Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Not a Valetudinarian

And that's a good thing. (And a nod to Austen lovers!)

When I was in grad school, a couple female friends and I were kvetching at table outside the department one day. (Our department was near a coffee/food area, and the tables were between the two, so we spent a good bit of time at those tables.) We were talking about menopause, or ovarian cysts, or endometriosis, or some other very specific female complaint. We'd been talking a while, when one of the young, rather dashing male junior faculty members asked to join the table. So he did, and someone continued describing some symptoms she'd had with whatever female problem.

And the male faculty member said completely innocently, "I think I have that!" And we all burst out laughing and explained that he couldn't. He was a bit of a hypochondriac, but self-aware and quite wonderful, and so he laughed along with great relief at not having whatever organs were required for the problem.

I was thinking about that faculty member as I graded this batch of writing class research papers. My students write about a question they're really interested in, after a great deal of brainstorming about questions, and then research to find the answer. In a way, I suppose, it gives me some insight into what's on their minds.

What's on my students' minds in any given semester often relates to health problems: is alcoholism genetically inherited? What causes diabetes? What happens with [internal parasite of your choosing] infestation? What is [think of a scary disease, now think of a couple more] and will I get it if my [brother, aunt, grandparent, etc.] has it? What happens when you tear your rotator cuff?

I'm pretty resistant to hypochondria, probably because I'm luckily healthy, but there's one this semester that's sort of got my skin crawling, because I'm thinking, ermm, I could totally get that... (/shudder)

I need to finish up this set and get on with the next!


  1. I thought you made them research lit stuff!

  2. I make my lit classes research lit stuff.

    My first year writing class does other sorts of reading and writing (because, according to what I've been taught in composition research, teaching literature in first year writing classes isn't especially effective in helping students develop writing skills).

  3. Well, it can be effective but it depends on how you use it. I think we hear all of the warnings because so many are tempted to talk about the books/stories/etc., rather than how it can inform our writing. But, this can happen in any topic- or theme-based writing course. Typically, students want to do this because they find it easier to talk about literature because they've been taught how to do this (to a certain degree). Talking about writing is more foreign to them, so it seems harder and, sometimes, more personal. But, it's tempting for instructors too - I know I find it tempting and comp/rhet is my specialty.

  4. Anonymous8:35 AM

    Love the story about your male colleague. :-)

    To my great surprise, when I assigned a research-topic-of-your-choice in a *food* class, I did not have to read 20 diabetes papers! One young woman pulled big rabbit with long silky fur out of her hat -- she wrote about the Ukrainian famine. Someone else wrote about the migration of African foods to the American South. A couple of guys tried to write about aphrodisiacs but quickly gave up upon discovering that there are no food-based ones!

  5. Ew! There are some things that still make my skin crawl, even if I just imagine a patient having them (like scabies... ew!).

  6. Theodora, I'd think people would write about chocolate. Is there any other sort of food really worth writing about?

    MWAK, Yeah, this one's shingles. I'd probably be more iffy about rashes and stuff if I had your job. But this was like: um, I've had the chickenpox AND the vaccine, I'm doomed!!!