s/he's no longer able to care for him/herself. Of course, that's a fantasy, but it's a powerful one. As someone who's not a parent, I can't ride with the fantasy, so I worry sometimes.

I know a woman, J, who's mentally retarded. She's a senior citizen now, has never held a job, can't read, and can't manage her financial affairs. But in many ways, she takes care of herself quite well. She has two children, a son and a daughter, so the fantasy would suggest that she's in good hands. But one of her kids has been in jail more than a few times for theft and fraud and such, and the other can't manage his/her own money, though not because of mental disability. So, since J's mother died, L has been managing her affairs, trying to see that she has safe housing and such. But L, too, is a senior citizen, and may at some point need someone to look after his affairs.

J's situation is only unique in that she's needed someone else to look out for her for longer than most of us do. But I bet most of us will need to trust someone to look out for us at some point. Miller's book gave me lots to think about, not only about the long term care issue.

I think between Miller's book and Didion's Year of Magical Thinking (which I listened to as I drove this summer), I've been frustrated by how surprised they seem to be by their grieving. I don't think I've experienced a lot of deaths in my life, but when I've experienced deaths, I've expected to grieve for a fair bit of time (depending on my relationship and loss, of course). But both Miller and Didion seem surprised that they feel sad after a year or so, as if somehow they're supposed to have an easier time. I wonder if there's a race/class/gender thing happening, of if they're prompted to write because that's how they process, while other folks who expect to feel sad for a while don't?

I can't write quite what I'm after to express what I'm thinking because things are all tied up in personal experience and writing is tough and stuffs.

I also recently finished Mark Felt's memoir, co-authored with John D. O'Connor and W. Mark Felt. In case Felt's name doesn't sound familiar, he was the famous "Deep Throat" of Watergate fame. I started listening to Felt's book a couple days before Ford died, which was an odd coincidence. I still think Ford was totally wrong to pardon Nixon, especially before all the investigations were complete. Totally wrong. (It weirds me out to think that Nixon looks good compared to our current president.)

I also was reminded of trying to understand the whole "Deep Throat" pseudonym. I was maybe thirteen when Watergate got into the news, old enough to pay a little attention, but completely sexually ignorant. So I remember my poor Mom explaining why adults seemed so giggly about the pseudonym. My poor Mom!!

What's worse, whenever I hear the term "Deep Throat," the images that come to my mind are of Nixon, Liddy, Haldeman, and the rest of the men whose pictures were all over the news in those years. It's not a pretty thing.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bad Shopper

A couple I know and like lots is expecting, and some other folks are throwing a shower.

You know how when some people have kids, you wonder why they didn't use birth control? And other people, you just feel really happy for? Well, this couple is totally the latter for me. I'm happy beyond reason for them. I've even concerned myself enough to learn about viability dates and such. They're expecting twins, and well into the viability time, with good reports from the most recent check and stuffs.

It's important to note, as I prepare for the shower thing, that I missed two stereotypical female traits. First, I have no maternal instince. Zip. If you hand me a baby, I'll do my best not to drop it. I can change diapers as needed, because I got plenty of practice babysitting. But I'm not going all goo goo eyed over little babies. I try to be pleasant when people bring their baby to work, but I'm so not interested.

Second, I pretty much hate to shop except in book and hardware stores.

So today, my major chore is going to buy a shower gift. I ordered a Che Guevara onesie, and a Shakespeare onesie, but those are just for silliness, and probably won't make it here in time. For real, though, I'm going with practical: washclothes and diapers. I'll also be sure to get some Carl books; I love Carl books, especially the one where he goes to the park and there are all these paintings in the style of various famous painters.

I dread the whole shower scene coming up. /shudder

Friday, January 05, 2007


You know those numbers things that some magazines put up? I was thinking about those today.

2. The number of men who would have to take a nearly simultaneous retirement for a woman to become president of the US.

0. The likelihood of that happening without some outside "help."

13. The number of pounds I want to lose by summer (including the 3 I gained back over the holidays).

2. The average number of cups of really hot cocoa I want after a cold bike ride these days.

0. The number of pounds I will lose if I indulge in all that hot cocoa.

1500. The number of miles I hope to put on my bike computer this year.

50. The number of miles I've ridden so far, according to said computer.

3.3. The percent of my mileage goal I've completed so far this year. (doh, the line should be on top!)

100. The number of students signed up for my spring classes at this point.

7. The number of students I've declined to overload in the two "closed" classes so far.

That's it!

Friday Poetry Blogging - Ventriloquism in Sonnets

One of the things that fascinates me about early modern poetry, especially sonnets, is the frequency with which the primary speaker reports the words of another speaker. Now, when we academic types talk about poetry or other literature, we separate the poet from the speaker. That should be obvious in plays, though it's scary how often words are attributed straight to Shakespeare that are spoken by characters such as Iago, because we can't assume that Shakespeare would say what he has Iago say.

It's harder to get readers to make that jump when we're reading poetry or first person narrative, especially love poetry. We weirdly imagine that such poetry must represent personal experience. Our romanticized notions of poetry (as being the deep emotional utterances of the poet as very special person) contribute to that. But, like Browning, any of us can imagine ourselves representing the words of a madman or murderer. Most of us can't do it as well as Browning did in verse, more's the pity.

In your typical early modern sonnet, especially one part of a sequence, the male speaker blathers on and on about the beloved, often lamenting his lack of sexual access and the difficulty of writing, the beloved's unwillingness to reciprocate, and so forth. Within that format, there's a lot of room to use a sort of ventriloquism to report the beloved's words or thoughts, sometimes in direct quotation, sometimes not. Often the beloved makes some perfectly sensible comment, basically something along the lines of "just write the danged poem, idiot," or "no, really, it's not going to work out," though of course they do it in iambic pentameter.

I'm working on the poetry class syllabus, so I'm having much pleasure reading through the anthology and rethinking which poems I want to teach. And on that note, here's one by Edmund Spenser. Most of the good sonnet sequences do something different; Spenser's difference is that at the end, his speaker "gets the girl."

#75 from Spenser's Amoretti (aka Little Loves. Yes, sonnet writers are sappy!)

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,*
But came the waves and washed it away:
Agayne I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tyde, and made my paynes his pray.**
Vayne man, sayd she, that doest in vaine assay,***
A mortall thing so to immortalize,
For I my selve shall lyke to this decay,
And eek**** my name be wyped out lykewize.
Not so, (quod***** I) let baser things devize******
To dy in dust, but you shall live by fame:
My verse your vertues rare shall eternize,
And in the hevens wryte your glorious name.
Where whenas death shall all the world subdew,
Our love shall live, and later life renew.

*strand = beach, shore
**pray = prey
***assay = try, attempt
****eek = also
*****quod = said
******devize = plan

Early modern spelling was so much more fun than modern spelling!