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.