Friday, April 30, 2010

Mumblings about Maternity and Power

I've enjoyed a lucky confluence in my reading and some conversations lately, and I think it's helped me gain a tiny bit of new insight.

Last night, I went to a talk of a writer who writes about mother-daughter relationships extensively. (I know, I should have warned you about the potential shock of me having any knowledge of a living writer!) I've read some of this author's works, but last night's presentation really brought home to me that focus.

At a talk earlier in the day, I'd heard someone talk about how the Harry Potter series had originally been about a girl growing up, but that at some point, Rowling had changed it. (I don't have external evidence of this, so don't quote me as your expert.) And I thought about how little girls are taught to read stories about boys, because little girls are expected to recognize that boys' stories are important. But little boys aren't generally taught to read girls' stories nor to consider them important.

And there was a blog post I read recently by a mother considering whether she could have friends who didn't value her children highly; much of the discussion centered on whether one could claim not to like children without being a bigot.

In both the blog post and the author's discussion, there's an undercurrent that one who isn't a mother can't understand how visceral and strong the mother-child relationship is, or in the case of the author, how visceral and strong the mother-daughter relationship is.

I'm sure if you're reading this blog, you've read or heard someone say that the mother-child relationship is unique and special and people who are sans child just can't understand. Taken to its extreme, which it often is in the general culture, women who are sans child are less (less in whatever sense) than those who have a child. (And I'm using "sans child" here because being French, even though it means "without child" it seems less loaded than "childless" or "childfree," the one term which seems to imply a negative in one way, while the other implies a negative the other way.)

In our general culture, we tend to romanticize the relationship between mother and child. People such as myself, I'm told, just don't understand the wonderful bond between a mother and child.

But if there's a unique and wonderful relationship, then both parties to the relationship should be involved, should experience the relationship as something wonderful and positive. And I am a child. Surely, I've got some experience of a mother-child relationship? And I'm a female child. Surely, I've got some experience of a mother-daughter relationship?

What does it mean that culturally, we tend to talk about that relationship in a totally one-sided way? What does it mean that we don't acknowledge the child in that relationship as having an experience of the relationship?

I'm not sure. But one thing that asking those questions makes me realize is that the one-sided approach signifies a power relationship. Mothers have extraordinary power over their children, and we should explore what that power means and how legitimate it is.

Listening to the author speak, I heard a hint of critique from the daughter's side, but mostly there was a romantic sense that of course the mother knew best and should tell the daughter what is what. And suddenly, that sounded lined up with patriarchy in strong ways: women's limited authority comes in having power over children, and lasting power over daughters, and so the patriarchy will support their exercise of that limited authority. And if we romanticize that power relationship, then it can be enjoyed, at least by one, and the other voice can be silenced. And it can't easily be questioned or critiqued.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


My writing students are starting a retroflective paper about their learning this semester and this year, so today we did some brainstorming about their learning.

I asked them to make a list of the important things they've learned this year, and, as you'd expect, time management and related skills were very high on the list. (They do their own list; then we discuss the lists together.)

So then I asked them to think about how they learned what they'd learned, and then we discussed the how part. Then I asked them, what could we at the university do to help students learn these skills more easily.

And they pretty much came to the conclusion that they couldn't have learned the skills without failing, and not only failing, but failing miserably. Most of them said, yes, people had talked to them for years about time management, but until they failed miserably in some way, they hadn't really worked things out or learned whatever it was. Some of them turned from their failures to strategies that someone had taught them before, and were able to use those strategies then, but only after they'd experienced enough failure to choose to use them.

It's interesting, seeing them think about the value of failing, and having not been "allowed to fail" through K-12 stuff mostly.

And then, of course, after class, a student wanted a chance to revise a revision again because s/he hadn't followed directions the first two times. Failure is always better when it's in the past tense, I guess.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Difficult Task

So, there's a celebration about poetry and stuff. And one of my friends and colleagues is looking for readers. And I, apparently, am invited. The thing is, there's someone who is quite ill there as the guest of honor (and rightly so honored), so the organizers are looking for poetry that's about either spring or writing poetry. And not about death and such. Short is also good.

I'm thinking: Astrophel and Stella, #1. Herrick's "Upon his Verses." And "The Cuckoo Song."

Most of the poems I most love about spring or writing poetry are either, hey, it's spring and we should enjoy it because we're all going to die sooner rather than later, and by the way, we should have sex NOW, or the whole Shakespearean I'm a great writer and you're going to die and be remembered only in my poems thing.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ten Things

Stupid CNN has an article about "10 Key Pieces Every Woman Should Own." (I'm not going to link, because if you really want to, you can find it easily. But why would you want to.) The article suggests clothing stuffs.

So here, for your benefit, is Bardiac's Ten Things Every Woman Should Own:

1. A bank account. In your own name, even if you're married.

2. A Towel and a toothbrush. Just in case you decide to travel.

3. Good Walking shoes. You know, shoes you can put on and just go. In some places, sandals may be a better choice. I trust you to decide for yourself. (And if walking's a problem, then whatever works best for you to get yourself around as comfortably as possible.)

4. A library card. That is, if you're lucky enough to live in a place with a public library. Library cards are wonderful things and can give you access to lots of information. Hopefully, you'll have access to all sorts of information that you might find useful without anyone censoring it.

Okay, so it's not really ten things. It's four things. Five if you count the towel and toothbrush separately. Six if you also count each shoe or sandal separately.

It might be good to own more, but maybe not. I mean, I teethed on car keys and I have a deep and abiding love for cars, but I could easily imagine not wanting one if I were to live in a city with great public transportation.

And I feel that having a credit card gives me a sense of freedom, but it's not like credit cards are really useful everywhere, and some people are better off without.

But I own only one of the things in the CNN list (a blazer, though mine is grey not black). Clearly I'm totally inadequate as a CNN woman. I'm going to go home and drown my sorrows in lemonade or something while I sit on my deck and listen to a book on tape I borrowed from the library.

I Hate Patriarchy, Junior Edition

I got a call yesterday from a girl I know. I'm apparently the radical feminist go-to for moms. The girl was upset because something happened at school and she wished she'd known what to say, and so her mom suggested she call me.

A little boy had evidently informed her that she wasn't gender-norming appropriately. Of course, he didn't say that; he made some slur about how she wasn't acting like a girl or something.

I didn't know what to say. What do you say?

I said that some people really like to impose rules, but that a lot of the time the rules are stupid, and the people are just imposing them without good reason. And I said the two rules I think are really important are important for girls and boys. The first rule is that we treat people with respect. Girls need to treat people with respect, and so do boys. And the second rule is that we take care of ourselves. And boys need to do that, and so do girls.

And, I said, I wish I knew a witty comeback, but I wasn't good at that. And while it would be nice to call him a slug or something, that wouldn't be respectful to slugs out there who aren't jerks.

And I blathered on a bit, and I think I helped her see that she was fine and that stupid gender roles are stupid more than anything.

I hate that girls need to learn how to deal with the patriarchy, and that they're subject to patriarchal oppression.

How do you start a 12 year old on Feminism 101?

Monday, April 26, 2010


I'm at that point in the semester when my patience is wearing a bit. And students are at that point in the semester when they forget basics, things like turning in homework, bringing drafts to peer review sessions.

It's not a good combination.

One of my students complained about his peer revision grade. (I require my first year students to write up a peer revision response and bring two copies to class. I get one copy to grade, while the peer gets the other to use in revision.) He'd written a couple sentences, along the sort of line, "This is a good paper, but I saw a spelling mistake in the third sentence and you need a comma in the fifth sentence." (Peer revision isn't for proofreading.)

I explained to him that to get full credit, his peer revisions need to focus on helping the writer as fully as possible and to treat his peers' work with respect. He complained that he shouldn't even have to do peer revision because he shouldn't have to help anyone else with their work.

Here's the thing. I tell my students up front in the syllabus about this requirement. A student who doesn't want to take peer revision seriously can drop and try to find a class that doesn't do peer revision, can go along and try to do a good job (and maybe even learn something), or can blow it off and accept the lousy grade. But you can't blow it off and tell me it's not important and expect a great grade.

I have to say, have you ever noticed that there are like 3/20 people in any class that will require extra attention, not because they're academically unprepared or linguistically challenged, but because they're just so effing special that they need their hand held. I'm willing to hold hands to a certain extent, so long as the student is also doing his/her part and making an effort. But my hands are tired of students who seem to think the world revolves around them.

Because, really, it totally revolves around me. (/sigh)

Friday, April 23, 2010

With a Nod to The Drifters

Get Out of Town

Three students, imagine. Two are nearing graduation.

One was thinking of leaving the area, and with good reason. Student A doesn't fit and isn't happy in the conservative midwest. But Student A is taking a class from the grad director, and she happily announced in a meeting recently that he'll be enrolling in our MA program.

One has applied to several grad programs, and was thrilled to get into the school geographically closest to us; we're not quite in the back yard, but it would be a reasonable commute where I'm from. Student B is thrilled because s/he doesn't want to be far from home, and besides, the school closest to home must have the best program.

One wants to work in theater (or a similar field that also requires numbers of people to make an economic go), but resists my encouragement to apply for internships in one of the nearish cities with great theater traditions. Student C can't imagine moving to a bigger community; it's just too scary. Student C also insists that community theater in the small communities around here is just like professional theater. (See Terminal Degree's recent post about the big fish in the small pond.)

Each of these students should go away, at least for a couple years (or a summer internship) to get challenged. But somehow, they aren't reaching out for the challenge.

I know the grad director is an ethical person, deeply committed to our grad program, and convinced we do a really good job for our grad students. I'm not at all convinced. If you were to read the grad director's blog, you'd get a different point of view, and maybe be convinced. But I wonder why Student A isn't getting out. Student A hasn't consulted with me about things, so I don't really feel it's my place to step in and step on the grad director's toes.

Student B really needs to challenge him/herself, really needs to see that there's a big world out there. Some of our students do challenge themselves, and even if they go to regional grad schools, I don't worry at all because they've reached out all along. But Student B hasn't (though Student B is a fine student). When Student B first talked about going to grad school, I gave my usual statistic-laden talk. But Student A made it clear that things would be different for him/her, and that I should back off, so I did.

But I really, really don't want Student A to write a blog in five years talking about what a piss-poor job I did, and how I wasn't honest enough or something. I don't seem to do a good job balancing honesty (the job market sucks, and you're enthusiastic and capable, but you're in a very tiny pond here) and encouragement (you're enthusiastic and capable, yay!).

Student C just worries me. It's not the small town thing. I had a friend in the Peace Corps who'd grown up in a town of about 300 in the middle of a big squared off state, and who begged to be reassigned to a new site when she learned she'd been stationed in the capital. The thing is, my Peace Corps friend, even though she wanted to be in a small town, was doing that in a foreign country, working in a foreign language. My friend has since gone to a top notch graduate program and found her way back to a very small town where she does good work. Small towns aren't the problem here.

It's the bi-annual "let's talk to English majors about grad school" meeting today. I have class, and so won't attend. I know the person arranging the program is fairly realistic about grad school in talking to the students, but I also know that Student B is going to be there, and enthuse about grad school and such. And the grad director will be there and enthuse about our grad program. And students are going to think that grad school's a great idea, and that staying close to home where things aren't very challenging is a great idea. And for most of them, it's just not.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I had an advisee come to my office today; she's fallen behind, had problems, etc. It's very serious.

We talked about what she'd done so far to get things back on track.

Well, she said, she talked to Professor X over in that hard mathy class, and he was wonderful and understanding and gave her this and that help.

And she talked to Professor Y over in warm and mushy field class, and he was warm and kind and gave her help and encouragement.

And she talked to Professor Z over in scary sciency class, and she was helpful and so forth.

This is often how I learn about my colleagues in far flung departments, from students who are having trouble. And perhaps surprisingly, most of the reports tell me that my colleagues really are understanding and helpful.

Yeah, I'm sure they're not perfect, but I hear enough of these reports that I give them credence, especially when they come from students who've been ill or had other troubles.

I'm happy right now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Local News

The local part of the Local TV News this evening opened with the aftermath (no deaths, but a fine) of a joyride in a dumptruck and a new initiative to help pedestrians cross a local street safely (because someone was injured there once). We're just that exciting.

The View from Grading Jail

I really need to get these papers done, but they're irritating me. I think I'm going to put this assignment on hold for a couple years and use a different one; it's that sort of thing.

Do you know what was the most important event of 1980?

Several of my students have assured me that a given event was it, and even though I was 20 in 1980, I have no memory of the event at all.

1980 started for me with a wonderful "end of the decade" costume party. One of my friends went as Indira Gandhi. Another went as the missing Idi Amin. I went as Diane Feinstein. One of my friends was going to go as Karen Ann Quinlan and have a really good time for the first half of the party, and then just sit there the rest of the time. Instead, she went as Kermit. We also had someone come as Rising Inflation (the most creative approach) and a random terrorist or two. And someone came as Cutter John. (Remember that?)

Oscar Romero (Archibishop of San Salvador) was murdered. I remember long discussions trying to understand the problems in El Salvador.

The US army had a terrible accident killing US soldiers in a messed up attempt to rescue the hostages held at the US Embassy in Iran.

Mt. St. Helens erupted.

I went to see The Empire Strikes Back when it opened in my college town with my friends.

I sat with my friend as he filled out his draft registration, covering it with "conscientious objector."

The Solidarity movement in Poland was all over the papers. (Remember those, papers?)

Voyager! (I was the only person who didn't get the whole "V-ger" thing in the Star Trek movie until the end. I suck.)

I went to a local memorial for John Lennon. We all stood outside and held little candle things, sang, and some of us cried.

These things I remember, but the big event my students name, not a bit of it.

Have you guessed it?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Meet my Neighbors

I had to go out this afternoon, and as I drove up, here's what I saw in the undeveloped area about two houses down. (Also where I went snowshoeing this winter).

I also saw a pheasant today, a White-Throated Sparrow, and a Chipping Sparrow (near each other, which really helped me get a sense of the size difference between the two).

Review: The Warcraft Civilization

I just finished William Sims Bainbridge's sociological study of World of Warcraft, The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual World (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2010).

I picked it up because I think MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing games) form potentially interesting social groups. I've played World of Warcraft (WoW) a little (I got a char up to level 20, so not a huge amount), and Everquest (EQ) a lot (though not for a number of years, now). (My advice to grad students and new faculty: do not play either unless you have a lot more self-control than I do.)

For those who haven't played one of these games, imagine Tolkien's world, with all the back history and lore. Now imagine you can start a nobody avatar or character in that world, and adventure around, killing dangerous enemies or nasty beasties, and learning in the process. Many computer games are built on the idea of levels or experience. In MMORPGs, geography often works in a similar way. Players start their avatar (or player character) in a relatively safe "home area" where they kill rats or bugs or local nasties. The avatar can get killed by these nasties, but generally there's a mechanism to make dying not too much of a penalty for the player (but enough of a penalty in time or whatever to make dying unappealing). As the avatar gains levels, s/he moves from the home zone into increasingly more difficult encounters; often death becomes a greater penalty.

Like many computer games, these games quantify learning into experience points and levels, which seem to me sort of like grade levels or scouting ranks if they actually mean something and were highly individualized.

Now add a lot of other people, all contributing in varying ways.

In a way, it's sort of like a Renaissance fair. You have a big "backstory" of history and lore and practice, some of which is more fanciful than not, and lots of people participate with varying degrees of engagement or buy-in. Some people visit in street clothes and watch the entertainment, enjoy some food, buy some handcrafts. Some people visit in costume, but do basically the same things. Some people know other people in the community, and become more involved, creating character identities, organizing, and so forth. And some people make crafts, pay rent, make sure the modern toilets work. Most people don't "believe" the lore, but enjoy participating.

Back to Bainbridge's text. It's very readable, and does a good job of explaining some of the basic terms gamers use (at least, it seems so; I recognized some of the terms and the explanations seemed good). But I think it falls short in some interesting ways, at least for me as a reader. I'm not sure other readers would find the same problems.

One of my friends likes to say that we English scholars steal from pretty much any field we can. Another likes to add that we steal badly from many of those fields. Nonetheless, lots of English scholars have read enough Durkheim to be dangerous, as it were, and that includes me. So I found some of Bainbridge's book most interesting in helping me get a better sociological understanding of some of the theoretical folks I've glanced at. There's a level of recognition for me that helps me add a bit of knowledge and pleasure at the same time.

I see MMORPGs as being complex texts (the backstory, game mechanics including non-player characters, aka NPCs) in which regular people interact through avatars. To some extent, the regular people interact with the backstory, but most interact far more with the game mechanics and with other people.

So it seems to me that if you're really interested in the backstory stuff, you approach that through textual analysis, as you would Tolkien's works, or Beowulf.

And if you're interested in player interactions--with the backstory (through role-playing, for example), with the mechanics, or with other players/player characters, then you take a socological approach or an economics or a game theory approach.

A Short Discourse on Reading Games as Texts

The designers of MMORPGs are incredibly creative in terms of graphic design, backstory, and game play. Players tend to learn the backstories by interacting with NPCs or other in-game experiences, or by reading outside the game, including materials created by the game company and materials created outside the game company. I think this is fascinating, because it reminds me a lot of fan fiction, where people will write stories about Star Trek characters and such. In a way, these are a lot like reading Shakespeare's histories; for some people, Richard II is how they understand late 14th century English politics. But Shakespeare took information from a variety of sources and made drama. Yes, something happened way back, but we only have information about the events from texts. And Shakespeare's play has become one more text, though historians will tell you that it doesn't accord well with more authoritative texts. That's important, because we care a lot about which texts have more authority and why in the real world.

Let me give you an example from Everquest. When I started playing, the game came with a booklet that had basic maps for the starting cities. But the game didn't provide maps for other areas (called zones). But there was an EQ map site that had basic maps for different zones; I could print them out and find my way to different spots (and even note grid locations from within the game) in a new zone. In a way, it was antithetical to the spirit of exploration to some extent, but as I got more into the game, it also helped me use my time more efficiently and have more fun. Similarly, there were non-company sites explaining quests, game mechanics, etc. (Eventually the makers of EQ realized that people were using maps and computer add ons to have in game maps, and added them to the game interface.)

I want to get at two points with this example. The first is that non-game text may be accurate and useful, though not condoned by the game company. In this way, these texts are like fan fiction that's disavowed by the author who created a given text-world and characters (think Harry Potter slash fic, for example). The second is that games are dynamic in terms of mechanics and backstory; companies add and change things all the time in response to players. (There are things that changed in the Harry Potter world as Rowling received critiques on the earlier books; think about the representations of race and race relations, for example.)

All this means that it could be fascinating to read these games as texts, including considering the in-game textuality, extra-game company textuality, and non-company textuality. But you have to think about how these different sorts of texts mean differently.

And that brings us back to Bainbridge's book. He needs to think about the texts he's using as texts. He needs to explain when he's "talking to" an NPC, when he's reading Blizzard materials, when he's reading novels approved by Blizzard, and so forth. It's not that any one of these is invalid, or even "less valid," but that they mean differently. He's not sensitive to those nuances. Partly that may have to do with his being a sociologist rather than a text person. Partly it may be because he's trying to look at both the game as a text and the game as social/cultural space. I think the book would have been stronger if it had focused more clearly on one or the other aspect of WoW.

A Short Discourse on Player Interactions

Once you've played EQ or Wow for a bit, you begin to realize that only the most naive (in terms of new to the game) players don't distinguish in their behavior between other player characters and NPCs. And so you should be careful to think about the ways players make those distinctions and how they work.

Here's an example. When I was first learning EQ, one of my characters got in trouble and was helped out by a more advanced character, Snork. (If you know Snork, give a shout out!) Not long after, Snork took my character (a Wood Elf druid) to meet Bonecaster, a necromancer, which is a character class in EQ that has to do with interacting with disease and death. The thing was, I didn't quite know that Bonecaster was a player character and not an NPC. Nor did I realize that a player character couldn't directly attack me without my consent (through a "duel" request).

In my experience, most advanced players in EQ learn the lore so that they can use the game mechanics as effectively as possible, rather than for the lore in and of itself. Understanding how that works would be fascinating, much as understanding how a pitcher uses some arm/hand motion to throw is fascinating in terms of how the pitcher understands physics and morphology (or not) is different from understanding the actual physics. You can understand the physics beautifully without being able to throw, and you can throw without knowing much physics.

Here's another example from EQ. In EQ (before, say, the Luclin expansion), characters started with a faction based on race and character class that made them relatively safe in some city zones, and very unsafe in other city zones. So, as an Wood Elf, my character was welcomed in the Elven and Halfling communities, well tolerated in most areas of the Gnomish, Dwarven, Erudite, Barbarian, and Human communities, and unsafe in Dark Elven, Troll, Ogre, and Iksar areas. (Players describe unsafe in terms of being "Kill on Sight" or KOS; the NPCs may not be able to kill a given character, but if you get within range, they'll try.)

At low levels, characters of some races rarely interact, and roleplaying characters may roleplay the racial antipathies. But no one (well, no one sane) really believes in the racial antipathies of Dark Elves and Wood Elves. We joked about such things, but no one really believes in Tunare. And that's hugely important, because at higher levels, there's a huge advantage to a guild to have players of all character classes for groups and raids. So druids of nature cooperate with necromancers and shadow knights. That is, the mechanics of the game give an advantage to those who have access to different character spells and abilities. (To be honest, a guild could do fine without druids, but having access to necromancers was vital for raiding before the PoP expansion.)

WoW enforces the distinction between Horde and Alliance factions through game mechanics in a way EQ didn't (doesn't still, I'd guess). Horde and Alliance characters can't group, talk, mail directly, or auction easily with each other.

That makes me wonder, though, if at higher levels of WoW, guilds worry much about faction except as it affects gameplay through mechanics? I seem to recall there can be advantages to killing player character members of the enemy faction who attack one's own areas. But do raiding guilds or most players get involved?

And that brings me back to Bainbridge's book, once again.

At the beginning of each chapter, Bainbridge sets up a narrative through the point of view of one of his characters. The narrative is set up as if the character actually "believes" the backstory; it treats the NPCs as sentient beings rather than characters in a complex text, undifferentiated from player characters. And it treats words by player characters as if the narrating character is naive of there being players "behind" the characters. In some ways, these narratives were fascinating for me, but they seemed unanalyzed and thus somewhat purposeless in the text except to establish that the character "existed" and that Bainbridge has authority to talk about the experiences.

On the other hand, these are also some of the more intersting bits of text in terms or representing the complexity of MMORPG interactions and experiences, where each character experiences some level of a unique story while roughly paralleling in many ways the same plot line that every character of similar race/class or profession experiences. (That is, pretty much all dwarven hunters start out in the same place, with the same equipment, and start off doing the same beginner quests, killing the "same" trash mobs, and so forth. Because of the quest organization, there's a whole lot more common experience between beginning characters in WoW than there were in EQ (where people spent a lot more time wandering around getting lost, at least in the earlier days).

Bainbridge hints at the complexity of WoW interactions between characters through groups and guilds, but doesn't focus on that in the ways that seem most likely to really shine through a sociological approach. He mentions in passing homophobic remarks, but doesn't really analyze gender/sexuality deeply. He doesn't seem to recognize the way clothing representations or dance graphics work in WoW, and takes an oversimplified approach to the ways characters embody and enact gendered avatars. I think there's real room for serious thought about how these issues work in Wow, especially since WoW and other MMORPGs bring together people from different cultures in new ways. It's especially interesting in terms of player ages, because a lot of younger players are encountering people from different cultures (within game culture and meat-space culture) through these games.

What sort of sociological study would help us understand WoW groups? Groups in WoW seemed to me to be short term, based on a need for mutual assistance in accomplishing a short-term goal such as a quest. That organization seemed very different from the groups in EQ that were often, especially in my earlier gaming, grinding experience in one place for ages. Thus, the WoW groups seemed to form short term, not include much conversation, and then disband. In contrast, in EQ, grinding groups would have downtime (for respawning and mana regeneration, especially), and so include time for chatting. And rather than disbanding as groups, people would enter and exit grinding groups as time and space allowed, so the group might continue with different player characters for hours on end. I have no idea how higher level groups work in WoW, whether there are grinding groups, whether guild groups form as they did in my EQ experience, or whether the typed chatting we did has become voiced chatting in WoW.

(One of the things I found frustrating about WoW was that social interaction seemed more limited; that's because Blizzard consciously minimized mana regeneration downtime and made all character classes able to solo content more than in EQ. It's a far faster game in terms of moving around and getting experience, but seemed too "twitchy" for me as a player. EQ, on the other hand, had gotten too grindy and I had computer issues.)

I'd love to read some really good analysis of how MMORPG guilds work, internally, with game mechanics, and in terms of other guilds. I know instancing has reduced some of the interguild conflicts that were rife in EQ (at least on my server), but I'm guessing there's still lots there.

Bainbridge also hints at the complexity of WoW player interactions with game mechanics. I didn't play EQ even at a high enough level to get really into mechanics, but I knew people who spent a whole lot of time parsing dps and healing, and figuring out high end strategies to beat encounters. There's an amazing mindset that really understands the mathematics behind the game mechanics. And even I learned to make choices based on most effective mathematical strategies in my character's development and encounters. My sense is that WoW is way beyond EQ in terms of what it enables in terms of player interactions with the game mechanics (allowing players to parse dps and such, for example). It would be fascinating to read really good game theory analysis of how players strategize in WoW, especially because character "builds" (the way a player chooses and trains specific aspects of a character's abilities) are so complex and variable.

I've run up against my mechanical ability to read and proofread within the blogger box. Were this a for real review, I'd be working in a text editor and printing out to play with the text, but it's not, and I'm about to be done.

In Conclusion

I wanted more from Bainbridge's book about the social and cultural aspects of players interacting in WoW, and less about the game as a text, I think.

If anyone wants my copy, I'd be happy to send it along to someone else. I don't think I'll need to reread it, nor do I know anyone so into WoW that they'd love it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Tiny Bit of Character

Sometimes, heck, often, Shakespeare blows me away. Take this little moment from The Winter's Tale. The information from the Oracle has just been delivered, and Leontes, "knowing" that he still has a son and heir, has scoffed and called it false. And then a servant comes in:

O sir, I shall be hated to report it!
The prince your son, with mere conceit and fear
Of the queen's speed, is gone.

How! gone!

Is dead.

I've never had to give anyone news that their loved one is dead, though I've had the news delivered to me a couple times. One of those times, because the death was totally unexpected, I didn't "get it" at first, even though the paramedic who was talking was absolutely clear and honest. It was like, for a moment, I wanted to say, no, there's a mistake, and then I realized there wasn't.

I imagine that it's difficult to give the news. I imagine that it's tempting to say someone is "gone" in hopes of making the news less jarring, less harsh.

The servant here has to know that he's going to give Leontes horrible news, and also has to know that Leontes has, for no reason that makes any sense to the other characters in the play, accused his wife of treason. It's not hard to understand that this servant has to be worried, and so, for just an instant, he isn't quite clear, and Leontes doesn't understand. But then the servant clarifies, and Leontes does understand, and once he understands, the world of the play changes.

Shakespeare could have written a perfectly good play with "dead" instead of "gone" in the earlier speech, with Leontes going on with his recognition. No one would have criticized the moment.

But as it is, those moments of hesitance and then of misrecognition or confusion reveal a depth of character for the servant. They also reveal just how profound the world change is for Leontes and everyone else on stage with Mamillius's death.

If I could get, in a whole slew of words, what Shakespeare gets here with a few, I would be one happy being.

Campus Geographies

We're in the planning stages for a new building. We've been through nearly a decade of preparation, begging the state and such already, but now we're actually planning the building. And it looks like the English department is going to move, so it matters to me.

And the stupidity in planning over at the Fort is rampant.

Here's one issue: The past dean, but maybe not the current "interim but maybe not really" dean, thought that working across and between traditional disciplinary boundaries was going to be the future, and so we talked about ways to do that.

The big metaphor around here (and elsewhere) is the "silo." Each academic field is imagined as a silo (I'm never sure when I think about it if we're a nuclear silo or a farming silo, because the metaphor seems sort of odd to me, but imagine for a moment, a farming silo). Each department lives in it's own individual, highly self-contained ivory silo, and doesn't mix it's grains of knowledge with the grains from another department. But the geography of departments, each on a separate floor, perhaps clustered in separate buildings, reinforces the silo effect. We run into our department colleagues in the lunch room, but we don't run into colleagues from the floor above or below. However, it does make some sense to house people who depend on the same office staff, chair, copier, printer and such near each other, on the same floor or wing.

Now, if you're building a new building, you have some opportunities to break that separation down. Maybe you work to spread people innovatively? Maybe you create shared spaces?

Yesterday, at our meeting, we discussed the new building and got a handout on building planning. Each of the departments moving over will have it's own very distinct spaces.

Someone asked: can we have a shared lunch space?

No, we're told, each space must belong to a specific department. No shared spaces!

Because, evidently, that makes sense. There can be no space for people to interact.

Here's another issue: Our current teaching spaces are ugly. Since they're ours, we've sometimes added some art posters to walls. And we've got dictionaries on rolly stands in most of our rooms. (And yes, I use them at least once in each class every semester, and sometimes way more.)

We have difficulty getting our students to feel a sense of community as majors, too. There's no real common space for them to be, unlike, say, art majors or physics majors, who have some common spaces. And we have a lot of majors, so welcoming them into our small lunchroom doesn't seem practical.

Then we looked at the classroom spaces. There are three departments moving over; each one typically has smaller rather classes rather than large lectures. Think, say, English (our largest classes run 35, but that may go up, of course), Foreign Languages, and Education. Three of the rooms are designated education labs--elementary math, elementary something else, and something else. Other than that, there's no designation. But, there's also no classroom space designed for a class of under 70.

Someone asked: Is there any way we can get a couple of seminar spaces, since we have senior seminars and that would be helpful?

No, we're told. You can't have any designated spaces, but you'll be able to use the elementary school training labs sometimes, when the ed folks aren't using them.

Right. We're supposed to run senior seminars in a room set up as a mock 3rd grade math lab? And that's going to be conducive to talking about Milton or whatever?

Someone asked: Why aren't there smaller classrooms since none of the departments that will be housed in the building needs a 150 person lecture hall?

The administration answered: You have to get over the idea of having your own classrooms in your own building. You'll have classes in another building.

So who will be using these large lecture halls? People from other buildings will come use them.

Right. I have an idea. We should test the feasibility of having everyone moving around campus to different buildings by having every administrative meeting for the next year held outside the Fort. Yep, let's ask the administrators to walk five minutes in one direction for one meeting, then five minutes in another direction for another, and see if they find that efficient.

It's not the going outside, it's that we've got 500 instructors, many of whom will be adding five minutes to each end of class time for all their classes. Are we going to count all the walking as contributing to our collective health? And how much time will we spend in this walking that we could spend talking to students, grading, prepping, whatever?

And you know that when they have a 100 person lecture hall, they'll find some class that was had three sections of 30, and fire two instructors and make the remaining instructor teach 100 students at a time. And no, we don't have PhD programs to abusively supply endless TAs and graders. And according to the rules, we're not allowed to have our few grad students teach or grade. (That's the privilege of the R1s in this system.)

I wonder if my chair would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation? I saw a community college job listing yesterday that seemed tempting.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cluster Headache

We're trying to inaugurate a new general education system. It's going to start in a very small way next year, at least that's the plan. We got an email about a week ago, suggesting that a call for proposals would be forthcoming soon, and if we were interested, we shoul start thinking about it.

The idea is that students are going to take a group of classes meaningfully clustered together.

During the planning stages, all the clusters I've heard about are all very focused on modern issues: Sustainability! STEM! You get the idea. I don't really feel like I fit any of them, so rather than just whine, I decided to email everyone I could think of who might like really dead guys and see what we can do about putting together a cluster of classes about historical/cultural stuff. Because otherwise, you KNOW we English department folks are going to be asked to contribute by teaching a "writing about sustainability" course. And while I think sustainability is important, I want to teach my really dead guys.

So, I sent out email to a bunch of folks. And folks are busy, and overwhelmed, and no one knows what the heck is up with things, so I got a few responses. And I chatted with some people and got some responses.

Which is to say, I've emailed with probably 20 faculty, including the administrator who sent out the warning, my chair, another chair.

So today, we got the real proposals information and deadline (they gave us three weeks!). And saw, for the first time, that there's been a big set up over in the Fort Section where we're supposed to get help with teaching (the email had a link). They've had workshops on setting up bundles!

I apparently missed this information. And so, apparently did the chairs, administrator, and other faculty I've been emailing with. At least none of them mentioned to me that there was this site set up. And I don't think it's because people hate me or anything; I think it's because the people I'm in touch with didn't know or think about it.

But I'm guessing the STEM folks got personal, engraved invitations. Okay, maybe not, but I bet if I get on the computer board thing, I'm going to see a lot of names of men who drink on the right porches.

Sometimes, I really hate our administration.


Edited to add the latest information: I'm told that a colleague was in a meeting with the administrator who has the final word on the cluster proposals and the administrator there said s/he'd basically already chosen the clusters for next year, and that no, English was NOT included.

Feeling the love, feeling the love. The proposal date isn't until mid-May, but they've already been chosen. Hmmm.

I may be drinking on the wrong porch, but I definitely feel like drinking tonight.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cash Crop

If dandelions were a cash crop, I'd be a lot less worried about retirement savings. I have a most excellent crop. Yes, I know you can eat them, but I could probably feed the whole department, and I don't think most people really want to eat dandelion greens.

I went in to the human resources folks today and adjusted the amount that goes to my 403b. It's a drop in the bucket compared to what it will cost to retire.

I went around the yard today and took some more spring flower pictures. The crocuses are done as are the Glory of the Snow flowers, just about. The daffodils aren't far behind.

There are only a few tiny Forsythia flowers left. Forsythia are difficult for me to photograph because my plants live in cages to keep the rabbits out. Anything not in a cage that's edible pretty much gets eaten. You can see the shadow of the chicken wire in the background here.

When you stop to take a close up of a flower, the least little wind becomes an issue. I hadn't noticed the wind much until I started to take pictures, but it added complications.

I have a little Hawthorne tree in my yard. The thorn part is for real. Why didn't I think about that before I put it in? That's the downside. The upside is that it has little pink flowers that look lovely. (And, I've been told, birds like the fruit.) It looks like these are next in line to bloom.

The dogwood are getting ready, too. The red bark is really noticable in winter and spring, as you can see here.

And finally, the Tamarack are getting some new cones ready and greening up fast this spring.

I saw the first cowbird of the season in my yard today, too.

And just in case you're not sure why your allergies are acting up this spring? I'm guessing my pines are contributing their share.

ps. Have you noticed that if you try "preview" it doesn't really show you what things will look like? The distortion is even bigger if you've got pictures.

Institutionally Slow

I've been at NWU about ten years now. When I first came, as a relatively inexperienced faculty member, I had a lot to learn. I figure, you spend your first year or so just trying to do your work and get the hang of departmental stuff. Second year, you add advising, committee work (if not before), and you'd better begin to get a sense of things.

Then, in the third year, maybe you start to think about curricular stuff more broadly.

By the fourth year, maybe you're getting involved in university service, and you begin to get a sense of how things fit in a bigger way. That takes a while, because there's no program that allows you to work on this or that committee for a month, and then change to learn something new, because it's not really about you learning, but about serving the university and such.

When you get tenure, you add in personel stuff.

So, I've now served in my department as schedules chair (we figure out our own scheduling according to needs and protocols and budget stuff), as curriculum chair, as planning committee chair, and several times as secretary to the personel committee.

I've served as a university senator, on the policies committee of the senate, and on my college curriculum committee. (Yes, I've done more service than I should have. I suck.)

But as you first begin to serve on university things, you take things in, and people act like things just are that way, so you think that's the way things are. And you don't necessarily know the people who know more, so you aren't told what's what. Here, if you're not a married straight white male who drinks on the porch with the other straight white males, it takes longer to get to figure out even the basic politics over at the fort. (I assume it's easier if you're drinking on a porch, though you're drinking with one faction more than another, so maybe your view is just way different?)

Or maybe I'm just slow to figure things out. That might be.

And then there are institutional changes. Since I've been here, my college has been through an interim dean, two deans, and now another interim dean. We've had a headmaster, an interim headmaster, and another headmaster. We've had a provost, an interim provost, another provost, and now a new provost.

But even I've begun to notice some patterns, at least with the current lineup over at the fort.

One: The headmaster is constantly pointing out that "we" could/should have applied for state funds for X, but he didn't know about it and it's not his fault and so we didn't but the other schools did and blah blah. This happens about something new pretty much every year lately.

For example, one of the state schools down the road has gotten on the state docket for new buildings sort of regularly. Like us, they have old buildings, but unlike us, they seem to have a master plan for replacing or refurbishing them, and have somehow been doing this all along.

We haven't. Evidently, though, most state schools have this sort of master plan, and carry it through from administration to administration. We don't seem to do that.

Two: We end up rushing stuff because the administration gives us short deadlines or doesn't tell us the deadline until just before it's due. And don't forget special rules!

We do these self-analysis exercises only to find out that yes, we're pretty much doing our jobs, and yes, we could all use more funding. But the self-analysis is not the basis for more funding, but the basis for more cuts. But we do these self-analysis projects on strict timelines in a rush, and wear ourselves out. And then, gosh, another year later, OMG, we have to rush a self-analysis and figure out where we should put money! And then, oh, wait, there is no money. Never mind.

Why are these things always needing to be done in a rush? Do administrators not realize there's going to be a self-analysis needed ahead of time?

For example, we've been going through this budget process which is actually going to allocate some new money. The budget process has taken over a year. But in late February, the administration sent out forms and basically said, apply for these funds. Fill out these huge forms according to these special and limited rules and get them back to us by mid-March. HURRY! And be sure to include evidence from a new self-analysis.

Do you ever get a feeling that the departments whose chairs are drinking on the right porch might just have an advantage here?

And with the pay cuts this year, and increased class sizes, morale is low, energy low, and interest low. It feels like we're on a treadmill of make-work, with ever more administrators hired to assess our assessments and think about where we could use money if only we weren't paying new administrators and finding a building to put them in.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You Should Read This

Dr. Crazy has a great post up about the ways we think about education and how we're (as a culture, not you and I) policing teachers as sort of bad mommies. Except Dr. Crazy's take is way better than my mini-summary. So you should go there and read it. << That there is the link.

And then come back and help me think of a strong metaphor for student-centered learning.

Group Work

One of the big liberal arts goals things is that students should learn to work well in groups or teams. It's also something employers say they want of new hires coming out of colleges. And it makes sense. I know I appreciate it when my colleagues pull their share of the cartload of work and when they help make coming to work pleasant rather than not.

And so in our classes, we instructors try to give our students experience working in groups.

Now, I don't know that we teach them how to work in groups. Do we? I haven't really thought about it. Should I give a little introduction to working in groups and say something about keeping in touch, communicating, recognizing that other people will get sick or have other problems that make being flexible vitally important? Hm. Okay, I'm not sure what I'd say or how, but it's something to think about. Does anyone out there actually teach students to work in groups?

One of my classes is doing a group project this semester. And my first year writing class does regular group work, especially for peer revision sessions. (Now that I think about it, I do guide peer revision groups more than groups in upper level classes.)

The thing is, on any peer revision day, at least one person will be absent which means rearranging some (since I've probably already made arrangements for the person out for a band or athletic trip), and then another will come in 20 minutes late, and blah blah. And for any class doing group work, at least one group will have some serious problem along the way.

This semester it seems to be that a student is ill a lot, and so not meeting with the group or doing work or whatever. And the others are frustrated. And he's frustrated and ill.

I need to figure out a more flexible strategy for dealing with the student who gets sick and doesn't participate in group work. What do you folks do for the group and for the student?

Sunday, April 11, 2010


The neighbor's cat seems to be hanging around my deck a lot the past week or so.

Okay, I'm not absolutely sure it's the neighbor's cat, but it sits on her deck sometimes, and runs there when it sees me come out to the porch. It also only appeared after she moved in about 18 months ago.

I have a couple of bird feeders, so this cat is hunting. And at the least, it's keeping birds away. I'm thinking I should go over and ask the neighbor (who seems nice enough, but I barely know her) to keep her cat in.

I know some cat lovers who think their cats absolutely NEED to spend the day outside once the weather's warm enough. And that would be fine IF the cat stayed in their yard, but this one isn't. And legally here, you have to keep your cat inside or on a leash or in your yard somehow. Just like legally, I had to keep my dog under control (which alas, didn't always happen) and clean up after him (which did happen).

I know, cats aren't "natural" in this part of the world, but neither is feeding birds. And even though cats don't do nearly as much damage as humans do, they're a part of the human damage. Still, I don't want this cat killing off the birds I'm encouraging to feed here.

NB Most cat owners I know are responsible and wonderful, and I'm happy to get cat therapy on occasion when they need someone to go by and feed and care for their kitties.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Another Day, Another Text

Okay, in light of the confusion, and despite my incredibly realistic artistic rendering, I revised the drawing, adding a bit of detail here and there. But I revised on my laptop, which seems to default to a different font (and doesn't seem to have an easy way to change fonts), and which seems to have some autofill confusion happening. Nonetheless, here goes:

One more try:

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Shopping Sucks

The last time I bought pants, I blogged about it. Notice the date, January 2008.

Well, today, I was using the restroom and noticed some wear places through the bottoms, not exceedingly visible, but likely to become so at some point.

And so, I went to the store. I couldn't find the pants I bought last time, which have side pockets, perfect for carrying my wallet on one side and my reading glasses (in a case) on the other.

But I found two pairs.

I hope I don't have to go again for three years, this time.

Out of Season

And the text of the day is?

Advising Ups and Downs

It's advising season here at NWU, so I've had extra appointments today with advisees.

I advised one person away from an English major, and she seemed happy. We had a lovely, fun conversation, and I gave her a couple things to follow up on. She's interested and interesting. What a pleasure.

And then I had an energy sink advisee. There's this problem, exacerbated by this other problem, which can't be solved because of this additional issue, and by the way, there's also this dismal predicament.

In a way, it's like talking about Gertrude Stein's version of Oakland, except less fun. (And Oakland is okay by me. One of my greatgrandmothers and a grandmother lived there.)

I confess, I have minimal experience with mental illness, and less with medications, but if you have the stereotype of someone who is sort of sedated or of a movie version of a staring electroshock patient/victim from the 1950s, my student would look the part.

I'm so so at the sit-quietly-and-wait-for-the-other-person-to-talk part of life, at least as far as advising goes. Let's say that we spent a fair bit of an hour sitting looking at each other on and off. I have a feeling that this student really needs a lot of adult attention, to the point that the hour this week was a drop in the bucket. And the time with the counselor, another drop in a bucket, and so on.

I don't think I had any idea when I started in on the PhD thing how much time I'd spend counseling troubled young adults. If this student were juggling, about half the balls would be bouncing away on the ground. No wonder, I'm thinking, this student is depressed.

Then there were a couple of meh students; you know the sort, they're okay, not excited, not miserable, just okay, pleasant enough but not really satisfying. When I speak with these students, I always end up wondering if I've left something important out, if I'm meeting their needs as advisees.

I have a student who thinks he's graduating who should be more worried about that than he seems to be. Our upper level students aren't required to see an advisor to register for classes, and usually, that's okay. Most of them are capable of seeking help when they need it and making good choices. But sometimes, they leave something to the last minute. And some requirements can't be finished at the last minute.

Every month of the school year, I pretty much send out a letter to my advisees. It's basically a "hi, I'm here! Think about these things!" sort of letter. And at least a couple times a year, the thing I tell them to think about is what this student has put off. Oops!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


You should be sitting down.

Sit down now, if you're not already. Sitting? Okay, you can go on.

I'm not much of a cook. I can follow a basic recipe, and I make a pretty good oatmeal raisin cookie, but day to day dinner type cooking, I just get by. I don't much enjoy cooking, so that's part of it.

But, about a year and a half ago, I decided to try to learn to cook a bit, so I asked my Mom for a Joy of Cooking book, because it's basic and stuff.

I'm still not much of a cook, but since winter, I've decided to try to eat more veggies. Now, I like veggies okay. If someone cooks for me, I'll eat pretty much anything (with two exceptions, which almost disqualify me from ever returning to my home state, alas). But cooking them, blah. It takes forever, and they're boring. But still, I've been trying.

So, I took my cookbook and tried making a basic quiche, and it was basic, and okay. And it's easy to take to school for lunch, and to heat up a bit and have for dinner. I got a bit creative; I tried adding some veggies from a frozen mixed veggie bag. That was okay, too. I've done that several times this semester, almost once a week.

And then I got an idea. As I've said before I think, my favorite vegetable is artichokes. But artichokes don't thrive up here in the Northwoods, so when you get them at the store, they're not great. They're sort of like cardboard with a slight flavor. But, I thought, what if I got canned artichokes and put them in a quiche!

Last week I tried that for the first time. I made a basic quiche with bacon, cheddar cheese, baby artichoke parts, and sauteed mushrooms. And it was pretty good. But the cheese wasn't quite right and sort of overpowered things in terms of consistency. It wasn't sharp enough for the artichokes, if that makes sense. And the bacon, surprisingly, didn't really work with the artichokes.

I finished that at lunch today, so tonight I made another.

I got some grated asiago cheese and some grated parmesan cheese at the store, and some more cut up mushrooms.

I sauteed the mushrooms and added a little frozen spinach. And then I added nutmeg. I know, you're thinking, NUTMEG???? But the book had me adding nutmeg to the basic quiche, and I'd done it once but then not. But somehow, I thought I'd give it a try, so I sprinkled some in. Then I added the artichokes so the veggie stuff was all mixed up well.

I made a basic custard mix.

When the pie shell was cooked, I put in a bit of both sorts of cheese, then some veggies, and more cheese, and more veggies and cheese, and then I poured the custard mix in. And baked. I could smell the nutmeg, and that worried me. It smelled just a bit too strong.

Once it was out and had cooled a tad, I cut a piece. And then, OMG, this is about the best non-sweet thing I have EVER cooked. Look:

The cheese is sharp, and sets off the artichokes beautifully, and the nutmeg adds just something, and it's sooo good.

Now I'm going to cut myself another piece and enjoy the foodgasm.

Shopping or Metaphor?

We're phasing in a new on-line registration system, my third since I got to this job.

Students pick classes by putting them in a "shopping cart" just as they do when they shop at whatever on-line retailer.

Do the people who design these things even think?

Is shopping really the metaphor we want to use for choosing a curriculum, a course of study?

Maybe it's not a metaphor at all, after all, the customer is always right, and I'm sure not the customer in this model.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Race, Ethics, Jobs

One of our students here is interested in going on to grad school. She's not quite sure, but is really interested in African American Lit, based on her two classes here. She's white, and has had little experience with African American communities, but she's a smart student.

On the one hand, I think people who want to go to grad school should study what they want to study. I don't think there's any reason a white person can't be a really good scholar and teacher of African American lit, any more than there's a reason I can't be a good scholar and teacher of early modern English lit. It's not like we have a genetic understanding or anything (I don't think there are many English ancestors in my background).

And yet, given the misery of the profession, what do you advise this student?

The job thing: In terms of race and hiring issues, I think there are four types of schools. And within those schools are departments such as English and History.

1) Historically Black colleges. I know relatively little about historically Black colleges, alas. But I just spent a few minutes looking at faculty pictures at a couple, and they look to be pretty diverse. There are faces that seem to me Black, and Asian, and Hispanic, and White. My impression is that they probably do a pretty good job hiring diverse faculty members in all the departments I glanced through. But there are also relatively few of these schools. And given the numbers of well-qualified African American candidates, it's hard for me to imagine a white candidate standing out for an African American lit position.

Among the historically white schools:

2) Schools that really don't hire many people of color. Maybe the people at the school consciously choose not to hire people of color, as, I'm guessing, at the school that asked me during an interview if I were Jewish, with the clear implication that they didn't want me if I were, though they couched it in terms that a Jew probably wouldn't feel comfortable at their school. I'm guessing when these schools do hire a person of color, that person doesn't feel especially welcome. But, of course, the hiring committees probably say they're not racist and believe it.

If my white student finishes a PhD in African American lit, she might get a place at one of these schools, I suppose. But I keep hoping these places are disappearing. Are they?

3) Schools that hire people of color to teach [subject matter] of [ethnicity], but don't much hire people of color to teach in chemistry or math. At these schools, English and History departments can look impressively diverse, because they have an Asian teaching Asian history, a Hispanic teaching Latin American history, and so forth.

Hiring committees at these schools, and mine definitely counts, often believe that diversity is important, but somehow stuff such as, say, "theory" is always "white" unless defined in the search as "post-colonial." So, the hiring committees tend not to hire a person of color to teach, say, intellectual history. But the hiring committees looking for scholars of African American lit mostly think in terms of African American candidates.

I imagine there are a lot of departments out there that look like this, and that wouldn't tend to hire many white folks for an African American lit position.

4) And then there are schools that hire diverse candidates, so they have African Americans teaching Shakespeare, Indian scholars teaching medieval European history, etc. This seems to me a more healthy diversity, but I've only really seen this happen at R1s that are big enough that they can have their load of traditional white male scholars doing Shakespeare along with one Asian American doing Shakespeare. Have you folks seen these schools hire new white PhDs to teach Ethnic lit or history? (I've seen them hire well-established full profs who are white to teach ethnic lits, but not beginning assistant positions.)

So, back to my student. Should she ask, what do I say?

In my mind, if she wants to study African American lit, she needs to go to a school with some really strong scholars of African American lit in an area where there's a strong African American community. Am I off the mark? Where would you suggest a student apply?

Monday, April 05, 2010

/Rant On

Why is it that the Christian students who most want to share their faith in essays and such are insipid and unquestioning?

I started reading a paper in which a student shared some Christian faith stuff and I just put it down. I couldn't bear for the moment to read another word of insipid, unthoughtful idiocy.

And why are these sames students so offended at the idea of reading about another cultural tradition?

I wonder when was the last time their church "taught the controversy" with an eye to deepening understanding of evolution?

Seriously, I do not want to read your "research" paper about how you learned in church that things are too complicated to have evolved.

College is about changing your mind. It's easy when that means you change your mind from not understanding integrals to understanding integrals. It's not nearly so easy when changing your mind means you question what you've been taught. But that's the point; if you question it, and what you've been taught is well supported by reason and evidence, then it's worth holding onto it. If you can't find reason or evidence, then you should drop it like a hot tooth fairy. But at least you should question it.

Or just go away and don't whine that I'm asking you to think too much, and that I'm ruining everything by asking you to think.

/rant off

Sunday, April 04, 2010


When I left a couple of days ago, the Tamaracks in the yard weren't really greening up yet. But I came back to a hint of green on them. Up close, you can see the needles coming in, and scattered in a few areas, tiny pinkish flowery-looking growths.

I went and cleaned the garbage up from the undeveloped open area behind the house. It's a little less depressing now.

Down there, the maple is starting to swell at the tips, and the tiny pine trees seem to have survived another winter. The spruce is looking really good these days; it's about twice the height now that it was when I moved in here, six years ago or so.

The Plain of Despair

Sometimes, life feels way too much like Spenser's in charge.

Yesterday, I went to a real museum to see a real display of real artifacts, put together to tell a meaningful and complex narrative, focusing on the interpretation of provenance and such. It was lovely.

We then wandered around other parts of the museum. There were stuffed pronghorn antelop so faded that you could barely see a difference between the dark area on the back and the light underside. There were stuffed birds galore, but with few identification labels where I most needed them. There was a rainforest display that felt packed to the gills with stuff and more stuff, but less explanation or interpretation. Seriously, they had a big old jeep-like vehicle in the middle. It felt like they'd put everything into the room because there was nowhere else to put it.

And yet, it was still a museum.

The local archaeology part, which I made everyone detour to see, involved a small window display and a side tray thing of arrowpoints.

The city was a city; we drove by buildings that had more than seven stories, by restaurants that promised something more interesting than lefse. It was empty in that Saturday before Easter way, but still, it felt like a real city.

Today I drove home across farmland where the what forests there are grow in rows, where there are no mountains, and where there is a dismaying abundance of garbage.

Seriously, it seems like in the past 8-10 years or so, there's more and more garbage floating around, tossed on the side of highways and byways.

And now I'm back home, looking over garbage tossed somehow into the undeveloped area beyond my yard, in a community where the museum features a mythical blue beast of burden prominantly, though not as a myth.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Grading Queen of Spring

Two weeks ago, there was this. The crocus were starting to bloom, and this was looking like a tiny blue pineapple.

And now the tiny blue pineapple is becomming a flower, a grape hyacinth even. It's still pretty tiny, but it's there!

On March 15th, the crocus were looking promising, and the daffodils were just starting to come out of the ground.

And today, the daffodil blooms are opened up! It's really looking like spring!

I did a bunch of grading yesterday, and I'm going to do a smaller bunch today, to finish up the second pile, and then I'm going away for a couple days. For once, I procrastinated a bit less than I could have, and I'm feeling a lighter load as a result.

Hurray for spring!