Sunday, February 28, 2010

House Finches

I saw house finches on the deck today, for the first time in a long time. (At least I don't think I've been seeing them since late fall.)

I got myself a copy of Sibley's recently, and now I want to start keeping somewhat better records of what birds I'm seeing when and where. I was wondering when I first saw an oriole last spring, wondering because I wanted to know when to start putting out a half-an-orange for them. In my book, I wrote down a date in May last spring, so I guess I have some time yet.

Still, I'm beginning to have hope of spring.

Alas, I know my hopes will be dashed soon by more cold and snow.

Friday, February 26, 2010


We're having our late February/early March melt right now, which means things are especially ugly. Several months worth of salt, grime and gravel are eating the snow away at the sides of the road, leaving nasty black facings. During the day, snow melts now (rather than sublimating, as it seems to when it's colder) and then freezes on streets and sidewalks at night.

We usually get more snow through April, but what comes from now on is usually heavy, wet snow with the occasional freezing rain. It's way harder to shovel than the light, dry snow we get when it's most cold out.

But yesterday, I had cause to walk over to another area of campus, by the administrative fort. There's a protected area next to the fort, where the sun hits from midday through the afternoon, but where the wind is minimal and the snow seems not to fall as much. I think of it as the earliest place in town to get spring, so I made a point of walking by, and indeed, there are some crocus and daffodil buds breaking ground already. I also saw some dandelions greening up.

For me, winter here starts when it starts snowing, which can be late October or late November, or in between. This year was in between.

Winter lasts until it's warm enough, for me, into the 60s. So sometimes we have winter into May because it's in the 40s during the day, windy, cold, and miserable.

But things look better now, because I can at least walk by the green buds next to the fort.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I've been asked to consider taking on a new responsibility here. It's a responsibility that comes with a lot of responsibility, and relatively little power, though it's very important that the job be done well and ethically. It involves working with folks who have tenure, organizing them to get certain tasks done.

One of my friends, helping me think about my decision, asked me what I would do if someone said simply "no" when asked to do his/her share of a task. Note that tasks aren't exactly equal in this world.

Most of my colleagues wouldn't say "no" without a good reason, but what counts as a good reason is complex, of course. One person's "good reason" is another person's BS.

The reality of tenure means that most of my colleagues are, indeed, responsible and ethical, but that certainly there are a few who don't pull their weight.

So, as a responsible person with relatively little power (I can't fire these folks, affect their pay, or withhold special treats/privileges), what do you do when someone says "no" to doing their share of a group job?

(I do have a couple ideas about how I might handle it, but I'm interested in hearing from other folks. Thanks.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Good Day

You know how every so often, a student who seems to be phoning it in, doing the basics, but not really into the class, suddenly finds something that seems to click?

I handed out an assignment today, and apparently that happened to one of the students. S/he has emailed me a couple times now, politely enthusiastic emails with possible ideas about pursuing the assignment.

Sometimes, a smallish thing makes a very good day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Experiential Learning Quiz

I took some anise seeds into class today so that my students could chew and have some fresh breath.

What's the text o' the day?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Sometimes, I'll be in a meeting or something, and someone will say something and I'll just get a whole new insight into that person's point of view. It happened yesterday.

We were discussing a past practical underwater basketweaving search, and one of my colleagues asked about people who have both Masters in Arts in Practical Basketweaving (a terminal degree itself) and PhDs in Basketweaving. It seems reasonable to me, right? Why wouldn't we prefer someone with additional skills and knowledge, able to help out in the history and culture of basketweaving classes as well as the practical classes?

But the practical basketweaver there said that when they read the application letters from MAPB/PhDs, they always started by talking extensively about their thesis, and didn't focus on their practical basketweaving work. But what s/he and the other practical basketweavers were looking for was someone who really focused on practical basketweaving primarily. So the dissertation stuff wasn't important, and in fact took away from what the practical folks wanted to hear.

To me, at first, this sounded backwards because most people finish the PhD after the MAPB, and so it's their more recent work and it's a bigger deal on some level (my bias shows here, doesn't it!), so of course that would be what they focus on. But then I realized that this practical basketweaver really didn't care about the PhD work, but really cared about the practical basketweaving work.

So, I don't know. Maybe my colleague the practical basketweaver is wrong about how these application letters are written, or has read a skewed sample, or was just justifying her bias against Phds. But maybe she's saying something that might be helpful to MAPB/PhD folks who are applying for practical basketweaving jobs?

So instead of two or three types of letters of application (R1s, teaching, community college), these folks need at least one more, focused tightly on practical basketweaving, and mentioning the PhD in the second or third place?

What's your experience, oh wise internet folks?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too Many Different Directions

Sometimes, I feel like I'm pulling in too many directions, and if I could just get one off my plate, it would be way better. As it is, I'm ignoring a couple way longer than I should.

1. Committee work. There's this committee (secretary), and that committee (chair), and then the other (chair), and it's frustrating. If I could drop two of the bigger jobs and just be a member, or drop one of the committees altogether, life would be better. (My afternoon has been taken up with committee stuff today, which is why it's on my mind to come first.)

2. Classes. Three. At least I've taught them all before. I'm teaching the one new text of the semester this week, though, so that's extra work. This week is also oral quizzes for reading Chaucer aloud, so that's adding up.

2a. The students who need something special, make up stuff, whatever.

3. Paper. Oops!

4. Summer project. Oops!

5. Guest. My neighbors' pup is visiting for the week. This is good because she takes me out to exercise. And she's good for my attitude. But she's bad for grading and prep and stuff.

6. Life. I had a great weekend, but it's hurting now. I saw Macbeth! It was very good! I learned to make dal with help from some friends. Also very good. I went snowshoing because the pup needed to get out and burn off some steam.

7. Advising. I'm supposed to be advising for a few of our ed students now. They seem a bit more needy, or maybe it's just one or two students who are worried right now?

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Condolences to the community at the U of Alabama, Huntsville.

I'm sort of surprised, though, at how much information about a tenure decision seems to have gotten out before it was official. One of the victim's husbands sounds like he's talking about knowing, though it doesn't sound like he's a tenured member of the department, but maybe that's just the reporting?

Or maybe their confidentiality rules are way different from ours?

None of which changes the basic and utter sadness of the situation.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Best Mistake of the Day

Sometimes, students miswrite words, perhaps because they've misheard them over the years. Usually, the subsequent mistake doesn't really make sense. But this time, this time it worked:

X was heart retching.

There's some sort of metaphorical brilliance there, even if it came through a mistake. There are things that make the heart want to retch rather than be wrenched, aren't there?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Backbone, Bardiac!

I'm the secretary of this committee, and in this role, I seem to be writing a lot of emails to people and notes and such.

The problem is, I worry about striking the right tone with these things. So I have this urge to check everything with the chair. Now, the chair's patient and kind, but at some point, I just need to not need that reassurance, you know? I just need to get a little backbone, do the job, and be assured that I've been careful and conscientious.

When I was a kid, I thought I'd know everything as an adult, that I'd be confident and know what I was doing. But no, I want reassurance WAY too often, or at least a nod that yes, I've done an acceptable job and not gone off the rails, to mix my metaphors.

At least I'm a bit better about all this than I used to be.

Following Directions

I'm on a committee that takes the work of other folks, reworks and edits, votes, and then, when appropriate passes it on to higher powers. The higher powers have set a strict limit of 3-4 pages for each piece of work. Everyone who's doing the work is told every single year, and then reminded, that the work is strictly limited to 3-4 pages.

I know these folks can read and write and follow directions, because they all somehow got advanced degrees, but I'll be gosh darned if I'm not looking at three, count 'em three, pieces of work, each onto the sixth page.

I want to hand these back with a big fat "fail" on them, but alas, I don't always get that choice.

Here's some advice:
Combine similar points. You're making point X and point X1 and point X2, and they're all very similar. Try combining them in a paragraph that says something about the similarity, and then uses ONE example to make the point. Don't write a separate paragraph about each one.

Get off your hobby horse. Yes, we know you want Y, but since Y isn't the only possible way, and other folks might reasonably want Z or Q, don't harange on and on about Y. Your preference isn't the issue here.

Don't quote yourself extensively. Seriously, summarize and paraphrase. Yes, you love your words, but cut them down!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nightmare in the Hallway

My sleep pattern has been a little disrupted lately. I go to bed, but have insomnia (which is nothing new, but hasn't been a big problem for a long while), and then want to sleep when it's time to get up. In my humple opinion, there's little more luxuriuos than waking at the usual time (6:20 is when the alarm goes) and realizing I can sleep in. An extra half hour feels like a total luxury. (I think I haven't been exercising enough; digging out the driveway is work, but it's not the sort of exercise that my body seems to like.)

Anyway, this morning I didn't want to get up, but my body was starting the "it's almost time to get up, let's go pee before I burst" thing, but my poor befuddled brain was trying not to admit the time.

It's proofreading day in my writing class. The students will do a proofreading project and then turn in the final drafts of their first essay. On proofreading day, I take in my special plastic bag full of post-it notes (hu-sen in Japanese, in case you were interested), some paper clips (because you know some students won't staple).

In my dream, I left my office with my bag of post-it notes, went down the stairway, and got lost on the wrong floor. Now, my building can be slightly confusing because there's a classroom wing (3 stories) and an office wing (8 stories), and folks sometimes have a hard time realizing that you can't go to the fourth floor (or higher) from the classroom wing. There are other buildings on campus that join together in weird, mazelike ways; and I have a poor sense of direction--shamefully poor. Let's just say that if I'd been leading the Donner Party, they'd have ended up in New Orleans. And the food would have been way better.

So in my dream, I'm walking around, up and down stairs, trying to find my classroom and it's getting later and later. At first, there's five minutes (because I usually aim to leave my office five minutes before the hour, and it takes perhaps two minutes to get to the class), then it's a quarter after, and then it's a quarter to, and I'm still trying to find the room, but now even if I found it, the students would in all likelihood be long gone.

And then I woke up, and lo, it was 6:20, and the radio was on, and I hid my eyes and stayed in bed until 6:38! Slugabed!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Review Letter

It's time for the annual faculty review letter! But this time, we're in for a reversal. Yes, instead of my supervisor reviewing me, I'm going to review the university.

Dear University,

Once again, you've admitted a full class of first year students! Good job admissions folks.

And, somehow, against the odds, you've managed to retain a record percentage of students between the first and second year. Well done, people who've worked with first year students.

We remain an accredited institution of higher learning, though things were iffy for a bit there, related to, well, some iffy behavior in a specific area.

You've cut the employee pay raise promised six years ago, and in addition put everyone on a more than 3% furlough pay cut combo. You've also managed to cut funds for faculty/staff development, travel, etc. And you're continuing to up the ante for tenure and promotion in a mode of "continuous improvement."

And yet, our headmaster made a strong statement about loyalty by continuing the university's contribution to the specialized athletic area owned primarily by the city. Thank goodness the area serves the headmaster's favorite sport!

You've raised the numbers of students in classes by about 5% in my departement except for first year writing classes.

You put everyone in the university through a grueling one year evaluation and self-improvement process. The result for my department is that you think we should combine our linguistics and sci/tech writing majors. I hope the results for someone's area in the department was actually a little more useful.

You've cut tenure lines in most departments, and pulled searches even at the point of verbal commitment. You've hired more adjuncts than ever before, and given them less real job security.

But you've added a couple important administrative positions, including an alcohol awareness educator; this is especially important because our students aren't aware of alcohol, despite the fact that adults in our state have a higher rate of binge drinking than any other state. Go us.

We now serve coffee and have exercise machines in the library. We've cut almost all our journal subscriptions, haven't hired new librarians to fill empty positions, and are continuing efforts to clear our shelves of books so there will be more room for exercise machines. But you did recently decide to go back to buying reserved textbooks so that students who don't have the money to buy their own can read reserve books.

You've managed to hire men to interim serial positions despite their inexperience. For example, the headmaster's drinking buddy became assistant headmaster for a year, and is now filling another administrative position. It's supposed to be for two years, but seriously, who's counting when it's the headmaster's buddy, so you've dropped the "interim" from the title.

In summary, if you were a faculty member, you'd be on the brink of losing your job for incompetence. Thanks for playing.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Dances with Avatar

I finally saw Avatar this afternoon. I'm a couple months behind everyone else, but since I'm 400 years behind in my reading, I wouldn't worry about a couple months.

A couple things struck me. First, it felt like a movie that knew colonialist fantasy narratives are a problem, and yet it just has so much desire that it does colonialist fantasy anyway. It's like when you're hanging out with someone who doesn't want to be a sexist, and doesn't think of him/herself as a sexist, but just can't resist telling sexist jokes. And then s/he excuses the jokes, because they're just jokes, and so on.

The colonialist fantasy narrative is powerfully appealing to white folks, isn't it?*

(*And by "white" here, I mean dominant white Anglo-American culture, though there were some people of color represented within that dominant culture.)

So we get the white guy who goes native and becomes a better native than the natives, and so can save them, but look, there's a strong female native character who just happens to want to mate with the white guy who is now better at native stuff than the natives, but look, it's not all about high tech because she saves him at the end with a bow and arrow, just moments before she figures out to get his mask thing on just in time, but look, the spirituality stuff here is really real so he can get his fantasy body better than the old one, leadership of the group (since the old chief and next in line guy are dead), and the native woman.

The return of the repressed ghost of Rudyard Kipling.

The movie could have been a whole lot shorter, and a whole lot different if the helicopter pilot (imdb gives her character name as Trudy Chacon) had, at the moment of deciding she wouldn't participate in shooting up the hometree, also backed and raised up a tad and shot down the big helicopter ship and as many of the others as possible. She could have taken a lot down before they got turned around to fire back. Game over. Or if not over, seriously shortened. Take out the big gun helicopter things, and the indigenous folks could have taken out the rest in short order (because they'd have been convinced of the need, even with the big helicopter thingies down).

What would happen if a woman of color saved the day, and it wasn't the one the white hero is having sex with?

But then what would have happened to the white colonial fantasy? The white guy wouldn't have been needed to save the day by mastering the universe. And there wouldn't have been the need for the big fight at the end. And he wouldn't have gotten his temporarily-abled life with the indigenous folks back.

Speaking of the big fight, all I could think of, for both sides, was

Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.

Yes, someone had blundered, on both sides. You just knew there was massive death in the making, but unlike the disastrous Ewok battles in whichever Star Wars film, I felt enough identification with both the white folks and the indigenous folks to think about hell and the jaws of death. That's something I never felt about the Storm Troopers, so maybe that's a good point about this film?

I went to the film with a friend from the Indian sub-continent, whose experiences of the world are really different from mine. My reaction to the film was sort of as a Native American allegory; she read it more from a world colonialism point of view. So, at the end, when the colonists were being kicked off, my reaction was that no amount of kicking white's out would work for very long; there's no way that a bigger, badder white army isn't coming back. That's my reading through Native American history. But, from a world colonialism perspective, if WWII messes up the European powers enough, one can end colonialism (even if just to morph it into imperialism).

The naming was interesting. There are two names for the indigenous folks in the film, Na'Vi, which is what the whites use, and the other name they use for themselves, Omaticaya (I think; I found something on the web that looked right). Is Omaticaya the name for the beings, or a subgroup? I could only remember "Na'Vi" when the film finished.

It felt to me like the way some indigenous groups have an outsider's name that's in common use, and may or may not have anything to do with what people call themselves. For example, if you were studying anthropology in the 60s, you might have learned about the Jivaro. "Jivaro" is a Quechua word that means basically "barbarian" and not what the Shuar call themselves. But because westerners had contact with Quechua speakers, and through them with the Shuar, they used the Quechua name. (Most now use Shuar, I think.)

How come the dragon thingies can only have one rider, but apparently a rider can have multiple dragon thingies? Seriously, if the bond is all that, shouldn't the rider feel something about his/her dragon thingy? (Yes, I realize, we had to have the very special dragon thingy to demonstrate just how much better than almost all the natives the white man is at doing native stuffs.)

There were points where the mechanics of the movie jumped out at me as very mechanical. It's like reading Titus compared to Lear. With Titus you can see the strings being pulled; that makes it easy to teach, because if you can teach students to see how the strings work in Titus, then they'll get Lear in a deeper way.

We get to meet the dangerous hammer beasties, big black scary beastie, and wolf pack-ish beasties because we'll need them later. But then they never figure into anyone's wanderings around the forest. Seriously, if there were big scary beasties wandering around the woods where I snowshoe, I'd make sure to mention that to my friends when we went out, and we'd keep our eyes open and not rub our braids together in the woods. (So watch, suddenly a grizzly's going to show up in the woods near my house having decided to vacation instead of hibernating; black bears are around, but not during winter!) It's the same thing with the very special dragon thingy, which jumps in as a concern only so we'll get the story of the five super special dragon thingy riders, which will matter later, because it's oh so important that the white guy can ride the biggest, baddest dragon thingy. Then, all the rest of the riding, no one ever bothers to watch out for them.

Another thing about the big predators. Why is it in films with big scary predators that the predators are just about to catch the hero when they get stuck in a tree because they're apparently too lousy at being predators to realize that trees have branches? (I'm looking at you, Jurassic Park.) Have the people who write these films never seen a dog go through the woods? And dogs, dogs are lousy predators compared to predators that actually have to kill to get a meal every single time. I bet no leopard ever has been slowed for a moment by a fork in a tree, certainly not when pursuing a slow humanoid.

I did enjoy Sigourney Weaver playing the role she did. I also thought she had one of the best lines about not playing with his braid or he'd go blind. Which made me wonder, shouldn't there be a whole braid thing instead of humanish kissing? Wouldn't you think these folks would rub braids or link up or something, instead of kissing and getting in a sort of hetero-human sexual position?

As long as I'm going scientific on you for a moment, did you see how the creatures tended to have two sets of front limbs, but the indigenous folks only had one set? Humans and others in our evolutionary line (say, vertebrates) tend to have a one limb set up front, one limb set in back, with a general tendency to one, two, many bones as you look at the limbs away from the main body. So, take our arms, one big bone at the top, two biggish bones at the next area, then a whole bunch of bones. That's the general form vertebrates have on earth. Now there's no reason to think that another planet might not evolve along a different model, but would two very different models happen to animals that are similar enough to do the link up thing? It's like if we were to be linking up with molluscs or something with a radial organization, or maybe insects with a bilateral organization, but really different segmentation evolution.

So, anyway, like everyone else, I thought the visual was pretty amazing (though the three D thing gave me a bad headache) and the narrative clunky with some serious colonialist narrative fantasy problems.

One Step Closer or Further Away

The powers that be in the Great State of the Northwoods gave NWU permission to raise our tuition/fees. The funding the state provides to our state system and our campus in particular has been dropping for a good long time. As far as I know, most state university systems have experienced the same sort of drop in funding.

In the late 70s, state funding paid for about 75% of a given student's eduction. Now, state funding pays for something like 22% of a given student's education. (Your state, system, or campus will probably be different, but it's likely to have experienced a massive drop in state funding for colleges and universities.)

Our plan is to raise tuition an additional chunk (over $1000, but under $1500) for each student; a fair portion of the additional funds will go to aid people with economic need. We'll move from being pretty much the cheapest four year school in the region to nearer the middle of the public pack at about $8000/year for undergrad tuition. If our students were already paying $30,000/year (as they do at Marquette), the additional money wouldn't seem like so much, but it's a huge jump for our students.

Basically, we're recognizing, accepting, and reacting to the long process of reduced state funding by asking students to pay more.

Some public universities have moved towards being private universities in all but name, I'm told. We're not there yet, but it seems like the pendulum is swinging pretty far that way.

For a while, the pendulum was more towards public funding. Programs like the GI bill (which helped pay for my father's education, along with my Mom working), grants, and so forth recognized that education is a public good, that having an educated citizenry helps us in all sorts of ways. You can be totally pragmatic and say that an educated citizenry is more economically productive, or you can be more holistic and say that an educated citizenry is more democratic.

But the pendulum's been swinging the other way for a while now, and the public believes that education is only a private good; we (the public) vote for people who promise to limit funding for the "undeserving," creating welfare queen nightmares, when in truth, the funding limits are for everyone who can't afford better, and to be honest, that's most of us.

To paint it with a broad stroke, I think private education is unethical. I know a lot of people go to private schools at some point, but I think (broadly speaking) if wealthier folks sent their kids to public schools, public schools would be better funded, because those wealthier folks would be willing to pay taxes to give their kids those opportunities. And they'd be arguing publicly for better school funding. And their arguments get heard.

Now my own NWU is taking a step closer to being private. Yeah, we've got a long ways to go, but there's another school down the road that's doing very well stepping ahead of us there, and our administration looks longlingly at them.

To be totally self-centered about this, the additional money should be good for me. There's talk of reducing comp class sizes from a standard 28 to 20, for example. That would reduce my grading load by a nice chunk. I still won't get the 3%+ "furlough" paycut back, nor will I get the 2% raise I was promised six years ago, that kept getting put off.

Unfortunately, I don't see how we can afford to do that without hiring ever more adjuncts. We treat our adjuncts with minimal decency; there's health insurance most semesters, because we try to put together full loads. But the pay's worse than it should be (as it is for we humanities folks here), and there's not even minimal job security, except that we keep hiring the same people. So maybe there's about the same job security as anywhere: we need warm bodies, and if you're moderately competent, you'll get rehired.

My department is already more than 50% adjuncts. So maybe the funding will help us hire some tt folks for lines we've lost in the past several years?

***Edited to add***

I should probably acknowledge that I taught at a private SLAC for three years. There were good folks there, faculty, staff and students. And there were some folks I don't miss at all, pretty much as anywhere. So, there's a level of hypocrisy, perhaps, in my saying I think private education is unethical. I'm not the first person to "sell out" because I needed a job.

I certainly don't think we're getting rid of private education, just the opposite. But I think we'd be a whole lot better off without it.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Relief and Generosity

I just finished facilitating that meeting. I guess I was really nervous about it, because I'm wiped now.

Sometimes, I really love my colleagues. Even the most cantankerous were thoughtful and generous. People listened to each other and responded with further thoughts. I looked around at the end (and we ended exactly on time) and everyone looked tired, but I sure learned a lot.

And I have hope for our future in a way I haven't much lately, hope that I'm really not the last generation of folks in English studies, hope that English studies will morph in ways I'll be proud and happy to be part of, even though I'm one of the most cantankerous.

Several people have stopped me in the hall or dropped by my office to say they thought the meeting was really good and even to say that I did a good job.

I have almost NO grading this weekend, but I am expecting the neighbor's pup to spend the day on Saturday, which should give me a reason to go try out the new snowshoes. I have things to read and a paper to work on, but it's so nice not to be staring at a stack of papers. (I have a partial stack of short paragraph assignments, but even that is partial.)

Now I'm going to go home. Maybe I'll take a shot at making fudge again!

Special Snowflakes: Senior Edition

I'm supposed to facilitate a meeting today in the department; it's a fairly important meeting, and comes right after our regularly scheduled department meeting. And since we're all supposed to attend department meetings unless there's some really important reason not to, it shouldn't be a difficult issue for folks to attend. They also had notice of the meeting a fair time ago.

That is, it's sort of like classes for students; you know when they are, and you attend unless something important comes up.

Why is it, then, that several colleagues have stopped me in the hall to let me know they couldn't attend because something important came up: a birthday party, an arts festival in the another town, etc.

One, I'm not taking roll and I'm not your mommy. Two, I know at least one of these people is going to want a "full report" about what happened, and you know what, I just may have something more important to do than take the time to give them that report.

It's not that I think choosing not to attend is a problem, but they really do sound a lot like the very special snowflakes who think I should make accomodations for their choices.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


I came home to a warm house this evening. It was totally wonderful to walk into the house and know immediately that the heat was working.

The furnace blower was out, and it seems like that's a sort of expensive part. At least I hope that's a more expensive part, because I don't want to see when a more expensive piece goes out.

And so, I'm grateful that the furnace company was able to send someone today, and that the furnace repairperson was able to figure out the problem, get the part, and repair things. And I'm especially grateful to have rejoined the middle class some years past, so that I can afford to pay for the repair without struggling.

I'm grateful that there's a minimal bump on my head, unworthy of all the whining I want to do about the door falling on me. As much as having the door fall on me hurt, I should have a bump the size of a melon to be convincing.

Amusingly, one of our office staffers ordered a new color paper; it's violet, and pretty much everyone is having all our copies made on violet right now, and there is much oohing and aahing about the lovely violet copies. We are all way too excited about this new-to-our-office paper color.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Yesterday, I clicked and sent some money to the folks at the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota because they've had ice storms and lost water and electric systems pretty much. I've lived without potable water and without electricity for short times, and it's not great, but I was living in a warm, rainy area where I could boil my water and get some from the town water truck if the water system wasn't working. In South Dakota, in the middle of winter, though, that's a whole 'nother story. That's dangerous. So I clicked.

This afternoon, I got home around 5:30, ate, took a picture of my new snow shoes and got all excited about the prospect of going snow shoing maybe tomorrow afternoon, if I get home before dark.

Then I went and did the third of my four Chaucer discussion sessions at the library, and it was lovely. The folks there were great, the discussion fun. And a few stayed after to ask me if I would be doing more, because they were enjoying this, so we talked about some possibilities. It's very nice to feel appreciated.

Then I got home, sat down for a sec to check facebook and put a picture of my snowshoes up (because that's the sort of exciting update my friends get). And dang, it's cold. But unless I'm actively running around or teaching, I'm pretty much always cold in winter. My hands get cold typing, even. But boy, it really felt cold, so I thought, hey, I'll go to bed early and get warm!

And for a change, as I passed the thermostat in the hall, I bothered to turn on the light to look and make sure I hadn't screwed up the temperature, and it showed 56F. Now usually I set it to 67F, so it's not like I'm living in a sauna, but 56F is cold for inside my house! COLD!

I went down to look at the furnace, which is sort of futile, because I don't think Shakespeare ever wrote about furnace maintenance. There, on the furnace, is the instruction book that goes with it. At least that's something. So I try to figure out and remember where the pilot is supposed to be, and I think I found it, something that said "pilot viewing window" at least, and I didn't see a little person in a plane, so I think that was it. But there wasn't any light there.

I looked at the furnace "if this isn't working" instructions. Check the breaker switch or fuse is the first thing. The circuit breaker box is in the back bottom bedroom, in a corner of the closet behind a plastic organizer, so it's nigh unto difficult to see at best. I opened the closet, looked in, and the heavy oak folding closet door fell, hitting my head. That made me extra cheerful about the stupid builders of my house. (It was a folding door that hung from the frame on a sliding thing. Now it's a folding door that's sitting on the floor where it can't hurt anyone for the time being.)

But I didn't fall or lose consciousness, and there's not a spongy spot where it hit on the skull, nor do I even have a headache, so I don't think it's too bad. But if it were, I wouldn't be found for months, you know.

Have I mentioned that I had a detached retina once, possibly from a fall with a load of books while I was helping a friend move after her apartment tilted badly in an earthquake? I don't know for sure that's when it happened, but that seemed the most likely thing. Anyway, when I had the silicon "rubber" band put in (lots of fun that was, only NOT), the doctors put a lot of emphasis on my need to not take up boxing and not get hit by my boyfriend. (That seemed to be their theory of how I'd done it, although I told them it wasn't. They kept asking, though, because really, I guess they couldn't imagine a woman not being attached to a man who could beat her.) I mention this because I'm sort of paranoid about whacking my head, getting punched, or falling really hard. (Yes, I know the paranoia there isn't strong enough to keep me from jumping out of an airplane on purpose, riding my bike around, or trying to learn to ski. It's not logical. But I've been very careful not to pursue a boxing career.)

I found what turned out to be my retina detachment by realizing that I had a blind spot in my eye at the upper inside corner, which I figured out because I'd learned about the Hinman Collator, and how differences between what the two eyes saw would flicker. And then I was able to check by waving a finger up where the blind spot was, and seeing it disappear. (This wasn't the normal blind spot we have in each eye.) So you have to understand that I've been waving my fingers around the edges of my eye to see if I've suddenly developed a new blind spot. See, early modern text studies arcana has a purpose!

I pushed the door aside, negotiated myself around to try to see the breaker box door to find out which circuit breaker to turn off and on again for the furnace. It's #26, in case you were wondering, four up from the bottom of the unnumbered switches on the right. At least I hope so.

I went back to the furnace, and it made a little sound and then stopped.

Next on the list is to check the filter. I changed the filter in September, but I checked it, and it's dirty grey, and I had an extra, so I changed it again. Nothing.

There's a switch on the side, that looks like a light switch, so I tried flicking that on and off, and it did the same make a sound thing and then go off.

I called the emergency number of the furnace installers from when the house was new in 2000, and decided that 56F was not actually an emergency worthy of getting someone out of bed for, with the help of the answering service woman, who was kind and helpful. $200 minimum charge might have played into that decision. But also, 56F isn't likely to kill me when I have blankets and stuff.

It was cold when I got up this morning, and maybe the morning before, but I haven't been really at home enough to think about being cold since Sunday, so the furnace could have gone out whenever, and I might not have noticed for a day or two. Which is to say, it seems unlikely that a house would drop another 15F to something really unbearable in 8 hours, right? (Please tell me that's right!)

Have you ever noticed how all sorts of services assume there's an adult either home or who can easily come home whenever to take care of furnace stuff? It's a pain a lot of times for me as a single person, but at least I don't have the added responsibility of a little kid. I don't know how single parents manage. But I know a lot who do.

Tomorrow, I'll call my neighbor and see if she's going to be home, or have a friend who's either retired or likely to be free, to see if s/he can let in the furnace service folks if I can get an appointment tomorrow or Friday. If I can't get something tomorrow, and it's getting colder, I may stay with a friend for the night or get a hotel room. Brrrr!

I still haven't lost consciousness or gotten a headache, so I think I'll go try to get warm in bed and figure it's likely I won't die of a bad brain injury in my sleep. Nor do I seem to have a new blind spot.

So, is it ironic, or just pathetically stupid?

By the by: Here's the official website of this Lakota Nation, and the Disaster Relief information page they've set up. There's a donation link at the bottom of that page should you have resources to share. They sent me a nice email for my tax returns next year.


Addendum: When I checked this morning, the thermostat said it was 60 in the house. But there's still no pilot light or anything.

And my neighbor isn't home, and it's too early to call another person I know who could go.

AND, I read over the website of the local heating company that I would call, adn they have a trouble shooting thing that says if you have a self-igniting furnace you should turn the thermostat off for five minutes, then turn it on again and it should reignite.

Yay, my neighbor just called back and she's going to do that test, so maybe we can solve it!

In a final bit of news, I survived the night without further evidence of head injury, so I think that's okay.

It's Only Wednesday

It's been a sort of frustrating day. Some of that's my fault, some not.

I have a junior level class, and they had an assignment today. About a third of the people said they didn't know about the assignment because I hadn't mentioned it the class session before. It was on the syllabus and we had discussed it on the first day of class, just over a week ago. But I hadn't reminded them.

Other people had lineation problems. I should have foreseen that, because I know different people are using different editions (from the library to save money and such), but I didn't.

Then there's the line of people after each class who need to tell me about their special individual problem that prevented this or will prevent that and they didn't do the assignment due today, but can they make up the quiz if there's one tomorrow even though it says on the syllabus that they can't make up quizzes except in exceptional circumstances but they have a job interview and it's important and they didn't check their class schedule when they scheduled the job interview on Monday and doesn't that count as exceptional even though they didn't do the assignment for today?

Mostly they're patient and explain the issue, and not at all unreasonable, but at least a quarter of each class seems to have basic issues with something and needs special consideration, which means some 20 people a day want me to remember their special circumstances, which they've told me as I'm erasing a board and trying to get to my next class.

But there's inevitably one student who just barges into another student's explanation because he's so important that he just can't wait. (So far today, those have all been men.)

Students are sick, too. One is supposed to be out for two weeks, and wants to know what he should do to keep up. That's ten hours of class missed. I don't know if he's too ill to work on class stuff now or not. (Is this two weeks of keeping an injured limb still but okay to write, or two weeks of throwing up and sleeping a lot?) I suggested if not getting notes from classmates and then going over what we'd done, and contacting me with questions, but I sure don't want to have to reteach ten hours of class. Nor do I blame the student for getting sick. But I also know that student notes might not be sufficient to help a sick student keep up. (It's a writing class; how many students take notes about the freewriting and other stuff or would remember what they did freewriting about? How do you reproduce group work?)

We had the third quiz in my comp class today. The quizzes are open notes, closed book. It says so in the syllabus. When I gave the first quiz, I told them that, then didn't collect the quiz, handed out a copy of my reading notes and talked about notetaking. The second quiz went fine. But today, a student complained that he'd taken notes in his text and JUST NOW realized he couldn't use his text and could I just tell him this one thing from the quiz?

We're halfway through the second week of the semester. Are other folks having a crazy time still/already?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Trouble Closer to Home

I haven't heard about it in the news, but the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe members living on the Cheyenne River Reservation are facing a state of emergency due to ice storms that hit recently and previously this winter. Water and power have been systems are mostly down, and people are at risk. It's worth remembering that Native American communities are among the poorest in the US, and those of us whose lives are more advantaged should reach out a hand to help.

Here's the official website of this Lakota Nation, and here's the Disaster Relief information page they've set up. There's a donation link at the bottom of that page should you have resources to share.

Here's the Huffington Post article on the disaster.

And here's an article from KTVU in Oakland, CA.

Why aren't the mainstream media folks at least mentioning this? It doesn't affect as many people as the disaster in Haiti, but the people it affects are in trouble, too.

Advising Arcana

A few extra folks in my department have been "asked" to advise English ed students. Today we had a meeting to teach us the basics. I took a page and a half of notes, as well as writing extensively on teh 8 pages of handouts.

There are a lot of special rules, all of which make sense to someone and a few of which make sense even to me. But dang, there are a lot of rules. I live in a letters and sciences sort of world, but the ed students live in an education world, and the rules are different at that level, so it's not just learning a different major or emphasis, but learning different general education type requirements, too.

The powers that be have assigned me four ed majors. It seems like a lot of work for four students, doesn't it? I mean, why don't they take one or two of us and have that one person (or two people) learn and advise all the extra ed students?

Because of the structure of the university and department, and since we all teach composition and the lit folks teach a lot of GE, we have a substantial number of lit faculty for the number of lit emphasis English majors, so my advising load isn't huge. (Compare that with, say, business, which serves minimal GE or university-wide requirements, and has a lot more majors per faculty member; they have more advisees per person.)

I hope I don't mess up someone's life with bad advising!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Beginning of the Semester Blues

I'm grading some basic assignments before classes this morning. I'm frustrated.

I used the word assignment Sisyphus shared a while back; in the instructions, I specifically said to cite the text they're using. Almost no one did. I'm guessing they'd blame this on their other instructors and claim that no one ever told them to cite their texts before, except someone who's taken two classes with me before, and who's certainly heard me rant about citing also didn't cite. It's frustrating when someone who's an attentive student doesn't retain that much between classes.

Please dog, if a student is going to do internet "research" to find out what a sonnet means, make him/her actually cite the source rather than just claiming to have done extensive "research."

I got some emails about assignments, usually about something like whether an assignment should be double-spaced. Yes, it's good to double-space. And usually the student who sends these emails is at least doing the assignment more than 10 minutes before class. It's the students who don't actually respond to the assignment that get to me. I don't care how brilliant your analysis of the whole of Shakespeare's sonnets is, the assignment asks you to choose one word from one sonnet and write about that. (And that analysis, not really brilliant. And certainly not original.)

And finally, the most important issue of all. Who is stupid enough to give herself grading during the first week of classes?

On the other hand, we're doing this sonnet today!