Sunday, September 26, 2010

Briefly, I am not behind

Dulles airport shuttle

It's funny how a week's worth of canceled classes can give you just a little edge. But only a little edge. I'm prepping for Tuesday morning's class right now, and that's as far ahead as I expect to get.

Of course, I'm punishing myself (and my students) for my conference by having assignments due in every one of my classes. Yep, I'll be collecting upwards of 100 papers and other miscellaneous thingamabobs over the next two days. This now seems like an appallingly terrible idea. What was I thinking?

But the conference was good. Coming home was good. The house inspector's report was good. Life, in general, is good. Mmmm.

--I am in fact terrifically excited about moving to our new house, even though that won't happen for at least two months. It is so cute! A little 1300-square-foot bungalow built around 1900, with a front porch and a back deck and a separate garage. Hardwood floors in every room (except for the finished basement room, but I can live with that). A working fireplace. Built-ins in the living room and the hall. A breakfast nook (tentatively renamed the Annex) with skylights. A retractable clothesline! Oh wonders. And it's a--yes, I timed it--2.5-minute walk to the office. Hurrah! And it'll be quiet, unlike our current Main Street address!

What's nice is that every time we tell a Field Townian which house it is that we bought, he or she says, "Oh, that one? The one on the corner, with the porch? That's such a cute house!" A few of them even remarked that, when they saw that it was for sale, they were tempted to take a look. It's all very affirming.

What's funny about Field Town is that it's--well, it's a small town. I guess this isn't funny if you're used to it. But to us East Coastal urbanites, it's quite strange how every single person volunteers some history of the house. "The college librarian lived there in the 90s." "That house held a grocery store when I was a little girl" (this from one of the oldest people we know here). "Didn't so-and-so do some work on that place a while back?" "You mean the old Whosits' place, right?"

It's all very charming. And exciting. And kind of scary, for this means that, lo, we're committing--to some extent--to Field Town and Field College. Yikes.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Where's Heu?

Tucked away in a remote corner of Europe, in an austere but comfortable hotel room. Knitting.

Conference is going well. Paper went well. I actually got questions and discussion, which doesn't usually seem to happen for me; people even came up to me afterwards with further questions and comments. But the mark of true success? When a fancy person had a question, and I answered it, but sensed that he wasn't convinced--so, at the coffee hour, I went up to him (a first for me--success 1) and started talking. I think he's still not convinced, but I am perfectly fine with that (confidence, of a sort--success 2), and we had a perfectly lovely conversation about this and that (comfortable collegiality with a person who just might intimidate me--success 3). I'm pleased.

And tired. I've convinced myself that I'm not jetlagged, but that's probably false. Off I go to bed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Whiny whiny whine whine

Denver airport.

I know that I can't complain too much of fatigue, not having twin babies or anything, but dude, I am tired, for reals.

This semester is unusually...involved. That fifth class, despite being only one credit-hour, is awfully time-consuming. Plus I've made all my courses really complicated (response papers! daily quizzes! words/concepts of the day! collecting homework! blah blah blah!), so there's a lot of paper shifting in and out of my hands on a regular basis. Plus we have a record number of Honors students, which means a record number of individual appointments and advisee management and whatnot.

And there's, you know, this unexpected house thing, which it turns out will take some time. We don't close until November, but early Thursday morning we need to meet with the banker to get our loan approved, and then there's the inspection, etc. So, you know. Tired.

And I'm leaving for Scandinavia on Friday, so there's that.

Anyway, I don't really have much to write about here--well, I do, about a minor course-related puzzle, but I'm too tired to do it and it's hardly urgent. So this post is primarily intended to provide an excuse for the carpet picture above. Enjoy the little rectangles of colorful wonderment!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Nothing in my life is realistic

Country club in Doylestown, PA.

Last Friday, my book came out.

On Saturday, we square danced all over our colleague's deck. (It was a blast.) Then we drank Tennessee moonshine and swam in her lap pool till late.

This Friday, I fly to a remote Scandinavian country for a conference. I'll be gone for a week.

And today? Today we apparently bought a house. Or at least had an offer for a house accepted.

It was a bit of a lark, in fact, to look at the house on Saturday morning. The realtor told us that an offer had already been made. We liked the house--a lot--and it was priced really well (details in a later post; we've got time, here). So we made an offer on Sunday night. And today, it was accepted.

This is all quite strange. What's going on?

On the other hand, all of this stuff is really really good.


Readers of Maude:

Her new blog can be found here.


(Posted by request of Dr. Maude.)

Friday, September 10, 2010


Las Vegas airport (5).

I held my very own, first published book in my hands.

I smelled it.

And it was good.

(And I think that I'm now done with the Vegas pictures, which is also good.)

(OH! And as we speak, TM is being addressed by two young missionaries out in the driveway. Hee hee! I shall hide indoors, watch through the window with the cat, and anticipate his account of it. A good day all around.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How Times Change

Las Vegas airport (4).

Tomorrow night my husband and I will be dining at our minister's home.

No part of that sentence would have made sense three years ago.

I do sometimes enjoy imagining what my fourteen-year-old self would make of my current life--and have imagined this since I was eighteen or so, so that younger me has had a lot of shocks over the years. Now, of course, I have dozens of younger selves onto which I could project an impression of my present life, but for some reason fourteen remains the magic number. It probably has something to do with puberty, no? That terribly awkward switch between childhood and existing as some new kind of creature, a "woman"?

Oh, them were tricky years, them were.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When you don't really see your students

Las Vegas airport (3)

You know how, sometimes, you're looking at a student in class and listening to what she's saying, and then you realize that you're not really listening at all? And yet you're doing all the nodding and eye-widening and everything else that goes into managing a class discussion?

And you know how, sometimes, your eyes cease to focus at all? Sometimes you can't even make your eyes focus, which is a little troubling--with the result that you start thinking more about how there should really only be one Cody instead of three than about what Cody is actually saying.

(No offense to Cody. I find that this is more typically the result of fatigue than it is the result of anything that Cody may be saying.)

Well, I can do you one better.

Last year, I had a student in Comp named (for the sake of argument) Susan. Susan was a hard-working but fundamentally unprepared young woman who struggled quite a bit with the basics of writing--her papers had a lot of grammatical errors and tended to be rather ponderous, heaving along without ever saying very much. But Susan was conscientious about meeting with me to talk about her work.

One day, I was headed over to my office for a meeting with Susan. It was very bright and sunny out, and--a propos of nothing, of course--I had just started taking a new heart regulator (this was prior to my surgery--I'm no longer on any meds). I stopped in at the mailroom first; the building that it was in was dark compared to the brightness of the day outside, so I wasn't too surprised when, as I looked at an envelope from my mailbox, I saw one of those little squiggly sunspots that you sometimes get when you've been looking at a bright light.

I went back outside and entered my building. The sunspots were still there, but whatever--they happen.

Susan is waiting for me, and we enter my office. She sits down opposite me. I'm having trouble seeing her clearly, what with the sunspots and all, but they'll pass, right? She gives me her paper and I start to look at it.

[I just noticed that I've just switched to the present tense, but fixing it would be such a bother. Please bear with me--it's been a long day!]

Something is wrong. The sunspots are growing and seem sort of...striped? In a vibrating, zig-zag way? It's hard to describe. I'm having a tough time reading her paper. I look at Susan, and I can't see her face.

Now, despite the fact that this is something I've never experienced before, I don't actually panic, because my mother gets ocular migraines pretty frequently and has described them well enough that I can immediately identify what's happening. I know that it should pass in about twenty minutes, and there's no discomfort--but it's so weird; it's like my brain isn't registering anything where her face is. It's a gap, a hole, a shimmery...deflection. Susan is talking about her paper; I listen to her, sort of, but I'm also pretty preoccupied with marvelling over the nothing that is where her face should be. I can see her hair; I can see everything else--at least, in my peripheral vision; wherever my eyes focus, there is nothing. Just a...lack, a lack that is also somehow full of vibrating light.

I look back at the paper. Obviously I can't read it. Well, I mean, I can read the words at the edges of the pages, but only where my eyes aren't focusing. I can't read the middle of any lines. I can't read where I'm looking.

Clearly, what I should have done at this point was to tell Susan that I was experiencing a bizarre neurological phenomenon and could she please come back in fifteen minutes. I should have said, "Although I appear to be completely normal and am, in fact, entirely calm, I can no longer see your face nor can I read. But I'll be fine in a quarter of an hour, so can you hang on until then?" But it seemed so preposterous and above all alarming that of course I said nothing and somehow managed to piece together enough of a sense of the paper out of the corners of my eyes (which is really hard, if you've never tried it) to give her some kind of advice (God knows what I said) and send her on her way.

The ocular migraine passed in a predicatable fashion, and I was fine.

I then promptly called the doctor and he changed my prescription.

(It really is a coincidence that the carpet looks like some kind of crazy eye.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Yikes! I am really bad at this daily-posting thing.

Las Vegas airport (2).

I almost forgot. Egads! And here I am, with about a hundred things that I could write about (e.g. the horrible, unpleasant, necessary task of discussing pressing social issues with first-year students. Why is it that, of 18 papers, 15 of which are totally right-on, I'm-learning-so-much and this-is-really-making-me-think, the ONLY ones that stick with me are the hysterical screeds? and that these make me feel ill and want to run away from teaching altogether? Feh. Clearly some of this is my own issues. And no, this is not in Comp, where we do not talk about anything topical. Ever. No, we discuss summarizing. A lot. Forever), and yet I am exhausted. Dude, this semester is killing me, and it's only day 9. Siiiiigh.

In the meantime, the second in the Las Vegas series. Talk about Yikes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Brush your damn teeth

Las Vegas airport (1)

I tried a few new things this summer. New-old things. The first was meditating; as I said, I'm keeping this up into the school year, as far as I can.

The second was to take my diary more seriously. I chose this goal rather than the grander one of writing, say, a page a day; basically I wanted (and want) to have a diary that says more than "Long day I'm tired" and that actually describes or discusses at least one small thing every day (or so).

I've kept a diary regularly since I was fourteen, so--wow, about exactly twenty years now. In my youth, I wrote nearly every day, and often at length; once I started having relationships in which I didn't sleep alone in my bed every night, that regularity weakened. I still wrote often, but not daily, and occasionally a week would pass (and still passes) in which I wrote/write nothing. I don't usually reread my diaries, although I do consult them now and again, so detail and a thrilling narrative aren't exactly important. But I decided early this summer that "taking my diary seriously" meant giving serious space--if not daily, at least often--to reflection and absorption. So that's a thing that I'm doing.

A week or so ago, I came up with a new one: When I brush my teeth, I am to brush my teeth. That's it.

That sounds silly, I know. The thing is, I started noticing how the instant I had the toothbrush in my mouth I would start rushing around and doing something--turning on (or off) my computer, checking my email, straightening up the cushions on the couch, whatever. This was not only weird, but it was hard on my toothbrush: if I got absorbed in an email, say, I would find myself absently gnawing on the bristles whilst contemplating a response. And then the toothpaste might start to...manifest itself--it was gross, and weird, and honestly, I am not losing productivity by taking a freaking minute to brush my damn teeth. Besides, can I not relax and just do a thing now and again? Why must I let myself be so constantly distracted?

So that's the latest resolution. When I brush my teeth, I stare at myself in the mirror and brush my teeth. If a cat is in the room, I am allowed to pet the cat (and even to sit on the edge of the tub and place her on my knee, if I like)--but that's it.

Just brush your damn teeth. The world moves fast enough on its own.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sorry I missed yesterday. And now, I am sick.

National Airport (in DC), which I refuse to call Reagan.

Or, if not sick, then beset by wicked allergies. Either way, I am a sniffly, fatigued mess.

I have, however, managed to get a lot of course reading done, and tomorrow I intend to grade and prep, so as to have a reasonably okay week, despite the whirlwind of student conferences I have scheduled.

OK. I'm going to go sniffle myself away now.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is about all I have in me at the moment

Logan International (Boston).

I am very, very tired this evening. The three-day weekend will be a positive balm.

Posting of light substance to resume tomorrow.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Little Brothers

Image: Carpet at Atlanta airport. I've never visited Atlanta, but I've been laid over there on more than one occasion.

I have come to identify a particular type of male student, whom I call the Little Brothers. Does anyone else have Little Brothers? I don't really see any of my female students as Little Sisters, but perhaps that's because I have a little brother and not a sister, and the Little Brothers certainly remind me of my brother, who will always be little to me.

I love Little Brothers. I really do.

Here's what a Little Brother is, for me:
  • He is plainly young. Not the fresh-faced, can-you-possibly-be-older-than-sixteen? kind of young that occasionally passes through my composition door, but young in a gawky adolescent way.
  • He is awkward. Smooth-talkers and the super-confident are never Little Brothers. I also don't think that I've ever had a serious athlete as a Little Brother; those guys are a little too comfortable in their bodies to fit. Sometimes they also have bad skin. They might dress a little strangely, and I imagine that their rooms smell a bit like socks.
  • He has certain distinct physical characteristics: a bony face, usually with pronounced cheekbones, and hair that's either distinctly long or just in need of a trim. This is definitely a legacy of my own little brother, who still has a very pronounced bone structure (and really long hair).
  • He is not the best student in the class, but he tries. The examples I'm thinking of also come (or came) to my office hours more than average.
  • We don't actually have a particularly strong rapport, but it seems clear (sometimes just by the more frequent office-hour visits) that he trusts me and perhaps likes me, in a totally non-creepy, perfectly appropriate sort of way.
The Little Brothers aren't big-time fans; they typically aren't majors, and sometimes I don't see them much after Comp (which is where I seem to meet most of them). But when they're sitting in my office, talking over a question about one of their papers, I feel such a tenderness towards them and a desire for them to have a nice life--well, it's almost like pity, my compassion for these guys. I don't think that they deserve these feelings any more than my other students--in fact, put that way, they certainly don't; all of my students are entitled to my well-wishing (until I have a real reason to withdraw it), right?

But that's no reason to diminish my compassion for the Little Brothers, especially because there are other types of student--mostly first-years, who are so much more on the surface and young than upperclassmen--who tug at my heartstrings for different reasons. I think that perhaps I shall attempt to articulate a highly subjective typology.

(And yes, I'm aware that this makes me sound like a Universal Mother sort of professor. I'm not that, I don't think--but I do inhabit a rather nurturing role with my students, and sometimes I feel like I shouldn't because I'm a good feminist and that's playing to stereotype. But fuck it--I'm comfortable encouraging and nurturing and getting along with my students, and it makes my days so much better than being all exacting and harsh, especially given how much time I spend with students. Plus, the latter is very much not the culture at Field, for men or women.)

What about you? Do you perceive your students within your own set of arbitrarily defined categories that make you love them even without knowing much about them? (And let's focus on the positive, here--no fair trouncing whole groups, which is also a lot less interesting, I think.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Here's a funny hobby

I take photographs of ugly carpets.

Particularly airport carpets.

Because I've been such a lame blogger, I'm going to post my collection of ugly carpet pictures here, perhaps (if I'm very good) doing one a day (but don't count on it; I promise nothing). And maybe this will get me to actually write about something interesting? If it doesn't, then at least I'll know that I've cluttered up your feeder a little bit.

So, first, here is the carpet of Paris' Charles de Gaulle. It's actually one of the cooler ones in my collection--perhaps not even ugly at all? You decide! It's a Choose-Your-Own Aesthetic!

Now, for something possibly less boring.

Perhaps you're wondering why I get up at 5:30 for an 8 am class, when I live about a 7-minute walk from my office?

Well, as I may have mentioned previously, I started meditating in the mornings this summer. While my half-hour of sitting every day is largely taken up with daydreaming and planning things, I do occasionally manage to observe my thoughts as thoughts, to recognize their unreality, to witness the discursive action of my mind and to briefly break out of an identification of that action as myself. Briefly, for a moment here and there.

And I think that I've been happier. Calmer. Able to see more clearly.

Now, of course, this was summer, so there might have been other explanations for the calm and happy. But I don't want to stop this practice, not now when I've finally--finally! After years of intentions!--managed to establish it. So I'm waking up early enough to get my sit in before heading off to class. And, on MWF, this means getting up at 5:30: I shower first, then sit while TM showers or reads, then we eat breakfast and make the bed and whatnot from 6:30-7:00, and I'm in the office by 7:10--plenty of time to put together last-minute handouts, check email, review my notes, etc. It's working well, except that I come home absolutely annihilated and have to fall asleep immediately after lunch.

On TTh, with an 11:00 class, I'm getting up at around 6:30--not because I want to, particularly, but because somehow this is the habit that I've gotten into. TM is a really early riser, too, and let's not pretend that that has nothing to do with it.

I think that it's important to keep sitting. I want to complain less--that's my goal for the year; not to not complain, but to complain less, because so much of the bonding that we do around campus is based on complaints and that doesn't always make me feel good--and this first week has gone pretty well on that front. I think that it helps. I really think so.

...I have thoughts about why, but maybe I'll save those for another time.