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
~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.)

Ballet for a Rainy Day (XTC) (I don't even know this song, but it rhymes really well!)

The Rose Tattoo (David Byrne)

A Ballad (Kate Rusby)

Djaa (Mamady Keita)

A Night Like This (The Cure)

Candy Everybody Wants (10,000 Maniacs)

I'm On Your Side (Carrie Newcomer) (yikes, super cheesy)

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

Farewell to Nigg (Shooglenifty)

Gouge Away (Pixies)

Dear Prudence (Siouxsie & The Banshees)

Tout Va Bien (Cali)

Pussycat Moan (Katie Webser)

Twenty Bucks (The Brides of Funkenstein)

Within You Without You (The Beatles) (Yeah, not likely)

Hesitating Beauty (Billy Bragg & Wilco)

Land of Anaka (Geoffrey Oryema)

David (Nellie McKay)

Lonestar (Norah Jones)

Third Eye (Black Eyed Peas)

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)

Denko (Kante Manfila)

Fight (Art Brut)

? (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)

Good Day, Good Sir (Andre 3000)

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)

Om Purnam (Rasa)

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.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Damn it.

Cool job that had asked for additional materials just announced that its search has been canceled.

On the other hand, I was much amused by the word "practacices" in a student's paper this morning.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wiki Irritation, or, How Everyone Is Wasting My Time

Is it really necessary for us all to record every single EOE card and application acknowledgment that we receive on the wiki? Separately? With additional notes specifying whether we're in or out of the country?

It seems like it should be enough to know that a school is sending out acknowledgments. It does not interest me if one person receives an acknowledgment on the 14th and another on the 16th, and two more receive them--with EOE postcards--on the 17th. That information does not help anyone.

Okay. Done. Back to work.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I am, I am, I am Superman

In a refreshing break from bitching about how much work I have, I am going to attempt to stir up envy by saying just how much I got done this weekend.

(Yes, it's obnoxious. Consider it therapeutic positive reinforcement. For me.)
  • Graded miscellaneous oddments.
  • Read EVERYTHING for the coming week's classes!
  • Prepped for tomorrow's comp classes (still haven't prepped the survey, but that's what 6 am is for).
  • Spent a good few hours each weekend day working on the Fatal New Chapter of my book. I actually have a draft now, and even imported the stuff from Old Conclusion into it (though it needs to be much better integrated). I also rewrote the last paragraph of the conclusion. Reviewer 1 was right: It surely did suck in its original form.
  • Swam my weekly 2k.
  • Made: Vegetable stock, granola, bread (I'm making an Irish soda bread lately--it's super easy and uses up the buttermilk left over from when I make butter), butter, split pea soup for this week's lunches, and a bok choy thing for dinner last night that has at least one good helping remaining.
  • Went to the liquor store and the grocery store and had a nice lunch out in Ordinary City with.
  • Cleaned the bathroom and did laundry.
  • Decided that vacuuming could wait until next week.
  • Figured something out for the Honors program--actually I'd thought this would be a big hassle, but it only took like ten minutes.
  • Looked at the hotels for MLA and decided to make up my mind tomorrow (besides, I need my roommate's travel dates.)
  • Did I mention that I read everything for the coming week's classes?
  • Got about halfway through the book I need to review this month.
  • Made up a handout for one of Tuesday's classes.
  • Balanced my checkbook and paid a couple of bills.
  • Fixed lunch for tomorrow.
  • Raked the yard.
  • Pollinated the jalapeƱo.
  • I'm serious about that last one.
I think that I've finally grown accustomed to the 5:30 wake-up I've been forcing upon myself. So this weekend, even, I got up early-ish and was productive--well, okay, on Saturday we somehow slept in until like 8, but then this morning the Minister's alarm went off at 6:30, but I was already awake, and I was at my desk and working by 7:45. It's not just that getting to work early gives me more time to do things, but rather how deeply impressed I get with my own productivity. Wow! I tell myself. It's only 10:15, and I've already done 2.5 hours of work! And then I think of all those chumps still lounging about at their breakfasts and I issue a scornful laugh. Ha!

Truth be told, though, I have about one of these weekends a semester. So thank you all for letting me indulge in my short-lived gloating.

Friday, November 14, 2008

One Good, One Bad

The Good:

I've started the project with my comp classes. Introduced it, anyway. To set the thing up, I had them poke around on No Impact [Fellow]'s blog, and next week we'll be reading selections from Judith Levine's Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping. I'm not sure that this all quite qualifies as "good" yet, seeing as it's far too soon for any results, but I was greatly heartened by an email from a student this morning. Granted, she's a very bright and lefty sort of student, but nonetheless it cheered me. She was emailing me her assignment re. NI[F] because she was sick, and she wrote--to paraphrase--that she is so interested in his experiment that she couldn't stop reading his blog and has convinced her roommate to do an experiment next year to see how much a pair of students living in a dorm can reduce their negative environmental impact. Since the merest glimmer of evidence of an activist sensibility in my students delights me, this pretty much made my day.

The Bad:

I have a Committee Assignment, which is not, in itself, particularly onerous. However, this is the year in which the English department's relationship to this area must be Assessed--or start to be Assessed, for this is a three-year process--and it must be Assessed in accordance with State Standards. (For some reason euphemism sends me into eighteenth-century habits of capitalization.) So my job, this semester, is to work out which of our courses address which of approximately 8 billion indecipherable criteria.

On Wednesday night, when I, exhausted, was shouting furiously and shaking my wineglass at my computer screen, an apt description of this project occurred to me. I was inspired--I saw it perfectly: It's as though a patently crazy person, perhaps one with severe paranoid delusions, had contrived an elaborate and patently crazy scheme, and I was being forced to carry it out. Yes. This is exactly what it's like.

Fortunately, my little breakdown and shouting fit seemed to have shaken something loose, for later that evening I was able to approach the document with a sanguine calm hitherto unknown to the process. Perhaps I will actually get it done.

{The picture strikes me as doubly appropriate: Even as I scheme to impose my elitist liberal values upon my students, so does the madman of the State compel me to carry out his preposterous directives.}

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm so linear

For a reason that I can no longer recall, I recently took my ipod off of Shuffle. So now when I listen to an album I listen to it straight through, in the order that God--er, the artist--intended.

This gives me a feeling of tremendous virtue.

Perhaps I'm wound even tighter than I realized.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A teaching experiment

Ortho has requested a "not boring" post. It's a tall order, but I'll see what I can do.

First, I would like to say that I had an extremely modest book-related breakthrough today (on the New Semi-Chapter that I'm sort of writing), and I'm therefore feeling pretty good about things. I'm also startlingly on top of my course-related reading for the week, and we're moving into what I think will be fun territory in a couple of classes (mitigated by the Milton and Kempe that I'm teaching in two other classes), so things are looking up.

Perhaps I'll take a stab at being interesting by doing something that I don't normally do, which is to talk about something that I'm doing in my classes. This is an experiment that I'm conducting in comp. We're just about to start it, and I'm nervous, but in the idealistic haze that I was apparently inhabiting in late August I decided that this was a really exciting idea.

So. This idea came out of some frustrations that I've had with the culture at Field--not so much with the individual students, whose personalities and interests (naturally) range all over the map, but with the ways in which I've felt that students are Expected To Be on this campus, and how very different that is from the culture at my undergraduate institution. I've blogged before--somewhere--about coming to terms with the differences between the elite SLAC of my formative years and Field; I understand those differences better now that I did last year and I'm okay with some of them. But sometimes, especially in comp--where we talk a lot about current events and issues and suchlike--I've been frustrated and alarmed by what I perceived as a deep apathy in my students. Now, they may not have been genuinely apathetic; for all I know they just hated comp and didn't really want to talk to me. That's fine. But there's so little activism or global awareness of any kind visible on this campus. There isn't even a recycling program (although that seems to be changing, finally. Welcome to 1993, Field!). Earlier this semester, some students put up fliers about the importance of voting, and they were taken down because they were "too political." These were nonpartisan fliers, people--they were just reminding students how important it is to vote. But apparently we all must pretend that nothing in the world exists outside of this campus of under 1000 students, or something. It's very disturbing.

And then I think about my incredibly idealistic and exciting and quite likely irritating college years, when I felt that everything! could! change! and I could live exactly the life I wanted! and I'm so much more aware of global problems and their solutions than my parents! and so forth (did I mention irritating?), and it makes me sad that there's so little room for that kind of excitement here.

We have the power to change our lives. (I swear, I'll get to comp soon.) I don't mean that the poor can simply will their way out of poverty or any of that Secret crap. I mean something much more basic--that our habits are our habits, and we can change them. That we can choose (in my case) vegetarianism, or to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store, or to quit watching TV. Not life-changing stuff in itself, but realizing that power can lead to the recognition of more and more ways of actively choosing the manner in which we live in the world.

And we can choose, in at least some ways, who we are. For example: One really powerful moment in my life came about when, at the age of 20, unemployed and just out of college, I was invited by a friend to leave the next morning for a cross-country drive with no projected return date and nothing in particular for me to do when we got there. I stewed about it all day. I wrote in my diary that I wished that I were the kind of person who could just take off for a cross-country trip at a moment's notice, with no plans and no expectations. And it hit me: The only thing that was distinguished me from "that kind of person" was that the latter would say yes to my friend's invitation. And that's what I did. It was a really fun trip, too.

So. Back to comp: here's what I'm doing. The whole course is about how we interact with the world--how it affects us, how we affect it, what our responsibility is. And in the last month of the course, each student will have to undertake a "life experiment": to change something--dramatically--about how he or she lives in the world and to sustain that change for at least one week. (And to write about it, of course.) It could be, for example, to commit to not buying anything made using sweatshop labor (perhaps during Christmas shopping), which would involve research into which companies treat their workers humanely; to eat only locally produced foods; to produce no garbage at all, composting and recycling everything (except toilet paper, of course); or maybe even to practice unconditional kindness all week.

I really don't know how this is going to turn out. I have a terrible fear that they'll all pick something super easy (despite the fact that they need to clear their projects with me) and then fake the results. Well, I can't control the latter, I guess. But I hope that at least a few of them will start to recognize the incredible power that they, as new adults, have over their very own lives.

Too idealistic? Probably. And it might just baffle the hell out of them (I'm not always the clearest explainer). But I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just 2.1 Things

1. I know that this blog has become incredibly boring and almost entirely focused on my workload recently, and for that I apologize.

1.2. (1), above, implies that this blog was once not boring and not almost entirely focused on my workload, and I realize that this may be false. For that I apologize.

2. I cannot prep for my 2:30 class (it's 2:05) because I'm too distracted by the election. Even though I haven't seen any results. So today we will all think up discussion questions and structure the class around those, and I'm not apologizing for this one.

Oh, dear God, I hope that it all turns out okay. (And I don't mean my class--although I hope that it's okay too.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Accidental InAdWriMo (& a Recipe)

Okay, I don't really know what the acronym is, and I'm too lazy/busy/distracted/hungry to go look it up.

But here goes. I need to write a concluding chapter-esque-type-thing to my book this month. I'm thinking 20 pages (for this part, the part that has been stressing me out and keeping me from sleep lately), so we're looking at about 5000 words, plus footnotes. I'm starting today, and I plan to have a draft by the 16th (2 weeks) and to have revised it by the end of the month. Because, you know, my revised MS is due in 6 weeks. (I think. I can't really remember what I told the publisher; I may actually have 10 weeks. But from mid-December to mid-January I will have no time, so those last four weeks wouldn't count anyway.)

I've written 895 mediocre words today, and I plan on hitting 1000 very soon. Of course, I don't really have my scholarship lined up yet, so I have a lot of other stuff to get done, like, now. I think the reason that this really rather brief piece of writing is keeping me up nights is that it's feeling so incredibly half-assed, which is really not the way that I want it to be. This is a good thing to add to my book; I want to do it right. But I have no time. And I'm rather terrified.

Anyway! More cheerfully, here's the Special Pasta Recipe mentioned in the previous post. I don't think I've posted it before. Yes, the jam sounds funny, but it's quite delicious.

Measurements are inexact: I just made this up one day and re-invent it every time.

-About half a good-sized onion, chopped
-An apple (I usually use Golden Delicious, but whatever you've got should be fine), chopped
-A bunch of blue cheese (to taste; I like a lot of it)
-A goodly dollop of raspberry jam (Bonne Maman is the best)
-About half a pound of pasta (shells work best; spaghetti is not so good)
-A tablespoon or so of olive oil
-A tablespoon or so of brown sugar

-Commence the boiling of the pasta.
-Whilst the pasta boils, heat the olive oil and add the sugar in a skillet. Toss in the onions and caramelize them a bit.
-Once the onions start to soften, add the apple. Stir it around a little, then cover the skillet and let it cook until the apples are soft. Once everything is sufficiently cooked (I usually start the onions when I put the pasta in the boiling water and the apples are generally soft by the time the pasta is done), turn off the heat.
-Drain the pasta. Drizzle a very small amount of olive oil over it to keep it from sticking together.
-Put the pasta into a bowl or back in its boiling-pot.
-Toss with the apples and onions.
-Mix in as much blue cheese as you want. Stir it all around so that it gets gooey. Here's where shells are great--they catch and hold the blue cheese and apples. Yummmm.
-Add the raspberry jam and mix it all around.
-Taste to determine whether you'd like more jam or cheese. If you've somehow overdone it with either one of these ingredients, well, you're out of luck--although it's worth noting that I've never found this dish to have too much jam or cheese.
-C'est magnifique!

Monday, October 27, 2008


Today is just no good for anyone. Not only did I have that mealy apple experience, but
  • I was in the office from 7:30-6:00.
  • Two colleagues (who are married to each other) spent the morning at a funeral.
  • I dropped in to chat with a different colleague, who burst into tears twice as the result of a campus-related subject that I brought up (note: I didn't make her burst into tears; I just inadvertently and unwittingly referred to a fresh wound).
  • A couple that the Minister is friends with are going through a terrible time [details withheld]. I've met them and they're lovely people. It's awful.
  • TM didn't get an interview for a job he sort of wanted, and hasn't heard anything from one that he really wants a lot. And the interviews will be held this weekend.
  • I may have opened a can of worms with the football coach.
  • I identified the semester's first case of clear-cut, unambiguous plagiarism. And I'm pretty sure that it won't be the last.
So I have a glass of whiskey and I'm downloading an episode of The Office. Yeah, I should be grading the 21 remaining midterms from last week, or reading the sonnets I got today (I made them write sonnets, yes I did!), or reading for tomorrow. But fuck it.

--Argh! While I was writing this post, I burned my dinner. Which is my very favorite, special pasta with onions, apples, blue cheese, and raspberry jam. Fuck it times two!

Bad Apples

A student brought me an apple today.


It was very sweet. Um, the gesture, that is--not the apple so much.

The thing is, I brought an apple in my lunch. And my apples are good apples: when the Minister's parents were in town, we went all apple-picking at a (mostly) organic orchard (they do spray a little early in the season, before there are any fruits) and got some amazing apples. Lots and lots of them.

So I went back to my office and ate my main lunch dish, then decided to eat the student's apple. It was a regular grocery store apple. In fact, it may have been the lesser cousin of the grocery store apple: the dining hall apple. It was mealy and dry and not very sweet. I got like 3 bites into it and thought, Screw this. Into the bin it went. I am now eating my own deliciously juicy fantabulous apple.

I feel a little bit guilty, though.

Friday, October 24, 2008

How, how, how

did the theme song from "Muppet Babies" get stuck in my head?

Here, if you'd like to share in my suffering:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I wrote a strongly-worded letter to my Secretary of State

I wrote this--yikes--more than a month ago. But my outrage is ever-present.


Dear Secretary of State:

Today I received in the mail your pamphlet detailing the proposed referendum. Thank you for sending this information to the citizenry; I read it with interest, and I applaud your efforts to disseminate this material to the state’s population.

One thing concerned me about the mailing, however. The pamphlet that I received was addressed to “Residential Customer, [State].”

That word—“Customer”—has left me baffled and disturbed. In what sense am I a “customer,” either of the government or of the state? What services am I purchasing? What consumer decisions am I making by being a resident (and a voter, and, more importantly, a citizen) of [State]?

Semantics matter. The vocabulary of the marketplace is permeating our culture, and we need to ask ourselves whether this is a good thing. When the language of consumerism is applied to our political and educational systems, to social and civil services, what are the consequences? What are the costs? Although our government is elected, its actions are not “market-driven.” Citizens are not customers, consuming the product that the government supplies, their grievances dealt with by a department of customer service.

Not only does this language produce inapt metaphors, but we are not all equally empowered in the economic marketplace. Using the language of “customers” or “consumers” to describe the citizenry undermines a key tenet of our democracy: the notion that even individuals with little or no “purchasing power,” or who inhabit minority groups that do not “buy” the “product” approved by the majority, deserve recognition and a voice in our society. I therefore object strongly to your application of “customer” to the voting citizens of [State].

I truly hope that you will consider revising your mode of address in future mailings. We are not your customers. We are your citizens, and we deserve to be recognized as such.

Heu Mihi, Ph.D.
Professor of English
Field College


And I don't think that it's just my increasingly curmudgeonly nature that makes me take offense at this. (I also think that this is a perfectly appropriate dropping of the "Assistant" from my title, no?)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fate: Tempted!

Well, now I seem to have a cold. It's still in its early stages. But you know? If I don't feel well tomorrow morning, I'm going to do something that I've never done before: Cancel my classes. Logical fallacies and Shakespearean sonnets can wait until Wednesday. And I'm pretty sure that my students won't mind an extra two days to work on their papers.

Besides, how nice would it be to spend another day lounging around and reading research-related materials? (Followed by two weeks of stuffed-up-ed-ness, of course, but I'm seeking the silver lining here, not the cloud. And really, it just might be worth it.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Apologies for All of the Crankiness Lately

Actually, things are fine. Busy as--well, various expletives come to mind--but OK. I finished the weekend's grading this morning (clearing the slate for the 54 papers that will come in on Monday) and just finished reading for all of Monday's and Wednesday's classes. I plan to get through Tuesday's reading by tomorrow morning and spend the bulk of the weekend on Book Stuff.

--Insofar as I have time, that is. The Minister's parents are in town this weekend, and I spent the afternoon meeting them; we're having dinner out tonight; and I believe that I'm slated to eat all three meals with them tomorrow. And TM and I would actually like to have some time alone this weekend, which basically means tomorrow night (Sunday is always a dedicated work day*).

But being so ridiculously busy this semester has made my usually pretty well-organized self into some kind of hyper-organized, efficient being. I have lists all over the place and I'm constantly crossing things off. I get up at 5:30 and don't take naps. My office desk has virtually nothing on it because papers simply fly through my hands. I've been writing up handouts and paper prompts in advance. I prioritize, and I do my class prep last--often early in the morning. I read through meals (except dinner). My house is clean and orderly, my freezer well-stocked with homemade soups and bread. It's like I've moved to some whole new level of efficiency, and I firmly believe that if you took away, say, two of my tasks (e.g. one course and the impending book review), the whole carefully balanced system would fall apart.

Of course, it's also entirely possible that I've completely forgotten about some monumental task with an immediate deadline, and everything is about to come crashing down on my head.

*There's this administrative assistant across the hall who asks me every Monday whether I was "at least able to take the weekend off." I need to tell her that look, I never take a weekend off during the semester. Does anyone? I hear rumors of such things.... Of course, this is probably just her form of small talk, now that I have a car. Last year, every Monday morning's question was something about how I made it through the weekend without wheels. I should add that I really like this person. I think that I'm just not used to her Monday morning conversational habits.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Only Have One Thing to Say

I was in the office before dawn this morning.

The moon looked very pretty outside my window.

At least I have a window this year?

Thank God tomorrow is our [one-day] fall break.


Oh, and I watched the debate, for some reason. This election season can't end soon enough. "Women's 'health'"? Um, WTF, JMcC? Yeah, women don't actually have health problems, ever--certainly not any related to pregnancy; that's just a screen thrown up by all the wacko pro-abortionists. Which is a real position, you know. I am all about giving everyone as many abortions as possible. And all the smug, sputtery fuming--it was dreadful--argh--must fight off images of squishy pale men--think of happy things, think of midterms, think of lovely Beowulf essays and papers about how Middle English came about when the Anglo-Saxons defeated the Normans, bringing with them the culture and language of Old English! In 1380! You know what else? ------Okay, I won't say what else, in case anyone from Field ever finds this blog. But it's funny: during our midterm review days I feared that I was giving away all the answers to all the questions. Turns out that two thirds of the class wasn't listening, so hey!

[John McCain effectively wiped from my consciousness. Hurrah!]

Monday, October 13, 2008

Declaration of Human Rights

I don't know exactly what it is that makes this so effective, but I find it really quite moving.

Best line of the day

I'm in draft-commenting jail (slightly lower security than grading jail)--nonetheless it has its rigors. The following speaks for itself:

"Culture has now become an important aspect in our society today."

O it has, has it?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New Plan

A few posts ago, I wrote something about how I was going to read for my revisions for the next 6 weeks and then write feverishly through November and edit for the first two weeks of December. I have decided that that was stupid. That it was a stupid, terrible idea. The Path to Anxiety is Paved with Exactly That Plan. It would've been way too much to keep in my head with way too little to show for my work on a week-by-week basis.

Therefore, the actual revising revising begins today. I have two major points that I want to start to address. They're kind of complicated, but they're both pretty much in the introduction, so I think that it'll be manageable. (Manageable to address by mid-December, I mean. Not manageable to address them entirely today.)

Luckily I have NO grading and NO class-related reading to do this weekend. How on earth did that happen? Magnifique! Also, in a whirlwind of domestic activity, I cleaned my whole house, made bread, and did the laundry yesterday afternoon. I'll probably have to set up a batch of yogurt tomorrow, but that's nothing.

(I'm trying not to think about next weekend, though. 31 comp papers + 9 senior midterm papers + 11 seminar journals + 23 survey midterms, dear God!)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Have Arrived

Today, I taught a complicated passage from Judith Butler.

We spent 45 minutes on 4 pages.

But I think that they understood something by the end.

Yes, this was my first excursion into theory-teaching. How I got a Ph.D. in comp lit without ever teaching theory is a mystery. Well, no it isn't. One word--strategy. And medievalist. So, two words. Actually, wait--here's six more--little support for graduate student teaching. Eight altogether. Never mind.

What's kind of sad is that I felt really chuffed that I could make sense of this difficult text and that they, at least initially, couldn't. It meant that I'd actually learned some skillz in grad school. Pathetic that I'm comparing myself to undergrads to remind myself of that, isn't it? (Even if they are seniors?) Evidently the Academic Impostor Syndrome that I thought I'd managed to get over is still hanging on around the edges.

Ah well! It was a good day.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Teaching Block

I think that my teaching is faltering a bit. Well, in one class, anyway. Or maybe it was just today. I can hope?

We're starting Twelfth Night in the survey. A fun play. Reading it brings up very fond memories of seeing it performed with my family about 8 or 10 years ago; we were at the Folger and had seats right up on stage, and the performance was lively and hilarious. I like the play--much better than some of the Shakespeare I read for the independent study I directed last semester, by the end of which I was heartily sick of The Bard. But for today they'd read Acts 1 and 2, and I couldn't for the life of me think of a way to teach it.

Does that happen to other people? I was like, yeah, okay. Viola is in disguise. Um...disguise is important here? There are a lot of double meanings and irony? What do we do with that? Um...wait and see what happens?

Yeah, it was rough. I ended up lecturing for a while on the period (we're only just out of the Middle Ages, in week 7, for that is how I roll), then waffled around with them for 20 minutes trying to find something to have a discussion about. I had notes; they were just kind of dull and disjointed. I don't know if this is because we'd only read two acts, because there's not a lot of thematic depth to the play,* because I'm a lousy teacher, or because I was just mentally worn out this morning. All I know is that this is the only new text I'm teaching in the survey this semester, and apparently that's thrown me for a total loop.

I'm tempted to go with "mentally worn out." Teaching 5 classes--even if two of them are the same class (comp) and one only meets for an hour a week--might be catching up to me; I feel like I'm in a constant teaching rotation where no sooner does one class end then I've got another one to gear up for. And, to be perfectly honest, I haven't been devoting all that much time to my teaching. If I'm going to get this revised manuscript back to the publisher by mid-December (= the goal), I have to make that a top priority. I'm reading a lot of new stuff for the revisions; my plan is to read like crazy through October and then start working in the actual changes to the MS in November. That seems like a manageable plan--but only if I keep up with this thing of doing virtually all of my course reading for the week on, like, Saturday, and then doing all of my prep in the mornings (which is tough when my MWF schedule starts at 9 am).

With the possible result, of course, that I'll be punting a lot in my classes.

Hm. At least Comp and the senior-level seminar are going well (the latter in particular--I heart it). But it's funny--I loved the survey last year, and now I feel like I'm just sort of waiting it out. Part of that might be the dismal black hole of a classroom they stuck me in--way too big for the enrollment and in a basement with no ambient sound so that when I stop talking the silence presses in on all sides; one can only hope.

Sigh. It's 9 pm; I suppose I ought to read for tomorrow's class (the one I didn't get to on Saturday).

*I am not saying that this is the case. It is merely one possibility. In my weakened state, I am incompetent to judge.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Three Immutable Rules

  1. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, perhaps especially those placed on very high ceilings, will only ever run out of batteries and begin emitting shrill beeps between 3 and 4 am.

  2. Setting one's alarm for 5:30 on a day when one doesn't teach until 11--in order to "get a jump on things"--will never work. Especially on mornings after Rule # 1 goes into effect.

  3. Every fall, there will be one freshman who simply cannot get hir shit together to go to class. Inevitably this student will be administratively withdrawn, but not until ze has engaged in lengthy email exchanges with hir professors, missed numerous scheduled meetings, and required hir professors to correspond extensively with the registrar's office, thereby wasting a great deal of time and energy.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Boring Sunday To-Do List

Because I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and I need the accountability:
  • Read/skim half of a book for The Book [DONE--or will be by bedtime]
  • Type up notes on book read last week [DONE]
  • Type up notes on article read last week [DONE]
  • Finish reading other article
  • Grade 5 composition papers (I'm doing 5 a day until I'm done--no binges this year! Because 32 comp students is a luxury after last semester's legendary 57!)
  • Grade Middle English translations
  • Figure out how I'm going to grade Middle English translations (better do this one before the preceding)
  • Read and prep for comp [DONE]
  • Prep for the survey
  • Read for Tuesday afternoon class
  • Make yogurt [DONE]
  • Finish making granola (i.e. put it away) [DONE]
  • Get laundry on the line [DONE]
That doesn't bad. Is there something I'm forgetting? Most assuredly!

Edited to add:

Oh, and also:
  • Write up prompt for composition paper [DONE]
  • Revise and finish mid-term prompt for senior class [DONE]
  • Make food items for this week's lunches: [DONE]
    • split-pea soup [DONE]
    • cucumber gazpacho [DONE]
    • baked tofu strips (great protein snacks for the days when I'm stuck on campus) [DONE]
    • salad dressing [DONE]
  • This also requires a quick trip to the store [DONE]
  • Swim [DONE]
ETA (2): Okay, so, I have not done 5 out of 21 things, and I am now very tired. Note, however, that of the 5 things that I have not done, 4 are for class, and will therefore get done sooner or later. I was very intelligent today and put off all of the things that I have to do in a very short time, meaning that I actually got through the things that I ought to do but that were not pressing. I'm pleased with this system. And the world will not end if I wind up returning all of my papers--gasp!--a week after they were handed in. (Didn't I used to strive to hand back papers in only a week? When did 2-5 days become my hyperefficient norm? eh?)

In other news, I have a lot of mosquito bites. They itch.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Well, I Did It

I bought my airline tickets for winter break/MLA. I'm zigzagging across the country on a 3-city tour, flying in and out of obscure airports at my end and my mother's--and yet I somehow got all the tickets I need for only $750! Not chump change, but not as disastrous as I feared. (Yesterday, in fact, the lowest price I could find was $811. I wasn't able to buy it at that moment, and I had all kinds of panic--those "Only 1 ticket left!!!!" notices were everywhere--and yet?)

In fact, I just had a little panic attack and had to go verify that I hadn't accidentally bought a return ticket for December 30, 2009, or something.

So hey, I'll be at the big stressfest, and hope to see some of y'all there! (And if anyone needs a roommate, I'm available! Is that pathetic? I don't know. Whatever. There it is: my desperate plea to the internets.)

I still haven't reserved a hotel room, though. Or paid the registration fee. Or renewed my membership for next year. Feh. That'll all have to go on a later credit card bill.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

In the Interest of Accuracy, and a Question

I have now actually read through all of the reviewers' comments, and I have some real work to do. There wasn't much in there that surprised me; the readers seemed to pick up pretty well on the weaknesses that I already knew I had (and that I was hoping could just slide on by under the radar. Alas, the radars are more powerful than I had given them credit for being).

So I've made a long list of things to do, with some ideas for how to tackle all of the problems. I hope to finish it this semester. We shall see. For I teach 5 classes, remember. (One of which is only 50 minutes a week, but still.)

My question is this: How do I now list the MS on my CV? It was "under review by [press]," but that's not truly accurate anymore. However, I don't want to just take it off the CV, since it received a very positive review and the editor added remarks to the effect of, "We look forward to being able to publish this book" and "It's clear that this is a book that we should publish." So what's the protocol here? Is it "in revision for [press]"? Is that even a thing? What's the language? Help me, internets! For the job app due dates loom in the not-too-distant future, and I really want this sucker on my vita.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Two things that made me feel better this afternoon:

1) Listening to Regina Spektor's "Apres Moi," loudly, on my ipod as I walked back to campus after lunch.

2) A message from the editor at Press No. 1, saying that the reader reports indicate the necessity for some revisions but that on the whole this is a book that they'd really like to publish!!! (If I adequately address the revisions, that is.)

2b) A glance at the reports (which I only just got) indicates that a very big person was one of the reviewers. Which is alarming. And yet, s/he says some positive things! (Along with some quite legitimate criticism, of course.)

A quick look at the many single-spaced pages of comments tells me that I have a lot of work to do, but this is incredibly exciting, and definitely the best news that I could have hoped for. I had no illusions about having written a ready-to-go MS, so this is pretty cool.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I don't know. It was a long day; my temper is high. Walking home just now someone almost ran into me as I was crossing a street (I totally had the right of way, but it was dark and they whipped around the corner quickly), and instead of being startled or relieved or whatever I just fumed the rest of the way home, which wasn't particularly helpful.

Classes were/are fine. Work in general is fine. That's not the problem.

We had a two+-hour faculty meeting today; obviously I can't blog about it, but there are just so many things wrong. There was some bizarre and incomprehensible presentation that made no sense and we were told--over and over--that we couldn't ask questions or respond to it. (I did voice a response, to something that was patently offensive, but I don't think that the presenter understood.) So that was one thing. And there's other stuff. It's hard to even say where the problem is, except that more and more is being laid on us with no intention of additional compensation or acknowledgment. I sometimes get the feeling that, no matter what's wrong on campus, it's the faculty's fault. And we get scolded for it.

Well, okay, that's a bit of an overstatement. But when there was a terrible storm last year and a senior faculty member's office was flooded, ruining all of his equipment and files going back over his whole career, the email that went out notifying us about it and offering condolences to him also managed to indicate that he was really responsible for not making sure that all the windows in the area were closed before the storm came in.

That might be true. But if it was, did it need to be said? Right then? What did that serve?

So yeah. There was that meeting.

Second thing (non-chronologically): Earlier in the day I received a pamphlet from the Secretary of State about an electoral issue, addressed to "Residential Customer, [STATE]." This pissed me off. Customer? Of whom, exactly? I've drafted a letter to send back. I may post it here. It is Strongly Worded.

So then I get home tonight from what turned out to be a refreshingly funny lecture/presentation, and find that of the 9 students who were supposed to submit discussion questions for tomorrow's class, I've heard from two. {OK, I just got the third, more than an hour and a half late.} What the hell? It's still early in the semester; are they all slacking off already? These suckers are graded. These are English majors in the class. And now, I'll need to do extra prep because we won't have the discussion questions to structure our session. Maybe I just won't do the work and will let them go early, in scorn, for not having done it. But I always question the punitive value of an early release.

Better yet--I'll make them come up with questions in class, for no credit. Ha! My wickedness knows no bounds.

Anyway, feh. I feel all wound up and tired. I'm concerned that my registering my complaint during the meeting today was inappropriate and awkward (I was sort of shaking as I said it). But really, the presenter said something (race-related) that made me want to walk out of the room. I know that other faculty supported my sentiment, but I worry that I'm getting too big for my pre-tenure britches or something. But then, oh well; it's years to tenure and I may well be somewhere else by then.

On the other hand, I just got some new shoes in the mail, and I haven't even opened the box! Maybe that will help.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rain, Rain

Seriously. When will the monsoons stop?

Tomorrow, says Firefox, but Firefox has been wrong before. Firefox is usually wrong, in fact.

Anyway, on this preternaturally dark and dismal Sunday morning, I am staring down the following tasks:
  • Write a dummy paper for my comp students to revise. This should take me all of 10 minutes--in fact, I will deliberately limit myself to 10 minutes--but I find the prospect soul-crushing and can't seem to get myself to do it. Hence the blogging.
  • Read like 6 pages for a Tuesday class.
  • Drag my ass back to campus to get last year's notes on SGGK out of my office. Then use them to come up with a wildly exciting SGGK lesson plan for tomorrow. Hey, you know, I taught one of Marie de F's poems on Friday and it went really well--far better than last year. I think it was partly because, when a student called the fairy lady "the hottest chick ever," I replied, "Yes, she is the hottest chick ever," which greatly amused the class.
  • ...Start working on the job letter--particularly that pesky "future research" paragraph. Grouse. The whole letter needs redoing, really, since it's still got lingering traces of gradstudentism all over it, I think.
I am feeling highly ambivalent about the market this year--and it's not just the expense of flying to SF that's got me down. On the one hand, there are some pretty awesome jobs (though not as many as last year--but that's okay, because I have no intention of applying to 40+ jobs this fall). And I don't really want to spend my career at Field or a place like Field, not because it's a bad place (it has its problems, of course, but there's a lot here that's lovely), but because I enjoy research and writing. I know that it's possible to maintain an active research agenda at a 4-4 school. But this 4-4 school.... Well, there are basically no publication requirements for tenure; you just need to show that you're "active" in your field--to the tune, as far as I can make out, of attending an occasional conference; I don't think you even need to present. While that might take some pressure off, it also means that there's no reason for the institution to support its faculty's research aspirations. We get a little bit of money to travel to conferences, but it's extremely difficult to get a sabbatical here (I know people who have been here for more than 20 years without a semester off); there aren't currently course releases for research; and the service requirements are intense. In addition to the traditional service requirements, by the way, we're constantly informed that we should be attending more student functions and involving ourselves more heavily in student organizations. The thinking seems to be that teaching + service should take up all of your time--and the senior faculty here, well, they're awfully tired. They work really hard. Many many hours a week. So no one has time to do any outside research. I can think of one senior faculty member who publishes, ever. That's not many.

The lack of research support and expectations, coupled with the very small size of the faculty, means that there's very little sense of a larger academic community at Field. First, no one really has anyone else to talk to about his or her specialization, since we all cover different areas. And second, the total orientation on undergraduate teaching gives us little incentive or opportunity to stay really current with scholarship, which seems to erode the faculty's engagement with the broader world of academia. I miss talking about my work and hearing about other people's work. The Minister and I have shared some of our writing, but of course we're in pretty different fields, and there are only two of us. Since my actual professional training was all about research, I hate to think of never doing any of it again--much as I value and enjoy teaching.

Oh, and the pay = not good. Raises--even cost-of-living increases--are extremely infrequent. At least one full prof who's been here for more than 15 years makes less than 50k. Given my starting salary, I'm unlikely to wind up in the same boat, but it's also scandalous that they've increased starting salaries for junior faculty so much (they're still low, though) while senior people had salary freezes. The financial problems, they run deep.

So why wouldn't I want to go on the market this year? Well, I'm getting more comfortable here. I like some of my students a lot, and like almost all of them at least a little, and I'd like to stick around and work with them for a little longer. I love my tiny house; I love my garden; I'm in a local relationship (although he may not stick around here forever, either). Also--I admit--I feel guilty. My people are not going to be pleased if I jump ship, and I dread asking for a letter. So, yeah. Guilt. Which I know I don't need to feel--but since they basically did two searches (the VAP and the t-t) to get me here, I think that I feel a little bit of an extra obligation to stick it out for a while.

Anyway. We'll see. I'm only applying to jobs that are clear moves up, not to jobs that would be lateral moves or about which I feel ambivalent. Most likely, nothing will come of these applications, but I'm going to have to buy that ticket to SF regardless.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What's with the Gouging, MLA?

So, in order to go on the job market, one must:
  1. Pay an annual membership fee.
  2. Procure a separate subscription to view the JIL (or poach one from a friend if one's institution does not subscribe to it).
  3. Pay an immodest conference registration fee ($125!).
  4. Buy a passel of one-way plane tickets so that one can attend the conference and also visit one's family for the holidays. These aren't cheap in the best of times, and people, these aren't the best of times.
  5. Pay for a hotel room in a city with which one probably isn't familiar, which often leads one to stay in one of the conference hotels ($$$$) rather than risk getting lost on the way to/from interviews, which one may or may not have.
  6. Let's not talk about meals, or dossier processing fees (should properly blame my grad school for this one), or postage or copying fees.
Okay, not all of that is MLA's fault. But it struck me this morning that it's truly weird to withhold the job list from people who don't have subscription numbers. Seriously, does any individual pay for a JIL subscription? I don't even know how one would go about doing such a thing.

I haven't made any decisions about my own future, by the way. I'm just railing against the currently overwhelming expenses that I will incur should I happen to follow Option A.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You know?

Clothes from [letter] [letter] [legume] are fine. Really. I own a couple of things--a coat, a sweater--and I like them. Sure.

But I despise their catalogues. The people in them: with their sweeping blond hair and matronly khakis, the button-down shirts tucked all the way in, reclining stiffly against a railing while smiling fondly at the antics of dogs--or laughingly trekking across a mountaintop in a sweater-set and "barn coat" (whatever that is)--the men grinning bashfully at the attractively leaf-strewn ground whilst running a hand through their tousled hair, their chinos neatly pressed and their flannel shirts well-starched--oh, they make me itch.

Yes. Okay. Had to get that out of my system.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Had A Clever Title, But I Forgot It, For I Am Tired

It is...yes. It is underway. The semester, she's rolling. Good lord. I'm tired.

Yeah, definitely not into the work schedule yet. Tomorrow we'll have been in class for a week (minus Monday, of course). So seriously. Four days? That's all I've done so far?

I am overwhelmed, friends. I'm not exactly behind yet--just teetering on the brink. How did this happen? I was so organized! so ahead of things!

At the risk of being boring, I shall give you the quick run-down of my semester:

Five classes. I'm teaching five classes (= 4 preps, and one of them only meets for 50 minutes/week, but still). So far they're all going really well, especially the senior-level majors-only seminar, which is awesome and on a topic that I love and only has 8 students in it. Comp is even going well (although we've only met twice) (remind me to tell you about the Mystic Binder one of these days). And the survey is fine, although I'm not particularly interested in it; I loved this class last year, but now? Kinda done with it. Also I'm in a terrible, terrible, feng shui-violating florescent nightmare of a basement classroom, and I hate it. The one-hour class just started today, but I think that it'll be fun and pretty lightweight. At least, that's the plan. So the classes are fine, just frequent and tiring and never-ending. The prep, the prep! It is always undone!

Advising. I've never advised before. It's not too bad, yet, only I was handed several of WriterBoy's old advisees (he's gone on to greener pastures) and a few of them have some real scheduling problems. Like, graduating seniors who haven't fulfilled the lab science requirement. Not sure what to do about that, frankly. Yikes.

Honors. As I've said, I'm directing the Honors program now. What this means at this point is that I need to meet with every one of the incoming Honors students to go over the program's requirements. This isn't horrendously taxing or anything, but it does require me to stay on top of my calendar, which used to be my strong suit, until I started teaching and the organized part of my brain fell out of my left ear.

Extra teaching. One student who needs the senior majors' class can't come to the class, for reasons too complex and detailed to describe, so I need to meet with hir every week in the afternoons and also devise a different grading rubric that matches what ze will actually be doing.

Organizations. I recalled, today, that I'm the faculty sponsor for a student organization, and I need to get on top of determining new members' eligibility and also corralling the members into meeting and whatnot. Resolved: I will not take over the student organization. Which I kinda did last year.

College-wide. We're doing this whole curriculum reform-type thing this year which requires lots of extra meetings, as well as assignments between meetings. There was some stuff that I was really supposed to review before tomorrow's meeting, but you know? I didn't, and it's unlikely that I will. Oh well. Nobody else did, either. (Except the Minister, for he is good.)

Is that all? I think that that's all.

It won't be too bad once I get into the rhythm (I hope?), but right now it's like this series of flashes of panic: Oh! Wait! I had to do --! and what about --? Have I emailed --? What classes do I have tomorrow? What time is it? Good God! What have I done?

Only 15 weeks to go! Seriously, does anybody else have a 16-week semester? Wisely, however, I have scheduled almost no readings for the week and a half after Thanksgiving. Hurrah!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yeah, I'm That Professor

You know, the one who makes the same dumb joke in every class? And pretends that it's spontaneous each time? That's me. I've made my peace with it.

One characteristic of a lot of professors, I've noticed, is the habit of retelling jokes and stories, but always as if they're completely new. Which makes sense: We're required to repeat ourselves a lot. And it's much more interesting to the reader if it sounds off-the-cuff rather than painfully rehearsed, right?

Just one more thing to add to my list of endearing traits! Repetition and the pretense of cleverness!


Today I meet my seniors. Actually, I know all of them but one already, and that one is going to be absent on the first day. Why is this class making me more nervous than the others? When the students are all or mostly relative neophytes, I feel pretty confident and fun. But I go solemn and anxious when faced with a smaller group of more advanced students. I suppose the fact that I haven't had very many advanced classes yet (just one, in fact, and even that one turned out--to my incredulous surprise--to have virtually no prerequisites) might have something to do with this.

OK. Off off off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Year's Resolutions (an unlikely story)

Classes start tomorrow, and I have some goals for this year.

It's going to be a busy semester. I'm teaching 5 classes/4 preps (1 class only meets for 50 minutes a week, though, and it should be a fun one), advising for the first time (that's pretty much over for now, however), running the honors program, and serving on a major committee. The committee doesn't meet very often, but our department is undergoing a sort of review in connection with this committee, and I will therefore need to put together One Big-Ass Binder over the course of the year.

But. I have goals. And these are adamantly not research goals (although I'm submitting abstracts to a couple of conferences and still have that article in revision mode). No, my goals primarily involve not succumbing to a whirlpool of stress and anxiety.

Good luck, right?

Well, here's the plan. I'm trying to break this down into some components:
  1. Think nice thoughts about my students. It's not that I disliked my students before, or anything. In fact, I usually like them pretty well. But I worry far too much about how they see me, or how disengaged I'm sure they are, and how they think that this class/lecture/reading/activity is a complete waste of time, and as a consequence I become very wound up and anxious about my teaching. And then a) I'm a lot less fun in class, because I'm inhibited and nervous; b) I become a complete and utter pushover; and c) the feeling of being under constant scrutiny makes me very unhappy. Now, I'm not going to try some kind of magical thinking about how all my students love me! and my class! and the discipline! and homework! or anything like that. Rather, I'm going to try to see them just as people and myself as a fellow person and we're all just doing our jobs and hopefully enjoying parts of them and getting along okay. (And then I'll indulge in joyful reveries about my most enthusiastic students, of course.)
  2. In comp especially, be aware of where the course is going from the beginning. I have a thing I've made, the Mystic Binder of Organization, which carefully delineates everything (more or less) that will happen in comp all semester. I cannot tell you how much better the Mystic Binder makes me feel. I wish that I could show you the reverent gesture with which all references to the Mystic Binder must be accompanied.
  3. Remember that I know a lot. I don't think I'll have too much trouble with this one; by the spring semester last year, I was feeling a lot more secure in my knowledge (even though I was teaching things I'd never studied).
  4. Don't over-prep. This is the one I'm in the most danger of ignoring, but I need to have some kind of a life outside of teaching this semester, and so I'm not going to prep for four hours for a 75-minute class. (I mean in addition to doing the reading, of course, which could easily take four hours.)
  5. Allow myself to not work sometimes. I didn't work all the time last year, by any means, but I felt like I did--because every minute not working was a minute spent thinking about how I should be working, or just engaging in some really mindless time-wasting activity (like watching Friends on the internet). I want to, maybe, read one small non-work book this semester. I want to have meals with friends. I want to have a few glasses of wine! (Like every day! Ha ha!) One thing that will help, I think, is hanging out with the Minister (whom I'm dating); some ready distraction and frequent interaction with another human being will surely make the year more friendly. And he's a professor at Field, too, so he understands the rhythms of the worklife here--as well as being an excellent person with whom to gossip about students and co-workers.
  6. Exercise. This summer was amazing for the exercise. I swam 2000 meters three times a week (most weeks) and went to the occasional yoga class at Ordinary City, which is only about half an hour away. I know that I can't sustain that during the year, but swimming at least twice a week and getting to some yoga classes--or practicing at home!--will be enough. Doing physical work is the best way I know of to get out of my obsessive anxieties about being judged or inadequate. It's just me and my body, and that's good.
So, um, yeah. Tomorrow. Three classes. Away we go....

Sunday, August 24, 2008

This year will be better, or: The difference between my students and me

On Wednesday I begin my first official year on the tenure track at Field College. I'm in a bit of an odd situation in that last year retroactively counts as tenure-track-itude; I was, of course, VAPping here at Field, and have received a year's credit towards tenure as a result. I'm glad: I had one article come out and another one get accepted last year; I presented at a conference; I served on a search committee. (Truth be told, I think that I've already fulfilled the publication requirement for tenure; all I need to do now is go to the occasional conference to demonstrate "continued engagement in my discipline." I hope to do a wee bit more than that in the coming years, however.)

But nonetheless this is my first year as an official tenure-track Assistant Professor--my first year advising, serving on committees, fulfilling other administrative roles. I am, for example, directing the honors program. Which is weird, given my novice status, but one thing about tiny little colleges is that you can climb through the ranks awfully quickly: everyone is over-worked and happy to hand off such duties. I'll probably regret it at some point, but right now I'm excited about this particular position, as it'll give me the chance to work with some of the brightest students at the college.

My point is, though, that heading into this year feels really different from last year. Last year I was kind of a mess, I think. I was in a long-distance relationship which, while wonderful, also caused a lot of stress (the exhausting weekend trips, the uncertainty about ever being together, the feeling that everything hinged on how I did on the market); I had never before taught a course that I had designed; I hadn't the foggiest clue about what composition classes were supposed to be like; and almost everyone I met here seemed a little crazy. The entire college seemed crazy. There were a couple of reasons I felt this way: 1) I had never really been behind the scenes at a school, so I didn't know how they worked (the assessment jargon, e.g., really threw me, as did the obsessive concern with enrollment numbers and recruiting), and 2) I come from a pretty elite background--fancy private SLAC for undergrad; ivy grad school--which I'd never really thought of as elite/elitist, and I sort of assumed that all colleges and universities ran (or should run) the way that mine did. That is, that they should only accept the very best students; academics absolutely come before athletics (I still think this is true, OK); and--most importantly--all students are motivated primarily by the pure desire for Knowledge.

Yep, I've lost (most of) those illusions.

In a workshop last week, one senior art professor said something that I found really compelling. He pointed out that when he first got to Field, he had been accustomed to teaching and interacting with art students who wanted to be artists, and were therefore striving for a high level of achievement within their fields. Here, however, he discovered that most students were interested in service professions--teaching, primarily--and gradually had to adapt his teaching methods and course aims to match those students' interests--and that this had ultimately been very satisfying.

I think that I still feel that my students ought to be motivated to study literature because literature is Art--it's Culture--its study is valuable for its own sake, and because it makes us more developed human beings. I believe that that's true, of course: my inner life is infinitely richer because of my knowledge of literature, being a skilled critical reader helps me to cast a more critical eye over my world; and the wealth of ideas and experiences that it's given me glimpses of has enabled me to think very differently about my own life and how I choose to live it. I would still like to communicate that to my students. But many of them do not come from backgrounds like mine, where you never really worry about getting a job--of course you'll work, everyone works, but jobs are available and you'll get one and it's really matter of pulling yourself up out of the slough of just getting jobs and into the realm of the Meaningful. Most of my students aren't of that mindset. No, most of them aren't terribly poor (this is a private SLAC, after all, even if it's a pretty cheap private SLAC--only half of what mine cost 14 years ago!). But they want solidly middle-class jobs of the kind that a college education can give you: many of them want to be teachers or have some sort of "business" career (I assume that the business students have some concrete ideas of what they want to be; I have no idea what "business" actually means, so the scare quotes there are indicative only of my own ignorance).

I'm still trying to absorb what this difference means, and what exactly I can contribute to this student population. What I want is to galvanize these students--to shake them up, get them out of thinking about The Job and open the larger world up to them; many of them, for example, have hardly even left this state, and seem to have very little sense of alternative ways of living in the world than those to which they're accustomed. I might be able to do this, in a limited way. My best teaching persona--the one that came out in my most successful courses last year--is lively, self-deprecatingly geeky, wildly (almost goofily) enthusiastic and supportive, and even gets some laughs, and in those classes I had comments on my evaluations like, "I learned that literature is awesome!" and "Who knew I would like [subject of this course] so much?" So I retain my idealism, a bit. But I'm trying to get myself interested in learning from my students, too. It would be good for me, I think, to come to appreciate where they're coming from, as well, and to see the value in what they want to do.

It might help shake me out of my de facto elitism, at any rate.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pod Professor

Dear small corner of the academic blogosphere:

I regret to inform you that your beloved--or, at any rate, your tolerated, infrequently-posting, usually rather whiny Dr. Mihi has been replaced by an alien instructor from outer space, and that said body-snatcher is, yes, is looking forward to the comp course that she's designed for this semester.

Damn straight y'all. How did this happen?

Classes start a week from Wednesday, and I'm going to hold onto my glorious dream of eager, engaged freshmen right up until it bursts.

The Pod

Friday, August 15, 2008

A (Surprise!) Successful Faculty Retreat

(The promised quasi-academic post, at last!)

The Humanities Division at Field (we're too small a college to have distinct departments, so we operate as divisions) inaugurated what might be a new tradition this summer: the divisional faculty retreat. Next week we have the mandatory two-day all-faculty retreat (it was only one day last year, but apparently we have a lot of work to do this year, yippee), but early this week the Humanities folks all met for about a day and a half with the intentions of a) getting to know the new people and b) thinking deliberately about where we want to go as a division in the coming year.

I was, ostensibly, an organizer of this retreat, although I did very little (the real organizer claims that I came up with the idea, which is patently false, but nice of hir to say). I was therefore kind of nervous coming up to it: if the retreat was a failure, I thought, will my name irrevocably be associated with it? Especially by the many new people in our division? (We have three wholly new people, the Minister and I are starting our second years, and the remaining five Humanities faculty have been around for rather a long time, so the division on the whole is pretty new to the college.) Luckily, however, it went surprisingly well. Nonetheless I disavowed all responsibility for the planning and whatnot; I was involved in coming up with the schedule and planned one of the sessions, but, as at least 40% of the division also played that role, I don't think that I can take any special credit.

So. I thought I'd run through my thoughts about why this retreat was successful, since my impression is that faculty retreats in general can be perceived as kind of a waste of time, and I don't recall being particularly impressed by the one I attended last year. I wrote a post about it at the time, I think, but I'm too lazy to link, so you can look in the August '07 archives if you're desperately interested.

Anyway, here's what we did, broadly speaking: We started with a couple of getting-to-know-you activities (along the lines of what you'd do on the first day of a comp class, for example), then had a long session about what the humanities is/are. In fact, that "is/are" was crucial to the session: "Humanities" means both an accumulation of disciplines (the "are") and a particular approach, or set of approaches, to knowledge. This session, which wound up going over its designated two-and-a-half hours, was broken up into sections where we discussed questions as a group (What is the focus of each of our disciplines? What do our disciplines have in common? What sets us apart from other divisions, e.g. Social Sciences? etc.) and sections in which we met with the faculty from our own disciplines (e.g. English) to discuss how our disciplines contribute towards the mission of the humanities. Now, we didn't come up with any kind of answers to the first set of questions; one thing that I found interesting was how the conversation kept getting derailed into what the humanities aren't. This often involved wild, probably inaccurate generalizations about other divisions (Scientists know exactly what they want to find before they start researching! Social scientists think there's one right answer to every question!), but, despite the regrettable un-scholarliness of such claims, the fact that we had such a hard time defining what it is that we do was pretty thought-provoking. So when we got into our groups by discipline, we had some clearer questions to address: What do we want our students to take away from our majors? Why do we think that what we study is important, and how can we best convey that to our students? And so forth.

Maybe the best thing about this session was that it got us all talking to each other about something other than problems in the classroom, administrative screw-ups, or what we did over the weekend. We were talking about, you know, abstract ideas. And why we value our own work. That's important, and something I don't remember really doing since my campus interview.

Then we had some pragmatic sessions on, say, syllabus construction and dealing with the unexpected situations that can arise during teaching. The latter was my special purview, and I came up with what I hoped was kind of a fun way of addressing it: everyone wrote down on index cards an unexpected/difficult/silly situation that he or she had faced (or feared facing) in the classroom, but wrote it as a "What would you do if..." question; we shuffled the cards, and then everyone took one and had to answer it off the cuff. Then the person to whom the situation had occurred discussed what he/she had done. It was a pretty lighthearted session--the last one before dinner, so I assumed that we would be tired, and was right--but I think that it went okay.

Anyway! This was an overnight retreat at the guest house on campus--even though most of us live within a half-mile of campus. Well. The overnighting gave us the opportunity for a postprandial talent show (preceded by rather a shocking quantity of wine). I was not alone, I believe, in having some misgivings about the talent show, but it was surprisingly nice. There was music, a Tai Chi demonstration, poetry reading, the display of a crocheted afghan. I, incapable of baring myself to my colleagues, read an excerpt from the romance novel my friends and I wrote in high school; there was also a display of bad academic verse.

The next day we resumed with more pragmatic sessions: advising, required vs. recommended events, the current climate on campus and issues that new people should be aware of. We wrapped up with quite a nice lunch and some more WINE.

So, what made this successful? First, I think, was the simple fact that there were so few of us. Also, as members of the same division, we were able to discuss some very concrete things that we'd like to do together and even to take some steps towards getting them going--like setting up a web page for the division (that would include detailed course descriptions, my hobbyhorse), emphasizing environmental sustainability and social justice in our classes, and sharing syllabi. The abundance of wine probably helped, too. But also, my immediate colleagues are by and large a great bunch of people whom I like very much. They certainly have their...idiosyncrasies, but after all, that's part of the charm of the professoriate. So it was a good couple of days. I feel decidedly less reluctant to start up the semester--although I'd still rather skip the next two-day retreat, as I don't expect it to be quite so pleasant.