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!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Worth Reading

The Good Enough Professor has a post up on "Monsters and Mythical Creatures of Higher Education" that's worth reading if you haven't already.

The piece responds to the recent anti-safe space attack from the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago with nuance and thoughtfulness.

Let's be serious: students of color, vets, LGBTQ students, first generation students, these folks (and others) need spaces on campuses where they can find community, discuss issues and experiences, find solutions or work-arounds to problems, and they need these safe spaces where "majority" students aren't going to tell them that there's no racism, and so forth.

All students need faculty who will intervene if another student gets inappropriately aggressive in a classroom discussion. 

All students need faculty and other students to recognize that some traumas are hard to deal with.

And all students need to be challenged and uncomfortable at times, too.  But too much discomfort makes learning harder and less likely.  Majority students need to be uncomfortable, too.

Real teaching skill involves helping students be uncomfortable at a fruitful level and point, supporting them through.  If you're one on one with a student, it's probably easier.  If you've got 30, 90, or 400 students, it's way, way harder.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Other People are Weird

I invited a new colleague from a different department on campus to stay at my house until their apartment opens up on the fourth.  I was trying to be nice.

But holy cow, other people are weird.  I say that with a bit of a wry smile, because I'm sure my quirks are just as weird as anyone else's, truth be told.  But since I'm writing, let me say, other people are weird!

I want to practice my violin, but I don't want to wake the person.  It's after noon, and I haven't heard the least stirring yet.  I guess I'll go do other chores and practice later?

As someone who lives alone, I think I'm probably very set in my ways.

The person moves out on the first, so it's only a few more days.

(If you were reading this person's blog, I bet they'd say that they're staying with someone who's sort of crazy, and so very weird!)

Friday, August 26, 2016

Gamifying Meetings and Grumpy

I'll start with the grumpy.  I simply haven't been sleeping well for the past week or so.  It happens sometimes, bad insomnia, and then I tend to get over it and start sleeping pretty well.  (I had terrible insomnia for years, and didn't quite even realize it; I'd just be awake from the time I went to bed, at say, 10, until 2 or 3 am, and then have to get up for school or work or whatever, and would drag through the day, especially as a teen.

Yesterday, I was at a long meeting, a four hour "retreat" for my college, and a new deanling did a presentation on GE sorts of stuff.  We're starting a new GE program this year, so we all need to know the rules and how to advise students, figure out schedules, and make our courses "fit."  Okay, I get that.

I have high hopes for this deanling; I've served on committees with them and they're smart, thoughtful, fair-minded, feminist.  So I was disappointed, because they set up this "game" that was basically, new GE trivia on a computerized platform.

At each table we had to log on with a device, and then there were questions, and we were supposed to answer these questions with points for being right, and points for being fast. 

So we responded to the incentives: the person who knew the answer said it, the person clicking clicked, and the people who didn't know the answers hung out.  At my table, I knew the answers because I've served on curriculum committees of late. 

But if the purpose was to get the people less familiar with the new GE to learn about it, then it didn't work, because they weren't involved at all.

But at least it wasn't horribly irritating.

We also had a meet and greet thing with some local officials.  We have about 20% representation of people of color in our local high schools, and within local governments, people of color are increasingly well represented.  There's a really strong local organization, and they're very involved in the community.

You wouldn't have known that from the local officials who came to our meeting, though.  That was irritating.  (I bent the dean's ear a bit about that, and he was receptive, but didn't have a solution; the meet and greet arrangements happened well over his head, I think.)

According to our headmaster, this is the year we really focus on increasing our service to people of color in our community.  (There's a better way to put this, but you get the idea: we're after attracting and retaining students of color to better reflect our community and region, and also faculty/staff of color to contribute in all the positive ways diversity does.) 

You wouldn't have known that from the college meeting, either. 

I have another four hour "retreat" today.  At least this one's led by a feminist person of color, so I'm pretty sure we'll address both feminism and social justice issues.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

One of Those...

I went to a sale on campus of used stuff this morning.  My campus has these sales regularly, sometimes with basic office/building stuff, but this was a once a year used rec stuff sale.  This is the same sort of sale where I got my yacht.

There, I saw one of those colleagues who just makes you glad to know them.  She's thoughtful and kind, smart, knowledgeable, and an all around good colleague.  We chatted.

And then another colleague interrupted, the polar opposite of the first.  He's the sort who mansplains, who tries to dominate everything with his opinions (this was a rec sale, so he was opining about rec stuff; often he opines about everything else).

If I never had to interact with that colleague again, it wouldn't be too soon, you know?

I got an extra sleeping mini-mattress thingy.  Good deal!

Another colleague may come camping with me, over night.  Her first time.  Fun!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Program X

Our contract period started, and lots of friends have already started teaching.

My to-do list is a bit overwhelming.  Holy cow!

Meetings, endless meetings, scheduled for the next couple of weeks. 

There's a program here, let's call it Program X, which provides a degree, and is the only such degree for about 80 miles around, and far more in some directions.  The problem is that Program X requires a good amount of resources but has very few students.  And we don't have all the resources we should for Program X, though we like to pretend we do, so the few students we have don't really get a strong Program X degree.

Every few years, we have a meeting and someone has a big plan to "save" Program X.  Some of these solutions are about getting more students, others about cutting down resources.

Early on, Program X's director wanted to cut one of the required courses because students didn't like it, and most faculty didn't like it.  But it was one of those "how to research in this field" courses, so not having it made the program a bit weaker.  A part of the material was added to another required course.  (There were, when I started, three required courses, an intro, a research methods, and a theory course.)

One year Program X added a new sub-program which, we were assured, would bring in lots of students.  It brings in a few, but mostly, people who were in the old program switch over.  But the new sub-program takes resources from the old, so the old program was cut down, making it even weaker.

Then Program X's director said that with the new sub-program, we really couldn't ask students to do the theory course, and they didn't like it, and if they got rid of it, they could take more new sub-program courses.  So that change happened.  A little theory was going into the intro course, they promised.

More recently, Program X's director came up with the idea that students in another major could sort of do a double with Program X, and that would bring in lots of students.  Of course, in order to do this, the other major would be weakened.

Now, Program X has a new director, and unlike the other directors, this one very much wants to get into administration.  Since they've been here, they've been taking on or trying to take on increasingly administrative roles all over.  In some ways, they're good at this.  But holy cow, every time I'm in a meeting, this person has to talk, and my brain just shuts down on them.  This may be me being a jerk, or it may be a response to the administrivial jargon they tend to use for everything.

It sounds like the new director is making a big push for assessment (quite natural, given the climate), and re-asserting the other changes in hopes of attracting all those students to do the extra program.

(On one level, this person is pushed into administrative stuffs by those above, but they're "missing" one quality the upper administrators love, and so I think that's held them back.  I don't think they'd be a great administrator, but I don't think that's the quality that's holding them back, since other folks who are crap get pulled up into administration fairly often.  The quality this new director is "missing"?  Whiteness.  Yeah, that's a problem around here.  And so I both root for and dread the new Program X director's desire to get into administration.)

Monday, August 22, 2016


I did a solo kayak paddle yesterday, from a town just up the river, to a little lake-ish area in my little city.  I think it was about five miles, and took me an hour and a half, not working very hard (but with the wind against me).

I put a green dot at the put in place, and a red dot where I took out.  The shore line has lots of houses and boats along the river in some areas, and not in others, so some places look pretty pristine, and some less so.  Still, it's a beautiful river, and was good for paddling for me.  (It's not white water, at all, but there weren't too many big boats to worry about.

My neighbor had offered to pick me up any time he's around, in his pick up.  So I called him when I was on land again.  It worked out GREAT!

(To the right of the green dot, it looks like that's another river coming in, but it's really a little lake, separated by some land, with probably an open pipe under the road between the little lake and the river.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

Syllabus Number Three: Shakespeare Topics

My topic is geographies.  What I want to do is bring together my interest in physical space/resources, race, ecocriticism.

I've mapped out some, a little.

We'll start with the physical space of the stage.  (I could use suggestions beyond Weimann for this.)

And a little bit on the physical space of printed pages, because Folios and Quartos are so interesting!

Then we'll move into the stage in London, and London in England.

And then we'll move into the Mediterranean and broader Europe and the world, sort of.

I've chosen the plays:

Merry Wives
1 Henry IV
Anthony and Cleopatra
Merchant of Venice
Winter's Tale

What do you think?  Suggestions for readings, fun stuff to do?

I love trying to teach new combinations and approaches, but it's also always lots of hard work.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Violin, Level Two!

I haven't written about my violin studies lately, but I've been coming along.  Yesterday, I had a sort of "test" to pass from Book 1 to Book 2, and I passed.  I gather in the old days, a student wanting to pass had to make a recording and send it to Dr. Suzuki to get his approval to move on.  And even today, I think little kids often have to do a recital of some stuff.

I had none of that.  Instead, my teacher (Strings) had me do the final song in Book 1, plus a song of my choosing from Book 1, and a song she chose from Book 1.  And I also had gotten to start on the first song of Book 2, which is from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus.  I practiced and practiced them for a couple of weeks (while Strings was out of town on vacation), and yesterday, I played them pretty darned well (for me).

During my last lesson, I was so nervous that I was shaking.  Really.  I was playing the last piece from Book 1, and I wanted it to be good, and for some reason I was just nervous as all get out.  And, of course, that made my playing way worse. 

So we talked a bit about nerves and playing, and some strategies.

I asked her if I am progressing okay, and Strings assured me that I'm doing really well. 

I hadn't quite believed her, but I just looked over the posts I made earlier this year about learning violin, and I really have learned a whole lot and improved tons.  Just playing the notes was really hard.  It's still hard, but now the hardness is trying to sound right, and to play in tune, and to be musical.

About the nerves:  I talked to my niece, who is heading off to college to study [kazoo] (remember Terminal Degree used to blog about being a kazoo prof?), and who's played a fair number of recitals, concerts, and even a solo concerto with her high school orchestra.  And she was able to offer me some helpful advice, which I can't repeat, quite, but along the lines of you prepare, and it's going to happen, so you prepare to make it happen the way you want it to happen.  It was nice to get her advice.

So, I'd been preparing (except for the camping trip), and I played my program, and Strings congratulated me, and got me started on the next piece!  So that's exciting! 

I started playing AD&D in college, and have played various games since, so the idea of leveling in violin amuses me a bit.  So now I'm a level 2 violinist!

Notorious Blogging!

Notorious, PhD is blogging again!  Welcome her back :)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Planning Classes - Poetry Time!

I'm teaching our intro to poetry course for the first time in ages (6 or 7 years).  I think most of my colleagues and I teach it as a skills course, rather than as a survey of poetry across time, or great poetry, or whatever.  So we focus on how to read poetry, how to approach it.  And it's fun, really fun.

The difficult thing is that the course is geared towards two very different audiences: the general ed crowd, often first year students, and the creative writing crowd, for whom it's one of three or four courses they choose from to complete a "genre" requirement.

The upshot is that you get first year students with no experience in poetry, taking the course because it was open at a time that worked for them and will fulfill a GE type requirement, and you get senior creative writing majors, some of whom really, really want to be poets.  (I don't know why they put off the genre courses, but they often do.)  And everything in between.

How do you set up a course for that diverse an audience?

What sorts of assignments help the first years while not boring the seniors, or letting them get lazy?

How do you challenge the seniors to learn new stuff without overwhelming the first years?

I have 35 Students enrolled, so a biggish class for my department, but not at all for many departments.  What sorts of assignments do you give? 

(I'll post about what I've got going later.)

Friday, August 12, 2016

A World Away

I decided to take a couple days, and drove a long way, to an island in one of the great lakes.  I was only gone for two days, but when I came back, I felt that sort of dislocation in time that you feel when you've been away a lot longer than two days.

I had to take a ferry.  Here's the ferry terminal.

  Like pretty much everyone else with an LL Bean green Subaru, I call my car the "Green Bean."  Here's a top view of the Green Bean on the ferry.
 Home away from home!
 The view from inside my tent, the first day, opening everything up and airing things out.  The first day, it was hot and humid, the sort of humid that has me sweating just standing in the shade.  I went for a good, long walk that first day.
 From my campsite to the beach was about a three minute walk.  This great lake, on this calm day, was beautiful!  Lots of folks were swimming.
 I took a selfie!
 And more walking.

On the second morning, it started raining after I'd had my coffee and breakfast, so I went to the little town.  I spend an hour or more in the local history museum (which was quite good).
 The second evening, it sprinkled for a bit, so I packed everything to be rain/night ready, and headed to bed.  And then it stormed.  I've never camped in the rain, but my tent kept me warm and cozy.  The only leak was in the little pass through (lower left of the tent picture), and that was about a tablespoon of water, all told. 

The thing I hadn't realized was that if you're in a tent in a rainstorm, you're sort of living inside a drum being beat on by hyped up two year olds.  It was amazingly loud!

So, I didn't sleep great.  But now I've had a totally new experience!  In the morning, it was still raining, pretty much, and my camping arrangements don't (yet?) include a covering for eating, so I packed everything in the car, and headed out.

Here's from the ferry headed away.  It didn't stop raining until I was maybe three quarters of the way home.  And it had rained at home, too.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Carrie Furnace Visit

On the last full day I was in Pittsburgh, we went to the Carrie Furnace.  It's an old steel mill, closed in the 1980s, I think, that's open one or two days a week for guided tours.  It's pretty run down, but the tour is really, really interesting!

I always wondered how, in those pictures you see of giant ladles with melted metal, how come the ladles didn't melt.  And the answer, as you can see from the interior of the molten metal holder thingy here, is that everything is like with several courses of bricks.  Everything.  The furnace, the floors, the pouring stuff, everything.  The preparation of those pieces of equipment must have taken a heck of a good brickworker.

Okay, back to academic stuff next time.

It's August, and time to face the reality of the coming semester.