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.