Sunday, April 26, 2009

This, That, Other

Today felt like summer. This is dangerous, but not too dangerous: three days of school to go, and I actually don't have much school-related work to do at the moment. I will soon, of course (I get papers and/or exams on: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Monday (x2)), but there's a bit of a lull here, when the grading hasn't started to roll in and the actual teaching portion of my year is pretty much over.

I gave my Presentation yesterday, and it was okay. Seven people were in attendance, including The Minister--about what I expected, actually. Approximately 8 minutes before I began, a student was sent in to tell me that the luncheon started at a quarter to twelve and could I cut my presentation 20 minutes short? Would that mean I'd have to skip a lot? Um, yeah, like half the presentation. So I told my little audience that they could leave early if they had to get to lunch, and I cut a few things out (weaker portions of the presentation, anyway) and wrapped it up about 10 minutes early. It wasn't painful. I did feel that I was babbling, as I so often do when I straight-up lecture, but it's over, and it was fine.

Now I just have that Kalamazoo paper. It's drafted, but I'm not at all happy with the last 1/3. In rereading part of Huge Middle English Dream Poem (HMEDP) last week, I think that I figured out an angle to help make that portion of the paper more compelling and to deepen the argument. Now I just need to do it (and read around to see whether other people could help me out here, and possibly read a little bit more of HMEDP).

What else? Well, we're supposed to be planning a wedding, so I guess I've got that going on. So far we're keeping it on the cheap, for reals, even though it looks like the guest list will be longer than originally anticipated. I bought a J. Crew dress for $78 and got some cool Fluevogs on enormous sale, although I'm considering wearing some $2.50 thrift store shoes instead (they're white strappy little sandals with low heels; the advantage over the Fluevogs is that they'd be a lot less hot, since the Fs are closed-toe) (also, the Fs have 3" heels, and I never wear heels, so this is scaring me kind of a lot). We've got a church and the reception will be in my mom's backyard. The officiant and the photographer are our friends; Mom (an artist) is designing the invitations; music will be a combination of ipod and family members, using my brother's homemade amps and speaker system. There's a restaurant near Mom's that does pretty chichi organical American fare; while the restaurant itself is a little pricey, their DIY catering is way cheap--as in, we could easily get a substantial and interesting meal for like under $8 a person.

All this cheapness is good, because of course we have to move soon--sadly, my delightful little cottage is waaaay too small for two people and two cats, especially when one of those people likes a good kitchen and both of those people own, you know, clothes--and the rental properties around here are few and far between. Not eager to buy, we're currently working on convincing a seller to rent her place to us for a while. Hopefully that'll work out; the house is a good size for us, although it is on a busy road (but across from a cemetary, so maybe that will even things out).

In other news, I went "running" on Friday and today. I use "running" loosely because I am so not a runner; I swim and do yoga, but the pool had been closed for repairs since February, and my home yoga practice, while usually regular (I fell apart a bit this month) and very good at keeping me in touch with my body, or something, doesn't give me much in the way of a cardio work-out. I also don't like seeing yoga as primarily a fitness activity, so I think that I need something else. So I've tried jogging (more appropriate than "running") for ten minutes at a time; since I don't have a watch, I carry my cell phone--with the alarm set for ten minutes and on vibrate--in my sports bra. It works pretty well, although the phone gets a little gross. But then, I'm apparently a person who buys sandals at thrift stores, so what the hell.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Railing, gnashing, anguish

I can't do it. I can't.

Yes, I'm being melodramatic. There have been (my favorite word:) histrionics (just a little). But oh, do you ever come to a point where you look at the papers sitting in a shiny tidy pile and think, I can't? I mean, you can't even imagine yourself grading them. It's like back in the early '00s when I was in a bad relationship, living with the guy, and I tried to imagine my future with him (marriage, kids) and I couldn't see myself; I saw some other person who was only kind of like me. That's when I knew we had to break up. It's like that. I need to break up with my papers.

I've read a few, and readers, they are not good. No! What happened? Their mid-term papers were better than this. I don't understand. It's clear that many of these students (in the survey) have no idea what a literature paper looks like. And part of that is my fault--if I have a smaller section next year, I'll build in some more writing instruction--but not all of it. They should be able to write more than six pages without packing in the blatant fluff.

And as I said, their mid-terms were better. In fairness, maybe they looked at their blank computer screens, and thought, like me, I can't.

So we're all caught in this sinister merry-go-round of impossible, reluctant activity breeding more impossible, reluctant activity. I will hand back the papers--eventually--ideally before the final exam--and they will look at the first pages, and contemplate turning to the back to see their grades, and think, I can't.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Two Conclusions

I mentioned yesterday that I'm working on My First Powerpoint.

Well! Having spent several hours today putting together twelve slides, I conclude the following:

1. Powerpoint is awesome.

2. Powerpoint is a phenomenal time-suck.

Irreconcilable? Perhaps. Nonetheless, true. I feel so accomplished today, having put together my twelve slides! And now [the first half of] my talk feels so organized! With pictures! Pretty!

Pray for me, though, people: pray that I do not become That Person who reads from the slides and doesn't seem to remember why she dropped in the materials she did. Pray hard. I'm in danger.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Some weekends are just like that, I guess

Really, not productive. So not. At all.

I've read for Survey this week, which means that I've technically finished my class reading for the semester. I do have some optional/recommended stuff to get through (i.e. finishing a novel of which I've only assigned a part, in case the students read all the way to the end, as I know some already have--not a problem, really, since I love this novel), but that's it. And after this week, the teaching itself is minimal: We're watching "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" for my Arthurian seminar next week; there will be exam review and exam in Survey; and "wrapping up" and/or conferences in Comp. So yeah, it's just about done.

Grading, clearly, Is Not Happening this weekend. Feh.

But I have this accursed Presentation. It's for a weekend event at the college, so it's not for students or faculty, and it's on sustainability--a subject in which I am interested enough to agree to do the talk, but on which I am not at all an expert. I'm not sure why my name was suggested to the organizer, but whatever. So I have to give a 45-minute talk, and I'm putting together My First Powerpoint, and I can't wait for this sucker to be behind me. I currently have a fairly long and irritating outline (I don't know why it's so irritating to me, but it is); a couple of books are stacked up on my desk waiting to be incorporated--honestly, I am probably close to finished with this thing, but I am actively avoiding it.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it feels intellectually dishonest, somehow. I'm not putting much work into learning about the subject--I have a general knowledge and I've read some books, so I'm not totally faking it, but neither am I being particularly scholarly. Yesterday I flipped through a book I've read before just looking for interesting facts to drop in. Yeah, I know--it's like the worst undergrad research paper techniques all arising from me at once. I do a Google search and don't even go beyond the first page of results. That kind of thing. Yech. I feel icky.

So, yeah, it'll be adequate, but weak. It's not supposed to be High Scholarly, or anything; this is not an academic audience. (And to be honest I have yet to see anything that is High Scholarly at Field. We do not have specialized lectures hereabouts. Sometimes this makes me sad. And when I actually do some scholarly work of my own--real work, not this lackadaisical halfassery--I realize that I miss using my brain in that particular way, and wonder how long it'll be before I've lost my research chops altogether.)

This post wasn't supposed to turn maudlin or self-pitying. Mostly I wanted to say that I've been a lazy so-and-so for two days, and this week'll consequently be a little stressful, but since it's the last really stressful week for a while (I'm deliberately blinding myself to the busy-ness of the grading-+-Kzoo-preparation period), I'm finding it difficult to alarm myself into activity.

With 8 teaching days left to go

It's a warm and rainy day; the birds sound tropical. If the trees were actually green, it would feel like proper spring--but there is green on the grass and in the bushes, and that's a start.

Instead of grading, or working on my preposterous non-relevant presentation or my conference paper, or even reading for class, I would like to scratch the belly of a slow loris. The Minister thinks that she looks like Studs Terkel:

Such cuteness being out of reach, however, I shall pull up an easy chair by the open front door, wrap myself more securely in my bathrobe, and start reading.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

So *that's* why so few girls are willing to stand under me.

Ten facts about Heu Mihi.
  1. On average, women blink nearly twice as much as heu mihi.
  2. Heu mihi can drink over 25 gallons of water at a time.
  3. During World War II, Americans tried to train heu mihi to drop bombs.
  4. Heu mihi is the smallest of Jupiter's many moons.
  5. Heu mihi will always turn right when leaving a cave.
  6. By tradition, a girl standing under heu mihi cannot refuse to be kissed by anyone who claims the privilege.
  7. The pharoahs of ancient Egypt wore garments made with thin threads of beaten heu mihi.
  8. It is bad luck to light three cigarettes with the same heu mihi.
  9. Heu mihi has often been found swimming miles from shore in the Indian Ocean.
  10. If the Sun were the size of a beach ball then Jupiter would be the size of a golf ball and heu mihi would be as small as a pea.
Perhaps the best meme ever. I found it chez squadratomagico; you may generate one for yourself right here.

And now, I'm off to the Indian Ocean, where I go to avoid the ancient Egyptian weavers.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brave New Blogworld

Yesterday I was in a coffee shop in Nominally Ordinary City, about 30 minutes East of here. There was a guy sitting at the table in front of me--blond, early 20s-ish, sort of a lite hippie vibe--working on a computer. His back was to me, so I could see his screen; he was working on a paper of some kind. Grad student, most likely (there was a big university nearby).

Then he switches over to the web and I glance up and see that he's on Blogger, editing a post. Hm, I think. I can't make out most of the text on the screen but I manage to get the last two words of his blog title. A little googling--the two words + "blogger"--leads me to a site that has to be his: same number of words in the title, tiny picture of a blond hippie-lite guy in the profile. And so there I am, reading the poem and little reflective essay that this perfect stranger has just posted to his blog.

The poem seems fine--"edgy," you might say--and the reflections smart, engaging a critical dialogue with which I'm not really familiar. (Grad student, I'm pretty sure, now.) I follow a link to the essay he's responding to, but lose interest before I actually read it. Back to work for me.

Was I being invasive? I mean, maybe, although I don't know this guy or anything about him really, and the blog is public and all. Riding subways in various cities I have sometimes imagined that I was a spy, trying to memorize names and phone numbers on slips of papers sticking out of backpacks and brief cases, figuring out as much as I could about the people around me before my stop. We let a lot show, a lot of the time. It is not at all inconceivable that someone in a coffeeshop somewhere has seen me writing and looked up my blog, reveling a little in her secret knowledge of me before clicking away, and getting back to work.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Back in the saddle

Long weekend here--one of the perks of a Christian college, or at any rate this particular Christian college, is getting Good Friday and Easter Monday off. (Is Easter Monday a holiday? I doubt it. I think it's more like traveling-home-from-Easter-dinner Monday. Hey, it's a day off. I do not understand those people--faculty!--who kvetch about odd holidays, like Homecoming. People, I ask. Do you not want to sleep in??) I have a lot to do, and today, Friday, I feel up for it.

(This is my thing--I'm always at my most motivated on the first day or two of a break, because I can imagine how wonderful it will be to get a whole lot done early on and to spend the rest of the weekend reflecting comfortably on how productive I am. Last night I had a dream about going to Chicago with a high school friend and coming back really late on Saturday night; at one point I realized that we wouldn't get home until like 4 am on Sunday, and I have dinner plans for Sunday evening, and so I had lost nearly the whole long weekend! It was almost over! Only a day and a half left, and I hadn't done my grading! It was a dreadful dream.)

First off--well, not really first, but like third off--are the conference paper and upcoming presentation. These must be worked on this weekend,* although, knowing me, I must first do some other, miscellaneous things and thus get a good jump on the to-do list. Luckily, Sisyphus has come through with a helpful challenge. What she's calling The Magical Month of Academic Publishing Challenge 2009, I for my purposes will call The Magical Miscellaneous Writing Project Period of Time 2009, as what I need to write is a long way from publication efforts. Huzzah! Despite the name change, I'll follow Sis's rules: From April 10-May 10 (or actually May...7, because that's the day I leave for Kalamazoo, I think), I will write for 15+ minutes a day. And given that I've done approximately 2 hours of scholarly work this semester, that will be a big improvement.

Other items on the docket, because who doesn't love someone else's to-do list?:
  • grade intros for comp
  • finish seminar reading for the semester (two weeks' worth of stuff--but it's a totally enjoyable book, so this is no punishment)
  • read brand new stuff I've never read before for survey
  • read chapter on arguments of fact (??) for comp
  • do some prep, blah blah blah
  • evaluate recent seminar presentations and email evaluations to students
  • make yogurt and granola, as usual
  • grocery shop
  • make a side dish for Sunday dinner at friends' house (obviously not today)
  • buy socks and other oddments
  • go to a yoga class--maybe even two!
  • vacuum the damn house
  • pull dead leaves off of plants
  • don't I need to write a prompt, or something?
  • catch up on email.
That's actually not too bad. Am I forgetting anything? Maybe I will have time to work on those papers....

*Note passive voice: Who will be doing the working? I just don't know!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Now is the time on Sprockets when we PHONE IT IN.

Week 12, mes anges.* Thanks to the upcoming four-day Easter weekend, I have only fourteen more teaching days. Only fourteen--and yet fourteen seems so long, when all the resources have been so thoroughly depleted by what is effectively 7.5 months of five-day-a-week teaching (there was a month off for winter break, yes, but when one considers the whirlwind of anxiety that was/is winter break--a week spent grading; then traveling for the holidays, and anxious fuming over interview notes whilst the family drinks eggnog (and yes, a few restful days in there, I admit); then the cross-country swing for the stressfest of MLA, leaving a week to prep three new courses--well, the end of the spring semester is decidedly more exhausted than the fall).

So what does this mean? Well, for one, it means that I'm stupid. Really. Can't hold a thought. Before class today I had two lovely revelations that I intended to impart in our 75-minute discussion. Easily, I thought, could I draw out the conversation; this was such a rich film, there was so much, my goodness, I'm a smarty. And then what happens? Within five minutes, people, all my brilliance has been scooped by a student--a student who normally sits so quietly, good lord, I didn't know she had it in her. Five minutes! So I'm thinking, fuck, 70 to go, and here I am with one page of notes for God-knows-what-reason (I normally shoot for six, based on a calculation made in like my first week of teaching ever, four years ago. Unexamined assumptions, I heart thee). Managed to get through the class by belaboring issues and asking lots of obscure, needlessly complicated questions that required extensive explanation on my part. Hurrah.

Comp this week: peer workshops yesterday, conferences tomorrow. (Fifteen of them (with a few more on Thursday); God help me.) No class Friday or Monday (Easter weekend!). With permission, stole in an in-class exercise from a colleague for next Wednesday. Can we spend two days the following week doing presentations of research projects? Why not? Why not make it three days, after all? Comp: Done.

Survey? Well, I've fallen back on notes from last year, which I don't much like doing (they're not fresh and just seem so....lame), but So It Goes. After fifteen conferences, I am not going to feel like coming up with a whole new slate of topics over lunch. And prepping tonight = unlikely.

Oh, and then Thursday! Back to the seminar, where I for some reason budgeted two days to talk about the movie that we more or less exhausted in five minutes. After mucking wearily about on the internet in search of some short text or film clip or something (I say to my students at the end of class, "On Thursday, we'll do something else!", and, when pressed, act like it's just a big mystery--little do they know (I hope) that a mystery it is, and to me), I decide that we can talk about the final paper--for I was asked about that today, and goodness, I haven't given it a thought. Some brainstorming, in-class writings, group discussion, blah blah blah. It's all pedagogically sound and more useful than Random Reading No. 5, but I do feel like a cheat when I use strategies like that--especially when I'm so conscious of having lost all track of what the hell I'm doing when I get up in front of a room.

Yeah. I am way tired. Sixteen weeks is a long ass semester. And I've got my dear mother, who is being incredibly helpful with wedding stuff, sending me six panicked emails a day about how we absolutely cannot serve food for under $35 a person, and do I have a musician scheduled yet? And don't get me started on Kalamazoo paper (I just noticed that the draft I'd started in no way conforms to the session topic) or the presentation on a topic that has no bearing on anything I've ever worked on that I agreed to give on Alumni Weekend. Sigh. Or, as I should say, soupire.

*I'm using French because today I successfully arranged for a room for a week in Normandy, over the phone. Victoire!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I kill them with kindness, or, my apology to the rest of the feminists

I just met with a student who's been semi-blowing off my survey this semester. I'd found out that ze's a major and will be enrolling in my upper-level seminar in the fall, so I decided that it was necessary to give hir the ol' beat down. For me, however, the "beat down" consists of lots of gentle reminders that ze can come to me if ze is having problems, that I'd much prefer to work with hir than to simply hand out zeros, that ze clearly has some great things to contribute (which ze does, more or less) and that I would love to hear from hir more.

I was so gentle--which was not my original intention, but I knew immediately that it was how this thing was going to play out. And even then, the tears welled up--several times!--and so I would start asking about what other classes ze was taking, and so forth. When really, I was within my rights to be harsh and stern. What's wrong with me? Or does this work? I hope that it works. I really do. And it seems to have worked, sometimes, in the past: the student realizes that I see hir, that I'm aware, that ze hasn't been working hard enough, and usually improves. Or doesn't, in which case ze's lost my attention.

But then, I'm worried about that damn nurturing stereotype (and I'm not a maternal-looking person, but I'm so exceedingly nice), and it makes me want to apologize to the rest of y'all.

Late for a faculty meeting that promises to be full of rage. Catch you on the flipside.