Friday, January 30, 2009

That's Me: "Asshole" to Students, "Honey" to Adjuncts

A few of you expressed interest in my "a student called me an asshole" story from last week, but I'll be honest, I wasn't actually going to tell the story. I was really taken aback when it happened, but after that, well, it had fallen off the radar as something I was interested in bothering to write about. But then, it came to mind again yesterday, and then I read this post over at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess, and it occurred to me that a post about forms of address (obviously loosely conceived) and respect might be worth doing on this snowy, snowy Friday.

First off, let me just note for the record that this will not be a rant about "my" students. "My" students, i.e., ones who actually enroll in my classes and stay enrolled in them, students who get to know me and who are on board with learning from me, and even those students who don't know me personally but who know me through their friends who have taken classes with me, now that I'm 5+ years into this job, address me with respect, and if I correct them when they call me the wrong thing, they take the not so subtle hint that they should call me what I prefer. (By "not so subtle hint" I mean that I tell them, "actually, you should call me Dr. Crazy" - so really it's a direct correction and not a hint and so it's not like I'm expecting them to "just know" what to call me. I should also note that even if I don't correct them, my name as I expect to be addressed is listed on my syllabus. I'm not keeping it a secret what I prefer to be called.) Moreover, this actually won't be a rant about students in general. The reason the "asshole" thing caught me so off guard is that the majority of students that I encounter at my university are a respectful bunch.

I should also note for the record that my university - though a couple of departments do buck this trend - tends to favor formal modes of address for those who teach. Non-terminal-degreed folks (whether part-time, full-time, or t-t) are called Mr. or Ms., terminal-degreed folks are called Professor or Dr. The culture of the university is not one of casual address, so expecting to be addressed formally is not the exception - it's the rule. (Aside: I've actually been thinking a lot about this lately now that we have an MA program in our department, as I don't think that graduate students should call me Dr. Crazy but rather should just call me Firstname, but so far this doesn't seem to be the assumption of all professors. Huh. It must have something to do about the level of formality that different profs experienced in their respective grad programs that they attended, or maybe just habit from having been addressed formally by undergrads all these years?) But so anyway, when my colleagues refer to me in the third person to students, they call me Dr. Crazy, and I call my colleagues Dr. Colleague when in conversation with students. In other words, "what to call professors" isn't really all that confusing at my institution. Indeed, it's pretty clear, both in terms of convention and in terms of students being directly told.

So. I have two anecdotes to relate to you - the first, in which a student deemed it appropriate to say I was being an "asshole"; the second, in which an adjunct called me "honey."

Anecdote #1

The Setting: The elevator in my building.

The Scenario: I had gone downstairs to purchase a pathetic sandwich for my lunch because I had not had the wherewithal to pack a lunch that day. I had little time before I taught, and I was returning to my office to scarf down said pathetic sandwich before teaching. I was not wearing a coat to hide my professional attire (for indeed, I actually was dressed like a professor that day, as opposed to wearing jeans or something). So after purchasing my sandwich, I got on the elevator to go up to the top floor, where my office is located. As the elevator hit the floor before mine, a bunch of students were waiting to get the elevator down. Note: these were able-bodied students who could have walked five feet and taken the stairs down. However, it is not uncommon for students to decide that this is too great an expense of energy, and they will choose instead to get on the elevator going up, go up the one floor, and then take the elevator back down. This is irritating, but whatever. So I'm in the elevator with two other people who are going to get off on the top floor, when approximately 600 people who really want to go down pile into the elevator. We reach the top floor. The doors open. None of the people who are going up to go down move.


Dr. Crazy (loudly, with irritation plain in her voice): Excuse me!

Pause, and then finally like three students move out of the way, while I, a colleague from another department, and a student, attempt to elbow our ways out of the elevator.

Dr. Crazy (annoyed): For the record, if you're going to go up to go down and there are other people in the elevator, it's common courtesy to move out of the way when you reach the top floor when the elevator door opens.

Note: I was still behind most of the students when I said this, so all they likely registered was that a female voice was chiding them for rude behavior.

Punk-ass Male Student (as I exited the elevator): "God, you don't have to be an asshole about it."

I just kept walking, but I did register that student's face, and I sincerely hope that someday he enrolls in a class with me.

Commentary: Now, first, let me acknowledge that I wasn't particularly patient in this episode, and in part this has to do with the fact that this isn't the first time I've experienced this problem, and on at least one occasion the students who piled in to go up to go down didn't bother to move and so I ended up having to ride down and then ride up again. So my level of patience has been tried previously, which they could not know. I'll also acknowledge that all the student registered was a female voice when first I spoke, and then, as I exited, that I wasn't gray-haired and authoritative looking. (It was so crowded that the student may not have registered my professorial dress.) So I suspect, though of course I have no way of knowing for certain, that the student wasn't responding to me as a "professor" but rather as an uppity female who had the audacity to stand up for herself and for her need to exit the elevator. But I suppose this was why I found the interchange so shocking: I'm used to being treated, by my students and by my colleagues, with a professional level of respect. My assertion of authority in the moment was colored by the fact that I was thinking of myself as a professor and not as an uppity female. The student's response was one that was seeing me as equal to or lesser than himself, as opposed to a person who has power (however limited) in the institutional hierarchy. I didn't respond to the asshole comment because I needed to eat my lunch, and I wasn't going to fight with a student about being disrespectful when I had things to do. In thinking about this episode later, I did note that it was interesting that the student said I was being an "asshole" rather than being a "bitch" or a "cunt" or some other gendered epithet, and I actually think that this has to do with the fact that the student was responding to me not as a Lady Professor. Indeed, typically students who would respond to me as a Lady Professor would call me "bitch," which strangely I think is a mark of my authority. In this case, I think the student thought I was being rude by calling out rude behavior, for being impatient, whatever. And maybe I was (except I totally don't think I was, if I'm honest).

So anyway, that is the story on that one. I found it irritating, but then I got over it. Ultimately, whatever. But so then yesterday, I had another interesting interchange that brought this earlier one back to mind.

Anecdote #2

The Setting: The department copy room.

The Scenario: I'm in there to make copies for my class, to staple some things, etc. An adjunct who is probably in his 60s is also in there, while I'm stapling the things I've copied, is attempting to copy some things for his class. Apparently, although xeroxing technology has been part of our world for the past 20 years, he still has not mastered it. Now, I'll note that I didn't look particularly professorial yesterday, as our world is a tundra and so I was wearing my warmest sweater, jeans, and boots. Does this make a difference in this setting? Could the adjunct have thought that I'm a student worker or something? I doubt it, as I'd been chatting with another tenured colleague about how I was making copies for my theory class immediately preceding what follows, and the adjunct was part of that conversation.

Adjunct (supersiliously): Honey, do you think you could help me with this [making my copies]?

Commentary: I gave him a brusque response that was helpful, but no, I did not make his copies for him, which is what I think he expected me to do. And yes, I was totally pissed off that the guy called me "honey" and also that he thought it was my job to help him with making freaking copies. (This is one of my axes that I cannot stop grinding, the fact that older male colleagues seem to think that by virtue of my youthful vagina I am an office worker, who can fix jams in the printers and copiers, who can show them how to use the machines, and who has nothing better to do with her time than to assist them in their clerical needs. I had enough of that when I was a temp, thank you very much.) With all of that being said, no, I didn't call him out on calling me "honey." I didn't have the time or the energy. And, dude, it's my job to educate my students, and not every yahoo who doesn't understand appropriate modes of address. (And, honestly, even if I was a student worker I would find the "honey" inappropriate - a simple "excuse me" with no address at all would have been fine, and even "miss" or "ma'am" since the guy doesn't know my name would have been respectful. "Honey" just has no place in the workplace.) So maybe I've got no leg to stand on because I didn't correct the guy, but I'm a girl who picks her battles, and that just wasn't a battle I was interested in having 10 minutes before class.


So, what links these two anecdotes? And what do these two seemingly isolated incidents have to do with proper modes of address for female faculty, or the names with which people in general choose to address women? What does this have to do with the identities that women are expected to inhabit in our culture generally? And what does any of this have to do with respect?

For me, what links these two tales is the fact that in both cases, I had an implicit expectation that I would be treated with a certain amount of respect based on my professional role, and yet the men with whom I interacted did not recognize me as inhabiting that professional role. Now, in both cases, one might argue that they were unaware of my professional role because of the circumstances: they didn't know me, my appearance and the context didn't necessarily manifest the professional role that I inhabit. But I think that this is in fact the salient point here: the default for how women are perceived (and by extension addressed) is not a position of authority or a position that commands respect, but rather it is a position in which one lacks authority and has to earn respect. Unless I display my professional role clearly - I'm wearing my professor costume, I'm standing in front of the class, I'm in my office - a good many people (especially men, though women, too) will "read" me as either a student or as an office worker. (Actually, even when I'm in my office, with its Dr. Crazy nameplate on the door, people sometimes assume I'm an office worker or student.)

Now some might say that my appearance is the main issue here, that because I don't "look my age" or "look like a professor" (whatever those things mean) that I don't get the same kind of respect from strangers. But I just don't buy that. I think it's no mistake that the images of "professor" that come up in google are without fail images of men (and not all old men either - see Dr. Isis's post to which I linked above), just as it's no mistake that the images that come up for "radical feminist" show women who are "white, middle-class or professional, loudmouthed, morbidly obese, middle-aged, and/or ridiculous."

I should also note that these are just two recent incidents: they are not the only incidents of this kind that I could recount. In the past 5 years, I've been addressed, at work, as sweetheart, babe, repeatedly as "Mrs." Crazy even after I explained that I should be called "Dr." Crazy, by my first name when I hadn't invited a person to call me by my first name and after repeated corrections about appropriate ways to address me. I've been called a bitch, a shrew, a cunt (though on evaluations, not to my face).

What I'm describing here is not stuff that happens to me every day with "my" students. "My" students typically are fantastic, they treat me with respect, if they accidentally screw up on what to call me, that's totally not a big deal, and I correct them, they take note of it, and we move on from there. I am not, ultimately, some power-hungry fishwife with a no tolerance policy for people who make mistakes, nor am I all about pretentiously lording my educational or professional status over others. What I'm describing is something that lies quietly beneath the surface except for when I'm blindsided by it. I go along thinking that I hold a position that commands respect - because of my education, because of my professional position, because of the hard work that I do - only to be reminded every now and again, when somebody names me in a certain way, that my default position is one that commands no respect at all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What Will Tomorrow Hold?

Will it hold another snow day? Hmmm.

Well, if my superstitious practices have any power whatsoever, classes may well be called off. See, I did all of the prep that I really needed to do for tomorrow, I did not change the schedule of things in either of my classes, and so there is a paper due tomorrow in one class, presentations in another, and there is a test scheduled in one of them for Tuesday. If there is no school tomorrow, we will not be able to plow along as if this whole "weather event" never happened - the schedule will have to change. I hate changing the schedule. So, although this seems against all natural logic, the fact that I actually am ready to teach tomorrow and that I really want to teach tomorrow should mean that there is no school.

Except that I think my president of my university might burst into flames if he has to cancel school three days running.

Now, the weather is basically over. But it's cold. And the roads are shit and will likely remain shit. I'm on a commuter campus, so the roads matter. It will remain cold until the weekend. Ah well, I suppose I'll find out tomorrow.

For now, I'm gearing up to watch Top Chef. Speaking of which, does that Carla remind anybody else of Sideshow Bob? Actually, I've answered my own question, thinking that I would put some pics up for people to compare. I googled "Carla Top Chef" and do you know what the first picture is?

What, you still don't believe me? Ok, here's a real picture of her:

Actually, I think she resembles him more when her hair is up, but I'm too lazy to find the perfect picture.

But so anyway, I'd like to get up and make myself a cup of tea, but a certain kitten named Mr. Stripey is filled with love, and he has taken to sitting on my lap in the small space that I can make between him and the lap desk that holds the laptop on which I type. On the one hand, this is very nice indeed. He is warm and snuggly. On the other hand, dude. He's a little bit needy, I feel. And he gets very persnickety if one indicates a desire to stop with the loving quality time. The Man-Kitty appreciates his alone time much more, and I have to say, I appreciate that about him. Mr. Stripey = Rank Sense of Entitlement.

So anyway, I apologize for my lame blogging lately. I really do have real things about which to write, but I'm still in the Manic Work Writing Place, and so I haven't been feeling like substantive blogging. Perhaps tomorrow morning?

Ah, I think Mr. Stripey can read. He has lept from my lap onto the cat tree to force the Man-Kitty to pay attention to him now. Ah well. Better the Man-Kitty than me, in this instance. Time to go make some tea.

Snow Day, Saussure, and Coffee

Oh, it's true. It's snow day #2. And I am blissfully lounging with kittens, watching music videos, and catching up on some course prep and grading and research and things. What this unexpected break in the semester has proven to me is that really we should have one week off for every 3 weeks of teaching or something, as opposed to summer vacation. Think how nice life would be if we could just have a freaking break every few weeks? Not that I've not been working a ton over the past few days - I have - but the uninterrupted time has been GREAT. That said, I often struggle in summer with uninterrupted time because there's too much of it in a row. So I am thoroughly enjoying this unexpected reprieve from obligations, and, if I do say so myself, using it very wisely.

I'll post some more later, but my breakfast is ready and I'm going to go enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All Hail the God of Snow Days

A snow day is a rare, rare thing in my world. One, I live in a place where snow in massive amounts just doesn't happen all that frequently (which, because I'm a cranky grown-up who despises having to clear off her car and/0r to drive in snow, I have to say is an improvement on my hometown of Cleveland and an improvement on the Northeast, where I went to grad school). Two, although this place, not having the frequent massive snows, doesn't do terribly well with dealing with snow in any amount, the president of my university is from the upper midwest. Let's just say he doesn't often believe that a storm is "worthy" of a snow day, even if every area school is canceled and students won't be able to attend their classes either because they can't get out of their rural driveways or because they have to stay home to deal with childcare stuff or whatever.

But last night, I prayed - prayed - for a snow day. Dude. I need to catch up. On reading, on napping, on things like figuring out my grade book for the semester (for we are in week three), research for my upcoming conference paper, working on my revise and resubmit. I've been working like a maniac, and just one extra day, I thought, would be the thing to get me back on track.

My prayers, my friends, were answered. The world is a winter wonderland - one which I can enjoy by looking out the window. Now, I think I'll have some coffee and some breakfast, and then take a snow-day authorized nap. Yay!!!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Writing, Writing

The review is still in the works, because I always forget to include time for thinking. That said, it will be done by this evening! Huzzah! I am making steady progress!

This morning, I also wrote a test and a review sheet.

I also wrote an email or two.

Apparently, this is a writing sort of time for me right now.

The problem is, there are a bunch of blog posts I'd like to write, but what with all of the other writing, I probably will never write them. So here are things that I would write about on this here blog if I had any sort of writing energy:

  • The changing face of my university and department and how with change comes discomfort.
  • Relationships and Models for Happiness
  • An update on the Fitness stuff
  • Thoughts about what makes a good curriculum for a major
  • Complaints about colleagues who always seem to be whining about having too much to do who don't, in fact, do much of anything, and yet somehow one is always scheduling meetings around them even though they're actually slackers.
  • The tale of the student who called me an asshole last week.
But I'm writing things that actually count for my job, so you all will have to just consider the above topics independently. You can comment about them, or you can vote for which you'd actually like to see me write about (although, just as with the Electoral College of My Hair, the Electoral College of the Blog makes all such decisions independently, really, and so your votes may not actually count), you can just talk amongst yourselves about other issues of the day.... Really, the world is your oyster. Because I'm too busy, so you can feel free to do whatever you want. In this regard, you might think of yourselves as the latch-key-kids of my blog, who will take a swig from each bottle in the liquor cabinet, smoke contraband cigarettes, and make out with their friends before their mom gets home from work. Isn't that exciting? I thought you'd think so. But seriously, regular blogging will resume sooner or later, though right now I really am manic with all of the actual work things I've got on my plate, especially throughout this week.

Edited to add:
  • The review, though I fear it's not exactly the best thing I've ever written, is done.
  • I also picked up a bunch of ILL books from the library today.
  • I also took care of some committee crap at school, as well as attended a job talk.
  • I am now hoping for a snow day tomorrow. I could really use a day. Really.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kitties Are the Answer, Except I'm Still Wicked Busy

MB noted in the comments to the last post that zie finds my lists intriguing (really?) but because zie tends not to acknowledge much of the work that zie does as work - it just seeps into other parts of hir life. (Man, I don't even know if I'm doing the gender-neutral pronouns right, but I can't be bothered to double-check myself because I really shouldn't be blogging at all but rather should be continuing to work, except I need a break.)

But so here's the thing. I hate it when I get all listy on the blog, because I suspect it's boring blogging, but I do it periodically because 1) I do think it's useful for people (esp. people who might be considering grad school) to see all of the stuff that goes into this job that has absolutely nothing to do with a life of the mind, or if not absolutely nothing, well, it stil has to do with a lot of other things, too, that are typically not what one thinks will be involved when one pursues this profession; 2) I think it's validating for the professor types out there to see their suspicion that they're busting their asses when they do the same stuff confirmed (that's why I like reading other people's to-do lists - it confirms my suspicion that we all do a hell of a lot on a given day); 3) writing the stuff out for an audience gives me a greater sense of accomplishment (so it's not that I write the lists to be accountable so much as to be self-congratulatory, which may not be very attractive, but somebody needs to pat me on the back and since the kitties don't have language, it's easier if I just do it for myself).

So I've been a busy bee today as well. I have:
  1. Finished 95% of my annual activity report.
  2. Reviewed emails and notes from Committee on the Major and composed a document to circulate about where we are right now (this took ages, but I hope it will do a good job of shaping the discussion at our department meeting).
  3. Sent some emails.
  4. Did some administering of course blog.
  5. Talked to my mom.
  6. Talked to High School Best Friend (HSBF from this point forward, because I've never given her a pseudonym or an acronym).
  7. Talked to A.
  8. Made notes for the review that I must complete by tomorrow, or, rather, transcribed and elaborated on notes, and organized them into an outline.
  9. Went to the gym and kicked my own ass with my workout.
  10. Ran the dishwasher.
  11. Made preparations for hummus making for work-related pot-luck.
While it is true that only 1-4 are really work, and 9 is only tangentially work, I do like to include all of the things that I accomplish on my lists, to give myself a sense of how much I'm really doing. Also, doing this keeps me honest about taking care of myself, even when I'm busy. See, if I don't include "working out" as a thing that goes on the list, then I just don't do it because it doesn't "count" as something I have to do. I should probably acknowledge that I only tend to post lists on the blog when I'm feeling tragically overwhelmed and overcommitted, so this isn't like a typical weekend or something. But at the same time, this weekend isn't so anomalous as not to deserve to appear, if that makes sense. I'd say I probably have 6 or so of these weekends throughout the academic year, usually weighted more toward the spring, I think. Now. Is this because of my poor work habits? Because I'm a procrastinator? Because I bunch up major activities to accomplish in short spans of time? Maybe. Or maybe this is a pretty typical rhythm for academic types - that it's either feast or famine.

It's funny, I was whining to a colleague yesterday and she noted that I end up in these sorts of predicaments because I don't have kids. I kind of think that she's right, in that maybe if I had kids I'd be more likely not to agree to do certain things because I'd have other commitments that would prohibit me from agreeing. But then I think that she's wrong, because I kind of think that this is just how I'm wired. I suspect, though, that if I had kids I'd have to be more attuned to being consistent in my work habits because I wouldn't have the luxury of being as inconsistent as I am currently. So I don't think it's that I'd refuse to do stuff or wouldn't be able to do stuff so much as I'd have to be less of a marathon weekend sort of a person. Would that be possible though? No idea. It would be hard, though, and would require a major revision of my approach to work, which pretty much involves a heavy reliance on marathon weekends.

But so anyway, I'll get most of my things done this weekend, I do believe. That said, I'm feeling a little weird about the review I'm writing. The weirdness has to do with this: I think that the book is very, very good, but I profoundly disagree with the approach that the author ends up taking. Not the theory per se, or even the texts under review or anything - I mean, I recognize this book as an amazing piece of scholarship and as something that will be very useful to others - including me. It's artfully written, meticulously researched, and just a good read in many, many ways. No, it's that I have a fundamental disagreement with this kind of criticism, however good it is, because I just think that the approach is wrong - asks the right questions in some cases, but can never possibly hope to come up with the right answers. And then I feel like a tool because who do I think I am to pass judgment in the way I'm doing? And yet, I do. Still, the book is really fantastic. And in fact, probably that's evidence of the fantasticness of the book that I think it's fantastic even though I so fundamentally disagree. And then, you know who I am to have opinions? The reviewer. It's my job to have opinions. It will be interesting to see how I end up addressing this ambivalence in the review, ultimately. I mean, seriously: the review is going to be positive, but I think I have to ask the questions that I asked while I was reading. This also reminds me: it would be easier to ask these questions if the collection essay that's being held hostage were actually in print. Must inquire about the status of that.

So now I need to go write. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 23, 2009


So far today I have:

  1. Read half of the book I'm reviewing (the part I need to focus on most intently in the review, so the rest should be relatively quick going).
  2. Emailed the following: two students; a colleague in England; my dept. chair; a librarian about the fact that while they've purchased my book it's cataloged with the wrong name, i.e., a misspelling of my first name that turns me into a man, which I suppose is fine except I want my name in the catalog; a colleague in my department to rsvp for a social event.
  3. Had quality time with kittens.
  4. Made some notes for conference paper I'll give in just under a month's time.
I have also:
  • Thought in random ways about OCC.
  • Wondered why people don't do things when you have hounded them to do them and when it is their responsibility to do them.
  • Thought about how I'm going to frame my sabbatical application so that I get my sabbatical when the time comes (I'll apply next fall for the 2010-2011 academic year). I've got some Big Ideas. Hmmm.
  • Thought about my Revise and Resubmit.
  • Had lunch.
Now. I'm considering whether I should work out right now or whether I should postpone that until later. I'm also considering whether I should go to the grocery store/to get gas/to campus. I am also considering a nap. Hmmm.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Oh God, I Am Tired

I had a 14 hour day today. That's right. 14 hours from the time I left my house to the time I got home. I am exhausted.

I am also, apparently, serving on yet another ad hoc committee (sigh) and I have talked to my department chair and other necessary folks about the fact that I've agreed to host and organize that conference (for I am heroic and a great builder of community). From this point forward, I shall refer to the conference as OCC. I will talk about it in boring and vague ways until it is 2011, when the conference will occur.

I'm so tired. So, so tired. And I arrived home to all of these messages where people didn't believe I wasn't home - they thought I was just ignoring them. Which I think means that my friends think I'm a) mean and b) kind of a loser because, they assume, I'm always home. Actually, I am regularly home a lot, but seriously! Even I go out into the world!

So. On the agenda this weekend:

  1. Finish reading book.
  2. Write review of book.
  3. Make plans for R&R and work on at least the cosmetic revisions if nothing else.
  4. Send 473 emails.
  5. Write document for department meeting.
  6. Consider quitting job and moving to Guatemala or similar.
  7. Read for next week.
  8. Call BD.
  9. Make some kind of food for department function.
  10. Attend department function.
  11. Wonder whether I'll ever get time to just lay around.
  12. Proceed to lay around instead of doing more things on to-do list.
  13. Sigh.
  14. Revise review and send it to the editor.
  15. Pet kitties.
I do believe that's all. And now, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just When I Think I'm Too Busy for Words, I Make Myself Busier

New Developments:

  • Apparently there is some dissent within the revising the major committee. I think I've figured out how to handle it, but it does mean more work for me between now and a week from now.
  • I've got a review to write (although the review will require me to read a book that will assist with both a) the R&R and b) the February conference presentation, and maybe even with the conference presentation in June, so really it's very useful for multiple projects) between now and Sunday.
In other words, Crazy is CRAZYbusy, and so if you don't hear from her in the next few days, you should know it's because she is very virtuous and productive. Or maybe you'll hear from her a ton because she needs breaks. Although it won't be interesting if you do. Consider yourself forewarned, either about my silence or about my boringness.

In other news, FB has been very busy with the writing, and Crazy has served as an editor of sorts for two of his various projects, even though she feels like she's completely too silly with her humanities ways to offer any good feedback. In spite of her feelings of silliness, she feels that he should be very appreciative of this in very demonstrable ways. It is important to note that FB really is lovely, and I am fully confident that he will be appropriately appreciative (if not spectacularly demonstrative, at least in terms of compliments and verbal accolades, as he does not roll that way, which I do grudgingly accept, although I do really love compliments and verbal accolades).

Why am I doing so many things?!? Why do I feel so energized when clearly I'm doing way more than anybody should do?!? These, my friends, are unanswerable questions. Though I will say, it probably has much to do with the fact that this is spring semester rather than fall. I have so much more energy at this time of year.

It's Only Week Two?

Typically, I really like spring semester better than fall. I think it's because the pace is typically faster right out of the gate (because I'm already in the groove from fall as are the students) and because that week smack in the middle works better for me than 2 days in the middle and three days for Thanksgiving at the end (it actually feels like a break).

That said, I find myself sitting here today feeling like it can't just be week 2 because of all of the stuff I've got going on and that I'm taking on (because I'm a fool).

Things going actively going on:
  • I have an R&R that I said I'd get in no later than Feb. 15. I've yet to begin working on it.
  • I've got a conference I'm attending the week after that, and I've done nothing for the paper aside from vague thinking.
  • I'm back on task with the committee for revising our major, and so I've got stuff to do for that (kind of a lot of stuff actually).
  • Did I mention I'm teaching 4 classes, which include 4 different preps and one of them brand spanking new?
  • I'm advising my students who wanted to do the reading group, but let's just say that I've not done the reading. Woops.
Now, my trip last weekend was grand and I had an awesome time, but looking over this list, I feel like it might have been wiser to take to my bed for the weekend and rest up. Ah well. Coulda shoulda woulda.

Other irons in the fire:
  • Tentative plans to visit FB in March! Huzzah!
  • Conference proposal for me for summer (which I shouldn't do because it won't be funded, but I really want to go, so there we are). This will later involve writing a paper.
  • If my reading group students don't crap out, helping them put together something for the above conference.
  • Conference paper for spring conference, though seriously: the research will primarily involve watching hours of television and scouring "sources" like Entertainment Weekly. And the conference involves a long weekend with BFF and Friend By Association (FBA) that will take place in New Orleans. I really can't get it up to be anxious over anything in this bullet, for this is the Bullet of Awesomeness.
  • I appear to have taken on the task of organizing a conference. The conference won't happen until 2011, but yes, I think I'm actually doing this. I might be stupid, but I think it could be really cool. Remind me of this 2 years from now when I'm beating myself up for wanting to do things that are a ton of work and that make one crazy.
  • I'm teaching two classes this summer, one a piece of cake (am teaching it this semester, taught it last summer, have taught it every year of my life, etc.) but the other a) a brand new prep where I've only read one of the novels on the syllabus, b) the first grad course I'll be teaching in our MA program, c) on a topic on which I am totally not an expert. Because I am a person with big ideas who doesn't think carefully about execution until it is too late.
So yes. I've got a lot going on. From now until at least June, but really from now until about 2011. Even though technically I don't need to do anything anymore because really, I'm done jumping through hoops, right? Except apparently I have two speeds: idling and 100 MPH. Oh, and I'm also contemplating taking my aunt up on her offer of using her beach house in N. Carolina for a vacation, and, lest we forget, my dad's dying and I'm supposed to go visit him again in the upcoming weeks. AND I'm still on the fitness wagon. And doing well, in spite of busy-ness and travels and such.

I'll say this, I was ready for 2008 to be over because I felt like it was the year filled with things that lingered - nothing was new or exciting or whatever. Well, so far? 2009 is shaping up to be one heck of a different kind of a year. I think this is good, though we shall see.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Apparently, I am inspiring to the people. Heu Mihi says I deserve this honor because I inspire her "to, like, blog about something of broader significance, although that particular inspiration seldom results in action," which I have to say, made me giggle, both because of the "like" and because of the fact that my inspiration rarely produces anything. This is PERFECT for me :) Also, Belle says I deserve this honor "for simply being Crazy" which is also PERFECT - who wouldn't want to be inspiring simply for being herself?

So here are the rules for this meme:

  • Please put the logo of the award (above) on your blog if you can make it work with your format.
  • Link to the person from whom you received the award.
  • Nominate 7 or more blogs.
  • Put the links of those blogs on your blog.
  • Leave a message on their blogs to tell them.
I'll admit, I'm not going to do the last rule, where I'll tell the people on their blogs, as that's a pain. However, I shall of course link to them here.

1. Maude is absolutely lovely. She writes about her real life, and as much as she thinks she's not "supposed" to write about her soul-sucking job, or about her wedding planning, or whatever, I've got to say, I love that she writes about her whole self and doesn't limit herself to The Frenchman, and his ilk, as she writes about her whole self, and I think her whole self is totally awesome.

2. I feel that if Historiann and I lived in the same town that we would totally be BFFs. We're both Ohio born and bred, we both have similar ideas about the Politics, about the History, and about the Events of the Day, and also, she's just awesome. Dude, if you people don't read her blog every single day you totally should. Yay Historiann!

3. Sisyphus is funnier and smarter in her posts than I can ever hope to be on this blog. One post of hers that you all should read, if you haven't, is this one.

4. Powerprof is a blogger who's been writing since about the time I have been, and I think that she rules. Do you not read her? I feel that this means that you are lame.

5. Are you in need of inspiration about fitness-related things? If so, check out The Active Academic.

6. Tenured Radical writes about the issues of the day and about the issues of higher education. And she does it with us knowing who she is. That ROCKS.

7. Flavia is the bomb. She writes about the Renaissance, she writes about teaching, she writes about all manner of things. She doesn't write often (i.e., every day) but when she writes, she writes well.

Check the above out, my readers. They will, without doubt, inspire you, as they have me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

And Crazy Is Off!

Indeed, I am blogging from free wireless in the airport! Because I'm going away for the weekend! Not for a conference or to deal with Horrible Visits of Obligation or for any other "necessary" reason!

Is the timing great here, what with the beginning of the semester and everything? Well, not terribly. But here's the thing: the timing is never good for doing things for oneself. One is always too tired, or too busy, or it's the beginning of the semester, or the middle of the semester, or the end of the semester, or whatever. And so off I go! Whee!

(Perhaps some blogging from the homestead of HS BFF - otherwise, I shall return Monday or Tuesday :) )

Annoyed by the Inauguration

The first email has come. A student wanting to know whether we'd be watching the inauguration in class Tuesday because zie doesn't want to miss this "historic moment" blah blah blah but it would be a shame to have to miss class, especially given the attendance policy in the course.

First, let's just note for the record that I do not teach any of the following:
  • American politics
  • American History
  • Some sort of class on media
  • Journalism
  • Speech
  • A class focused on issues surrounding race
No, I teach literature. And in the class that will conflict with the inauguration? Absolutely nothing on the syllabus is even American. And we've just begun a long book and I really need to get the students discussing it in depth. Because, you know, it's my job to teach them what's on the syllabus.

But. This is a "historic moment" blah blah blah. And yet, we live in a world where you can watch anything you want on the computer any time you want. Perhaps I'd feel differently if they wouldn't be able to see this "historic moment" unless we watched it, but the reality is that they will be able to see it. Doesn't that make a difference?

It also would be different if we could just quickly watch the actual historic thing, which is the swearing in. But that happens at noon, and the class won't have started. No, we'd be watching the inauguration speech. Which, I'm sorry, is not a historic moment. Speeches happen every damn day. And we've all seen Obama give uplifting and inspiring speeches for years now. And again, it's not as if one won't be able to watch this particular speech at one's convenience later.

But then, how does one tell a student, "look, it ain't happening" without seeming like a total a) killjoy, b) shrew, c) Obama-hater (which of course I'm not), d) enemy of hope, e) enemy of the excited young people, f) all of the above?

What are you guys going to do about this issue, if, indeed, you just so happen to be teaching at that time? For the time being, I've just ignored the students' email. This, however, is not a permanent solution.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More on Theory

In the comments to my post from a couple of days ago, Annalies, a new commenter, writes:

I took a couple theory courses as an undergrad because my mentor told me that this was what practically all literature graduate schools focused on these days. I was quickly turned off from theory and by extension lit grad school because, at the time, I thought it was some of the worst-written stuff I'd ever encountered: jargon-y, unnecessarily convoluted, pretentious, and so on. I was also taught by a "true believer" who I felt occasionally made the books fit the theory instead of finding a theory that fit the books. Since then I've wondered how much of my reaction was fair -- of course you couldn't know if my professor was actually misusing theory, but does that often happen? And is a lot of theory (like, say, Derrida and Foucault) as badly written as it seemed, or had I just not spent enough time learning the jargon?
I was going to write back in the comments, but I felt myself composing a lengthy answer in my head, and so I thought that this deserved its own post.

To begin, I think that the claim that theory is "what practically all literature graduate schools [focus] on" is a misleading one. I think it implies that when one goes to graduate school to study literature that one doesn't actually study literature but theory. This is not, for the most part, true, as far as I am aware. For example, I was in a very "theoretical" sort of PhD program and I only took one - that's right, ONE - seminar that focused on theory. My other 7 seminars focused on literary texts.

With that being said, however, I think it is fair to say that graduate programs expect that students will be engaged with the discipline as it now stands, and the discipline as it now stands involves theoretically oriented criticism, i.e., part of what graduate school teaches a student is that literary scholarship (not love of literature, note) is about an ongoing conversation that forces one to reckon with theoretical approaches. Now. Some programs, and some specializations within literary scholarship, are more theoretically oriented than others. Moreover, some research paths depend more on theory than do others. I do tend to be a very theoretically oriented scholar. Part of that has to do with my specialization, and part of it has to do with my training. (My PhD program was one that did emphasize theoretical approaches almost exclusively.) But I've never done archival or textual research. People whose scholarship veers in that direction don't "need" theory in the way that I "need" theory. They're still participating in the discipline as it now stands, and sure, they've encountered theory at some point, but it's not central to their work in the way that it is to mine.

Now, you may be wondering about my description of my scholarship as "needing" theory when I claimed that I don't conceive of myself as a "theory person." Well, see, this is why I have ended up being the theory teacher in my department. See, I really am a theoretically oriented critic. I don't do criticism without theory. I find it exciting when I can use theory to see texts in new ways and to ask the questions that I want to ask. I like theory. But I am not Slavoj Zizek. I am not Judith Butler. I am not Trinh T. Minh-ha, nor am I Terry Eagleton. I am certainly not Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, or Jacques Derrida. And I do not aim to be nor will I ever be. I am not a theorist. Theory is not the point of my work. The point of my work is to understand literature better. That is what I mean when I say that I am not a "theory person." I do not mean that I think that theory is not central to the discipline - because I think that people who believe that are either 100 years old or they are delusional, and seriously, this ship has sailed and pretending that we can just do away with theory and go back to some prelapserian past before theory at this point is just stupid - but rather I think that while theory is centrally important as an influence on how we might approach literary texts, it is not, nor should it be, the raison d'etre of the scholar of literature.

Nevertheless, I think Annalies's response to theory when she encountered it as an undergraduate is a common one. Her criticisms of theory - it's filled with jargon, its argumentative structure is often convoluted, the tone can feel pretentious - are valid. But, for what it's worth, while I'm willing to grant that much theory is a bad read, I'm not sure if that's the same thing as it being badly written. Here's what I mean.

First, there's the jargon issue. Yes, there's a ton of jargon. Yes, it's alienating, and can make actually reading the stuff tough going for the uninitiated, but also, I wonder why we expect not to encounter technical language in the context of literary studies. Nobody complains when physicists use technical language - they need it in order to talk in precise ways. I actually think the same about jargon in literary studies. It's the technical language of our discipline that allows us to talk with precision about abstract and complex concepts. That's what scholars of literature need to do. And just because you can read, enjoy reading, and are a smart person, it doesn't make you a scholar of literature. I think in our culture, we often assume that anybody who is literate could be an English professor. That's just not true. It is a discipline, and it requires terminology that is unfamiliar to the average reader. That's not something that detracts from the study of literature. Indeed, it's something that facilitates the advanced study of literature.

Second, the style of argumentation in much theory is convoluted, but I would argue that in the best theory this is not unnecessary. Let's take Foucault as an example. Foucault typically engages a structure of argumentation that is somewhat circular. He does not lead with his thesis statement, but rather he leads with the accepted premise. So, for example, when Foucault talks about the repressive hypothesis, he engages our standard ideas about our prudish forbears the Victorians, about how they wanted to "silence" the truth of sex, and about how we are now so awesome and liberated. Then, he knocks us on our asses and says, "um, by the way, that's all crap, and here's how it's crap." Now, this can be irritating the first time one reads Foucault, but ultimately, the way he structures his argument mirrors the discursive operations that he describes. He's describing ways of conceiving of how discourse works in oppositional terms, and what he's arguing is that this a construct. He shows us this through the way he sets up the argument. So is it convoluted? Sure. But I would claim that the structure helps us to understand the complicated claims that he makes - that form and content work together in the theory.

To note the "pretentious" tone of theory, however, I think is more a reaction that's about the reader's subject position than the writer's. I felt the same way about Jane Austen when I was 17, in fact, not because Jane Austen is or was actually "pretentious" but because I wasn't ready for Jane Austen yet or because the text for whatever reason felt alien to me. When I first encountered theory, I think that I also called it "pretentious," but I think what that meant was that I was insecure and I felt like I didn't speak the right language. Looking at it now, I feel like it is just complicated, but its complexity isn't an attack on me personally. I don't think that the point of theory is to exclude or to alienate readers, to put them down or to put the theorist above the reader. Or at least that's not the point of all theory. Indeed, when you look at Roland Barthes, his point is the exact opposite - he gives the reader the power. Also, I think we have to be careful with all of the above criticisims - the criticism of jargon, of convoluted argumentation, of pretentiousness - because so much theory is translated. If it is translated, the theory is always at one remove from us, and yes, that makes a difference in our reception of it. There are words in French that have no equivalent in English. That can make for some clunky phrasing in translated texts.

So, why did I just go on and talk about this in such an extended way? I'm seriously not some Theory Guru or something, so it's doubtful I really have the authority to do so. Well, because I think that when students are alienated from theory, it often is the case that nobody bothers to take their complaints seriously. Some students can survive this by taking on an acceptable persona, by stifling their criticisms and pretending that they're getting everything and that they're not frustrated. This was the kind of student I was. Other students, though, can't perform that way, or choose not to perform that way. In my experience, those are the ones that either don't go to graduate school or don't finish graduate school.

So can a person "misuse" theory? Well, that's a tricky one. I believe that you've got to show me in the text why your use of the theory is reasonable. What does it help you to see? Sometimes I think that people don't do that. I think that they are in love with the idea of Marxist theory, or Feminist theory, or Queer theory or Deconstruction or whatever, and they just apply that over any text they encounter. Example: I knew a person in grad school who couldn't stop talking about characters as incubuses and succubuses. It didn't matter what the text was. Henry James? Totally populated with incubuses and succubuses. Shakespeare? Well, obviously incubuses and succubuses. Romantic poetry? Yep, incubuses and succubuses all over the place. At a certain point, you've got to wonder whether this is a useful way of thinking new thoughts about literature. That said, even if I disagree with a use of theory, if the writer substantiates it, well, I don't think that's a misuse. I just think the person is wrong :)

The thing is, professors need to give students the tools to think that professors are wrong when they offer an interpretation of a text. I think that's the thing that a theory class is supposed to do - and that's actually what I see myself as doing when I teach theory - but I think the problem in some contexts is that students perceive the theory as dogma, and the professor who teaches theory, the sage on the stage and the subject who knows, reinforces that perception by acting as if their own understanding of the theory is the only right one or acting as if they are the only ones who know the password to theory. By refusing to acknowledge students' frustrations or to take their criticisms seriously, or by setting theory up as this Awesome Thing - and implying that if students resist against the Awesome Thing that is theory that they are losers - well, I just think that kind of misses the point of what such classes are supposed to do.

And are texts by Derrida and Foucault as badly written as they seemed to be? Well, clearly, the answer is yes for Derrida and no for Foucault. (Hehe. We all have our biases :) )

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Have Started This Post Four Times

Because I want to write, but apparently I don't like anything I'm writing. Suffice it to say that I'm feeling a bit angsty about my teaching this semester (unfamiliar students, the new prep) and a bit all over the place with going out of town this weekend. Perhaps more later, or perhaps not.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Opening Day Jitters and the Challenge of Bringing Theory to Undergraduates

Today I'll begin teaching the theory class required of our majors for the first time, and I am nervous. Yes, it's true: actively nervous. Like nervous for how the entire semester will go, not just for today's class or something, though I do think the first day will be an important tone-setter. Nervous.

See, this class is a strange animal, particularly at an institution like mine, I think. Students get very little exposure to theory, theoretical writing, or even critical writing in their regular classes in the discipline. Sure, they have to write papers with research in upper-level courses, but let's just say that they are often shocked when I insist that sources need to be, for the most part, published within the past 20 years. Or when I say that they have to have some sort of broader argument of their own - not just offer summaries of other people's ideas without explanation. They typically are not expected to read and analyze this kind of writing in their classes, and so using it in their papers is an activity completely disconnected from what they do in the classroom. And so. Unless they have taken courses with a handful of more recently hired faculty, the likelihood is that "criticism" is very divorced from "literature" in their heads, and they may even be hostile to the very idea of "criticism." (Aside: this is sort of hilarious to me, since what English professors like to shout from the rooftops is how we teach critical thinking. Maybe some of us do, but I am fully willing to suggest that many students who major in English feel deeply hostile to the idea of critical thinking and they have no interest in criticizing those books they love so much.)

So this, my friends, is the audience for this course. An audience of students who come to the class either openly hostile to its material or who at the very least are horrified by this requirement in the major. I'd imagine that if we have one "weed-out" course, this one is probably it, except for the fact that since students don't typically take it until they are juniors or seniors it's not an effective gateway that separates the strong from the weak. Instead, students grumble and do what they can to squeak through because they're typically close enough to graduation that changing majors isn't an option. They probably have had very, very little exposure to theory in any form, and the whole shebang is very intimidating to them. (This is what perhaps distinguishes them from students at, say, an institution like the Fancy Research University where I did my doctorate. Even if students weren't reading theory in their undergraduate classes, they were theoretically engaged by virtue of how the professors approached the material.) Just one section of the course is offered per semester, and historically, the same two professors (both men, both hired 20 years ago) taught the course.

So, the teaching rotation has only changed in the past couple of years. First, one of the two people who had always taught it decided he needed a change. So another female colleague of mine got a bite at the apple, and she taught the course once, with results that I think she would characterize as uneven (for lots of reasons, including when the course was scheduled). In the meantime, I taught an elective seminar in feminist theory (to a class made up of many students that I'd had before), and I agreed to teach a grad class in theories of gender and sexuality in an upcoming semester for our MA program. In the meantime, the colleague who had taken on the required theory course had an opportunity to do something else that meant she wanted to drop teaching it, and so now, all of a sudden, I'm apparently one of the people who "teaches theory" in my department - in fact, I'm the person who teaches the most theory. Like, as far as I can tell, I'll be teaching 3 theory classes next year, and I think I'm slated to keep teaching the required theory course every spring (though I suppose if I hated it, I could get rid of it, even though I do think in theory - ha! see what I did there? - that I'm a good person to teach it).

So here are the strikes against me going into this course:

  • Likely an audience that is quite hostile to the class, which I will need to win over for the class to work.
  • A class filled with students whom I don't know, which could be a problem if they haven't heard about how I run a class.
  • Theory is hard. And I can't just teach theories that I like or am into, but am obligated to teach things that are my own personal theory roadblocks (*cough* Derrida *cough*).
  • We don't (yet) have an intro to the major course, which I think would go a long way to informing students about the theoretical context in which most criticism in the 21st century is written.
And then, there is the fact that I do think that it is possible to use theory irresponsibly and I don't really conceive of myself as a "theory person." (Ironic, this, given the fact that I appear, from my course rotation, to be the theory person in my department.) I think that using literature to prove theories or to understand theories is not the job of literary critics. Period. I know, this makes me a fusty old crank, probably, or at least it makes me a very different teacher of this course than my colleague who also teaches it is. And I do think that this ambivalence on my part may get in the way of my teaching of the course, because I do think that it's possible to use theory badly, and that's totally not cool with me, and so I fear that I may crush the spirits of students in being less than enthusiastic about all of their theoretical attempts.

But hey, I do tend to crush students' spirits anyway, so I'm sure that will be fine.

So those are my thoughts on this Tuesday morning. Otherwise, I'm totally excited about my upper-level fiction class and my intro to lit class. I've taught versions of them both and I love them both with a love that is pure and true. So at least in this trial semester teaching theory I'm teaching two other traditional classes that are really just classes where I teach things that I think are cool. Who doesn't love to teach classes like that?

Ok, I must get ready and get myself into the office or I won't find parking. Actually, I may not find parking anyway, which stinks. Sigh.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lazy Day

Well, after the exhausting day that was yesterday, I've been very slow-moving and leisurely in my approach to my day today. I woke up late (like 11 AM), had some lunch, got my web course up and running and did some administrative stuff in blackboard and with my course blog, registered for a conference I'll be attending in February and booked my hotel room, talked briefly to my mom....

Yep, that's about it. Now I need to get myself together and go to the gym. I'm not feeling terribly motivated to do that but I will persevere. I also really need to do some stuff around the house, but that may just not happen today.

At any rate, what I really want to do most is to nap with the Man-Kitty. Perhaps I should do that, and then later I will go to the gym? Hmmm.... this idea has promise....

No, This Won't Become the Death Blog, But...

The visit today with my dad.

It was fine. It was weird, but it was fine. It was much longer than I'd planned it would be, but I was ok with that. Some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • My theories about how far my father's illness had progressed vs. what he was communicating were pretty much dead on. If you didn't know it was him and that he was ill, you wouldn't recognize him. He looks about 20 years older than he is. He's lost a huge amount of weight - indeed, looks skeletal in the face, and his hands and feet are swollen like Mickey Mouse hands and feet. He is in a wheel chair. He cannot walk stairs, and so sleeps in a hospital bed in the "great room." He needs a walker and one of those chair thingies in order to use the bathroom. (I actually had to put the chair thingie in place for him this afternoon when my stepmom went to the grocery store, which had to be humiliating for him. Luckily, I was familiar with the equipment from when my grandmother - who was 80 at the time - was dying about five years ago. Lucky. Yeah right.) In weird news, his massive change in appearance displayed to me that I have his exact nose.
  • The thing that's weirdest for me about seeing my father and his family is how polite everything is. I'm not sure whether that's for my benefit or for the benefit of my half-brothers or whether they're just weirdo non-honest, non-straight-forward polite people. But the elephant in the room is that my father is fucking dying. Nobody seems to want to discuss this, really.
  • It's like my dad was living for this visit with me. That was weird. He also wants me to come again in like three weeks. I get the feeling that this is another thing he'll be living for. I don't want to go (because I'm an asshole) but of course I will (because I'm really not), but I wish that he understood - and I have tried to make him understand - that we have no unfinished business. Though, perhaps, the fact that I think we don't doesn't mean that his business with me is finished. It's hard to figure this out what with the politeness.
  • I told my stepmother that she needs to take care of herself and she broke down. That was uncomfortable. We don't have a crying sort of relationship. I hugged her and left quickly.
  • My oldest younger brother, who is 14, is totally taller than me (and I'm no petite flower, I'm 5'8") and like man-sized (with muscles and things) and has hairy legs and a changed voice. He also loves basketball. He shall either end up LeBron James-sized or Sasquatch. It's too soon to tell. But totally insane!
  • My youngest younger brother is still my favorite, although I know that is wrong.
  • The thing that was most awful for me is the fact that my father is so filled with regret. He is so consumed with the mistakes that he has made in his life (related to me, but also related to other things). This makes me hurt for him more than the fact that he has cancer. Especially because he doesn't seem really to be able to talk about any of this in real ways. He did say a couple of things, but we spent the bulk of our alone time together watching a crappy movie.
  • I feel like my father is afraid of me. I feel like he doesn't know what to say to me, and like he really doesn't understand me at all. I also kind of feel like my stepmom is this way as well. How grateful they were that I came was just totally bizarre to me, because if they understood me at all they never would have felt so grateful. Of course I'd come. There was never any question. Except, apparently, there was. Because they don't understand or know me, and I'm not really part of their family.
  • I ate a pot roast cooked with a "recipe" that involved cooking the meat on the stovetop for three hours in Catalina salad dressing. The side dishes were microwaved frozen corn and instant mashed potatoes. When I go back in a few weeks, I will be bringing boatloads of actual food that is easily freezable. Both because it's nice, and because what I ate today was a crime against food. And yes, I'm shallow for judging in this way, but god as my witness, if I can do nothing else for these polite people, I can feed them in a way that actually provides nutrition.
  • I am so sad that my brothers will never know my father as I have known him. I hope that as they get older they seek me out so that I can give them that part of my dad that will be gone before they get there. The dad who takes them to see B.B. King and Buddy Guy, the dad who gives them all of the leftover liquor from their grandma's retirement party when they're in college, the dad who sings Sympathy for the Devil with them as he moves them home for the summer from college. No, that's not the best parent-dad in the world, but that's my dad. My dad is a dad who gets the Led out. They are only 12 and 14. They don't know that dad.
  • I wish he understood, and maybe even that my stepmother understood too, that whatever wrongs have been done, I'm actually ok. I'll never forget those things, and those things still affect me, but GOD there are more important things. There is no reason for them to dwell on those things. It doesn't change anything, and it doesn't make me feel better for them to feel shitty about them.
In other news, FB is really most fabulous in all ways. You can all feel free to give him props for dealing with my emotions in this troubling time and for being insightful and wonderful and awesome. Note: he will be horrified that I wrote this about him, and horrified if you do give him props. But he deserves MASSIVE recognition.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Doing Things One Wants to Do and Yet Doesn't Want to Do

So, in just bit I'll be off to journey to BD's to see him. I was supposed to go yesterday, but there was Weather, and so I postponed one day. I don't know, really, what I expect it to be like, but I know that if I weren't to go that I'd feel bad about it later. So on the one hand I totally do not want to be doing this today, but on the other hand, I do want to - not out of a sense of obligation or something but because I feel like it's an important part of moving through this whole thing for me.

That said, I also feel really, really resentful. I resent that I'm going out of my way for him. When my parents divorced, my father moved approximately 30 minutes away from where I lived. That's when he stopped with seeing me regularly. Because, you know, 30 minutes away is like living on Mars. And so yes. I resent that I'll be in the car 8 hours today on this errand. I resent that I feel like I don't have a right to "impose" on his current life - a feeling that comes directly out of the fact that he set it up so that I am imposing. But so yeah. I resent a lot of things. And I'm scared and sad and angry and just generally upset. Awesome.

And attempting to prepare myself for this, and attempting to process it, along with some other things that have been going on, has made me realize how closed off I can be about things that affect me most deeply. It's not that I don't express emotions - I express a ton of emotions. The thing is, though, when it comes to the really deep stuff, that gets locked up and put in a box, and I don't typically say a whole lot about those things. So sure, I'll freak out about some inconsequential thing, but when it comes to real stuff? I don't want people to worry about me, or I don't want to bother anybody.... And so I've noticed that in trying to be open about this, well, that I've been sort of fucked up about it. Like I'll say nothing and then I'll explode, or I'll feel like I have to force myself to talk about it, which feels totally alien. For a long time I've had a narrative about my dad that kind of resembles the two-minute version of your dissertation that you're supposed to have for job interviews and conferences - a version that doesn't really tell the half of it, but that does offer a basic, fuzzy picture. The thing is, that's typically as much as I ever say to 99% of the people in my life. Typically, I change the subject after offering the 2-minute version. I mean, who wants to talk about that?

And if I'm honest, most people are still getting the 2-minute version. I don't want to get into it anymore than that. It just sucks too much. But I think I've also realized that with some people it's not really fair to give them that version, and so I've been trying to be actually open about what is actually going on with me. Trying is exhausting, and I've fucked up more than once in this area. That said, some people are untiringly patient with me, and that is not something I take for granted.

Ok, enough. I need to jump in the shower and to hit the road. Sigh.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Healthy Cookies?

Well, a girl can dream. As we speak, I am making some cranberry/oatmeal/walnut cookies. Will they be good? Will they be bad? Only time will tell.

It all began with this recipe for the Best Oatmeal Cookies. However, as you know, I am attempting to be a Fitness Lady in the '09, and so, this recipe didn't quite fall into line with that plan.

So here's what I did, with changes noted in parentheses after the original ingredients.


  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 cup raisins(I used dried cranberries because I like them better.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup butter(I used 2/3 cup applesauce/ 1/3 cup olive oil)
  • 1 cup brown sugar(I used about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 cup white sugar(I used 1 cup splenda)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour(I used whole wheat flour)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon(Iused this, but I also added about 1/2 tsp nutmeg)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans(I used about 1 cup of chopped walnuts instead)
Directions (with my modifications)
  1. This is a very important first step that makes the cookie: combine eggs, dried cranberries and vanilla and let stand for one hour.
  2. Cream together applesauce, olive oil, and sugars.
  3. Add flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and soda and mix well. (This is a very stiff dough. I did this step and step four with my hands. I feel like if I had a Kitchenaid Mixer that it would be up to the job, but my hand-mixer told me to fuck right off.)
  4. Blend in egg-cranberry mixture, oatmeal, and chopped nuts.
  5. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheet, or roll into balls and flatten slightly. (I lined my cookie sheets with parchment papers; also, I found you have to flatten the cookies once you drop them on to the sheet - mine did not flatten on their own in the first batch)
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. (In my crappy electric oven, I found they needed to go closer to 15 minutes)
I know a few of you out here are vegans, and according to the comments at Recipezaar at least 1 person figured out how to transform this recipe into a vegan form. The cookies are crunchy on the outside (how I prefer an oatmeal cookie) moist and delicious on the inside (that trick with the soaking of the dried fruit makes a HUGE difference in texture and flavor), and while I know that mine are whole grain, low fat, low sugar, I still suspect that they may be incredibly bad for me, if the deliciousness of them is any indication. Am wondering whether it is wrong to eat cookies for dinner. I suspect it may be wrong. Must let cookies cool and then put them away so will not eat 75 cookies. Eating 75 cookies is no way to be a Fitness Lady.

Tweaking the Web Course

So as you all know, for the first time last semester I taught a course online. The course is in a program adjacent to my discipline, and let's be clear: my main motivation for teaching the course was that it would a) get me out of teaching traditional composition courses, and b) it would allow me to have a 3-day-a-week schedule without running myself totally into the ground. Another benefit of doing the course is that it's letting get my sea-legs in this medium, so that ultimately I will abandon this course when I've finished with teaching it for the agreed-to semesters, and I will then develop a course for my own discipline online where I won't be working out the same sorts of kinks with the medium.

So. The first time around, there were a lot of things that could have been better, but I do think that I learned a great deal, and so now this weekend I'm trying to take the great deal I learned and to change the course to take those things into account.

1. Many students seem to be under the impression that an online course is in fact a correspondence course, in which they just need to putter along on their own turning things in if and whenever they please and not necessarily working consistently throughout the semester.

This was a real problem for me last semester, and given the fact that I designed the course to emphasize a lot of interaction between the students, there were things that just didn't work properly because students weren't doing their part. For example, one of the biggest assignments in the course is a course blog, to which students are to post (with very explicit guidelines for the assignments) three times. Some students just didn't bother to do one or more of these assignments. The problem is, these assignments were essential to their classmates getting participation credit for blog discussion, so if a student blew off this assignment, it meant that the rest of the class couldn't do what they were supposed to do. Unless of course I wanted to be the primary poster on the course blog, which, I'm sorry, no. So, this time around, I have done the following: 1) I've stated even more forcefully that students need to be spending 6-9 hours per week on this course each and every week in order to succeed in it; 2) I've instituted a policy that if a student misses one written assignment that they will fail the entire course. Period. No exceptions. No late submissions. They have the assignment schedule from the first day that they log into the course, and if they're concerned about something going wrong, they should do their work early so that there's time to fix anything that might get in the way of timely submission. I would never have such an inflexible policy in a traditional classroom, but I really see no other way to have a course that is so student-centered and yet where I'm not in their faces work. So we'll see how that works.

2. Trying to accommodate student schedules and student preferences a) made everything confusing and b) made more work for me.

Typically, I like to give my students a lot of choice in terms of writing assignments, deadlines (if assignments are staggered), etc. I also like to be accommodating in terms of scheduling things like interaction with me outside of class. The problem in the online environment was that all of this led to a lot more work for me (I needed to be available for real time discussion every single week, whereas they only needed to show up four times in the semester) and a lot for me to keep track of (students wanting to change when they posted to the course blog because of their schedule in a given week, etc.). So, this semester, 1) there will be fewer scheduled times for real-time discussion; 2) there will also be a "discussion board" component that will supplement the real-time discussion; 3) I am just telling students when they must post to the blog, and they are getting no choice in the matter (which I hate, but it makes my life easier).

3. In some ways, I made the course too dependent on me and my feedback, and I wasn't really prepared to give it in a timely and organized way.

This problem is much more about my typical teaching practices in the traditional classroom than anything to do with the students. The fact of the matter is that in the traditional classroom it's pretty common for me to assign too much, but because I can be more flexible in how I respond, I can manage responding to students in creative ways that end up working. This did not at all work in the online environment. Instead, I just felt totally overwhelmed by how much I'd assigned, I was crappy at getting feedback to students in a timely fashion, and, well, things just didn't fit together properly. So, I've cut out one assignment, I've cut back on the number of weeks in which students submit assignments, I'm going to make sure I've got feedback sheets for all assignments ready to go before the first assignment comes in, and I'm going to be more regimented about knocking out grading and responding each and every week. It's the only way.

4. Students need me to teach them the technology.

This makes me want to cry, but I've now built in more infrastructure in the course for this, and I'm counting it as part of the time that I spend teaching it. I've also cautioned students that if they are uncomfortable with the technology, that they should strongly reconsider whether taking a course in this medium is for them, which is mean, but come on. I cannot give a course on taking an online course while at the same time I'm actually teaching the content of this particular course.

So, we'll see. All in all, I think that trying these things out will be helpful, and I'll see how they go. I don't like how autocratic and inflexible I'm finding I have to be, but I think it's the only way to be looser in other areas. The bottom line is that this experience is showing me how much I rely on my personality and my general demeanor in the classroom, and in this medium, I just can't rely on the likelihood that they'll find me intimidating or challenging to get them to do their work. I have to actively be intimidating and challenging. Or so it seems.

Now, I may find that this new and improved approach fails, but I've got to try it to see. At any rate, even if this doesn't quite work, the awesome thing is that I've got two more semesters to continue tweaking and maybe to get it right. Rome was not built in a day, nor was a strong class.

Friday, January 09, 2009


You know, I've had a lot I've wanted to blog about lately, but I've been having a real problem coming up with titles and with focusing on Topics. Maybe I'll get my title mojo back as the semester begins on Monday.

So, I'm basically ready for the semester to begin. Sure, I've got a few things to lock into place, but all in all, I can be confident to walk into class on Tuesday prepared and excited. I'm a little anxious about what I will evocatively call New Class or NC (note: this class is the required survey of theory that majors typically fear and loathe and resist with all of the vigor that they can muster) and I still have a boatload of stuff to do for the web class, but my other two classes are pretty much set and ready to go. And I finally allowed myself to glance at those readers' reports for my R&R yesterday (and also shared them with BES, because it occurred to me that I might be less fucked up about reading them if somebody had showed me what they can look like when I was a student), so I'm ready to get to work on that, and I'm excited for going to visit High School Best Friend next weekend (although it was likely stupid to plan a visit to Washington D.C. over the MLK weekend given the whole inauguration on the 20th thing.... woops) and am going to go buy a smaller bag for that trip, and yep, I do believe that's pretty much all.

In annoying news, Apocalyptic Weather is going to postpone my visit to my dad, which is really freaking annoying, as I really want to get that taken care of. I have a lot to say about my feelings about that whole situation, but I need to think a bit more before I do so.

In great news, chopping off one's hair when one is on a fitness kick is totally rewarding and awesome. I'd estimate that I lost at least 1 lb. of hair yesterday, which is very nice indeed. You know, I totally look better with shorter hair. Why do I ever decide that growing my hair out is a thing that I should do? Not that it looks "bad" exactly, but it so looks better shorter. As my mom notes, when my hair reaches shoulder length, it makes my nose look long. And look, I've got a schnoz. I like my nose, and I accept that it is not petite and pert, but it does not need to look longer than it is. But so anyway, New Year, New Crazy. And I've been feeling great, so rock on with that.

But so I need to get my butt in gear and drag myself in to the office, where FINALLY my computer needs will be addressed.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Hair, Etc.

Well. The hair. It has been cut. However, as BFF notes, the Electoral College of Crazy's Hair has the final say in all Hair Elections, and, it has become apparent that your votes did not count. Actually, it may be the case that Crazy's Hair is a totalitarian democracy in practice, in which Crazy makes all decisions under the auspices that she knows the will of the people, regardless of what "the people" actually say. And so, the hair is some kind of choppy cross between options 3 and 4, and I am entirely happy with it. It can be sleek. It can be edgy. It can have bangs. The bangs can blend into the rest of the hair. In other words, no more Sad Ponytail of Hair Ennui.

In other news, in spite of the Grand Hair Makeover and then doing work for a couple of hours and then meeting with BES for coffee, I still dragged my ass to the gym. Apparently, when you go every day, it very quickly does become a habit, and so even when you don't superficially want to go, you still somehow end up going because deep down it feels "right" to go. Now, was it the most awesome workout I've ever had? No. But I got my 30 mins. in, in spite of the fact that I wanted to go home after having been gone all afternoon. Maybe it does make sense to go to the gym every day as a non-negotiable thing? Not because one is a weirdo with body image issues but rather because it's just easier to do things that one always does than to do something, say, three times a week? I'm beginning to think that this is the case. How annoying. That said, I've been to the gym every day in 2009 and I've not consumed any soda or alcohol in 2009, and let me just say, if you do something - or don't do something - every single day, it's totally easier. I'm sure you all know this, but this has been my great discovery of 2009. Well, that and that I should never have people vote on hair options because I'll just do what I want in the moment regardless of what people say.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Less Cranky

While it is true that I still have a million things to do, I am feeling less disgruntled than earlier. 1) I've finally set up an actual appointment with the IT guy! I will actually be able to use my new computer this coming semester! Yippee!

I also took my car in and they made a stupid light (who needs lights related to tire pressure, I ask you) go off, and so my little car is all set and ready to go! Yay!

And now I'm home making lunch, and then I'll do some work, and then I'll go to the gym.

Part of my crankiness has to do with the fact that I'm to drive to see my father on Saturday. This will involve 8 hours total in the car, so 4 hours to get there - the "wow, I haven't seen you in 4 years and now you're dying - that sucks" visit - and then 4 hours home. I hate being an only child and I hate that I have to deal with this. Urgh.

Ok, enough of that, though. Must focus on the positive in order to continue to feel less cranky.


I'm in a foul mood on this Wednesday. I have to take my car in for maintenance crap in approximately 20 mins, I have a boatload of work that I must do, I have to go to the gym, I am still feeling out of sorts after a conversation I had yesterday, I'm beating myself up for taking things out on people I care about, I want to stay in bed all day long and accomplish absolutely nothing, although that really isn't an option, and I am in no way ready for the semester to begin on Monday.

Is that everything? Yes, for now, I believe that is everything.

I hope that as the day goes on my attitude improves.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Another Busy Day Ahead, and Looking for Feedback on Hair

But I have vowed that I'm not going to use the blog for a to-do list today. To-do lists are boring for everybody, and it's really not fair for me to bore people who read what I write. That said, while I do feel like blogging, I don't really know what to write about. I've tried like three different Topics, and, well, nothing is really working. So perhaps I'll blog later, or perhaps until all of this crap of mine is done I'll be on a mini-blogging-sabbatical. Like for a day or something ;)

In the meantime, I've got a hair appointment on Thursday, and I'm not sure what to do. I've been growing the hair out for like a year, and quite frankly, I'm getting bored. However, I do like the haircut I've had for the past few months in theory - I may just be bored and sick of it because I really need a trim. So I'm not sure what to do. (By the way, I'm not doing color this time around, so changing the color isn't an option for making me not sick of my hair until like March.) Perhaps you all can help? Here are some pictures of things I'm considering.

First, my hair is pretty much in a version of this style right now. The bangs are slightly less heavy, and the hair is maybe an inch shorter, but that's pretty much the current state of things. I keep finding that I am constantly putting it up, but again, this may just signal that I'm in desperate need of a haircut.

Another option would be to begin growing the bangs out (wouldn't be so terribly hideous since they're not quite as heavy as the Moss's above) and make the bottom of the hair more blunt, heading into this style:

Or, another way to go would be with something more asymmetrical and to keep a bang, like this:

Longer Asymmetrical Bob by aleighn.

Or, finally, I could just say fuck it and go shorter, although I really had been saving that for spring. I feel like March or April would really be the time to do that, but maybe I am wrong? Perhaps I should go shorter for the new year?

So. Those are the options that I'm considering. What do you think?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Because I Need Motivation

Today's going to be one of those days where I use the blog to cross off things on my list. I know, this is lame, and it's not interesting reading, but on a day like today, doing this does make me feel like I'm not just working in a vacuum. And so.

  • Make hair appointment
  • Finish syllabi for 3 of 4 classes
  • Finish assignments to be handed out on the first day for 3 of 4 classes
  • Send syllabi to be copied
  • Work on syllabus, assignments, and blog for web-based course
  • Make appt. to take car in for maintenance
  • Make doctor appt.
  • Pick up package
  • Change password for university login
  • Email committee I'm chairing
  • Email former student
  • Submit allied org. panels for MLA
  • Hound IT about computer issues Though more hounding will be necessary....
  • Work out
  • Work on evaluation of thesis for award
  • Clean out email -- did some of this, but much more to do

ETA: I think that I had a major mental breakthrough today. I was at the office for about 3 hours, and while I got a lot done, I didn't get everything done that I'd hope to do (as one never does). And I was thinking about how I'd have to do some crap tonight, and that made me cranky, and so I came home for lunch, and then I even tried to lay around with the kitties, but nothing was making me happy, and so I dragged myself to the gym. I had a really good workout (though I really wish I was one of those people who look great when they exercise, which I'm about 99 percent certain I am not - I don't know for sure because my gym is lovely and doesn't have mirrors except for in the weirdo weight area where body builders go) but I found myself, as the workout was ending, and then on the way home, thinking about tons of self-sabotaging things that a person like me might do. I found myself wanting to drink vast quantities of alcohol, eat ice cream and potato chips, score some sort of drugs, smoke cigarettes, talk to strange men, shoplift.... you get the picture. So somehow I took myself home, where none of those things exist, but I seriously almost went out and got myself some self-sabotaging things (french fries, ice cream, and a bottle of wine were my fantasy). But it was crazy. I had this internal battle going on in which on the one hand I was like "But I've been doing so well! I deserve a treat for my labors!" but then I argued back on the other hand, "But I've been doing so well! And I don't even want this crap! What the hell is wrong with me?" So I listened to the angel on my shoulder rather than the devil, I had yummy (healthy) dinner, and then I took a nice hot bath. And I decided I wouldn't be doing work tonight, and I felt great. And then it clicked. What was "wrong" with me was that I didn't want to work on my web class tonight. I don't really need to work on it tonight, let's just note for the record, but I think that the reason I wanted to do things that were antithetical to the self-care resolution was because I've typically used those sort of things as a "break" from work. It's the whole "work hard/play hard" thing, which is really not a very sensible way of conducting an actual life. And that is so incredibly fucked up because working hard and playing hard has made me the sort of person who does things that she doesn't want to do, really, and that are bad for her, in order to excuse doing things that she does want to do, like relaxing like a normal person, which are good for her, actually, even though the cycle of guilt and self-recrimination upon which so much academic work depends tells us that those things are bad. So I'm not doing work tonight. But what's important to note is that I would not have done work tonight under any circumstances. If I were sabotaging the eating/exercise I'd busy myself with things that were bad for me, and I wouldn't get work done either, but I also wouldn't admit that I was choosing to relax, and so I wouldn't actually get to relax. This way, my "treat" is that I'm not doing something bad for myself and yet I still get to not do work.