Friday, April 28, 2006

Professor of the Year?!?!?!

Two years ago, students decided to take our inactive chapter of Sigma Tau Delta (the English honorary fraternity) and to make it active again. Last year, for the first time, they had an end-of-year reception for graduating seniors. It was really a nice event, and not particularly formal. Basically a time to celebrate what students are doing after graduation and for faculty, students, and parents to mingle and eat delicious snacks (all brought in my faculty and students). Also, last year, the students decided to give an award to the "professor of the year," which is very nice, especially because our university doesn't really have any awards that come from students. So anyway, last year one of my colleagues got the award, and I thought what a nice award it was and the thought crossed my mind that this would be an award that would really mean something to me.

Now, my colleague Dr. Nice-Professor is very involved with all of these student-oriented service sorts of things, and we've worked together on improving student advising and other such endeavors. Dr. N-P sent me an email earlier in the week asking if I was planning to attend the reception or if I would mind attending because she could use my help with something. She was vague. I said, "Oh yes, I can be there. Just let me know what I need to do." She didn't really answer my question in her reply, but I've been so busy I didn't think anything of it. So I show up at this thing today, and she didn't tell me anything, but I figured she'd let me know what she needed from me when she needed it.

She didn't need anything from me. And I'm such a doofus I didn't really see it coming. (It did cross my mind last night, but I thought I was having delusions of grandeur.) The students voted me "professor of the year."

I was a total dork when I received my award and my present, and I was actually a little choked up. I'm not sure what to say other than that, except for that this meant so much to me.

And you all thought I was crazy-cynical and that students didn't really like me and that I didn't like them very much! So there!

Poetry Friday - Countee Cullen

"Song in Spite of Myself"

Never love with all your heart,
It only ends in aching;
And bit by bit to the smallest part
That organ will be breaking.

Never love with all your mind,
It only ends in fretting;
In musing on sweet joys behind,
Too poignant for forgetting.

Never love with all your soul,
For such there is no ending,
Though a mind that frets may find control
And a shattered heart find mending.

Give but a grain of the heart's rich seed,
Confine some under cover,
And when love goes, bid him God-speed.
And find another lover.

On Not Crying in Front of a Student

Today my writing students turn in their formal papers. It is the last day of the regular semester, and since we don't have a final, this is the last day Usually this is a happy day, in which we don't have class and they come to my office to drop their papers off - exhausted and relieved to be done with my rigorous course - and we all say "have a great summer!" and "I hope I see you around next year!" and things like that.

A student just came in, paper completed. He had multiple deaths in his family this week. He has spent this week attending funerals. He told me this by way of apologizing for his work, and for not being in class. (And to think that I was pissed off that he didn't show up for peer review. God, I'm an asshole.) He seems like he hasn't slept. He seemed like he was on the verge of tears. But he finished his paper. And he turned it in on time.

And I was on the verge of tears, as I am whenever this sort of thing happens with a student. There was nothing I could say - no way that I, his writing teacher who doesn't ultimately know him in a real way, could comfort him. And there was no way that I could communicate to him adequately how impressed I was that he got the paper done at all. Will he do well on the paper? Probably not. But because he got it done he will not fail the course. And that won't be a gift that I give him because of a sob story: it will be something that he earned.

Do you ever notice how students who have real tragedy, real obstacles to doing the work of a course, always seem to pull it together and to get it done? I've had a student diagnosed with leukemia; I've had a student find out that she was pregnant, have the grandmother who raised her pass away, and the next week have the father of her child be murdered (yes, all the same student; yes, in my first semester on this job; yes, this was another time where I had to stop myself from crying in front of the student; yes, she passed my course); I've had students with ill family members (cancer, CF, etc.); I've had students with deaths in the family; I've had students with as many as 11 children. These students don't look for me to cut them breaks on deadlines or on required work. They apologize because they're not doing their best work. They kill themselves to turn everything in.

I wish that I could tell those students who ask for extensions because they have a final they want to study for or because they broke up with their boyfriend/girlfriend these stories in a way that would get through to them. I wish that I could explain to them that I'm "mean" about these things not because I'm heartless but because it's not fair to those students who manage - in spite of much greater obstacles - to do the work.

So these are my thoughts on my last day of the regular semester.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Am I A Stalker?

'Cause I just got the Greek's phone number and I reverse-phone-booked it to find out where he lives. I feel like that's kind of creepy. But I wanted to know. Turns out he lives approximately 3 minutes from me. Well, geographical convenience is important to me.

In other news, I've got no other news. I'm quite boring. But I'm supposed to talk to the Greek on the phone tonight. I'm not excited (as I'm too tired and burnt out to be excited) but I'm not NOT excited, which I take as a positive sign.

Okeydokey, off I go to meet with a student.

Questions/Answers on a Thursday Morning


  1. Why, when the Greek called last night, did I not answer the phone?
  2. Why, when the Greek left a message, did he not leave his phone number so that I could return the call?
  3. Why didn't I eat breakfast?
  4. Why do I have to teach today?
  5. Why did I agree to attend a luncheon this afternoon instead of telling them to send my certificate of completion in campus mail?
  6. Why did I agree to attend a reception tomorrow afternoon, on paper-turn-in-day, when under non-reception circumstances I'd be in my office wearing yoga pants and sneakers?


  1. Because I was wicked exhausted and when the phone rang I was asleep and drooling. Not a good state of mind for a first phone conversation.
  2. Because he's married? Lives with a girlfriend? Lives with his mother? Is paranoid about being stalked?
  3. Because the block of time reserved for "breakfast" was spent instead on "snoozing."
  4. Because I am being paid back for some horrible crime I committed in a past life.
  5. Because I am an idiot. Also because I always think that these sorts of things sound good and will make me look collegial and that they won't be painful until I have to go to them.
  6. Because I forgot that if I do this reception thing I'd have to dress up - at least a little.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

ABC's - Because My Blog Is Taking Itself Far Too Seriously

And because everybody in the free world has already done this one and I'm feeling left out.

Accent: Midwestern, entirely distinct, 5 years living in the NE did not shake it and now that I'm back near my hometown it's entirely back. When I lived in the NE, people guessed that I was from: Upstate NY, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Chicago. When I lived in Chicago, people thought I was from Upstate NY. I am from neither, though I am clearly from the Great Lakes Region. Because of this accent my pronunciation of French is beyond pitiful. I apologize to my students for this, and none of them know what I'm talking about because their accents are as bad if not worse than my own.

Booze: Yes, please.

Chore I Hate: Weeding through the mountains of paper that I collect. It is a neverending task, and no one else can do it. I also dislike mopping, as well as vaccuuming.

Dog or Cat: I own a kitty, but doggies are nice as well. I do think cats are more our equals, though.

Essential Electronics: Ok, I'm going to say it because I haven't seen that anybody else has - obviously, the answer is a vibrator (teehee!)

Favorite Cologne(s): Jean Paul Gaultier, Amor Amor by Cacharel, and I don't know what else - those are what I've been wearing lately.

Gold or Silver: Neither most of the time - I am usually naked of jewelry. I've been known to wear both, and my lucky jewelry is gold.

Hometown: Home of the Indians, Midwest

Insomnia: Once when I was an undergraduate for about a month, once more recently - a month or two ago? - but only for a couple of nights. Normally, I'm a really good sleeper. I've dated a couple of insomniacs and I found I really resent them. Go figure. I'm prejudiced against people who can't sleep (but only if I share a bed with them). Who knew?

Job Title: Assistant Professor.

Kids: Yeah, I resent the fuck out of this question. Maybe because I'm sick of people in real life asking me if I have them, and then when I say no, asking if I'll ever want them. I'm more than a womb on legs, people!

Living arrangements: Apartment, because I'm commitment-phobic and thus can't fathom owning anything.

Most admirable trait: I'm incredibly persistent. I also think I'm very optimistic.

Number of sexual partners: Tragically, at the moment, none. Why does this matter anyway? Nobody's answering it honestly, if we're looking for The Number. All of the women are putting some cagey answer down like we're afraid to be called whores (as I just did as well).

Overnight hospital stays: Like Dr. V, only when I was born did I stay overnight in a hospital.

Phobias: I don't think I have any. Oh no, that's a lie! Feet! Other people's feet touching me, or people touching my feet, or - the worst - another's foot coming into contact with my own feet. Yeah, I'm not into that. I do like my own feet, and I like my cat's feet (sometimes I think if people had cat feet I'd be much less skeeved out by them), but unless you are my one true love, do not even think about putting your feet near me - or touching your feet to my feet - EEWWWW!

Quote: "I love my dead gay son."

Religion: Raised Catholic, can't really imagine being anything else, though I'm a heathen and I never go to church.

Siblings: Two half-brothers.

Time I wake up: Lately? Like 5 AM because my cat is a morning person. But then I go back to sleep until like 7:30-8:30. Yes, even on weekends. And I'm NOT naturally a morning person.

Unusual talent or skill: I have no idea. I'm sure I've got one, but at the moment I am entirely too tired to figure out what it is. If any of my readers think they know of one, just put it in the comments :)

Vegetable I refuse to eat: Brussel Sprouts. I won't even let them into my house. For real - my mom tries to bring them every Thanksgiving, and I won't let them cross the threshold.

Worst habit: I've kind of been smoking again lately (I know, I know, I'm quitting again....)

X-rays: Pinky finger (a basketball accident combined with slamming it in a car door = broken pinky), big toe (an ill-advised attempt to throw water at each other using coffee cans with friends when I was a kid ended in a coffee can landing on my big toe and breaking it), teeth. I think that's all.

Yummy foods I make: There really are too many to list (she says, blushing), but some are Lasagna, chicken paprikash, meat loaf, any number of delicious pasta dishes and casseroles, roast beef with mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving Dinner....

Zodiac sign: Leo on the Western Calendar, Tiger on the Chinese. Is it any wonder I have a Man-Kitty? Even though he's a Cancer, so who knows....

And in Non-Thoughtful, Non-Serious, Non-Academic News...

  1. Poor Britney.
  2. I talked to the Chemist on the phone last night. I'm really glad we're friends, and wow is he kind of screwed up so I'm also glad we're not dating.
  3. I heard from The Greek for the first time since I saw his Man-Puppy photographically. He claims this is because he was busy with Greek Orthodox Easter. He also claims that he will call me this week. Whatever.
  4. Some new dude is trying to communicate with me via the eHarmony and can I just say how totally burnt out I am? I can't even get it up to paste in my answers to his lame short answer questions.
  5. But really, poor, poor Britney Spears.

Professing vs. Administrating - From a Professor's Perspective

Caveat: The following post will be grounded almost entirely in my own individual, subjective experience and on wild generalizations that I make based on that experience. I'm trying to work out how to characterize faculty perceptions of administrative decisions, and there is no way for me to do this in a way that speaks to all people's experiences. For those of you who don't read all the time or don't remember or whatever, I'm an assistant professor at a mid-sized regional comprehensive university in an urban setting. The university had been open-admissions until recently. The university's mission has a very large emphasis on service to the community - to the extent that it has been bandied about that perhaps we should have a fourth category for tenure to reflect that emphasis, though faculty have fought this - and at the same time the requirements in the other three traditional tenure areas are increasing.

This post begins as a response to Dean Dad's comment on my post yesterday, in which he writes:

I have to take issue, though, with your characterization of what
administrators want. It's a common mental shortcut to assume that results
reflect intentions, but sometimes they don't. From my (admittedly provincial)
perspective, administrators try to balance conflicting goals. Efficiency is one
of those goals, but not the only one; maintaining and improving quality, student
success/retention, faculty morale, reputation of the institution, etc, all
count, too. Some of us are better at that (or just more aware of it) than
others, admittedly, and I'm not about to defend every decision every dean has
ever made. But to suggest that we somehow personally desire "streamlining the
business model of the university" as a goal in itself strikes me as unhelpful.
(It also gets the 'business model' wrong; every business I know pays at least
some attention to quality control.)

First, Dean Dad makes an excellent point about conflating results with intentions. Of course most deans aren't laughing maniacally and wringing their hands imagining how best to screw faculty. They are, as Dean Dad says, trying to balance conflicting goals. Or wait. Instead of balance, I think I might here use the word negotiate. Balance implies that all goals will be given equal and serious consideration and that the end plan will reflect that consideration. Negotiation, however, doesn't really imply such an idealistic vision. One might, in negotiating, do what I just described above, or one might "negotiate" by giving short shrift to one goal while investing more in another based on things like the power of interested parties, the underlying goal of a current administrative regime, etc. In other words, I think I take issue with the idea that all deans (or provosts or presidents) are really trying to "balance" all of the different goals. I think that in many cases, balance has nothing at all to do with what happens at the larger administrative level.

Many public universities like mine - relatively young universities, which traditionally emphasized teaching undergraduates more than anything, often with large non-traditional student populations, without much endowment or grant money and often underfunded by the state - attempt to raise their profile (quality? I'm not sure that's the same thing) in order to get more recognition and money. Whatever the other goals of the university are, this goal - which often amounts to what Dean Dad has called on his blog "mission creep" - really is the bottom line in a lot of cases. Thus, when we start talking about things like "improving quality, student success/retention, faculty morale, reputation of the institution" as if they are distinct from a goal of efficiency and more money, I think that we're being kind of naive. For example: what counts as quality, when one is attempting to get more funding for a university? How do we measure quality? How do we measure student and faculty satisfaction? How do we measure the reputation of the institution? And what factors do we value as we make those measurements?

Let's start with the last first. Let's say that the reputation of an institution comes from the way that others outside the institution regard it. Who are the "others" that we're talking about here? Are we talking about people in the general community around the university? What, for those individuals, would constitute quality? Is it the same thing that, say, our colleagues at other institutions would consider? Or are we talking about lawmakers at the state level? If we measure reputation based on the perceptions of lawmakers, how do the criteria for judging "reputation" change? I suppose what I'm saying here is that these goals that are supposedly distinct from the economic bottom line ultimately are not. Just as it's important to understand in our own personal, professional lives that academia is not a meritocracy, it's important to regard the administration of academia with similar cynicism. What counts as "quality," depending on who's looking and on the instruments of evaluation that are used for the purpose of that evaluation, may have everything or nothing to do with the actual "education" of students.

Do I believe that the administrators at my university are intentionally trying to sabotage faculty or students? No. I really don't. I think that they are trying to negotiate the demands of a variety of constituencies, and many of those constituencies include neither students nor faculty. I am at a university in which not a single person in the humanities is in a key administrative position - not even in the college of arts and sciences. Thus, I often feel like my discipline is not understood and that the criteria set forth for faculty have little to do with what actually goes on in the humanities. I feel as if the "mission" of the university often seems to come from the top down, with little attention paid to what is happening "on the ground" with students, and I feel as if the tendency in recent years at my university to go outside of the university community to recruit administrators - rather than promoting from within - and thus to have untenured administrators puts administrators in a position where their natural allies are not faculty or students but the board of trustees. I think that this is not necessarily a good thing. I think that this is the sort of thing that stops us from considering a wide range of activities as "scholarly activity" - it's so much easier to measure the number and kind of publications - or to consider the fact that maybe not every academic specialization lends itself to community service or to objective assessment mechanisms.

I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with all of this, but I wanted to bring this discussion out of the comments and into the actual space of the blog. I think that Dean Dad's perspective - represented in this comment but also represented in his post today - is important, and I wonder whether we can get a real dialogue going between those on the administrative side and those on the faculty side. I'd be especially interested in hearing from people at different kinds of institutions - I'm at a public teaching school; Dean Dad is at a CC - how do these issues play out at research universities? SLACs?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Professing as a Profession, or Musings on a Reader's Question

Last week, when I was feeling like I didn't know what to write, Derrick gave me a topic. He asked:

Well, I have a question. If you could just teach, with all that would be involved in you making your classes what you would want them to be, would you give up the research/writing side? Or is that you need that side in order to teach?

I ask because I am approaching a career transition. One option at the CC level is to simply teach (no publishing required) and that seems attractive to me.

I took a while to take up the subject of this post because I don't want really for this to be just a post about my personal inclinations.

That said, let's get my personal inclinations out of the way. Had I wanted only to teach I never would have spent all of my 20s getting a Ph.D. that in no way guaranteed me employment. I would have gotten certified to teach high school. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English - given the constraints of the market and the demands of most tenure-track positions - is not something that someone without (at least a small amount of) passion for research should pursue. Period. Those are years of your life that you will never get back. Do something else that takes less time if you don't like the research side of things.

But now let's move on to the bigger picture. At the heart of Derrick's question, it seems to me, is a deeper question about what we think the role of college professors is/should be - a role that is of course dependent upon institutional context, but which cuts across different institutional contexts as well - and also a deeper question about what it means to do this job as a job - not as a calling, but as a profession. What are the conditions of our labor? What do we wish were the conditions of our labor? And how are our ideas about these things influenced by past experiences (graduate school), present desires/demands (one's current job/location/personal life stuff), and future prospects (career advancement/potential changes in one's personal life)?

To begin at the beginning, I think that one of the primary things that distinguishes a college professor (whether at a community college, a regional comprehensive university, a small liberal arts college, or a research university) is the combination of working as a teacher and working as a scholar. Notice: I say working as a scholar and not publishing articles, which to my mind is not necessarily identical to scholarship. What I would call scholarship could include any of the following: presenting or attending conferences in one's field - even if they are small or local, doing one's own individual research to put together a talk for presentation locally to members of the community or at one's own university, keeping up with the scholarship done by others in one's field, publishing or presenting on teaching in one's particular field, publishing a textbook, and - of course - publishing scholarly articles or books in one's field. I'd say that the relative weight given to each of these activities - and the amount of time spent doing such activities - should be bound to institutional context. That said, if a faculty member has absolutely none of these activities ongoing, I would argue that they do a disservice not only to themselves as professionals but to the students that they teach. I think that in order to teach at an advanced level - i.e., beyond K-12 - that some sort of scholarly engagement with one's discipline is crucial. Thus, if one wants to think of oneself as "just a teacher," I would argue that perhaps a higher education setting may not be ideal - for the teacher or for the students.

But, see, this is all bound to what I think it means to be a college professor. I think that as a professor - in whatever the context - that one should fill a certain kind of a role as an intellectual, and to me, people who are not engaged in any form of scholarship or intellectual inquiry - even in the reading of what others are talking about related to their fields - are guilty of being anti-intellectual, and that's not who I think should be responsible for educating people to go out into the world. That said, I think that it's ridiculous to limit our idea of what constitutes scholarship to publication in a list of approved journals or to the publication of a book by a university press, as when we do so, I believe it does have a negative impact on the work that one does in the classroom. Yes, I have been pretty active in traditional forms of scholarship in my 3 years on the tenure-track at a regional comprehensive university. Now, the main reason for this is that I am not one of those people who is motivated to keep up with what is happening in my field if I'm not participating in the conversation (i.e., I do not read journal articles in my free time just to know what is happening, and yes, I know that makes me kind of a slack professor, but unless I'm working on a presentation or an article I'm not keeping up with my field, and thus, I'm an active presenter/publisher). I do not believe that scholarship has to look for everyone like it does on my cv. And, perhaps this is more important, nor do I think it should. We need different kinds of scholarly engagement from different people in an institution to give students a range of experiences in the classroom and models for intellectual inquiry. The "publish or perish" model - particularly outside of a R1 context - seems to limit the possibilities for scholarship and teaching to influence one another.

But still, this is, after all, a job. And I don't want to make it seem as if, when I talk about scholarship above, I am mystifying the fact that in becoming a professor one is, after all working at a job. Of course we don't get to pick and choose what all research we do, or what kinds of research "count" for us according to our administrations - just as we don't necessarily get to pick and choose the courses that we teach or the service "opportunities" that are dumped in our laps. Because the reality is, this is not a choice between total opposites. All jobs are going to have downsides - or things that make one's job difficult. Research requirements can be one of those things, but I think to characterize the way that one looks at research as either a-miserable-and-impossible-to-achieve-task or as one's "calling" is too simplistic. Just as it's too simplistic to characterize teaching as either "what I have to do in order to do research" or as being one's "calling." There is a vast area in between the poles, and that's where most of us really live.

And so, I think the reality is that at most 4-year institutions, some kind of scholarly engagement is required, some service is required, and some teaching is required. The ways in which those are defined and the relative weight of each depend on the institution, but this is how the job of college professor has conventionally been understood. I think that it is dangerous not to understand the job through these three categories particularly at non-elite, non-research institutions, because with the corporatization of higher ed, it would be much easier for administrators to have one or two "researchers" per department, to throw resources at them, and to burden everybody else with teaching and running the university - making for a burnt out, intellectually depleted, unmotivated faculty. Why would administrators want to do this? Because it's the next step in streamlining the business model of the university. First comes contingent labor in the form of adjuncts and non-tenure-track faculty, and then comes different classes of citizens within the professoriate, which would make budgets for travel smaller, profits from courses offered bigger, etc. In other words, I would never consider working at an institution that did not value and encourage my work as a scholar, first because that part of what I do is important and satisfying to me personally but second because I do not want to work in an institutional context that sees what I do as only about supply and demand, profit and loss.

That said, I think that the choices that we make about what conditions we'd most like to work under have as much as anything to do with where we are in our lives and what experiences have shaped us as professors and as professionals. At my current institution, teaching comes first, and research and service are secondary. Right now, I'm over-performing in terms of research for what my institution demands, but I can see where, if I ever have sex again and if I ever got pregnant, I would like to be at the sort of institution where I could cut back and not worry about losing my job. Similarly, one of the reasons I'm probably over-performing right now is because I was acculturated in my Fancy Grad Program to believe that one had constantly to over-perform in order to be regarded as a human being. In other words, my response to the current situation of my job has everything to do with how I was brought up into the profession. All of these things are specific to the individual, and they change over time and with the changes in one's life. Just like real people in the world, we will make decisions in our careers based on what we need in other parts of our lives, right? And it's important to keep that in mind, but I also think that it's important to characterize these choices and decisions as having a broader impact on what we believe this profession is and what we'd like it to become.

Monday, April 24, 2006

At the End of the LONGEST Day Ever, Some Thoughts

  1. One of the reasons (aside from the binge reading) that I was up so late last night is because the Horny Neighbors were at it again. I think the problem is that they don't realize that not only does an open window let IN air it lets OUT sound. (The banging is bad enough, but I am EMBARRASSED by the other noises that I hear.) My response was to put on music to drown out the noise and to read to drown the fact that the only sex noises I've heard in this calendar year have had absolutely nothing to do with me (at least as far as I'm aware). I fear I may be doomed to a life of living in a retarded apartment in which I live a life of virtue and celibacy but in which I must listen to the raucous sex-capades of others. Woe is Dr. Crazy.
  2. I heard back from Friend-who-lives-in-England and it looks like I'm going to try to do the impossible and spend four or five days in England after my week in Budapest. Yeehaw! Of course, I'm kind of second-guessing trying to go see this friend, for a number of reasons, including that desperation can do funny things when one visits a friend in a foreign country with whom one has in the past had... relations.... Not that there's anything wrong with relations, but they do tend (or at least have in the past) to make my friendship with this friend go a little bit screwy (no pun intended).
  3. Related to #2, I really think that I'd make a fantastic travel agent.
  4. I think I'm going to go on the market again this fall if there's anything that looks mildly promising. I was talking to my mom last night, and I think I realized that as much as I do like my job and I do like my location, that both of those things are not all I want in my life as a whole and that this place might be, in the words of this guy's character in Swingers, "dead, man." At least for me. Going on the market sucks balls.
  5. You know what else sucks balls? Online dating. It's just so lame, particularly when the weather gets springy. I'm so ready for my 3-month run at this to be o-v-e-r in a couple of weeks.

On that note, I'm going to drink some wine, pet my Man-Kitty - even though he doesn't deserve it at ALL given the fact that he keeps doing weirdo things to wake me up pre-5AM - and maybe do some research-reading-notetaking stuff while watching bad TV.

Binge Reading

Once upon a time, Dr. Crazy, before she was awarded the doctorate and when she was just a little tyke of a Crazy, had her first argument with a librarian. The problem, as Crazy's Mommy tells it, was that Little Crazy wanted to check out more than the allowed number of books for pre-school kids. I believe the number was something like 3 books at a time maximum, and, well, we only went to the library once a week, and that just WAS NOT ENOUGH. NOT ENOUGH BOOKS TO LAST AN ENTIRE WEEK AT ALL.

In high school, my problems with librarians increased, mainly due to the fact that I would check out a large number of books, read them very quickly, and then forget to return them by the due date, thus racking up large fines. This tendency lasted through my undergraduate years, and well, I don't want to talk about how much I spent on library fines as a graduate student. That said, from about the age of 12 on, my reading habits transformed away from the voracious habits of my youth (MORE BOOKS! MORE! ANYTHING THAT LOOKS INTERESTING!) to more steady and considered habits in which I wanted more than anything to read books that were "important" or "worth reading." In other words, while I still had conflicts with librarians, they weren't so much about wanting to get more reading pleasure but rather about scheduling and draconian practices related to fining people. (Example: why would you fine me when I'm the only person who has taken out this book for 10 years? It's just ridiculous. Nobody else wanted that book. And remember: these were the days before one could renew online or over the phone - one had to take all of the books in to get them renewed.) This is when I began to eschew the library in favor of buying books (at least whenever it was possible).

But so anyway, I rediscovered the public library last summer, and one of the things that's been so awesome about that is that I've also rediscovered the pre-school-aged me who picks books out that "look good" - regardless of quality or reviews or whether I've even heard of them - and I read them as quickly as possible the minute that I get home. Yes, I always end up getting some "good for me" books, and no, I never read them. No, instead I binge on the "fun" books, feeling guiltless for enjoying them because I did not buy them, but feeling guilty in the pleasure that I take in these books that are the equivalent of a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to a bulimic. What I'm consuming - quickly, in huge gulps, paying no attention to nuances or subtlety - is the equivalent of literary fast food. And I LOVE it. And I LOVE not savoring every morsel of the books, but after I finish I feel vaguely sick and tired (partly because, for example, last night, I end up staying up until like 4 AM and I know I'll have to pay for it in the morning).

It's strange to me that this is the way I take the most pleasure in reading, given my chosen career. Yes, there is intellectual pleasure in poring over a book and reading it carefully, but my favorite way to approach a book is in this gluttonous fashion, in which I read without a pen, and only for plot, and I skim the lame parts, and I read an entire novel in one sitting without taking any breaks - at all. And somewhere around the age of 12 I lost this, and it's only in the last year that I've really gotten it back, but I'm not sure if it's good for me. And wow, do I need a nap.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Blogging Against Heteronormativity

I couldn't even come up with a decent title for this post (usually on the blogging for/against something days I try to put some sort of a spin on the title) and I'm not sure I've got it in me to blog against heteronormativity this morning. However, Nubian over at Blac(k)ademic got this thing rolling, and I said I would participate, so here we are.

Why am I having such a hard time writing about this? Well, I think I'm having a hard time for the same reason that I really wanted to participate: because being against "heteronormativity" is something that we might associate with people who identify as queer, and so it's interesting to me to think about my position in a discussion that many might argue isn't my discussion to be having. Well, folks, I'm here to say that heteronormativity sucks for straight girls, too - straight, privileged, educated, successful girls, who shouldn't have all that much trouble navigating the terrain of gender and sex in the 21st century. The pervasiveness of heteronormative values in our culture is directly linked to issues women have with commanding respect and authority, with anxieties that women feel about becoming crazy cat ladies if they don't get married by 25 or 30 or 35 or 40 (depending on one's geographical location, as in my neck of the woods I've crossed over the threshhold into old maid territory - and yes, people still say that here), with tension between wanting not to subscribe to particular gender stereotypes but sometimes falling into those very stereotypes because you want to get laid and that's the quickest way from point A to point B.

Still, who the hell am I to write about heteronormativity as a straight girl, a privileged girl? Well, I'm going to suggest (and I'm not entirely committed to this point of view, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway) that maybe blogging against heteronormativity is an even more important project for those of us who are, well, hetero. I'm not saying that those who identify as gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered have it easy in terms of resisting heteronormativity in their lives - or in articulating that resistance to others - but I do suspect that there is some measure of comfort in the fact that if one identifies as GLBT that one has the support of a group of people who resist in similar ways and who get what this is all about. As a straight, privileged, over-educated girl, I'm not supposed to have a problem with heteronormativity. Ultimately, what I'm supposed to do is embrace it.

And it's easy to fall into heteronormative patterns, whether one is gay or straight, because those patterns are so entrenched in Western Culture that they are almost invisible to us, but perhaps it is easier to remain unconscious of how we fall into them if we are straight - or if we have flashes of consciousness, it seems more necessary to repress those flashes in order to go about the business of our everyday lives (like fraternizing with guys who don't even know the word heteronormative but who exist as its total embodiment).

I don't have any real conclusions to what I'm talking about here, but these are my thoughts about heteronormativity (fuzzy though they are) on this Saturday morning. If you're interested in reading what I'm sure will be much more cogent and articulate posts about this, check out the complete list of participants here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Most Bizarre Thing Just Happened in the Lunch Line

Like, okay, so I was standing in line? At the salad bar? And this guy is in front of me, and he's putting like every single item on his salad, right? And so he says something, and I wasn't listening, and then it becomes clear that he's talking to me, right? So I look over, and I, like, respond, but I respond as if I know him - thinking that he was, like, a former student or something - and then he keeps talking and it's, like, totally obvious that he was never my student and that he thought that I was, like, a student. For real. And I'm, like, pretty sure that he was hitting on me. Or that he was crazy. Whatever.

And then, like, as I was walking back from the cafeteria? You know? And as I approached the door, this guy who was far ahead of me made a point of waiting for me and holding the door for me? Like, what's going on? Is it the pink shirt I'm wearing? Spring in the air? Like, what?

And now back to non-high-school ways of thinking....

Poetry Friday - Anne Sexton

"Her Kind"

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I hae ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What to Write?

As you might notice, I've been kind of a lame blogger this week. Lists of things, the odd rambling post, but I haven't been able to get it together to write any of the "real" posts that are in my head. Part of this, of course, is that I'm in the home stretch of my semester. Part of it is that I'm really trying to do all of the things I'm supposed to do research-wise so that I will be free (ha! free) to write my paper for the June conference and to travel anxiety-free. (One thing about me is that I tend to have conference papers written in their entirety before traveling to conference destinations. Every now and again I'll make some minor edits in pen on the typed paper, but I am not one of those people in the business center of the hotel printing out the paper with only 15 minutes before my panel starts. It is, apparently, the one area in my life in which I do not procrastinate.) I've also been dealing with other end-of-semester stuff (award ceremonies, student presentations/defenses, etc.) and other miscellaneous things.

But the truth of the matter is that I think I've not really posted because the thing I want most to post about is something that I don't quite know how to post about on a pseudonymous blog. Now, I'm not having blogger anxiety where I feel like my blog is played out, so don't worry about that. The issue is more that while I'm very comfortable with the voice I've developed in this space and with the range of things that I write about, some topics still are off limits. I'm ok with that, but it is a problem this week because I'm preoccupied with one of those few "off limits" things, and so I can't seem to write about the other things that aren't preoccupying me. So. Until I A) find a way to write about the thing I can't write about without revealing too much or B) I get it in me to write about something else, I'll probably be pretty quiet and/or lame. Maybe I'll go find a meme to do.... Or invent one.... Nothing like a meme to fill the dead blog space....

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Things I'm In the Process of Forgiving Myself for As It's The End of the Semester

  1. My messy house.
  2. The fact that, for the first time all semester, I am woefully behind on laundry (and I blame this on the fact that I actually started using my "reassigned time" to do work after the midterm, which, laundry-wise, was a mistake).
  3. That instead of grading last night I talked on the phone and drank wine.
  4. The fact that I don't have it in me to discipline my cat for waking me up every morning pre-5AM when he hears the first birdies. Yes, I know it's his instinct and not his fault, but if I were less accommodating maybe he wouldn't be so spoiled and I would get to sleep until 7 AM uninterrupted.
  5. Deciding to take a nap (see 4) and perhaps do a load of laundry (see 2) before I teach that class this evening, even though I should do work during that time.
  6. Being irrationally irritated by the attentiveness of my Not-Boyfriend The Chemist, for the more I blow him off the more attentive he becomes. I told him we were better as friends, I'm blowing him off, what more do I have to do?
  7. For not really caring about the work that my students are doing at the moment.
  8. For being most excited about teaching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind not because it's fun to teach (though it is) but because we're watching it in class over two class meetings.
  9. For the fact that I'm about to go and eat McDonalds for lunch. I crave it, though I'm not sure why.
  10. For the fact that I've been erratic about the gym while at the same time indulging in things like McDonalds.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Achievement, Balance, Workaholism, Etc.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how much work I take on vs. the amount of time that I'm willing to invest in non-work activities. The truth of the matter is that I have been much better over the past semester about prioritizing non-work-related things. I mean, yes, all the while I keep volunteering for things and saying yes to requests and all of my usual work-related antics, but I have also this semester kept to my commitment to working out (though sometimes only once a week, but still) and to cooking decent food for myself (I'd estimate 85% of the time) and to pursue dating things, even if nothing has really materialized from all of that yet.

But last night, I wasn't able to think about all of the ways in which I've been putting myself first, and instead I was thinking to myself that I would never have a fulfilling personal life because the job is sucking away my soul. This also may have had something to do with the fact that I was watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in preparation for teaching it, and well, those people aren't too happy with their lives either.

--- time passes ---

At any rate, now, I started this post but then got side-tracked because a student came by to be advised and another student came by to interview me for an assignment he had to do for his literary theory class, and then I decided to send these emails that I should have sent two weeks ago, and now I'm not feeling all ambivalent and upset and everything the way I was but instead I'm feeling energized because I'm getting good work done. See, this is the problem: I really, really like my job. All the parts of it. I know, it's sick, isn't it? In the past, when I've worked at jobs that I don't like, I've had no problem putting my personal life first. Even when I was a student, I was not a model student, but skipped class and put my own personal needs above the demands of the course. But now that I'm a professor, I have a hard time doing it not because I feel like I have to - I am probably the one person in my cohort who is certain to get tenure based on publication alone - but because I really like all of what I'm doing. And so, how do you say no to things that you actually want to do?

I mean, even this thing where I'm taking over for my colleague. No, it's not my dream gig, but I do want to help her/the department out and I am being (well) compensated for my (minimal) efforts. So should I say no on principal, or should I do the thing and be ok about it? I think the problem is that I feel like I'm not "supposed" to enjoy doing all of what I'm doing - I feel like I'm "supposed" to be upset that my life is so dominated by work instead of energized by the work that I'm doing. And so I feel this weird need to beat myself up because I'm not beating myself up enough or something.

I don't know where I'm going with any of this. I suppose I just wanted to blurt out all of this - that I'm really quite pleased with all of what I'm accomplishing, and I'm afraid of becoming overwhelmed even though I don't necessarily feel overwhelmed, and I do want to have a personal life but at the same time I'm finding my professional life really, really rewarding right now and so I don't really feel that bad about the lameness of the personal, and yeah-I don't know what else. I guess that's it, for now. I'm going to go accomplish more things!

Monday, April 17, 2006

When It Rains...

Dr. Crazy needs to start saying no to every single request for the next two years. In the past year, I have:

1. Agreed to be an officer in an organization.
2. Agreed to co-edit a mini-journal.
3. Agreed to serve on a search committee (which is now done).
4. Agreed to serve on a university-wide-focus-group-thingie.
5. Agreed to do a stupid advising training thingie.
6. Agreed to discussion-lead two classes in the next two weeks that are not my own.
7. Agreed to be on a panel with some colleagues for a conference next spring.

I'm sure there are more things. The point is, I'm doing enough things. I think I'm going to have to put a sign on my office door that says "No!" and just point at it whenever anybody asks me anything.

The question is, what makes me always say yes? Am I a professional slut?

A Controversy That Might Make Me Some Cash

This will be one of those posts in which I try to be somewhat cryptic because it's not just about me but about something that is going on in my department and doesn't only involve me and so I don't want to say anything inappropriate.

[Edited to make post even more cryptic, as upon reviewing it, I think it was too obvious still.] Administrators would like for someone (i.e., me) to take on the responsibility of meeting with a colleague's class for the next two weeks. I would not have to grade. I immediately asked my chair what was in it for me. I told my chair that I would only do it if I were paid at least $100 per class (i.e., like $50/hr). The truth is, I wouldn't consider doing it at all except for the fact that an extra $200 would be well spent on new clothes/shoes for my anticipated trip to Hungary. And I resolve, here and now, to say no if any of the terms of the agreement change, or if I am not compensated as mentioned above. I may be a whore, but I've got to draw the line somewhere.

Mondays Really Stink


1. It is rainy.
2. I have to teach.
3. Even the starbuckshighwayrobberypricedlatte has not given me energy.
4. The Man-Kitty is at home, and I cannot snuggle with him. (As for whether he'd win in a battle with a Man-Puppy has yet to be determined, but as the Man-Kitty is often quite laid back, I do see him being intrigued with the idea of a battle for the prize of Furriest Belly, which would require only that he roll around and pose, which he does so like to do.)
5. I'm listening to a colleague talk to a student and it's making me irrationally annoyed.

In less whiny news, the regular semester will be over in just two weeks. And then there's finals week. And then I'm DONE. This is good (Done!) and bad (Oh crap! what have I done with my semester?).

No word from The Greek since Saturday; The Chemist has called me 3x since Friday (sigh).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

On Virtue, Sunshine, and Boy-Craziness

In other words, a hodge-podge of a post.

It is a gorgeous 80-degree day with puffy clouds and a blue sky. How can one do work on such a day? Well, let me tell you: you put work in your bag and you go to your favorite coffee shop (which just so happens to be like 20 minutes away, and so you get to drive blasting Blondie with all of your windows and the sun roof open) with a happy little courtyard with trees and places to sit, and you hang out in a spot of sunshine with your iPod on and you get a) 24 papers graded b) things for the issue you're editing read and responded to and c) editing of your own thing for the issue begun.

Well, that took care of the virtue and the sunshine. And then I emailed a student and then I received an email from The Greek. I decided I liked him enough to suggest phone-talking. No need to drag this out any more, I say. And I also found out that he has a doggy. The Man-Puppy weighs slightly less than my Man-Kitty. In a battle between the Man-Kitty and the Man- Puppy*, who do you think would be victorious?

*Note: Puppy pictured is not, in fact, the Man-Puppy. It is an actor named Pip who agreed to pose as the Man-Puppy for the purposes of this post.

Friday, April 14, 2006

In Boy News (or Man News? When Do We Stop Calling Them Boys?)

At any rate, in Boy-Man news, because even though I'm a workaholic eHarmony has allowed me to have Boy-Man news even when I don't really have the time to see boys, things are kind of lurching along. I realized I hadn't posted about this in a while, so I thought I'd provide an update:

The Chemist
I thought that I had successfully friended him, as I think I mentioned in a previous post, but now I'm thinking that he still has a crush on me. I am, however, being kind, and we haven't seen one another since our first meeting, and so I think it's ok. He's out of town again, and so this is nothing that I need to worry about at the moment. Incidentally, I also mentioned when we talked on the phone a few nights ago (and no, we're not still talking all the time, as that's not compatible with friending) that my friends and I have a "no boyfriends in the summer" rule. That's actually kind of true, though of course exceptions are made when one falls in love. At any rate, I think I believe that - that summer isn't the time for boyfriends. I mean, I've got travel and the sun and no teaching - why would I want a boyfriend to cramp my style?

The Greek
Ok, I'd thought that he had totally blown me off. Was thinking about closing off communication. Instead, it turns out that his spam filter had filtered my message into junk mail. But he found it, and he responded, and so maybe - just maybe - that whole thing isn't dead in the water. I do find him really funny, and I think that I'd like him in person. We'll see. At the rate this thing's going, it'll be 2010 before we ever get to the point of discussing a meeting.

The Pre-Marital Sex Guy
See? I saved the most hilarious for last. Lemme tell ya about The Pre-Marital Sex Guy. Remember how I lost my mind and contacted a bunch of dudes last week? WELL. The Pre-Marital Sex Guy (TPMSG from this point forward) responded to my multiple choice questions. He then sent me some multiple choice questions for me to answer. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with the eHarmony interface, eHarmony provides like 50 multiple choice questions, from which you choose five to ask the person with whom you are communicating. These questions range from ones about what kind of date you'd like to go on to how adventurous or ambitious you are, etc. But then there are some questions that are, well, creepy. Like "How trusting are you?" or "What do you fear most about marriage?" However, I personally think that the creepiest multiple choice question is the following:
How do you feel about premarital sex?
A) I am completely opposed to it
B) as long as marriage is imminent, it is okay
C) in the context of a loving relationship, it is okay
D) I accept sex as a natural part of dating
Obviously, TPMSG asked that question. Now, you may wonder, why does Dr. Crazy have a problem with this question? 1) I think it is only appropriate to ask it if one is clearly from one's profile a virgin and needs to know that the person they are communicating with is ok with that; 2) I've never even exchanged an email with this guy - I mean, he's a STRANGER - and he wants to know whether and when I think fucking is "okay" 3) the possible answers that eHarmony provides are fucked up, as I think that sex between consenting adults is "ok" - whether connected to love or marriage or not - and also because I don't necessarily that sex has to be connected to dating either, nor do I think one has to fuck every person whom one dates. So, after I got over being horrified that somebody deigned to ask me this question, I at first thought about closing the guy off right there. But then I thought, "maybe he thinks that because the question is provided for him that it's ok to ask? I mean, it is something one would want to know, and so maybe he doesn't realize it's creepy?" And so, since there is an option "E" where one can write one's own answer, I decided that I wouldn't close him off but would do a little public service. Here is what I responded:

E) Sex between two consenting adults is fine. That said, sex is not necessarily a part of all dating, and this is kind of a creepy question to ask to a stranger, fyi :)

I thought he might close me off after that, but no. He sent me his must haves/can't stands. And they are almost identical to my own. I'm somewhat intrigued by TPMSG. At any rate, we shall see.

So yes, those are my adventures in dating (though I've been on no dates, and I don't have any scheduled) of late. Good times.

Poetry Friday - Eavan Boland

Another Eavan Boland poem.

"The Women"

This is the hour I love: the in-between,
neither here-nor-there hour of evening.
The air is tea-colored in the garden.
The briar rose is spilled crepe-de-Chine.

This is the time I do my work best,
going up the stairs in two minds,
in two worlds, carrying cloth or glass,
leaving something behind, bringing
something with me I should have left behind.

The hour of change, of metamorphosis,
of shape-shifting instabilities.
My time of sixth sense and second sight
when in the words I choose, the lines I write,
they rise like visions and appear to me:

women of work, of leisure, of the night,
in stove-colored silks, in lace, in nothing,
with crewel needles, with books, with wide open legs

who fled the hot breath of the god pursuing,
who ran from the split hoof and the thick lips
and fell and grieved and healed into myth,

into me in the evening at my desk
testing the water with a sweet quartet,
the physical force of a dissonance --

the fission of music into syllabic heat --
and getting sick of it and standing up
and going downstairs in the last brightness

into a landscape without emphasis,
light, linear, precisely planned,
a hemisphere of tiered, aired cotton,

a hot terrain of linen from the iron,
folded in and over, stacked high,
neatened flat, stoving heat and white.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

On Evaluation - Some Musings at the Near-End of the Semester

Today, Dean Dad has a post about evaluations of instructors from his perspective as an administrator. I left a comment over there that wasn't particularly well thought out (sorry, Dean Dad) but I've been thinking a lot about the post since I left the lame comment, and so I thought I'd do a more deliberate response over here. Also, I thought I might get something out of doing a more deliberate response when I'm not in the whirlwind of reading the results of my own course evaluations or cursing the incomprehensible statistical information about my evaluations. At the moment, I've got some critical distance. My evaluations are waiting to be distributed, the semester is coming to a close, and I'm not fretting over what happens with them - not yet.

Dean Dad begins:

"Evaluating faculty is one of the most important parts of my job, yet some of the most basic information needed to do it right isn’t available."

Ok, this inspires my first point: I think that we need to draw a distinction between the evaluation of faculty and the evaluations of particular courses by students. Why do I draw this distinction? Because I think that when we conflate these two kinds of evaluation that we run the risk of disempowering both students and faculty:
1.) The faculty member becomes responsible for all of the learning that happens in the course, which inspires the faculty member to teach to the instrument of evaluation. When this happens, the faculty member loses the power to experiment with his/her teaching and to take risks as a teacher.
2.) The student becomes characterized as a passive receptacle of information, whose role in his or her education is defined by the reviews that he/she metes out for his/her instructors. Did the instructor deposit the right amount of wisdom in the student, according to the student? Fill in bubble A. Not exactly a model that inspires students to take ownership over their own educations.
3.) Sometimes a student's response to a course (say, a required course for the major, like the British Survey) is a response to the material of that course and not to the instructor. Yes, we might say that it's the instructor's charge to bring even the most inaccessible material to the students and to make them like it, but I think that's wrong. And sometimes, when students don't like the material - or if they feel overwhelmed by it - they will give a poor evaluation of the instructor when really what they are responding to is the course itself. The instructor may have little power to change the course itself, especially if it is a core of the major, and so the faculty member is then screwed.

Thus, I think it would be entirely valuable to find a way to make distinct the evaluation of faculty as instructors and the evaluation of courses, though I fear that this, with human nature being what it is, is impossible. So let's table this idea and move on to the kinds of instruments for evaluation that Dean Dad describes:

Student Evaluations
I think that it's important to note that students are not experts on classroom instruction nor do they have the experience necessarily to know what constitutes good pedagogy. Thus, when we read student evaluations, we are really reading students' evaluations of their experiences in the course and not objective evaluations of the quality of instruction. Thus, students might give very high marks to a professor who provides copies of all class notes in the form of power point online because students read this as the instructor being prepared or as the instructor being very user-friendly to students who can't make it to class or who have other commitments. I, on the other hand, might say that this does not constitute good pedagogy because it gives students the impression that they should passively consume the instructor's notes, it encourages memorization and does not encourage critical thinking, and it makes for limited interaction between instructor and student. Which interpretation has more legitimacy? I would argue that the student's perception is less legitimate, but yet that student's evaluation may ultimately mean that the professor who makes all notes available will have higher evaluations than I, the nasty lady who expects her students to take notes, will. I'm not saying that we should do away with student evaluations, but I do question their utility in the evaluation of professors, and I'm not sure that these evaluations should carry substantial weight in promotion and tenure decisions. (Oh, and I should add that one of the reasons I am very cynical about student evaluations is that at my university there is a widespread problem with young, female instructors getting low evaluations, and everybody is just like, "oh yeah, that's really a problem," and nothing is done about it and it sucks.)

Peer Observation
Dean Dad notes that peer observation is useless as an evaluative tool because the observation reports are uniformly glowing. I think he's right. But I think that the reason why they are uniformly glowing is precisely because they are used as an evaluative tool by administrators. Ultimately, these evaluations are not about improving teaching, they are about weeding out bad teaching, or at least that is the perception. One will not give honest critique in this situation - at least not in the formal letter - because one doesn't want to be responsible for doing one's colleagues wrong. Also, one probably wants to err on the side of niceness - one probably only observed one class, and the colleague being observed could have been having an "off" day, etc. Again, it would be different if these evaluations were not used by administrators but rather were for the use of faculty. As it is, they are just one more hoop to jump through on the path to tenure, and an annoying and disruptive hoop at that.

Student Grades
I do think that grades can be an indicator of... something... if they are uniformly very high or uniformly very low. Again, though, I wonder: how do grades show something about good teaching if they are in the "normal" range? To my mind, what matters a hell of a lot more than grades is giving students feedback on their work, which is not the same thing. How do we measure that? Also, I tend to allow revision with no penalty in writing classes, which means that the grades in those courses tend to skew higher than the usual curve. Would I be penalized for this under a system in which grades were evaluated as an indicator of good teaching? Would I be accused of grade inflation? Even though the students work their asses off to get those grades? Or let's say that you have a bad class one semester, and the grades skew low. Does that necessarily say something about the instructor? The idea that grades tell something about teaching seems the equivalent to saying that test scores say something about good teaching. I'm not sure that either is true, and the idea of using these to measure the "accountability" of instructors seems specious.

Course Attrition Rates
Hmmm. I'm not sure, again, whether this would be a meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness in all but the most extreme cases. Yes, there might be that instructor who has incredibly high drop rates over time across a range of courses. In that case, this would be a meaningful statistic. But what about everybody who falls in the middle?

The point is, I suppose, that I don't think there is a way to quickly and easily to assess the quality of instruction, and I think that part of the problem is that assessment from the top-down is geared (or is perceived to be geared) not as a mechanism by which to improve instruction but as a mechanism through which to get rid of dead weight. The emphasis is not on developing quality teachers and on encouraging quality teaching but instead on proving that students are getting their money's worth and on justifying the existence of instructors, who, as we all know, are out frolicking in the sunshine instead of worrying about their teaching, preparing for class, grading, serving on a thousand and one committees, mentoring students, etc.

I suppose the thing is, if evaluation is supposed to be a means by which instructors get honest feedback on their teaching and are encouraged to improve their teaching through that feedback, then it should be disconnected from professional advancement. If it is going to be connected to professional advancement, evaluations of courses should be course-specific - or at the very least discipline-specific - and individual departments and instructors should have some say in the criteria through which courses are evaluated; evaluations of instructors should be just that - evaluations of their abilities as instructors, and they should be disconnected from course-specific questions.

I don't know how to do any of this, and I might be wrong about half of it. But I suppose that I often think that evaluation, assessment, self-assessment, etc. get in the way of my being a good teacher and becoming a better teacher.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Horror! (An Academic Conference Post)

Once upon a time when I was a girl of 24, I attended my first grown-up academic conference on my own. Now, it wasn't my first grown-up conference, but the others I'd attended with the hand-holding mentor who directed my undergraduate thesis (whom I really should contact, as without her mentoring who knows where I'd be). This was the first time I showed up at a conference totally alone, totally knowing not a soul. Oh, except for the anti-mentor (my undergraduate academic adviser, who told me that I wasn't a good enough student to get into a "real" graduate school) who was there and who pretty much ignored me, just as she'd done when I was her student.

Well, I've got a sparkling personality, and so I made new friends quickly, and I went on to have a fucking fantastic week complete with many late nights, many cocktails, and even a few smooches. (Oh, to be young and stupid, again.) At any rate, my paper was scheduled for the very last day of the conference, at like 8 AM. I was out the night before this paper until very late consuming vast quantities of wine. I seem to recall getting approximately 4 hours of sleep, and I hadn't slept much on previous nights either, so I was operating on a deficit. And so then I go to give my paper, and two things happen: 1) I had just a few sentences to go but the moderator was a nazi about the time and so interrupted me at 15 minutes on the dot. Asshole. 2) In the question and answer session, a person, whose work I admire and whom I'd cited in the longer version of the paper, asked me this crazy 3-part question that was totally complicated and serious.

Now, this is every grad student's nightmare, right? The crazy 3-part serious question? From the expert? Somehow - I don't know if it was the sleep deprivation or what - I answered that fucking question. It was my moment of glory - people came up to me afterwards to compliment me on answering The Question. It was like this unbelievable test and I'd passed.

But I just got some news today. Some horrifying, horrifying news.

You know that person, the Question-Asker? The one whom I really admire and all? The one who nearly stumped me at my first on-my-own conference?

He's set to be the respondent to the panel on which I've been accepted to present at MLA, should the MLA have the panel. What did I do to deserve this cruel twist of fate? Just what?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Top Novelist

Ryan over at Raining Cats and Dogma has been running a fantastically bloggy reality show on his blog for the past few weeks. Top Novelist is the name of the game, and yours truly is one of the contestants (and no, I am not writing as "Dr. Crazy"). Check out the challenges and the judging. A good time for readers and writers alike, I'd say :)

Canon Formation and Ghettoes in Literary Studies

I suppose I should start by saying that I'm not really in the mood to compose this post. I've got to teach shortly, and I'm not really feeling like writing or anything. That said, I feel like if I don't write about this now, then I won't write about it because the moment will have passed, and so, here it goes:

All around people have been doing this "woman writers" meme, and when first I saw it, I thought, "oh, I should do that!" Then, well, it seemed long and I didn't feel like it, but also as I looked at it, I just couldn't get it up to do it. Why? Well, I think my "woman writers" phase has come and gone. This isn't to say that I don't read women writers (I do), that I don't work on women writers (I do), or that I don't teach women writers (I do). The problem, I think, is that as I've developed as a reader and a critic, I more and more have a problem with characterizing writing by female authors as different or specific or outside of the dominant canon. This is not to say that women (or writers of color or whatever) do not bring different voices or perspectives to the table in their writing because obviously they can/do, but it is to say that by sticking them off to the side somewhere that texts by these writers then can be ignored in terms of the dominant canon of literature. If Ralph Ellison is taken care of by African-American lit, we don't need to weigh down our American-Lit Survey with his writing. Ultimately, Ralph Ellison can continue to be excluded from the canon of American Literature. Similarly, if Intro to Women's Lit can take care of a writer like Mary Wollstonecraft, then I don't need to bother with including it in the Survey of British Literature II. It's not literature; it's women's literature, and so I - and my students - need not worry about it. When we talk about "woman writers," are we in fact excluding their texts from those lists of Great Books that continue to be dominated by men?*

Now, I'm not advocating for a course of action in which we do away with all "special interest" courses. I think that there is a place for such courses, and I know that I was empowered by such courses as an undergraduate. My own reading history is such that I needed those courses in order to find books that spoke to me. (In my junior and senior years of high school, I read a grand total of 3 women writers - THREE - and of those three, only one was something that was assigned to the whole class - The Awakening by Kate Chopin - one was for extra credit - Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys - and one I read for a book report - The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, whom I was surprised to learn was a woman because I'd never heard of her. In other words, I was dying for an introduction to writing by women, and I needed women's literature courses in order to make that happen. Oh, and I was in high school/college in the 1990s - it's not like I'm talking about some pre-feminist era in which women writers had yet to be re-discovered.)

When I was an undergraduate, I was militant in my refusal to read male writers on my own time, and I rarely chose to write papers on male writers. I think that I fuzzily thought that this move on my part was a meaningful political choice - or at least I characterized it as that to myself - but I think the truth is that I was operating on personal preference more than any sort of political conviction (which would explain the paper that I wrote on Wallace Stevens' "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird"). I liked the idea of myself as some sort of literary activist, but the reality is that these choices were more about my development as a woman than they were about any sort of literary critical position on my part. I needed to read certain writers (Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing) and so I did.

But, for the most part, I read them on my own. Aside from the female authors I read in a few women's literature courses that I took, the female authors that I read in an academic context were tokens on syllabi full of male authors. (This was true in classes with feminist/female instructors as well as those taught by nearly-dead white men.) The women's literature courses that I took all counted for my women's studies minor, and that was why I took them, and those classes were filled with others like me. The converted. Sometimes there was a rare exception of somebody who ended up in the course by accident. (Example: that poor boy who accidentally took "The Feminization of Literacy in 19th Century England" and who, as was customary in our department, was trying to say something about "Lit Crit," but said "Lit Clit" instead - as the only male taking the class. Hilarious!)

Moving into graduate school, I had a similar experience. It was rare that women writers were given equal time to male writers, and most of my "on my own" reading tended to be by women - but by this point I realized that this was the case not out of some sort of activist higher ground that I was standing on but because I wanted to read these books. And listen up, folks: my specialty is 20th century literature. There is no reason in the whole world why a range of women weren't on my syllabi in the courses that I took - no reason except that to include them would have forced the instructors to make the hard choices to exclude a male author that was conventionally included. And as long as there's a women's literature course out there in which to stick all of those inconvenient women writers, it's easy to convince oneself that one need not make those hard choices. In other words, such courses offer an alibi for NOT revising the canon, even as they came into being as an effort toward expanding it.

To me, the utility of the canon is, in fact, that it leaves things out. It shows us what we value at a given time, and it shows what "counts." If the canon for British Literature from 1800 doesn't include short stories by Jean Rhys but the canon for women's literature does, then what does that say? Which of these canons has more value in a culture which continues to be patriarchal?

Also, many of my students would never take a women's literature course. So if I choose Tennyson over Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or if I choose James Joyce over Katherine Mansfield in a general studies course, that means something crucial to the picture that they have of what counts as literature and whose voices count in literature. The fact that "Introduction to Women's Literature" exists does not solve this problem. Morevover, the fact that there are lists of "women writers" that all "feminists" should read doesn't solve the broader problem within literary studies that by relegating such writers to the "women's" list - the ladies' room, the room of their own, if you will - that they get left out of a broader discussion of what makes literary value and what counts as great writing. Ultimately, we haven't - even after postmodernism and post-structuralism and all of the other posts - stopped believing in Literature-capital-L or Great Writing, as syllabi all over the internet show. And that list is still a short list, and that list is still dominated - even in the 20th and 21st centuries, if syllabi are any indication - by male writers. I suppose what I'm saying here is that as long as we are content to leave texts by women writers to their own segregated lists that this isn't going to change. And the common comment from students - especially male students - that I hear that they've never read a book by a woman until my courses will persist. And men will have further support in resisting identifying as feminist because, you know, those books aren't "for" them. From "women's literature" to "chick lit" is but a step, folks, and it's a rare man that reads "chick lit" on his own time.

So it's not that I'm against reading books by women. I think it's important to read books by women. But I think that it's important to read them in the social and historical context in which they are written - which means with and alongside books written by men - and not only in isolation.

*Incidentally, we can talk about this in terms of other literary ghettoes as well - lesbian or gay writing, African-American writing, Latino writing, etc.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Three Weeks and Counting

Why is it that when we hit this home-stretch part of the semester that all will that I have to teach flies right out of the window?

I blame the weather. (Spring, according to my allergies and to the blossoming trees, has officially sprung.)

In other news, I've got a post about boys forthcoming in the coming days (as I'm also in the home stretch of the online dating thang), but I need to ruminate some more.

Other than that? Yes, I think that I don't have much to report. I think that I am going to flee from campus as quickly as possible today in the hope that I can get some things accomplished (ha!).

Oh, and one last thing: there's the whole "women writers" meme that's going around. The truth is that 1) I can't be bothered to do it and 2) I think maybe the whole "women writers" thing might be played out for me (for a number of reasons, which I probably should post about). At any rate, I do think the lists of others are very interesting, though, so I recommend checking them out if you come across them. Oh, and I should clarify: I don't have any problem with women writers per se - I totally work on women writers in my work - I think it's the whole ghettoizing of women writers that is my problem. Yes, I'll need to post about this during the week, too, I think.

Friday, April 07, 2006

40 Meme, Because I've Not Memed in a Long Time

As seen over at Clare's and a bunch of other places...

1) Who is the last person you high-fived?
I don't remember.... I feel like it was one of those missed high-fives, though.
2) If you were drafted into a war, would you survive?
Honestly? I doubt it.
3) Do you sleep with the TV on?
Only by accident, and rarely. No TV in the bedroom because I hate sleeping with the TV on. Unless I consciously plan to do so for an afternoon nap during which I prefer to have tennis, golf, baseball, or bowling on the TV.
4) Have you ever drunk milk straight out of the carton?
Who hasn't?
5) Have you ever won a spelling bee?
No, and I'm still seething over my spelling bee loss when I was little.
6) Have you ever been stung by a bee?
You know, I'm not sure. I think I have, but as I didn't see the bee sting me it could have been something else. Who the hell knows.
7) How fast can you type?
The last time that I was tested was about 3 1/2 years ago and I typed around 100 words a minute with 98% accuracy.
8) Are you afraid of the dark?
Dark itself? No. Fucked up things that might jump out at me in the dark? Potentially.
9) What color are your eyes?
Hazel. (Blue-Green-y-Gold)
10) Have you ever made out at a drive-in?
Not only have I made out in a drive-in, I made out in the back of an El Camino. Top that!
11) When is the last time you chose a bath over a shower?
Um.... Last weekend?
12) Do you knock on wood?
Not as a rule, no.
13) Do you floss daily?
I mean to...
15) Can you hula hoop?
Well, if it's a skill that one doesn't forget, then yes, because I kicked ass at hula-hooping when I was like 9.
16) Are you good at keeping secrets?
No. No I am not.
17) What do you want for Christmas?
That's months away. Who cares? I'm much more interested in my upcoming birthday. And I would like a pony, thank you very much.
18) Do you know the Muffin Man?
It depends on what you mean by "know."
19) Do you talk in your sleep?
Yes. And I've been known to wake myself up because I laugh in my sleep as well. No kidding.
20) Who wrote the book of love?
I'm not sure, but I do know that it's long and boring and that no one can lift the damn thing.
21) Have you ever flown a kite?
22) Do you wish on your fallen lashes?
23) Do you consider yourself successful?
24) How many people are on your contact list of your cell?
Maybe 4? I'm not kidding; I don't really use my cell phone except for when I travel or in case of emergency.
25) Have you ever asked for a pony?
See above.
26) Plans for tomorrow?
Work and sleep. I am lame.
27) Can you juggle?
Ok, so I tried to teach myself how to do this when I was a kid, but honestly? No, not really.
28) Missing someone now?
Not particularly.
29) When was the last time you told someone I Love You?
This morning, but that someone was my cat. In terms of human beings? I told my Mommy I loved her when we got off the phone last night.
30) And truly meant it?
Well, of course I meant it both of those times. Who would lie to their cat or mother about loving them? That is diabolical.
31) How often do you drink?
Depends on what's going on.
32) How are you feeling today?
Kind of blah.
33) What do you say too much?
I'm sick of this meme question and refuse to answer it.
34) Have you ever been suspended or expelled from school?
I got in-school suspension in high school for calling in sick for myself in order to cut. Does that count?
35) What are you looking forward to?
Budapest in June!
36) Have you ever crawled through a window?
I feel like I have, but I don't really know.... If I did, I was drunk.
37) Have you ever eaten dog food?
Yes. I was little, and it seemed like a good idea to try it. I know. I was a weird little kid.
38) Can you handle the truth?
I don't believe in "truth."
39) Do you like green eggs and ham?
Whatever. This is lame.
40) Any cool scars?
No. Not really. I have a weird chicken pox scar, but I wouldn't call that cool.

Friday Poetry Blogging - Alexander Pope

In my introduction to literature class, I teach a wide range of poets and poetry. From Margaret Atwood to Shakespeare, from Elizabeth Bishop to Alexander Pope. We do sonnets. We do a villanelle. We do some free verse.

Now, I'm not what I'd call a "poetry person." I do not tend to work on poetry in my own scholarship, and I am not one of those people who can quote lines of poetry perfectly with little to no effort. But I love the music of poetry, and I love the way that poetry makes me feel. And so in Intro to Lit, I try to choose poems that make students feel in a range of ways.

The last poem that we read in the semester is Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard." We read this poem for a variety of reasons - not the least of which is that I pair it with the one film that we watch in the course, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My whole course is built around the idea that there are connections between literary texts - and that getting the references is a huge part of reading, enjoying, and understanding literature. I also like to show the connections between texts of different genres and different historical periods to show not a tradition of influence at work but rather the ways in which literary production and reception depends on things like canon formation and publicity and power. The course is not a course that I design in chronological order, and I choose the texts based loosely on personal preference. For a while I taught Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" to conclude the course, but that was back before I decided to include film as a literary genre that we study in the course. Still, my aim at the end is to let them see how much they've learned about reading texts and to let them have some fun with those skills. All of the texts in the course consider issues of memory, love, identity. By ending with Pope's 18th century poem and by pairing it with a 21st century movie, we get to see all of those things in play, and, well, it's awesome.

Now, "Eloisa to Abelard" is a long poem, and so I'm not going to quote the whole thing here. Here, instead, are some lines that I particularly like:

"How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said,
Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies,
Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame,
August her deed, and sacred be her fame;
Before true passion all those views remove,
Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to Love?
The jealous God, when we profane his fires,
Those restless passions in revenge inspires;
And bids them make mistaken mortals groan,
Who seek in love for aught but love alone.
Should at my feet the world's great master fall,
Himself, his throne, his world, I'd scorn 'em all:
Not Caesar's empress would I deign to prove;
No, make me mistress to the man I love;
If there be yet another name more free,
More fond than mistress, make me that to thee!
Oh happy state! when souls each other draw,
When love is liberty, and nature, law:
All then is full, possessing, and possess'd,
No craving void left aching in the breast:
Ev'n thought meets thought, ere from the lips it part,
And each warm wish springs mutual from the heart.
This sure is bliss (if bliss on earth there be)
And once the lot of Abelard and me. "

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I Have Lost My Mind

And apparently part of this is that I've decided to start randomly contacting dudes in my eHarmony cue. Is it that with only a month left on the membership I feel like I've got to get my money's worth? Who knows. What I do know is that I really don't have time to correspond with any of them, should they respond. Ah well. Every girl needs a gaggle of imaginary boyfriends....

Letters of Recommendation

Note to students everywhere: If you request letters of recommendation from me, you need to give me 4-6 weeks to get them done. This is the industry (and by industry, I mean the industry of education, which does not compensate professors for writing letters of recommendation) standard. If you thrust a bunch of materials at me and expect a letter to be done in two weeks, when I have a) teaching obligations, b) research obligations, c) service obligations, d) advising obligations, e) a very limited personal life, you will be disappointed. And I will not feel sorry.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Ok, this is my second attempt to start this post. At first I was just going to talk about blogging voices, but then I realized that what I want to talk about is bigger than just that, and so here we go. Take two.

Voice, as any writing teacher knows, makes a huge difference in the readability of a piece of writing. It's also one of the most difficult aspects of writing to teach. A writing voice is something that one develops over time, and it is the product of the interplay of the writing situation, the persona created by the writer, and the writer him- or her-self (if such a thing exists, and for my purposes today I will say that it does). In fact, it's this whole "developing over time" thing that makes this so difficult to teach because students don't tend to dedicate time to their writing - or not the kind of expansive and thoughtful time that it takes to develop a writing voice. Of course there are exceptions, but generally students focus on the mechanics of writing or they focus on controllable things like organization. Yes, those things are important, but we've all read that perfectly edited and organized essay that is still - for some reason - not an A. And as an instructor, one tries to pinpoint ways in which the student can develop his or her voice without characterizing it in those terms, because when you start talking to students about "voice" their eyes glaze over and they really don't get what you're talking about. (Just as they don't when you talk about "flow.") And so as an instructor you talk about things like word choice and the cadence of different kinds of sentence structures and experimenting with ways of articulating a point and still sounding like oneself. Sometimes some of this makes a difference. Sometimes it doesn't.

And some writers have a natural gift for developing writing voices, for making you see them behind their words. And ultimately I do think that this is something that is to some extent innate. Yes, it must be cultivated. Yes, it takes energy to develop and cultivate that innate talent. But sometimes I do think that either one has it or one doesn't.

Now, I'm going to make a radical (and arrogant) claim. I think that this is something that I have - this innate talent with developing voices of my own within my writing. Part of the reason I think that I can do this is because I've kept a journal since I was 12 and I've always been a writer. It comes naturally to me, but also I've spent a lot of time thinking about how my writing works. The reason I say this is not to be some boastful jerk, but rather to try to find a starting place for the thing that really motivates this post, which is I've been trying to think about the linkages between my blogging voice and my academic voice. I've been writing a lot about this in my diary - especially as I was finishing the article.

On the one hand, I think I've always taken my ability to make my readers "hear" me in my writing for granted. It always seemed like a gimmick or something that masked over the fact that I didn't have good ideas. In my first year of my PhD program, I got a comment on my end-of-year progress report that still haunts me: "Dr. Crazy has an engaging critical voice, but she needs to work on presenting her ideas with greater sophistication." Or something like that. At any rate, I then spent the next five years editing my unsophisticated self out of my academic prose. I performed "sophistication." And I got pretty good at it. And I was able to preserve some of my own individual voice even as I tarted it up in the trappings of sophistication. The only compliment my adviser ever gave me (and no, I'm not kidding about that) about my dissertation was that my voice really came through in the prose and that it was a pleasure to read. (As I write that, I begin to think that he was lying. What dissertation is a pleasure to read? Wow. I am really susceptible to flattery, even when it is obviously a total lie.)

You'll notice, though, that in both cases, both with the critique and with the compliment, my graduate school experience was typified by people noticing my style and not paying much attention to the substance of what I had to say. And so all through graduate school, while I worked on sounding "sophisticated" and "theoretical" and all of those things that were so revered in my Fancy Program, I felt like my actual ideas, well, like they weren't very good. Or like they were good but that somebody else could do more with them than I ever would be able to do.

And so then I enter my first tenure-track job, and I embark on some new research that is unrelated to the dissertation, and all of a sudden people are paying attention not only to the style of what I'm saying but also the substance (which just goes to show that talking about something that you know very little about can make people think that you have a fresh approach to things rather than an ill-informed one). But I still didn't feel comfortable. And it was after that first year on the tenure track, after three conference papers and feeling a little... unsure of myself in this new identity as Professor, that I began my first blog and developed this writing persona of "Dr. Crazy." The Dr. Crazy of the first blogspace was a consciously hard and irreverent voice. Part of my aim was to distinguish between that voice and my academic voice, and I think also I didn't really know what kind of voice I wanted and that's what I got stuck with. At the same time, I was trying to develop an authoritative voice as a professional and a scholar, and so the hardness in the blogspace probably also related to the fact that I was grasping for authority in other kinds of writing.

As you all know, I ultimately felt too hemmed in by that voice to continue with it, and so I reimagined it and moved my Crazy self over to this blog. But as I was working on the article last week and writing in my diary after a night of working on it and thinking about the blog in relation to journal or diary-writing and my academic writing, I think I realized that what blogging has enabled me to do is to experience the development of a writing voice in a sustained and public way. Sometimes that has been uncomfortable, but I think it also has given me confidence, not only in my writing but also in my ideas. For the first time, as I was writing that article, I wasn't worried about sounding unsophisticated or about being all style and no substance (or being responded to as if that were the case). And I was able to detach my "self" from the academic writing and to think of what I was doing there as just another persona, just as I can detach from "Dr. Crazy" as a writing persona.

In all of these voices, there are similarities; there are points of convergence. And so there's something about blogging, I think, that has been incredibly valuable to my scholarly or professional writing, even though I don't tend to write in a substantive way about my scholarly or professional work, and I don't tend to post in detail about deadlines and what I'm doing and such. In other words, the blog has not been a mechanism of accountability for me, but a space that is in-between work-writing and personal-writing. And I think that has enabled me to develop a richer voice that translates into the work writing, if that makes sense.

Ok, but enough of this navel-gazing. One of the things (aside from my ability to think about myself ad nauseam) that inspired this post was this post and this post over at Anastasia's blog. Also some posts on other blogs that I read that have cropped up in recent weeks. I think that one of the frustrations of blogging can be in feeling like the voice that one has developed for the blog no longer fits what one wants to write about, or that the voice that one has on one's blog doesn't fit in with the larger community of bloggers that one reads. It can be a frustrating and alienating experience, and it's pretty much contrary to all of the positive things that I've noted above. I went through that frustration and alienation at the hands of my blog last december. I don't know that I have any answers, but I do think that some blogs do run their course. I also think that sometimes one's frustration or alienation via blogging isn't really related only to blogging but to the frustration and alienation that is so deeply imbedded in this profession - whether as we train to become certified (or certifiable) members of it or as we work within it. I wonder whether anxieties over blog voices or blog identities or blog content constitute a legitimate way to express deeper personal anxieties about who we are as academics - anxieties that we cannot express for fear of looking stupid or for being kicked out of the club.