Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things That Make Me Happy

I don't want to be all gratitude-journal-y, but I've been trying over the past few days to focus on the positive, and I feel like the academic blogosphere, given our point in the academic calendar and the job-search season and the grad school application season, can use some warm fuzzies. So. Here are the things in my life as a professor that make me happy today.

  • That by a quirk of scheduling this week I got to teach what I really do think may be my absolute favorite thing of all the things I teach. On the surface, the story is depressing. Dead parents, dead-end lives, and attempted suicide are all parts of this text. And yet - and yet - there is the fact that there may be a blow-job in this text. Ah, 'tis so fun! The laughter! The blushing! The wonderful discussion that results!
  • That I finished one big stack of grading.
  • That I'm really at home at my university. Good to have realized this and to feel really solid about it in my tenure year. And nice to appreciate just how great the community here is and how great my colleagues are.
  • That I have the privilege of teaching my awesome students in my most awesomest class ever. I am so sad that so many of them are graduating this year!
  • The fact that my upper-level class in my field for the spring has already reached the enrollment minimum, that it's populated with students that I for the most part don't know, and that juniors haven't even really begun scheduling.
  • That once again I've been invited to a celebratory dinner for a student honorary society. The students choose who to invite, and not every faculty member gets one of these coveted invitations, and let me tell you: the awesome students in my department? They think that I rock. I love that this is true.
  • That what angst I'd been feeling about the book and about the tenure process seems to be in check. I'm not saying it's over - it ain't over until the fat lady sings and all that - but I'm feeling centered and good and like the world might not come to an end. Revolutionary.
  • That I finally seem to have come to terms with the fact that while the job isn't the end-all-be-all, it is something that I really love, and there's no reason to feel badly about the fact that I love it as I do.
  • That I don't actually feel disappointed that I may be out of the running for JWIBSNA. This is really groundbreaking, that this fact isn't fucking with my sense of self-worth.
  • That my article does seem to be inching, however slowly, toward publication, and that it's an article that I really feel makes a significant contribution to the field, which I have rarely felt about my scholarship.
  • That I saw one of my first students ever at this institution, the first student who shouted "Hey, Dr. Crazy!" across the quad at me (which was huge as I was newly minted and nobody had ever done that before), a student who did not start out as an English major and whom I converted, and in spite of some sucky circumstances over the past year or two, the student is doing fantastically well and is about to graduate and hurray!
  • That everybody loves my hair. Ok, so that's not an academic thing per se, but I've gotten lots of compliments at school about it, and so I'm throwing it into the mix even though it's a stupid thing to care about. Also (as this is the fake bullet of academic happiness) I feel that part of the reason people are giving me all these compliments is because the weight loss is just generally making me look better. And it's been inspiring me to dress better for school, partly because I have clothes that actually fit me properly what with the 8-10 lbs I've shed. And so no, this isn't really academic happiness, but it bleeds over into my academic life.
So yes, all is not pain just because it's November in academic-land. And for those of you who are feeling like it is, well, it's entirely possible that not every November will feel as crappy as this November does for you. I'll tell you: I've had some shitty freaking Novembers in my time. It's nice to finally feel like that's not a life sentence of shitty Novembers, even with the horrible events (in my world) of this past week.


Belle said...

Nice list. Good timing; January is my traditional hell months. I'll try and do this myself, even if it doesn't end up on my blog. So thank you. I needed this.

phd me said...

Yay for good stuff! As bad as things get sometimes, there are always bright spots, even if they're little, even if they're hard to find. I need to remind myself of that more often.

Susan said...

Your list brought a smile to my face. And especially the last bullet. I mean, it's so nice to be recognized as a whole person. (And to have clothes that fit.)

Good Enough Woman said...

Regarding your first bullet and the ambiguous BJ: Do you ever get conservative backlash for texts that contain dirty bits? I find myself making fairly conservative choices with texts in order to avoid student complaints about said dirty bits. Thoughts? Tips?

Dr. Crazy said...

You know, GEW, I don't think much about it, which may in part be due to the fact that my research area has completely desensitized me. But here are some tips/thoughts.

1) Except for in the one class where the course title explicitly reflects that there will be racy content, I ease students in with less racy content earlier in the semester. Actually, even in the course with the explicit title, I ease them in with critical context stuff. I set a tone of critical rigor, which then carries over to the racy stuff.

2) It helps if you explain why the text is worth studying, either because of or in light of the dirty bits, in terms of literary and cultural criticism. Example: one reason why D.H. Lawrence is important culturally in the 21st century is because he's a notoriously "dirty writer" of the 20th century. If you ignore the dirty bits, you're ignoring one reason (and the most widely known reason) that he's significant. By talking about those bits in class, we can bring critical rigor to the discussion, and ultimately ask the question, "should we be reading this stuff?".

3) It's all about the critical rigor. I'm pretty open about the fact that I think that even if something makes us uncomfortable or goes against our own personal value systems that we don't get a free pass letting us out of engaging critically. We can certainly argue that a text doesn't have literary merit because of its explicitness; we can certainly talk about any discomfort a text causes. But we'd better engage with why other people disagree with us, and "this offends me so I'm going to ignore it or belittle others who believe something different about this text" doesn't count as engagement. Why does it offend? Has every other reader in the history of the world been wrong about this text's merits? What supports your reading?

4) I'm pretty open about my own discomfort with certain texts that I teach, and I explain why I teach even things that make me uncomfortable. I also explain very clearly what I want the students to take away from texts that include explicit scenes, and I'm very clear that my aim is not to "convert" them according to some liberal agenda. And I actually believe that. I don't want to "convert" my students. Sometimes it happens, but it's not the goal. Ultimately, I want conservative students to have examined the stuff that goes against their beliefs so that they've got good reasons for why they deplore that stuff. I want them to have been exposed to things that challenge them, so that they make better arguments and so that they don't leave my classes ignorant.

5) I warn students on the first day of class about any really out-there content, and I warn them prior to reading/viewing if there is something in a text that they might find disturbing or distasteful. Typically, I exaggerate this, as it's better for them to come away from a challenging text feeling like I made a big deal out of nothing than to feel like they weren't warned. But I also do not allow alternate reading assignments - the syllabus is the syllabus. If you enroll in the course, and you choose not to read, on your head be it.

6) I never force students to write on a topic that forces them to engage with truly explicit stuff. Not even in the explicit class. I give options, some tamer and some less tame, or I let them develop their own topics. It's enough that we cover it in class, and that they are exposed to the material. They can choose how deeply they want to delve into it for graded work.

Finally, at the end of the day, they are adults. I teach a fairly conservative student population, but I've found that if I treat them with respect and like they can handle this material, that they step up. And, because of my openness about what they can expect, those who are truly appalled leave my courses before it affects their grades, their progress toward degree, etc. I am very lucky that I have very supportive colleagues, and I'm not sure that this would be my experience in another institutional climate. That said, when you work on gender and sexuality stuff, as I do, I think at a certain point it becomes impossible to choose only things that you don't think will offend. And even if you do, you still might offend unwittingly, so you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Good Enough Woman said...

Thank you for the detailed response about the naughty bits. I will keep those strategies in mind. They're great, as are the points you made previously about teaching students to do research. Thanks! I enjoy your blog.