Saturday, March 30, 2013


And just like that, it feels like spring.  (No fear, though, we're supposed to get colder temperatures again in the coming week.)  The neighbor's birch trees are starting to swell at the tips, though my own (a river birch, so not quite the same) isn't yet.

Out walking the guestdog yesterday, I saw what I thought were two brown thrashers.  Except they were in the company of a male cardinal, which makes me wonder if they weren't female cardinals (or an immature?  I'd have to look up first year cardinal plumage).

I'm feeling distracted.  I'm weirdly worried about North Korea.  I know so little about North Korea (and only marginally more about South Korea, admittedly), and I think that contributes.  And not long ago I listened to an audio book called The Orphan Master's Son, a novel which is set in North Korea, mostly, and very dark, though also witty and really interesting.  But in that way that if I know very little about something, and then read one thing, I can't judge if that one thing is accurate at all, so I'm hesitant about how the novel contributes to my thinking about North Korea.  It's not that I think North Korea is really going to attack South Korea or Japan (or US bases there), but I'm worried that something's up, and I'm clueless about that something.

I'm torn about the Supreme Court cases involving marriage equality.  On the one hand, I think marriage (in the west, at least) is a patriarchal organization, and we need to rethink our relationships and not base important ones on patriarchy.  Further, I'm tired of married folks having a lot of advantages over unmarried folks.  (Socially, benefits at work, cheaper prices on multiple phone plans, and so on.)

On the other hand, if we're not going to change the structual basis of marriage (and I don't think we're going to challenge that in the near future at all), then marriage equality is important.

And I know lots of married people for whom that marital relationship is meaningful and important, and it would hurt them to challenge it, and I don't want them hurt.

And then we move to the third or fourth hand, and you see where this is going.

I'm mildly frustrated at my students inability to understand basic math.  I used mail merge (and I'm proud of myself for remembering how to do it!) to put together letters to my students giving them their current grade status based on their grades (all in the letter) and percentages.

And I wrote a note about the problem with the math.  You see, in each of my classes this semester, students have to complete ten short assignments (journals type assignments), and have 15 choices to pick from in completing those ten assignments.  At this point, most of the classes have had ten of the choices so far.  But I had to divide by something, so I divided by the number of choices they've had so far.  So for a student who has done all ten already, the grade estimate is fairly accurate.  A student who's done only five, though, looks like they're failing the journals, even if their five journals each earned full credit.  (And they have five more opportunities to finish all ten journals.)

That's compounded by the fact that the journals are worth 15% of the final grade.  But since they've only turned in 45% of the total work so far, the journals are worth about one third of the estimated grade.  Thus, they seem way more important than they are.

Now the grade worriers are concerned, and one of them asked me to let them drop the lowest journal and do an extra.  That means, for me, an extra set of journals to grade.  Not huge, but still, a pain.  But mathematically, the difference at the end of the semester for a student who's lowest grade is, say, a C, is less than one point on a hundred point grading scale.  That student would be better off putting more effort into studying for the final.  (And then what to do about the student who, following the rules, figured out which ten they needed to do, and wouldn't be able to fit in an extra at this point?)

I had a couple of garlic cloves that were showing green sprouts, so I planted them in a container in the kitchen.  I've never grown garlic before (though I have been to Gilroy!), so this should be fun.  Any ideas of what sorts of soil they do best in?   Now I have to control myself and not plant the sunflowers for at least another two weeks (they tend to get sort of stringy and weak if they're inside too long).   And marigolds!  I have a huge bag of marigold seeds from last year's plants.  I think I'll take them into the office with some tiny bags and invite people to plant their own.  (Maybe I should check to make sure they'll germinate first?)

It's the weekend, and it's raining.  I was going to try a bike ride, but now I'm thinking maybe I should take my bike in for its spring tuneup instead.

And pop!  Time to get going.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring May Come, Or, When Good Dogs Photobomb

The snow is beginning to recede, and as it receded today, it opened up a patch of dirt near the driveway where I have a bunch of crocuses in.  So I thought I'd take a picture of the crocuses to celebrate.  But I'm dogsitting the neighbor's dog, and she decided that if there's a picture being taken, it should be of her.  You can get an idea that there's still plenty of snow on the ground (there's a drift behind her from where I put snow I dig off the driveway, so it looks higher than it mostly is).

She's very curious about what I found so exciting.

You can see here that the crocuses are coming up!  There's still snow to melt, but this looks like spring may really be on the way!  Get up those stairs, Persephone!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Northern Flicker and Spring!

One of the fun things about keeping a blog is that I can look back and actually see when I was posting about this or that, rather than trying to remember.  I can see that in other years, I've been out biking in March, but there's still a lot of snow on the ground, and it's still cold, so I haven't gone out this year yet.  (I know some friends have, but I'm a whuss.)  The roads are probably clear enough to start riding outside.

Today, I saw a Northern Flicker on the neighbor's tree (I got a pretty good look with the binoculars, and had my bird book handy).  I rarely see these around here, and it seems early (though I'm near the northern boundary of their wintering line, according to the book, so they may have been around all winter and I just didn't see them, or it may not be especially early).  Unfortunately, it flew off before I got my camera.  The flicker gives me hope for spring.

In looking over past springs, I can see that by March, I've often had crocuses up.  Not this year, though.  Where they are is still covered by a goodly snow pack.  (We really need moisture here, so I shouldn't complain.  If we get a nice, slow melting spring, that supposedly will help with our soil conditions.)

I think the first chipping sparrow might be about, and there are a couple of redpolls (common) at the feeder today, as well as the usual suspects (a tufted titmouse, juncoes, house sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches).  The goldfinches aren't molting yet, so far as I can see.  (The Sibley Guide blog has a fantastic post about goldfinch molting patterns here!)


I'm on a committee that involves reading lots of course materials from across campus, so I see lots of what people are handing out.  Last night, I was preparing for the meeting, doing my pre-reading, and one of the sets of materials (a syllabus and calendar) used at least two different fonts (a serif and a sans serif, though maybe more, because I find it difficult to tell some sans serif fonts apart when they change sizes), at least three sizes of each of those, plus bold, underline, italics, and ALL CAPS!  (And SOME BOLD ALL CAPS!)

You know those mocking websites that used to be (still are?) around, making fun of the bad web site design with lots of moving stuff, bad color choices, and bad font choices?  It felt like I was looking at a mocking of bad syllabus design.  There were so many changes designed to get attention that it felt frantic and unorganized, though on closer inspection, there were obvious signs of organization and planning.

I'm way too lazy to do font changes or size changes, though I admit to using boldface on occasion (for headings, mostly), and to italicizing book and journal titles.

We've gotten way more legalistic in our syllabus language around here.  When I first started teaching, I used to hand out a one page, double sided syllabus and calendar (admittedly, I was on a 10 week term system).  Now, I take up two pages double sided, and sometimes three.  And I'm not the wordiest.  (I have a colleague whose course materials read like a Dickens novel.)

(But honestly, if I could find an early modern Roman type face, say a beautiful Garamond, I would totally use that in my course materials!)

Monday, March 25, 2013

And We're Back!

Our break is now officially over.

I traveled and visited family, and that was great, but tiring.  Then I traveled back, and did home stuff, and graded a lot, and that was tiring.

So now I feel like I need a break.

My neighbor dog is visiting, which is lovely.  She takes me out for a walk whenever she can convince me, and I much appreciate her enthusiasm.  And when she gets up in the morning, she's already wagging and throws herself into that big stretch thing with her tail going so hard it wriggles her whole rear end. 

So, I have a few things still to grade, but no huge piles.  I got a goodly amount of work done over break.  And I got some sunshine.

Next up, midterm reports.  I am amused to see that I blogged about midterm grades before.  What's changed for me is that last semester I went to the computer help folks and got a lesson in using mail merge for excel and word, and now I can put things together.  Well, assuming I can either find the directions I wrote myself or figure it out by playing with it, I can put things together.  That should help!

I started the process with my first year writing students today, by giving them copies of their grade sheets and going through the math with them.  It saddens me that some of them can't add a few single digit numbers in their heads (or so it seems: they pulled out calculators). 

Friday, March 22, 2013

And there is also snow

I'm back in snow country, having enjoyed visiting family in the green world.

Now to grade all the stuff that must be graded.  I'm figuring there's 8 hours of work, so if I do it, I can get it done without being tortured.

I did do some reading on the plane trips, and that puts me ahead for some things.  So there should still be time to go out and enjoy some snow activities.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

There is Green in the World, and Other News

The world is not actually covered in snow.  I'm thrilled to have rediscovered this.

I went to a big family thing, and one of the cool things is that my many cousins seem as happy to see me as I am to see them, and as happy to chat as adults as we were to hang out as kids.

There are things that really irritate me, but I'm happy to say that I seem to let at least some of these slide by.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Meeting Fail

I was in a sort of important meeting today, and just when it was most inappropriate to interrupt someone, I got a loud case of the hiccups.

I did have a cup of very hot drink with me, but it was too hot to drink right away, so I sipped and burned my tongue, but that wasn't enough to get rid of the hiccups.

Yeah, that made a good impression.

Despair in Grading

I'm grading some papers, and so far, they're really poor.

We did a preparatory assignment (reading and discussion together), and these papers are the next step in the way to a longer, semester-capping assignment.  That, at least, means there's time for students to learn from this set.

But, damn.  The level of vacuity is high.  There are all these empty words.  It's like reading a political speech, except they're supposed to be writing about something they've written.

I find responding to poor quality papers really hard.  But I need to respond well, because they'll have a very similar assignment as the next step, and I want them to really improve.  And if they improve there, then I'll have some hope for the final assignment.

Until then, though, I want to scream.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The World Grows Smaller

I don't remember seeing much on line about the last papal conclave.  But today, I got back from my last class of the day, looked at effbee, and saw that someone had posted that there was a new pope, pulled up the BBC website, and saw the live announcement.

It's amazing, isn't it, that I could watch that from halfway around the world, with as much ease as anything.

I have the same sense of awe when I watch a bike race streaming (I pay for a subscription thingy).

Okay, back to grading.

(One last thing:  I was surprised that I could sort of make out the basics of the Latin.  And I liked that he spoke in Italian.  That seemed friendly and pastoral, and I mean pastoral in a positive sense.  And, I could get some of the Italian, too.  Is that from a summer spent learning to read Italian, or from listening to bike races in Italian?)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


In fall, when it hits 45, we all talk about how cold it is.  In the spring, when it hits 45, we're out in shorts (well, many of us) and thrilled with the warmth.  Somehow, we get used to being cold and dealing with it, and even if I'm wearing the exact same clothes in fall and spring (because my wardrobe is that boring), I feel very differently in the same temperatures.

It occurs to me that this explains a lot about why I always felt cold in the winter as a kid, even though I grew up in a moderate climate where getting a freeze over night was newsworthy.  Unfortunately, it also suggests that if I move back there somehow, I'll still feel cold in winter, since I manage to lose whatever cold endurance I acquire over the winter by the next fall.  A few short and glorious months of warmth and I'm a beginner at the cold once again, every year.

We look to be having a later spring than last year, with more snowfall.  That's great and important for our agriculture, and a little frustrating for everyone who's impatient for spring.  It's hard to believe that spring will ever really come when my yard is covered in snow and the shovel piles are chest high.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Job Search: The Watch and Wait

Flavia, of Ferule and Fescue, reports that her department has successfully concluded its search.  Congrats to her and her department.

It's this time of the year when the search process turns, when search committees have interviewed, brought candidates to campus, and had yet more meetings.  On my campus, everyone in the department community is welcome to give feedback, and then the search committee makes a recommendation to the chair, who makes a recommendation on up the line.  (I think it's theoretically possible for a chair to recommend a different candidate than the committee recommended, but I don't think that's happened while I've been here.)   Then, if all's well, the nod comes back down to the chair, and the chair makes a phone call and starts negotiations.

At this point, the search committee pretty much waits.  We don't get to hear much about the communications or negotiations, and that makes sense, but it's also anxiety producing.  Will our chosen candidate accept our offer?   Sometimes candidates ask for a week or two to decide because they've got other campus visits lined up.  So we wait.  Once the chair knows, then we know.

And if not, what do we do?  Is there another candidate who has visited that we'd like to make an offer to?  Or do we need to go further into our pool?

We may have had an easy time deciding which candidates to invite to campus, but if we have to choose one more candidate, we may have less agreement.

Flavia mentioned that in past searches her department has had candidates turn them down and has hired a second candidate, but that once the new candidate is hired, the department members are pretty happy and think about the person they have, rather than worrying about the person who didn't accept the offer.  That's also been my experience.  I know we've hired candidates after some offers were turned down, and the people are excellent colleagues.

One time, we had someone sign the contract and then back out, so we had several weeks before we had to go back to the candidate pool and try again, by which time some other folks already had jobs.  (No one here had a bad word to say about the person who backed out; we totally understood that we're not the most desireable job.)  We ended up hiring a superb colleague.

If we need to go back into the pool, we're still bringing in excellent candidates, but we and our colleagues are feeling search fatigue.  In an average hiring year (we aren't allowed to hire every year, but when we are, we often have 2-3 searches), for example, I'm likely to have gone to 5 or 6 job talks, meals with candidates, maybe additional receptions.  If I'm on a search committee, I've probably done more.  So when I see the call go out weeks later for another job talk and meals, I know we'll have trouble with attendance.  I'm not trying to excuse faculty members for not wanting to attend more candidate events, but to acknowledge how tired we are.  Not so long ago, I was at one of these events, tired and grumpy (and very much wishing I had never gone to grad school), and trying not to show it, and the candidate asked about living in the community, and one of my colleagues said, "Oh, Bardiac, you love living here.  Why don't you talk about it?"

Let's imagine a search for a brackish water basketweaving theorist.  There are, say, 150 candidates who are applying for, say, 10 searches in the field.  Of these, 25 stand out on paper as strong candidates.  Of this number, we select maybe 10 for initial interviews.    Maybe 6 or those really stand out as stellar.

The thing is, I have a feeling that if there are 10 job searches in the field, we're all looking at about 15 or so candidates in common, and maybe 8 who impress greatly in interviews and campus visits.  Those 8 will likely get several offers, with two others getting a secondary or tertiary offer.

From the candidates' points of view, there's massive competition for very few slots.

For the search committees, there are relatively few really qualified candidates who give stellar interviews, so we feel like we're also experiencing serious competition for those candidates.  (Yes, it's still way better to be on the search committee than in the candidate pool.)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Bit of Panic

As I'm thinking about next year's classes, I'm in a state of semi-panic.

It looks like I'll have a number of new class preps.  Some of these are my own fault.

Majors' Gateway Course (I've taught this before, something like 8 years ago?) (This is instead of comp, and like our comp, a course that meets for five hours a week.)
Lower Level Early British Course
Senior Seminar (Comedy, with lots of ideas, thanks to you folks!  I'm looking at texts now, and thinking about how to integrate some of the ideas you've shared.)

Majors' Gateway Course (repeat!)
MA level grad seminar

I may end up with another partial assignment and drop a course.  If so, I'll likely either drop the lower level Brit course or the grad seminar.

I was thinking about using the Routledge Romance of Arthur anthology (Eds. Norris J. Lacy and James J. Wilhelm) to do an Arthurian lit course in the lower level Brit course.

Pros: It would be potentially very fun, and students would be likely to find it so.
Cons: I'm not really up on Arthuriana and would need to read a lot during the summer.

 Or, I could do a Liz/Jac lit course from an anthology, and give students a taste of lyric, non-Shax drama, some prose fiction, and maybe a romance or two (or even end into Paradise Lost). 

Pros: The prep would be a ton easier, and I could choose from a lot of great lit.
Cons: A bit less popular with students.

What are your thoughts on the joys of either sort of class?  (In neither case would I do a rush through 200 years of lit thing.)

The Majors' Gateway course is mostly aimed at trying to get students to think like English majors, but inclusive of all our different sorts of majors (we have five sorts of majors, at least).  So we think about texts, metaphor, and so on.  Last time I taught it, I used a sort of questy theme, starting with Chretien and Perceval, and ending with Winterson's Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Monty Python, and Indiana Jones.  I may rework the theme, or come up with something different.

I would like to have more variety: a non-fiction sort of text, more lyric poetry.  Those are sort of hard to work into the questy theme.  (I'd happily take suggestions.)  I did like it for the variety (Marie de France!  Monty Python!)

Now I'm trying to think of other themes which would play to my strengths and be interesting to students.

One of the things I really like about my job is that I don't have semester after semester of the same thing, endlessly.  (But then with lit, it seems like even a basic intro to lit could always be different.)

The flip side, though, is that I'm always thinking of new courses, prepping new stuff, sometimes giving myself more work than I should.

If I end up teaching the grad seminar, then I also need to do most of the prep for that over the summer.  (Our MA program students can take our senior seminars, so I need to offer something different for the MA program than for the senior seminar.)

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Book orders for another semester are bearing down on me.  Again.  It looks like I'll be teaching two new courses next semester.  One is our senior seminar in earlier British lit, which I could revamp a previous course for, but I want to do something different.

In recent years, I've done a course on the Other in EME Drama, Marlowe, and Witchcraft in EME Drama.  And while I really enjoyed each of those, I'm ready to do something different, and then maybe come back to one of the topics I've done before.  (I need enough space to feel like I'll rethink the readings and see what's new, and also enough time for students who want to take a second EM seminar to have a choice that's significantly different.  That's not a huge population, but it's a few students a year, probably.)

So, I'm thinking of an EME comedy (plays, primarily) course.

On the for sure list so far is Epicoene.  Other than that, I'm pretty wide open.  I am thinking, however, of finishing the semester with Emma with is neither early modern nor a drama, but would, I think, be a delightful finish to the semester for students and me alike. 

So, here goes.  What plays do you think should I teach?  (I'm willing to go to EEBO if I have to, so it doesn't have to be just widely in modern editions, but modern editions are helpful!)

The Knight of the Burning Pestle  (I have a copy of an 18th century edition, so that would be extra fun for show and tell.)

What theory and criticism?

I can't wait to hear your suggestions!

Monday, March 04, 2013


I had a student last year who was really into a performance thing.  And this weekend, I went to a campus event, and that student was doing the performance thing.  And it was so very cool!

And today, we were reviewing for the midterm in my Shakespeare class, and putting concepts up on the board.  One of the concepts, when I introduced it, I drew a picture, and during the review, one of the students drew a better picture for the concept.  I'm so impressed that she could remember it well enough to do a picture on the board, and that she was willing to as well.  (If you can teach a concept, then you've learned it, right?  And being able to draw it means you get it.  And given that you've seen some of my best art, you can imagine many students can easily do better.)

It's always cool doing this sort of review day because the students just cover the board in stuff, and it's very visible that they've learned a lot in the class.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Animal Names

My last stick figure lit post had the two Cambridge students running after the borrowed horse, Bayard.  I love that we know the horse's name.

Bayard seems to be a name for a bay horse.  I feel like I've read it before, in other pieces of lit.  Have I?  Do you folks know other Bayards?

I like that medieval writers give us names for animals.  Horses seem especially important.  There's Gringolet, for example.

What other famous horses do we know?  (The other two I know are Traveler, Robert E Lee's famous and beautiful gray horse, and Comanche, the US cavalry horse that was found at the Little Bighorn battlefield after the battle.)

Dogs?  Asta in lit, and lots of historical dogs from fairly recent history.  But I don't remember any dog names in medieval lit.  In fact, I don't remember any dog names from early modern lit (other than Cub and Tom), either.  Nor, does it seem to me, are there many dogs.

In contrasts, we have Greymalkin and Malkin for cats, no?  Other cats?

Chaunticleer and Pertelote, but other poultry?

Don Russell or Reynard, but other wild animals?