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.)