Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Off and Running

We're now well into the first week of classes.  I taught all three of my classes (including a 5 hour a week course) on Monday, ending with three hours of the Choose your own Early Brit Lit Adventure (the course I talked about here).

I sent the students Sidney's "Apology" (well, a good chunk of it) ahead, with some discussion questions to think about, and that was good.  We talked about how we know what's worth reading, what's worth spending our time on.   And I put them in groups and gave them their assignment for next week, which is to choose what they want to read (from my list) and be ready to explain and argue for their choices (so the Sidney lead into that, sort of).  I gave them time in class to figure out a group strategy, exchange contact information, and so forth.  I think they're ready.

And this evening, not yesterday (Tuesday) or even during working hours today, this evening... I got an email from a student who missed class on Monday.  I'm sure the reason for missing was totally good, but, um... well, there's a spanner in the works, as British folks would say.  So now I've emailed them back with the syllabus and calendar, and emailed the class asking if a group is willing to add a person who missed class on Monday.  (Which is basically a whole week of class, of course, given that we meet once a week.)

I'm hoping some group is willing to add a person and they let me know pretty quickly.

Today in my other two classes, I started by asking for questions on the readings.  And then I handed out an open notes, closed book quiz.  But surprise!  It wasn't really a quiz, but a fake quiz to make them realize that they really DO need to read carefully and take notes.  And then I handed out a copy of my own notes for the reading in each class (different, naturally, since they're very different courses) and we talked about taking notes as we talked about the readings.

The one reading in the first year writing course was about reading "rhetorically" and talked about how to read and take good notes.  But, being first year students, most of them didn't translate that into actually taking notes.  Hopefully, they'll do better in future.  (That's why they're in college, after all!)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

And Here We Go!

The semester begins tomorrow, and after several hours of work at the office today, I'm ready.  I still have plenty to keep me busy tomorrow, but I'm ready to walk into two of my three classes tomorrow morning, and only have to print out and make copies of the course syllabus and such to be ready for the third.

I was not the only person in the office today, either...

But why is it that I only see women in the office on Sundays?  (Mostly, with rare exceptions...)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Look for the Union Label

I decided after the election last year that I was going to be more politically involved because I need to.  So I ran for an office (treasurer) in my union local.  And I won, because no one else was running.  But then we arranged for me to put off taking over because I was away.

So this week was take over week.  There've been meetings.

And what I noticed: leftist men talk over me just like non-leftist men.

We are all white (officer group).  We need to change that.  Every single officer would agree.  But no one had taken even the minimal step of offering support at the community MLK day event.  Or at the Juneteenth event.  (The list goes on.)  First, the union should be there offering support because we should support these events.  Second, the union should be there offering support so that folks see that we're there.  Because we should be supporting these events.  And so on.

Being new, I seem to have some energy that time has worn out of the others.  I should take advantage of that while I can.

I did, in fact.  I used my new connection with staff folks (I had lunch with the person I met at the professional development day) to ask who's in charge of new faculty/academic staff orientation, and emailed that person asking if the union could have 10-15 minutes of time, or at least if we could set up a table to introduce people to the union.  The person in charge responded enthusiastically.

The union has no actual power because of state laws.  But we can do things that would be helpful to people.  For example, we can help organize people to work on phone banks, and the union temple in town has equipment and so forth.

It took us an hour to go to the bank to do the signature hand over, and we couldn't actually do it because the prior secretary and current president didn't think to ask what paperwork we needed (and neither did I), so we didn't have the paperwork.  Duh.

At any rate, I expect I'll be blogging a bit about being more active in the union now.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Massaging Numbers and Dishonesty

I just got one of those cheerleading emails from our public relations folks, the sort they send out pretty much every week.  This one had a blurb that said that our [Program] was rated in the top five on the US News and World Report thingy.  It had a clicky link, so I clicked, and it took me to a blurb on my uni's website, that pretty much said the same thing.  But there's no link to the actual US News article or site.  So of course, I googled it.

And for [Program] we're actually tied for a teen #.  That's good, heck, great for our regional school.  But it's not top 5.

But you can add limiters, so I started playing with them.  And yes, if you add a specific limiter, there we are, top 5.  But the blurb doesn't say anything about the limiter which is totally reasonable, and could have been honestly clarified with one more word in the blurb.  And honestly, no one reading the blurb would have worried about the limiter.

But as it is, we sound dishonest.  I hate that our PR folks feel like they need to be dishonest, to make us try to sound better than we are.  (And we're pretty good at what we do.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Trouble Getting Started

For some reason, I'm having real trouble this week getting myself to start practicing violin.  Once I've started, I'm quite happy plugging along.  But getting started is a whole different thing.  I need mojo!

I'm slowly coming back to where I was when I left in August.  I'm really rueing my lack of practice while overseas.  But, what's done is done.

I can do scales and broken thirds again, including scales in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th position.  I haven't practiced the left hand moving between positions much (the actual shifting), though.

I've been working on the bowing technique book, from the beginning.  It's slow going, and it takes a lot of concentration.  I need to start back on the fingering technique book, the shifting book, and the double stop book.

I'm in the midst of Suzuki Book 3 again.  Book 1 was sort of hard, then things got easier with Book 2, I think because my hands started remembering what they were supposed to do again.  And with Book 3, I'm sometimes surprised at how I can read through a piece and do okay even the first time through, and then with some attention, get it sounding pretty decent.  Both Book 2 and Book 3 pieces took me a fair bit of work the first time, and I think the memory of that work is slowly rebuilding.

I need to start working on the vibrato thing again.  I was at the point of beginning to try to move my wrist slowly and such.  It's going to be slow going, I think, because it's sort of a weird motion.

Sometimes I watch youtube videos of Itzhak Perlman or Hilary Hahn, and their hands look so relaxed and soft on their instruments that it's a wonder everything doesn't just fall.

Sunday, January 21, 2018


A local wildlife group sponsored a birding outing today.  We went out looking, and found Golden Eagles and Rough-legged Hawks, both life birds for me.  We saw two Golden Eagles flying, quickly, without much look, but fairly close.  And then we saw one perched a LONG way away (just a small image in a spotting scope), and got a really good long look (we were probably there for 15 minutes, across a valley from where it was perched up on a hill).  You could see the golden mantle and everything!

The first Rough-legged Hawk we saw was quick, but the second one, I had plenty of time to see the field marks.  I count that a win!

We saw Red-tailed Hawks, too, of course, and many Bald Eagles.  When I was a kid, seeing a Bald Eagle was amazing; they were so rare because of DDT.  But they're made an amazing comeback.

We also saw a Kestrel, Pheasant (2 hens), starlings, sparrows and such.

All in all, a very happy day of birding.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Professional Development

The other day, I went to a professional development session that was supposed to be on diversity.  It wasn't so much on diversity as it was on communication strategies.  And then it played up the sort of super magic (white) teacher who can make all the difference if just...  So that wasn't good.  But some of the communication strategies were interesting.

The leader had us all get together with someone we'd never met.  So I ended up with someone who's on the facilities side of the university, someone who does work that's pretty much completely different from mine, whose work rarely involves contact with students (though some student workers, maybe).  At least that was interesting.

How much contact do you have with people on your campuses who's work is totally different from your own?  I don't have much.  I know some administrative folks, of course, and administrative assistants, and some of the janitors who work in my building.  But other than that?  Not much.  I don't know food workers (except for in my building), maintenance or budgeting folks, and so on.  To be honest, I don't really think much about the people who manage stuff that's not overtly centered on students.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Problems with Liking some Artists

I really enjoy Chaucer's work.  But I hate that he's accused of "raptus" and a felony, which implies rape and not just consentually running off with a woman against her father's wishes.

And now the best I can think of Aziz Ansari is that he's a jerk.  I like Master of None, but now I keep thinking that Ansari's really a jerk.  Yes, the young woman probably used less than stellar judgment, but he was still a jerk.

It's sort of good that we don't know much about Shakespeare's behavior, isn't it.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

American Black Duck

In a mixed group with mostly Mallards, a couple of American Black Ducks.  My first, so pretty exciting birding on a cold winter day.  (There's a little lake in town that has several outlet thingies that keep the water moving, and therefore open.  Ducks gather there, fairly close to shore, and pretty easy to spot.  That and a far better birder than I told me there were Black Ducks in one of the three places.  And there were!)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking for an Adventure

First, is anyone else getting weirdness on blogspot when they comment?  It looks like my comment is "stuck" and doesn't take, but it really does take (as I can tell when I reload the page and look).

And the real post:  I recently read Cheryl Strayed's Wild (thanks to my Niece, who gave it to me for Christmas).  I know it's problematic in so many ways (who in their right mind starts off on such a hike without at least some short trips to test equipment and get ready?), but it's also a fun read, a story of a sort of grand adventure.  (Yep, there's all sorts of painful stuff there, too, but I connected most with the adventure part.)

Now I'm NOT going to run off and start the Pacific Crest Trail without some realistic prep... which means I probably will never run off and start the Pacific Crest Trail.  For one thing, there's appeal and there's, well, what's the opposite of appeal?  I don't see myself hiking for days on end.  As a friend says, time on task.  For lots of things, I do really well with a task of several hours (biking, kayaking, walking in a museum).  And then I increasingly find whatever it is unpleasant.  So that makes some things (long hikes, full days in museums) pretty unappealing.

And yet, I have a sabbatical coming up, and I want to go on some sort of adventure.  Maybe I could hike on a trip for a week?  (with appropriate training and equipment checking along the way)

Or something.

What are the ethics of hiking to Everest Base Camp?  Here's a guided thing.  (That would take a really devoted year of prep, I'm guessing.)

What about part of the Pacific Crest Trail?  Or part of the Appalachian Trail?  Or ever part of the Superior Hiking Trail?

Or Machu Picchu?

Or other ideas?

or maybe a biking trip?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Gray Scale

I ran across an article recently (I can't find it now, alas) that talked about an organization called "Time Well Spent."  (Here's the Wikipedia page.)  The idea of the organization is to get companies that make money by selling our attention (think facebook, for example) to realign their goals to focus on providing users with experiences that don't work against our best interests.  Well, they explain it better.

The thing is, I don't think we can convince companies to undercut the ways they make money, just as I think we aren't going to convince arms manufacturers to quit selling arms to anyone who has the money to buy them.  (Sometimes laws do that, but companies don't do it willingly.)

But, the organization also gives some ideas for making the current technology less effective at hijacking our time.

Now I admit that I check some social media type stuff a lot.  More than makes sense.  And I use it to procrastinate, though not necessarily on my phone.  (I'm far more likely to procrastinate at my computer.)  Still, they have some ideas, and a couple I'm trying.

The two I'm trying are phone specific:  one, I've changed my phone to use gray scale settings.  I'm not sure how this will affect photos, but I should check (and it's easy to change it back, of course).  Otherwise, I really don't need all the colors, and changing to gray scale is supposed to make the screen itself less appealing, and in making it less appealing, giving less subconscious incentive to just look at it.

Two, I've relocated the icons for apps I'm notorious for spending time with to procrastinate to the second page.  I don't see them when I turn on the phone, but do see the things I really want:  phone, messaging, music tuning and metronome, maps, and so forth.  It really does seem to make things less appealing.  And if I don't see the BBC icon, I don't endlessly scroll through it on the off chance that a new and exciting news story has broken and I MUST read it NOW!

During the first part of break, I put my laptop in a room that's colder than the rest of the house, and only brought it to use in the living room (where I like to sit) without its cord, so I was time-limited.  (It's a 6 year old laptop, so the battery power doesn't last for more than an hour or so.)  And not surprisingly, I wasted less time on the computer.  (But then I made the excuse that I needed to read and work on the letter for my colleague, so plugged it in where I sit in the living room, and yep, I'm wasting more time on it.)

So I need to move it back.  Right now.

I'd love a way to make the browser on the laptop show pages just in grayscale as a default, but with an easy way to change, so I can watch bike races in color (the kits are colorful and help you tell which team/rider is which, also the scenery is often beautiful).  Any ideas?

Thursday, January 11, 2018


I've got to write a letter in support of a colleague for the annual review.  We split the writing tasks on these letters, and this time I'm writing about their research.  But here's the thing: the work seems smart, but holy cow did I find it... boring.  I can't decide if it's because I don't know the subject area well (or even at all) or what, but I'm disappointed.  Often enough, when I write these review letters and read my colleague's work, I find it interesting and challenging.  This time, I didn't.

That's not going to stop me writing a really positive letter, because it's a smart piece and doing important work, I think.  And the other stuff was smart and interesting.  And this colleague is amazing.

(The crappy job market is crappy indeed, but it means even regional schools in the middle of the Northwoods get truly super faculty.)

I worry that the bar seems to constantly be raised for these folks in the aftermath of the horrid job market.  What I mean is, these folks come out of grad school with a number of publications, often a book MS in progress.  And then with our teaching load and a brutal work ethic, they do a great job teaching and publish and publish and publish.  Except a few don't, they only publish and publish.  That would have been perfectly reasonable, heck, really good just an academic generation ago.  But now they don't look as amazing in comparison to the publishX3 folks.

I don't think we're putting pressure on our TT colleagues for the large numbers of publications, but the pressure's definitely there.  (I see our responses in meetings and such, and we don't expect publishX3 instead of publishX1 or publishX2.  I hope that makes sense.)

Back to the boring problem.  I make an effort to read my colleague's research when I write these letters.  But I think many of my colleagues don't.  Am I overthinking, or just being appropriately responsible?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Delurking and Housekeeping Question

According to Xykademiqz, it's blog delurking week.  So please say hi.

I'm thinking about cleaning up the LONG list of blogs on the side, deleting those that haven't been updated for a year or more.  What do you think?

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Choose Your Own (Early Modern) Adventure

I'm trying something totally new and different in my senior seminar this year.  I'm going to give students the opportunity (I hope they see it that way) to choose the texts they want to read, within certain limits.

It's a once a week, three hour course (evening).  For the first week, I'll send them a questionnaire asking them which of the following texts they've studied or read.  And I'll also send them a pdf of Sidney's Defense of Poesy, along with a reading assignment of some sort (like asking them to choose one image they find interesting or confusing or something.  Maybe also a bit of Palladis Tamia or something?

That first week, we'll talk about what literature's for, and I'll give them their first real assignment, which will be to look at Wikipedia type entries for some literature, and to come the following week with choices about what they want to read and why.  (I'll probably make that a group assignment.  Or not.)

The second week, we'll start with Hamlet, which many will have read, but which it won't hurt to read and study a second time.  We'll also go over the choice assignment, and decide on what to read for the rest of the semester.  Then they'll have two more weeks of Hamlet and criticism and such, and then we'll start in on their choices.

For the final text, I'm thinking of ordering Oroonoko just to have something really different.  We'll see.  It's a bit up in the air.

Here's the tentative list for choosing their literary adventures (in no real order yet):

Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Bk 1 or 3  (2 weeks)

More, Utopia  (1-2 weeks)

Montaigne, Castiglione, and Machiavelli (essays, exerpts)  (1 week)

Surrey, Wyatt, Tottel's: lyrics and sonnets (1 week)

Lanyer, Jonson, ? Country House Poems, etc.  (1 week)

Donne: Holy Sonnets, Lyrics (1 week, maybe 2?)

Herbert Lyrics from The Temple (1 week)

Shakespeare: Lear or Rape of Lucrece (2 weeks)

Marlowe, Faustus (2 weeks)

Milton, Paradise Lost  (2-3 weeks)

Shakespeare/Sidney/Spenser: sonnets (not all, of course)  (1 week)

There's WAY more there than we'll read and discuss in 12 weeks, but I'm happy for some more suggestions if folks have them, also for how much time I've assigned, secondary reading, and so on.  (I think I'm going to find a decent essay on canon development and critique for the first week.)

What do you think?  Are there obvious early modern pieces that I should give students a chance at?

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2018.  Please!

Despite despair over political stuff, I personally had a good year in 2017.

1.  I spent time in the UK and really enjoyed it.  I especially enjoyed the birding and the British Library, but also lots of smaller trips.
2.  I went to Barcelona, and it was fabulous!  I fell in love with Gaudi's work, and if I could figure out a way to make my house into a Gaudi house, I would.
3.  I wrote up a self-review and got really lovely support from my department and chair.
4.  I wrote up a sabbatical request and got sabbatical (though I deferred it until the coming academic year to go to the UK).
5.  I finished two big summer projects, and some smaller ones, too.
6.  I practiced violin and improved a lot, and passed my Book 3 test.  (But then I didn't practice for four months... and it really, really shows.)
7.  I was a good friend, I think, and a good daughter, sister, and aunt (etc.).
8.  I taught some good courses, including a real challenge (Victorian Lit), and taught well, mostly.
9.  I'm pretty healthy.  (I did have some bad colds, but a cold isn't so bad.)

Disappointments, yes, too.

1.  I didn't bike as much as I'd hoped, or do other outdoor stuff.  (The bad colds were part of that.)
2.  I goofed off more than anyone should.

Goals for 2018

1.  Do a good job teaching this semester to have a strong send off for sabbatical.  I'm working on a new senior seminar in earlier British Lit, and I hope I can pull it off well.  (More about that soon.)
2.  Keep focused about the sabbatical project(s).
3.  Get outside and play more.
4.  Practice the violin again.

Looking forward to:

I'm expecting a couple of friends to visit this spring, and I'm happy and excited and looking forward to those visits.  Not many people visit flyover country.

I've started practicing violin again.  I didn't practice for four and a half months, and I feel like I'm starting from the beginning.  I'm not, though.  I've gotten through the first several Suzuki Book 1 pieces again, and am doing scales and broken thirds again.  I'm focusing on trying to keep my left hand relaxed and my bowing strong.

I have a lesson at the end of the week, and I'm sure Strings will be able to focus my re-learning in some helpful ways.  I hope it doesn't take me longer than the 4 months I was away to regain what I'd learned before!