Thursday, October 30, 2014


As someone who grew up, as I did, with names, familiar in my mouth as household words, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Jesus Alou*, I should be pretty happy about last night's World Series win by the San Francisco Giants.

I am.  Sort of.

I'm happy for my relatives who are in the Bay Area and care about the sports teams.

Other than that?  I watched only the last inning, and that more by accident than design.  So I can't say I was really invested.

But in the lead up, through the series, of course I heard stuff on the news.  And around here, maybe it's the Midwest thing, but the local news folks were definitely rooting for Kansas City.  And the rooting felt like there were subtle digs not at the Giants, but at San Francisco, the city, the people, and the whole Bay Area.  And as much as anyone around me has noticed or mentioned the game (except my relatives on effbee), that's been the general undertone, often.  (Not always, but in a sort of undertone way.)

Winter is coming on, and with all this, I'm feeling very dislocated.  I'm not getting outside enough, just going to work in the near dark (already) and coming home just before dark most days, and I'm feeling the cold in the way we do in the fall, when 40 feels so much colder than it does in the spring.  Work is overwhelming, but I need to find a way to make time to get outside at least a little, and to be warm while outside.  And my yard, my yard needs so much cleanup right now. 

*  I remember pretty distinctly the first time I learned to read Jesus Alou's first name.  I guess in my little kid way, learning to read in a monolingual English speaking household, I'd thought his name would look like "Haysoos" or something, something totally separate from the word "Jesus" I'd seen in church stuff. 

It probably says something about my parents that they were totally okay with me wanting to grow up to be Willie McCovey when we played streetball on our street and I always wanted to play first base.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mid-Week Roundup

Today was one of those days when I had a lot of stuff that needed to be done.

I had a stack of papers to finish grading, and sample papers to find to show students to their project.

For another class, I had to prep a text I've never taught before.  (It was so great!  Sometimes, you take a flyer and it works!)

And for the third class, I needed to prep a different text I've never taught before.

For two of the classes, I needed to prepare and give midterm grades to students.  (One of them is a requirement, one optional, but I do both because I can.)

I have a big list things to do tomorrow, but it feels more manageable with the big stack of papers graded.  I love having graded a pile.

I'm liking the journal list thing I wrote about here.  It's working helpfully for keeping stuff in mind without having to rewrite the list and such.  And having the stuff all together, a day list, a longer term project list, it helps.  I'm also putting some brainstormy type stuff there, too.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


NPR is running a story today on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jonas Salk.

I'm old enough to remember being lined up as a kindergartener and everyone getting a sugar cube with the polio vaccine (which was the Sabine vaccine, I realize).

I'm of an age where I remember no one from my generation having polio, but one of my aunts had had it (and survived, not too badly affected).

Thank you, Jonas Salk.  And thank you to all the researchers who developed vaccines, and all the kids who were tested, and all the parents who enrolled their kids to be tested, and to my parents who made sure I was vaccinated, and to my school district that made sure we were all vaccinated.

Yep, I got my flu vaccine for the year a couple of weeks ago now.  I don't think I've ever had the real flu, and I'm fine with missing that experience!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Brave New World

For the fourth time today, I had an expert skype in to talk to one of my classes.  Three experts, four visits (because one was kind enough to skype twice).

It's really cool, especially for this more advanced course, because the experts are people whose work we're reading, and the students get to see these folks as human beings, thinking their way through questions, asking the students questions, thinking together. 

Each time, the students have been quiet, sort of shy, especially at first.  But each time they've also talked afterwards about how much they learned, and how cool it is.

It's like Star Trek or something!  From across the country!


There's a link on my effbee feed to an interview with Norman Lear about All in the Family.  One of the clips shown is of Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker. 

Now I remember watching All in the Family, and Edith Bunker seemed pretty old.  But seeing that clip, she looks young!  So I looked, and when the show started, she was in her late 40s.

Whap!  So, yes, I've realized that I'm older than Edith Bunker, and I look older, too.  (I don't dye my hair, and Edith isn't showing much grey, so maybe she dyed her hair?  Or wore a wig?  Or maybe I just have more grey.)

(Here's a link to the article.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Things That Make Me Wonder

First, how does the US have jurisdiction over murders that happened in Iraq or Afghanistan?

The Blackwater men were tried here, and now the news says the US is bringing a Russian national who fought with the Taliban for trial in the US.

I just don't understand.

Also, I don't understand someone coming back to the US after having worked with Ebola patients, and deciding to go ride the subway and go bowling and such.  Wouldn't you say to yourself, "well, self, I think I'll hang out in my apartment for three weeks, just to make sure, and contact the rest of the world via email and the internet.  And ask a friend to drop groceries by, but not come in."

It just seems like that would be common sense, doesn't it?  You don't think you'll get sick, and you sure hope you won't, but since it's a pretty serious disease, and since the subway has lots and lots of people, wouldn't you just think that staying to yourself for a couple weeks was do-able, and going bowling wasn't really necessary?

(I ask this as someone who always catches colds when I spend lots of time in subway systems.  And yes, I know it's a whole lot harder to spread Ebola than a cold, I think I'd manage to be that careful if I might be incubating Ebola.)

I'm thinking of applying for this special faculty position here.  I might be a stretch.  But again, I might not.  I need to talk to some folks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Advertising Classes

I'm sure I've seen these for years, but this semester, things seem to be ramping up.  Basically, someone makes a poster of some sort to advertise a course they're teaching in a coming term.

We do these pretty officially for courses taught in terms that aren't fall or spring semester, but the other day, one of my colleagues handed me a BIG yellow piece of paper with a description of his course.  I happily put it up on my door.  But it got me thinking.

Then another colleague stopped to chat in passing and said he was going to make a poster for a class he's teaching.

I got to thinking, and then I powered up the powerpoint and made a small poster (just a black and white) for my Chaucer class.  So there!

It feels strangely like competition where there really shouldn't be competition.  A poster is a poor reason to choose a course.  But maybe someone sees a course listed and doesn't know what it will be about, and a poster tells them, and they realize they might find the course interesting?

That seems like a poor excuse for having jumped on this particular little bandwagon.

On the other hand, I learned powerpoint basics years ago, so at least it didn't take me long to put together a small poster.

Do you put up posters?  Are they part of your institutional culture?  Do you think they even work?

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Eyes

I'm teaching a course this semester on ecocriticism and early modern lit (as I posted here).  It's a learning experience for me.  We spent the first few weeks reading ecocritical theory, and now we're reading early modern texts paired with a critical text. 

I'm really enjoying this class and learning a lot.  I hope the students feel like they're learning as much, and also enjoying it.

One of the cool things is that when you start thinking theoretically about something, you suddenly start to see things you hadn't noticed before, start reading differently.  I'm really enjoying that about reading some texts I've read and loved for a long time.  This feels like a really fruitful area of inquiry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Green Grass on the Other Side of the Fence

Is it just here at NWU, or is it everywhere?

Our English Ed folks always seem to want to teach literature.

Ask them why they did a doctorate in English Ed, and they'll tell me that they were aware of the horrid prospects in lit, and so chose English Ed.

And they're right: my school starts English Ed assistant profs at about what associates in lit make.

But then they'll say that they want to teach lit, and they're totally qualified to teach whatever it is in lit that strikes their fancy... because they taught it in high school.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Writing Some Letters

I'm writing some thank you notes in my official capacity as a committee person, trying to draft these so I can get some input from other committee members before I send them out officially.

But yesterday, I started reading a new novel, Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher.  First, I was sitting waiting to pick folks up in an airport, and kept laughing inappropriately loudly, but I couldn't help myself.  And here in the upper midwest, loud laughter in public is pretty unappreciated unless you're a white male, drinking, and watching your local sports team or something.  At any rate, I got some weird looks in the airport.

Second, beyond the amusement, the novel makes me want to get a little more action into my own letters.  (These letters are very sincere, but it's hard to say much beyond "thank you for doing this extra work" at this point.  I'm trying.)

If you haven't read it, I recommend the novel.  And if you have, I wonder if you're reimagining the various letters you write for recommendations or whatever, as I am.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Paradox of Im/Permanence

I decided to try a new (for me) organizational strategy that I read about (here).  I'm hoping that it will help me keep longer term stuff on track better, and inspire me to less procrastination.  We'll see.  At any rate, I bought myself a little journal book, and that and pen ink seem to be the only financial investments, so at least there's that.

One of the interesting bits in the website is that the guy who developed the system (Ryder Carrol, to give credit where credit is due) talks about the journals forming a record of sorts.  I'm not sure that I need any sort of permanent record of to do lists and such, but on the other hand, we find Philip Henslowe's account book invaluable, so I do respect that.  Part of its value lies in its rarity.  If we had account books for every theatrical enterprise in the period, Henslowe's probably wouldn't garner as much attention.  I'm pretty sure at least some of the other theatrical companies and such kept some sort of records, but they don't survive.  And in all likelihood, even if this system works well for me and I keep at it, my little journal books are unlikely to survive for very long.  Nor should they.

The system is paper-based, which means as long as the paper survives and the ink is readable, it will survive.  So even though paper is pretty easily destroyed in all sorts of ways, if it survives, it's pretty accessible.

Digital stuff paradoxically is super survivable and minimally survivable.  At least, that's how it seems.  We warn kids and students not to put pictures or whatever else might be someday damaging into the internet because we think of those things as coming back to haunt people later, at some distant date into the future.  But at the same time, if I wanted to get at files I wrote on a computer just ten years ago and stored on a floppy, the standard of the time, it's going to be super difficult.  And I doubt in ten or fifteen years flash drives will still be totally accessible (maybe I'm wrong?).

I cringe when I hear someone use the "cloud" metaphor and realize that they don't think it's a metaphor at all.  But there's physical, material stuff somewhere that's storing the information in bits and bytes and such, and that physical, material stuff can be destroyed in lots of ways.  But unlike my little journal, which I can (I hope) keep track of, most of us have no idea at all where the server farms are storing information we think of as being in "the cloud."

Heck, I have no clue where my own campus's servers live, even though I store tons of stuff on my "private" little area there, and trust that the campus folks are backing it up and taking good care so that it doesn't get destroyed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Final Harvest

I dug up most of the veggie garden yesterday, harvesting the last of the carrots and the pumpkin.

(Link to post with pictures from the summer garden.)

I did leave one kale plant still going pretty well, and expect to have kale salad this evening.

Here are the final harvest pictures, with a quarter so you can see how big (or small) my pumpkin is.  You can also see where the pumpkin is scarred from growing on a concrete block:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Return, Again

I've written here (December 2013) and here (April 2014) about difficulties with an MA student who has moved away and still wants to finish hir thesis.  We had contact in April, when I responded to a "full" draft that it wasn't acceptable, noting that the writer hadn't responded at all to my revision suggestions.  And the last I heard was that the writer was going to think about whether to finish or not because zie was pretty down and busy and life is complicated. 

Yesterday, I heard, just a short note asking for clarification about some notes I'd put on draft chapters.  (I've received emailed draft chapters, read them and made marginal notes, and then typed up an overall response.  I then pdfed the pages with my notes and email them back along with the overall response.)  My writing is difficult at best, especially on a pdf.  I was able to read my marginal notes easily, even on pdf.

BUT, these are the marginal notes I made way back on the first chapter draft, and the student is only now looking at them carefully enough to notice that zie couldn't read them? 

I'm dismayed.  How much does it take to read a 10-25 page piece of writing and respond thoughtfully, trying to be helpful?  A bit of time, no?  And a bit of energy, no?

The email yesterday promised revisions to come soon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Third Through

We're about a third of the way through the semester here at NWU.  First year students are dragging, mostly; I think things are beginning to catch up with them and feel overwhelming.

Some of the first years in my writing class are working full blast.  Some aren't.  I've had six no shows for todays conferences.  I'm not sure if they're confused about where to be or what, but I've gotten a lot of small tasks done while I wait.

Juniors and seniors seem to have settled in, and where they're interested, they doing really good work.

The student I wrote about here dropped by to say thank you today.  Zie is fine, thank Dog.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Looking from Two Sides

I was walking somewhere and saw a colleague from across campus the other day, and we started chatting in the way you do.  The colleague mentioned how much zie loves first year students because they're so enthusiastic and interested, and lamented how students seem to lose those qualities by the time they're in her courses in the third year.

I recognize levels of enthusiasm in first year students, but I appreciate how enthusiastic and interested my junior and senior level students are.

My colleague teaches juniors and seniors, mostly required courses for the major, and occasionally teaches electives at lower levels.

About half my load is first year writing, a course that's not on most students elective list; my junior and senior courses are pretty much electives for majors and minors.

I'm guessing the elective vs required thing is actually a bigger factor than the year in college.  What do you think?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Do More

I went to a school meeting today and heard the message that we (everyone on campus) needs to do more for more students.  It's more planning for a dismal future.

We need to accept more students, which means we all need to recruit more students and get them to want to apply and enroll.  We need to do this even though the population of traditional college age students is going down.  That means we need to recruit non-traditional students, or just more traditional students.  And that means, unless something changes and we suddenly become an Ivy, we're going to be accepting students who in whatever parlance you choose, are "less well prepared" to be in college.  "Less well prepared" may mean less economically advantaged, of course, because measures of preparedness tend to show a strong  correlation with socio-economic status; that is, wealthy students tend to be "well prepared" and very poor students tend to be less "well prepared."  And of course, preparedness has nothing to do with being smart, and lots to do with having learned to manage in academic cultures and dominant cultures, and having had lots of opportunities.

In addition to accepting more students (and yes, the presenters acknowledged that theses students won't be as "well prepared" as the current population here on average), we need to increase retention and raise four year graduation rates.  And, of course, four year graduation rates are also strongly correlated with socio-economic status.  Students who have lots of advantages tend to be able to graduate in four years more often than students with fewer advantages.

One of the presenters kept basically saying that we need to do all the good stuff we're doing now, but we need to all just get one more student to come and stay, and to get one more student to graduate in four years.  But of course, we don't know which is the one student each year, so we need to focus that on every student in hopes of catching one.

In other words, we need to do more for more students, some of whom are going to be less well prepared for college than our current students.

This meeting came after an hour and a half with a needy student who was unhappy that I sounded unfriendly in responding to hir question about how many issues zie needed to deal with for a project assignment.  An hour and a half.  It's the job, and I hope it was helpful for her, but it's draining and makes me want to find another job.  I have shoveling skills.  I wonder if any circuses need a shoveler?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Impressed, and Somewhat Useless

I was getting ready to leave campus this afternoon, not long after 5pm, so I went to the women's room as part of the getting ready process.  In the women's room, a young woman was sitting on the floor, looking distressed, making a noise that at first sounded like weeping, but then like some sort of breathing problem. 

I was slow, but she got out an inhaler, and I helped her use it, and then she got out her phone, and I talked to her mom (as it turned out), who said there was medicine in the backpack, but there was no backpack.  Then the mom hung up.

A moment later, another student rushed in with the backpack, and a moment after that, another student (the first student's roommate, as it turned out).  An hour later and she was much better, and we'd taken her to the hospital, and her roommate was going into the exam room with her, and I left (having given the roommate my phone number in case they need a ride home).

Boy, did I feel useless.  I'm totally the wrong kind of doctor.  (But I did get them to the hospital, so maybe I'm not totally useless.)

On the other hand, I'm deeply impressed with the roommate especially, and also the other student.  Both were calm and figured out what their friend needed and helped her effectively.

The roommate, once the student was breathing better, sort of directed her breathing.  And weirdly, I found myself breathing to, and really paying attention to my breathing.  You don't usually think about breathing, but sometimes you have to think about it.

I wish the powers that be in this state would realize that the people like me, the people they trash in the press, are also people who take care of students beyond our job description.  And also, we're people who do a good job at our job.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The Great Winter Artichoke Experiment, part the second

Last year, in October, I posted pictures of the two artichoke plants I'd brought in, hoping to keep them alive for spring.

And then in February, I posted about some of the difficulties in keeping the plants alive, and showed pictures of the survival.  The biggest difficulty, it seems, was spider mites, which nearly killed the plants.  Then I got some spray, and they survived.

My friend also gave me a couple new artichoke plants that she'd done the pretend winter trick on to get them to act like they're second year plants and so produce chokes.

The problem this summer, for both of us, was that we got few chokes.  I got two, one off an overwintered plant, and one off a new plant.  She had similar luck.  We think (well, she thinks, and she's the expert, so I follow along) that they didn't get enough "winter" to think they should produce chokes (which is to say, to flower).  We had a quick, sudden spring, and maybe it just wasn't quite enough for all of the plants.  Mine I didn't put out until it was a bit warmer, and her new ones maybe didn't get enough cold.

So, here's to another try.  This year, I've brought in all the plants.  I cleaned them out, took out the leaves that seemed to have spider mites, and sprayed all of them.  Right now, they look pretty good.  I may have to get another set of lights.  These were enough for the two plants last year, but spread out, the light's a bit less concentrated, if that makes sense?

Here are a couple of pictures.  Wish me luck!  (The plants in the blue and green pots are the ones that were in last year's overwintering experiment.)

As you can see, my deck really needs to be powerwashed!

I got little roller platforms, and plastic water things, so hopefully I can water without making a mess all over everything. 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Lawn Turds

Some of my neighbors rented a lawn aerator this weekend; they got a group of us together, and each of us is aerating in turn, making the little lawn turds (they look like goose turds, but without the geese).  It took a couple of hours, but with so many of us in, each of us didn't have much to pay for the rental.

The aerator thing isn't too complicated, but boy is it heavy!  I got a workout.

I couldn't pull the handle thing to raise the spikes and had to get a neighbor to help every time.  Other than that, I'm now a minimally experienced aerator operator. 

Learn something new every day!

Friday, October 03, 2014

I Don't Know

In my writing class, a student asks if zie needs to put issues 1-7 in hir paper.

"I don't know," I say.  And then I add, "you won't know until you've done some research and figured out if issues 1-7 are interesting and worth talking about in your paper."

The student insisted, and I said basically the same thing, that zie needs to learn about issues 1-7 in order to know if they're important enough to be included.  But, zie worries, there are 7 things.  Yes, there are.  Research takes time.

Zie is pissed off at me.  Again.

Zie wants me to tell hir that no, zie won't need 2-7, and can get by with a cursory glance at 1, or something.  Or wants me to tell hir that #4 is the one.  But it's not my paper, and I haven't done the research, so I really don't know.

I think that's really hard for this student to understand that zie is writing a paper that actually isn't going to be read by someone who already knows the answer, but by someone who's going to read for real.

It's like doing real research of any kind: you have ideas about what might be important or about how things will turn out, but you don't know until you've actually done the research.  And it takes time.  This isn't me being mean in withholding information, but me actually not knowing.

Some Weeks

I've been busy, but in good ways.

I'm caught up on grading, at least until Monday.  That's very good news for me.

I've gotten several pieces of good news lately, from good to stellar.  Among the good is my SAA seminar, which is very exciting.

I had a friend from grad school who's writing a lot on early modern lit and ecocriticism skype into my early modern class this week, and it was really good.  My friend was brilliant, and the students got to see someone who's really smart think things through and tease out ideas.  I hope they learned a lot.  They certainly seem to have enjoyed it.