Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why isn't anyone blogging?

OK, I know. I've not exactly been the poster child of blogger profligacy.

But I dunno, things aren't very exciting. I entered all my final grades today, so that's done. Then I wrapped presents at the homeless shelter for two hours. Might I add that I had a blast? I didn't really talk to anyone, just totally focused on picking out and wrapping the presents. The only bad part was that all the presents for girls were HYPER pink, and I couldn't bear to give anyone a Barbie or Barbieclone. This might prompt me to buy some cool books or something to donate next year--I mean, not all young females are in love with make-up and the prospect of giant boobs.

Leaving on Friday for Northern City, followed a few days later by The Great Drive East.

The cats are really snuggly lately. You can't sit down without a Priss creeping into your lap.

We had four parties at our house last week--two final seminar parties (TM's seminar met right before mine, so there was some awkward overlap where my students had to stand around the kitchen with me while I made coffee), a party for the Philosophy and Religion majors, and then a party for our friends and ALL THEIR MILLION KIDS on Sunday night. Good lord. I didn't actually expect all the small noisy people to show up, but there they were. There was a frenzy of coloring (and, apparently, almond-spitting) in the upstairs guest room/attic, then everyone was gone. It was a fun party, though.

Erm...anything else? I don't think so. See? I told you I had nothing much to say.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hold on a sec.

OK, so one of the arguments that's often trotted out when debating the merits of pumping money into athletics (at a very low-budget, D3, not-at-all-athletically-accomplished college), excusing students who are struggling with their courses from classes to play sports, and admitting patently unprepared students to the college so that they can play football for a year before dropping out.... Um, let me start over. One of the arguments that's often trotted out when debating the merits of the three above-cited things is that college sports brings in money. Alumni like to come back for Homecoming, and having a successful football (or, I suppose, baseball or soccer or softball) team is likely to get them to chip in a few bucks.

Setting aside for the moment that, at Field, this clearly does not work (our alums love the College but our alumni giving is in the neighborhood of 15%), what usually happens when this argument is raised is that we then begin discussing whether that works given the poverty of our teams, how much alumni actually give, whether we're abiding by the rules of D3 recruiting, etc.

But tonight it occurred to me that this rationale is patently unethical.

If we're talking about the weak students here, and not the ones who can successfully balance academics and athletics--and we are talking about them, because this is my blog--then what we're saying is that it's OK to sucker them into coming to a school for which they are not prepared, getting them to shell out a semester's or a year's worth of tuition, and then depriving them of sufficient academic support by requiring them to attend a battery of practices, weight-training sessions, and games at the (occasional) expense of class attendance and (frequent) expense of study time, all in the service of fundraising.


In what way is this not exploitation?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving was nice.

It was nicer still to come home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The little-known secret of Composition courses






I hope, I only hope, that I am speaking too soon. There is still one chance for my students to redeem themselves this semester.

But oh, God, if I could physically insert the drive to cite sources into their heads, then maybe we'd get somewhere.

Does this happen to you? Do you find yourself becoming obsessed with some one thing, some single obvious thing that 80% of your students simply won't do? Like cite their sources? In a research paper???? I can't think of anything else. It's practically all I read for anymore.

OK. I will stop. I've been raging about this for two weeks now (6 conference days in 10 days, yes indeedy, that'll make you nuts). And tonight I made the mistake of figuring out that I spend about 200 hours a semester (or thereabouts; this was a highly unscientific calculation) working on comp when I teach two sections of it, as I normally do; that's five full work-weeks. And really, I'd be cool with that, if I honestly felt that it resulted in significantly improved writing. But I don't. And I'm frustrated.

Or maybe it does work, and they're all learning, but I just can't see it. Maybe. And maybe they'll continue to develop in the directions I've pointed them long after this semester ends.

The thing is, when I meet with them one-on-one, my frustration fades and I want so badly for them to get it, to succeed, to write kick-ass papers and do really really well. And I hate to hand them Ds and Fs. But love can't make them write any better, no it can't. And neither, apparently, can the textbook, multi-stage assignments, in-class discussion, group work, endless activities, feedback on a neverending series of papers, peer workshops, individual instruction, email reminders, checklists, or anything else I can come up with.

Sigh. Oh well. I'm off tomorrow night for Thanksgiving with the in-laws, and my computer will be staying home. Have a nice week, all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Do I have time for any of this? Why no, I do not!

Nor do I have the patience!

Does anyone else simply lose patience at about this point in the semester? Ooh, I have been a Cold Bitch to my comp students this week, and have felt absolutely no remorse. (In fairness, I was only a Cold Bitch to about three or four of them, and they were being singularly annoying, in their various ways.) But oh! The papers I am grading! They are atrocious! My comp-teaching colleagues and I have decided to truly Uphold Standards this semester, and I am--disturbingly, weirdly--reveling in giving Fs and Ds to the truly F- and D-deserving papers. Normally I agonize. Am I being mean? She tried!! It's not his fault that he can't write a sentence!! But this time, I think: Can I genuinely pass this student on to a colleague with my writerly stamp of approval? Why no, I cannot!

It helps, I'm finding, to have some clear guidelines. E.g., use 5 or more sources, at least 3 of which must be books or peer-reviewed articles. So when a student uses 5 newspaper articles or websites, boom! No! Fail! (Or a seriously lowered grade.) When a 5-7 page research paper has 3 citations in it, total, wham! Demotion! It's all so shockingly...easy.

The thing is, we've spent--in one way or another--six weeks on these damn papers, including three or four peer workshops and two conferences with me. I've told them what to do. I've told them that you can't write a good research paper if you write it first and then go looking for "stats" to support it. (How I loathe "stats," and "facts," too, for that matter.) The good thing here is that, while this paper is worth 20% of their grades, they now need to write a new research paper on the same topic, but directed towards a different audience--and this will also be worth 20% of their grades. So they can fail this one and, if they work their asses off, maybe redeem themselves next time.

Tomorrow, therefore, we will not discuss the reading (which is on style, and I don't much like the chapter anyway, as it tells students to write in their own voices and not try to sound more formal--well, that's a little unfair, but it does say that, and frankly writing too formally is not a problem that besets the majority of my froshes). We will, instead, discuss Why Passing Composition Is Important, and Why Blowing Off This Course Is A Huge Mistake. I actually have some good thoughts on this, I think. See, they might know, in their hearts, that they can do research. But my responsibility is to ensure that they can do research, and so, if they don't show me that they can do it, they can't pass. Easy! We will then Review The Goals Of The Course (which include things like, "Appropriately use MLA or APA citation style"--really difficult, people, and we did spend, what, two or three weeks on this? Lordy). And then--then!--I will give them an exam. Yes, a surprise composition exam! It is genius. It will ask them to do things like cite, and create a topic sentence, and use signal phrases appropriately. It will ask them what a research-driven paper is. And, at the end, it will ask them to please tell me what it is that they're struggling with, and where they'd like more instruction. For ultimately the exam is an assessment tool, even as it is also there to scare them into giving one little damn about their next papers.

Oh, and in the meantime, one of my heart-monitor reports alarmed somebody who contacted my electrophysiologist, and starting tonight I will need to take a twice-daily heart medication "to get things under control." Dudes, my heart has pounded away since I was born, but okay, whatever. I don't mind. It's only until the surgery. The downside, though? The medication causes fatigue. And man, I have me some fatigue. Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

(Otherwise, all is well on the Mihi front, I promise.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Few More Notes about the Heart Monitor

I'm half tempted to take pictures of my bare chest to show y'all what I look like all wired up, but that's probably not a good idea.

I look weird. That's sufficient. I have four wires taped to myself--one above and one below each breast, more or less. What's kind of weirder, however, is how I look when I detach the wires to take a shower: like I have snaps up and down my chest. I kind of want to attach other things to them--like mittens, or something (remember mittens with snaps so you wouldn't lose them? Or am I making that up?). I could have all kinds of attachments! Under my shirt! How odd.

I have discovered the best way to wear the box: on a strap around my waist. I can shove it in front of or behind myself if it gets in the way of something. This did cause it to swing around and annoy me quite a bit during yoga, however; from time to time I would stick it into the waistband of my pants, but it would work its way out pretty quickly.

I set it off by accident three times in the first 24 hours, but have been good for the second 24.

As I remarked in my comment on the last post, the most irritating thing is how obsessed I am with the rhythm of my heart. If I concentrate, I can feel it (and if I'm lying on my side, I can feel it without concentrating at all). I need to push a button to register when I have an "event," so I mustn't miss one; after all, I don't have them very often, and these thirty days cannot be a loss. It is distracting to be so consumed with the inner workings of one's body. It is distracting indeed.

Presumably I'll get used to it soon, and can leave behind this dull subject for the sake of returning to the dull subjects of Grading, What I Need To Do, What I Have Done, and Fatigue.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's Official:

I have a heart defect.

Yep. I have Wolf Parkinson White syndrome, which means that there's some kind of extra nerve thing that lets electricity through in the wrong place. It's not uncommon and usually not dangerous, but in a small percentage of cases, it can cause death.

(Minor) surgery is being scheduled. Far more irritating is that I have to wear this ginormous monitor for 30 days. (Aside: "Ginormous" is accepted by Blogger's spellcheck, and yet neither "Blogger's" nor "spellecheck" is. I'm not sure what to make of this.)

I had to race back from the hospital to teach class, ginormous monitor-box strapped to my hip and dangling its ginormous black cord (which snakes up under my shirt to four electrical sensors). So I just told them what the thing was--first, however, making a quip about having been turned into a cyborg, which only partly worked because one student kept asking what "cyborgs" was and seemed to have comfused them with the Borg, and...well, jokes derail, I guess.

Anyway. No need for much sympathy (although my posting about it obviously belies that last statement). This is not a particularly big deal. But I haven't had surgery since I was five, so I'm a little freaked out about, you know, the possibility of DEATH or something. But my doctor has performed 1500 of these without a single fatality, so I can probably shelve those fears.

Feh. Stupid ginormous heart monitor. And you know I don't use stupid made-up words like "ginormous" lightly.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll drag my monitor off to a yoga class and then go to the yarn store, and that will cheer me up quite handily.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As Flaubert would say

This place is real! I have seen it!!!

...and sometimes, in bleaker moments, I wonder if this is not truly a self-portrait, if the Continental Paper Grading Co that I see in the picture (or out the train window, as it may be) is not in fact a glimpse of my own face, half-caught in a shaded mirror, as when one sees oneself in a hazy plate-glass reflection where one did not recognize a window, and for a moment, thinking that the reflection was another person--pale, expectant, with an unfamiliar expression half-formed upon the brow--recognizes with a shock that this unhandsome creature with the look of bland self-concern and the slouching, humdrum posture is oneself, a recognition that causes a dim shudder of revulsion and yet at the same time an anxiety, a desire to protect that vulnerable figure, that figure who, because semi-transparent (being a reflection in the smudged window of the Radio Repair Commission, a shop whose purpose has until now eluded you), seems so fleeting, so ill-formed, so poised to tumble into the forgetful abyss that lies in wait, always, perpared to catch every bourgeois woman, including this very one, on her fitful rounds of the cat food mercantile, the apothecary, the cheese depository....

...Yes...the Continental Paper Grading Co, c'est moi....

Monday, November 9, 2009

Nearly Perfect Weekend

The imperfect this weekend was TM's absence--he's away at a conference--but the solitude might have been good for me, to be honest; the last four weeks have been such a flurry of activity, all of it involving other people, that my powerful introverted tendencies were demanding some rest and restoration absent human contact.

So here's what I do on a perfect weekend, school-year style:
  • Schoolwork: Read nearly everything I'm teaching this week; put together next paper prompt for Survey; assigned readings and assignment for Thursday's seminar. I'm conferencing in Comp this week, so there was only a little planning to be done for that (figuring out what to tell them to bring to their conferences, a few emails to write, etc.).
  • Housework: Did all the laundry (I heart my clothesline! Laundry is my favorite chore. The fact that it was sunny and 70 degrees this weekend, while weird, made laundrifying even more pleasurable than usual); raked a good bit of the yard (well, I raked for one hour, and decided that that was sufficient; it also gave us more leaf-mulch potential than we can possibly exploit); enormous grocery trip to the brand new nice grocery store in Nominally Ordinary City, along with a few miscellaneous purchases from Discount Grocery, Standard Grocery, and the Pet Store; took out the compost. I still need to vacuum tonight before TM gets home, though. Oh! Those accursed false ladybugs that DIE all over the place! Ech. Our accursed off-white wall-to-wall carpeting doesn't help matters, either, and you can only cover so much of it with area rugs.
  • Food-wise: I cooked like crazy yesterday. TM had expressed an interest in mushrooms, so I complied with mushroom pate and mushroom pie on a spinach crust; we also now have split pea soup, a lovely walnut-onion bread (in four little boules), and granola to last for ten days. TM usually makes a huge quantity of food for lunches on the weekend, so I enjoyed being able to reciprocate--although it left me pretty wiped out by 6:30 yesterday evening. And I also had that weird thing where you cook a lot and then think you've eaten a lot, even though you haven't, so I didn't really eat enough for dinner, but that's OK. I rounded it out with a little whiskey before bed.
  • Exercise! I did some lovely yoga on Saturday night and went swimming yesterday afternoon. I cut myself a little swimming slack, though (35 minutes/1400 m instead of 40-45 minutes/1 mile), because my arms were achy from all the raking.
  • Cats: Lots of cuddle time.
  • Pleasure: Watched a goofy British movie and a documentary about gender and politics. I'm also reading Wolf Hall for this Booker-book club thing that we're organizing at Field, and it's wonderful to have a good reason to read for pleasure! And during the school year, too!
  • Scholarship: Naught. That's okay, though.
  • Sleep: Plenty, although the cats troubled my repose very early on Saturday morning. Naps on the couch both days. The house was so very quiet, all the little kitties dozing on their cushions.
  • Social activities: Why, none! I did participate in the College open house on Saturday, giving a little spiel on the Humanities with a colleague, and that was fine. It was enough, in fact; I reveled in my solitude these two days.
Ah, yes. I feel rested and relaxed. What a nice way to start the week! Unfortunately, three days of comp conferences will wear me out plenty, but after the incredible exhaustion that was killing me last Monday-Thursday (I rallied, more or less, on Friday), I'm just delighted to be starting out strong.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Technical problems

Field's webmail system has been down all weekend.

My first-years have major drafts due tomorrow.

A few of them need to redirect their papers in ways that I made clear via email.

They cannot read my emails. They cannot reply. They cannot ask questions.

Last weekend, webmail was down on Sunday, and that was plenty annoying. But really? Two full days? I know that this is probably part of the big server migration blah blah blah I don't know what that means that's happening, but oh my God, we're worried about retention and here we are making EMAIL inaccessible to students and faculty every ten days or so.

And might I mention that this shut-down, like many of the others, was unannounced? We'll probably get a message at noon tomorrow telling us that webmail was inaccessible for a few hours over the weekend, or something. Thanks, man.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bullets of weary-but-well

  • The honors admin conference was great. I took feverish notes in every panel and had to put huge stars next to every idea that I got for our program in order to keep track of them. Met with Awesome New Dean on Monday and got the go-ahead for several of the short-term changes I'd like to make; he's also enthusiastic about the long-term changes. In the end, I'm probably going to wind up doing a good bit of work over the next year or so to get these things off the ground, but I think that it could really beef up our Honors program--which would add to the intellectual climate on campus in a very positive way.
  • If I'm going to stay at Field, I want to have a hand in making it the kind of college where I want to be. So yeah, there's work. But if it can have a real impact, then it's worth doing.
  • While I was at the conference, I had dinner with one of my very oldest friends--a dinner that turned into last call in Adams Morgan and then singing along to Erasure and James in his car and finally my staggering back up to my room at 3:30. I had a great time--but reliving them, even for a night, made me wonder how I survived my party years. And kind of glad that they now only live in the occasional nostalgic recreation.
  • Brit Lit finally seems to be taking off this semester, after a half-term of perfectly fine but lackluster sessions. On Monday, I think that I actually managed to teach some poetry well--a rare victory for me. About 14 out of 17 students talked, they were all taking notes, I was bouncing off the walls--and we only discussed two sonnets. It kind of rocked. I was so wound up that I fear I assaulted a senior colleague with my enthusiasm when I passed him in the hall after class.
  • Seminar was a tiny bit poky today, because I was exhausted, but it still ran pretty well--and given that I usually leave that class in a haze of I! Love! Teaching!, I can't complain.
  • Comp is fine. No open rebellions and very few sleepers; everyone is polite and plays along. Can't complain there either.
  • Tonight was the first-ever Honors Banquet, organized and put on by me. It was exactly what I didn't quite dare to hope that it would be: fun, informal, and a very good mix of faculty and students, with an entertaining talk by the former director and some terrific mini-presentations by current thesis-writers. Awesome New Dean told me that it was excellent; a student said that she thought it would be boring but that it was lots of fun; the former director wondered why he'd never done something similar.
  • I also got to catch up with a bunch of Honors students whom I hadn't seen in a while, and who are just super cool and smart.
  • I am now drinking rum.
  • So all the whining in the last post or two aside, things are actually excellent this semester, and you know, I do think that I've started kicking ass in this job. When I look back on my first year, it's almost unrecognizable; I remember thinking that, if I knew I was going to be at Field, teaching these classes, for the rest of my career, I would seriously consider leaving it. And now--I enjoy teaching, I have a great rapport with most of my students, and I'm getting things done on campus. There is definitely too much--and some of that's my fault--but hell, I'm thriving, professionally.
  • I only hope that burn-out doesn't hover on my horizon.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Well, that was about the most self-indulgent post ever. I'm already slightly embarrassed. But I will not delete it, for reasons of my own. (Actually, the chief reason is that I post so infrequently that I am loath to delete anything that I do get around to posting.)

Anyway, after I wrote it, it occurred to me that the situation is this: If one wants this to be a better school, the kind of school where one is really excited to teach, one must do a lot of the work oneself to make it that way. (I just taught Pale Fire, and I think that I shall use "one" to refer to myself henceforth, at least sometimes.) Because we're so small, individual faculty can make a real difference here.

This is both empowering and debilitating.

Empowering, obviously, because if I want to strengthen the Honors program, I can pretty easily do things to make it stronger. Like setting up a recruitment campaign with automated letter-production through Admissions, putting together a new brochure, setting up a website, organizing new events for Honors students, attending a conference for Honors program administrators this weekend, considering ways of building in study-abroad opportunities for the students (contingent upon funding), more closely monitoring Honors seminars, etc.

Debilitating, obviously, because to do any one of those things, I have to do it. There is no one else.

I could just not care, and go home and do my research, only putting the minimum into service, but a) I would not get tenure, and b) I would hate--or at least resent--my job. Getting invested in the college makes me happier in my work. But it also very much limits what that work can look like.

So maybe what I need to do, here--in fact, obviously what I need to do--is to not feel guilty when I don't write. And to write when I can and want to write, and to apply for everything that might free up some time to write, and not to take on service obligations that I don't care about.

Because the idea of making this a better school? Well, that's pretty exciting.

(There. A more optimistic way of looking at things. But it's not just spin; I think that this is what's really going on, and how I'm somehow even busier than I was in my first year.)

An hour a day might be too much

I composed a whole post in my head today (on my way to and from the eye doctor--it is just possible that the Endless Eye Problems of 2009 are resolved, and that I was just allergic to my new contacts) on the whole just-write-for-an-hour-a-day-and-you-will-be-an-accomplished-scholar! thing. But I don't think that I'll try to reconstruct it here. For one thing, no one is holding a gun to my head and insisting that I be an accomplished scholar right now (Field certainly isn't; I could roll into tenure with my few publications). Nor is that rhetoric actually out there to justify my 4/4; it's just trying to help carve some space for writing and to get around the excuse of not having time. So my attack was on something of a straw man.

But you know, this month has been exhausting. My talk two weeks ago went well, by the way. None of the questions were wackadoodle and it was fun to introduce people to my field. I felt poised and polished. My slides were gorgeous.

And then that weekend we went to a wedding in Northern City, and the next day my eyes (contact allergy!!!!) were so red and sore that it hurt to open them.

And then on Tuesday of that week TM had a formal dinner for eight in our home for a visiting speaker, because the only restaurant in town is Pizza Hut and so if we want our 7:30 pm speaker to have a decent meal, it's pretty much that or the dining hall. (He did all the cooking, but there was the cleaning/arranging/general hectic-ness of getting eight people into our wee dining room.)

I have no memory of Wednesday-Friday, but I'm sure it was busy.

Was that really just last week? This weekend I sort of crashed and just read for class, finished my article, cooked, and didn't grade.

Next week is a big Honors "banquet" that I'm organizing from scratch.

The day after the banquet, we're up for hosting the division meeting in our living room for the second time this semester. This means cleaning, snacks, wine, furniture rearranging. (I fully support the off-campus division meetings, but I like them best when they're in other people's homes.)

Tomorrow I'm flying to DC for this conference thingy (not presenting or anything).

I've had to grade papers from pretty much all of my classes in the last two weeks.

Spent three days conferencing with freshmen (Thurs, Fri, Mon).

Spent two afternoons watching Teacher Ed presentations (two to come next week, too).

You know I'm teaching four classes, right? As are most of you all, I know. This is not (despite appearances) a busier-than-thou post. In fact, this week--or at least today through Saturday--could almost count as a lull. But I. am. tired. So tired. I've found that I cannot be up past 10 or I am incurably cranky in the morning, and this is not fair to TM.

So what does this have to do with the hour-a-day business? Well, as I told myself in the car this afternoon, yes I sometimes have an hour to spare (although I cannot really reduce the time spent prepping my courses, as this is pretty bare-bones other than the seminar, and I think that I owe it to my students to prep well for that; and my service commitments are not optional; and I am the Honors program at this point, so that's got to keep going; and at my college, on my campus, if a student wants to meet to talk about a paper, you meet with him, although of course you can set boundaries for when that happens, but honestly some days are so booked up--for both of us--that there aren't many options other than 8 am or 4 pm; and I feel ethically bound to attend actual academic events on campus, since we have so few of those and so much that is fluff and there are so few faculty and even fewer who show up for lectures; so really those hours aren't all over the place--and no I don't watch TV, though we cram in an episode of Rome, these days, at 10pm on Saturdays when we're tired of working, and I find it hard to work on Fridays after 5, and yes we spend some time on the weekend hanging laundry and raking and cooking, but that's important; and did I mention that I'm up by 6:30 every morning? Yes I swear this isn't a busier-than-thou; I am simply very tired this week and must bitch). So Yes, I have an hour some days when I could write or read. Once in a while I even do write or read for my research.

But often, when I have an hour, I want to go to bed early because I'm exhausted, or I want to go to a yoga class, or I'd like to talk to my husband or play with the cats. (Or blog. Or, more likely, read your blogs.)

No one disagrees with me. I know.

I just have a tendency--going back to my youth, at least high school, though it was decidedly latent in college--to feel that if something could be done, I should do it. Or else I was a slacker.

So I read all the "write for an hour a day!" stuff, and I totally endorse it, and in moments of energy I embrace and proselytize.

And then I get exhausted, and stop. And I feel bad about that, like some kind of slacker.

And that's not right.

(Humor me, all. This is a long, pointless, fighting-the-straw-man whine. But I need it.) (Oh, and hey, lookee here! I composed the post I was not going to compose. Evidently I have some spare time on my hands, eh?)

And I wonder, too: How the hell do people do this with kids?

(And all the while I do genuinely love my job, in all of its parts, even comp, sometimes. I'm just...tired today. And yesterday. This week.)

(Oh, and I will not be taking my computer with me Thurs-Sat. I will take the pomo novel I'm teaching next week, and Wolf Hall, which will be pure fun, and 17 Brit Lit papers. It will rock.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The fine example we set

OK, really, I'm tired of this. It seems that virtually every flier that gets put up around campus--and not by students, I might add, since students have to go through a complicated process to get fliers approved and therefore don't seem to post any, ever--has some trivial but appalling spelling mistake.

To wit:
  • "your" for "you're"
  • "insite" for "insight"
  • "verses" for "versus"
These gems are sent out through email and highlighted on posters on every college building.

Semester after semester I try to teach my comp students that yes, there is a difference between "your" and "you're," or "there"-"their"-"they're," that getting them wrong makes you look unprofessional and sloppy, that you need to follow conventional spelling, and that proofreading is important. Is it any wonder that my weak little message doesn't sink in, when this is what their college models as acceptable communication?

Sigh. It's 8:23 in the morning, and I'm just about done.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Aggravation, oh aggravation,* I am so tired

I skipped a talk tonight that TM has to go to (it being on a topic that marginally relates to religion) so that I could stay home and prep for tomorrow's seminar, during which I'll be observed by a senior colleague. (For the record, may I say that this will be my third observation in a week???)

And yet, I just discovered that the flash drive on which my prep notes (I was so proud of myself for starting this while I was still on campus!) is still stuck in my office computer.

Bleah. I can take a few more notes, I guess, but will have to drag my ass into the office early AGAIN tomorrow to finish up before my 9am meeting with a student who wants to ask me questions about a scholarship I know nothing about. Is it likely that I will research the scholarship before we meet? No. Is it likely that this student--who is quite a smart and lovely person, don't get me wrong--will nonetheless manage to hang out in my office for the better part of an hour? Yes. Yes, it is.

Might I also report, for the record, that I spent two hours watching teacher ed presentations today, and will spend two hours doing so tomorrow, and next Monday, and next Tuesday? And might I also report that these presentations are all variations on the Children Are Our Future theme? Which is intolerable and makes me want to kill myself? Truly?

Even so, I am feeling moderately guilty for skipping the talk when now I can't really do my prep anyway. Luckily, I have plenty of grading to do, so there's no fear of idle hands in this house!

I want to go to bed.

*I know that Dr. Virago hates the misuse of this word, the proper meaning of which I only learned courtesy of her blog. But I think that this post can legitimately claim to be about the heaping up of exhausting burdens, and thus I will retain it as a significant part of the title.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Yippee. I think.

The article that I moaned about here is off to one of the fanciest of the fancy-pants medievalist journals.

I sent it off today, because in my job letters (for yes, I am applying to exactly three fantabulous jobs, at least one of which I stand no chance of getting, and that's okay), which I mailed this morning, I said that it was currently under review (without saying where, for I Am Nothing If Not Modest).

Being incapable of a lie (I Am Nothing If Not [Mostly] Honest), I couldn't even wait until tomorrow to send the thing off. So there it goes--out into the ether--quite remarkable, really, that such things are possible from my own home. Now, the inevitable wait for the inevitable rejection!

Friday, October 23, 2009

I swear I'm not pandering

Sorry about the bad blogging. Most of my mental posts lately have been on the subject of how busy TM and I are--when you teach at a college with fewer than 45 full-time faculty members, the four classes that you teach every semester are just a fraction of your work-related activities.

But I shall forgo lamenting/congratulating myself for my busyness, for today was an easy-ish day, with 10 student conferences instead of my two sections of comp and Brit Lit's being devoted to letting students work on their Dramatic Presentations in groups. I feel more relaxed tonight than I have all month.

And on the subject of Brit Lit: I scored me some major points in that class today, methinks. This is the first time that one of the surveys hasn't gone super well for me; it's not a problem class, at all (and I'm struck lately by the fact that I haven't really had problem classes since my first year; I wonder whether it's really that the classes have changed, or just that I don't personalize the bad ones in the same way? Of course I totally personalize the good ones and take them as hard evidence that I rawk). But it's kind of...duller than usual. Oddly enough, it's a smaller section than I've ever had before--only seventeen students--and I have a handful who will always participate and another, larger handful who will add things now and again. But for the last four semesters--Brit Lit I in the falls and Brit Lit II in the springs--the surveys have been fabulous and fun, and now it's just kind of sedate (which = dull, at times, I think). I actually have some really good, conscientious students in there--but I'm thinking that they might be the students who worry a lot about being Wrong and who therefore don't talk all that much. Anyway, it's been an okay class, but not one that I'm really excited about.

However, today I did two things--well, three--really not to win them over, but I sure did make them all happy.

First, they're all presenting scenes on Monday, and I asked them to hand in a 3-5-page reflection paper at the same time, describing how their group came to their staging decisions, how their performance (as a group and individually) derives from an interpretation of the play, etc. At the start of class, a (very strong) student asked me whether they could turn in the papers on Wednesday, so that they could reflect on their performances proper (and have a little longer to work on them). "Sure," I said. "That makes sense. I have no problem with that. Everyone" (raising my voice) "[Student] has suggested that I change the due date for the paper to Wednesday so that you can write about the performance itself. I think that that's a good idea. So let's just do that. Okay?" Sighs of relief and pleasure all around. I worried briefly that I was caving, or something, but honestly I don't particularly care (I'm getting more comp papers on Monday anyway, so it's not like it messes up my schedule) and I think that it was a totally reasonable suggestion. So eh, why cling to my power, here?

Second, I announced that I'm canceling next Friday's class because Awesome New Dean suggested that I attend a conference on collegiate Honors programs in DC. And we all know the brownie points that canceling a Friday afternoon class can garner, so I needn't mention those.

Finally, one of the groups asked me to play Helen's role in their performance of scene 12 of Doctor Faustus, since they're short one person and it's a non-speaking part. They've decided to take a comedic approach to the scene, so they want me to strut and do a little Miss America-wave as I cross the stage. (This is an all-female group, by the way.) I nodded thoughtfully and agreed--but not without commenting that they're clearly just trying to undermine ALL of my authority in the classroom, right? They laughed, and I think that they were pretty pleased with the plan.

(They also teased one of their group members mercilessly for publicly referring to me by the nickname that apparently they think I don't know, although really it's what almost all of the majors call me--so that was kind of fun--I have to say that, never really having had a nickname, it does make me feel good to have such a harmless (and genuinely not disrespectful) one now!)

So let's see whether they're most chipper next week!

(And really my classes are just fine this semester. The seminar is Teh Awesome. It probably needs its own post one of these days. Awesome New Dean showed up yesterday to observe and join in the discussion, and it was fab. Truly, this class--and the one in the same slot in the major that I taught last year, also a capstone English seminar--makes me so glad to be a professor.)

Enough of this rambling self-congratulation. Enjoy your weekends, y'all. As for me, tomorrow I plan to sleep in until eight o'clock. Dude!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Academia engages in misleading advertising, too

To date, my work has been on the less obviously sexy side of a currently sexy topic (CST). Some might even argue that my interests are even a little dry, especially compared to the blood and fireworks of CST. To give you an illustration, suppose I work on fifteenth-century er0tica, but ignore the er0tica itself and instead talk about the watermarks of the paper upon which it's printed. I'm interested in where the paper came from, who was selling it, why it ended up covered in this particular subject matter, and so forth. Interesting stuff, to be sure--but not what most people would immediately be drawn to, given sexiness and whatnot that first catches the eye.

So tonight I'm giving my first big lecture, here at Field. It is, in fact, the first time--apart from a couple of job talks--when I will receive Solo Billing at an academic event. I'm a little nervous, mostly about the Q&A. See, it's a lecture for the general public: the faculty (none of whom works on anything even close to my research), students (half a dozen might show up), and, especially, the community. People from Field Town, Ordinary City, and even Nominally Ordinary City show up in droves for these events, for some reason. (Well, small droves. Little, scattered droves of the elderly, the curious, and the strange.)

And I'm worried because, given the nature of the lecture, and what I, in a crass effort to make it sound exciting, chose to call it, the posters all look something like this:

Fifteenth-Century Er0tica!!!!!
and the paper it's printed on.

So I fully expect to get lots of questions about (to continue the analogy), turn-ons, positions, anatomical details, etc., when all I really feel qualified to say is, "But look--this is a French manuscript written on German paper!!!"

Wish me luck.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

How the Cats Spent The Weekend

I didn't do much better.

*And yes, these are the only cats: Kittenfoot went to live with her lovely new owner--a cat-needing colleague of ours--on Thursday. She is missed, but not by these guys, who never even detected her presence. Lazy so-and-sos.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Postcards from Boringland

I've got pictures from the hayride to eventually post, but not at the moment. And square dancing was EVEN MORE FUN than it was in the sixth grade. Seriously. Teh hilarious.

Right now, though, I = sick (just a cold; TM's got it too) and have to give this big public lecture thing on Tuesday. And classes this week were sort of meh. Nothing traumatic, just dull. It's homecoming week here, though, so that might explain it. Also I'm teaching Twelfth Night again, which I just can't teach in a compelling way, for some reason. Perhaps it's drama in general, with which I have little experience. (And I let myself off the hook for boring comp classes.)

Um...yeah, I think that that about covers it. But lest you think the situation is too dire, I should add that today was a day off (homecoming, again), so last night, after a colleague's talk, TM and I built a fire and watched "Rome" whilst drinking calvados and then fell asleep on the floor with the cats. There are luxuries, now and again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Oh, Midwest!

Field College, in wee Field Town, is, well, in the Fields. We are rural.

I say this up front so that you will better understand this weekend's Big Plans.

First, there is a Quilt Show at the Farm Bureau Administration Building on Friday night and all day Saturday. I will be in attendance, because it's to benefit the non-profit on whose board I sit. I will also very likely be paying for all of the tickets that I was supposed to sell but was too passive/embarrassed to push on people.

Second, TM and I have been invited to have dinner with a few other "young couples" on Saturday and then to join them at the Square Dance Fellowship Event at the church. I have not square danced since elementary school (although I confess that I loved it back then).

And finally, on Sunday afternoon, we will trek out--well, it's not so much of a trek, being less than a mile away--we shall wander out to a local farm for a hayride and "wiener roast" (oh, poor vegetarian me). We're going because we've been curious about this farm, whose owners we know; well, the hayride might be fun, if my allergies subside by then.

So while my mom goes to gallery openings (many of them showing her work) and my brother and sister-in-law perform original songs on avant-garde public-access TV, I get hayrides, square dancing, and quilts.

I like my life. But sometimes it's very hard to recognize.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Week 6

So: I have emailed Journal Editor with a variation on Notorious' message. I am not as blithe as she suggests, but am working up the confidence angle. I'll let you know what happens; it's making me nervous.

In other news, it's Week 6. What is it about Week 6? Either I get cranky or a small but visible portion of my students gets obnoxious. Example 1: In my 10 am class, one student was pretty clearly doing the homework in class, and then handed it right in to me at the end (it was comp; we discuss the homework before the handing-in. I will change this policy as much as I can immediately. Much as I hate walking around and checking off the homework for completion--hello, eighth grade!--I hate being taken for a sucker even more). Example 2: In my 1:00 class, one student told me that another was in the hospital. At 1:50, on my way back to the office, I spotted said student sitting on the floor OUTSIDE MY CLASSROOM waiting for another class to start. I sort of double-taked and vowed to deal with it later, in a stern email. (As I said to TM, "I might be all nice in the classroom, but I am one cold bitch over email!")

So I guess that's only two incidents. There's the sleepiness, of course, and the sauce of a student who casually dropped off his homework in my mailbox a few hours after class ended (Example 3). I shall be discussing this practice with him.

What annoys me is that I try so hard not to police every little stupid thing in my classes. As Dr. Crazy recently argued, such practices can turn into a massive time-suck. (Those were not her exact words, of course, but this is what I recall of her general point, probably mistakenly. I'm tired.) So I got rid of "excused" and "unexcused" absences, and now say that you get three, and after three, no matter what, your grade starts to go down (barring extraordinary circumstances). When you've missed 20% of the class sessions, you fail. So I don't care if Example 2 was skipping class or actually sick; the penalty is the same. But when ze lies to me (and has another student lie to me, too), well, that's kind of disrespectful and insulting, and I feel like I shouldn't let it go. But I don't want to deal with it.

If I only have three Examples (one of whom--Ex. 3--is generally a pretty charming student, otherwise) out of my 60-odd students, I guess I shouldn't complain. But maybe Week 6 is just the point in the semester when these otherwise really little things start to get...just...super annoying.

(On the bright side: My seminar is going pretty well, though only 2/6 are really on board with the blog. Kittenfoot (also known as the Mayor of Kittentown--yes, I am awesome with the cutesy names!) is doing well: she still pees outside the box, for some reason, but otherwise is doing well, eating lots, and racing around the room, and she went to the vet last week. She can't come out of the attic bedroom until she's had her leukemia test on the 13th, though, which means that we have to spend a lot of time in the room with her. That's kind of tiresome and makes me feel guilty for neglecting the other cats! Our Chaplain might consider taking her in, which would be okay with us--as fond as we are of the little stripey-face.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Publication dismay/query

I am disheartened and need advice.

Today I emailed the editors of the two journals in which I have published/had work accepted for publication, verifying that the publication of (different, revised versions of) those articles in the book would be okay. My understanding is that my doing so is largely a courtesy, right? I should note that the book is eight chapters long, so two previously published bits--one of which is only half a chapter--is not excessive.

Haven't heard back from one yet, but I'm not terribly worried about it.

Got an email from the second. This is Big Fancy Journal, and they accepted my article almost two years ago, but it's not in the pipeline yet. Editor writes (very nicely) that ze could push publication ahead so that it'll beat the book, but is there a point? Maybe I should withdraw the article with a note in the book about how it was going to be published in BFJ but would have appeared too close to the book for that to be worthwhile?

I see where ze's coming from, but...I really want to publish in this journal. Of course, it's a nice line on the CV. But more importantly, I think that it will reach a much wider audience--not to mention being available through JStor, Ebsco, etc.--through the journal than through the book.

The article is not identical to the chapter, by the way. It's about half as long and, while the argument is similar, the emphasis is different. It was changed quite a bit from the original chapter in order to stand alone, and then even the original chapter was revised quite a bit for the book. Now, it's not an altogether different thing, and I couldn't make a strong argument that it contributes to the field in a substantially different way. But the journal did commit to publishing the article (right? I think? maybe?), and, well, see the point about being made available to a wider audience, above.

I haven't written back to the editor yet, but I'm wondering: What's the protocol here? Can I (politely, acknowledging that it's ultimately up to the editor) indicate that I'd really prefer to have the article published in BFJ anyway? Or would that be out of line/simply not done? It's a bummer to be sure.... I was pretty psyched about that acceptance (and have been waiting impatiently for publication, too!).

(Kittenfoot is fine. Updates to follow.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Meet Kittenfoot

Yes, I know. The cat-blogging really must stop. But it's like I've opened a valve or something....

Actually, it's just been a really cat-intensive week. Here's what happened.

On Wednesday night, TM was on his way home from a late meeting (he's the faculty rep to the Student Senate, a thankless task if ever there was one). We live across the street from a graveyard, and the easiest way to get to campus is to cut through it. So he was walking home, through the graveyard, when he heard a peculiar chirping noise. And sitting on a tombstone was a tiny little kitten, squawking away.

He approached and she scampered. Of course he followed; she led him to a bush in which she promptly curled up, allowing him to lightly pet her back a little bit.

TM came home and got me, the cat carrier, and a bag of treats, determined to rescue her and take her to the shelter the next day. But the kitty was spooked and led us on a merry chase around the darkening graveyard, squawking all the while. At last we abandoned her and decided to come back the next day, leaving a few treats on her favorite headstone (where TM had first seen her).

Thursday morning, TM left for the office before me. When I was getting ready to go, he called: The kitten was in her bush and he'd been able to pet her. He suggested that I bring treats; she's really thin, he said. "Bring your camera, too," he said. "I think that we could find a home for her if we showed her picture around."

Behold: the kitten in her natural environment.

I gave her a few treats. She was really hungry, and also uncoordinated, so I had to hand her the treats to get them into her mouth. Annnnd of course one fell down and she mistook my finger for a tasty tidbit and bit down. Hard. It bled. Lots.

Now, did you know that cat bites--rabies risk aside--are actually incredibly dangerous? Really. You can get staf infections and need amputations. They are Not Good Things.

I gave her a little more food (just to prove to myself that it was an accident and she wasn't vicious, nor had I personally offended her) and took myself off to campus to clean up and call the doctor's office. And the vet's office. Long story short, I decided to cancel class (reluctantly) and go to the ER: Waiting until an afternoon appointment just didn't seem wise, given the rapidity with which these infections can spread.

They soaked my finger in a solution for 10 minutes and gave me a tetanus shot and five days' worth of antibiotics. I was able to make it to my afternoon office hours, at least.

Meanwhile TM caught the kitten and put her in our attic guest room, where she is now living. She is, quite simply, a delight. Squeaky-voiced, clumsy, frisky, scampery, etc. etc. She likes to sleep on our laps and rub her face against our noses. We're trying to find her a home (ideally we'd like not to be outnumbered by the felines), but as the days pass...well, you know how it goes.

So here is Kittenfoot, in all her bug-eyed glory:

Look how wee she is!

Any takers?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Absorbent Unconscious

Yesterday I did my thing in Brit Lit where I chant the first 18 lines of Chaucer's "General Prologue" at the class and they repeat it back to me, first as a whole body and then in groups (I read line 1; they all repeat line 1; I read line 1; Group 1 repeats line 1; I read line 2; etc.). I kind of like doing this, as silly as I (and they) feel: I always joke that it's my day to pretend that I'm a 19th-century schoolmaster.

So then, at 3:30 this morning, AS HAS BECOME COMPLETELY TYPICAL, Darling Kitty # 1 (aka Priss) awoke me with her plaintive mews.

Unable to get back to sleep, I found my brain dwelling on the line, "The droughte of March hath perced to the roote," perhaps because I spent a while emphasizing that it is toe the rota, not too the roooot. And then I found myself reconstructing more phrases...and more...and it turns out that I have, inadvertently and without even realizing it, memorized those first 18 lines.

It was funny to watch myself reconstruct them, too, because sometimes a word would evade me or I would have to visualize where on the page a certain line is in order to bring it back. But this morning, at breakfast, I was able to recite the whole damn thing from memory to TM over breakfast.

Ah, blessed kitties. Their enragingly ungodly early morning calls serve some purpose after all. Or perhaps she's simply like the birds who maken melodye And slepen all the night with open ye. Hath Nature so perced in hir corages? I had no idea.

(I have another cat story coming--a totally absurd story--that actually involves my canceling class today. But that'll wait. And isn't it remarkable how a single cat photo series has redirected this entire damn blog towards Teh Kittehs?)

Monday, September 14, 2009

In which I become one of those cat-posting bloggers!!!!!

I am posting to post, because I've just sat down at my computer and have nothing to read (get crackin', yo!), and I do not want to get back to work right now. No, I do not. Not that today was particularly hectic or exhausting or anything, although I am exhausted, in part because Darling Kitty no. 1 (let's call her Priss) came a-knockin' at 4:35 this morning and I had a hard time getting back to sleep before the 6:15 alarm. (Luckily, Darling Kitty no. 2--henceforth Pertelote--has the fond habit of mewling loudly at the door for breakfast approximately seven minutes before the alarm goes off, thereby ensuring that we do not oversleep.)

When Priss wants in the bedroom, it is a pathetic thing. Oh, the languishing, pale mews! The tiny paw scratching so softly, oh so softly, against the base of the door! How easy it is to picture her swooning away, her voice so weak from the effects of being left out in the cold, cold (actually rather warm) hallway! Oh! Priss!

Pertelote, on the other hand, bawls insistently, as she is demanding breakfast, not the special bathroom cuddles that Priss favors. Yes, what Priss wants to do is to race you into the bathroom, thrust her head against your foot, and purr like a maniac. Pertelote is all for the cuddling but would really prefer some food, now please damn it (only Pertelote would never say "damn it," for she is the picture of innocence, if it is a peculiar brand of self-absorbed innocence. Truly,Pertelote has no guile).

So, since this has turned into a cat post (the first ever on this blog!), I shall now append some pictures of the cats, which were a part of TM's dowry. First, though, I will have to find batteries for the camera, download the pictures, and shrink them so that they will not take thirty minutes to upload to the blog. Hold on a minute.

Computer crashed. Please continue holding.
We thank you for your patience.

OK. This is a little series that I call "Conquest," in which Priss (the black one) and Pertelote (the tabby) vie for the coveted study window.

Pertelote has taken Priss' favorite spot, but Priss manages to wedge herself into it regardless.

Priss tries for some revenge. This has got to be annoying, she thinks.

Unfortunately, Pertelote's girth overpowers her.

Still, Priss has a few tricks up her sleeve.

The efforts at expansion seem to be working!

--But again, Pertelote proves an unstoppable force, and Priss is wedged into smaller and smaller spaces.

They consider a compromise...

...and an uneasy, probably short-lived peace is achieved.

The End.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A genius confined to an office chair must either die or go mad.*

Some of what I love:
  • Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch
  • Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (love love love)
  • Flaubert, Sentimental Education
  • Maugham, Of Human Bondage
  • Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time
  • Isak Dinesen
  • A.S. Byatt
  • Nabokov
  • Proust
  • Rilke
  • My husband's hazelnut ice cream, just served in a small brown dish.**

You look at my reading list and think that I went into the wrong field.

And yet I'm in the right place. Hi-ho, European Lit Seminar, Spring 2010! Hurrah for Brit Lit/European Generalist jobs! I never thought I'd like you, but I do. (And why am I thinking about next semester's courses now? What possessed me to order my books this afternoon? Lest you think I'm on the ball: I'm not, otherwise.)

These novels, they make me weep. I am in love with them. Deeply. Reading them is like reading back into my younger self, my 20-year-old wild poet self, my self of desires and resistance, my buzz-cut braless barefoot savage self--o God, how am I going to teach these books [some of them; not all: Proust and Mann are too long; Byatt, Maugham, and Eliot too English; I'd have them read Nabokov's Ada but it's too too] if my students fail to love them as deeply as I do?

*The quote's from Lermontov. The sentiment is universal.

**Also married to the right man. Yum.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shake it, baby

A propos of nothing:

Last night I had a dream that TM and I had formed a two-person improv troupe that would go to inner-city schools and perform in order to try to keep kids off drugs and out of jail. We had both done some time and apparently knew what we were talking about.

As a part of this program, I was repainting a gabled attic room with a large, rather ugly purple pine tree motif. While I painted, I practiced freestyle rapping, since that wasn't a skill that I had yet developed particularly well, but that was going to be an important component of our show. I was working on a song about walking around the city and going into different buildings; most of my lines were pretty weak. But I was delighted when I came up with the following little couplet:

You walk into the Y and put on your bathing suit-y;
It was in your backpack, now it's on your booty.

To emphasize the final word, I intended to point at my butt. And I distinctly recall the divine realization that adding a "y" to "suit" opened up startling new rhyming possibilities.

I woke up at about 3:30 this morning with the words still in my head. Of course I had to awaken TM to share them; what if I hadn't been able to remember them later? He would've missed out on so much!

Honestly, though, I'm kind of impressed. Not because this even approximates good hip-hop, but because the lines actually do scan, more or less.

Monday, September 7, 2009

This has nothing to do with anything, but

I just got off the phone with my mother, and it has me feeling very slightly low.

This often happens when I talk to my mom--and my mom, don't get me wrong, is fabulous. Truly. A wonderful, warm, funny, smart woman; a very loving and supportive mother.

But why, why do I pick these stupid fights? Tonight I could see so clearly that it had everything to do with me telling her not to tell me how to live my life. It's such a cliche. I actually raise subjects simply to assert that I'm going to go about X thing my way and she'd better not tell me otherwise. It's ridiculous, especially because she's actually pretty good about not telling me how to live.

She never seems too upset by it, either, and I'm left feeling even more ridiculous.

I know that I have to let go of any fantasy I have about The Perfect Relationship With My Mom (or with anyone, for that matter). But I would also like to simply not do that. Or at least, not do it so often. I think that I can make that happen, most of the time. I think that I'll try, anyway. Because I love my mom, and I don't want to feel sort of baddish about talking to her.

You'd think that you'd outgrow this kind of thing, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


There is the smallest of possibilities...

...that I will be teaching only two classes next semester.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It might be awesome

The subject line refers to the feeling that I have about this semester's advanced seminar. Truly. Rockin'.

I have 5 students (maybe 6, but I'm actually suspecting that the sixth has absconded). I know them all from previous classes, and have a good rapport with four of them; the fifth had some troubles in my class last semester but has been working hard and seems on board now. So that's a good start. One of my absolute favorite things about Field College is these seminars where I already know nearly every single student; it makes such a difference and we tend to have a lot of fun in class. I'm lucky that I get to teach one of those pretty much every semester.

And I am so excited about the topic--so excited that I might sabotage the course, because I keep thinking up new assignments and cool stuff that we could do, and I'm afraid of overloading them. The topic is related to book history but from a literary perspective; today we spent most of the hour looking at various book-like documents and talking about whether we thought they were books or not, and why. (The answers were complex; there was much disagreement.) I have them performing an experiment wherein they need to observe and document how they read one book--in detail--and how the physical form of the book affects their reading. We're going to read a bit of really tough theory, and an Onion article, and some cool pomo novels. And Chaucer. Of course, Chaucer!

And we have a course blog. (See what I mean about overloading?) It will be awesome. I hope.*

Anyway, I'm pretty thrilled about this class, and we didn't even get through half of what I had planned for today. Less prep for Tuesday--I love being behind!

*If you know me and would like to take a look, email me and I'll send you the link. Sorry to be a little exclusive about this; I'm leery of sending it out to people I don't know, partly because it will reveal my Mysterious Identity, but mainly because my students are on there, too (or will be soon).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


1. My office is in a pretty neat historic building.
2. Said building, being historic, has no elevator.
3. Nor has it any plumbing.
4. My office is on the third floor.

5. My body carries its anxiety in the digestive system.
6. Although I did not feel nervous this morning, the first day of classes apparently made me anxious.

No fewer than three dashes from my office, down two flights of stairs, across a green, and into the nearest plumbed building in the seventy minutes before today's first class.

(More than you needed to know, I know. But the mere fact that I'm sharing it with y'all indicates the extremity to which I was pushed this morning.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Semi-Annual Time of the New Leaf

Here we go again, here we go again. Classes start tomorrow.

I'm a little shocked by the extent to which this has failed to sink in--as in, I'm not really prepped for my classes, although the syllabi etc. are printed. (And there's a huge giant error on the 36 comp syllabi: I left in a note to myself and forgot to change a due date, so it no longer makes sense. I shall manually correct these tomorrow. I do not want to ask my students to cross out the note to myself.) But, you know, I'm not too worried. Two years ago I was terrified. Last year I was resigned. This year: Hey! I'm teaching a cool new seminar! Comp sort of maybe makes some sense, and I've already written a lot of the prompts! I've done Brit Lit I twice now, and know it pretty well! No worries!

We also have a new dean who seems pretty awesome so far. I think that that will make a difference in the feel of the year. Our (two-day, mandatory) retreat had a much more optimistic feel to it than last year's; I think that even the skeptics, including many of my dear friends, are convinced that things are looking up. There are a lot of cool new ideas bouncing around; I'm having colleagues do guest lecture-type things in all of my classes; the Honors program that I run might get to do some really exciting new stuff. It looks good.

But the real point is that, again, I have pledged to have a sane year. I've changed my blog sub-heading for the first time since I picked this thing up (and this is post no. 400, by the way): Instead of "do thi werk," a quote from The Cloud of Unknowing that sounds rather resigned (although it's not, really, in the original), I am now committed to Living Well with a 4-4 Load. Damn straight, y'all. I'm gonna own that 4-4.

However: I'm not entirely sure what that involves just yet. Eating well. Exercise. Not completing most of my work in a frenzied chaos of panic. Staying on top of things. Taking time off. And finishing that accursed article.

It's going to be a busy year: on top of the usual, I'm giving a major lecture on campus in mid-October and will soon have the book proofs to deal with. (I am blocking the word "indexing" from my mind until the time actually comes to do it.) The aforementioned exciting new ideas will take a good bit of work if they're to get off the ground, too. But, well. I like my work. Maybe if I can just do my work calmly, the rest will follow.

So, it's a new leaf.

I have a memory of making little boats out of leaves when I was a child, and casting them off into the overfull gutter outside my grandparents' house after a storm. The water glinted in the light and swept down the street swiftly and smooth, like a shining ribbon.

Maybe I'm mixing metaphors for no reason, but off we go: the new leaf is about to set sail.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Well, so, the wedding

--was lovely. Truly. Just what we'd hoped for. After a week of anxiety and tension headaches and a variety of things that almost went wrong the day of, including:
  • major water-line construction right in front of the church;
  • the discovery that, when you enter the church's address into a GPS, it takes you to a town fifteen minutes away; and
  • the next-door neighbor's announcement that he had an excavator coming to level his backyard exactly during the time that our backyard reception was going to take place.
But: the construction was done by four o'clock (our wedding time), we called everyone who might have had a GPS and they all showed up on time, and the neighbor agreed to reschedule his construction.

The ceremony itself was lovely. I enjoyed it even more than I'd expected; I think that I'd imagined feeling embarrassed and a little uncomfortable, up there in the front of the church, but instead I was just happy. Our friend--who is also an Episcopal priest (but mostly a professor) (this is what you get when you marry a minister, by the way)--performed the wedding itself and did a magnificent job, despite its being her first wedding. It was very hot in the church--no air conditioning--and I could feel the sweat running down my arms and legs; woe betide the men in suits, for I was this warm in only a light cotton dress! But despite the heat, I felt wonderful: strong and confident and beautiful, not at all how I thought that I would feel, as goofily self-conscious as I usually am. Maybe having my sister-in-law and her sister gush over how BEAUtiful! GORgeous! I was for an hour before the ceremony had a salutary effect. TM had tears in his eyes. It was, all told, even more moving and joyous than I had anticipated.

(I was also very pleased with my last-minute bouquet decision: I had bought some gerbera daisies and a few regular, white daisies at the grocery store that morning, and my stepmother wrapped them together with a bit of raffia and purple ribbon. The bright simple colors of the gerberas against my white dress (cotton, as I've said--it was a sundress from J. Crew) looked really nice. I'd also picked out a yellow daisy for TM's boutonniere and wore (fake) yellow and white flowers on a barrette in my hair. In the few pictures that I've seen so far, it was visually all very clean and cheerful.)

The reception was in my mother's backyard, and we (along with my family, who were enormously helpful) worked all week to get it ready. My brother was the sound and lighting guy; he actually gave us, as a wedding gift, this gorgeous stereo, which he made himself:

He taught himself electronics, a fact that continues to astound me.

The yard itself was very cute, with lots of flowers, white helium balloons, odd sculptural things (my mom's an artist), and prayer flags:



We'd had a big pizza dinner the night before, which most of our guests had attended; this took a little of the talk-to-everyone pressure off of the reception itself. Still, my one (inevitable!) regret was that I didn't get a chance to spend as much time with ANYone as I would have liked. Oh well! Now my desires for various trips to visit friends and family is only renewed.

Enough dilly-dallying for the morning: Classes start Wednesday. Am I ready? No! So I will leave you with one picture that will disappear in short order (but it's one of my favorites, so far--we've only seen the pictures that my parents took):


Friday, August 21, 2009

Married Life

I now own a lawnmower.

(Electric, in case you're interested.)

Monday, August 10, 2009


Off to get wedded. See y'all on the flipside.

(Tuesday-ish, that is. Just one day before the faculty retreat! Do I know how to do honeymoons, or what?)

(Of course, I may need a therapeutic blog-sesh sometime before the "Big Day" (how I hate that phrase), so this is not set in stone.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Therapeutic Effects of a Blogging Community

Thank you, everyone, for your comments on the last post or two. I am heeding your advice and entirely ignoring the very semi-existence of that accursed article.

And hey! It's quite pleasant. I'm doing the housework and wedding prep that needs to be done, and the rest of the time, I'm doing...whatever I want.

What a funny sort of life this is.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Laziest Scholar Struggles with an Article

Maude has asked for tales from France, but I'll put those off for a bit, because I feel that I should at least gesture towards some sort of scholarly content on this here blog. I know. Blog as source of guilt? Wacky, huh?

Anyway, here's the problem with this article. Or the two problems, more precisely.

1) I quite simply do not feel motivated to work right now, and frankly I think that, despite my extreme non-workiness over the last week, that this laziness is somewhat justified. I do have a book contract, after all. Have I mentioned recently that I'm the first person at Field to have such a contract in, oh, forty years or more? No? Well, here I go, mentioning it!

1b) Oh, and I am GETTING MARRIED in nine days. Shouldn't I be doing something about that?

2) While I think that I do have some interesting ideas that I'd like to develop in this article, I started it a really long time ago. Thirteen months ago, in fact. So I have this draft, which I think sort of sucks, and some interesting ideas, and I am not the sort of scholar who decides to rewrite things, so I'm stuck with attempting to revise in my new, interesting ideas. During the course of "revising in" I typically wind up rewriting, but I don't like to think of it in those terms. So I have this 33-page lump of text into which I occasionally inject a couple of sentences before shutting my laptop in despair.

Allow me to walk you through the genesis of this "article."
  • In working on my dissertation, I read a bunch of visionary texts and lives of medieval visionary women. I come across this one, about whom not too much has been written, and, while the narrative in itself didn't captivate me, there was an interesting paragraph in the prologue where the biographer essentially tells his readers that they'd be crazy not to trust him. This paragraph winds up in my last chapter as an example of a phenomenon. It is not discussed at length.
  • This chapter, because it's about Chaucer, becomes the basis for a conference paper and a couple of job talks. Interesting Paragraph is mentioned in all of these later incarnations.
  • I see an interesting conference CFP (Hi, MW!) and think, Hey, I could write a paper for that, and use IP as an example there, too! In the course of writing the paper, I re-read the Vita in question, and ultimately it becomes the focus of Conference Paper 1: the phenomenon occurring in Interesting Paragraph occurs elsewhere in the text, too, and I'm interested in that.
  • Months and months go by. Last summer I decide to write an article based on CP1. I read the Vita for the third time. Phenomenon might be part of a larger technique for structuring how the audience reads the text. An article (which I actually think is okay at the time) gets drafted.
  • Then I get readers' reports on my book MS (in September), and the article languishes. In the meantime, however, I submit a proposal for a Leeds paper on the Vita and a much more famous quasi-saint's life.
  • Months and months go by.
  • In June, I finally write the Leeds paper. I am ashamed to admit that I do not read the Vita for a fourth time. The paper is largely drawn from the slovenly article draft (I no longer find it to be quite so okay), although I manage to refine and develop a few ideas somewhat in the process of writing it up.
  • On the plane from Paris to Leeds, I decide that I really ought to reread the Vita in case I get any questions or anything. (I don't. Get questions, that is. Or at least, no questions that require an in-depth knowledge of the text.)
  • Obviously I do not finish the Vita before my paper. I wind up reading it (fourth time!) in France and when I get back. I finished it over the weekend.
  • This time, I see LOADS of interesting things. All kinds of stuff about reason and unreason, inner and outer experience, harmony and conflict between body and soul. Fascinating asides. I start thinking that I could, like, theorize something here about subjectivity and the divine. Fantastic!
  • I start revising. I write about two sentences. I read blogs.
  • I start revising the next day. Work well for about an hour. Am confronted with hideous block of text.
  • Open document the next day. Hideous block of text remains intact.
  • Repeat yesterday.
  • And today.
  • Yuck.
  • Can I just work on syllabi, or something?
And, you know, I really don't want to read this Vita again. I mean, it has interesting stuff in it. But, like all Vitae--and these seem to be my main focus of scholarly interest from now until forever--it is frankly rather dull. At least, I think so. I find them simultaneously fascinating (conceptually) and deadly (in the details of the reading). Does this make me a bad medievalist? Or is it a sign of Scholarly Character that I only work on books that I don't actually enjoy reading? (I do enjoy thinking about them, however. I'm not so dreary as all that.)

I did fall in love with a visionary Vita-type text, once. Book 2 of Gertrude of Helfta's Legatus Memorialis Abundantiae Divinae Pietatis. But I was a green young prospectus-writer back then.

On the plus side, I took really good notes this time around (insofar as I ever take "really good notes")--so maybe I won't have to slog through the whole thing again anytime soon. Maybe?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Owoo pity me.

You want to know about the best thing that I brought from France? Seven bottles of wine and calvados, neatly packed into a small, foam-lined suitcase. TM brought another seven or so himself. We are set for a while with the nice wine.

The worst thing I brought back? Two GIGANTIC RED EYEBALLS.

I am having a bout of conjunctivitis. I think that it started about two weeks ago; I stopped wearing contacts, and it seemed to be going away. Wore the contacts yesterday for a yoga class, and whooo--GIGANTIC RED EYEBALLS. Way worse than they were before. Obviously the contacts had become contaminated, and I re-infected myself.

I did go to the doctor this morning, and I do have medicine. But the medicine hurrrrts me. And my eyes hurrrt now, worse than before, what with all the Slaughter of the Bacteria that's going on on their surfaces. And I think my pupils are dilated or something because I'm not caring for bright lights, much.

Owoooooooooo ow. I know, a minor thing, really. And it should be all cleared up in a couple of days. But until then, I intend to exploit fully this excuse not to do anything too visually taxing. (And my glasses are driving me nuts because the screws really need to be tightened--they keep falling off my face. My problems are HUGE.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Whither Incentive?

School starts three weeks from tomorrow. A week from today, I fly back East for my wedding. So time is, as they say, of the essence.

And yet it is unspeakably hard to finish this damn article that I drafted last summer (and which remains an ungodly mess), or to polish up the details of my syllabi, or to finalize readings for my classes, or really to do any damn thing at all. Uck. How're y'all doing?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Je suis de retour

Once again, I find myself overwhelmed and paralyzed by the wealth of things that I ought to be blogging about. So, once again, I will simply jump in and write something, as disappointing as that something will doubtless be, and probably forego lengthy narratives about my trip (which would be uninteresting to all but a polite few, I'm sure).

I did, however, promise pictures. So here are three more:

That's me and TM (faces blurred) on a tandem bike near Villerville, in Normandy, atop a preposterously long hill. The bike riding was fun. However! I am a fairly established bikerider--or I was, having completed an AIDS ride in 1999, at which point centuries were a more or less weekend occurrence--and thus reasonably hardened to bicycle seat discomfort. The seat of this bike seemed pretty cushy: broad and modestly padded. But by the end of the day (we probably rode 25 miles, maximum; it was slow and heavy going), I felt that what a yoga teacher might call my sit-bones were being ground to a fine powder by means of rotation upon a granite slab. It hurt to sit down for the next two days. TM experienced discomfort, as well, but described his as more of an "impaling" sensation. We were delighted to return the bike at the end of the day.

But don't we look smart in our hats?

And here is the bizarre new branding that I discovered in Honfleur:

Hildegard has gone into business; apparently the abbess/visionary/renowned advisor thing just wasn't sufficiently lucrative. But hey, at least her remedies are organic.

This is TM admiring some curvaceous half-timbering in Honfleur:

Don't you like his hat? Unfortunately it was left behind in Paris. But since it was primarily suited to the resort-towns of Normandy--being all Proustian and all--perhaps that's for the best.

School starts soon, so substantive blogging may resume at some point. (Though there is that pesky wedding thing coming up in two weeks....)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Leeds vs. Kalamzoo: The Death Match

(That title really is too cheesy, I know. Apologies.)

Apologies, too, for the long gap--but seriously, France? Get some frakikn wifi already. What the hell? The like THREE places in all of France that claim to have wifi actually don't. In two of them, the owners (of the cafe or in one case a wine shop--why a wine shop advertizes free wifi is a cultural difference that I will not dare to explore) actually lent me their laptops. This was very nice of them, but certainly made me email in haste rather than blog at leisure.

So I'm at Leeds, and, as I don't have the proper outlet adaptor, will not be able to spend extensive time online for the next couple of days. Rather than regale you with hilarious pictures from the first week and a half of my trip (I promise the following: Me and TM on a tandem bicycle, wearing preposterous hats; a re-enactment of Marie de France's "Les Deuz Amans"; and Hildegard of Bingen's line of homeopathic remedies--they're organic!), I shall instead provide an itemized comparison of the most essential elements of the two major medieval congresses.

(Bear in mind that I have attended one Leeds panel so far--I arrived this afternoon.)

Dorms: Despite the shared bathrooms, Leeds wins. Vastly more comfortable beds (and it was made when I arrived! No monastic brown coverlet!); only one bed per room; non-cinder block walls; and a quaint little sink in the corner. I am also conveniently located near the hilariously titled "Female Toilet," so things are good.

Wine hours: Again, this goes to Leeds. Red and white wine! In glasses! Not swill! Generously poured! Hurrah!

Dining halls: Can't make an educated guess. I've only eaten in the Kalamazoo dining hall once or twice, and that was in 2003, so it wouldn't be fair to say. Leeds' food isn't bad so far, though.

Book exhibit: Here's where Kalamazoo scores some points--it's much bigger--although the more European orientation of the Leeds exhibit at least ensures that there's not too much overlap between the two. But as I'm saving suitcase space for wine and calvados, I won't be buying many books, anyway. (Still, it's fun to look.)

Conveniently, the two people whom I know at this conference also know each other. I had no idea. How nice! Just had a lovely dining hall dinner and a drink at the dorm bar (score another point for Leeds!) with both of them.

Paper is in the morning. I've convinced myself that it's better than I thought it was. We'll see--no one reads my main subject, so I anticipate roundabout questions.