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).