Sunday, December 28, 2008

Live from SF: Inarticulate musings at the mid-point

Yesterday on the plane I got to play the fun game: Who's going to MLA? Woman across the aisle from me reading Michel Houellebecq in French? Check. Guy in front of me in Ray-Bans with a word-find puzzle book? No. Tall guy from in skinny jeans and carrying a black bag? Could go either way...but when I saw him walk right past the ticket machines at the BART station, I concluded that he was a local.

It's Sunday, and I had my first two interviews this morning (the next two are tomorrow, also in the morning. I like this whole afternoons-free thing). The first one was The Big Scary; I was really glad to get it out of the way early, but given how much more together I felt in the second interview, I'm not sure that that was the most rational sequence. Essentially, though, I feel as if I've spent the morning re-defending my dissertation, only to much less sympathetic audiences than my actual committee. It's funny--the first year that I was on the market, every question was about teaching. Because, you know, I hadn't like taught anything. Now, when I have plenty to say about teaching, nobody wants to hear about it. Go figure.

I'm not going to say anything about how I think that the interviews went, because I know that that's futile. (Besides, in my pre-academia days, it seemed like every interview that went well went nowhere, while the ones I thought I'd bombed turned into jobs, so I'm not sure how valuable post-mortems are.) It was kind of nice to have people ask me tough questions about my work, however--even though I'm not sure how well I answered all of them. I miss feeling institutionally supported as a scholar, I think.

Another thing that's striking me about this round is how much better I am in the interviews than I was in my first year. I thought that I did well in my interviews my first time out, but looking back, I was vague and spoke in abstractions and didn't get very many follow-up questions. Last year, which is for some reason really hazy in my memory, was definitely better--but I hadn't taught a medieval lit course yet and my "future research" project was totally inchoate (and virtually indistinguishable from my diss). This year, I think that I'm being a lot more specific and concrete in my answers to questions, and I also feel relatively composed. None of this might mean a damn thing if I slip up and say something unreflected and stupid (which I think that I did in Big Scary--OK! No post-mortems!), but at least I have a better sense of what it means to be faculty than I did in the first year. Or the second, even.

Nonetheless, I am not loving the MLA, as I never have loved the MLA. I'm insecure about my lame-ass institution; I can't find anyone I know (nor did I do a remotely good job of setting up fun reunions, other than joining in on tomorrow's meet-up--my roommate, who was my social link to my grad school, bailed at the last minute); and, while I just had a nice lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in years, I'm likely to be eating most meals alone. Much as I love conferences--and I do!--they always make me feel kind of lonely and unsure of myself. And unpopular! Most of all unpopular. Maybe if I had some hipster glasses...?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Been a while, hasn't it?

So here I am, at the House of Mom, sort of half-assedly preparing for my MLA interviews. I am so ready to not spend every Christmas doing that. But I'm also not very stressed, because I've had a lot of interviews that haven't gone anywhere over the last few years, and this somehow makes me not particularly anxious about them. Also, I do have a job, and I fully recognize how fortunate I am in that respect.

Anyway, my grades went in last week, and lord! I have become a Very Hard Grader! I have never seen such a parade of Cs, at least in the one comp section and the survey. Yikes. I am compensating, clearly, for having been too soft last year. Well. Here are two amusing errors that I found in the course of my grading (the only two, oddly; apparently my students were more savvy about spellcheck this semester):

1. "Not eating protein can result in a loss of concatenation."

2. "Sometimes racist jokes can cause people to take a fence."

Never mind that these statements make it look like I was assigning my students the most banal paper topics ever; I have simplified and modified them for the purposes of reproduction, but the errors are entirely their own. And they weren't banal, really--these were both from the "life experiment" project that I assigned in my composition courses, which produced some interesting results. Of course, a couple of my evaluations said things like, "I didn't like the l.e. project because I had to do XXX", even though each student chose his or her project and so blaming me for his or her decision is a little bizarre. But whatever. I don't know that I'll do it again--we're completely revamping comp next year, a revamping that is well overdue--but it was, at least, interesting.

Perhaps I'll have more to say about this at a later date.

For now, though, happy holidays! Good travel! And good luck, interviewees--I hope to see some of you at the MLA meet-up in a few days!

Monday, December 15, 2008

I am not a history teacher. Obviously.

So far, I have had two students declare in their papers that Beowulf is among the oldest works of literature in existence. According to one of them, it may in fact be the first epic poem!

I can assure you that I did not give them this idea.


*


About seven to go and then I'm done with everything but the stragglers....

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So seriously, was it one or two?

Today I had my senior-English-major-only course over to my house for muffins and coffee instead of class (it was our last day). My house is tiny, as you may recall, so it was a bit crowded--there were 8 of them--but it was really nice. They've been a great group and I've loved teaching that class.

Later I was thinking about somebody's post--forgive me, I can't remember whom it was exactly and I don't want to guess--about how the classroom can be a refuge. [ETA: It was undine, here.] The idea surprised me at the time, but upon reflection, I think that I can see it: I've become a lot more comfortable and even happy in class this semester. (Last year was so scary and fraught that, while I enjoyed teaching some of the time, it was not associated with happiness.) Okay, I mean, I'm always happy when I'm done teaching for the day, so it's not like I'm just super psyched to get in there and teach me up some comp or anything. But when I've been stressed, or tired, or grouchy, teaching usually snaps me out of it--at least for the duration of the class. I think what happens is that it takes me out of myself enough that I drop a lot of my stress (and the adrenaline handles the tired part. Also, oddly enough, I never have to go to the bathroom or even feel particularly hungry during class. Afterwards that all comes back, of course...but I digress).

Something else occurred to me today. I do believe that, in every meeting of every course that I've taught this semester--barring, perhaps, the first week, when I tend to be a little more stern--I have laughed at least once.

Now that's a nice thing.

I use humor when I teach, as so many of us do, and I've grown better at getting students to laugh at my jokes. Gone are the tumbleweeds of yore. Also, I think that most of my classes encourage an informal and relatively light atmosphere that gets students making occasional jokes about the texts, too. Usually these are on topic and actually push the conversation along, since they can help to make a text or discussion more accessible and let us approach it from a different direction.

Sometimes, though, they just get silly. I will share a story with you from my beloved senior seminar. This happened on the last of our four 75-minute sessions on Margery Kempe. Now, I don't think that we exhausted the text by a long shot, but that might have been too many classes on that book. Certainly they did not love Margery. True to what everyone else who has taught this book has told me, my students were not big fans--although they really enjoyed everything else that we read this semester.

So anyway. Things started to fall apart when we discussed Margery's marriage to the Godhead and how that happened some time after her marriage to Christ.

"Wait," said A, who apparently hadn't understood this passage. "You're telling me that she just kicked Jesus to the curb?"

"She likes older men," said B.

"Dude, it was his dad, too," said C. "That's rough."

"Keeping it in the family, I guess," added A. Then: "Oh, I am so going to have to confess this on Sunday."

That was the start. Then we got to that weird passage where Margery is taken to a church by a priest, who also brings along one or two children. I was describing this passage, and how the one or two children are in the church, and then the one or two children say something, when C said, genuinely aggrieved:

"Hang on. Were there one or two? Couldn't she tell? Normally you know if there's one or two of something in front of you."

"It is strange," I began, but

"They're really small," interrupted E.

"One is actually sitting on the other's shoulders. And they're wearing a trench coat," added F.

"Maybe they're twins...and they keep ducking in and out of the room.... Like, 'Now I'm here! Now I'm not!'"

At this point, the class was done. Between the very vivid mental image I had of Jesus being literally "kicked to the curb" and C's outrage at these strangely indeterminate children, I was incapable of making whatever point I had been planning to make about the importance of children in the Book; I was actually giggling and tears were starting in my eyes. It was 5 minutes until the end of the hour. "I think we're done," I said.

That clearly went beyond the limits of productivity, but I think that we had surpassed those limits anyway at that point. And in general, it's pretty terrific to have a job where I'm laughing, often, every day.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Perhaps It Will All End One Day

The semester is almost over. Wednesday is the day--and then the papers come in and all that, and I did the math and I think that I'm getting 152 things to grade (I kid you not--how did I do that? I only have 70 students!), but somehow finals grading always goes by really fast and then it is done. Or so I'm telling myself.

Anyway. The real thing that I want to end soon is the revision process. Since I more or less stopped "real" teaching last week, I've been working hard on the manuscript; I got a lot done this weekend, and at a few points I even felt like I could competently finish these revisions by later this month. Then I reread some of the reviewers' comments, and my confidence sank somewhat.... But it's okay; I'll get there. I am heartily looking forward to it. In my imagination, I'll finish my grading next week and the book shortly thereafter and then the future is nothing but a hazy pink blur of peace and goodness.

Only not really. I'm teaching three classes next semester (which sounds like a vacation, frankly); one is a class I've taught before, and while I'm mixing it up a little, it shouldn't be hard. Then I'm teaching a new comp class (SIGH) and an upper-level class that I think will be a total blast--in terms of the subject matter and the people in it--but I do have to do some pretty significant prep. Luckily, reading for that class will essentially be reading for pleasure, so the semester looks pretty good.

And then I have these Other Things, now, for I am learning in this professorial life is that the work just keeps coming, especially if one is trying to advance any kind of career. I've also learned that all good news comes with a pile of work to do. So, for example, I am for some reason going to both Leeds AND Kalamazoo--it's been years since I was at the latter and I've never attended the former, so this is exciting, but naturally I have no papers written, nor do I remember what I said I would talk about at either conference. There's that. Also, more immediately, I do have a couple of interviews. Kind of Big Scary Interviews, actually. I am not allowing myself to freak out about those yet. But really. If I could tell you. Yikes. One of them in particular. Yikes!

Yes, well! My habitual mode on this blog seems to be The Whine; honestly things are quite nice, even if I am desperately desperate for a guilt-free break. But academics don't actually get those, so I think that I need to get over myself. And this has been a good semester. All of my classes actually went well, as far as I know. My teaching is developing in positive ways and I'm getting more comfortable trying new things in the classroom. Maybe I'll write about that in a future post, since this rambly whiny one is already a little on the long side. But good things--there are good things. The conferences and interviews are good and exciting. There's a chance that The Minister and I will get free tickets to France this summer. And I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends over the holidays.

In the meantime, though, I really need to get back to work. I started reading this one article like 3 hours ago and I absolutely must get through it tonight.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Belleville Rendez-Vous

I don't usually do memes anymore, for whatever reason (partly because I have a residual objection to this use of the word "meme"), but because I am evidently a blogging machine today and this one yielded some amusingly surreal answers, I will post it. I will not, however, tag anyone.

Picked it up at Anastasia's.

Put your iTunes or MP3 player on shuffle.

~For each question, press the next button to get your answer
~YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS!
~Tag 10 friends who might enjoy doing the game as well as the person you got the note from. (Or don't, because who cares.)

IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY" YOU SAY?
Ballet for a Rainy Day (XTC) (I don't even know this song, but it rhymes really well!)

WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
The Rose Tattoo (David Byrne)

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
A Ballad (Kate Rusby)

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?
Djaa (Mamady Keita)

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
A Night Like This (The Cure)

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?
Candy Everybody Wants (10,000 Maniacs)

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
I'm On Your Side (Carrie Newcomer) (yikes, super cheesy)

WHAT IS 2+2?
Your Birthday (Plymouth Rock)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?
Farewell to Nigg (Shooglenifty)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Gouge Away (Pixies)

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
Dear Prudence (Siouxsie & The Banshees)

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
Tout Va Bien (Cali)

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Pussycat Moan (Katie Webser)

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
Twenty Bucks (The Brides of Funkenstein)

WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
Within You Without You (The Beatles) (Yeah, not likely)

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?
Hesitating Beauty (Billy Bragg & Wilco)

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
Land of Anaka (Geoffrey Oryema)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
David (Nellie McKay)

WHAT'S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?
Lonestar (Norah Jones)

HOW WILL YOU DIE?
Third Eye (Black Eyed Peas)

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REGRET?
Pablo Honey (Radiohead) (I don't particularly like Radiohead, actually. I know that this makes me hopelessly out of touch with my generation. Well! It is a badge that I shall endeavor to wear proudly)

WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
Denko (Kante Manfila)

WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
Fight (Art Brut)

WILL YOU EVER GET MARRIED?
? (Austin Mix) (Mystery song from my brother, actually labeled "?" on my iTunes--I was going to skip to the next one, but then this answer seemed pretty apt)

WHAT SCARES YOU THE MOST?
Good Day, Good Sir (Andre 3000)

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
Boogie Man (Carrie Newcomer) (Yes! I hate this song! I would so make sure that it didn't get written. That would be my no. 1 priority)

WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW?
Om Purnam (Rasa)

WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?
Belleville Rendez-Vous (Ben Charest)

Could this be why I'm so grouchy?

My colleague across the hall, whom I otherwise like very much, has taken to playing hir radio ALL the time. ALL the time. Even when ze is out of the office. With hir door shut and my door shut, I can still hear the muffled muttering of the voices. Others can hear it, too, but I definitely bear the brunt of the racket.

It is driving me INSANE.

Can I say something? If so, what? (That won't make me look like the irritable control freak that I am?)

If you're going to San Francisco

Be sure to

a) wear some flowers in your hair

b) get over to Medieval Woman's to suss out the MLA meet-up

c) help me get this accursed song out of my head! Why did I ever consider being clever, especially in such a lame and predictable way?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Too Many Things to Count

So what's new in the World of Perfection, you ask? Well, no, you don't ask, but that's to be expected, and does not bother me in the least. Anyway it's been a good long time since I posted, so I do feel that I ought to tell you something, even though I have nothing very particular to tell.

I'm quite tired. Tired of the semester, that is. We have another week and a half (GOOD LORD our semesters are long, people) (no longer than most of yours, of course, but they're all pretty damn long, no? so we can all whine equally?) and it was all I could do to muster the wherewithal to drag myself to my classes today. Tomorrow I have two classes, then three on Weds, and ONE on Thurs (I love Thursdays), and three on Fri, and three on Mon, and two on Tues, and three on Weds, and I'm done. Yes, enumerating them like that helps.

I spent Thanksgiving with The Minister's enormous family. Flights went smoothly and we returned just ahead of the big 36-hour snow that's been beautifying the town of Field. The family is, as I say, enormous (in number of people, not girth), but highly entertaining. Of particular note was the two-year-old who wailed out a despairing "No, no, no" whenever he was presented with anything at all; the utter weariness and disgust of his repeated lament suggested that we'd all got it all wrong and should just start everything--the whole wretched world into which he'd had the misfortune of being born--all over again. TM and I have picked up his habit. It amuses us--though nothing can top the trashcousins. But, "trashcousins" being harder to work naturally into conversation (and more likely to be misconstrued), it doesn't get used all that often.

So yesterday I got sort of caught up with things (the book languishes despite my most valiant efforts--o how I want to be done with it) and then today was my very long day--about 9 hours in the office--and I had many moments of real crankiness over this and that. I assumed that, because the end is so very very nigh, I would have at least some degree of resilience this week; alas, it is not to be. I raged against several emails, my inexplicable inability to log on to the intranet, the fact that we didn't have a snow day, and the unplowed sidewalks between my home and campus. (Just yesterday The Minister was telling me that I should own boots, and by gum, he's right. For some reason I do not own boots. For some reason I resist buying any extra pairs of shoes. In fact, in light of the death of Jdimytai Damour at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Friday, I no longer feel like buying much of anything. Did you read about that? Go read about it now. It is horrifying. Truly. I want to cancel all Christmas shopping out of respect to him, or something.)

So, um...where was I? Oh yes. Railing. Well, my complaints seem rather trivial in light of that parenthetical.

Well but anyway, yes, I was grouchy, and I'm over it, although I didn't get over it until an hour-long drive in the ice to get the milk*--a round-trip that normally takes 15 minutes--during which the car got stuck in the snow and then later I fell on the ice trying to get out of the car (yes!! I need boots!! I know!!). Then I got in the car to drive home and sort of burst into tears for a minute, and everything immediately felt better. Yep. That's how Monday goes, sometimes.

*I promise to put together my much anticipated "milk post" one of these days. For some reason I feel like I need to lead up to it. I don't even know what I mean by that; I'm just...unprepared. I don't know. I'm tired. Whatever.