Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Biggus Dickus moment

Last week was a looong week, which, because of an overnight field trip, didn't really end until Saturday night.

And Monday was a loong day.

We had two candidates on campus on Monday, for two different positions: one in my department, and another which is not in my department but on whose search committee I'm serving. So, long story short, on Monday I got to campus at 7:45 and went home at 4:15. During the eight and a half hours that I was on campus, I taught for one hour, went to one meeting, and spent five solid hours with the two different candidates.

Then I had my Chaucer seminar from 6-8:45.

So I was tired when I got to class. I had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and taken out my contacts, declaring a one-woman casual day (not that anyone, in class or on faculty, would care), and taken a little nap, but I was far from refreshed. We were reading MT and RT,* though, so at least the subject matter promised to be interesting.

And it was interesting. I was engaged in class, becoming more energized as the discussion went on; of course, given what we were discussing, there was also a lot of humor and some degree of silliness accompanying our Very Serious Exploration of the Literature. The class, I should mention, has fifteen students in it, nearly all of them very bright, talkative, and fun. (I'm lucky.)

But I do think that the fatigue, the lingering stress of driving a vanful of students around all weekend, the exhausting small talk with job candidates, etc., was still there, underlying my enjoyment of the class. And that it was these factors that contributed to my completely losing it about halfway through.

We were talking about female sexuality. One student had posited the possibility that these fabliaux are in some way affirmative of female sexual pleasure. But it's hard to say that this is what's going on in RT, which contains what we could call rape. So I asked them, What image of female sexuality does this tale present us with?

One student raised his hand. Slowly, thoughtfully, he began to speak. It seems like...women have sexual desires, but they don't show them. [I'm paraphrasing, badly, but it'll do.] And then these opportunities--arise, and they seize them.

A flicker of a smile, a smirk even, passed over my face. I quelled it. Immature! Get a grip! I quashed the giggle that I could feel brewing. But I also caught a smothered smile on the face of a student to my right...and across from me...and to the left.... So I did what was probably the worst thing that I could do, then, and forcibly arranged my face into a very solemn expression. If he doesn't say "arise" again, I'll be fine.

He went on, becoming more impassioned as he spoke. It's like the text is saying that they don't normally express these desires, but then these unexpected circumstances just...arise!

The laugh was there. I could feel it actually in my mouth. For a moment, I contemplated running from the room--but I wouldn't have made it. I looked at him, tragically, and managed to say, "I'm sorry," before bursting into laughter, laughter wild and uncontrolled, tears running down my cheeks. I covered my mouth, I looked down at the table, it didn't matter.

The class erupted, as you'd imagine.

Oh, my God, it felt so good.

*I'm acronyming these titles in the EXTREMELY unlikely event of a student's googling them + some other key words and finding this. Sorry for the obscurity, non-medievalists.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Annnnd not so much (the writing, that is).

School's back in session this week. Am I the only one who finds the post-spring-break re-entry hard?

Also we're hosting job candidates this week and next, so things are more hectic than usual. Mondays are my long days: I teach at 10 and then from 6-8:45, usually with a handful of meetings at odd hours in between. Today also included a teaching demo, a meet & greet with the candidate, and a candidate lunch. Whew.

There've been a lot of searches here lately, and one thing that I've become increasingly aware of is the following: When you're interviewing for a job at a small college like this one, where the faculty need to work together a lot, much of what the interview is for is to find out whether we like you. Like, as a person. Do we want to hang out? How will you be on a committee? Could I see having this person over for dinner, and enjoying myself?

This is not a profound point or anything--obviously "fit" has a lot to do with whether or not one gets along with the department on a personal level--but it's much more important than I would've thought coming in. I suspect that it's especially important at colleges like Field, where being a cutting-edge scholar is less important than being able to engage students successfully and contribute towards the College's ongoing development.

Again, not profound. But at the end of my 13-hour day (on campus by 8am; off campus by 9pm), it's all I've got. (And yes, I know that I say "important" three times in the last paragraph, but I'm not going to revise it or anything.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Dare I say it? : I'm writing!

For the last two years, it seems like, I've had this research idea bobbling around in my head. I've written an article that's tangentially related to it--actually, the research idea came out of the early stages of the article--and, in September, I gave a conference paper that was intended to push me towards articulating SOMEthing of what I've been thinking about. (Basically, it's the use of a type of image in a type of medieval text; one of the problems has been that I've defined this image so broadly that, at times, I wondered whether I wasn't just making the whole thing up.)

I've also been reading, for the last two years, all sorts of books and articles that might be relevant. Some have been extremely helpful; some have just sent me back into doubt about the existence, relevance, and/or interest of these images.

I've tried, on several occasions, to write up a sort of prospectus or abstract of the "book project" that I claim will come out of this interest. I've even submitted an application for a course release that borrows from these various prospecti.

But the trouble is that I've been spinning. This happens when I just think and don't write: the idea doesn't go anywhere, maybe because I feel like I need to make sure that I don't forget it. Thus: more doubt, more torpor, more pointless thinking and, eventually, exhaustion. Before I'd even got started.

This week is Spring Break, however, and I had decided to start Writing An Article this week. It wasn't looking good over the weekend; in fact, I've spent much of the week getting ridiculously ahead in my courses (I've prepped through next week and read through the week after that, and I also sewed a curtain--which has nothing to do with my courses, but was an accomplishment, nonetheless). But I did sit down on Monday and start sketching in a bit.

I think that I've worked between 30-60 minutes every day this week (meaning Monday-Thursday). Some of that was patching in bits of a conference paper and two different abstracts; I've also copied and pasted notes on articles, revised sections of all of this material, written notes to myself, and pointed out half a dozen places in which I need to elaborate.

And I've got something like 6000 words (22 pages). What the hell? I've hardly even said anything yet. Yet if I were to actually elaborate on all of the "elaborate" notes, I'd have something like 60 pages of an unholy mess of stuff. Could it be that there's something there? As I write (mostly in a stream of consciousness, pre-writing sort of way; and I should perhaps note that I'm a very fast drafter), I'm having new ideas; things are coming together. I think that I've even managed to figure out why this one text counts as a text that uses the image I'm interested in, even though it actually doesn't. Hey! I think that I have a point.

Granted this draft--as you could doubtless gather from the preceding paragraph--sucks mightily, and is truly a disaster of composition. But it's a start, and I really, really needed a start. I like revising--I'm good at it--it's the drafting that's hard. Once the draft is there, I'll have something to work with, and I'll know, more or less, what I need to do.


(Of course, the odds of my getting anything of substance done on this project between March 21 and May whenever-graduation-is-this-year are very, very slim. But at least the summer will start off with a little less random flailing than usual, I hope!)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More News from My Transparent Psyche

I dreamt last night that my grad advisor had read the recent review of my book. She came to me, looking sorrowful.

"It was pretty good, right?" I said. "I mean, I know that she has some criticisms, but it was good on the whole."

"It was very...polite," she replied. "But if we had caught the errors that it points out in time, you never would have passed your defense."

I was devastated. I tried to rally myself to point out that the reviewer had really liked my chapter on ---, but the skepticism on Advisor's face checked me. And I woke up, wondering whether those little criticisms outweighed all the praise, and why in the world the reviewer would have contacted me if she didn't like the book.


Could I have a more literal dream-life??

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fan Mail

In the last few months, I've received some (slight) correspondence about my book. So far, this correspondence has come from the following places:
  • a prison
  • a Bulgarian monastery.
I am pleased to have appealed to such a diversity of audiences.


In other news, Spring Break is here, and I am trying to get all my homework done early in the week. The week after break promises to be absolute madness, what with: my regular evening seminar; campus interviews for a new departmental hire; a meeting to decide on candidates for a different search committee; a board meeting of the homeless shelter on whose board I serve as Vice President, our first with our new director; a big-deal public lecture delivered by TM; a faculty meeting that is destined to be of epic length--such things will take up Monday-Thursday. On Friday, the English faculty depart for a conference in City to the North with about 15 students, returning Saturday night. And the week afterward, the search committee that I'm actually on will be holding campus interviews. Thus, I am trying to prep all of my classes for next week, and read ahead for the week following, so that I will not simply DIE.

My plan, originally, was to start drafting an article this week. That would be nice. I might just need to not die of work. That might be the best of plans.