Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Meme - 2008

I saw this over at Reassigned Time, so I got in on the action. It's about the most action I plan to have this New Year's Eve, since I've apparently become a curmudgeon already.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?

I went to Malaysia, and saw Orangutan in the wild!
I taught in Japan, and lived there for 5 amazing months. I traveled around constantly on the verge of being completely lost, and reinforced my belief that it's okay to be lost.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Well, I resolved (as usual) to turn back papers faster. And I didn't do as well at that as I wanted to. And I resolved to write more, and failed at that, too. Then there's the losing weight thing. Fail.

I did have a blast in Malaysia and Japan, and rode my bike very happily quite a bit.

For 2009:
Worry and procrastinate less.
Waste less time.
Return papers faster.
Write more.
Read more.
Lose 35 pounds.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No, but my neighbors got a puppy!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Nope, most of my friends were really healthy this year, for which I'm thankful.

5. What countries did you visit?

Malaysia and Japan. Quite an amazing year for me!

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?

A better attitude?

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Nothing stands out datewise.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Almost 1500 miles on my bike (1425). Teaching in a different country. Travelling around Malaysia.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Turning papers back too slowly and not writing enough. Goofing off too much, especially on the net.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

A couple of minor colds. I'm really, really fortunate!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I found a tiny Jizo at a little place in Japan, and it was perfect for a friend of mine. I wish I'd gotten another.

I found some great boxes on the web. They're made by a woman in San Diego who takes wooden wine cases, covers the top with beautiful fabric, puts hinges on the top, and voila, a treasure box. I bought four, finished them with polyurothane, and gave three away for Christmas. They're just lovely. The site was called something like Pandora's Boxes, but I can't remember the woman's name or find it on the web now.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My first year writing students. Wow, they were a great class. My Japanese students, and the staff at the Japanese University. They were ceaselessly helpful and kind to me, and I'm grateful.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

A couple of sexist colleagues.

Bush, Palin, McCain, etc. And I'm a bit down about Obama having a gay-hating preacher doing a prayer at his swearing-in. I'm guessing women and glbt folks are going to be largely ignored in favor of "more important" issues. I hope I'm wrong.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage. Retirement savings. Food. Travel. All good stuff!

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Malaysia! Orangutan! Japan! Kyoto! Nara! Daibutsu! Kyushu!

Biking, too.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?

I bought a CD of Elgar's Enigma Variations, with Holst's Planets on it, too. Jupiter and Saturn really hit me. But Elgar, mostly Elgar. (It's funny, because usually I'm all about Handel and Bach and such.)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?

a) Happier. This has been a really happy year in a lot of ways.
b) Fatter. But not lots.
c) Poorer. My retirement savings are looking pretty dismal these days.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Grading quickly. Reading. Writing. Biking. And more travel!

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Procrastinating. Goofing off on the web, especially reading blogs.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

I spent Christmas with family, and it was a good one.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?

Does Kyoto count? Malaysia?

22. How many one-night stands?

LOL. As if.

23. What was your favorite TV program?

I really got to enjoying Sumo on Japanese TV. And I found Boston Legal this summer, just in time for it to go off the air.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Naw. But I formed a strong dislike for Sarah Palin and John McCain.

25. What was the best book you read?

Heywood's Fair Maid of the West. What a romp!

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Holst's Planets. Yes, I'm hundreds of years behind everyone else in music, too.

27. What did you want and get?

I wanted a great trip to Malaysia and Japan, and I got both, far more than I could have dreamed.

28. What did you want and not get?

Nothing important. Pretty amazing year, no?

29. What was your favorite film of this year?

Doubt was very good. Meryl Streep blows me away.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I had dinner with friends, and it was great. I turned 48.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

George Bush and Dick Cheney deciding to retire in favor of Nancy Pelosi. Wouldn't that have been something?

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?

Lycra and high tech biking jersey materials.

33. What kept you sane?

Traveling and biking, also teaching.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Chaucer. (Hey, no one specified this century!!)

35. What political issue stirred you the most?

The election, in a big way. It was great to be away for the primaries, though.

36. Who did you miss?

Logan. M, P, K. My Dad.

37. Who was the best new person you met?

The manager of the international section of the university in Japan. Just wonderful, kind. Several other folks in Japan were super, too.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.

Culture shock is very different now than it was when I was 22. The differences made me think a lot about how much I've changed over the years, and mostly that was okay.

I learned that I'm much less worried about being lost in life than I used to be, and much happier than I used to be.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"Freedom's just another name for nothing left to lose."

That's pretty much the balance I strive for: a sense of enough freedom without too much loss.

That's it for 2008, folks. I'm heading to bed early, fighting off the last of this cold!

Happy New Year!


Right now, I can't help wondering how anyone who grows up in this area hasn't lost the tips of all their fingers to frostbite by age 18.

I've been digging out the driveway, but I gave up to rewarm my fingers. I don't mind digging it out, not at all, but I do mind pain, and my fingers were hurting from the cold. I have big thick gloves, but they were still hurting. So I'm rewarming them. The rest of me was toasty warm, just my fingers were really cold.

It's maybe 2F here right now; that's what it says on one of the computer thingies, anyway. And for me, 2F is really, really cold. I realize that for true northerners, this is practically sunbathing weather, but I'm made for warmth. Seriously, Malaysia last year was pretty close to perfect, hot, humid, and warm enough to want to have bare feet. (Though I didn't, because of cultural and leech considerations.) I'm the one person I know who's pretty happy to be out in 95 degree weather, humidity or not.

It snowed last night, and my driveway is already icy, so I really need to dig it out so it can de-ice a bit. I hesitate to salt my drive, but I may decide to, because it's really slippery. (In which case I have to be dug out enough to drive to the store to get the salt. Or I have to use kosher salt, which just seems wrong.)

Fortunately, about an hour before bed last night, my coughing dropped off significantly, as did my sinus nastiness, and it's even better today. I woke up feeling postitively good, with only a touch of throat soreness, which went away after a bit of coffee and water. I was a little worried that being out digging in the cold would make me feel lousy again, but so far, except for the fingers, I'm good.

And typing seems to get the fingers warmed up pretty well, so I'd better go back and dig some more!

Can winter be done now, please?

Monday, December 29, 2008


I've got a number of projects lined up for the break, from taking down a couple of overgrown, nasty bushes to prepping classes, and in between.

I'm working on a paper on one of Chaucer's tales. I thought it partly through when I was teaching it during the semester, but didn't have time to really follow through.

I agreed to read some papers for a conference.

And my offices (home and school) need to be cleaned out. (And I need to set out all the tax information so I can get that done if possible.)

The bushes, ugh. I've been wanting them out for over a year, but when I got back in June, it looked like there were a couple catbirds nesting in there, and I didn't want to disturb them. I don't see anything nest-looking now that the leaves are gone, though, so maybe not. Anyway, these are in front of the house, and just a pain in the rear. They're overgrown, and difficult to deal with. They make mowing difficult, and one comes out over the walk to the front door, and it just looks unwelcoming. And it makes shoveling the walk a pain.

I started out yesterday, using clippers to cut some of the thinner branch thingies away, so I could get at the heavier stuff with a saw. And I got more than half the branches sawn off and taken away before I gave up from being cold and tired. I figure another couple days to finish the job, and then in spring I can either dig them up or hire a friend's son to dig. And then I'll probably put in a small tree, maybe a small cherry or something that won't feel overpowering but will give some interest to the area.

Today, I got a couple small tasks done: haircut, banking, books to the library, book orders in. I wrote an email to the faculty member directing a play on campus this semester; I'm going to have my drama class read the play, and I'm inviting this faculty member to come talk to them if s/he'd like.

I also bought a pair of running shoes and a pair of walk around shoes. Yes, running shoes. I need to start getting outside and getting at least some exercise, so I'm going to start walking/running a bit. At least that's the plan, if this cold ever goes away.

I'm pretty much decided that I'll sign up for a guided bike tour through Yellowstone in early spring, so I need to make sure I'm in decent shape for it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I'm reading Patricia Fumerton's Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England now. It's fascinating; there's a lot of really interesting information, putting things together for me. She writes well, too; I enjoy working through her prose.

But, I always have difficulty with Fumerton's work on subjectivity. On the most basic level, Fumerton explains (regarding the mariner Edward Barlow)
that for all his unsettledness, Barlow has a very strong sense of himself as an enduring subject. He may not be a unified or consistent "I," but an "I" he is. This is evident in his prolific use in his narrative of the personal pronoun. (82)
That is, at base, one's ability to use "I" in a meaningful subject position to refer to oneself demonstrates one's subjectivity. I get that. It makes good sense to me.

But there's more to this quotation. In the second sentence, it's implicit that Fumerton sees a different kind or level of subjectivity, a subjectivity that involves a unified and consistent "I." And that's where I have difficulty, because I really don't feel like I have that on some level. Yes, sure, I recognize myself when I wake up in the morning, but I don't feel consistent or unified. And that makes me wonder what Fumerton is after, and what other peoples' experiences of self are. And the more I think about that, I think that Fumerton's unified and consistent subjectivity is a very western, humanist construct. I like humanism lots, but I don't think that a western, humanist construct really represents human experience in a full way. Instead, I think it represents a fantasy of human experience. For all I know, some people may live that fantasy, but mostly I think it's one of those masculinist, western constructs that doesn't really work even for most people in western cultures.

Further, Fumerton's use of the unified and consistent subjectivity seems to set it up as a goal; there's a sense in this short quotation that Barlow may not have it yet, but he's "on his way" towards something she'd recognize as that subjectivity (whether he'll get there or whether the next generation will isn't important). In other words, it looks like for Fumerton, there's a teleology of human development towards a unified and consistent "I." And that seems wrong to me, because I'm convinced that different human experiences at this time and over history aren't teleological; we're not progressing towards some sort of higher consciousness so much as continually organizing and re-organizing our brains and experiences through evolution. But evolution is unlikely to make big changes in our brains in a short time, certainly not over a couple hundred years, or even a thousand or two.

What would be interesting, I think, would be to learn about how linguistic usages organize our brains and contribute to evolutionary change. I need to ask a linguist for some help on that one, don't I?

For all my criticism, I think Fumerton's work is well worth reading, and (from my lowly position), would be a good place to start thinking about a seminar or something.

Fumerton, Patricia. Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006.

Friday, December 26, 2008


"It's not too deep. It's a book you can enjoy reading."

Please, please, let me escape!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Taking a few days to recharge in the company of family!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Liveblogging Grading!

No, not really. To be honest, I don't get how people can twitter at work and stuff, or liveblog most stuff. I can't imagine liveblogging a class session. Nor can I imagine twittering.

Now that I think about it, though, I have a colleague who tends to play on his iphone a lot, during meetings, whatever. It irritates me somewhat, because meetings have a chance of actually being useful IFF people are paying attention and putting their minds to work. But this colleague seems to think he's way to important to be bothered, and it shows in lots of ways.

I also don't get the appeal of podcasting. Okay, I get the appeal of doing it (who doesn't love to listen to themselves talk?), but not the appeal of listening. I think I read fairly fast, and on blogs or whatever, I'm willing to skim and skip. So I can read a couple blogs in a few minutes. But the few podcasts I've listened to, people have spookkken veerrryy slooowlly, so that they can be understood, I guess. And then they feel like they need to do a whole five minute introduction. I even listened to part of one where the podcaster put in a musical interlude.

Anyway, liveblogging grading. I've turned in three of the four grade things I have to turn in. Now I have to read some papers and enter those grades.

Can I say here and now how very much I love Excel? I used to run grades by hand, and now I just enter things into a spread sheet, double check by running an imaginary B student, and voila.

Back to work!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Other Side of the Basketweaving Interviews

Having talked last time about what we were looking for in our interviews and what impressed us, I'd like to talk a little today about what happens on our side, and what we're looking for in ourselves.

First, we're not lawyers. But, we're basically ethical folks who are trying to do a good job and find a good colleague for the UB department. I can't speak for every search, of course, but in my experience, people are trying to do a good ethical job, and we're not perfect. Some of us are less perfect than we'd like. Me, for example.

One of the things we're told we need to do is make the interviews as much the same across the board as possible, and so we create a question script and follow that with every interview. That means we won't accidentally ask one candidate to describe a class she'll teach, and ask another candidate to talk about his research, and then decide that the she can't do research and he can't teach, and go from there. Each candidate gets the same basic questions, and the same time. It helps when we're tired that we have the script and stick to it.

We scripted out our questions over email in the couple of weeks before the telephone interviews began.

The script has us start off by introducing ourselves, and then we move to the questions:

1) Tell us how you would teach a course in SCUBA safety for deepwater basketweaving. (Some of our questions aren't really questions, of course.)

2) Tell us about your current research project and how it fits with our teaching needs.

3) Tell us how you'd contribute to [campus project].

And so forth. We're allowed to ask unscripted follow-up questions, which we tend to do only when something isn't clear in the answer, or when someone says something that sparks someone else's interest in some extra information.

The thing is, if you're not told in advance that all the questions are scripted, they sound really... well, scripted. They jump from teaching to research without much transition. Maybe we're bad script-writers.

We've been meeting in a conference room across campus (well, more across campus for me than for some, perhaps), where there's a speaker phone. That means we're sitting around in semi-comfortable chairs with our coffee and maybe some snacks. We don't mean to be rude, but if we're doing several hours of phone interviews, we may need some sustenance.

So if there's silence at the end of your answer, it may be because we're not sure you've answered, or I may be scripted to ask the next question and trying to swallow some over-hot coffee or writing a note.

It's hard to do phone interviews because they feel awkward. But then, all interviews tend to feel awkward to me. Phone interviews probably favor the candidate who is quick with words and well-prepared. They don't favor looks or outfit over other factors though, unlike in-person interviews. They may favor certain voice types.

At the end, we gave candidates a chance to ask their question(s). Finally, if the candidate hadn't asked, we'd explain the timeline.

I can't emphasize enough that most of the candidates we've interviewed have sounded quite good. We had a few that really stood out, but I have a feeling most of them could do the job. It gives me headaches to know that there are really solid candidates out there who won't get jobs, just as there were when I was on the market. But maybe demystifying things helps. That's my hope, anyway.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Basketweaving Interviews

We've started the Basketweaving interview process, and it's been an education. It's really fascinating to see how different people handle interview questions. Fortunately, we've got some outstanding candidates, and you can tell they've really got a sense of giving good interview.

Here, quickly, then, are some of the things I've really noticed about the best interviews.

1) The best candidates have thought about our job. They've looked at our website and figured out what sort of place we are.

For some, that's harder than others. I gather that if you went to Elite Ivy as an undergrad, and then to SuperStar R1 as a grad student, you may not have much idea about regional, comprehensive universities. And your grad profs probably have just as little clue. I know I had really minimal understanding of SLACs when I first interviewed and then was hired by one; I'd never been to a private school. I'd never heard of "liberal arts education" except in terms of the trivium and quadrivium. But most of the people I knew in grad school had come from that background, as had almost all the profs, so I knew what they'd loved about their experiences, I knew from talking to them what they valued in a SLAC background, and I could draw on having heard about those.

Asking about programs we have here that sound interesting, festivals, our majors, really gives a sense that you're interested and understand what we do.

Asking about our students shows that you're interested in the people we care about.

Asking about opportunities to work with folks in other departments, to contribute in this or that way (that has to do with things our campus does) shows us that you'll be an interested community member.

2) Once you've figured out you're interviewing at a teaching-oriented school (public comprehensive or SLAC), then start thinking about the sorts of things we teach. Be ready for questions about teaching Into to Underwater Basketweaving, Deepwater Basketweaving Safety, and Underwater Basketweaving History. Think about what sort of UB class you'd love to teach, and why it would be really interesting to undergrads.

I've heard about a couple Underwater Basketweaving courses I'd love to take already, both introductory level courses and upper-level courses.

3) Be ready to talk about your research. Yes, we've read your letter, but what we want is to hear you talk about it in ways we can comprehend. Practice a three sentence explanation, a one minute explanation, and a seven minute discussion. Be able to put things into perspective relative to the field and UB in general.

4) If there's an AA/EO statement in the ad, or anything similar, be ready to talk about how you can add to equal opportunity or diversity issues on campus. Maybe you're as white as I am, but you're interested in Underwater Basketweavers of Color classes, and really work to incorporate diverse basketweaving techniques into your classes. Maybe you've done some work on campus with tutoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds. At least think about ways you can contribute.

5) The best of our candidates are already thinking of themselves as potential faculty members; they're thinking beyond the classroom and able to talk about other activities they've participated in, committee service, curricular issues.

6) The best of our candidates were able to give really specific answers to questions; they knew which of the Intro UB texts they really liked and why. They talked specifically about UB concepts they think are important, safety, reed quality, knot tying, whatever.

And importantly, they knew how to finish an answer so that it sounded finished. Maybe for a teaching question they brought things around at the end to a final project or assignment, or the way they see this class working in the curriculum. But in whatever way, they made the answer sound finished.

7) Finally, a quick email note saying thank you to the chair a day or two after is a nice touch.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Running on Empty

I went to bed this morning but couldn't sleep. I was fretting too much about the grading I have to do. I tried my basic sleep strategies (which are pretty basic). It didn't work, so I finally gave up at about 4am and graded. And it was good that I did, because I've now given back two classes worth of material, and it feels GOOD!

I have a final to grade and some more papers.

And in just under an hour, I need to go to a meeting that's scheduled for 5 hours.

I'm too old for this all-nighter thing anymore.

I wasn't always too old, but now I am. The first class I ever taught by myself was a summer school writing class that met for only 8 weeks, and we were expected to have the class write 8 full essays, including peer review and revision for all of them (except revision for the final one). That whole class, I'd get a set of papers on Wednesday morning, then grade pretty much all night, prep some for the next day, and go in and turn things back. I wish I could pull that off now. Dang, that would be impressive.

But my class was a remarkably sane size, and that helped. And it was summer, and we were all just piling things in to get them done.

I'm pleased with a couple things I've accomplished this semester, especially in terms of some assignments and how they worked. I'm less pleased with my writing. And more pleased again with my social life.

Everyone was hacking and sneezing and coughing during the final this morning. My endless cold is rising again; it's been up and down since early November, not bad enough to really whine about, but stupidly going on and on.

Can the semester be over soon, please?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Love Story

I had my car in the shop the other day. It needed an oil change, and this was the first I could get it in. And worse, it had been making a weird noise and feeling sort of grindy at the front end. And it was getting worse.

I hate trying to explain that sort of thing to someone.

Well, the car feels grindy.

And you know the poor mechanic is trying to figure out what I'm saying, trying to translate it into language that makes sense in mechanic terms, and trying to figure out if I have any clue what the front end is, and if that's where the problem really is.

In all honesty, I'd sort of been putting off the whole thing. I could have gotten it in earlier, but I was afraid it would be really expensive, and all. And I'm pretty sure it was my fault the car was sounding grindy, since I slid it into a curb really hard last winter. And that's always embarrassing, in the sort of, hi, I'm an idiot who runs my car into the curb way. So I put it off.

It was expensive, but at least it was fixable. And it's really nice to have the car not making the grindy noise!

You know the movie LA Story? The scene where the Steve Martin character gets in his car to drive to the next door neighbor's house? I'm like that about cars. I know it's bad for the world, but I love driving. I didn't mind walking around all over in Japan, but when I have a car, yes, I drive. (Unless I'm biking. Maybe I just have mechanical love?)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's Cold Outside

One of my students did a presentation today, and did a really fine job. It's so cool to see a student do so well.

And when I got home, this little guy was sitting on the deck. It seemed odd, but the camera was near, so I took a couple shots. And just as I started to worry that he was just sitting there, he flew up to the suet feeder, fed for a few minutes, and flew off.

I'm pretty sure (based on the markings and size, about 5 or so inches) this is a Downy Woodpecker. Some of the other pictures show the red marking on the back of his head better, but this picture is the best shot of the fluffiness. Usually I see these birds on the suet feeder or trees, and their feathers are all sleeked tight, but this guy was really fluffed out, and I wanted to get a pic of that.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grading Hell

As you know if you've ever looked at the description thingy, I teach Shakespeare. I don't teach much later than that. This year, I taught into the 1680s, which was quite edgy for me.

So why am I reading a paper about the French Revolution?

I got about three pages in and checked to see if the student had handed in a paper for a different class by accident, but the title seems to indicate that it's for my class.


Small stuff graded and recorded
10/20 final essays grades and recorded

To do: 10 more final essays, spread sheet entries

Final exam 1/3 written
2/16 essays graded
Spread sheet in place

To do: 14 more essays, finish writing the final, grade finals, some small stuff



To do: 20 final essays
Countless shorter things
Several presentation responses

Also to do:
Attend senior presentations
Department potluck (I made pumpkin bread!)
One big Christmas gift
Wrap gifts
Order books for one class for next semester!

My car is in the shop today. It went for an oil change, and now it's getting some new axle thing and new brakes.

I should be in full blown panic mode, but for some reason, I'm not.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Small Decision to Make

There was a shake up in one of our programs around campus recently. The English department plays a big part in the program, but it's all voluntary. No single person has to participate, and there's a trade off as far as work load.

There was a big report about this program last year, and it showed that the program wasn't working well. At least that's what we heard, and that's why, presumably, the program was shaken up and got a new boss. Time for a change!

The new boss decided to send out a sort of contract thingy, which those of us who want to participate need to fill out, checking all the boxes of special things we agree to do, and signing it. Among the things are extra meetings (which have been worse than useless every time I've been), extra paperwork, and a program syllabus (which wasn't included). Basically, the contract thingy put in a bunch of new work rules about doing what's been done and a little more and asks us to sign on.

As you can imagine, we English department folks had lots to say about this, and so we invited the new boss over for a chat before anyone signs.

We had our chat. We asked about the useless but required meetings. Are they going to change? Will they be less useless? Are they really important to this program (or just someone else's add on)? We asked about the syllabus.

And the new boss? Had never actually asked anyone about the meetings, or if they're useful or important. Had never even thought about it. Nope, it was there before, and just got put in again. Same for most of the other stuff. Apparently, when you're the new boss, you don't need to actually talk to the people who do the work before instituting new work rules, you just do what's been done before.

Turns out, the new boss had never participated in this program before, had never gone to any of the endless, useless meetings, had never done the work.

If you were the new boss, wouldn't looking at the negative report from before make you want to change what was done, rather than hold onto them without question? Isn't that the idea of reports?

Do you ever want to ask a new administrative person about qualifications for the job? I know I do.

Want to guess this person's primary qualifications?

The new boss explained that in the report, when the English department data is separated out, we actually do a really good job. So why, we asked, did you send us this insulting, stupid contract? The new boss explained that pointing fingers at people who aren't doing the job doesn't seem like a good idea; it would be bad for morale. So, the new boss concluded, we English department folks can just cross out the contract stuff and sign the paper to say that we want to participate.

The unwillingness to tell people who are screwing up that they're screwing up seems like a sort of cowardice and bad management.

And bad management is a problem, especially right now, because we're going through a whole "transparent" evaluation process with an eye to making strategic cuts rather than across the board cuts. That means some programs will disappear, maybe some departments. So shouldn't we all have access to this data so that it's part of the evaluation process? (We're all supposed to be honest about our shortcomings as well as our strengths in this process.) Shouldn't departments with bad outcomes have to report them? Shouldn't we be able to use this data to show that we're doing a good job?

I think the new boss is trying to do a good job. Let's say I'm willing to assume the new boss is a person of good will. But, the whole contract thing tells me that the new boss is also less thoughtful and more authoritarian than I'd like. And the cowardice and bad management doesn't make me happy, either. On the other hand, there's a workload balance thing, and I do think the program can be really positive for our students (and, our goals have been largely achieved in our department).

So the question I'm struggling with is, do I participate next year?

Friday, December 12, 2008


Here at NWU, we're on a rotation for new computers, every four years or so. For me, that's plenty often enough, since really wordprocessing, a spreadsheet for grades, reading pdfs, and looking up stuff on the web doesn't challenge a computer much.

My new one got installed today. First, it's tiny. TINY.

The keyboard and mouse feel all wrong. Just wrong.

And... it has no floppy drive.

I know, you're thinking to yourself, what kind of idiot uses a floppy drive these days? Shouldn't everything be on indestructible media such as a CD or USB thingy?

To be honest, it's not that I use floppies a lot, but I have my grad school teaching stuff on them, and my first several years of teaching files. So should I need to teach something by Pope other than "The Rape of the Lock" or "Sound and Sense" (both of which I teach in my intro poetry class, I have notes on there. Also notes for teaching other 18th and 19th c Brit lit. My notes from teaching intro women's studies are also on floppies. Maybe I'll never teach that class again, and maybe if I do I won't want to look at the notes because they're already so old. But how will I know that if I can't look at them.

When I first got here, they gave me a big disk called a "Zip" drive, and told me to back everything up on there. I still have the disk, and I think there's stuff on there, but I have no way to check. I think "Zip" drives are a thing of the past.

I have to admit, I'm looking longingly at my books. You know, despite lots of technology changes, I can still look at them easily. I just reach out, open it up, and there it is. And in most cases, the signal to noise ratio is nearly 100/approaching zero, and it's easy to make out. I realize that's not the case with lots of manuscripts that have been damaged or faded due to time, but do you think any of the media you're using right now will be useable in 50 years, much less 500 or more?

And the indestructability of electronic media? I wonder how much magnetic force totally messes up your average flash drive? I listen to books on CD from the library a fair bit, and it's rare that I can actually hear a book the whole way through. Books on tape, well, sometimes there's a problem, but surprisingly not as often as with the CD ones. And books in print? Well, it's rare that a page is torn out, but sometimes people do write on them. And with my own texts, the writing is mine, and sometimes actually helpful many years later. Neat how that works with printed texts, isn't it?

I know deep down that almost nothing I write or do is worth archiving for very long. But some things I want to last for my teaching career, just because there's something very right about having notes, even Dryden notes, just in case I ever want them. (And yes, I also have a paper file system, and no, I'm not switching to an electronic record.)

And this, folks, is why I'm a luddite, except one that also loves computers and stuff.

It's the last day of classes. Thank goodness my grading stuff is safely tucked away on the computer system, eh? Because that will never get lost, never "go down" and never, ever run out of storage space.

What language do your unicorns speak?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I remember, the first time I took a course on The Canterbury Tales, how beautifully the prof brought things together at the end, how I could see a sort of multiple pilgrimage thing going on, and something bigger to the tales, and at the same time, the fragmentary aspect came through.

I tried to get some of that across yesterday, and I get another sort of shot tomorrow, when we read the retraction, but I think the Baugh's missing some of the tales that really helped bring things together for me about the pilgrimage as a pilgrimage.

And I'm wondering if it's time to abandon a nearly 40 year old edition in favor of a newer one? And if so, a full Chaucer or a CT?

Learning in College

Yesterday, in my first year writing course, we were talking about what they've learned and such in college so far.

It's disturbing to be told by most of them that they only do the reading for classes when they're expecting a quiz or something similar. That information sort of ruins the whole "quizzes are infantalizing" argument, at least for first year students. I have a sense that my junior and senior students are more likely to do more of the reading. Or maybe that's just my personal fantasy.

One of my students said that s/he'd discovered that s/he couldn't just do one draft of papers for our class, but noted that the other profs didn't seem to grade as hard, so for those classes s/he could just do a single draft.

I wonder how many of my students make those sorts of judgments, and how much I benefit in receiving better quality work because I have a reputation as a semi-hard grader?

Pretty much all the students noted that they'd learned a lot about time management and such in their first semester. It would be a great thing if there were a way to teach more students better time management skills before they got to college! But most people really have to start in on living more independently and managing their time independently before they really develop those skills, I suppose.

At each stage of my educational life, I've had to learn to work harder. I didn't learn in high school, but about my junior year of college, I figured it out. Then Peace Corps taught me a whole new level of independence and work. Going back to school while working made me focus even more. Grad school seemed like a lot of work until I became an assistant prof. And post tenure, I've had to add more committee work and personnel work. But before each stage, I really couldn't have seen or predicted the difficulties of the next stage fully. I had to experience each to understand what each means. I expect the same thing would happen were I to try to go into administration or something.

Yep, still learning on the job!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

On Not Seeing

We just finished talking about the "Second Nun's Tale" in my Chaucer class, a tale that spends a lot of time showing how people who've converted to Christianity can suddenly see angels, or a specific angel, anyway, and floral crowns and such. Seeing is a big metaphor in lit all over the place.

I came to see a bit of my not seeing this week. It started with a note from a deanling about a student who is having problems with [a chemical addiction]. Then I got a nice note from the student, and had a pleasant meeting with the student.

I never saw the news coming. Of course, people hide their problems really well when they can, and this student did. But, shouldn't I have noticed?

For all I know, the student came to class having used [a chemical], and I didn't recognize that anything was wrong. Shouldn't I have noticed?

I knew the student was having trouble, but I thought it was just the typical trouble that students have. And it wasn't. (This particular trouble is pretty common, common enough to be typical, perhaps, though I don't think of it that way.)

I don't know how to see well enough.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Still Peace Corps, After All These Years

A couple weeks ago, I got an email from someone associated with a local grammar school; evidently someone had invited some military folks to come to classes to talk to the students about military service, and the person who wrote me the email was looking for someone to come talk about the Peace Corps as an alternative.

So today was the day; I went and sat through two talks by military folks and then did my little talk on the Peace Corps. The military folks had way more show-and-tell sorts of stuff; I have to admit the MRE and medals and stuff were pretty fancy. But it sounded like the one guy got medals for serving for X number of years or working with a different unit or something. I wasn't really sure. The military folks were friendly and nice, and weren't talking up the whole killing thing, but I was happy to offer an alternative.

The kids were fun, grades 1-3 in two separate classrooms, and these kids were quite impressively well-behaved and a pleasure to talk to. I took in a print-out of the Peace Corps' three goals, and had a kid read each aloud and than talked about the goal, what the words mean, and why it's important, and tried to tie it into what they were learning about other countries and the environment, and why their learning is important. Then the kids had questions, lots of questions, some of them totally wonderful and insightful, and others just off the wall. But you know there's something to a kid's question, so even the off the wall ones are important.

Kid's that age are so eager and so engaged, but exhausting, too. I'm glad folks with way more patience than I have are willing to be their teachers!

I've been out of the Peace Corps for a long time, but I still love talking about the experience and the organization, it's goals, and such. And maybe, someday, one of those kids will choose the Peace Corps? Or maybe one will decide to plant a tree?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


One of the schools up here has decided to adopt a new mascot.

I vote for Snowflakes.

I just think it catches the spirit of six months of the year up here, especially months when school's in session.

And it gives a sense of one of the major features of many folks around here, our whiteness--a place where three Lutheran churches at a major intersection counts as diversity.

Just imagine, the cheers!

Fear the fighting 'Flakes!

All your snow base are belong to us!

May the 'Flakes be with you!

There would be other advantages, too. For example, the football team could use the "blizzard" instead of the "blitz." Other teams wouldn't know what hit them.

And every student would be unique and special!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Not Sanguine

I've been looking at drafts of my seniors' final essays, and I am not sanguine. (I do, however, like the word "sanguine" an awful lot, though when I first encountered it, I thought it couldn't be good. You know, usually "bloody" isn't a good thing, though having blood inside is important, and keeping it there is way better than having it run all out. I think my original misapprehension has a lot to do with why I like the word now.)

I hope my students are fruitfully panicked by my responses; they'll have 7 days after I hand back my quick responses. Seven days isn't very long to write a decent essay, not really.

But I really, really do NOT want to read a bunch of bad essays!

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Idea of Hell

I have four hours of meetings scheduled for tomorrow. One starting at 8am, then three in a row.

That doesn't count teaching or office hours, which are anything but hellish in my eyes.

But meetings...

I'm thinking hard about not running for re-election for a thing next year, and if I don't that will automatically eliminate an average of two to three hours of meetings a week. (I'd change to more in-department service, but that rarely means weekly meetings or as many committees and sub-committees.)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Still Thankful

I'm a bit late about Thanksgiving, but I was busy spending my time being thankful.

I never wanted a child, but I'm really happy to be an aunt. I get to see my niece and nephew every few months, often enough that we're comfortably familiar, rarely enough that it's always a special occasion. It's pretty much ideal.

So, having done most of the shopping (though I forgot a few things), I spent most of Thanksgiving playing with my niece and nephew. We started with pancakes, then played with Legos, baked a few biscuits, more Legos. Meanwhile, my sibling cooked. Can you imagine a better holiday than being at home, playing Legos, while someone else does the hard part of cooking? We did help a bit. And then a friend of mine joined us for dinner! My sib is a really good cook; what he cooks isn't fancy, but it's really, really good.

After dinner we played a board game, 221 B Baker Street; it's a mystery game, and pretty good as such things go. It helps that I'm still ahead of the kids about puns and nastiness, and stuff in games, because I like to win. (Everyone in my family likes to win, and thus we all learn to be cheerful losers at games.)

Friday we started with French toast, then a movie, then we decorated gingerbread houses. One of the great things about being the aunt is that my most wonderful in law got me a house to decorate, too. Among the rest, we had some leftovers. And played more games. The ticklebug made frequent visits, too. I got some dog therapy time, a few short walks and plenty of petting.

Today we were back to pancakes, and then worked on my niece's homework, making a video for school. It went pretty well, and we got a few funny bits in with the book-reportish stuff. And then they left, and I went out for a quick bike ride.

Now, as I turn to grading, I'm grateful for the fun of it all, and grateful that I still have leftovers in the fridge!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sacraments on Stage?

Way back in the stone ages, when I was a grad student, I learned that it was illegal to do several things on the English stage. First, you couldn't personate a living Christian monarch. (And the whole Game at Chesse incident with its supposed personation of the Spanish king supports that idea.)

And second, you couldn't represent or enact a sacrament on stage.

But I'm reading The Renegado, and there, big as life, with a splash of water, is an onstage baptism. And before it, a short discussion of the efficacy of baptism by midwives and other folks who weren't ordained. (And that discussion seems likely to irritate eccliasiastical folks, doesn't it? David Cressy talks about the arguments for and against the efficacy of midwife baptism; doesn't sound like a discussion the Master of Revels would want on stage.)

So, did I just imagine that no-sacrament rule, or did things change, or is The Renegado just getting away with something?

Has anyone else heard the no sacrament rule?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Magic Mitten

We talked about the magic mitten of grain multiplication in class today. Could my life be better?

It's only the second recorded use of the word in the OED, which is sort of interesting. Glove is older, occuring in Anglo-Saxon.

It seems to me that mitten technology would precede glove technology, and that leads me to wonder if there's an Anglo-Saxon word for mitten that's fallen into dis-use?

I really should be grading!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


After a tough week, I had a great weekend. It was warm enough to get out on my bike, so I did. I layer up, and since it was the first weekend of the "gun hunt season," I wore my bright orange jersey as the top upper layer.

I didn't go far either day, but it felt so good I can barely express it. I think I've figured out that I can ride 10-15 miles or so when it's this cold before my feet start to get miserable and the rest of me follows in short order. (Yes, I have stupid little booties over the toes of my shoes.) I rode 12 miles on Saturday, and the last couple I started getting colder than is fun. So I rode 10 miles today.

I got on this afternoon, and started off on my favorite road south of town. I wrap up pretty well, well enough that I get too warm in the house, but when I get out of my car, the chill hits. My fingers, especially, start off cold, since they're not in gloves while I put on my shoes and get my bike off the rack and such. But once I put on my gloves, the only exposed flesh is my face, and that's partly covered by sunglasses, and partly by the hat under my helmet.

I park in a public pool parking lot; it's never full even on the hottest days, and my car's alone there these days. Then I take off, past a golf course housing development, and then through a traffic circle (roundabout, call it what you will), which I love to play "tour" through, riding almost straight through (assuming there are no cars close), like you see bikers do in races on tv.

I turn south a few blocks later, go over a small bridge (creek), and then up a hill and onto a freeway overpass. I stand to pedal up the hill, as much to get warm as anything. The overpass is weird; I feel all exposed up there on my bike, with huge trucks and stuff speeding by below. Then up and past the gray circular barn, and a mile and a half into my ride, and I'm on a more country road. There's less traffic, and newish big houses with huge yards amongst trees or emptyish lot areas. My hands are warm enough in the gloves that I don't think about them, just about shifting gears occasionally (which is awkward because my gloves are quite a bit longer than my fingers are).

It's about this point that I become really aware of the whir of my tires on the road. When I ride on the white line, my tires make a lot less noise, so I try that on and off.

And somewhere in the whir, the frustrations of the week fade and all I have to think about is pedaling and breathing. Pedaling and breathing. Pedaling and breathing. Sometimes, on flats, I get into a rhythm of breathing and pedaling.

On the way back, I saw some men hanging a deer up in their yard, reminding me that hunters were out. I whirred by kids playing with dogs in a yard both ways, the dogs so focused on fetching the toys that they didn't seem to notice me even. I nodded at folks walking dogs.

But mostly I breathe and pedal and hear my tires whirring on the asphalt.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I spent about 5 hours yesterday working through files for the Underwater Basketweaving search because we decided at our meeting earlier in the week that we'd all review the top choice files of each committee member so that we could meet today to come up with our primary interview group.

This morning, when I got in, I had an email waiting from a colleague on the committee saying that he hadn't gone back through the files, and thus wasn't prepared to meet today. The email was timestamped in the early AM hours.

Later this morning, I got an email from another committee member saying that he, too, hadn't had time to do the work, and agreeing that we should put off the meeting until next week. And then another from another committee member, agreeing that it was a good idea.

On one hand, putting the meeting off is fine with me. I'll get to the bank, which I need to do, and go to the fun food store (the organic and area farmers store) to get some really good cheese (they're a great organization, but run limited hours). I could get home before 7:30pm for the first time this week.

And seriously, we all work hard, and why should these committee members sacrifice family time, or personal time, or whatever for committee work? Isn't it basically just overworking ourselves at the whims of the administration, which represents the government, an entity that pays us all miserably anyway, and exploits our labor?

On the other hand, I stupidly spent most of my afternoon yesterday doing that instead of grading. Why did I do that?

I had three reasons, I guess. The first is that I'd made a commitment to my colleagues to be prepared to meet on Friday.

The second is that we're in danger of losing this search, and the longer it goes on, the more danger we're in. That means if we can hire someone before the end of December, and the papers get signed, then there will be a new hire in the field. If the search stretches into January, then our calendar means it will necessarily stretch into February, and the new state budget will be in and it's unlikely to be a budget with much room for hiring anyone.

The subpart of this second issue is that I've evidently taken the need for a new tenure track position in this field a lot more seriously than my Underwater Basketweaving colleagues.

The third reason is that, crappy as our pay is, hiring a new tenure track colleague means that at least one person out on the job market would have a job come August, a job with benefits and a chance at tenure. A lot of people have put resources into applying for this one job.

My petty bourgeois attitude is showing, isn't it?

Maybe if I were only male, I'd feel free to blow things off, instead of doing this crappy female-culture "good community member" idiocy thing? (Yes, I'm the only woman on this search; Underwater Basketweaving isn't as open to women as Shakespeare and early modern lit seems to be, which is probably part of why I was asked to participate.)

(Yes, I realize that not all men blow things off, and that many women do, but right now I'm frustrated with masculinist, sexist attitudes coming from several different directions.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

News I Can Use

I went to a "webinar" today, a web-based "seminar" supposedly to help faculty teach more effectively.

There's something deeply wrong with watching a web-cast talking head going on and on about how one shouldn't lecture, but should give people active learning tasks. Do these people even think about what they're saying?

And did you know, there is more than one way to put students in groups?

I left, but not quickly enough. :(

What sort of weirded me out was the number of folks there from various academic skills/advising areas on campus who were taking serious notes, notes they'll be happy to lecture on in teaching development programs on campus, while they tell us not to ever, ever lecture at our students.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

High Point

I met with a new advisee today; we had a good meeting. S/he's in a good position to take some good courses and do well, sounds interested in the courses s/he's taking now, and seems well on the way to getting a good education.

At the end of our meeting, though, something about the smile, the thanks for my help, and the changed body position made me think that s/he'd been really nervous about seeing me, and that got me thinking back.

S/he'd sent a sort of awkward email this morning asking for help, and I'd offered a meeting time, which s/he'd quickly accepted. And so when I came back after class to my office hours with a student already in tow, s/he'd been sitting on a hallway chair nearby. But I hadn't recognized him/her as my advisee. Then someone else came quickly in to talk about an essay, and I still hadn't made the connection between the student seemingly studiously reading on the hallway chair and the earlier email. It was only after that student had left and I'd turned my attention elsewhere that s/he came to the door, sort of shyly, and introduced him/herself.

We had a good session, and I think s/he'll be back less nervously next time. I hope so.

It's hard to think of myself as intimidating. I'm not physically intimidating, at least not when I look in the mirror. I'm not 6'8" or anything. I'm not drop dead gorgeous; "plain" would be a complement. And I don't think of myself as intellectually or academically intimidating, either. It sort of doesn't occur to me that I'm intimidating (though every so often a student will say that s/he was intimidated by me when s/he was a first year student).

But I remember how intimidated I was by every professor and TA I had in college. Other than my initial advising meetings in orientation and when I declared my major, I went to one office hour before my senior year, I think. I can remember going and asking the question I asked; that's how significant it was for me for my first several years of college.

I can imagine meeting with my new advisee over the next several years, seeing growing confidence and a sense of real achievement, and I'm looking forward to it.

In a way, being able to help my him/her is the high point of an otherwise overwhelming, frustrating, and irritating week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I am the Man

I was having a conversation the other day with Super Rad, one of my colleagues who's just too radical and cool for school, if you know what I mean. Super Rad talks a lot about interventions and commitment to revolutionary action. Standing in the hallway, leaning on the door jamb, Super Rad was complaining about how poorly the adjuncts are paid.

So I said that we could go a long ways towards solving the problem if everyone with tenure in our department (including both of us) agreed to take a 20% paycut and redistributed the money to the adjuncts. You should have seen the look of abject horror that passed his face. It was worth it.

Here's the thing; our tenured salaries are subsidized under the current system by the use of adjuncts to teach large numbers of students in our department. Since we're not going to solve the economic crisis in our state teaching Shakespeare or Marxist theory, and since we aren't going to suddenly get a huge influx of money, we need to be realistic about the problem. We are the problem, or at least we benefit from the system as it's set up. We tenured folks are, so to speak, the man.

And yet, I made a decision to take this job based in part on the salary and my calculation I could live on the salary and preferred to live on this salary for this job rather than on a slightly higher salary at my previous job. And I made a decision to take on the mortgage I have because I did the math and figured I could make payments on my salary. So I don't really have 20% slack in my budget. Yes, if I had to take a 20% cut, I'd stop putting money into retirement savings, make some other cuts, and get by for now. But if I don't have to, I'm not.

It's hard to give up privilege, isn't it? But we should at least recognize our privilege. Or does it even matter, so long as I'm not willing to give it up?

On the other hand, I think I bring significant skills and qualities to my work that our adjuncts don't bring. And so I think I'm worth my salary. Or maybe I'm just making excuses?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Twenty-Five Years After

I grew up on M*A*S*H*. The series lasted through my teen years, and into my Peace Corps service. I remember talking about it obsessively in middle and high school. My watching fell off in college, but I still saw it fairly often.

The show ended while I was in the Peace Corps, and so I'm one of those people who didn't watch the final episode. I had heard bits about it, but I never saw it. It doesn't play often on reruns, but tonight it played, and so now I've finally seen it.

You know, even after 25 years, that's a pretty darned good TV show.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Searching and Seeking

I got a call earlier this term from a colleague in a tangentially related department, and by tangentially I mean during Shakespeare's day, they put rushes on the stage floor, which means I should be really familiar with such things, and by the way, underwater basketweaving uses reeds from a similar plant, so I'm practically a member of the department. The thing is, smaller departments (and most departments at any comprehensive school are smaller than Math and English) sometimes need an outside member for search committees. And so, my colleague asked me to help on a search committee. It's not the first time I've been asked, and certainly underwater basketweaving is closer to my field than accounting!

(The very first search I ever served on was for an accounting position. I was used to the sorts of letters English lit folks send out: intro para, para or three on dissertation, para on pubs if any and on future plans, para on teaching overview, para on dream course or comp, para on how much they'd fit at your school. In contrast, accounting letters basically say, "I'm an accountant and interested in your adertised position.")

Back to our current search. The UB Dept needs a deepwater basketweaving specialist with a lot of experience and interest in SCUBA technologies used for basketweaving. And it would be a real asset if the person can add to diversity in some way or has experience with interdisciplinary work or with reed cultivation. We also asked for evidence that the person could teach underwater basketweaving basics, because everyone needs to here. We wrote up the ad, got it approved by the legal beagles, and waited for the apps to start coming in.

And come they did, many, many apps. You might not think there are that many folks in this discipline looking for jobs, but there are.

And so, I've been reading apps. And I'd like to say, if you're a brackish water specialist who's friend uses SCUBA sometimes, please don't apply! I look in the letter for some mention of the qualifications, and if you don't mention SCUBA, and if your CV doesn't mention SCUBA (either in teaching or research), and if your letters of rec don't mention your work in SCUBA, please don't apply! I know you're probably brilliant at what you do, and a fine person, but we have a ton of apps who actually do deepwater basketweaving with SCUBA technology in a serious way, so you're wasting your money and energy.

The reality is that a lot of people are desperate for a job, and they're casting their net as widely as they can, hoping against hope. Every single person on the search knows that, and I'm guessing every one of us has also been a desperate searcher. We read the underlying despair in many of these letters, but nothing changes the fact that we have one job to offer, and even that is tenuous because the assistants to the headmaster may decide that balancing the budget means we have to freeze hiring this year. So while I vent a bit, please remember that I know the desperation and empathize, and that I'm doing the best I can to find us the strongest candidate who fits our position needs best.

I've been noticing some weird things. The strangest was the person who started wrote,
My dissertation on [Deepwater SCUBA air compression and basketweaving topic] is directed by [Name], whose book [Specialized Monograph title] was published by Pretty Good UP, and whose work on [UB theorists X and Y] is well known.
Seriously, you're writing about your director's work in your diss paragraph? And I've read more than one of those. Really, I don't care who your director is; I care that the work you do sounds interesting and that you explain it so that I can understand it, because if you can explain it to me, then you will probably be the sort of teacher who can explain things to our students.

Another weird choice was to write about being a Mommy/Daddy (you guess which) to X number of adorable children. I don't care if you've bred; it's illegal for me to take it into consideration or ask. I realize it's important to you personally, but it doesn't belong in your job letter so far as I'm concerned.

Some of the more irritating letters come from students at Grand Old Ivy, and talk about their superiority as students at GOI, basically implying that we should feel honored that they've applied. But then their dissertation is on the same basic subject as about twelve other dissertations, any of which echoes what was done in the 80s, when the field was focused on weaving tightness and waterproofing studies.

Others talk about how they were their high school's valedictorian, and then went to GOI, barely mentioning that from GOI they've gone to a grad program at Second Rate State. I'm left wondering what happened there.

Here's a little secret: I don't care where you went to school in my first pass, or who you worked with. I care that you actually study deepwater basketweaving and SCUBA stuff, that your work sounds interesting enough that I wouldn't tear my hair out at your job talk, that you can communicate well even with non-specialists, that you've got good experience teaching what we need taught. I care if something about you adds to diversity (you're interested in the comparative techniques of South Asian and African SCUBA use, and have done some study in the field, taken a couple seminars, something), or that you've done interdisciplinary work (with an art historian or a plant geneticist, whatever). I only look at where you've gone to school if I've got you in my "hey, this person sounds great" list, and by then you're already on the list. I only care about who's writing your letters when the letters sound enthusiastic about your work (though I'm at least a little sensitive to where letters originate, to the extent I know that, and how different cultures frame letters of reference).

Then I take my "sounds great list" and talk to the other people about their lists, and we hash out who we want to talk to further. Now maybe other folks care more about where you went, but it doesn't much come up around here, not when we're busy talking about how someone would be a great complement to our air compression training, or someone has great experience doing this or that cool teaching thing.

Friday, November 14, 2008


My first year students continue to impress me. This week we're having conferences about their research papers; it's early in the process, so the conferences are mostly focused on helping them get started (they have til mid-December, but have presentations and such in there), making sure they have a solid research question and a sense of direction for their inquiry.

In past years, in a typical class of 20, one or two might miss a meeting, and certainly a couple would be late.

This year, out of 20, every single person has appeared at least a couple minutes early.* Some have had to wait, which they've done with apparent good will, but because everyone's been early, I've been able to start a bit earlier than I'd set out. (I set out 20 minute slots, starting at, say, 8:20; I'm in the office by 8, getting settled, so if someone comes at 8:10 and I see him/her, I'm usually ready to go, and that means that the day goes extra smoothly.)

And every single student has come with at least a fairly solid question; some have a plan for their research, and some have made progress. Several I've helped refine their question, focusing it more narrowly because it's exploded on them, as the best research questions tend to do. I've helped others work out where to start researching, and what sorts of resources to look for.

I think I need to buy our Admissions Director dinner, or maybe get a big box of candy for the whole office!

* You may think, "why the heck is this a big deal? Everyone should at least be on time for appointments." But in the real world, I bet pretty much anyone who works with scheduled appointments would find a perfect 20/20 on time and ready to go pretty darned impressive.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hunkered Down in my Silo

Today is committee work day, oh joy. For one committee, I need to review some reviews in order to review the review process, so that we can revise the review process. The two reviews I needed to review were supposed to be available in a nice office across campus where we committee members could go read rather than killing trees to make additional copies. I headed over there a few minutes after 9am, only to find that the reviews weren't there, and the admin assistant had no idea what I was after, but searched the offices anyway, with the help of her boss. So she called the committee chair, and then one of the assistant headmaster types, reaching neither. A few more calls and by a few minutes after 10, I'd reached the committee chair and learned that he hadn't put the reviews out for review. In the meantime, I'd also learned that this office is only open in the mornings, so putting the review materials there wouldn't work for anyone who needed to read them in the afternoon.

So I went to his office, arriving a couple minutes later, and stood around for nearly half an hour while he dithered around making new copies, and trying to get a stapler to work (I convinced him that a binder clip would work, but not until he'd been trying the stapler for 5 minutes).

Time: 1 hour tracking down the review materials.
1.5 hours reading and taking notes about the review process.

Of course these materials have supposedly been available for two weeks, and we'll be discussing them early next week, and I'm apparently the first person who's gone to look for them. I don't predict a really great meeting next week.

I have to say, after reading about the disfunctionalities revealed in these reviews, I was really happy to come back to my relatively functional department and start in on my next task, a task onerous enough in and of itself, but also hopeful and necessary.

The one thing that really stood out to me today in reading these reviews was how hunkered we are in our silos, even when a bit of reorganization would make our lives a whole lot better. It's hard from our silos (think farm silos, not nuclear silos) to get a clear view of the university and how we can contribute, and it's really frustrating reading these reviews to see that. The thing is, it's easy for me to say, oh, that Underwater Basketweaving department, they just don't see how their work matters in the larger scale, or how they could contribute differently, and a whole different thing to see myself how my work in the English department, and in the lit part of the English department, and as a Shakespeare/early Brit person in the lit part of the English department fits. The good thing about this committee work, though, is that it reminds me to keep trying to see out my silo.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I left work last evening without having finished prepping the tale for this morning's Chaucer class, so of course I woke up with a nightmare about this morning's prep time. In my nightmare, a good 30 pages of fairly dense and specific verse detailing medieval prostitution practices had appeared in the midst of the tale. I remember in my dream cursing myself for not having prepared those adequately, and also wondering why no one else had noticed that text before, and wondering if I should start working on a project.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wild Rumor

I heard a rumor that Obama was carrying a book of Derek Walcott's poetry around. Imagine, a president who can read something more than a speech on a teleprompter (and mangled, at that!)!

Bets are now open as to which line(s) make it into the inaugural address!

(Ooo, I googled and found a picture!)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Note from Grading Jail

I've begun to notice that the more a student complains in his/her paper about the unfairness about the way grades were calculated in high school (as in, the student took "advanced" classes and thinks a B in those should count more in the GPA than an A in a "regular" class), the more his/her petty grammatical errors bother me.

Seriously, if you were all that in high school, you should have earned As in those advanced classes, no?

I think if I taught the same group of students a writing class in six months, none of them would focus on high school stuff, but at this point, their high school experiences are really important still, and college stuff hasn't taken precedence quite.

Shopping Spree

Nothing says "Don't Shoot!" quite like a bright orange jersey, right? It's not actually blaze orange, alas, but something called "persimmon orange." Who would name a biking jersey, a jersey that's going to get sweaty and nasty in no time, after a fruit?

I've never eaten a persimmon, I don't think, either. Why not just call it orange? I don't get naming clothing after food, I guess.

A blaze orange jersey would be even better, and I'd totally buy a blaze orange camo jersey if I could find one, just for the amusement of passing drivers.

And now, I'm going to put that on and take a ride in my sunroom, because it's cold outside!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Pop Culture Question

I was reading Michael Berube's latest post today (sorry, don't know how to do that diacritical marks), where he talks about operation "Go John Galt." I know just enough about 20th century lit to know that John Galt is a character in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and that Rand is one of those novelists conservatives like to talk about and recommend.*

But the John Galt jokes got me wondering, so I looked at everyone's favorite quickie source, Wikipedia, to at least get the jist of things. One of the subsections is on Objectivism; according to the Wikipedia entry,
Objectivism embraces objective reality in metaphysics, reason in epistemology, and rational egoism in ethics. In politics she was a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism and individual rights, believing that the sole function of a proper government is protection of individual rights (including property rights).

She believed that individuals should choose their values and actions solely by reason. According to Rand, the individual "must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life."[19] Because she held that faith is antithetical to reason, Rand opposed religion. (Source: Wikipedia: Ayn Rand)

I'm sort of surprised that so many conservatives, especially those who espouse religion as a deeply held belief, should find Rand so appealing. I mean, I could go for embracing objective reality, reason, rational egoism.

I'd take rational egoism in a more progressive direction, because protecting my individual rights doesn't only mean my rights under the US constitution, but also means protecting the environment I have to live in and protecting other people at the same time. I reason that it benefits me to have a well-educated population, for example, so it's well worth my tax money to help educate people. I reason that having a fire department is likely to help me some day, so I'm willing to pay my taxes. And so forth. I reason that capitalism forces companies to try to make a profit at whatever cost, so I reason that it's necessary for a government of and by the people to regulate those costs (labor practices, environmental costs, and so forth).

So what's the appeal of the John Galt character? And can someone explain the joke? Does he stiff waiters regularly or something?

*One of my college roommates had a copy of one of Rand's novels and recommended it highly to me, but I didn't get past about the third page before I stopped, for whatever reason, I don't remember. We both pretty much memorized the whole of her Robin William's album, though, so it wasn't a lost summer altogether.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Back to the Grind

At the beginning of the semester, in all but my first year writing class, I hand out all the assignment information so that a student who really wanted to could get a start on any of them (except for quizzes or taking exams). I try to be clear and explicit.

There's a biggish assignment due in one of my upper-level classes this Monday. Right around week 7, we talked extensively about this and another biggish assignment due later in the semester, and I recommended that people make a start, since they're likely to need inter-library documents/loans that can take a week or more to get.

Yesterday, one of the students in the class stopped me after class wanting to talk about the assignment, but I was on my way to my other class, so suggested s/he come back later during my office hours. S/he came back later, and said s/he wanted me to explain the assignment. I asked if s/he had any specific questions, if there were things about the assignment that confused him/her. Nothing. So we pulled out our copies of the assignment, reread. I waited. Nothing. S/he stared at me.

Alas, I'm not a mind reader, so I wasn't able to help this student much. I'm sure it was as frustrating for him/her as it was for me. I don't know what s/he wanted, whether it was information, reassurance, an extension. I don't think the student quite knew, either. Frustration!

I'm also frustrated by the people (on either side) who think Obama is somehow going to change everything. Seriously, folks, I think he was the best choice we had this year, and I was happy to vote for him, and very happy he was elected, but he's a politician. And it's in the nature of politicians to (at best) owe other people favors, etc, and (at worst) to be outright corrupt and evil. He's going to owe people, and he's going to do things I'll totally disagree with. And yet, most all of us will get up every morning and muddle through. He's not going to suddenly change the capitalist system because he's deeply invested in capitalism; nor does his election mean we're "over" racism.

More frustration; it's cold and rainy, and I've given up and moved my bike inside to the trainer. It looks all shackled up, and not nearly as inviting as a nice road on a hot day.

When is spring coming?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Part of my awe about our electing Barack Obama comes from the fact that he's the first high stakes public office-holder from my generation to be elected. Maybe my generation will make a significant contribution after all? I hope so.

I was talking to a friend of mine's Mom this morning about the election, and she was teary-eyed with happiness. She told me that she'd come so far, that forty years ago she could never have imagined voting for a Black man, but she'd voted for Obama and was crying with happiness that he'd been elected.

It got me thinking about how much more personal that step is for some people than others, and how huge a step it was for this friend's mother. I think it was a revelation to her to think about where she'd started as a young woman, and where she is now as an older woman, and how much she's changed, and how happy she is to have changed. I bet a lot of people woke up this morning with similar feelings, and I hope they're as happy as she is.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


Just, wow... I'm awed in all sorts of ways.

Local Politics

Since moving from a suburb or big city to, first, a small town and then a small city, I've noticed a change, either in my awareness or in actuality.

When I was growing up, few people in my neighborhood put up election signs, and I never remember anyong talking about actually talking to a candidate or elected official. Maybe folks were, but my folks weren't.

Here, though, in the past couple weeks, I've shaken the hand of my local assemblyman and wished him luck. Before elections, he tends to stand at the entrance of NWU, willing to talk to all comers; when it's not election season, I often see him at the local farmers' market, talking to folks (and shopping).

I've seen one of my US senators speak, as well as my US representative, and seen three other local elected office holders at a meeting. They're real people to me in a way that elected office holders weren't before, when I only saw them on TV or something.

Today, here's hoping we the people do ourselves proud.

And I hope we remember that in whatever race, whatever the result, it's likely that nearly 50% of people won't be happy about the result, but that most of us will go on with our day to day lives, just getting by. I hope our leaders help us work together better, respect each other better, and I hope these same leaders make it clear that gloating and other disrespectful behavior isn't acceptable.

To echo New Kid, please, please, please.

And here (hat tip to Dr. Brazen Hussy) is a little widget to entertain you until the polls start closing if you don't have enough grading to do the job.

PS. I voted a couple of weeks ago with a minimal wait because my city officials encouraged people to vote early and it's totally legal.

Monday, November 03, 2008

All stressed out and no place to go

Pretty much says it all.

I hate the darkness at mid-afternoon.

We started talking about the "Friar's Tale" today; I spent a good chunk of time this weekend rereading the tale and making a handout to set up comparisons/contrasts:

Games and quitting

The Arch-deacon and the "Yeman's" boss
The Summoner and the Fiend at work
The Carter, the Widow, and the Summoner

Prayers ending tales: the Friar, the Prioress, the Nun's Priest

And a question about where the pilgrims are on their journey, and where we are

It was good work for me, because it got me thinking a lot more structurally about how the tale works; I'd never quite figured out why the heck we get that long description of the Arch-deacon, a character who doesn't really have a place in the tale at all. But then (I know, I'm slow), I started thinking about the Yeman complaining about his (unnamed) boss, and I think putting the two bosses in parallel makes a lot of sense of the long Arch-deacon's description. At any rate, it made better sense this time for me, and so I hope I can help my students make sense of it.

I think one difference between my reading and my students, is that I trust Chaucer enough to think he has a damned good reason for doing what he does, and that he's describing stuff because there's a point to it, so I go looking for the point and try to figure it out. My students just figure it's just there to make them struggle, and so they just try to get through.

I don't know that I trust many authors, but I trust Chaucer. Isn't that an odd concept? I trust Shakespeare's theatricality, too. But sometimes I just don't get how a scene works, even working within my trust. For example, the Macduff/Malcolm scene just seems overwrought and way too long. And I keep figuring, Shakespeare must be doing something theatrical here, and I'm not seeing it, but I still don't see it.

Question of the day: if you were sent to an empty library for a long stay, would you take a collected Chaucer or a collected Shakespeare, and why?

And if you chose Chaucer, which would you read (or reread) last, Boece or the Astrolab thing?

And if you chose Shakespeare, what would you read last?

(I will confess, I've never read Chaucer's Boece nor the Astrolab thing; this is just part of the reason I'll never be a real medievalist!)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

An Analogy

I've been attending some anti-racism workshops, and thinking lots about privilege and racism. One of the analogies that seems really powerful to me, especially thinking about poverty, was an analogy about the game Monopoly (trademarked, I'm sure).

The idea is that you take a game of Monopoly and you set some people playing. In the first couple rounds, they buy up as many properties as they can. But hold on, what if you go five or ten rounds, and then you add in some folks. They may start with the same amount of starting money, but all the property is pretty much bought up, so they have nowhere safe to land. And there's no way in the game to really "catch up." They don't have property, so they don't have rents, they don't have power, and you they out a lot to the people who got there first.

That seems like a pretty good analogy for how the cycle of poverty works, especially when people ask why African American's aren't doing as well now, almost 150 years after the end of slavery.

Yeah, it's not perfect, but if you add in special rules for the latecomers, about how they could only buy a few specific properties, and how the rules can be changed to disadvantage them, then maybe it would get even closer?

I'm really tired of middle-class folks thinking that they're middle class because they merit whatever they have, because they "earned it."

I'm middle class. Heck, as a single person, I make more than the average US household.

But I didn't get here on my own in any way. My high school tracked people based on race and geography, and being white and living on the right side of the tracks, I was tracked into college prep classes. My parents helped me through college and grad school. As a white person, I was advantaged at every step in my education, from kindergarten to grad school. (I was less advantaged than white men, but still advantaged overall.) When I wanted a student loan, my background prepared me for filling out the forms, my whiteness helped ensure my qualifications. When I wanted to buy a house, my whiteness helped the deal along in all sorts of ways, I'm sure. A couple relatives who left me money helped me lots, too, and they'd been helped by their parents, who had money to help them get started or a business to give them a job. My education helped me join the Peace Corps, get a job, etc.

And yes, I worked hard at various points (less hard in high school than I should have, especially, though). But I could have worked just as hard with far less success if I'd been born to a poor family, as an ethnic minority, or in an area where there was war or devastating natural disasters or poverty or less educational access.

We who are lucky enough to have had some advantages need to get off our high horses and work on making disadvantage matter less, and making actual merit matter way more.

I so want to be proud of my country on Tuesday, and so fear that I won't be.

Friday, October 31, 2008



"Hope" is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

Emily Dickenson

I like the way Dickenson figures hope as birdlike; I imagine a small bird, maybe a warbler of some sort, or maybe a bolder bird, a Jay or a Crow, a bird that actually sticks around in winter here. Maybe it's a Downy Woodpecker, small, but sticks around? Except I don't know that they sing much (I've never seen one making noise other than pecking), whereas a Jay or a Crow, you can hear them, and while the song isn't lyric in quite the way that a warbler's is, it's thrilling and insistently alive.

One of the benefits of teaching first year students is that every year, some of them really "click" with college, and do it publicly enough that you get to watch. So the kid who maybe didn't fit in so well in high school fits in much better, and it shows in class.

One of my students has clicked. S/he was consulting with the class mentors after class today, and then came to talk to me with revision work, taking what we'd done in class, applying it to a different writing project, and using it well. S/he talked about how exciting a science class is, how much s/he's learning in college, and how much s/he's enjoying classes. And I don't think it was just BS for the professor.

That short conversation paid me back for several hours of soul sucking meetings this week. If there were some magic way to get every student there, my job would be a whole lot more fulfilling.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Done Good?

If a prof goes into the university system, s/he can see who's signed up for a course ahead of time. This past semester, I looked, and saw that one of the really smart, really fun and challenging students had signed up for a course I was teaching. Then I looked just before classes actually started, and s/he wasn't signed up anymore. And I felt a little sorry, because this is a great student. But s/he didn't want to take my course, and I didn't know why. Was it because s/he'd found a better professor? Did s/he think my course is stupid sounding? These are the things that go through my mind.

The other day, the student stopped by my office, smiling, and said s/he'd wanted to come thank me for advising hir to aim hir studies in a different direction. Yes, s/he said, s/he'd started taking courses in this other area, and it was working out great, s/he was happier than ever before with hir education. S/he told me excitedly about some work s/he is doing with another prof. It sounds like really interesting, useful work.

I'm happy for the student, and glad I gave appropriate advice.

But still, I advised a student to basically go elsewhere academically, away from the field I love, away from my class, and I feel a little loss there, too.

I shouldn't feel sad about doing a good job, should I?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Feeling Ancient

Every so often, I get reminded that I'm no longer young. Earlier this week, rereading the Wife of Bath's Prologue, when she talked about how she was forty and married Jankyn, who was 20, I couldn't help thinking, "Forty! Why that's not old at all!" But even as I thought that, I recalled the decades of work that sees the Wife of Bath as a rather dirty old woman.*

When I first studied Chaucer, I had an older male prof who clearly identified with Pandarus. At least, it seemed clear to me. I wonder if my students think I identify with the Wife of Bath?

Then there was class the other day, when I walked in and said something about what a fine day it was, and one of my students responded cheerfully, "holler."


(One of the advantages to having linguistics types as friends is that they explain all about things like this.)

*And before anyone gets all "life expectancy" on me, remember that a huge cause of a low life expectancy was infant and child death, and death in childbirth. Anyone who made it to 20 in the middle ages, had a pretty good chance of making it to, say, 50. Making it to 20, though, was really iffy. And if you were female and got past your child-bearing years, life probably got safer. The Plague becomes an issue in England in 1348, but that didn't sort much by age.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Sound of my Soul Being Sucked Forth

It's past the midpoint of the semester, and yet I'm constantly writing on papers to remind students (even in my upper-level classes) to cite their sources.

And also, in academic papers using MLA style, you underline or italicize book, film, and magazine titles. Every time. Is it really that hard to remember?

And the formatting problem I mentioned on the first day of class, and have reminded some people about on ever effing piece of written work since, remains.

There simply isn't enough chocolate in the world for some days.

I have a meeting today for which the agenda says we're going to respond to the same piece of poor work we responded to a couple weeks ago. Then, we effing peer edited this piece of "work"; talk about a total waste of time (including the time of the assistant headmaster, a couple deanlings, and maybe five faculty members).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beyond the Midpoint

We're just past the midpoint of the semester, and here's how things stand.

1) Everyone's sick. Okay, not everyone, but there's a hollow cough going around, and a stomach bug. I'm counting myself lucky to only have the cough (so far?).

2) We don't get a fall break of any sort here until Thanksgiving. Reading about everyone else's break, trips to Paris, grading in bed, whatever, makes me feel whiny and tired. And I'm behind on grading.

3) My writing students, mostly, are writing better papers. Yay students!

4) I tried to teach the Wife of Bath's Prologue today. I'm miserably bad at that piece; I just can't bring it together for my students, though I try. This year I made a handout to lay out the structure a bit and try to make it visible, but what I really need to do is figure out how to bring out a couple really important passages and work them. On the other hand, the Tale itself promises to be a joy to teach.

*If anyone has suggestions for the Prologue, I'd be very grateful to hear them!

5) The sky is falling! Well, white stuff fell out of the sky yesterday. Or, to be more precise, white stuff was pushed around horizontally, yesterday, and only coincidentally hit the ground. Snow in October to snow in April. That's unacceptably long. Tell Ceres to stop being such a helicopter parent!!

Does anyone in a warm area want to adopt a Shakespeare person? I'm housebroken, and don't bark too much at the neighbors. I'm good with dogs, but not so good with children.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Naif at a Meeting

Every so often I get smacked in the metaphorical face by my naivety. It happened again the other day at a meeting with some deanlings and faculty folks, some of whom have been here a long time.

One of the deanlings made a joke about how we reorganize high level offices/groups whenever a powerful faction of the higher ups want to get rid of a 2nd/3rd tier administrator but don't have the guts to actually fire the person.

People laughed. I sat there and tried to stop my mouth from gaping before it became too noticable.

But you know, we've had a surprising number of high level reorganizations in the few years I've been here, and every time some 2nd tier administrators have had their positions disappear and gone elsewhere, while minions of the survivors have taken their places. There's always an official line about how the reorganization will make us a leaner institution, of course. Maybe just meaner?

Friday, October 24, 2008


One of the things we mentioned in passing at a recent meeting was accomodating students with "a sincere religious feeling or belief." The phrase stuck in my head all the rest of the day, and not in a good way.

You might think that I, a pretty open athiest, would have problems with accomodating students' religious needs (we're talking about dealing with students who need to skip class for a religious observance and such, primarily). But I have no problem with that. For one thing, it almost never comes up; the state holidays pretty much cover the big Christian holidays, and most of our students are at least nominally Christian. I've had a few students here skip Ash Wednesday morning class and a few students need to not attend something for another religious observance. For the other thing, it's usually one or two students who are easily accomodated. We simply whatever plan what work needs to be done ahead of time, and in every case, the student has handled his/her part well.

But the part that stuck in my head was about the "sincere." How am I supposed to judge a student's religious sincerity? And why do I care? Because, honestly, if a student wants to celebrate Talk like a Pirate Day, then why not? And if there's nothing sincere beyond a strong sense of humor and irony, well, why not?

But in my life, every time I've seen someone's religious sincerity questioned, it's been someone with relatively little power who is exploring a non-Judeo-Christian tradition whose sincerity is questioned by someone from the dominant Judeo-Christian tradition. It's the student who is beginning to practice Buddhism or Baha'i who gets questioned, and who has little defense because s/he is trying to understand a new, complex tradition without family or community support.

I would like to see more students exploring different traditions seriously, working to understand the value in those traditions, and using whatever insights s/he gains to think critically about Judeo-Christian traditions.

And even more, I'd love for a student to want to celebrate Talk like a Pirate Day.