Friday, May 29, 2020

New Car

Early last week, I had my car (a 2003) in for servicing.  It was due for 60K mile servicing, which I'd missed early on, and left to 100K, so this time, it was due for big stuff, and had 162K miles on it.  It's had a small oil leak for about a year.  It wasn't huge, and didn't worry me overly, but I kept an eye on it, and made sure to get the oil changed and checked and all.

So, they called me and said they'd changed the oil, but... in addition to the oil leak, there's a coolant leak, and also, it was going to need new brakes shortly, and to fix it and all was probably going to be a lot, and much more than the car is worth.

I brought it home to think, and texted with my incredible, wonderful brother.  I texted him a link to a newer used car (same model) at the dealer, and he said it was a bit pricey, and took a look at an on line car thing, and found a really good looking car, a newer model, with low mileage, and suggested that.  The on line place delivers to your house!  (The car is fairly local, so they say.)  So I went to the dealer and test drove one like it, and then started filling out the on line forms.  And I got to the place where I needed to submit my old car's title.  But that's in my safety deposit box.

Like a lot of people, I keep somewhat important but not safety deposit important stuff in my freezer (because someone told me it's the last place that burns when the house burns).  So I looked in my freezer for the little tiny envelop with the safety deposit keys.  Not there.  (All the other expected stuff is there.)  And then I looked everywhere else I could imagine.  Nothing.  I'm guessing when I had to get a new fridge, I missed taking out the tiny envelop, and it went with the fridge, back maybe six months ago, in mid winter.  (A good time for a fridge to die, since you can move things into coolers on the deck and fill them with snow.)

I called the bank.  They need to drill out the thing... and there's a charge and they have to make an appointment and such.  So, the charge is about $125, they said, so we arranged an appointment.  The earliest is June.  Uh oh.

I sighed, and the next day texted my brother my tale of woe.  And he sensibly texted back that they weren't going to give me much for my car, so why not get the on line one with low mileage, and then just take my old one to the junk yard when I get the title.  SMART! 

He looked at the on line place again, but the car he's suggested was gone, pending sale.  He looked some more, and I looked.  Then he suggested a different model, which I've never driven. 

I told him I'd go test drive one at the dealer, and then texted him the link to the dealer, and asked him which used car I should ask to drive, and also, if there were some of the other model I might look at.  And by the time I got to the dealer, he'd texted me four cars, and so I started test driving.  I really didn't like the second model as much.  But I drove one of the used cars he suggested, and really liked it.  It's not as fancy a version as my old car, but has all the things I really need in terms of extras: namely, heated seats.

Reader, I married it.  Or bought it, at any rate. 

It's very comfortable to drive.

My brother also helped me figure out to get the extended warranty (mostly for electronics stuffs), and also suggested that I go get a "bra" put on.  Basically, it's plastic sheeting that they adhere to the front parts of the car to protect the paint from dings and such from stuff that gets thrown up at the car. 

I had my appointment for that yesterday, and picked it up this morning.  So now it feels like it's really mine, and I've started adding stuff.  I put on things so the seat belts are more comfortable (they're always made to be comfortable for someone who's like 5'11" or something, and I'm not).  And I added a thing to hold some emergency money and a check, so they're not super visible, but are easy for me to get if I need them.  Finally, I added my park stickers for the state and county.  So now it's really feeling like we're ready to have some adventures.

My old car was really good, low worry for the most part, and good for camping and such.  If this car is as good, and lasts as long, then I'll be pretty darned happy.

Feeling My Way Forward

I've been the new chair since Tuesday, and I'm learning about all the things I need to start actually learning.

On Monday, I had an email conversation with the deanling Dan (not their real name).  Dan wanted to talk on Teams, which is fine, so I told him when I had stuff to do, and he sent me one of those outlook calendar thingies.

And then he sent an email that said "your calendar is grey" and sort of chastized me for my calendar being grey.  It doesn't look grey to me.  In the past, I've never much used the outlook calendar because I carry a calendar book, and like being able to flip pages easily and see things, which honestly isn't the same.  Anyway, I remembered this incident, when a student was able to make an appointment in my calendar somehow.  (The magic of blogging is that I can find stuff that happened way back when if I can remember a searchable keyword.  "Calendar" in this case.  Deanling Dan is the "deanish" person whose incompetence in checking how things should be done resulted in this post.  Fortunately, Dan seems to have learned a LOT in about ten years.)  And I remembered someone helped me figure out how to make people not able to change my calendar or even see it.

In the past couple of weeks, preparing for chairness, I've reset the calendar so the admin assistants can see and add things if they need to (because I trust them both to take good care of the department).  So I went in and reset the whole thing so that anyone can see when I'm busy.  And then I emailed deanling Dan and that was that.  I seriously have to check that outlook thing way more than I have been.

We "met" virtually yesterday, and I learned a lot.  And holy cow, that's a whole lot more to learn!

I need to find a system of keeping track of pending stuff easily.  I'm thinking a board with post it notes would do (in addition to my bullet journal and calendar).  That way, I can quickly see and review them, make sure anything that needs to get done is done, and then remove the post it.  But that doesn't really work unless I'm more or less in one place, and there's an organized office sort of space.

We're going to play office dominoes.  The previous chair needs to move our of our chair's office (which is close to the department office, and on a corner with big windows and a gorgeous view).  But the chair will be moving into an office previously occupied by Adjunct A.  Adjunct A got hired by the communications department onto the tenure track (hurray!  nothing could be better!), and is probably waiting to get a real office over there to move into.  (We're hoping he'll have his stuff out of our office by mid June.)  Then the previous chair can move, then I can move.  And then one of our new hires will take my office.

The things that have happened so far have been sort of, "yes, these happen, some not too often, some pretty much every week, and you need to figure them out" things.  No disasters yet.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I'm Out with the In Crowd

A couple times in the not so distant past, I've seen or heard someone in my field use terms I don't understand.  In one case, it was before the shelter at home orders; in the other, it was on the interwebs, in an academic effbee discussion group.

First, I'm older rather than hip and young.  Heck, even when I was young, I was never hip.  Now, it's even worse.  And yet, I'm absolutely sure I used terms such as "Other" or "other" in ways that indicated I was "in" on the cool critical studies stuff.  And I don't imagine I was terribly thoughtful about making sure that everyone in the conversation knew what I was talking about.

I remember, in the mid-nineties, using the term "queer" in a women's studies class in my small, midwestern, SLAC, and realizing from the shocked looks that I needed to stop and talk about reclaiming the term.  For me, I'd long felt it was reclaimed and owned by the LGBTQ communities.  But for my students, it surely wasn't.  And so we talked about it.

At this point, I tend to be at least moderately aware of my audience when using lit studies cant, the semi-secret language of humanities fields; I avoid it if I'm talking to people outside of academic contexts, just as I avoid talking about quirky bits of Shakespeare.  In classes, I'm going to define the term, write it on the board, and make sure that my students understand it, and what I'm after when I use it.  And in hallways with my colleagues, I'm sensitive to whether my colleague is more or less a lit crit type theory person, and might well avoid some terms if so.  (If they're a music theory person, that's a whole different world!)

This change is largely, I think, the result of a lot of teaching, and partly the result of feeling reasonably comfortable with myself.  I can't think of the last time I felt the need to "prove myself" in terms of theory, or pretty much anything except when I had my department interview as part of the chair decision.  And that was about trying to prove that I would be a decent and responsible chair.

In these cases I'm thinking of, my impression is that the users of the terms are both "young" in terms of the profession.  Maybe they were just totally comfortable using the term, the way I was with "queer."  Maybe they're trying to prove that they're in the know about things. 

In person, I asked (the word was "Ace" but clearly not about cards or sports or flying), and the person said what it meant, someone who identifies as asexual.  (I would have just said, "asexual," but I guess that's not the preferred term??  No doubt there are subtleties.)  There may have been a slightly patronizing look, or maybe it's just me feeling stupid.  On the web, I looked it up (the word was "DisCrit," which I thought at first might be criticism of dystopian lit, but nope, it's Disabilities Studies using a Critical Race Theory approach, I think).  In the latter case, I don't know the person, but they were asking for help finding resources about DisCrit in a way that didn't seem like a more experienced person's approach.  (I may be wrong, of course.)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Student Communications and Canvas

We use Canvas as our course management system.  It lets me put up announcements for each course, comment on student documents, and other cool stuff.  It's actually a really workable system, I think.

If only students would read the announcements and such.  I know, it's the age old "students don't read the syllabus" and "students don't read my comments on their papers" thing.  I think Socrates makes the same comments somewhere, maybe in the Theaetetis?

Alas, there's no easy solution.  If there were, we'd all be using it.  (Like with the age old complaint, "I get cold at night," to which someone answered, "Hey, I could throw a hide or cloth over myself!  I shall call it 'blanket!'"  Only in some language more ancient than Socrates' upstart Greek.)

When we switched over to on line, about half way through the semester, I put up an announcement that I wasn't moving my grades over to Canvas, and only new grades would show up there.  I also sent every single student a mail merge email showing exactly where they stood with grades for the semester at that point. 

I give frequent short writing assignments (journals, let's say), at least 15 in each course, of which students need to turn in 10.  So, with 80 or so students this semester, and already about 7 of those done and recorded in my excel grade sheet, plus other assignments in all three courses, I'd have over 400 grades to transfer into Canvas.  So I told students I wasn't doing that.  I also don't know how to make Canvas count only 10 of those journals either.  (I have a similar problem with short papers, where students got to choose which one they wanted to do, out of three choices due at different times.)

So with that email, they should have known exactly how many journals they'd done, and very simple math would give them the answer to how many more they need to do.  (On the paper syllabus, I put spaces labeled to help them keep track.)

And yet, I got panicked student emails:  "Canvas says I've only done [some percentage close to 50%].  Could you tell me what I'm missing?]  So I told them.

After a number of these in one day (it was six, maybe seven), I put up a new announcement about the grades in Canvas.  That cut down the panicked emails slightly.

The other day, though, I got an angry sounding email from a student who'd turned in an 11th journal.  So in Canvas, I gave it a 0, and noted in the comment box that they'd already done ten, that they'd gotten xx/100 (a very good grade) on the journals, and didn't have to do more.  But apparently, the student had seen the 0 and hadn't bothered to read the comment (which, alas, shows up in small pixelation just below the grade: it needs to be BIG and BOLDFACE to catch their attention.)

So I made up a "testing one two three" file, and submitted it as a test student in one of the grades.  Then I graded it, and commented on it in the box and on the "paper" (which you can do in colors on Canvas).  And then I switched to "student view" and sure enough, there was the comment, right under the grade.

Finding the comments on the "paper" was more difficult (I had to ask the wisdom of the interwebs on effbee), but it's do-able.  And I had sent the students the exact same "how to look at grades and comments" page on Canvas at the beginning of this whole fiasco.

And then there's the student who panic emails about how their journal hasn't been graded yet, and why isn't there a grade, even though they turned it in a day ago, late (because I leave the "box" open an extra two days, just to help folks who are having difficulties, and don't grade them until a couple days later).

So, there's nothing new here.  It's just a bit of venting.  I can't vent with colleagues in an office behind a closed door.  When I email with students, I don't berate or belittle them, just try to be polite and answer their question.  Very few bother to even thank me for that. 

But, I did get a couple of very lovely emails from students thanking me for what I'm doing to try to make things good.  And that's been so very nice.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Not Quite Bald

The hair on the back of my head is darker, less gray, than nearer the front.  So it looks like there's more here than on the frontal picture.

I'm quite liking it now.  I haven't shown a lot of people, but the ones who've seen it have been nice about it.

It's nice to touch, like velvet, with a strong direction, so it's super smooth in one direction, and sort of prickly in another (but still not super much).

Friday, May 01, 2020


Not quite.  But yesterday, I shaved my head.  I have what might be a two or three day stubble, so it wasn't all gone, but pretty much gone.

If you've seen Unorthodox on Netflix, you'll remember the scene where the other married women are shaving the head of Esty and she's crying.  That's not how it went down here.

I borrowed a shaver thing, put on the lowest plastic shaving guard, went out onto my deck, and went at it.  As I was shaving, I had a moment of doubt.  I'd just taken a huge swath from one side of my head, and I suddenly was filled with doubt.  But at that point, I was pretty committed.  I'd thought about shaving my head on and off for years, pretty much every summer.  But I never did, because it seemed like... well, it would be weird going into a new class with a barely fuzzy head.  Or something.

I was committed, but had a doubtful twist in my gut.  And then I caught my reflection in the window and burst out laughing.  The doubt didn't totally disappear, but it wasn't twisting in my gut.  And I kept laughing.  I cut what I thought was everything, and went inside to shower, and saw myself much better in the mirror, and realized I'd missed parts.  So I went back and did more.  Even so, at the end, I couldn't get all the little hairs behind my ears, so a friend helped.  (We'd planned to go trash walking in a big park, so I took scissors and we violated social distancing for a few minutes.  When I went to the park, I wore a hat, and when I took it off, she and I both laughed a lot.  It was fun!)

So now my head's shaved, pretty much.  It's a CoronaCut!

We're preparing for the possibility of teaching on line in fall, and it's not pretty.  The students mostly don't like it, and neither do most professors.  I think we all enjoy the human contact.  And, whenever we get back to face to face, I imagine there will be a couple of weeks of really appreciating being there.  (And then it will be back to normal, and we won't think about it quite that way.)