Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Now, I think a lot of how one thinks about scheduling has to do with demands of particular jobs (and I suspect that this is broken down by discipline and even subfield as well) in particular institutional settings (is one at a teaching-intensive or research-intensive institution). And I do think that, at least for me, I've been able to think more objectively about scheduling since landing on the tenure track, and I've been able to compartmentalize a bit better than I was able to do in graduate school. I absolutely feel much less pressure to give a hundred percent of my energy to all parts of the job at all times.*
But so anyway, my yearly hopes for more efficient work habits usually take a couple of different forms. First, let's talk about time.
I'm not terribly good with rigid, set-in-stone sorts of schedules, particularly in the summer or on the weekends. I'm not the sort who can ever stick to a plan to "write first" in the morning, and if I vow to work for 8 hours straight, with just a break for lunch, I inevitably don't do any work at all. What tends to work best for me is to block out time each day that I will spend doing whatever tasks I must accomplish in a fairly loose way. So I tend to block things out in terms of "I'll spend two hours on x, one hour on y, etc." and I might have times sketched in for when I will do these things, but if I don't stick to a rigid hour-by-hour schedule, that's ok. I also tend to try to overestimate how much time a task will take, and then I have an alternate list of things that need to be done but not immediately, and I'll turn to that list if I feel like procrastinating or if I finish one of the "must-be-done" tasks ahead of schedule. This is if I'm in a serious though not Red Alert** work zone, as I have been lately. When I'm in a serious work zone, I tend to finish up with work by dinner time, and I leave my evenings free for whatever else I feel like doing. I'm also a huge proponent of afternoon naps, so if I'm sleepy in the afternoon, I do sometimes take a nap and then make up for that time in the hour or so after dinner. My last task of the workday is usually to make the schedule for the next day and to revamp the supplementary to-do list.
This is pretty much my method for scheduling during the academic year as well, though of course it's tweaked for teaching. A couple of ways that shifts things is that I always teach in the morning so that I'm done by noon each day. This means I have a 5-day a week teaching schedule, which for me is better than loading teaching on two or three days a week and then having free days. Teaching is exhausting, and if I load the teaching into a 2 or 3-day schedule, I inevitably crash on the off days and I actually accomplish less. Another rule that I have with teaching stuff that I try to stick to is to confine teaching-related tasks (prep, grading) to the days that I teach. In other words, unless I've got a novel to read or something, it is RARE for me to do any teaching stuff on the weekends, and I try not to do teaching stuff at night on weekdays. So I teach my classes in the morning, and I do prep/grading in the afternoons.
But so I suppose, when I'm serious about getting work done, that I'm pretty good with managing my time and getting things accomplished. So I don't tend to consider switching up how I schedule myself anymore. I know when I do certain kinds of work best, and since I don't have the demands of a partner or kids, I can pretty much go with what works best for me and it all works itself out. And really, unless it's a Red Alert sort of situation, I'm not usually terribly stressed out once I've figured out exactly what it is that I need to get done. That's not to say that I don't get overwhelmed, but I don't let being overwhelmed get in the way of things like watching America's Next Top Model or talking on the phone or going to the movies, etc.
Thus, the thing that really preoccupies me when I think about working efficiently is not the details of daily scheduling but rather the big picture of syllabus design, grading techniques, and assignment design. I am constantly in search of the holy grail that is the perfect assignment that takes absolutely no time to grade and that still teaches students something. I'm constantly in search of the perfect structure for a course - and, in fact, the perfect interplay between the three or four courses that I teach - so that I feel constantly on top of things. Sadly, I have yet to achieve these lofty goals, but each year around this time, I realize that hope springs eternal and I see myself tweaking and fiddling with all of my courses, revamping and reconsidering, all in the hope that I can somehow whittle down the time that I spend on teaching even further.
Now you might think from the above that I don't like teaching or that I'd rather be at a more research-intensive university. Hmmm. I'm not sure that would make a difference, though. I think that the reason that I focus on whittling down the time that I spend on teaching is because I realize that for me, teaching can become a crutch that sucks away my time. One can spend 12 hours or 12 minutes on prepping a class, for example, and I'm not convinced (and in fact often see evidence to the contrary) that the 12-minute prep can be as or more effective. One can spend hours commenting on student writing, only to see them continue to make the same mistakes, or one can spend 10 minutes a paper, and students improve. More time does not necessarily equal better teaching. For me, teaching can easily become busy-work that means I'm not really accomplishing as much as I have the potential to accomplish but that gives me an excuse not to do so - I mean, I'm busy and frazzled so I must not have time for anything else, right? So I tend to spend this time on the front end because what I'm interested in is finding good techniques and strategies that do not suck my life away. Because, really, I want a life. And I want a research agenda. And I can't have a life and research if I devote as much time as is possible to teaching.
So some things I'm experimenting with this semester include:
1) Instead of collecting informal writing assignments from my students in my writing classes, I'm going to have them submit those assignments to a blackboard discussion board and have the whole class give each other feedback and I'm going to comment only randomly on what students submit.
2) I'm trying out the group research project in my upper-level course, which means I will only collect and grade four projects - not 22.
3) I'm trying out a new weekly reaction paper assignment, which I will collect randomly throughout the semester and that will receive only one grade at the end (rather than 14 grades per student to tabulate).
4) In-class tests in my lit classes rather than take-home midterms. I usually have done the take-home midterm thing because I didn't want to take class time for tests when we could use that time to discuss more literature. But hey, maybe it will be good for them and for me to leave that one or two extra texts off the syllabus?
Now, I should probably admit that these strategies that I'm going to try out to save time will probably not save time at all. They never seem to. But sometimes they end up being cooler than the stuff that I normally do, so it's nice to try to change it up a little bit. And some of the things that I've tried out in the past have really been fantastic, and I've kept those things in place.
But so yes. It seems that the summer is drawing to its inevitable close and the new school year is just about upon us. School's back in session for me in just under 3 weeks. And I have a dream of working efficiently and of keeping work to it's rightful place: 40 hours in the week. Or, really, I'd be happy with 50 hours. And have I done everything this summer that I hoped to do? Eh, not really. But have I done everything I've absolutely needed to do plus a little extra? Yep, I sure have. And I suspect most of you have done as well.
* Mano wonders in her post about whether being a professor is actually less time-consuming than being a grad student, and I'll weigh in briefly, and I encourage others to do so as well. My short answer is yes. But that's not actually entirely true. Here's the thing: things that used to take a lot more time for me in graduate school (prepping for classes I teach, for example) now take much less time because I have certain courses that I teach regularly, so all of the prep is done. Also, the courses that I teach less frequently are in my field of specialty, and so those, too, take less time in the preparation. Even with new preps my course policies are set in stone, and I don't remember the last time I wrote a syllabus from beginning to end from scratch. While it's true that I have more administrative/service crap to deal with now, that stuff tends to be pretty localized in terms of time commitment. The biggest difference, though, is probably with the amount of time I spend on research. Unlike when I was in graduate school, my primary "new" research stuff has been confined to two conference papers per year. I am not writing a dissertation as well as trying to teach and do all of the other stuff. I'm not reading two or three novels a week plus theory and criticism as people still in coursework are doing. And yes, I've had to invest time in the book manuscript, but that's not a brand new book, it's developed out of the dissertation. The articles that I've written have been developed out of conference papers, and all of that "new" work grew out of the work that I did in the dissertation project, too, at least in a small way. I suppose what I'm saying is that when I was in graduate school I was doing everything for the first time - first seminar paper, first article, first dissertation, first conference paper. Firsts take a lot of time and they take a lot of mental and emotional energy. Now, well, I know how to do all of that stuff, and so it's less fraught and it has, I think, come to take less time. This may mean that I'm not as thorough a scholar as I was then. Or it may mean that I'm more confident and I know what I'm doing a bit more. I'm not sure. The thing is, though, I'd suspect that all of those who claim an 8-5 schedule would probably include the exception for being under deadline or for it being the end of the semester when everything comes due - in other words, I believe that the 8-5 is GENERALLY possible, but I think that in discrete situations people deviate. Again, I'd be interested in hearing what others think about this, but my short answer is that yes, I do feel like I devote less time to work than I did when I was in graduate school - or perhaps I'm just more in control of how I devote time to work, and so it seems like less? It's important to note here that I'm at a teaching-intensive, regional university, and I suspect that if I were at another type of university I might be singing a different tune.
** When I'm on "Red Alert" all bets about the schedule are off. "Red Alert" is pretty rare - for example, when I had to complete my book manuscript in the month of March, which included writing the introduction in just one week's time over my spring break. "Red Alert" time means everything goes to hell in a handbasket and the best one can hope for is to sleep periodically and to take semi-regular showers and one's house looks like a gang of hoodlums came in and ransacked the joint. At least in my world that is what "Red Alert" means, at any rate.
- When people misconstrue things that I write in plain English on this blog.
- When people are entirely dismissive of things that I think/say, a process which apparently is enabled by #1.
If you're going to bitch about what I write on the blog, at least have the decency first to read it and then to engage with what I have written. That's totally not too much to ask.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Now, G., he's a true scholar. He did his dissertation on a single author, and he seriously knows just about every single thing about that author and that author's oeuvre. His approach also relied on much historical and archival material, and philosophy, and, well, if you were to have a conversation with G. and I, you would definitely come out of that conversation thinking that he was the more serious of the two of us. The smarter and the more well read. (In part because he's all of those things.) And then there's me. And I don't work on a single author, and I suck with knowing the historical stuff, I've never done serious archival research, and, well, you get the picture. And I'm not being falsely modest here, it's just that while I know I'm "bright" and I have original ideas and such, I'm not terribly... encyclopedic in terms of what I know about, and my memory is for shit.
And so flash forward to my recent journey to the ancestral home of G., as well as to his current home and to the home of his Ph.D. work. As one might imagine, people asked how we met. And, as one might imagine, it was revealed that we met at a conference in 1999. And then people said, "Oh, you're an X person, too!" and I had to reply, "Well, sort of, but I work on other things as well," and then the conversation would veer to talk of X, and G. would wax poetic. But then, in spite of my efforts to deflect, the conversation would turn back to me (often because G. would promote the fact that I've got the book thing going on, which means he's very sweet but which also makes me feel quite sheepish). And they'd ask what the book is about.
One would not think that I, having worked on this for 7 or 8 years, would feel reluctant to reveal the topic. And yet I do feel reluctant. Why? Well, because what I work on is fucking in books. Yep, that's right. I don't work on desire, and I don't work on obscenity, and I don't even work on pornography. I actually have made it my work to work on the fucking. Well, I pay attention to the other bases around the baseball diamond of sex as well, but yes, my specialty is fucking in literature. And at one and the same time it makes me feel not very scholarly (I'm not off searching for obscure references because what I'm interested in is looking at the sex that is right there, in the published text) and also a little bit whore-y (I mean, how does one say that this is one's primary intellectual preoccupation, as a straight, young-ish woman, without coming off like a bit of a nympho?).
Now, depending on the situation, this can work in my favor. I mean, talking about my work has served as a pick-up line of sorts in various situations. And it works in my favor as a feminist scholar because ultimately what I'm doing is celebrating the sex scene and marking it as aesthetically valuable, which very little feminist scholarship does. And it works in my favor as a teacher, because the fact that I'm a straight, young-ish woman means that the students at my fairly conservative university are more willing to engage with these things in literature when they get it from me than they might be from a lesbian woman or a man, whether gay or straight. I'm less threatening, somehow.
And I really do think that what I'm working on is interesting, and worthwhile, and all of that.
But still, when the light is shone on it, I'm embarrassed. I'm embarrassed because when I embarked on the scholarly path of the dissertation and now the book, I didn't really believe anybody would see what I was up to. I thought that I'd dazzle and confuse with jargon and the sophisticated turn of phrase, and people would respond to it as they do to most writing about gender and sexuality in literary texts. In getting the reports about the book back, what I realize is that I've not dazzled and confused but rather that the readers see exactly what I'm up to, and yes, they think it's fabulous, but it makes me feel quite vulnerable. And in explaining to G.'s friends about what I do, I also felt quite vulnerable, because what I do seems so frivolous in comparison to his interests. And then I feel vulnerable when I think about what I'm teaching in the fall, because I do teach at a comparatively conservative sort of place, and I feel like one of the novels in particular that I'll be teaching may horrify and alienate my students, leading them to evaluate me in ways that are unkind at best.
But so yes. My name is Dr. Crazy and my main scholarly interest is the representation of fucking in literary texts. And I'm entirely embarrassed by that fact, but the only thing for it is to rock it out.
(And yes, I'm also embarrassed because I don't feel like anybody should really be paid to study this sort of thing, etc., but really, it's the topic that's my biggest problem.)
I wish that I had a personal chef who would chef me up delicious and healthy treats. Sigh.
- reading 100 pgs. in one book and 100 pgs in another. (Theoretically this should take five hours if grad school calculations about reading speed still hold true.)
- I also plan to go to the gym, which I'm SURE will make me feel more like a human being than I've been feeling.
- Go in to school to pick up part of the book manuscript, to get some ILL stuff that's arrived, and maybe to pick up some other stuff at the library.
- Finally finish the order that I've been fiddling around with at Amazon.
- Perhaps do some more things related to assignments and syllabi for the fall.
In other news, I want to encourage people to check out this post over at Dean Dad's about nerds. While I agree with his claim that "acting black" is a symptom rather than a defining feature of non-nerd culture at this particular time, I found myself bristling at his description of nerdiness just as I bristled at his comments during the whole "nice guy" debate, lo, a couple of years ago. Now, I should admit here that I never considered myself a nerd, but what he describes as his nerdy pastimes aren't unlike what I did for fun in high school. Monty Python? check. (And don't forget Dr. Who and the Young Ones.) Music that was decidedly not high-school cool? check. Being outside the keg-party-having inner circle of jocks and people who lived on the right side of the tracks (for yes, there were actual railroad tracks in my town dividing one social class from another)? Yep, that was me.
BUT. The other people who fell into that grouping all did the same stuff I did, and we all thought what we did was cool. So we were in choir, we did theater, and we were in geeky foreign language clubs and on the high school newspaper. We weren't pariahs or anything, at least not that I recall. But maybe I just didn't realize I was a pariah? But the stuff that makes me bristle in Dean Dad's post are comments like the one about high functioning nerds treating their wives better (not having been a wife I suppose I don't know, but I've dated some former nerds, and let me tell you, they can treat you like shit just as easily as any other variety of dude can), and not all guys who were cool also now fill the role of babydaddy (as many of the cool are commitmentphobes who have retained their coolness lo these many years by not getting saddled with kids). Dean Dad's overall theory of nerdiness seems like a good one, but the assumptions that appear to underlie it, that guys who were nerds are somehow superior in later adulthood to other guys, well, that seems like a bunch of crap to me. I didn't post this over in his comments because I don't really address what Dean Dad asks readers to comment on, and I may be "off point" once again in my response and I don't want to be a hijacker. But what do you guys think? Am I way off base in my response? Can I just not know because I didn't perceive of myself as a nerd during those formative adolescent years?
Hmmm.... what else? Only a half-hour until my work day must start, so I suppose I shall close for now. More later, I'm sure, as with productivity comes blog-posting!
Sunday, July 29, 2007
What the fuck is going on with me?
It's not that I'm not in the mood to blog. I am. It's not that I don't have anything to write about. I do. But at the same time, I'm having the problem of actually committing to anything that I write here, and this has been a problem I've been experiencing for the past week or so. I start to write a blog post, and I either start it over and over again, or I just leave off, saving it as a draft (and I never draft blog posts), only to delete it later.
Again, it's not that I don't have anything to write or that I don't want to write. If those were the issues, I'd not be so concerned. I think instead it's more a problem of how to project what I want to write into the world. This is sometimes a problem for me when I've been reading a lot, which I have been doing lately, and particularly when the reading that I'm doing has a voice so strong that it overwhelms my own voice. When you read in big bursts, and when there are these explosions of ideas in your head in which you're making connections and making notes about directions that you will take based on your reading, it's difficult to switch back into yourself, or at least it is for me. And so no matter how much one has to say, it's easy to get lost, to lose the thread, and to forget how to project one's own voice out into language.
And so lately, the writing that I've been doing here has not really reflected all of the things that I've been preoccupied with thinking about, which I think shows. And the other writing that I've been doing has tended to be of the administrative and bureaucratic variety that course syllabi and assignments demand. Again, this writing hasn't had much to do with what has been rattling around in my head. And so this post is about trying to get back to "real" writing, something I've got to do if I'm to do the kind of work I need to do in the next two weeks on the book and on other revision-type things that are coming due in the next month.
It occurs to me that this maybe has always been my problem when I'm immersed in the research side of this job. "Research" of the variety that I do (for I am not an archival scholar by any stretch of the imagination) pretty much can be boiled down to close reading. I take a literary text, and I throw myself into it, and then I have ideas about it, and then I look at theory and secondary stuff to flesh out the ideas that I have. The problem is, when one makes it her business to immerse herself in literary texts, she can sometimes lose herself in the text. This may be a testament to what Coleridge has to say about great writing having the ability to produce a willing suspension of disbelief in the reader, but sometimes I think that I willingly suspend just a smidgen too far. This is good for the thinking part of things, but it's bad for the writing part of what I've got to do when the thinking is done. It's also not good for the parts of my life that don't have to do with ideas. I shut people out, not because I don't want them around, but because I don't know how to explain the mental space I'm inhabiting. I don't know how to explain that I lapse into periods where I'm living almost entirely in my head. And that the only things I really have to talk about are things related to what's going on in my head, which really, aren't all that compelling when the other person isn't reading what I'm reading and thinking what I'm thinking.
So I was thinking about concluding with a synopsis of all of the stuff I've been thinking about. And this is my fourth or fifth start on this paragraph in which I was going to do that, because, it occurs to me now, I'm embarrassed. Whew! This paragraph was much longer, but I decided to delete what followed now that I've hit on this crucial revelation about myself. Yep, I'm embarrassed by what I work on, both in the classroom and out of it. And as in all embarrassing situations, the only thing for it is to rock it out and to pretend one isn't embarrassed and to just do the damned thing.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
My overall feeling when I finished the final book was that it was... satisfactory. Which I suppose is saying a lot, ultimately, about Rowling's achievement, since with all of the hype and the build-up and the incredible investment on the part of readers, it was probably more likely than not that the ending would have felt unsatisfactory, at least on some level. But no, when I finished reading, I felt that the series was satisfactorily finished.
But. (And of course you knew there'd be a "but.") Even as I was, I suppose, "satisfied" by the ending that I read, there were things that I suppose I felt might have been.... cooler. Yep, no way to put it other than that. There were teasers in other books that never materialized into anything more than teasers, there were things that I'd have liked to have seen developed more fully, there were answers I'd have liked to have seen provided that just were not provided. So in this post, I'm going to be a crotchety person and talk about all of what I wish could have happened in that last book that didn't happen. But I will conclude with what I loved in the final book, so if you're not in the mood to read my crotchety musings (and remember, I'm suffering from a cold and so I should be forgiven for being crotchety), just skip on down to the end where I talk about what I actually liked in the book.
So, in no particular order, here are the things that irked me about Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows:
- Why was there no portrait of Sirius in Grimmauld Place? Was I the only one who had expected to see Sirius in portrait-form when Harry, Hermione, and Ron returned there, as of course we knew that they must?
- And speaking of portraits, I really had thought that our hero would first get advice from Dumbledore from a chocolate frog card. Why? Well, Bill did say in The Order of the Phoenix that Dumbledore didn't care what they did to him as long as they didn't take him off the chocolate frog cards. Now, on the one hand, this could have been just that old Dumbledore being silly, but I had hoped that it was more meaningful than that - not in the least because it would have provided nice symmetry between the first and final books.
- I'd have liked to see a bit more exposition surrounding Fred's death. As it was, Fred seemed like a bit of an easy way out - a way not to kill somebody who'd REALLY upset us. Specifically, without hearing more about how George dealt with Fred's death, I as a reader couldn't really feel deeply about his death one way or another.
- I'd have liked to see Harry learn the truth about Snape before seeing his death. I felt like Harry got let off a bit easy with the two events happening in the reverse, and I'd have liked to have seen Harry have to deal with Snape's death after Snape was redeemed in his eyes.
- I can't even talk about my feelings about the "everybody gets married to their childhood sweetheart and lives happily ever after" epilogue. I guess those of us who didn't find our soulmates at 11 are just screwed. (Actually, the whole, "you can't have a fulfilling career and a family" undercurrent throughout the series is quite troubling. Quite.)
- I've got to say, I wasn't very compelled by the whole "deathly hallows" story line. It was fine, I guess, but I didn't really care whether the hallows were united, nor did I see that the hallows themselves were particularly crucial to the outcome of the novel. I suppose they do mark Harry as "the chosen one," by the fact that he can unite them, but whatever. Didn't we already know that he was? Blah.
- The return of Percy was just dumb. I mean, after all of that, he's just forgiven? And why would he have been in contact with Aberforth when nobody even knew about Aberforth at the Hog's Head until this stupid book? Wouldn't it have been more likely for him to be in contact with a member of the Order at the Ministry? L-a-a-a-m-e.
- I'd have liked to see all of the skills that Harry and the others learned at Hogwarts come into play more in the final battle and/or in finding the horcruxes. It would have been nice to see Ron/Hermione/Harry use all of what they'd learned at Hogwarts - potions, runes, arithmancy, charms, CoMC, etc. - and I didn't feel like the final book really showed them doing so.
- I still want to know what James and Lily did for a living, whatever happened to the Potter Grandparents (as they were both alive when Sirius was 16 and just a few years later - poof! gone! - and it wouldn't have taken much for Harry to see their graves or something in this last book), and heck, for that matter, what do Hermione, Ron, Harry, and Ginny end up doing for a living in the epilogue (for surely they can't be paid to be lovesick and irritating). I also wish we'd gotten some follow-up on Luna Lovegood, as she remains my total and absolute favorite. And did Malfoy marry Pansy Parkinson? I really want to know whether that's true.
- What's the deal with "everybody sat together regardless of house" at the end of the battle once Voldemort is defeated, but at the start of the epilogue Harry's son is freaking out because he doesn't want to be in Slytherin? Do the old rivalries and divisions remain, and if so, what was achieved through the defeat of Voldemort? And if not, then why is Harry's son wigging about ending up in Slytherin?
- The death of Dobby. I hate that Dobby died, as he's been a huge favorite of mine, but more than any of the others who died I feel that Dobby got his due.
- Peter Pettigrew getting his comeuppance (although it's a shame that doing a good thing led to his death).
- The redemption of Kreacher (and who didn't love his leading the house elves in the charge in the final battle? Awesome).
- Neville-f'ing-Longbottom. Really, Neville made the whole book for me, to be honest, and without his role I don't think I'd have found the book satisfactory.
- Take care of my reimbursement shit from my trip.
- Feel sorry for myself.
- Try to make others feel sorry for me.
- Go to the store to buy supplies for illness.
- Sleep. For approximately 14 hours.
Friday, July 27, 2007
What kind of beast would turn its life into words?
What atonement is this all about?
- and yet, writing words like these, I'm also living.
Is all this close to the wolverine's howled signals,
that modulated cantana of the wild?
or, when away from you I try to create you in words,
am I simply using you, like a river or a war?
And how have I used rivers, how have I used wars
to escape writing of the worst thing of all -
not the crimes of others, not even our own death,
but the failure to want our own freedom passionately enough
so that blighted elms, sick rivers, massacres would seem
mere emblems of that desecration of ourselves?
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Well, faithful readers, here are some more pictures from my travels. The first two are taken from atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh, which I must say is kind of a bitch to climb when one is feeling the after-effects of a night of conversation and wine that included all present singing "Waltzing Matilda" before it was through.
Then, we have Edinburgh Castle in a picture taken from just beside the Sir Walter Scott Monument. While in Edinburgh we also visited David Hume's grave, and we had a fabulous dinner.
The final picture is also Scotland, but it's not quite a "scenic vista" sort of a picture, but rather a picture that I think does capture the more social aspects of my trip. Ah, love the lovely traveling with friends. Love the lovely non-work travel.
So, how to organize a research assignment from which all students will learn something and at which all students have the potential to succeed when the range of students in the course is so wide? Well, that was the task I set for myself, and what I came up with is this group project idea.
I know. Students hate group projects. But I think the beauty of what I've designed is that the bulk of the work is actually individual, and even the group portions won't require a great deal of meeting with one another - they could probably manage the project entirely electronically if they so chose to do so. The first portion, a group portion, requires each group member to read a brief theoretical text that I assign. (This is also a way to get them to grapple with theory, albeit in a small way.) As a group, they need to write a 250 word summary and a 250 word analysis that connects the theory to the unit to which their project corresponds. (I've offered to meet with the groups to discuss the theory stuff outside of class should they feel at sea with this portion of the assignment.) Then, each individual member is responsible for finding 3 secondary sources and providing an annotation for each, and then for finding 3 primary sources (literary texts of some stripe) that are not on the syllabus that could supplement the assigned texts for the unit with an explanation for how they fit into the unit's themes. Each individual member then needs to write an analysis of how the group worked together, what they learned from their individual part in the project, and what they learn from looking at the project as a whole. Finally, the last "group" part of the grade has to do with formatting and submission, so I'm going to receive just one document with all of the above included. Once I've graded each project (there will be four total), I will post them on the course blackboard site so that all students in the course can see what other groups have done, thus providing 4 supplementary packets of material for students who'd be interested in further reading on the topic of the course.
I suppose the reason I'm excited about this assignment is that 1) it forces them into the library and to read and think about sources (both secondary and primary) in a critical way; 2) it's not actually that much work for each individual, and the project assignment clearly assigns duties to individuals so that one person won't get stuck doing all of the work 3) it gives students the opportunity to hone research skills separately from the monumental task of writing a paper, which I really don't think we give students enough opportunity to do. (I will have them write an essay in which they will need to integrate two secondary critical sources, so they will do some research writing, but they will not do a full-blown research paper in the course, as I expect students to do in senior-level courses.)
Of course, the whole thing could go horribly awry, but my hope is that I've thought of the pitfalls and that students will ultimately find the experience of the project rewarding and that they'll learn something from it. So that's what I've spent my morning doing - trying to compose an assignment for the project that is incredibly clear and that closes all possible loopholes that will make the whole thing disastrous. Have any of you ever assigned a similar sort of project? If so, do you have any advice from your experiences? Also, from my above description, do you see any potential difficulties that I'm not anticipating?
Well, once I've done drinking my coffee, I have to force myself in to school so that I can take care of the reimbursement stuff from the trip. Otherwise, today's agenda includes the following:
- Order stuff from ILL for book and article.
- Print off articles available electronically to be read over weekend.
- Continue reading Essential Novel.
- Begin work finalizing syllabi.
I suspect I'll write some more later, for I think it's time for my Potter posts, and perhaps for another vacation-related post. We shall see - it all depends on whether I can get into a groove with the work.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
And here we have another photograph taken in Wales, this time of a lake that was formed on top of a hill after mining was done there (and I forget the name of it).
We also have a portrait of a sheep taken in Wales. You know, there are a lot of sheep in the United Kingdom. A great many sheep.
And here we have the Roman Amphitheater at Caerleon, which is just a hop skip and a jump from G.'s parents' neighborhood (which incidentally did quite resemble Little Whinging).
I suppose that's all the pics I will post from Wales. I'll save Scotland for another day - it wouldn't do to post every picture at once.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The major thing is final revisions on the book manuscript. There's work I need to get done on that in the next three weeks when I'm not teaching that I absolutely cannot put off until after the semester begins. I need solid time - time to explore big ideas and to flesh out difficult passages from one idea to the next. That's not the kind of work I can do easily in fits and starts. I know this about myself, and I accept it. I also know that over the past three spring breaks I've managed to force myself into that dedicated working time, with good results, and so I have faith that I can do so over the next three weeks as well. Well, or I'm trying to have faith that I can do that. So what do I need to do in the next three weeks for the book?
- Massive amounts of reading. I need to flesh out some sections of the manuscript and make connections to texts that I don't currently discuss. This sounds more gargantuan a task than it is, actually, but I don't want to underestimate the work that lies before me, so I'm erring on the side of overestimation.
- Once those massive amounts of reading are completed (with the taking of extensive notes as I go), I will complete revisions on the intro chapter, chapter two, chapter three, and the final chapter, weaving in bursts of new material and smoothing out the transitions from one idea to the other. These are the most substantive of the revisions that lie before me, and if I can get them done by the first week of classes, I will be GOLDEN.
- Talk to my editor about some logistical stuff related to the book.
- Complete revisions based on a reader's report for an essay I'm doing for a collection. These revisions are fairly (ok, totally) substantive. It's not that the reviewer hated my essay. It's that the reviewer sort of wanted me to write a totally different essay than the one that I wrote. And so now, well, I need to find a way to write a totally different essay from the one that I wrote while retaining the substance of the essay that I did write, while still maintaining a reasonable length. This, my friends, shall not be easy. I should add, however, that I think the essay will be better for all of this finagling.
- Complete syllabi. Now, I've got reassigned time (yet again, so thank you, talisman of my blog name), so I have but three classes to teach in the fall. Three preps. Three syllabi that are not yet ready. I want to die.
- Unpack my office. Remember how I had the office recarpeted and had to pack up the whole thing? Yeah, I never unpacked. I feel that this may be something that does not get done before the end of Fall semester.
But then there's the possibility that I'll send out some job stuff this year. If there's anything good, I certainly will. I'm not yet willing to commit to where I am, so if there's anything appetizing, I shall apply, in spite of the fact that I have no time and no energy for such ventures. Ah well. A girl only lives once. And I'm a girl who believes in pursuing possibilities, even if they don't pan out. One learns from the pursuit, if nothing else. (This philosophy of life is probably why I'm not married, it occurs to me.)
So yes, all of this is what shall produce angst in the coming weeks and months. I know you care terribly, but it does help to write it all out, and to write it all out for an audience as opposed to for myself in the journal, in which I have the pesky tendency to devolve into unadulterated whining (and if you think this here is whining, you have absolutely no idea.)
And now, since you have read through all of this ruminating, I shall reward you with a picture from my trip. This was taken in Wales, and tragically I don't think you really see the gorgeous shafts of light that were coming out of the sky onto the view below. That said, I am in love with Wales. Yes, in love with the whole place. In a way that I have never been in love with a place in my life, and no, not even in the way that I am in love with Italy. It is so beautiful and lovely that I don't know why we all don't live there. Seriously.
So I ate a great deal during my trip, including traditional fare, such as beans with breakfast (which I remember from the last time I was in the UK and still find bizarre), haggis, cullen skink, black pudding.... so yes, I did not shy away from trying things, and I was pleasantly surprised by the last three on the list - and most particularly by the cullen skink, I must say.
On the first night that we got to G's parents' we ordered Chinese food, which was just like American Chinese food with two exceptions: 1) one of the dishes ordered was a curry; 2) there were also chips (i.e., french fries). I have no problem with these items in theory, but in practice it was slightly odd to have them with chinese food. Yummy nonetheless. G's friends in Kirkcaldy made a delicious chicken stew for us on our first night there after driving up from Wales (and on this night a great deal of wine and beer was also consumed, which led to wicked awful hangovers the next day, but I actually didn't feel as poorly as I might have as I was the most sensible of our lot and insisted that it was bedtime when the sun rose, which admittedly is early in Scotland, but still, when the sun comes up it is time for people to be sleeping I'm thinking, even if this was not the only sunrise I saw on the wrong end during my stay....) and then the next day we had breakfast (eggs, beans, bacon, black pudding) and went out to a lovely dinner (which was where I tried both the haggis and the cullen skink). The next day, G. and I wended our way to St. Andrews, we had pasta for dinner, and then went to a cocktail party at his friends' T. and S.'s place. (This would be the night on which he declared me "merry" when I was pathetically apologizing for my state.) The following day we spent hours walking along this beach, and then Ghengis and his housemate Romeo organized a lovely Moroccan feast for dinner. The next day was the trip to the highlands (about which I will say more in another post) and I feel like I had soup and a sandwich for lunch? And then we went to a neighbor's cook-out for dinner? And then we went out that evening. The following day we returned to Wales (and I know we ate before and I feel like I had shepherd's pie or something). Back in wales, G's mom made a lasagna for dinner the first night and a curry the second night. I also think that I perfected the art of negotiating for a non-heart-attack inducing breakfast, and I learned the art of distracting her from the desire to feed me by requesting ever more cups of tea. (I LOVE G's mom. His dad, too, really. And the brothers are quite lovely. Actually, I met many of his cousins and some aunts and uncles as well as talked to his sister on the phone a few years ago in Dublin, and I loved them, too. Perhaps I just want to adopt G's family - or to have them adopt me?)
So yes, that's the food portion of the trip.
As for the drinking and being merry? Well, suffice it to say that I drank every single day from July 6 through July 16. As you might imagine, I am in the process of detoxing and have been since my return (with the exception of Friday and Saturday nights, as friends from Hometown needed me to be merry with them as well - and speaking of which, send A. big hugs and support as her stupid boyfriend (whom I dubbed the Accidental Husband) broke up with her in a horrifying display of cowardliness and self-pity). What did I drink?
Wine (white and red - many, many varieties)
Pints (again, of various stripes)
(The last two being separately from the martinis)
I do believe that is all.
Ok, must download pics so that I can show you all some sights from the trip!
Also, in other news I do have a post brewing about the final Potter (as longtime readers would expect me to have). Short version: I feel that the ending of the series was... adequate. I was not disappointed really, though I do think that some of the things *I* would have included in the final book might have made it slightly more awesome. Of course, I'm not making the big bucks, so what do I know. But again, yes, you can expect a lengthy dissection of Harry Potter sooner rather than later.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Well, all, I am back from my travels, and, really, this trip surpassed even my greatest expectations for it. I somehow managed to see a lot (Tintern Abbey, a Roman amphitheatre, David Hume’s grave, and this is not to mention the fact that I took the train from London to Leeds, from Leeds to Bath, and drove from Bath to Wales to Scotland and Back, which means I saw probably as much of the England, Scotland, and Wales as is possible in just two weeks’ time) while also to have a really relaxed and relaxing trip. All of this is down to my friend G., who planned the whole thing – oh, and who incidentally is not Ghengis – let’s just say that the last post was perhaps not as clear as it might have been because it was being composed by committee very late at night (early in the morning?) after a night out. But so this will be the first in a series of posts about the trip, and I’ve decided not to begin at the beginning and to provide a chronological account but rather to do the posts thematically in such a way as to give a better sense of the feeling of the trip as opposed to just providing the itinerary (which, ultimately, would not be as interesting). Also, if I owe you an email, or some other correspondence, I honestly have every intention of catching up in the next week or so, so please do bear with me if all you get for the moment is items related to the travels on the blog.
You know, I never feel more American – and, honestly, more patriotic – than when I’m in another country. This is not to say that I don’t recognize the dumb things about the
But so some of the most enjoyable time I spent on my trip was in a pub that’s been in business since 1710, the local of G’s dad and brothers, which is just down the block from their house. G’s family lives in a small village near
But so yeah. Sitting in that pub, I suppose I felt the way that the past reaches into the present in a way more palpable than I’ve ever felt it visiting historical landmarks or museums or any other such things. The past is just part of daily life, and there is not, in the way of
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Shall be back to regular posting when back stateside. Love the lovely UK.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
In other news, I'm wicked excited about my trip, and I really think it's going to be fabulous. Hurrah! Have finally figured out train-related portions of trip, and am allowing myself to relax into the thought of two weeks out of real life. Oh, and I'm also feeling better because I picked up a copy of a novel that I need to read while on the trip second-hand, so now all of my reading material stuff is set (well, except for magazines I'm certain to buy, but that can't be helped).
Ooh! brand new baby in Panera with what seems to be dad and 3-yr-old sister! But baby is very, very new and very darling! Love the brand new babies! (Esp. when not crying, but rather just making really sweet faces while sleeping.) Also a woman here who seems to be recovering from some sort of cosmetic dentistry or plastic surgery who from the look of her neck is around 55 but from the look of her face might be like 37. The hair offers no clue as to age as it may/may not be a wig but is the color that I like to call "playboy bunny blonde" that I don't think I've ever actually seen before in real life.
So yeah, that's the slice of life scenic stuff from the afternoon. But so it's time for me to get back to work. Whee!
Monday, July 02, 2007
I've gathered together everything I think I need for my trip, and I had a windfall of cash from a travel reimbursement that I was fortuitously able to pick up today, and so really, it seems as if everything is coming together. I'm now doing the thing where I blog in order to try to think of anything I might be forgetting that I really can't afford to forget, but I think that with all of my obsessive list-making that I'm in pretty good shape.
But so, what this means is that I will likely not be blogging much between now and the third week of July or so. While I'll try to check in every now and again, I should be pretty much unconnected for the duration until I'm back stateside and actually, probably, until I'm back home for real. So at any rate, that's just a heads up for those of you who may look around next week and say, "Hey, where did Dr. Crazy go? Is she ok?" for yes, I will be ok, just off the map for a bit. I'm a firm believer in going off the map periodically, for really, the world will not end if I am not constantly connected. And I should have oodles of things to report upon my return, and that will be fabulous as well.
Ok, off to finish my preparations and to get out on the road on what is a sunny, blue-skied, gorgeous day for a drive across Homestate.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
The Man-Kitty does seem to be aware that there are strange happenings afoot. Ah well, he is a cat who must learn to adapt. I'm thinking that he's becoming far too set in his ways. A trip to Hometown will do his spoiled self some good, I'm thinking.
But so yeah, I'm still feeling a bit at loose ends, but I suppose this is normal when one is leaving town for an extended journey. And as for the conference paper, well, I've given stupider ones. I just need to get over myself and whip the thing into shape in the coming days.
Everything's going to be great. I know it is, so I need to stop my bitching.
My conference paper is not yet complete (because I'm a total ass), I'm only half-packed and I'm wigging because I'm certain I'm going to forget important things and also that I'm packing stupidly and too much, I feel completely out of sorts not only about the trip but also about all of the work that I've shoved to the back burner, and yet even with all of this the case I've procrastinated a great deal today even though TIME IS FUCKING OUT FOR PROCRASTINATING!
I mean, sure, I've made lists, and I've checked them, and blah blah blah, but I'm... I don't know. I'm not as excited as I should be. I'm not really happy to be leaving home. I just feel stressed out and angsty. That's not how I should feel right now. It's just not.
It's because of all the deadlines I've got looming upon my return - I'm not so dumb as not to realize that - and because I feel like the summer is basically over and AAARRRRGGGGHHHH!
I'm sure it all will be fine once I'm on my way tomorrow, but right now I'm feeling like nothing at all will be fine. I know that's dumb. I know it. But so.
Things I need to do tonight:
- Pack up (most of) the Man-Kitty's provisions and accessories.
- Pack a small bag for my mom's house.
- Pack my carry-on for the plane (including passport. cannot forget passport. also camera and batteries.)
- Take out trash.
- Double-check my packing list to make sure that I've got everything I planned on taking.
- Make sure I have relevant addresses in my address book for postcard-sending purposes.
- Take out trash.
- Unload dishwasher.
- Finish(ish) conference paper. Or if not I can do it at my mom's, but I'd rather do it here.
- Go to office to tie up some loose travel ends.
- Load up car with stuff.
- Take Man-Kitty to get his nails clipped.
- Get item for G. that he requested.
- Drive to Hometown.
- 1 load of laundry (for yes, I'm bringing dirty clothes to my mother's, which means that I'm totally not an adult).
- review conference paper and make some notes/changes.
- buy book I need to read on my travels.
- Hang with family.
- Fly to another country.
You know, I think part of my problem is that this was supposed to be my big thing of this summer, this trip. That's how it seemed when I wrote the abstract for the conference in the fall, and when I made my plans with G. for the vacation-esque portion of things in the spring. Maybe it's the vacation aspect of things that's freaking me out? I mean, I'm all about the traveling for work business, and all about the visiting people business, but I'm not so much about the vacations. Perhaps I should just think of the travels with G. as visiting as opposed to vacationing? Yes, that does make me feel a bit better.
You know, in part I blame the book. If I didn't have the book looming over me I could totally be psyched about this trip, I feel like. Perhaps I'm suffering from "be careful what you wish for" syndrome. I just want everything to go well, but I've not done the things that I should have done in order to make sure that things will go well.
Blech. I'm sick of this whining. I just need to get all of my things done. It's not that hard. I mean, what's wrong with me? Why can't I just focus? Because I can't. All I want to do is to hide under the covers and not do any of my things. Ok, back to it. I hope I'll have something better to report in the coming hours.
- You know what movie is really quite a pleasure to watch? Can't Hardly Wait. I know, I know, but it has a million people in it and it's quite a romp. I actually have many theories about this movie, which I could go on about at length, but I will spare you that.
- I'm a big loser because what I did with my Saturday night is watch the above, as well as A Prairie Home Companion, and all of this only after the marathon of Britain's Next Top Model was done.
- No, my day wasn't only spent loafing around, but yes, there was a lot of loafing.
- BFF has been begging me to do a blog post about an incident I had recently in which I met some parents. She says that she imagines the whole thing was like the sketch on Saturday Night Live with Gilda Radner and Bill Murray as nerdy boyfriend-girlfriend characters Lisa Loopner and Todd diLamuca, only in an interesting gender reversal I would play the role of Todd, who comes to the house and whines, "Hi, Mrs. Loopner" to the mom character played by Jane Curtain. Another possible way of writing about this experience would be to riff on it in a whole Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers sort of parody (this idea courtesy of my mother, who, when I described something I saw in the home of the parents, responded, "Oh, you saw the Wall of Gaylord," and laughed and laughed...)
- What's crazy is that I'm going to be meeting some more parents this summer while in the UK. What the heck? I don't meet parents! Not even of people I am in actual romantic relationships with... unless I'm like moving in with them or something! And somehow this is the summer where boys are putting Crazy on display for parents in spite of that fact! And I should note that I'm nobody's girlfriend, which makes the situation all the more interesting and (quite frankly) bizarre. Maybe I'm being used as some kind of a beard?
- PMS blows.
- So too does the fact that I'm totally and completely unprepared for my trip. Ah well, tomorrow is another day.
- Oh, and I know I got tagged again for the 8 things meme but I already did it.
- Yes, I do believe that's all for the evening. I think I should go to bed and read or something (even though I already tried going to bed, reading, and even fell asleep, but then I woke up because I'm an idiot). Apparently I felt that I could not rest without having composed this dumb blog post :)