Monday, May 31, 2010

Teaching Scholarship: the Conversion Experience

I've been reading the assigned readings in preparation for the instructor instruction thing I'm going to tomorrow. Some of the readings make interesting points, but there's a thread through them that I find irritating. It's the conversion narrative. I suppose I'm suspicious of conversion narratives in general.

Here's how it goes: The author talks about him/herself as a recent PhD, teaching just the way s/he was taught. And s/he suddenly realizes that students aren't "getting" the course. Then s/he even more suddenly realizes that s/he hadn't thought much about what students should get from the course before setting out the reading assignments and starting to lecture. And then (cue angelic choir), s/he learns about goals and outcomes! S/he learns that s/he will be more successful if s/he thinks about what's s/he's doing and how! And you, dear reader, should, too, and you should start by listing your goals and outcomes...

I think that's what's frustrating to me. Do people really go blithely off teaching without thinking in the least, hey, what do I want students to take away from this part of the class? (I admit, I rarely think in terms of "how am I going to assess whether this 15 minute segment actually taught what I was trying to teach?" Except that I expect students to be responsible for responding when I ask for questions. And that's probably unrealistic.)

I don't think I'm overwhelmingly brilliant; I'm pretty average for a Phud, I think, but it was pretty common in my graduate program to talk about canon formation and choices, and how that taught students to be good capitalist patriarchal cogs in the narrative of white patriarchy. We talked about how the classroom set-up itself taught students. We talked about how helpful it is that students had learned before they got to our classes about how to behave in groups, but that we also wanted students to be aware that they'd been trained to raise their hands and obey bells for reasons that weren't benign and wonderful in all ways. We talked about how course structures marginalized women and people of color, and how that worked, and how we might subvert that without losing our jobs. And we talked about how that little subversion would be contained and neutralized by the white patriarchy.

The fact is, we talked about this stuff, but didn't figure out how to really change things, because we also realized we were being taught to be good little cogs in the academic machine. And we talked about how important it is to teach disadvantaged students how to play the game while recognizing that it is a patriarchal, unfair structure, but that there's no escaping the structure, at least not easily.

But I'm not seeing that sort of awareness behind the conversion narratives. Yes, they're interested in teaching effectively, but they aren't interested in thinking about the deeper structures of education and how they work to reinscribe white patriarchy. They're willing to open up the avenues to success, but only within white patriarchy. White patriarchy has long been willing to allow a few successful women, a few successful people of color, and to use those as justification for oppressing the rest.

So when I see the goals and outcomes thing, and think, that's what we called "what we want students to learn," I don't only think about "students should learn to read difficult language, including verse in early modern English" but also "students should learn to think critically about patriarchy and white oppression." But I never see that listed in my university goals. It's there; I hear it in our lunchroom. But it doesn't make it to the goals because so many of our students and their parents are resistant. And the people who benefit most from white patriarchy resist most vehemently.

My worry is that I've become less agressive in fighting oppression, and more beaten down and just trying to get by.

I have two pieces of homework to do before the thing starts tomorrow. And I need to run some errands and figure out how to get there. And I need to pack.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

More Birds

I think this is a female Baltimore Oriole, but I could be wrong.

And this is a Brown Thrasher nest, in a friend's yard, in some weeds right next to the patio. The parents run off if you go at all near, but don't stay away long, and seem pretty calm about it all.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I'm trying to get caught up on things and prepare for an instructors instructional thing I signed up for.

The salvia is blooming, and the irises are doing their short season a week or so early.

But the weeds and buds are going to be there all summer.

I have to confess that I'm still sort of surprised at the little specks of pollen I see on everything when I'm using the macro lens. I guess I just don't notice mostly?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Keeping Track of Student Progress

I'm reading John Bean's Engaging Ideas: A Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom.

I'm reminded of one of my best professors in college. Before I got to college, he'd evidently been on an alcoholic slide. But by the time I took my first course with him, he'd turned things around, and in order to help himself lecture better, he recorded all his lectures. That was the part I knew about at the time; I heard about the alcoholic stuff long after. Anyway, my point isn't that I've been on an alcoholic slide, but that at what's probably mid-career for me, I'm trying to renew and refresh my teaching and do it better.

In some ways, Bean's book is encouraging. I think I do some of the things he suggests pretty well. Other things, I could do a lot better, and am thinking about how to incorporate some of his ideas into my courses.

One of the things he suggests is having students do open-ended writing (journals, in class, problem solving). All good. Then he suggests that the instructor doesn't need to really grade these, but could read them to keep a handle on how the student is progressing intellectually in the class.

And here's where I feel my shortcomings. I know people who can off the top of their heads, tell you in fair detail about a particular student's writing style. I can't, usually, unless there's something very different about the writing style.

Nor could I mentally keep track of how students are progressing, except in a general way. I notice, for example, when a student starts participating more or has more interesting things to say in class. But once we add in 20+ other students, I can't keep all that in my head (unless it's an unusual student).

So I have to write things down, just as I do for my advisees. Except for each advisee, I keep a file with notes from our meetings and such.

For my writing class students, I keep a separate page for each student, with the goal that when I grade an essay, I'll make notes about the issues (good and bad) so that I can refer back to those notes when I write a response on the next essay. I'll admit, as I've gotten busier (or lazier), I do this less and less, generally noting only serious problems at this point.

I do like about the page that I can hand a copy out the students at the beginning of the term, and encourage them to keep track of their assignments, too. The ones who do keep track seem to find that helpful.

But I don't keep separate pages for each student in the other classes. Instead, I enter their grades directly into an excel spreadsheet through the term. But since I'm most thinking right now about working with my lit students to improve their writing, maybe I should?

How do you folks keep track of your students' intellectual progress? Do you even try?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

They Laughed

My contract ended May 23rd. While I was allowed to turn in grades until the 25th, I'm no longer under contract. That means I'm not paid for university duties. A nine month contract is pretty common for academics, and it is what it is.

Let me tell you a little about my contract. In the part where it describes my duties, there's a part that says "and other duties as requested by the chair." That part means that if the chair (my immediate supervisor) asks me to do X, and I do a good job, it goes in my performance review and stuff. It's part of the work I'm expected to do as part of the contract.

It's all very standard, right?

A couple of months ago, my chair asked me if I would be willing to do task X, a task that's under the supervision of a deanish office. Having no good reason to say no and run screaming from the room, I said yes.

It took a while for the deanish office to work things to the point where my services were required, but that point came last week. Task X is pretty darned unusual, so the deanish folks were trying to do things correctly, but since they didn't actually read the directions, things weren't done as correctly as they should have been. But then the head of X read the directions, and we followed them. And that was good. But because we actually read and followed the directions, task X took more time than the deanish folks had planned.

But because the deanish folks hadn't read the directions, task X required my services today, and so the deanish folks requested, and I agreed.

When I went by my department to pick up some stuff, I saw my chair, and I said, we're still working on task X, I hope there's some arrangement to pay me for working while not under contract.

My chair straightfacedly assured me that yes, there would be an extra pay envelop, and then burst out laughing. Until I assured him that I was serious, and that I expect to be paid for the labor I'm performing. And he said, good luck with that. But I reminded him that I was doing this task because I'd been requested to do so by him, and that the task went into the non-contract period, and thus I should be paid additionally for the task. And then I said, "I'd be happy to bill the university for my work as a consultant. I charge $300 an hour for consulting." He looked at me. And then I acknowledged that I don't get much consulting work. And we both laughed.

So I went to do task X. And there was a break, and I asked the deanish folks how we (the folks not under contract) were to be paid for our work today, while we're not under contract. And the deanish folks laughed.

And then I said that I was serious, and I expected to be paid for my labor, because my work had been requested by my supervisor, and I was doing it as requested, but it had gone beyond my contract period.

And then the deanish folk mumbled about asking the higher up.

And I suggested he also ask the campus legal eagle.

Seriously, I did not volunteer to do this extra work, and I certainly didn't volunteer to do it when I have no obligations to the campus.

But our campus has a long history of asking people to volunteer to do administrative-promoted projects during non-contract periods and not paying people for their work.

And our state has a history of not giving faculty a LONG ago promised raise of 2% (promised about 5 years ago for this past year, after being put off before) and our state has a history of giving us a 3% pay cut for this year and next (and who knows if beyond that). In the past year, we've had students added to our classes and we've been asked to do ever more additional work (assessment, anyone?), and we've been paid less. The campus and state have lost a lot of whatever loyalty they might have had.

And yes, I realize that there's not that much money involved, but there's a principle, and that is that we should pay people for their labor unless they explicitly volunteer it.

I'm guessing if necessary I can take this to small claims court, but I sure hope I don't have to.

I'd be willing to take bets that there's talk in the fort about the "bitch who thinks she should get paid." And that talk would come from men who are paid on a year-long contract, and so were paid for their presence at task X today.

Spousal Hires, and a Nod to Dr. Crazy

Dr. Crazy put up a really smart and insightful post about the spousal hiring thing. You should read it here.

I think I'm more against spousal hires than Dr. Crazy is, but she makes good sense here.

I keep reading in a variety of comments that spousal hires are necessary because married individuals have individually difficult lives.

I think such an approach misrecognizes the reasons we do affirmative action hiring. We do special hires and affirmative action because we're trying to 1) provide equitable opportunities to people who are members of groups that have been systemically discriminated against. and we're trying to 2) redress systemic discriminatory practices.

Married people have not been subject to systemic discrimination because they're married. So there's no need for redress.

In fact, married people are the majority of adult Americans. They have the most power politically and economically.

Some of the objections have to do with difficult decisions people have to make. For example, one person might say that without getting special treatment through a spousal hire, that person might have to leave the profession.

To that, I want to say that about one third of people in my field (English) who finish PhDs have not gotten tt jobs in the field for a number of years. Why should people receive preferential treatment because they are married? The one third of PhDs who aren't getting jobs includes a variety of people. Can I say to any one of them who doesn't qualify for spousal hiring that people married to other academics deserve special treatment that others (single folks, people married to non-academics) don't deserve?

It's important to recognize that the single person who doesn't get a job because it's given to someone as a spousal hire is just as much out of work and just as likely to need to leave the field as a married (to another academic) person who doesn't get a job.

What's ethically necessary is that on our search committees, we make the best hiring decisions possible for our college or university community. And we have to recognize that "best" does not necessarily mean white or male or upper-class or ivy educated. Or married.

What's also ethically necessary is that we recognize that we academics are part of a systemic problem in a field that produces too many PhDs for the employment opportunites, and that the opportunity costs of accepting people to grad school adversely affects those individuals who (though wonderful and qualified) will never get jobs in the field because those jobs aren't there. We're also part of a systemic problem in schools that exploit adjunct labor because it's cheaper.

From my little office, I don't know what I can do to change the overenrollment of PhD students (and the exploitation of PhD students as cheap labor) at R1s. I know that I didn't have a clue about the problem when I entered grad school, and so don't think that's the responsibility of students entering programs. But how do I begin to get my state flagship to cut its PhD programs when they benefit from the cheap labor?

From my little office, I also don't know what I can do to change the use of adjuncts to teach a large number of courses. It's easy to say "take a pay cut, Bardiac, and your university will be able to hire another tt person with half of your pay." But in reality, I make about $45K a year,* so I wouldn't stay here at half my salary, nor would most PhDs be willing to move here to do my job for half my salary. (It's important to recognize that the $45K is what my paycheck says. My school also provides benefits, including nearly $8k in health and other insurance, plus social security and retirement. Our adjuncts have health and other benefits if they have 50% employment, and my department makes an effort to provide that level of employment to our adjuncts so that they have benefits.)

Maybe it's also easy to say "you should teach another composition class, Bardiac," but again, I don't think many PhDs would be willing to move here to teach 16 credit hours a semester for my paycheck (with the other research and service expectations).

My question is, what do we do to address the systemic problems in equitable and just ways?

*Yes, I recognize that I'm privileged to make $45K a year and that there are a whole lot of people in the world who would be in heaven with that paycheck.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The World Needs More Dults

When I was a kid, I thought adults had confidence about their decisions. I wanted X or Y, and the adults in my life tried to modify my desires to be a little more realistic (because it's not a good idea to keep a lion and a cow in a suburban yard). But it seemed like they knew what was what while I was just wanting.

As I've gotten older, I've realized that mostly I don't have much of the confidence I thought adults had. And I've come to think that an awful lot of adults don't actually have that confidence either. They just fake it for little kids.

Mostly, we adults muddle through, trying to get through without messing up too much.

Today I muddled my way through refinancing my house. The bank called a couple of weeks ago and said, here, do you want to refinance for free for a better interest rate so that you take your regular mortgage payments and good credit record somewhere else because you're such a good customer?

I thought it through. Why would the bank do that? And the only reason I could figure is that I could probably get an even lower rate somewhere else (though I'd have to pay fees and such). And they figure doing this will be more profitable than losing my business. But there's no cost to me, except that I'll start over with a new mortgage date.

The new mortgage date makes me feel sort of stuck here, though really, I shouldn't.

I got my hair cut because later this week I have to go do my ten year license renewal. That, too, makes me feel stuck here. Ten years is a long time.

I made an appointment to get my car's oil changed. I end up putting off those sorts of things at the end of the semester (especially this semester, when I had an additional duty to take care of).

But I still have grading. Always more grading.

(The photo is a baby starling and then one of its parents. The adults seem to have four babies squawking at them for food pretty continually. I'm not much into starlings, they being introduced and all, but wow, these adults are working hard, so I don't begrudge them a little suet.)

Spousal Hire Dustups

I've been thinking about spousal hires since reading different peoples ideas in a variety of blogs. It's a complex issue.

Yes, it's good for people to be happy, and married people seem to be mostly happy when they can live in the same area and are appropriately employed (if they choose).

Some folks have argued that spousal hires take jobs from others, or countered that by saying that new lines are created for spousal hires.*

I live in a different world, because tt lines here are few and far between, and far more likely to be cut than added.

So what I want to ask: Are straight, married people systemically oppressed or discriminated against?

Do straight, married people need special treatment to address systemic oppression or discrimination?

I don't think so.

I also think that we need to recognize that straight married people are often given access to additional benefits? (In my world, this includes subsidized insurance benefits, tax benefits, inheritance benefits, hospital visitation, etc.)

Further, when departments in my world talk about "fit" in choosing the best candidate for the job, they generally mean "straight white people teach everything that's not specifically labelled ethnic or glbt." (In some departments, "male" is also part of the equation, but the English department I teach in seems to have been fairer in that area.)

In my experience, when a local department wants to hire a spouse, it hires the spouse as an adjunct and then when a line "comes open," sets up the search committee explicitly and the committee writes a job description for which that spouse is an ideal candidate. If a job description is written for a spousal hire, then that description pretty much excludes all unmarried candidates, including gay and lesbian candidates where they can't marry. (And my state is one that doesn't recognize gay and lesbian couples.) I think that's an ethical problem.

And that ethical problem goes beyond the objection that only one person could get the job, so the other applicants were mostly SOL anyway; the hiring in these cases has been predetermined. The other applicants were misled into wasting their money on sending their letters, and into wasting their energy preparing letters, interviews, presentations.

So while I recognize partners who want a job in the same area as a spouse, I think I'm ethically opposed to spousal hires the way they're done here.

*We also aren't really facing the superstar issue. If you're seriously considering a job offer here, you're pretty much by definition not a superstar. You may be wonderful, but you've already lost the superstar glow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

There's a There Out There

During finals, I sometimes find it hard to get outside much. I go to work, usually leaving between 7 and 7:30, and then pretty much am in my building for a long while. Sometimes I walk across to the fort for a meeting. The meeting's no fun, but our groundskeeping folks do an incredible job, and we've had already a show of daffodils, tulips, and grape hyacinth, and now we're well into salvia and getting into yarrow.

Have you ever noticed that the academic year is especially busy during the fall "clean up the yard and plant bulbs" season and the spring "omg, weed and plant something other than dandelions!" season?

This weekend, though, I have a guest, so I went out for a long walk in the wooded area, which we both enjoyed. There's one problem, though. Around here, there's no way I've figured out to escape the ticks, and ticks gross me out. I've picked one off of me (not embedded) and one off the furry one (also not embedded). It would have been worse if they'd been all swollen and full of blood, but still, I did my best self-inspection and still feel like every single moment there's a tick crawling on me.

Out there in the yard, it's a whole new flower season. These are hawthorne flowers. They're called hawthorne for a reason, by the way. And if you get really friendly with your tree trying to take pictures, you know the reason. It's way better than ticks, though!

The dogwood is almost finished blooming, I think. But look, there's an ant. That's a pretty big ant. Mostly, I have small ants (argentine, I think?) trying to take over my lawn. If anyone has a more effective solution than diatomacious earth (which at least isn't poisonous to birds and such), I'd love to hear it. Still, better than a tick!

Since I bought the macro and doubler lenses, I'm sort of loving looking closely at little flowers. This is a potentilla. Mine are fairly modest shrubs, but they flower lots, and are lovely. The thing is, because there are usually a bunch of flowers, I don't look at them up close very often. But here we go.

And finally, the tamarack cones are getting a little bigger. They never get more than an inch or so long, but they turn brown instead of pinkish after a while.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Last Day of Finals

I'm tired. I'm frustrated. I just want to sit and cry. Instead, I came home and ate sugar. I'm sure that's not a great way to handle the stress, but there I go. (It was too late and too wet to go for a bike ride; there were no birds coming to eat, and it was too wet to go try to take flower pictures.)

I'm concerned about a problem. I got sort of in the face of an administrator about it, and s/he said s/he'd follow up appropriately. It should have been taken care of ages ago, and it shouldn't require me to say so. Seriously, people, do your job and try to treat other people like human beings at the same time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Genius Students

One of my student groups posted their Chaucer project to youtube. I have permission to share with my "medievalist friends" out there. So if you count yourself, and want to watch some kickass Chaucer stuff, let me know and I'll email you the youtube info.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I have my tripod set up in my living room, inside the sliding glass door to the deck, which is where I have my bird feeders, including the orange. But I usually grade in the sun room off to the side, where I can see the orange from another angle. So when I bird comes to the orange, I'm not right there. If I see it, I get up and try to walk casually into the living room and reach for the camera. Sometimes, the birds look up but are patient, but usually they fly off before I can click. So I get my share of empty orange pictures. But sometimes I get a cool picture just at that moment of almost flight.

I pre-focus the camera as well as I can just on the far side of the orange, which works pretty well for the birds who are cooperative enough to hop up on the orange to eat, but not quite as well for birds who land just behind. I'm not even sure which wing that is up behind the little House Finch in this last picture.


One of my students hasn't turned in several assignments, and just emailed me to let me know that s/he'd turn them in on the last day of finals.

I've no wish to mess with this student. I know there have been problems.

But I'd really like to express my frustration with the situation.

I know it's not about me. But I get extra stuff to grade late because the student didn't get it done on time. And I get to figure out how to deal with the lateness so far as the grade. What's fair?

I hate the legalistic syllabus thing where we all state exactly what we will do to a grade for every increment of lateness, but even more, I hate the need for that legalistic stuff.

I'm involved in something that's made me realize I'm not the worst professor ever, but when I feel so frustrated by a student turning in stuff late, I sort of feel like I could be.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Final Countdown: Day 2 of Finals Week

Grading Hell Rundown:

1st class: all material graded, need to enter the numbers in the excel thing and go to town. One of my students said I was the best English teacher he's had. Okay, so he's a first year student and hasn't had other college English teachers, I'm guessing. Still... I'm the best out of one!

2nd class: final written, one set of papers to grade to give back before the final.

3rd class: final not yet written, one big set and one little set of papers to give back before the final.

The countdown is ON!


We just got information about some new budget initiative stuff. We've been losing faculty positions, but I'm sure you'll be happy to know that we're planning to hire four (4) new full-time administrative positions! Because, really, we need more administrators!

One of these I can get behind, because it's a position that has some real potential for impact on education. (You remember, education is supposed to be what we do around here.) The others? Well, I'm sure they're very important.

It's not that I don't think we need administrators. Without admissions folks, I wouldn't have anyone to teach. Without the registrar folks, we wouldn't be able to record classes in ways that are meaningful to outsiders. And so forth.

But seriously, we're adding four full-time administrative positions with this big initiative.

Ah, but, you wonder, how many faculty positions are you adding? None. Evidently, we don't actually need faculty to teach students. We can just hire some administrators to talk to students at the beginning of the semester about how much critical thinking is an important skill they're learning in college, and then the students will magically learn critical thinking. And we'll have another administrator talk about how important quantitative skills are, and suddenly our students will have an infusion of calculus skills! If you just tell students what they're learning, you can convince them to fill out the assessment bubbles and say that they've actually learned whatever, right?

If you're thinking of going into academics, you need to go into residence life support or something, because that's where the jobs are.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I was hanging out with a friend and colleague the other day for a bit, chatting. We chatted about some campus stuff.

And my friend told me that there's a rumor going around about me, that I'm going to do X.

Now, X is on par with taking a position on the local community theater board. It's totally innocuous except in being utterly mundane and boring. (If you're going to start a rumor about me, start one that makes me seem completely and amazingly original and scandalous. Yes, I've done some stuff with the local community theater, but being on the board just isn't in my thoughts.)

But the thing is, it's a total surprise to me.

And the person who passed the rumor to my friend? Well, it's someone I'm friendly in the halls with, but I've never socialized with or hung out with, or whatever. How would that person think s/he knows about my joining the community theater board (or whatever)?

I'm guessing this person has better connections than I do, and so knows more, right?

Now why couldn't the gossip be even a little fun? (I'd prefer this rumor to a lot of nasty stuff that could go around, of course.)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Orchard Oriole

I've been hanging out with my camera set up on the tripod all morning. I'd see a bird land at the orange, and I'd try to sneak up and click a photo, but they'd see me move and poof! But this guy took a good look and decided I wasn't much to worry about, and had a snack while I took some pictures!

The combination of the doubler and being able to pre-focus really helped!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I just read a paper by a student that scares the dickens out of me. I'm not scared that the student is going to attack me or anyone else or anything, but more that the student is experiencing some sort of serious problem.

I'd sort of written this student off as one of those who fails a bunch of classes in the first year, and then either figures it out or not. But this paper makes me think there's something way more serious in play.

Yes, I've emailed the campus folks who are supposed to follow up on such things. And yes, I recognize that I may be totally wrong, and that this student may be perfectly wonderful. If that's the case, then I'll apologize to the campus folks (and the student if appropriate) with a great deal of relief.

My PhD in English lit really didn't prepare me for this sort of problem at all.

Grauitous Grading Griping



I just read a boring paper about deciding which game console to buy. Seriously, you'd think a paper about games of any sort would be fun, but you would be wrong.

I also read a paper by a student who's decided to go elsewhere next year because s/he doesn't like sharing a room or being far from home. I wish her much happiness, and hope her new school suits her better. At least the paper was well-written!

Back to grading.



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

At a Loss

Sometimes it seems like I'm overwhelmed with bad news. There's campus stuff, and other stuff, but that's all minor compared to news of the big oil spill in the Gulf, wars, and storms. I can't begin to comprehend sometimes.

My little problems are so very petty in comparison to real problems. I need to remember that better.

And I need to stop procrastinating about grading.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tripod Set

I love seeing how photos are taken and how movies are shot. It's fascinating.

I went wild recently and bought myself a tripod. It's great for being able to set up a camera in place, focus and then wait for a bird. Today I got frustrated with the window reflections, and it's warm enough, so I put my camera up in the doorway. Then I kept my eyes open and tried to sneak over whenever a bird landed at one of the feeders. Mostly, they didn't hang out once I was in the doorway, alas.

I didn't have any luck at first with the orange, so I switched over to the suet feeder. Here's the set up.

The afternoon light's pretty harsh at this angle, but the bird is pretty clear, way clearer than when I take the picture through a window and screen (as here, for example, though the bird is way closer in that shot). (Both are Downy Woodpeckers.)

I had five species visit the suet feeder today: Downy Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Crow, and Blue Jay.

Three species visited the orange: House Finch, Cardinal, and Baltimore Oriole.

And I also had Goldfinches, a Song Sparrow (bathing), and Cowbirds eating seed. (Though some of the others also ate seed.)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

I am Regan-Goneril

I called my Mom a little bit ago, to wish her a happy mother's day. We chatted.

My Mom's disappointed by the way her life turned out. She had this plan, and it seemed like a good one: she'd raise her kids and take good care of her husband, and defer the things she otherwise wanted to do, and then when he retired, they'd travel and stuff.

But he died about a year after retiring.

She feels cheated.

She looks around, and her friends' daughters are "all" happily married with kids and living in the area. They visit, and her friends get to see their grandkids regularly. Mostly her friends' daughters are in very traditional middle and upper-middle class white marriages, where they either work part-time or are stay at home moms.

My mom was bored stiff as a stay at home mom. She encouraged me to go to college. But deep down, she really did think that I was going to college to get an MRS degree. It didn't matter what I majored in, because, as she told me, I could always get a job as a secretary until I got married.

And so she's both really proud of what I've done, and has been tremendously supportive, and at the same time deeply hurt because by making my choices, I've demonstrated that I don't think she was right about her choices. And this is true.

But I look at her, and I don't want to defer doing things I want to do forever.

And so I feel in a bind: my mom wants me to invite her to do whatever vacation I want to do, but the vacations that most interest me (riding in Yellowstone, for example) aren't things she's capable of doing.

On one hand, I feel like I should defer my biking vacations and do something she'd like (which would be a bus vacation almost anywhere, or a tour). On the other hand, I'm nearing 50, and I'm not going to be able to go bike in Yellowstone or wherever forever.

I'm planning to have my niece and nephew visit for a week or so this summer, both for fun and because my sister-in-law and sibling should get some alone time together. I know my mom would love to be here for their visit. But if she is, we can't go biking or kayaking (logistics: it's harder to move more people+kayaks in my car). But the kids are tween and teen, and at an age when taking them out biking and such is ideal.

I've applied to go teach abroad, and I know (because she's asked) she'd love to come visit. But again, the things I'd like to do abroad aren't things she'd be able to do. And I was pretty unhappy on our last tour vacation.

I look at her, and I think, I should be patient and invite her, because it would make her happy. And she's getting old, and can't do some things, so I should adapt. And I look at her, and I think, I spent ten years being poor while I figured things out and got a PhD and lived on a really tight budget, and now I've got some disposable income, I should take vacations that I really want to take now before I can't.

Happy mother's day from a crappy daughter.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Funding Fable

There's a project on campus that has big potential. It's a big project, and there's a good deal of state funding involved.

A couple weeks ago, the underwater basketweaving department got a view of how the project would affect them. And they began to ask questions. Why, in this project, are there no new basketweaving pools for our students to use?

The project organizers explain that the students will use the old pools across campus. They say, "We don't need new pools. Instead of pools we don't need, we're going to put in large lecture halls for the departments across campus. But we'll put a shower in, and it will work as well as a pool, right? It's got water and everything."

But the underwater basketweaving department says, no, that's rainweaving, and that's another department.

The project organizers respond, "But the rainweaving department needs weaving showers, and says your students can use them when they're not already scheduled. By the way, the swim team will be sharing your underwater basketweaving pools for practice."

And the rainweaving department chair, looking worried, asks, "how will we supervise our students in the showers in the new project when our department is across campus."

"Quit complaining," say the project organizers. "You need the exercise of walking across campus."

"Wait," the underwater basketweaving department objects, "we've been scheduling our pools for years; we don't have open times for swim practice. Our students need to use the pools for basketweaving."

"Things are going to change," the project organizers patiently explain, "we're going to take over all the scheduling. We'll be arranging everything."

The underwater basketweaving department replies, en masse, "We really don't think this big new project is being well planned. We want better planning. We don't think you understand what we need."

"Shhh," the project organizers say, waving their arms dramatically, "shhh, if the state funding folks hear that you have questions, then they won't want to fund the project. Don't worry, they say, our project organizers are taking your concerns into consideration. We've got this plan, and it will be great, just trust us."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

First Oriole!

I saw the first Baltimore Oriole of the season in my yard today!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Graduation News

Here's a little Downy Woodpecker. I'd taken a photo through the window (and screen), which makes it a little duller. But he noticed, and suddenly turned to look at me for a sec. Then he seemed to decide I wasn't doing that much to be worried about, and worried about the predator potential from elsewhere.


My sister-in-law went back to college a couple years ago to finish her degree (while being the primary caregiver to the kids). When she first started back, she'd call and talk to me about her papers, and it was lots of fun to brainstorm with her as she was working on them.

As she's progressed in her Spanish major, it's been even more fun. We've been talking about Spanish poetry or lit; when we get together, she'll bring out a poem or short story, and we'll work our way through and talk about it. She's way better at Spanish than I am, but I'm pretty good with the poetry part, so we actually do well together and have a good time. Then when she writes her papers, I have to work hard to understand the Spanish, but I can give her feedback about making things better organized or giving mapping hints and such.

As a non-trad who's very smart, she tends to draft and work on her papers a lot and with more than diligence. So they're already interesting to read and fun to give feedback about. And the Spanish makes it a challenge for me, since she's so far beyond my Spanish. (I can mostly understand, but I can't produce written Spanish with much fluency.) But still, I think I'm helpful. And it's fun.

This evening, we talked about her final paper. It was already solid and smart, but I think I was able to help with some fine-tuning stuff.

I'm conflicted. I'm so very pleased that she's graduating. She's worked so hard, and now she's graduating! I would be proud, but my pride doesn't seem appropriate. I am more admiring than proud.

On the other hand, I've really enjoyed having Spanish poems come my way to struggle with, and I've enjoyed talking to her about the poems, literature, and her papers. I'm going to miss that, I expect.

Congratulations to my most wonderful sister-in-law!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Fuster Cluck

I went to a meeting today where there was a short session by the folks organizing the cluster things for a test run.

We'd gotten an email way back in April saying that there would be a call for proposals soon, and laying out some rules. Then a couple weeks later, we got the actual call for proposals, and that set up an internal web site thing. So I put up my ideas, and saw the other folks' ideas, and it struck me that none of the other ideas seemed to be applying the rules. And a lot of the cluster proposal stuff was encouraging us to use our first year writing class as a part of a cluster. But right now, the writing class isn't part of the general education stuff (it's a separate requirement).

At the session today, the folks organizing things said that the rumors that clusters had already been selected were false, and said they had no preconceptions. Then they said, the only rule is that the cluster has to be global in focus. (So, the cluster on race in America is apparently out. And that seemed like an interesting one.)

So, I asked if the rules laid out in the earlier email were real or not. No, they said. Well, sort of, though. But not in that way. Because they don't know which clusters they'll like, so they don't know.


Seriously, they basically said, we don't know, but we'll decide when we decide which proposal we like best.

Okay, then. (It's like p0rn and the supreme court, I guess.)

If I did that with an assignment for students, giving them no sense of the criteria, I'd get harsh evals. I wonder if I get to evaluate these folks?

Then I asked if our writing course is now counting for a general ed requirement. No, they said, but maybe, sort of, but not really.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Math: A Word Problem

I have 28 research papers to grade.

If I grade five papers a day, how many days will it take before I'm drinking heavily?

Partial Review: Kerouac's Big Sur

I pick up my books on tape at the library for night listening (and books on CD at the library for car listening), so I pretty much take what I can get. The library's selection favors mystery and detective novels, which generally don't much interest me. A couple weeks ago, I saw Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and thought that since I hadn't read it since high school (when I hated it, along with pretty much everything else because I was an obnoxious teen), I'd give it a try.

I remember in high school, complaining in class (did I mention I was a particularly obnoxious teen? I was serious about that) that Hemingway's narrative said six times in the space of a page and a half that it was raining. Six times. I had no appreciation of the genius.

I still don't.

I found the narrative repetitive (She was with them. She was very much with them. blah blah) and the plot uninteresting. The narrative didn't inspire me to care.

So on to Kerouac. I've only read On the Road before. I read it first when I was in the Peace Corps, 22 or so, living in the middle of nowhere in a rain forest, and I loved it. It was high adventure. I read it again at 30-something, and hated it. I have little patience these days for the ultra-romanticism of the very special tortured (almost always male) artist who's forced, FORCED to go around being obnoxious to other people who aren't very special artists.

But hey, Big Sur, there's a promising title!

I'm a cassette and a half in, so about one fifth of the book, and I'm irritated. I don't know whether I'll bother to listen to more, or whether my irritation will drive me to the library to get another book on tape.

Some of my irritation has to do with the very special tortured artist who treats everyone like crap and needs to go get drunk and piss on the world. I find drunks in texts marginally less irritating than drunks in person, and I detest being with people who are drunk in person.

Some of my irritation has to do with the sexism. The intro to the cassettes had a guy saying something about how Kerouac was never mean to anyone. I guess he doesn't consider women anyone?

There's a section where the narrator is trying to hitchhike back to San Francisco from Big Sur and not having much luck. He blames his lack of luck primarily on the fact that the cars passing are tourists with the husbands driving and the wives navigating and being far too petty and mean to let their husbands dare to stop to pick up a hitchhiker. It's clear from the narrative that wives abuse husbands horribly by not letting them go on their manly, homosocial fishing trips for the yearly vacation but insisting that the husband vacation with his family. The outrage!

Women in this text seem to come in two sorts: wives who abuse their husbands horribly by existing, and "girls" who are unnamed and merely temporary penis pockets.

My final irritation is petty, but serious. Kerouac keeps using "Frisco" for San Francisco. Bleah.

Here's what: San Francisco is either San Francisco, or, if you're in the Bay Area, simply "The City." If you're in New York or London or any other major metropolis, then you have to differentiate which "The City" you mean when you're saying "The City" and mean San Francisco, but if you're in the San Francisco area, everyone knows you mean San Francisco. Los Angeles is never "The City." Nor is San Jose.

I'm guessing being from Massachusetts, Kerouac thought of Boston or New York when he thought of "The City" and couldn't lose his snobbiness enough to listen to anyone actually in the Bay Area.

Kerouac takes a little dig at Hesse's Siddhartha, which is an interesting moment. Here's Kerouac, the rebel, taking a potshot at Hesse, who certainly wrote about the same sort of self-absorbed male heroes with a romanticist edge. (Yes, like everyone else in the early 80s, I read Hesse a lot.)

The good stuff? The flow of language is lots of fun. Some of the metaphors work well. But there's a sense of missing the landscape that just doesn't seem right for a text entitled Big Sur where all he notices is the ocean and some rocks, and then whines and goes back up to the City.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Meet May

It's way early, but on the way to the farmers' market (open for the first time yesterday!) yesterday, I decided to celebrate spring. So I went to one of the local nurseries and bought some annuals for my color pots.

Now, where I'm from, a color pot would probably be a special cultivar. But here in the midwest, I've learned that a color pot is a flower pot that you put outside sometime in spring, and plant a couple flowering annuals in. Then you fertilize the heck out of it, and they blossom wildly for the season. And then when it gets cold, they die and you put the pot inside or in the garage (so that it doesn't crack from expanding and contracting with temperature changes), and start over again the next year. Where I'm from, people just have flower pots on their porch or deck. I don't know that they have a special name.

Here's a White-Throated Sparrow, generously posing so that you can see the yellow spot near the eye.

And here, if you look closely, you'll see what I think is an Eastern Phoebe, my first.