Friday, December 30, 2016

Two Movies

I've been to two movies in the past week; that's pretty close to a record for me, since I don't go to lots of movies. 

I saw Fences first, and what a film.  I don't know how I never read the play before, but holy cow, it's powerful. 

You know how people always ask if there's a great American novel or if America can do tragedy?  I think Fences is a pretty damned great American tragedy.  It reveals a core of racism, which is our tragedy.

Beautiful acting, directing, photography.  I really couldn't ask for more from a film.  I sure as heck hope the Oscars won't be so white this year.

Here's an interesting take on Fences  from Black&Smart.

Then I went to see Rogue One, expecting the fun I expect from Star Wars films.  (And noting that the films I think of are the first three out, because I can't remember the prequels, having seen them each once.  But also, I enjoyed the most recent one before this, The Force Awakens.  And, to be honest, not having read any press about Rogue One, I thought it would be a sequel to that.)

Not impressed.  It didn't help that the back of my chair kept getting kicked by a kid, or that another kid had a meltdown in the chair next to me (a surprisingly quiet meltdown, to be sure), and was shortly taken out by an adult (who had come with a crowd of like 5 little kids).

I may have missed things early on (see: kids in theaters), but it took me a long time to realize that this film was supposed to be set just before the first one.  I kept thinking, but Darth Vader is dead, isn't he?  and when are Poe and Rey going to show up?

There were lots of explosions and such, but the humor was pretty weak, and that's part of what made Star Wars films fun; they sort of chuckle at themselves for being space cowboys.

Shockingly, I'm going to see another film this afternoon with a friend, setting an all time record for me for seeing films in theaters within a week.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Academic Anxiety Dream

I had an anxiety dream last night.  I was looking for my class on campus, trying to find the right building, figure out the room, and no one had a printed bulletin (no one has had a printed bulletin in years, of course), and I kept trying to find it.  And I didn't know what I was going to say if/when I found it since my syllabus wasn't ready.

And I kept thinking, wow, break went by really fast, I'm not usually this unprepared.  What am I going to do?

I haven't had an academic anxiety dream that I remember in a while.


I hope your holidays are/were good ones.  I got back home yesterday to a messy house; I'd been intending to clean it up before I left, but with snow incoming, I'd left a day early.  It's rather dreary and depressing to come home to a messy house.

I have much to do: pay taxes, clean up the house, de-ice the drive (since the snow just sat while I was gone, not much, but enough to get nastily icy), and yes, prep courses for spring.

I have a course reassignment for spring, for which I'm eternally grateful.  And my search is over, I hope.  (We did our part, and will only need to do more if for some reason a contract can't be made with an appropriate candidate.)

Searches basically are a black box at this point, for most of us.  We turned in ranked names and filled out paperwork.  The chair takes those names, and requests to hire someone (but may choose someone else that we didn't rank as high), and then paperwork gets done, deans dean, and so on.  A call is made, or more than a few calls, and then at the end, we'll be told (if we're lucky) that candidate X will be joining us in the fall.  And that will be that.  Fingers crossed.

At any rate, with the search over, and the paperwork done (I hope), and only two courses (and not composition!), this semester is looking to be better.


I got a bad cold in early October.  It went to my lungs, and stayed there, giving me a gunky cough for a couple of hours a day.  So the week of finals, I went to the clinic, and the PA gave me a prescription for an antibiotic.  Like a good patient, I took the whole 5 day course.

It seemed to be doing the trick, except yesterday I started having lung gunk again.  And today it's back.  I should call the clinic again.  Ugh.


I'm making a late start this morning, but now I'm on my way!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sympathy for my Students

My violin teacher told me that she has her college students tell her something new about the composers of their pieces.  I'm guessing this is to get them to look up the composer and read, say, a Wikipedia entry, which would at least give them a basic intro to period, place, and the composer's history.  At any rate, I've been doing this.  For some it's easier than others.

According to Wikipedia, Bach may not be buried in Bach's grave.  Neat.

And JB Lully, the super famous French Baroque composer wasn't born French?  Nope, according to Wikipedia, he was born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, and became a French subject in 1661.

This week, though, my new piece is by Beethoven.  What new can I possible learn about Beethoven to tell my teacher?  (Lots would be new to me, but not to her.)

So I decided instead of stopping at Wikipedia, I'd look up some scholarly articles.  Now, I start with a huge advantage over my students there, because I know how to limit the searches and such.  But still, I looked at articles that were way, way beyond anything I could understand (because I don't know the theory stuff, especially). 

And that's what happens to my students all the time, especially when they look at specialized articles in, say, English lit.

So, how do we get students to begin to read and understand those articles? 


I was reading a student's Shakespeare paper today, and it cites a bunch of sources that sounded suspect, so I started looking, and the suspect sounding ones were mostly papers by undergrads, put up on the web by their schools (it looked like), with one other looking like it was someone doing research for an SCA type group (not bad for what it was, but not what my student should have been depending on).

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Reading Papers

I was going to start by saying it's the grading jail time of the semester.  But really, other than the first week or so, it always feels like the grading jail time of the semester.  (I tend to give small, low stakes writing assignments spread across the semester, so it's my own fault.  But I think these assignments are valuable to students.)

I'm reading poetry papers right now.  I gave them three topics to choose from, and many are writing about the poetry book we read (whose author skyped with our class), and mostly, these are really good.

Yes, some could use a stronger thesis, and many could do better if they embedded quotations to give them context. 

But their writing really shows that they're reading these poems as poems, and thinking about them well.  And that's very good.

One of the things that strikes me about these papers is that they tend to read grief as "depressing" rather than as "grieving" or "deeply emotional."  For me, "depressing" is more existential, more a matter of despair and hopelessness, while grieving, even deep grieving, is less hopeless and more just dealing with loss.  I think.  I'm not sure how to express this.

Is Lear depressing?  Or deeply emotional?  or something else?

Does grief feel depressing to you folks?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Book Order Hades

I submitted my book orders today for two courses for next semester.  I'm over a month late, and that's on me.  But, the system is a mess.

I managed to log on, and started with one of the courses, intro to lit.  I tried to look at what I used the last time I taught the course, but instead came up with texts I've never taught. 

So I started afresh, and worked on ordering, and I think it worked, with the minor glitch that there's no good way to make sure the rental text counts as a rental text. (We have a rental system so that for any given course, one text can be a rental text.  It's great for big lit anthologies that no student really wants to buy.  Probably also great for intro science texts that no one needs after the course is over.)

Then I started on my next one.  Apparently, it's got texts from last semester, but that's a different iteration of the course.  I was able to choose two texts, including the rental (The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare, which I find useful for any early modern course for basic background stuffs).  But stupidly, I clicked "recommended" rather than "required" for the rental.

I looked up an ordered other texts, and then I realized I'd clicked "recommended" rather than "required" and stupidly went back to try to change it, at which point I got caught in a rather endless loop and couldn't get out to submit the books. 

I finally got out by ordering another book, which is fine, and which will work, but what a stupid bleeping system.

What should take ten minutes took over an hour.  Thankfully, I can skip grading stuff and just toss it in the bin instead, right. 


I can't?

Then what do I do to make up the hour of time? 

Oh, yeah, that's MY TIME.

Stupid [expletive deleted]s.

Friday, December 02, 2016

This is Why I do Draft Days

On Monday, my upper level Shakespeare class will work on peer revising rough drafts of their semester projects.  They have to turn in a draft of their project to their peer revision group on Sunday afternoon, and then have to come in Monday with print outs of the other peers' projects, with notes and such written, so that they spend Monday's class period in useful discussion.

Then they get a week to revise before turning in the final project.

There are several options for the project, the most intellectually difficult of which is to write a traditional lit crit paper.

So naturally, at the end of class today, when we'd discussed draft day stuff a bit more, one of the weaker students in the class came to ask if I have open office hours today.  (I don't.  I pretty much have job related stuff to do until 7 or 7:30 pm today.  Happy Friday.)  Then she asked if she could email me a question, and I asked her what the question was.

And she said that she's having difficulty writing her lit crit paper.  So I asked her what her argument is.

And she said, and I did you not, "I want to write about women in Shakespeare."  You might well be proud of me that I didn't burst out in laughter or in tears. 

She doesn't have an argument yet.  So I suggested she start by thinking about a specific play to make an argument about, and reread it, and think about what she might want to say about the play.  For previous assignments, she's read some criticism, so I suggested that she might go back and think about where she disagrees with a critic or thinks a critic's argument misses something important, and that would form a starting point for her paper.

The good thing is, if she starts working intently today, and works hard through Sunday to do something to turn in, and then has a whole week to work hard, the paper will be a while lot better than it would be if she'd waited until next Friday to begin working, right?

I live a rich and full fantasy life.  My students are going to be working hard this weekend to get a draft of this paper done.  Better that than starting next week!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Straw Men

I'm tired of being set up as a straw man.

No, I've been here for 15+ years, and I don't think I've ever known anyone who thought grammar drills and worksheets were great ways to teach writing (here or anywhere else).  In fact, shortly after I got here, the department voted to discontinue a grammar test that we were all supposed to give as part of the final for whatever writing course we were teaching.  When we discussed it, no one could even remember how we'd come to have it as a requirement; it had just been left there so long.  And, of course, no one taught to it, so far as I ever heard.  And most of us made it count minimally for the final grade because we didn't think it mattered. 

No, I've never met a Shakespearean scholar who didn't think about staging issues and recognize that Shakespeare wrote plays to be enacted in a theatrical space.  That's not to say we don't find other aspects of the plays interesting, but I've never seen the denial the theater folks attribute to us lit folks.  (Of course, actors and other theater focused folks have lots to teach all of us about acting and Shakespeare.  It's just that I don't know any Shakespeareans who think that isn't true.)

Maybe it's just the time of the semester, but dang...

So busy, and so many things happening that require attention.  I feel like I'm juggling very fragile glassware, and it's going to start crashing up there and falling as very sharp shards all over my upturned face and my desperately moving arms and hands.

I'm so tired of the crappy rumors people spread when they're really clueless.  But you can't answer the rumors because the actual issue is confidential (and you're hearing them third or fourth hand).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Email Signature Lists?

I got an email from a student the other day in relation to a committee I chair, and I swear, the student's signature thing had nine lines of activities plus a phone number and preferred pronouns.

Do your students provide a full list of activities?

Each activity gets a line:

This major.
That minor.
This club
That other activity,

And so on.

I see this a lot around here, and I'm wondering if it's also something at other schools?

I'm guessing (only guessing) that students are being told that it looks professional to mention their activities?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Teaching a Friend's Poetry

In my Intro to Poetry course, I'm using a book of poetry by a friend; my colleagues and I tend to use one more recent book of poetry when we teach the course in order to help students get a feel for how to read a book of poetry as a collection.

This book is fantastic, and the students seem to be enjoying it.  They have lots to say, and what they say suggests they're reading pretty carefully.

That said, sometimes they're a bit off. 

In one of the poems, for example, the speaker talks about being at a funeral with her child.  At one point well into the poem, she hands the child to her husband so she can throw dirt onto the grave.

But several of my students missed that, and from the way the poem uses direct address, decided that the speaker must be a new widow, burying her husband.  So I've pointed them to the part where she says that she hands the child to her husband.

I'm pretty careful only to use evidence from within the poem.

When I started studying English, I took a course in theory and criticism.  In the course, we focused primarily on a book of poems by George Oppen and sort of on hermeneutics.  Sounds interesting, doesn't it?  Except it was pretty miserable because often, when someone would point to something in a poem and say, "this says X," the professor would say, basically, no, it isn't X, because I know George and that didn't happen.  And it always seemed to me very unfair to ask us to try to read poems if they only make sense if you know the writer. 

(Retrospectively, I realize that we were probably all pretty naïve readers, but the principle holds.)

And then, of course, I try to be careful to separate the speaker of a poem from the writer, even though with a lot of more confessional contemporary poetry, that separation feels difficult.

(The other thing that made the course miserable was the professor's unwillingness to define or explain "hermeneutics" except to say that "hermeneutics isn't [this]," or "hermeneutics isn't [that]."  As I said at the time, my car wasn't either of those things, either, but I was pretty sure it wasn't hermeneutics.  (This was in the days before the internet, or even email, and my dictionary didn't provide much help.  I SHOULD have gone to the library and asked a librarian for help, but I wasn't that sophisticated a student at that point.)

I've never understood why he didn't just take half an hour and give us a nice introduction to hermeneutics and interpretation; I hope he had a good pedagogical reason for spiraling around it instead, but I've never figured it out.

Anyway, my friend is skyping into my class from afar today, and I'm excited for them to get to talk to her!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Page Limits on Assignments?

Like most teachers, I think, I don't like when students ask how long a paper should be, especially when it feels like what they want to do is the minimum.  You probably know the sort of paper I'm thinking of.  The student gets a page minimum (n), writes blather for n-1 pages, and one part of a sentence onto n, and then stops, pretty much mid-whatever, because they've done the page minimum.

It's not most students, but it happens, right?  And that's always my worry.

What I want, in my ideal world, is for students to start working on what they want to say, and to say it well until it's said, and be done.

When the shoe's on the other foot though, when I'm writing a statement for a grant or something, I totally want a page limit.

If you tell me, write two pages explaining your project for a grant, I'm pretty happy.  If you tell me to write no more than three pages explaining why my colleague should be tenured and promoted, I'm pretty happy.  But if you shrug and say, just write as much as you need to?  I'm unhappy.

If I know that everyone is just writing two pages for that grant, then I know I'm not going to turn in something wildly out of proportion to what others are doing, and mine won't look either overwhelming and too big, or like I didn't care enough to really explain. 

The same with the tenure letter; if I know no one's going to turn in a 12 page letter to get their colleague tenured, then I won't feel like my three pages are unconvincing because I could only write three pages.

(Of course, in either case, I'm going to work like the dickens to say a lot, as clearly and convincingly as possible in the allotted pages.)

How about you?  Page limits for student writing (even as suggestions), or no?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


I just got news that my sabbatical application has been approved by my campus.  Now, of course, it has to be approved by the governing folks.  But historically, they've approved sabbaticals if the state university campuses have approved them (because the university campuses, when they approve, say that they can cover them budget-wise).

The only difficulty on my end is budgeting, but I think I've got that handled.  I'll use some savings, but that's what savings are for.  (And it's not like I'm going to start spending money wildly on a Porsche or something.)

This is bright news for me in a difficult semester.  And boy, I can't even say how relieved and happy I am; words, as always, fail me.  Or I fail them, I suppose.

I'm going to start a new label in celebration!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Safety Pins?

The big question in this post is about safety pins.  Are you seeing them around?  I'm sympathetic, but I guess I feel like we're going to forget really quickly.  What do you think?

Other than that, I've been muddling through.  That's how it's been.

I've been ill; just a head cold, but miserable in the head cold way for almost three weeks.  (It's MUCH better now, and has been steadily improving since about Thursday, thanks for asking.)  For most of those past three weeks, I've been coughing a lot, and waking up every couple of hours during the night coughing.  So I've been barely sleeping.

I've been involved with interviews, many of them.  All good, but they take a lot of time.  And then there's the related paperwork, which takes a lot of time, too.

I'm involved in a task force which will come to partial fruition this coming week.  Fingers crossed that it goes well.  I have a couple hours (maybe) of prep to do for my part, then the actual event.

Much of the week was spent doing 20 minute conferences with all my writing students.  It's a lot of time, but very helpful to all of them, I think.  I hope.

I realized on Tuesday afternoon (between conferences) that I'd be teaching "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" on Wednesday, though I hadn't reread them since I last taught the course some 5+ years ago.  Great poems, but what to do?  (It went fine.)  (On Tuesday, I went home about 4, got into bed and semi-slept for 2 hours, got up, prepped for a couple hours, and went back to bed around 8:30 and semi-slept

I've been feeling like I'm juggling, and something's always about to drop and break.  It's not a good feeling.

I've fallen behind on grading.  I need to rethink this sort of assignment because the grading's onerous, even though the assignment is really valuable in getting students to read critically.

The one bright thing is practicing the violin when I haven't been coughing too much.  It totally takes my mind off everything else, just focusing on trying not to sound really bad. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Day

This is a big one.  I thought there were big ones before, but this seems way, way more important.

I voted a couple of weeks ago, which is legal in my state.  I didn't have problems, but then, I'm a white, middle-aged woman with easy access to legal ID.  And my local city clerk seems to be not crazy.  (I don't know her politics, but what I hear is about making sure everyone has clear information about how to vote and such.)

I drove by my polling place (it's on the best route to work) this morning at about 7:15, and the parking lot was full, and the street parking was close to full.

Vote well, USians; please, please, please vote well.

(I don't own a pantsuit, and none of my clothes are white, but I am wearing a nice blue sweater.)

Sunday, November 06, 2016

McMansion Hell

Have you folks seen this site, McMansion Hell?

Basically, the writer is an architectural critic who explains why it is that McMansions are so darned ugly.  They basically do two sorts of posts.  One is the broad explanatory post, taking some issue and explaining how it works in the architecture.  It may be an overview, as here, or it may focus on a specific aspect of houses, and show different ones with explanations, as with this on front entries, or this one on landscaping, or this one on roofs.  The second sort of post takes a specific house, staged by realtors for the market, and critiques it.  Here's one on a house in Virginia.  And here's one from Georgia.

So I have a bit of a love/hate, or maybe more a love/fear relationship with this site.  I love it because it explains so much about that aesthetic and why McMansions seem so unpleasing aesthetically. 

But I hate/fear it because every post makes me more aware that I live in a sort of ugly McMansion, not guilty of the highest level of McMansion excesses, perhaps, but pretty up there.

For example, if you look at the Georgia house, and scroll down to the kitchen, where the writer talks about white appliances?  Yeah, I can see my white kitchen appliances from where I sit.  And I'm not getting new ones any time soon (I hope!).  So white appliances, check.

Open concept.  Yep, check.

At one point the writer talks about someone's TV being old, but it's basically a big screen TV from maybe 10 years ago.  If it works, what's to complain about?  There's nothing wrong with a 25 year old TV that works, is there?  (Asks a woman who owns a 25 or so year old TV, and who just got a new big, flat screen one a few years ago because the old one couldn't talk to the CD player I bought used.  The old one was good, and color, even if it was only 13".)

My house is probably a 7 on the scale of 1-10 horribleness.  Maybe a 6. 

In addition to the ugliness, the architect talks about the cheapness of materials and building techniques used to build McMansions, and here's where my house falls squarely in.  Bad roof shingles, check (now not bad, because I had the whole thing replaced).  Vinyl siding, check (but seriously, I would hate to have to restain or repaint every three or so years).  Minimal insulation (well, at least I had a lot added when I had the roof redone, so hopefully that is solved).  And so on.  It's sort of worrisome.

On the other hand, I don't have the money to decorate a lot, so my house doesn't have the most egregious decorating faux pas, I suppose.  On the other hand, it's pretty much just whatever old furniture I've picked up over the years, and a few pieces I've bought for specific purposes.  (The writer of McMansion Hell says they specifically show pictures of realtor staged houses, and not houses real people live in, because they aren't making fun of real people.)

When I bought my house, it was in a newish neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac where all the houses were built, but also near areas that didn't have streets through and such.  For a while, it stayed like that.  But in the last three years or so, there's been a building boom, streets have been put through, and a lot of new houses are going in, and they're all so McMansion.  My house is already one of the smaller houses on my street of 9 houses, maybe the smallest.  But the new houses going in are way bigger than most of the houses on my street (there's one that's way bigger than the others, and about the size of the new houses).

Maybe this means our housing values will go up?  Which doesn't matter until we decide to sell, of course, except that our taxes will also go up.  And the city may decide to put in sidewalks.  (It's a cul-de-sac; everyone just walks along the side and no cars are driving fast.)

So, there we are, something fun to read; or, if you're like me, something fun and perhaps anxiety-producing!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Surf Scoter!

Surf Scoters are pretty rare up in the North Woods.  They're way more common in the way up North.

But there's been one nearby, so I went out after work on Friday, drove a bit, and got to see it.  (And took a couple of pictures; these are cropped, and not nearly as good as pros take, but enough to remind me.)

Pretty exciting.  It's so very cool that there are email lists and such that people use to share information about bird sitings and such.  (I'm sure there are lots of such things about other stuff, but I'm on the edge of the birder world, so that's what I see.)  It sure makes it lots easier to get to see rarer birds than it would be.  (Though, population decreases work against that, I bet.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Happy November!

I spent all weekend in grading jail, and now I'm out!  At least until Friday.

I gave midterms last week (in two different courses), and had several students not take them for a variety of health-ish reasons.  And because some of those involve time to get better, they weren't able to schedule makeups until this week, after I'd given back midterms in class and gone over them (I can't see making 20+ people wait to get midterms back because one or two people were ill).  So I had to write two new midterms.  And I'm willing to do that, and did it, and without complaining to the students, but dang, it's frustrating to have to write make up midterms.

I was talking to one of my colleagues about it, and he said it feels like we're having more students with mental health issues.  That may be.  Is that your experience?

Of course, we want students with mental health issues to get the help they need, to not feel stigmatized, and to succeed. 

But, for example, that means we have to write extra midterms, so it takes extra time.  And we're all already working more than 40 hours a week.  Where does the extra time come from? 

I guess the questions for me are:   are other folks seeing more students with mental health issues (and having those issues require additional work for instructors and such)?

How do you balance the additional needs of those students with all the other demands on your time?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

By the Wayside

Every so often, I'll look at a blogroll, and think how much I miss certain blogging voices.  And maybe I'll click over, just in case. 

Today, I found a link to a State Park place where I may have been before (or not); I have vague memories of a place that looks a lot like the pictures on line.  But maybe a lot of places look like that and I just don't realize it?

And I found a blog I used to read that's been updated, A Gentleman's C.  (I must be the last person alive who doesn't use an RSS feed.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

To the Theater

I went to a play the other day, put on by a local amateur group, Shipwrecked!  An Entertainment.  (The play premiered in the US in 2007.)

It did some interesting things, choices the director made, and the theme of tale-telling.  But there were a couple of parts that were, well, problematic.  Or is it just me?

In short, a 19th century white European male goes off to see for adventure, ends up stranded on an island off Australia, where he eventually meets some Aboriginal people.  He saves the people, and then is basically offered his choice of brides, choosing a woman he met early on.  Later, homesick, he leaves his wife and family and returns to Europe where he writes and sells his story, to both acclaim and doubt.

The problematic, initially, for me, was the representation of the Aboriginal people.  They weren't played in blackface (thank dog) but were played in tattery looking clothes (think caveman pictures from the 50s more than not) and did more grunting than not.  Like those old caveman pictures, they were played stooped, mostly.  The crowd seemed to find the effect comic.

Now, I get that by the end the audience is supposed to question his tale, to wonder if he's ever seen Aboriginal people, or had these adventures.  But while the Aboriginal people are on stage, there was nothing to suggest that the performance was thinking about what it means to present Aboriginal people in this sort of way.

The lesser problematic part was during the choosing a wife scene, where one of the potential brides was played in broad drag.  Again, the audience laughed.

But, I wonder, how would it feel to sit with my African American or Native American students to see this play?  How would it feel to sit with a transgender student to see this play?

I don't think it would feel comfortable.  The fact is, of course, most African American or Native American students have seen far worse, experienced far worse.  But this would be like yet another paper cut in the skin of life.  I wouldn't want to participate in giving that paper cut.

To put it another way, it's not a good sign that I was grateful, ever so grateful that at least they weren't in blackface.

As tends to be the case here, the theater audience was very white.  So as the play was presenting the Aboriginal people, it felt like a bunch of white people secretly (or maybe not secretly, but imagining themselves as the only possible audience) enjoying the racism of the representation.

I haven't read the play, so maybe this performance wasn't at all what the text suggests, or not at all like the play that premiered in New York.

I did read a couple reviews (including in The New York Times), and they didn't seem to notice race issues.  But then, theater often seems like a bastion of white privilege, with white folks just not noticing racism because they imagine they're in an all white space.

Has anyone else seen the play?  Thoughts?

I saw a play last year by a Nigerian-American playwright, set in Africa, with all African characters, but played by white folks (in this Midwestern area), and it didn't feel racist in this way.  It felt like the African characters were represented with respect in a way that just didn't come across in Shipwrecked.  I think that other play was played as a sort of timeless story, a story set in a culture, but a story that they expected to speak to all humanity and represent all humanity, in the way that we imagine Shakespeare speaks to all humanity, if you know what I mean.

Is there a way this play can be performed that doesn't feel racist?

(I was thinking, if they played the European guy in shipwreck-ish clothing, and the Aboriginal characters in, say, modern business attire, could you get at the sense that the main character's storytelling is problematic?)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Agincourt, Again

It's St. Crispin's Day!

That's the day when we remember that we don't remember well, but are easily manipulated by patriotic rhetoric.  Or, at least, it we should remember that we don't remember.

In Shakespeare's Henry V, the play's most memorable (at least to me) passage comes in Henry's speech before the battle of Agincourt. 

I seem to post about St. Crispin's Day every few years.

In 2007.

On Veteran's Day, 11 November 2005.  (Where I posted the speech.)

And last year, the 600th anniversary, 2015.  (Where I posted even more of the speech.)


I got an email from a colleague today, a colleague who sometimes gets really petty.  And this is one of those times.  The problem is, when she gets petty, other people have to rein her in, and then she gets really mad.  Unfortunately, right now, I'm the one with the reins.  (But, if the pettiness persists, other folks will help.  Still, she'll be most mad at me.)

Last week, I made the mistake of asking another colleague (who's in a position where they're supposed to answer these sorts of questions) a question in the department office, and then since I didn't understand the shorthand of her answer, a followup question.  And she blew up at me and started ranting at me for being so so rude.  So I apologized, said I hadn't meant to be rude, but had just not understood.  And she blew up at me more.  So, again, I apologized, and said I hadn't meant to be rude, and she blew up at me more, and then she turned and walked into her office. 

That was really unpleasant.  Let's just say, I'm averse to conflict.  If the zombie apocalypse comes, you don't want me on your side.  If you need a latrine dug, then you may want my help.  If you need someone to visit while you're in the hospital, then you may want me to.  But if it comes to a verbal fight, in a hallway or anywhere, then no, I'm crap at that.

If I could have done it financially, I would have turned in my letter of resignation that day.  I still would, if I could do it financially.  (I did discuss it with the chair.  Meh.  Neither good nor bad.  This is one of the favored folks of the chair.  But if she ever verbally attacks me again, I'll file an official complaint, I guess.)

I used to feel like, mostly, the folks in my department treated each other decently, and that somehow made the nastiness of the state government, the nastiness of state and local politics, the nastiness of administrative desperation... survivable. 

And now, I don't feel that.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Shakespeare Writes a New Play!

Or not.

The Guardian has an article this morning that talks about the new edition of The New Oxford Shakespeare (ed. Gary Taylor), which credits Marlowe with collaborating on the Henry VI plays and names Shakespeare as the author of Arden of Faversham.

I'm not much into authorship issues.  I think it's pretty clear to me that theater is wildly collaborative, but I wouldn't have thought Marlowe would write with Shakespeare at that point in their careers, when Marlowe was already popular, and Shakespeare was a beginner. 

As to Arden, which is a blast of a play to teach, I'm reminded of Don Foster's work claiming that "Elegy" as Shakespeare's based on computer analysis, and then deciding later that it wasn't.  Of course, everyone would love to find another work by Shakespeare. 

I don't think it's the first time Shakespeare's been suggested as the author of Arden.  The question is, how does it change things?

For folks who use The New Oxford to teach (and I don't think Shakespeare anthologies sell much outside of teaching requirements), then it will make it easy to include Arden in a Shakespeare course.  I don't know if that will happen much, though.  I think it's easy to choose, say, Titus as one of the tragedies to teach in a survey, especially if you're going to teach Hamlet later, or Othello, because it brings forward revenge tragedy as a genre and race, both of which make for fruitful discussion.  And there's lots to talk about re gender, violence, masculinities, social order, etc.  But I don't think I'd choose Arden to do the same work in a class.  I'm sure some folks will choose it, and make it work well for them.

If Oxford puts out a new edition of Arden as Shakespeare, that's interesting.  (It's already available for a reasonable price in their World's Classics series, along with A Woman Killed with Kindness and Other Domestic Plays.  And there's the Methuen edition, which is reasonably priced and useful.)

Other than that, how do these findings change what we write or teach about Shakespeare?  How do they change what we see on stage?

Maybe Arden will get some more stage time, which is good, because I think it would work really well on stage (I've never seen it).

I doubt it changes much for the Henry VI plays; they'll still get taught in Shakespeare courses, and in drama courses, and maybe they'll get added to the occasional Marlowe course.

Friday, October 21, 2016

On-Line Catalog

I got an email from a colleague today, asking about one of the requirements for an interdisciplinary program (for which I chair a committee, so it made sense).  I looked at my print out of the requirements, and then I looked at last year's catalog.

And then I answered with some confidence, both that this year's catalog and last year's catalog agreed about the requirement.

And then I got to thinking: we've gone from printed catalogs to printed and on-line catalogs, and now to only an on-line catalog.  I have a partial shelf of old catalogs, which have been useful at times because here, at least, catalogs work as a sort of contract.  Students enter under a "catalog year" and have to fulfill the requirements outlined in the catalog for their catalog year.  If we changed the requirements, they don't have to do new requirements, even if they changed their major after a new catalog.  (Students always had an option to move to a newer catalog year, which makes more sense lately because we've been reducing requirements in a lot of ways in an effort to raise our four and six year graduation rates.)

So, as an advisor, it was helpful to keep several years of printed catalogs on hand to be able to check requirement changes and such. 

So how are we going to figure out if, say, a student comes in under the 2016-17 catalog, and then we change a major requirement in 2017 at some point.  We won't have back catalogs to check (nor will students), and requirements can now change at any time during the year (rather than just once a year when the catalog went to print).  That gives the university lots of flexibility, but seems like it has potential to cause advising nightmares.

The nightmares will probably be minimized if we keep going on our current trajectory or reducing requirements, of course, since it will always be "advantageous" for a student to move to a new catalog.

Has anyone out there been using only on-line catalogs for a while now?  (It makes a lot of sense in many ways, of course.)  How does your school track changes in programs so they're visible to students, faculty, and anyone else?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trusting the Process

In my writing class today, students had an optional journal due, and about half the students turned one in.

It was also revision day, a day for taking the responses from peer editors and working on revising papers.  We talked about revision a bit, talked about writing mini-conclusions for paragraphs, using transitions not at the end of paragraphs, but at the beginning of paragraphs, and also about writing conclusions.  The journal was, in one sense, a possible rough draft of a conclusion, though they didn't necessarily realize it until we were talking about writing conclusions and one student asked if they could basically use their journal.  Yes, I said, that's what it's for.  And several of them laughed.

And once again, I told them that the journals for class should help them with assignments in some way or other.  Pretty much all the journal assignments feed in, give them practice, or have some building relationship to the larger writing assignment. 

I think some of them get it.  Tomorrow, I'm going to talk to them about learning to trust the process of education. 

That trust, it's really difficult.  It's difficult as an instructor to earn the trust, and probably more difficult to give it to an instructor.  But if you can build that trust at least somewhat, build a sense that what the instructor is asking the student to do will build skills, is do-able with work, and will contribute to their overall learning, then (I think?  I hope?) students will feel like there's more of a partnership, more mentoring rather than judging.

And I'm back to violin lessons again.  My teacher suggests I try X.  And because I've consciously decided that I trust her teaching, I try X.  And by golly, X is hard.  But when I get a bit of a handle on X, then it helps me do Y, something more obviously musical, perhaps.

X this week is a D-minor scale.  It's a bit hard.  But I trust that it will help me when I start playing the D-minor part of the next Suzuki piece.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

That Went Fast

The past week just blew by.

I got and graded a big stack of papers, and some small stacks (journals, rewrites).

I've been to endless meetings (well, it feels like they're endless, even if they're good meetings).  And student conferences; I've met with every student in my writing class at least once since 8am on Thursday.

I spent most of the weekend in grading jail.  Except I went to a concert that my violin teacher was playing in.  Way good!

Today, I don't teach, so I slept in, and am about to practice, and then start to grade a big stack of papers.  Then, around noon, I'll go to campus for a meeting and then conferences with students.

The stack of papers I turned back in my Shakespeare class have led to some worried students wanting conferences.  And my writing students are working on a paper which they'll do peer revision work on tomorrow in class.  This is a hard assignment, and I think most of them are on track (since I've talked to them all in conference, I have a pretty good idea where they were).  But several want more feedback before peer revision.

Violin is especially fun right now.  I'm about to work on "The Two Grenadiers," a song by Schumann in D-minor and D-major.  So I'm working on the D-minor scale, and since you can shift a string and do basically the same thing in a different key, the G-minor scale.  I find scales weirdly satisfying, I think because I can practice them and achieve a basic level of doing them fairly quickly.  (That doesn't happen with most pieces I'm learning.)

I seem to have an especially heavy committee load right now, and can I say, when you work with someone on a committee, you get a different sense of them.  I'm on one committee with an administrator, and while I respected her before, my respect has redoubled.  She's fantastic at facilitating discussion and progress. 

And I'm on a committee with a young faculty colleague, and I'm astounded by how set in stone she thinks things must be.  For example, we came up with issue X, and she said that she's heard that at some schools, issues X is always handled in Y way.  And more experienced committee members said, yes, that's true at some schools, but we don't, because handling issue X in Y way may mislead people and thus be hurtful.  And she insisted that at some schools, issue X is handled in Y way, and she wanted to make sure we knew that.  And once again, other folks said, yes, we know, but we don't because doing that is problematic.  She came back to the Y practice two or three more times, as if she couldn't quite believe that we'd rejected Y practice for reasons we believe are good.

And it was like that for several issues.  Color me unimpressed.

Yesterday, I went to a recital by a university string student my teacher teaches.   (If you want to learn an instrument, one helpful thing is to pay attention to other people who play.  At the least, you get a bit more familiar with some repertoire.)  The student did a really good job.  Really good. 

And once again, I was so impressed by how poised our music students are, at least the ones who give recitals.  (I'm sure there are some music students who aren't so good, etc.)  But the ones at this recital, the pianist, a chamber group, they're so good at looking confident and comfortable on stage.  It's not that they don't make mistakes, but they're poised. 

And watching the chamber group, it's so cool to see how closely they attend to each other, looking, listening.  Way cool!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Last Hurrah

I went camping up at a State Park this past weekend, probably the last hurrah of the season.

So, naturally, I took some pictures.  It was (according to WU) 26F at night, and boy is that cold.  But the morning was totally worth it!

Sunday, October 09, 2016


I'm reading job applications, and got one from someone who did their degree at a for-profit, on-line outfit.  Everything about the application makes me feel like this person got ripped off and doesn't really realize it.

I feel sort of sickened.  We're searching for a, let's say, Mathematical Forester, and this person is getting a degree in Underwater Basketweaving.  But somehow they think they're a good applicant for our job.

It's not like I can sit down with them and tell them they got ripped off.  And if I could, what good would it do them at this point?  None that I can think of.

Yeah, so I'm feeling a bit sick at this point.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Stick Figure Lit - What's the Poem Today?

I taught a poem today, and now I did some art.  The poem seemed fitting for today.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Sunday Evening

I came to my office to take care of a few things, finish some prep, enter grades, the usual.

And, yes, to check what I'm teaching in my intro to poetry class tomorrow.  "My Last Duchess."  What a sweet thing to read on my syllabus!  What a glorious poem to teach!

Color me happy.

Of course, most of the poems I teach in the class make me happy; I'm sure I'm not the only person who teaches a lot of favorites in intro courses, right?

I still have several more hours of grading, reading, and prep for tomorrow (I've spent much of the day grading already). 

4 more in a stack of 20.
One Shakespeare reading (two chapters)
Some reading for the writing course (boring, but I don't know it well enough to not do it)

I have to send in my description of my senior seminar for next semester and order books for it and Shakespeare this coming week.  (Heck, I'm probably already late on the book orders; they've changed systems yet again, so I dread trying to figure it out.)

I get a small stack of grading on Monday, and another on Wednesday (different courses).

I have one biggish meeting to chair.  Another meeting to prep and attend.  Three obligatory (well, two obligatory and one a joy) campus social events.

Busy week ahead.  Back to prepping!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Observing Class

In my role as a tenured member of my department, I observed a colleague's class the other day, and wrote a report for that colleague's file.  We do our observations according to a sort of plan.  Before the observation, we're supposed to meet with the person we're observing to learn what they're working on in the class, what problems they're finding, and so forth.  Then we observe the class and take notes.  After the class at some point, we meet with the person again to give them verbal feedback.  Finally, we fill out a report template which asks us for some basic information, then asks for a narrative of the class observation, a short section on the strengths we noticed, a short section on suggestions for the person, and an overview giving our conclusions.  The idea is that the report shouldn't be anything you haven't already talked to the person about, so there shouldn't be anything unexpected on that end.

And then when the people writing the letters up the line (either letters from the tenured members committee recommending for/against renewal, or for/against tenure and promotion), they can quote from the observation report as part of the evidence about the person's teaching. 

I really like observing other teachers, as a rule.  As a committee task, it's not usually difficult.  You have a nice chat with a colleague, sit and take notes for an hour or so, have another chat, and write up the report.  If you see things you think you can make good suggestions to help with, you make those suggestions. 

My most recent observation was like that, except more, because the colleague is a stellar teacher, and I really enjoyed watching them do their thing.  It was like watching a really good artist at work; you might not realize what the person is going to do with the blob of white paint they just put on their brush, and then they do something with it, and it works really well, and you think, "ahh, that person's an artist, and I can see their artistry."  And then you take away a little better understanding, and you can use that in your own teaching.

Times like this, I'm grateful for my colleagues.  We're so lucky to have this colleague, in particular.

(I can, of course, imagine nightmare scenarios, with unfair, unkind observers, or with inept teachers.  But even the least apt teachers I've observed, I've felt like I could offer one or two concrete suggestions to help them develop as teachers.  And I try not to make those quirky suggestions based on what I do, but real suggestions that will be helpful.  On the other hand, maybe some of the people I've observed felt like I was unfair and/or unkind.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hiring Faculty of Color and the "Five Things" Article

Today, this article came across my facebook page: :The five things no one will tell you about why colleges don’t hire more faculty of color" by Marybeth Gasman, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

In short, the article argues that institutions of higher education don't hire more faculty of color because "we don't want them.  We simply don't want them."

She then talks about the ways hiring works against faculty of color, starting with "quality," which she says is code for having gone to the right elite institution and worked with a prominent person in the field.

The second excuse she says hiring folks use is that there aren't enough people of color in the pipeline; she argues that schools using this excuse need to create their own pipelines, mentor people of color in their fields, and then, even if they don't hire their own graduates, cooperate with other elite institutions to hire from their pipelines.

Third, she says, is that faculty will bend rules to hire their preferred white candidates, and hold to rules to avoid hiring people of color.

Fourth, according to Gasman, is that faculty on search committees aren't trained in human resources areas, and too often look for "fit," which tends to mean that they hire candidates who feel comfortable, often because those candidates look like the members of the search committee, do similar work, and so forth.  Thus, a committee of white women would be more likely to hire another white woman than not.

And finally, Gasman says,
if majority colleges and universities are truly serious about increasing faculty diversity, why don’t they visit Minority Serving Institutions – institutions with great student and faculty diversity – and ask them how they recruit a diverse faculty. This isn’t hard. The answers are right in front of us. We need the will.
As I read this, I found myself nodding at times, and feeling irritated at times because she seems to be only thinking of elite institutions.

So, I want to ask, what about institutions such as my own? 

I've been on a lot of search committees, and I can't think of any time we've taken a candidate off a list because of where they got their degree or who they worked with.  I can, though, think of a time when one of the search committee members argued for a candidate based on a strong letter from a prominent scholar in the field.

I don't know what to make of the pipeline argument.  I've been on searches where we had a limited number of candidates apply (think of where I am), offered the job to the strongest candidate (on paper and in the interview process), who happened to be a person of color, but then had the candidate turn us down because they'd gotten a better offer.  To be honest, we often get turned down by our first two or even three top choices.

So I know we've made the pipeline complaint.

We don't have a graduate program turning out PhDs, so our only way of contributing to the pipeline is to work harder to attract and mentor students of color, and to send them up the pipeline, hoping they get into a strong PhD program.  We don't do nearly as much attracting and mentoring students of color as we should.  (I'm more ambivalent about anyone going on to a PhD in English these days, but I'd like to see real equity there.)  But the most elite PhD programs seem to mostly take students from their elite pals, leaving our students to get PhDs from strong state schools, which leaves them out of the elite candidate pools (but should make them great candidates for our own hiring, eventually).

I think the third and fourth reasons are closely related, and I think they're where our problems here come in.  From things I overhear, I know we hire for "fit" and that when we do, "fit" often means good old boys, or white folks, or people from the upper Midwest, especially more local, straight folks, and so on.

I'm intrigued by Gasman's fifth point, which seems more a suggestion than a reason why we fail to hire faculty of color: we should go visit institutions that do successfully hire faculty of color, institutions which are historically Minority Serving Institutions.  But even there, I'm a bit at a loss.

Say, I'm on a search committee right now.  And there are maybe 6 other search committees on campus right now, all separate, all in different fields.  Do we all independently send folks out to visit Minority Serving Institutions? 

And in this budget crunch, how do we do that?  And would a visit work?  There's got to be something here, but I think it might be sort of backwards.

What if we, as a campus, hired one or two deans from Minority Serving Institutions to come here and hold some workshops (say over two days, four workshops, afternoon, evening, morning, afternoon)?  And what if our administrators said that only departments whose chair and personnel committee chair both attended a workshop would be allowed to put in for a new hire in the following year?  And what if our administrators said that they'd look at requests for new hires more favorably from departments or programs who had a greater percentage of faculty attend workshops?

All our departments are pretty desperate for faculty (budget hell), and many faculty really do want to find ways to hire more colleagues of color.

We'd have a chance of making us more aware of our implicit biases, get ideas for increasing the diversity of our candidate pools, and have the potential to give a broad range of faculty some knowledge and tools to use in searches directly (as committee members) and indirectly (asking the right questions of search committees and such).

Could it work?  Would it work? 

(Of course, the next problem would be to retain our faculty of color, to help them feel welcome and comfortable here, to mentor them, and to not be jerks to them.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Not My Circus

I've been hearing this saying lately, and I like it, "Not my circus, not my monkeys."  It's a good reminder that there are things we're responsible for (my monkeys), and bigger things we're responsible for (my circus), but in the grand scheme, there are things we're not responsible for.

Committee stuff is still shaking out.  I may end up a bit overwhelmed for the year.  I can deal with that.

I'm chairing one committee, that interdisciplinary program one.

I joined a campus task force on undergraduate research, because I want the humanities represented (and it looks like I'm the only humanities person).  We met yesterday, and it was a really good meeting, and I feel hopeful.  The leader is someone I respect a lot, and the other folks are smart, and have good ideas.  So I think we'll figure out some stuff that will help us and our students.

I may end up on the university senate.  If I do, then that will also involve a subcommittee.

And I'm on a very low service (meets once or twice a semester) university committee (that earns me points with at least one important person).

I'm on a departmental area committee. (In smaller areas, everyone in the area is always on their area committee; in lit, we rotate.  It's my turn.)

The area committee person who seems to be in charge, at least for now, sent out a note about figuring out meeting times, and sent out a doodle schedule link thingy.  I hate the doodle thingies, but I dutifully filled it out (I hope I did it right; does checking a box mean you can't meet then, or that you can?).  And noticed that the person with two afternoon courses and a course reassignment for research has marked off every single morning (at least, I think that's what the red means).

And there's one person who sent an email saying that he can only meet at these specific times, basically a one hour slot late in the afternoon.  Yes, exactly during the times that the other person has late afternoon classes.  And I read that email, and thought, "not my circus, not my monkeys," and was very glad it's not my responsibility to try to find a time that works for everyone.

I totally get wanting to block off time for research, reading, writing, and grading.  But it seems to me, given that we all teach a lot and have service obligations, we should work those blocks of time around our teaching and service commitments.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Minor Irritations

I serve on an interdisciplinary program committee; in fact, for the past year or so, I've been chair.  I offered to become chair when I did because the person who's primary service responsibility in this program and committee, the person who had been chair, irritated the heck out of me when they were chair because they wouldn't prepare an agenda (until I told them they needed to, and then the night before) and thus would introduce something half-assedly into a meeting and expect us to all be ready to go along with their idea without having a chance to think about it or whatever.  In other words, we'd have X business to do, and an agenda would come out the night before saying we had X business to do, and then in the meeting, they'd want to start with Y.  (Let's call this person the Slacker.)

It's not that I'm a super stickler for agendas or something, it's that when I get an agenda for a meeting, I look at the materials ahead of time, try to find answers to questions I have, make notes, and am prepared to discuss the issue.  So if there's an emergency or something really urgent, by all means, let's introduce it and see what we can do.  But if it's just bad planning, then let's talk about what we've prepared to talk about.

The corollary, of course, is that the Slacker never bothers to prepare for meetings.

There's the background.

This semester, the Slacker has backed away (probably legitimately) from other service, and so is only serving this interdisciplinary program on a couple of committees.

I, on the other hand, am chairing a search for my department, serving on several other committees, and the usual.  (I'm not doing anything extraordinary, but keeping busy.  I thus have a legitimate reason to say I'm not going to chair the interdisciplinary program committee this year.  Everyone would nod in agreement about it being someone else's turn.  And there's one person who might step in (but who's at their limit already in service in a BIG way), and would do a stellar job just because this person always does a stellar job.

But, my guess is that the committee would turn to the Slacker, who's service is all in the interdisciplinary program.  I don't know if they'd refuse or not.

I have to decide, because I can do 2-3 times the work as chair, or I can be possibly irritated for the rest of the year by this Slacker's learned incompetence.  (I think the Slacker could be totally competent; they are super competent about their own stuff.  But in service, not.  All big talk, no actual work.)

I have to decide, because if I offer, the program leader would be much happier, and everyone else on the committee would be happier, and I may actually be less stressed than if the Slacker chairs.

Side story: this committee does some work that goes to a college committee for their decision; some of that work is assigned by the college.  Paperwork A takes about an hour of a committee member's time, and then the committee looks at it, and takes maybe 10-15 minutes max, approves, and passes it forward.  We split up this work so that everyone on the committee does one or two iterations of Paperwork A.  (There's also Paperwork B, C, and D, which are way more onerous.)

Okay, last year, the slacker was assigned Paperwork A for X issue.  Everyone else on the committee did their Paperwork A issue.  Near the end of last academic year, we had a Paperwork B issue for X, and someone else on the committee did that, and it got sent forward to the college committee.

This week, the Deanling who runs the college committee emailed me to thank me for the Paperwork B we'd done for several issues, and then said that she'd done Paperwork A for X issue as well, because it had to be done before Paperwork B could go through, and she'd used the information for Paperwork B to fill out the Paperwork A form.

So the slacker put off Paperwork A for the year, and now never has to do it.  How's that for a reward!

(The Paperwork A stuff is 90% bullputty, and 10% meaningful, and normally, I'd be all over someone avoiding the bullputty part.  But I'm already irritated at the Slacker, so I'm more irritated now.)

(This is my last year on this committee, which I think is good.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Worrying Student

As in, the student I'm worried about, not the student who worries a lot.

I met recently with a student in one of my lower level courses to talk about an assignment based on some readings.  As I looked at what the student has worked on, and talked to the student, I realized that they didn't understand the vocabulary they were reading (this isn't, say, Shakespeare, but modern English, an essay aimed at first year students).  But when they read something aloud, they substituted similar looking (but often different meaning) words, and read along without realizing.

I'm sort of at a loss.  I suggested that the student slow down when they're reading, look up lots of words, and such.  But it seems that lacking a basic vocabulary would make the world incredibly hard to navigate, so I worry about this student not only as a student, but as an adult, trying to work, make decisions, vote, etc.

My understanding is that kids who read a lot tend to develop a way better vocabulary, and that kids who don't, don't develop as strong a vocabulary.  But it seems like the person who already doesn't read a lot is at a double disadvantage; they haven't developed the vocabulary, and they haven't developed the habits that are likely to help them develop a stronger vocabulary.

I don't know quite what to do.  It seems almost punitive to send a note to the central advising office, doesn't it?  I've suggest to everyone in my classes that they make regular use of the writing office, tutoring offices, etc.  Should I make an extra point with this student?

What do you folks do?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bullet Journal Win?

I got an email yesterday from the new director of the Special Interdisciplinary Program (I'm the Curriculum Committee Chair for the program, and was also last year) asking me about a course we've removed as a requirement of the major and minor.  (It was being taught, unsustainably as an unpaid/uncompensated overload.)

So I remembered that we'd done the discussion and voting on it relatively late in the year, and went through some meeting minutes, finding that discussion/vote on the second try. 

Then I looked at my bullet journal, the one I wrote about starting here (and here's a link to the bullet journal site) for that date, and the dates following.

So that's a win.  I was able to find the action we'd taken in the minutes AND to find what's basically my to do list for that date and the following days.

But, I didn't write it in my to do list.  Since I'm pretty good at putting stuff on there to get me to do it, that means I either totally didn't do it and should have, or that the previous director had said they'd do it (the minutes, alas, don't say; they should).  So that may be a bullet journal loss.  I don't know.

I looked at the on-line curricular forms program, but I don't see it there.  What's further, I don't see other things there that I remember submitting, either.

So that led me to call the office of the deanling in charge of curriculum, at about 8:10 this morning.  The phone got answered, but neither the deanling nor their admin assistant was in (either could probably answer my questions easily).  The admin assistant who answered the phone said they'd have whichever of the two got in first return my call.

I prepped my courses for the day, did the reading I needed to get done.  And now, over an hour later, still no call.  And no response to my email to the previous program director, but that's to be expected since they're back to full time teaching and either sensibly sleeping, prepping, or doing something else useful rather than answering email.

The bullet journal, though.  I don't use it as fully as the site suggests, because I keep a separate calendar and have lots of stuff on there, too.  But I'm really glad I started the system, because it helps me not forget deadlines, and know things are coming up much better than before.  It's especially better for longer term stuff, like when a deadline is a couple months out; I still write it in, with a reminder on the monthly task page, and then I remember, know when it's due, and can start working on it.

I have a colleague who's also a bullet journal person, but hers is way more colorfully decorated than mine.  I'm boring and tend to use just black ink.  But it's still helpful!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Starting Strong, or Just Starting

I've already graded a set of small assignments (I got them Thursday, turned them back Friday), and I have a set from another class (also small assignments) to grade this weekend.  And lots of reading and prep to do. 

I can't bear to do the math to figure out how many assignments, big or small, I'll be grading this semester.  I'm already feeling overwhelmed.

I went to a faculty art show opening on Thursday, and it was very good.  And then I went to an art show opening in a nearby community yesterday, and that was also good.  There's a concert tomorrow, and some friends and I are all going to a movie tonight.

Getting some Cultcha!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Trigger Warnings?

NPR did a segment on trigger warnings for All Things Considered recently, "Half Of Professors In NPR Ed Survey Have Used 'Trigger Warnings'"'  They sent out a survey and received 800 responses back (last fall); so it's not randomized or anything, nor is it super representative.  But it is interesting, in part because they concentrated on public universities, the sorts of schools most students attend.

I tend not to give specific trigger warnings, more because I'm forgetful than because I think they're problematic.  I do spend some time at the beginning of literature type courses asking students to think about the making of art using violence, and I'm pretty up front that the literature I teach often represents violence in a variety of ways.  And it represents non-consensual sex.  And those are things we need to think hard about, including asking ourselves why it is that we humans seem to enjoy aesthetic representations of violence (including non-consensual sexual violence).

My local public library has electronic lending now, and I've started "taking out" audio books.  The other day, I loaded one up based on the title (which was something to do with a leopard or ocelot or something), and without carefully reading whatever blurb was available. 

I listen to these at night, to help me fall asleep.  So I tend to start them as I'm in the final stages of getting ready, taking out my contacts, stretching, changing for bed.  (Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to go back to find where I remember from the night before.)

Anyway, this one started with a scene of torture.  And I found myself simultaneously horrified and weirdly captivated.  And then I turned it off.  I didn't want to go on.  (Instead, I found what's turning out to be a very good book by Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth.)

As you can probably guess, the character being tortured was female, and the torture was somewhat sexualized.  (Less sexualized than, say, in the tattoo books.  Though, I think this one, when I looked later, was also set in Scandinavia.)

It seems to me that (and maybe this is based on the popularity of the tattoo books, which I listened to on CD while driving) we've gotten a lot more interested in the past few years on really graphic representations of torturing female characters, especially in highly sexualized ways.  We're taking more pleasure in graphic representations of specific violence towards women.

And I think about the representations of violence in, say, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Spenser, etc, and there's certainly a fair bit of glee to causing characters' bodies pain (think Titus or "The Prioress's Tale"), the enjoyment of causing characters' bodies pain seems way more of late.

So, there I was, wishing I'd realized that the audio book was going to be so violent, and knowing that I wouldn't willingly listen to that violence.  In other words, I'd have liked a trigger warning, and would have avoided the audiobook altogether if I'd had one.

I think for me, I'm less comfortable with really explicit, graphic representations, less comfortable with sexualized torture, especially aimed at female characters, and relatively more comfortable with direct violence in battle.  I get teary during the Hotspur death scene, but I don't turn away.  I can manage through the Gloucester blinding, even on stage. 

(I don't go to scary movies, and don't watch TV that's scary; I have a pretty low tolerance for scary, and have since I was a little kid and wouldn't stay in the room while my cousins watched monster movies from the 50s.  I can recognize that Breaking Bad was artistically amazing, but I gave up watching it pretty quickly.   Yet, I've read quite detailed accounts of torture of POWs in Vietnam, and so forth.  I think I'm less tolerant of torture as I get older.)

What I wonder is how we (as teachers) decide what we'll teach and why?  How we as consumers of culture decide what we'll consume (and thus support)?  How do we help students think productively about their own decisions?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Those Panicked Emails

One of my colleagues stopped by my office this morning, and mentioned her irritation that a student had sent her a rather panicked email about what the assignment for today actually is.

And I got one or two emails between teaching yesterday and waking this morning asking for clarifications.

We faculty types think we're being utterly clear, of course, so it's faintly irritating when someone doesn't understand.

But from the other direction, these emails reveal a couple things:  first, and most important: the student wants to do well.

second, they aren't yet afraid to ask

and third, someone has scared them already.  Either they've gotten in trouble for messing up an assignment at some point, or someone has made them feel bad for misunderstanding an assignment, or something.

My goal for this semester, modest though it is, is to answer these questions and emails with those three things in mind.

And the bonus is: I've already had a student come see me (by appointment) to check her draft of a journal assignment due Friday.  So she's already read the poem, done some thinking and writing, and asked for feedback.  I have to applaud THAT initiative!

(For the record, the colleague's description of the assignment she'd given did sound confusing to me, too.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Violin and Writing

My new song on violin, the "Hunter's Chorus" from the opera Der Freischutz, is in 2/4, and has quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes.  I'd been practicing it for a week, and when I had my lesson last week, my teacher noticed something, and had me step with the beat, at which point I, too, noticed that I was playing the quarter notes and eighth notes with the same time.  Oops.

The thing is, I'd been practicing wrong for a solid week, so unlike just learning something, I need to unlearn and then learn again.  She suggested some strategies, including working with a metronome. 

The first day I tried it, I had to adjust the metronome about 10 times to find a speed slow enough for me to hit the sixteenth notes.  Let's just say that my speed is rather more dirge like than the allegro the music calls for.  (I'm playing at 55 beats per minute, and allegro is more like 120 beats per minute.)

The sixteenth notes are hard, with bow crossings, and holding a finger down on the D string for one note, then crossing to the open A string for the next, without picking up the finger on the D string (so it has to be clear of the A string, something that's not easy for my fingers).

So, I'm practicing along with the metronome, super slowly, and looking at the music, and while I may be getting the tempo, everything is goes to hell.  My fingers aren't quite hitting where they should, and the bowing's messy.  (I'm also working with the metronome on scales and broken thirds, and they're a little less messy.)

I'm beginning to "get" the time, so at the end of the practice session, I stop the metronome and try to play in time, and everything else improves a bit.  The sixteenth notes aren't as smooth as they should be, but my fingers hit the strings closer to where they should, and the bowing's not quite such a mess.

What does this have to do with writing?

With violin, I'm trying to pay attention to a number of things at once (and that number will increase as I improve, of course): fingerings, bowings, music, time.  It seems like I can really get one or two of those things at a time.  So if I've memorized the music, then I can focus on fingering and bowing much more.  But if I add in being really attentive to time, with the metronome, the fingering and bowing suffer.

Similarly, in writing, students are trying to pay attention to a lot of things, and when they're working on writing about new content, then everything else pretty much goes to hell.  That's especially true if the content is challenging for a given student.  For me, the timing is a big challenge right now.  For a student, Foucault may be the challenge, or partial pressure across a membrane, or describing mouse teeth.  So they're focusing on that hard content, writing in order to understand the content, but also, in our system, often to demonstrate some degree of mastery of the content.

And everything else falls apart, spelling, sentence structure, paragraph structure, it all goes to hell. 

Now, given time and guidance, the student can get the content in order to learn and demonstrate a degree of mastery, and then go back and work on making paragraph structure strong, making sentences work, catching typos.  But that all takes time, and realistically, it takes guidance from a teacher to get them to take that time, and to teach them to see how paragraph structure works, how sentences work, and how to effectively revise those, and then how to effectively proofread.

So that's what I'm thinking about today, as I start classes, realizing that my students are learning hard stuff, and separating out writing for learning from writing to demonstrate learning, and providing time and guidance for paragraph and sentence revision, and for catching typos.

Here's wishing myself a good semester, and wishing those of you also starting today a good semester, and wishing all of you who've been at it for a bit already a continued good semester.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Family Bonus

I was wandering through the HR site yesterday, and came upon a benefits calculator.  You type in the salary you estimate, and whether you're on the single or family health plan, and whether you're on a local or national (more expensive) health plan.

At a given salary, the Social Security and retirement benefits are the same for both.

Not so the health plan.  Here's the single plan and the family plan (local health plan):

Employer part             Employee part

$19,900.68                  $2,604.00

That's right, people on the family plan pay about $1600 for the extra person/people on the health plan (it's the same if you've got a single extra person or a number of extra people).

Our employer, though, pays an extra $11, 000.  That's an untaxed benefit of $11,000 extra.  Wow.

When we talk about benefits (say, in union discussions when we're fantasizing), folks with kids often complain that they should get free or subsidized tuition, or free childcare or after-school care (child care is subsidized on campus: 7am-5:30pm costs $40/day for up to 3 year olds, for faculty; it's cheaper for students, more expensive for community members).

Benefits are part of the costs to employers that they have to figure when they're employing someone, and so, in reality, we get less take-home pay because of our benefits.  That's fine.  At least, it's fine inasmuch as we all have access to benefits.  It would be nice if we had more equal access.

But an extra $11K for family plan folks?  I blame the patriarchy. 

(And it's only very recently that same sex married folks could claim the untaxed benefit, though there was a time when same sex partner could get the benefit if they met all sorts of qualifiers that married folks didn't have to meet, but they had to pay taxes on it because they couldn't legally be married.  I'm not sure how it works for unmarried partners now.)

It would be nice if I could get my hands on an extra $11k untaxed benefits.  Maybe they could put more into my retirement?   (Think how much faster that would add up!)

It's hard for me to think of another benefit that would be as helpful to a non-family benefitting person here.

(Yes, I realize I'm privileged to have a job, and I'm happy to pay my taxes, especially for schools, libraries, roads, social services, and such, happy to support subsidized childcare on campus.  And I would be super duper happy if we'd move to a single-payer non-employer linked health insurance system!)

Friday, September 02, 2016

Diversity Statements

Around the interwebs, I've been reading about colleges/universities requiring "diversity statements" along with teaching philosophies (and perhaps other statements).  My school, to my knowledge, doesn't require separate statements.  But my department always puts something about diversity, social justice as a qualification in our ads.  I can't speak across the campus as a whole, but in my department, we think it's important.  And we want new colleagues who think it's important.

I've seen some complaints about such ads or statement requirements as BS.  So I thought I'd say a few words about why I don't think it's BS, and why I think it's important.

Some years back, I was in some diversity training on campus and we were discussing putting diversity into the qualifications for academic ads, and one of our deanlings, who taught in Social Work, complained that if contributing to diversity were a requirement, he wouldn't get a job now.  And all I could say was, then you wouldn't get a job, and how could anyone even think they could qualify for ANY job in Social Work if they couldn't contribute in some way to diversity efforts on our campus?  HOW?

The implication of his complaint was that as a white man, he couldn't contribute to diversity on campus, and that such ads would discriminate against white men.  I think that's exactly wrong. 

I know grad students and adjuncts are incredibly busy, and if you're a chemistry student, thinking about diversity may seem alien.  It shouldn't.  (I'm using chemistry as a field where it may seem diversity is unimportant.)

White folks can contribute to diversity efforts.  We can take advantage of diversity training on our campuses, especially training for TAs and newer faculty (since those folks are mostly on the market).  We can contact offices on campus that support students with disabilities, students of color, first generation college students, students who are vets or non-trads, and we can make sure that our syllabi include information about these offices for students, make sure that our materials are accessible, make sure that we think about these students and teach for them, and not just white students who are well-prepared 18 year olds.  (I don't remember ever having a conversation with a person of color that revealed that that person had never thought about diversity.  We may not have gotten to diversity, if, say, we were standing in line at the grocery chatting about the cold weather, of course.)

The thing is, we should be making these efforts as a standard thing, and should be able to talk about why they're important to us.

For those with a bit more time, think about student groups on campus you can support with a small investment of time.  Maybe you can offer students in a discussion a small bit of extra credit for attending a Pow-Wow or talk on campus, or just take 5 minutes every week or two to tell your discussion students about some of the things happening on campus that they aren't already hearing about.  (No need to tell students that there's a football game, but do they know there's a drum group?  a chemistry speaker?)

If you have more time, then you can do some other activities, perhaps volunteer, whatever.

For those of us who care about diversity, we're looking for colleagues who demonstrate that they've worked to gain some awareness, made some basic efforts.  In an English department, we're likely to hear about teaching authors of color, teaching race issues in earlier lit, and so on.  But if you're applying in a chemistry department, you might really stand out if you've thought about how to mentor students of color or women in your courses, folks traditionally underrepresented in your area.  I can tell you that I have colleagues in chemistry here who think diversity is important, and who'd give that application additional attention because that's a qualification for teaching chemistry for our students, and for the students we want to come study here.  Take diversity and social justice seriously; it's not a throw away for many people reading your applications.

If you're a person of color, or a person with a disability, then you've probably already got ways to talk about your experiences and your commitment to diversity.  You've probably already put in the time to work towards social justice in a variety of ways.  But doesn't mean that someone reading your application will know about your experiences and work unless you tell them.  So tell us, please!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Writing in the Office

I desperately need to write a grant proposal, but I've been procrastinating at home.  So, after not sleeping much last night, I came to the office this morning to work on it.  It's hard.  I'm trying to explain ecocriticism to a general audience, and to explain what I'm trying to do with it, and I'm bogging down.  I start and restart sentences.  What I need to do, I think, is just write, and then go back and revise a lot.

Meanwhile, people keep stopping by my office to chat and ask how my course prep is coming along, or am I going to this or that meeting, or how was my summer.  And it's nice to chat, but I'm trying to write, and each interruption means that it takes me a while to refocus (as in, right now).

Things at the BardiacShack (tm) are weird, still.  My guest's dogs howl and bark if the guest leaves; the guest has blocked off the stairs to keep the dogs and cats downstairs (which is good, because the dogs keep getting on my furniture, and that's one thing if it's MY dog, but another if it's guest dogs, you know?), but that makes it feel like I'm imposing on the little fortress if I go down to do laundry or whatever.

I'll be happy for moveout day, which is tomorrow.

Okay, back to trying to explain stuff for a general audience!