Friday, September 29, 2006

RBOC: Rate My Professor, and Other Assorted items

I don't think I've ever done a "random bullets of crap" post, but I have a number of potential full posts that I don't want actually to write, so here we go:

  • I went to my Wine Store today, and I went up to the counter to buy a bottle of Pinot Grigio. I always buy the same one (Mezzacorona, 2004 - regarded as a nice economical bottle by those who know about wine and such). So I was digging in my purse for my wallet, and my Wine Store Person says, after ringing up my purchase, "so I know you know how much this costs," or something like that. I'm a blusher, and so I blushed. My internal dialogue was, "Oh God, what does it mean that my Wine Store Person is saying this? Am I a wino? I don't buy that much wine, but I'm a creature of habit! Is that so wrong?" But then I realized he didn't think a thing of it - he was just being friendly. I think this is much like how the Walgreens Pharmacist announced when my dept. BFF went to pick up her prescription, "Hey, we were able to get your Brand-Named-Anti-Depressant in generic!" very loudly in front of other customers. She called me up right after and was horrified. I think I live in a place where people have no censor button for Socially Inappropriate Enunciations.
  • Speaking of Walgreens, I have this thing where I don't let myself go to the drugstore except for when I get paid. Why is there this prohibition? I can't get out of the place without spending $50-$100 bucks. Is this a problem for everybody or just me?
  • So Flavia posted a couple of days ago about getting her first rating on Rate My Professor and being excited about getting a chili pepper. I've been burned by RMP since I've been at this new job, to the point where I'd decided that I'd never look at my ratings again, and so while reading her post made me consider looking, I refrained. Now enter the fact that I've begun looking at the CHE job search experience boards obsessively again since I decided to go back on the market. And somebody mentioned looking people up through Google Scholar, and I did that to myself, and then I decided to just regular google myself, and there was my RMP page. (Hey, they changed the interface - how weird.) So anyway, I looked at all my ratings. Only 17 have rated me (To put this into perspective, I've had a minimum of 420 students in classes since I've been at my current job.) No chili peppers, which on the one hand makes me feel quite lame, but on the other hand I know relates to my persona in the classroom. And I've got a blank face - neither a smile nor a frown, the greenn straight line mouth - as my overall signifier for my rating. This made me a little concerned at first. But then I created an account and looked at all the ratings that left comments. A) Most of the ratings come from my writing classes. B) I actually feel like the "negative" ones are ok. One is from an upper-div person from last year who attacked me in the regular evaluation, and he just didn't like me as a teacher. His comment on RMP reflected his issues with the set-up of my courses and to that, I say, I can't be all thing to all people. The other negative comments tended to be from students in the Writing Class that I Think Shouldn't Exist at My University, and the comments were really more about them hating the fact that it's a university requirement than about me specifically. And there was one comment about me being "vague" on assignments in writing courses, an issue I addressed in this post. But at the end of the day, I read those RMP ratings, and I felt like they were reflective of how students would respond to me. I didn't feel threatened, and I didn't feel like there was a misrepresentation. Yes, I expect students to come ask me for help. When they do, I do what I can to help them to be successful. No, I don't spell out "exactly what I'm looking for" because, to me, it's important that they have the opportunity to surprise me, to have their own ideas. For the first time, I'm ok with the idea of RMP. Should departments to which I apply in my job search look me up, I'd be ok with it. That's a good thing to know.
  • So yesterday I did a "writing about literature" day in my upper-div class. I felt, as I was teaching and after, slightly uncomfortable about it. I worried that I was babying them too much or that they would feel like I was being too directive for upper-level students or for an upper-level class. (note: I would not have felt this anxiety if we had a writing-intensive requirement at my university. We don't, though I think that would be more effective than the current set-up. So I run my upper-level classes as writing-intensive classes, to some extent, even though that is not something we do.) Early returns say that the class was a success. In spite of my insecurities as a teacher, students seemed to have felt that a) even if I didn't talk about anything that was new to them, the way that I talked about writing about literature made them feel less anxious about the research paper b) I got them into the "mode" of research writing earlier than they otherwise would have and c) what I had to say made my expectations clear, which has not been the case in many other courses they've taken in my department. What this tells me is that I should trust my instincts about such things, even if I feel like I'm not necessarily compelling as I bring this stuff to my students. On a related note, one of the students on my class noted that she'd never written a research paper for an English class "because there was always a creative alternative to the research paper and that seemed easier." While I offer the opportunity to do a creative project, which I note on the first day of class, she chose not to take that opportunity with me because, "it seems like you would actually expect something equivalent out of a creative project, so I might as well just learn how to do a research paper in an English class." Incidentally, the student who said this had actually heard about me before enrolling in a class with me when she was in high school, because one of her cohort had taken a general studies sort of course with me with special permission to do so as a high school student. As I was giving my spiel on writing about literature, and about how students who have taken lit courses are usually able at the art of BS and that's not what I want, my current student piped up that when I had my former-student-who-is-her-friend in class and the friend came to high school after I graded her first paper, she reported, "You know how you can just write anything as long as it sounds smart and is long in high school? You totally can't do that in college. They actually read what you write and they see through that." This report makes me feel entirely validated in how I approach student writing in the literature classroom.
  • That Lacey Chabert? You know, Claudia, from Party of Five? She's an awesome actress, as evidenced in tonight's episode of The Ghost Whisperer.

As I was writing this post what was I listening to?

Ipod Shuffle:

  • The Healing Room - Sinead O'Connor
  • Somedays - Regina Spektor
  • I'm With You - Avril Levigne (I know, I know, but it's a great song!)
  • No. 13 Baby - The Pixies
  • Trigger Happy Jack - Poe
  • Seether - Veruca Salt
  • Sweet Thing - Van Morrison
  • Come Back From San Francisco - Magnetic Fields
  • How Soon Is Now - The Smiths
  • 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten - Lucinda Williams

Poetry Friday - T. S. Eliot

An excerpt from The Wasteland, which has a strange aptness this week.

"Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,
Had a bad cold, nevertheless
Is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, 45
With a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she,
Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
(Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
The lady of situations. 50
Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water. 55
I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring.
Thank you. If you see dear Mrs. Equitone,
Tell her I bring the horoscope myself:
One must be so careful these days."

But these are not, in fact, my favorite lines of this poem. My favorite lines are the following:

"She turns and looks a moment in the glass,
Hardly aware of her departed lover; 250
Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:
'Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over.'
When lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone,
She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, 255
And puts a record on the gramophone."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dr. Crazy Now Starring as Cruella DeVille

I just made a little freshman cry. He was pretty good about keeping his composure, but still. I think I cheered him up by the end of the conference, but still. This is the reason to spend the time writing long end comments instead of meeting with students to give them their grades. It's so fucking awful.

[Edited to add: Oh, and I just got a freaked out email from a student in my lower-div lit course. Apparently, she's never received a grade lower than a C on a paper before. Maybe I am Cruella DeVille after all? Have offered to meet with student even though she called me "Ms." and other irritating things that I probably shouldn't post on a blog.]

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More on Students and Analysis

In this post, I will whine and moan not about my freshmen but rather about my sophomore-through-senior students in my literature courses.

As somebody said in the comments to yesterday's post, one has to cut freshmen a bit of slack on the analysis thing because coming out of high school they don't necessarily have experience with the kind of analysis that is expected at the college level. I agree.

So what is the excuse for my upper-division class, filled mostly with juniors and seniors - and most of those English majors?

The assignment, in a nutshell, is this: For each unit (there are four in the semester), students complete a 1-page (it can be 10 pt., single-spaced if necessary, but I only will accept the one piece of paper) response-analysis paper. (I do the one sheet of paper thing because I had a professor when I was a senior give basically this same assignment, and I remember how challenged I was by it as a writer - for as English majors we learn early to write lengthy tomes that say nothing (as you all know from reading my blog, I've not totally broken myself of this habit)- and how much I learned about argument and structure by being forced into concision. The one page is symbolic of that: if you say two pages, somebody is always going to go those two or three lines over onto the third page, you know?) The assignment is the same for each of the four papers. They are to choose a pivotal moment in one text from the unit. They are to choose something that they believe is a crucial aspect (theme, tendency, formal element, whatever) through which to read that scene. The paper then should make an argument about how that crucial aspect comes through in the pivotal moment, and then they should relate that reading to the text as a whole and to the unit that we are studying.

To me, this assignment is great because it forces them to practice all of the analytical skills they need for more extended literary analysis papers - whether the traditional 3-5 page topic-driven paper with no sources or a longer paper with research. It's also great because it forces the crap out of their writing. There's just not room for all of the cliches and the passive voice and mixed metaphors.

And most of the time, students do quite well with it once they do the first one. Often, one of these papers will be the jumping off point from which they develop their topic for the research paper.

But this time, well, things aren't so good. Well, that's unfair. Most of them are doing fine with it. But I've got a couple who submitted papers that just don't follow the assignment. Papers that are all over the place and don't really demonstrate the ability to carefully analyze a passage in a literary text. Both students have taken many English courses. Both students seem fairly alert in class, and they come to class.

So what's the deal? Am I asking too much? Are the students just incapable of the kind of analysis I expect? Are my colleagues to blame, for not requiring similar kinds of analysis in their courses? (Answer to that last question: to some extent, yes they are, and I hate that I've got to deal with seniors who don't have the skills to perform identical tasks to those that I expect of my second-semester freshmen in introduction to literature.)

Won't you all be glad when I'm done with all of this grading on Thursday? I know I will be.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Independent Thinking in the Freshmen Writing Classroom

Yes, I am still sick, but I am feeling MUCH better than I was when I posted this afternoon. Six hours of sleep + Soup + Copious Fluid Intake really does make a difference.

But I'm posting because I'm back to the grind with grading (need to get through 9 papers) and I want to think about the resistance of students to tasks that force them to develop their own ideas. Now, this is the... fourth? time I've given this assignment in as many years, and the 7th section that's been faced with the challenge. It's a personal essay assignment, but the assignment is designed to emphasize all of the components of academic writing. I don't just want confessional schlock. Toward that end, the assignment is not phrased as a question; it is not the conventional, "tell me about x in your life and why it's important to you." If it were, I don't think that students would have the complaints that they have. They're familiar with that kind of writing and that kind of assignment.

Instead, I expect students to develop their own topic and structure in response to an assignment in which students need to construct an argument about their identity, choosing specific examples from the "text" of their life to support the argument that drives the essay. Moreover, they need to provide analysis of each example that relates each example back to the argument. In other words, this is an analysis paper assignment disguised as a "personal experience" essay. Only I don't disguise it. I tell them that's what it is.

The assignment is not, in fact, "vague" or "completely open." Rather, it's incredibly directive, but the way in which it is directive isn't familiar to my students, just three months out of high school. And so they freak out.

Now, this is the thing. I believe in my pedagogy here. I remember being a college student faced with truly open paper assignments - ones where you were just expected to "write a paper, due on this date" - and feeling at a loss for how to go about approaching them. And so I want to walk students through that process as early as their first semester so that they will have confidence that I didn't have.

But yet, there are always those students who even by the time they finish the paper don't really get that this is what it's about, no matter how transparent I am about my aims, on the syllabus, on the assignment, and in class. They just want to be told what to do. (This is also the same group of students that most resists peer review activities.)

Here is what I want students to learn from this kind of assignment:
1) I want them to learn how to come up with an idea of their own for writing, to devise a structure within which to articulate that idea, and to develop their own conclusions through their writing of the paper.
2) I want them to learn that they own their own writing, and that their writing is their responsibility and not my responsibility. Toward that end, if they need help or guidance, they need to ask for it. If they get stuck, they need to devise strategies for getting unstuck. I will be their guide through this, but at the end of the day it's their problem, not mine. This is important because when they complete the assignment, I also want it to be their accomplishment, not mine.

But so this is one of my ongoing frustrations as a teacher of writing. How do we convince students that what they think - on their own, without the intervention of a teacher - is interesting enough to put into words? How do we show them that their own independent thinking has more value than the bland, "correct" thinking that peppers so many student papers?

Damn Those Germ-Ridden Teenagers

I write to you today from a Nyquil-haze, able to breathe through just one nostril, as it appears that I am, inconveniently, with head-cold. I should have seen it coming, really. Last week, I had a number of sickies in close proximity to me (one of the hazards of this job), and now, well, here I am. Sore throat. Sneezing. Nose that is at turns runny and stuffy. It's times like these when I wish I had a significant other (besides my cat, who's no nurse, lemme tell ya). Either that or a personal assistant, ala Young Hollywood. 'Cause you know what? It sucks having to take care of oneself when one is sick. Not that I require much. Just I'd like it if somebody else would run to the store to buy the pathetic canned soup, or to the drugstore to buy me some Theraflu, which is my favorite, or to the kitchen to get me juice or a cup of tea. As it is, I am on my own. And I'm no nurse, either, when it comes to that.

I suppose I should be thankful that this is the first cold I've had in a long while - with the exception of the horrible illness that I contracted during my travels this summer, which was entirely the fault of germ-ridden airplanes and idiotic ignoring of symptoms that one does when one is in a foreign country. Note to self: this cold will linger for a much shorter period of time if I do not go out until 6AM and drink like a sailor on leave.

And I've got papers still to grade, and my book proposal to finish (though maybe sickness will be good for that - one of my most brilliant feats as an academic was when I managed to ace a literary criticism test and to work earnestly on my honors thesis while having as yet undiagnosed strep throat during my senior year of college), and shit to do for the quasi-admin position, and prep to do for classes tomorrow. But for now? I'm returning to my bed. Maybe I'll read some Potter and drift off to sleep.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Consolidation and Preservation of Power

This post is inspired by two very different posts over on other peoples' blogs. First, Anastasia, who's been to hell and back this week with dissertation adviser/committee drama, writes about how those in power are characterizing her as having "a problem working with men," thus subtly placing the blame for what's been going on with her committee squarely on her shoulders. Then, Profgrrrrl's Ex, who's been guest-blogging for her, writes an interesting post about boys wearing girls' jeans. How are these two things related? Well, I suppose both posts came together in my mind because in each, two things are at stake: 1) how we characterize relations between the sexes in terms of certain gender signifiers (whether those signifiers have to do with conforming to prescribed standards for behavior or dress); 2) how we figure the relative limitations of femininity vs. masculinity.

These two things are what I really want to talk about in this post. And ultimately I want to relate these two things (if I can) back to academia and to how it is structured. To me, it seems that certain ways in which we talk about masculinity and a "feminine" (or feminist) threat to it have a great deal in common with the ways in which we talk about academic institutions, and I don't think that is a coincindence. And so maybe (but I'm just thinking out loud here) we need to think about masculinity before we can begin to think about the profession.

So first, let's think about the ways that behavior in our culture is gendered. Anybody who's taken any sort of a women's studies class will be familiar with the binary oppositions through which masculinity and femininity are often defined in our culture. Masculinity is associated with being active, subjectivity, aggression, being in the public sphere, intellect, rationality, etc. Conversely, femininity is associated with passivity, "other"-ness, the private sphere, emotion, irrationality, etc. Now, you may be thinking that these oppositions are far to simplistic, particularly after second-wave feminism. To some extent, that is true. Women have, as the cigarette ad claims, "come a long way, baby." And yet, we have not done away with the norms that gender our behavior, not really. Both in personal relationships and in professional contexts, women are still expected, rightly or wrongly, to be accommodating, cooperative, and nurturing. Women are expected to be "team players," to play by the rules. This is one reason, perhaps, why the numbers of women who enter and graduate college have surpassed the number of men: one thing that formal education requires is the ability to sit still, to follow directions, and to play by the rules. But outside of the classroom, those very things that typify good-student-behavior do not necessarily work in terms of professional advancement or in terms of having subjective power in one's personal relationships. On the other hand, those attributes associated with men - ambition, innovative thinking, and assertiveness, are rewarded.

But, you say, obviously women possess those attributes commonly associated with masculinity, and to that I will say that you are right. I will add, however, that it seems to me that women need carefully to construct their presentation of those qualities so as not to conflict with prevailing norms about femininity for fear of being labeled hysterical, strident, or "a problem." It's not ok for a woman to just go balls out (as it were) with those qualities. Rather, they need to mediate their assertiveness, their ambition, their ideas with a veneer of feminine deference. Some women do this with appearance, some do it with manner, and some do it with a combination of the two, but it is important to most women not to be labeled a "bitch" or a "slut" or "on her period," and so they translate their subversion of feminine gender norms into "safe" performances that are not "dangerous," that don't make them appear to pose a real threat to the stability of the culture (the workplace, the family, etc.). Those that do appear to pose a threat are punished.

Similarly, you might argue that men possess those attributes associated with femininity, but I would also argue that what operates when men express those attributes must necessarily be a carefully constructed performance in order for society to sanction that expression. In neither case has gender ceased to inform individual behavior. Instead, men and women still move as subjects within patriarchal power structures and institutions - subjected by those structures and institutions - only the signifiers have shifted. What this means at the end of the day, it seems to me, is that it is a mistake to think that we are somehow moving "beyond" norms for masculinity and femininity into a space in which gender and sexuality have somehow become fluid.

Instead, it seems to me that as gender signifiers shift to appear more inclusive or more "free" that really what we witness is a consolidation of power and an anxious attempt to preserve power that reinvigorates the hierarchies of a patriarchal status quo.

For example: take the case of self-professed metrosexual Ryan Seacrest. Unlike his more "manly man" peers, Seacrest is an eye-brow-waxer, a facial and manicure-getter, etc. But these signifiers are sanctioned as "ok" - as not gay - precisely because Seacrest flaunts his heterosexuality. Those of you who watch American Idol should be familiar with the set-up. The manly-man Simon Cowell - who is rude and who can't help but reveal his chest-hair - consistently mocks Seacrest, insinuating that he is at the least feminized and at the most gay. And yet, because Seacrest gives it back to Cowell - all the while asserting his heterosexuality - his attention to appearance and "pretty-boy" looks are deemed "ok." Seacrest's image is not some fluid, gender-neutral free-for all. Rather, norms for traditional masculinity come into conversation with alternate models for equally heternormative, equally homophobic, and equally sexist "non-traditional" masculinity.

What I think this reveals is that trends like "metrosexuality" or emo boys wearing girls' jeans or the "Mr. Sensitive Ponytail" man of the movie Singles do not bespeak a loosening of gender roes/stereotypes, or "progress," but rather an attempt to consolidate power within patriarchy by widening the umbrella over what constitutes "acceptable" masculinity. I think this relates to an anxiety about keeping masculinity privileged that goes back at least as far as first-wave feminism. With the rise of the middle class, and with the emergence of bourgeois, white-collar jobs for men, men's labor becomes increasingly aligned with attributes conventionally associated with "the feminine." In order to keep "the feminine" in check, therefore, it becomes necessarily to create a "new womanly man," in the words of Joyce, or, in other words, a new formula for masculinity.

Ultimately, this does not signify "progress" for women, either in the workplace (see Paula Abdul's role on the Idol) or in personal relationships (see Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, et. al.). Rather, it is a move that keeps women more firmly entrenched in a "new womanly womanhood," in which compliance with "feminine" behavior and appearance is compulsory even as women are expected to relate as "equals" with their male counterparts.

And so Anastasia gets accused of not being able to work with men, and so women who can work well with men must also, many times, appear to work in deference to them.

All of these issues are in play when we talk about the power structures of academia, particularly when we talk about disciplines that aren't easily identifiable as "masculine" (i.e., highly compensated, such as business or law). When we talk about the "feminized" disciplines - those disciplines with the greatest number of female professors, those disciplines that pay most attention to issues surrounding gender and sexuality - what is evident is that often "the feminine" is coopted in such a way that conventional power hierarchies are preserved and patriarchal power is reified and consolidated.

When the Emo boy wears jeans designed for a woman, he is playing with gender signifiers. Like the dandy of the late-19th and early 20th-century, he is paying a particular kind of attention to self-presentation that distinguishes him from his "conventional" counterparts. But the aim of this attention to self-presentation is not, ultimately, to disrupt in any real way the hierarchies that are in place surrounding gender and sexuality.

Similarly, when two girls on spring break take a dare to french kiss in front of a crowd full of straight men, this is a presentation that does not in any way disrupt the hierarchies in place surrounding gender and sexuality norms. Women can engage in these performances precisely because they do not disrupt masculine privilege and precisely because these performances please a male audience. This does not mean that women are more "liberated" than men in the 21st century, just as the fact that women can wear pants while men cannot wear skirts doesn't signify greater liberation for women.

So how does this relate to academia? Well, as academics we may pay a lot of attention to how we present ourselves in terms of "diversity," but - and this is even in disciplines traditionally associated with bleeding-heart-liberal-feminism - those presentations do not get us outside the reach of those power structures in which we are inscribed. Identities continue to be articulated through hegemonic, normative structures, and though we find ways to describe our identities in terms of greater freedom, each of us still has to negotiate those hierarchies that we inherit from our predecessors.

In my department, the majority of chairs of committees are men. All of the administrators are men. I attended a meeting last week with some VIPs related to my quasi-admin. position, and I was the only woman present. There is not one female full professor in my department. It is 2006. I am in English.

At the Fancy Research University where I got my PhD, there was only one full professor who was a woman in the English department. There were only two or three associate professors who were women. The administrators and two of the three named chairs (the third being the one full professor who was a woman) were all men. And in the past 10 years, two women were denied tenure, while no men were denied tenure.

At my undergraduate institution, female professors were successful in a lawsuit against the university related to gender-related inequities in pay and promotion/tenure, a suit which directly related to female faculty in the English department.

These hierarchies exist not only in the profession but in my discipline. If we're going to talk about how norms or models for gender and sexuality are changing, I think it's important that we don't talk about that change as by definition liberating or good, for women or for men.

(I feel like my thoughts in this post are more scattered than I want them to be, but this was very much a "thinking things through" post, and so I welcome any comments you all might have.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Poetry Friday - Dorothy Parker


The ladies men admire, I've heard,
Would shudder at a wicked word.
Their candle gives a single light;
They'd rather stay at home at night.
They do not keep awake till three,
Nor read erotic poetry.
They never sanction the impure,
Nor recognize an overture.
They shrink from powders and from paints ...
So far, I've had no complaints.

Bad Dreams

First Bad Dream:
I somehow was back with The Ex with Whom I Lived. We had been broken up (per reality) but somehow we had ended up back together in this weird falling-down house, etc. I found out that while we were broken up, he had jet-setted around to the Hamptons and other Fancy locales, and also that he just found out he had a kid. Whatever my situation was, I somehow wasn't in a position where I could walk out on him. Dream ends with me screaming/crying (in dream), until sweet, sweet Man-Kitty awakens me for breakfast.

Second Bad Dream:
After feeding Man-Kitty, I usually go back to sleep for to hours. (He's a VERY early riser.) Upon returning to sleep I had a dream in which 1) I was somehow travelling home from Canada with my best friend from high school and her mom (that part was very confusing, and all I know is I was eating a stranger's french fries at the airport) and 2) then the dream switched to me at home, and my mom was there, and she killed my new computer with some kind of wax-spill, and there was some sort of crazy commentator on TV acting as is this was a national disaster - or maybe there was a national disaster going on simultaneously? - and this dream ends as well with me crying and freaking out, until I awaken to realize I've overslept.

I don't remember the last time I had a bad dream, actually. Guess I really am going on the market. It's not going to be a fun next few months.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Sexual Politics (in the Discipline of English, in Academe, etc.)

I'm not entirely sure how to go about this post, but it's been something that's been on my mind for a while, and I do want to write it. The problem is that I'm not sure how to write about these things without being identifying - either of myself or of others. My point in this post is not to do some kind of expose (anybody know how to make an accent mark in blogger? 'Cause I sure don't....) about the behavior of particular individuals or organizations/institutions or even the profession.

As you all know (or if you don't know you're not very careful readers - for shame!) my discipline is English. Now, English is a feminized discipline, just as many disciplines in the humanities are. It is also a discipline that pays a lot of attention (in the classroom, in the scholarship) to issues surrounding gender and sexuality (in literature). In fact, when I came to the discipline as an undergraduate, this was one of the things that attracted me. I was intrigued by a course of study that allowed me to explore my identity as a woman and that honored my burgeoning feminism.

The truth is, I didn't have much contact with male faculty during my undergraduate coursework. For one thing, I was minoring in women's studies and - surprise, surprise - most people who teach women's studies courses are women. For another, I did have a few male faculty in lower-division classes, but most were adjuncts (and thus oppressed by the system and thus not particularly invested in exerting certain kinds of authority over me, the nubile and brainy undergraduate) and one was a professor on the verge (like days away from) of retirement, and so was less interested in exerting authority than in having us all do shots of Ouzo in class (I kid you not). And so, I had a very skewed vision of what the discipline of literary studies looks like and of what my future as an academic in English would look like when I decided, as a junior in college, that I wanted to be a professor when I grew up.

Of course, though, this idyllic period of ignorance was short-lived.

From the ages of 21-22 the following things happened:
  • A male professor, whom I liked very much, agreed to write a letter of recommendation for me. In this letter, he declared that I would be an "ornament" (direct quote) to any program that accepted me. I know, I know - he was just trying to indicate how great I was right? Yeah, except I doubt that he indicated the greatness of male students with words like "ornament."
  • At the first conference I attended, a conference that is primarily attended by women, I was chatting along happily with a male scholar - about my work, about my interest in the conference, about going to grad school - but when someone interrupted to tell him goodbye, I turned back to my mentor. She said, "Don't talk to me! Keep talking to him! Don't you know who that is?!?!" and she turned her back on me. When we left, my mentor revealed that the man to whom I'd been talking was Very Important and that all of the other women (academics and feminists, mind you) were in a snit over the fact that I monopolized him and that he was so interested in talking to me (i.e., that his attention was diverted by a pretty young thing). I could tell you more stories in this vein, but this I think is illustrative enough.
  • I chose as a reader for my MA thesis a male professor, who proceeded to, in a conference with me, with his office door closed and with only a little light on, to go on and on about a particular passage that I was analyzing - and only that passage - which was incredibly sexually explicit. He then loaned me his copy of a book by Norman Mailer, complete with his marginal notes. I felt incredibly uncomfortable.
What I learned from these experiences:
  • In each of these contexts, I was a woman first and my ideas came second. I either had to accept the benefits I could get from this (thus being complicit in being objectified) or I had stridently to refuse any such attentions. At the end of the day, I'm not the sort to stand up for what's right if it's going to get in the way of my ambition, so I've attempted to walk the fine line of letting the fact that I'm a woman work for me without ever becoming involved in anything that I feel is truly inappropriate.
  • More prestigious/advanced male scholars can be fantastic and influential on one's work, but not all of them are true mentors. If a guy is looking at your boobs while you talk about your research, he is not your mentor.
  • Even your female, feminist mentors may pimp you out at the first opportunity.
In graduate school, I became more and more aware of the way that theories about sex and gender in my discipline don't necessarily translate into greater equality between male and female faculty in departments. Sure, in our work we're interested in looking at power dynamics and all that jazz, but in real life? Fewer women make it to full professor. Fewer women attain tenure. Fewer women are invited to speak on certain kinds of panels at certain kinds of conferences. And, at the end of the day, when I interact with male colleagues of a certain generation, those interactions are always colored by the power differential that exists between us because of my relative newness to the profession and because of the fact that I'm a woman. Unlike with my male peers, whom the Old Male Guard initiate into the Club, I, as a female junior faculty member, need constantly to be aware of my position in relation to the OMG and the choices that I make about how to behave both with the OMG as well as with female colleagues more advanced than myself. Because even the female colleagues are constantly aware of their relation to the OMG, and many will drop you like that if association with you means that the OMG doesn't pay attention to them. Similarly, if the OMG blesses you with their esteem, some of the female colleagues will flock to you, because you have the OMG seal of approval.

I'm going to end with two stories.

Story #1
Once upon a time, Dr. Crazy attended a conference, and at that conference, she attended a discussion-oriented session in which the audience was expected to participate. The room was pretty full, and Dr. Crazy had to sit toward the front. Dr. Crazy hadn't planned on contributing to the discussion, actually, because it was filled with the OMG and she was tired and she just didn't want to deal. The problem was, at one point in the discussion, she couldn't stop herself from speaking up about something that she had some expertise about. When Dr. Crazy speaks up once, it's pretty much Goodnight, Nurse and she'll be speaking until the discussion is over. So she spoke. And she made some good comments, or at least she felt that she did, and the couple of other women in the room had come up to her afterward to say that they enjoyed what she had to say.

So during the coffee break, Dr. Crazy was talking with another woman, and she was interrupted by a Very Especially Grand Member of the OMG. He didn't introduce himself. (Not that he needed to do so, as he had preyed upon Dr. Crazy at a previous conference.) Rather, he told Dr. Crazy that if she wanted to participate in the discussion, she should have chosen to sit in another location in the room. (Mind you, many men were sitting in the front of the room as well, and they were talking, and he wasn't giving them advice about where to sit.) And then he walked away, having quite literally put Dr. Crazy in her place. Dr. Crazy attended a similar discussion-oriented session, and she took VEGM's advice. And she actively participated. (Incidentally, again, men were sitting in front and they were talking and the VEGM didn't have a problem with it. However, because VEGM was sitting on the side, and facing the back of the room, Dr. Crazy was now in his line of sight.) And all of a sudden VEGM was all, "I don't think I introduced myself," and "I'm interested in your ideas."

People like VEGM are not mentors. No matter how affable they become when you do what you're told, they will not mentor you as a professional. That is the bottom line.

Story #2
Once upon a time, Dr. Crazy attended a conference, and at that conference, she gave a paper on a new research project, thinking that she could "try out" her ideas here (it was a non-specialized conference) and that it would be safe because nobody familiar with what she was working on was likely to be in the audience. Well, the president of the society dealing with this very topic was in the audience. (Incidentally, so too was the guy from bullet-point #1, and that was sure weird, given the topic of my paper, but I digress.) And she loved what I was thinking about. And she wanted to get a drink and a meal. And she suggested I submit a proposal for the society's MLA panel that was upcoming. In the following years, she has helped me get publications, a guest editing gig, and to become an officer in the society. And she's one of my recommenders. No, she's not a VEGM of anything. No, she's not at a fancy institution, nor is she part of the OMG. But she is a mentor. She treats me as a colleague.

The same is true of more prestigious female scholars whom I know. And isn't it interesting that I "know" them - have an acquaintanceship with them and have had good conversations with them, etc. - whereas those members of the OMG who like to show up at my side at drinks receptions don't even know my name? I certainly think it is.

I guess all of this is a long way of getting to the point that this is something that I struggle with. I struggle with the fact that I want to be well regarded by the OMG while at the same time I repulsed by the fact that I participate in a system that allows such a thing to exist. I'm not saying that every man in the profession behaves in the ways that I've described above, but I do think that both men and women allow for this to exist in the profession. We look the other way. We turn it into a joke. We pretend it doesn't exist or that it's not harmful.

The problem is, it's obviously harmful. And it obviously goes against much of what we talk about as feminists. But there we are, allowing it to continue. And I do it, too, so it's not like I'm blaming other people for this. I'm part of it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

God, I'm Boring When I'm Productive

Once again, I've been in TCB mode and so I haven't been feeling much urge to blog. Yes, I do want to blog about the male older/female younger professor thing, but I haven't found a way to do it yet. It's percolating. And then as for everything else, well, I don't know.

Ooh, here's something some of you might be interested in (but if you're not interested in the Potter then skip to the next paragraph): I was rereading the last Potter last night, and I realized (as I'm sure that many of you already had) that the Half-Blood Prince's book was from around 50 years ago, which is also when Voldemort was in school at Hogwarts. If the book belonged to Snape's mother, I wonder whether she and Voldemort knew one another (a), and what happened to her (b). This adds a whole interesting layer to the snape stuff, and it really necessitates us finding out more about his backstory, I think. The main question is, is Snape Voldemort's love child?

Ok, enough of that nonsense. Other than that, I have been shepherding my students through their first formal papers, grading, coming up with a presentation rubric, I've got two meetings with my dean upcoming that I probably should prepare for in some fashion, though I'm not sure exactly how to do so as I don't entirely know why I'm involved in these meetings, the job market stuff, blah blah blah.

See? Not interesting blogging material. I suppose I will ask a question, though, of those of you who continue to read the non-interesting me: What are your thoughts on D.H. Lawrence? Love him? Hate him? Somewhere in between?

(I'm asking for a reason, but I don't want to reveal it until after people answer.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Monday Afternoon TCB Edition

Ok, so I wasn't quite as productive as I might have been this weekend, because I bought a new computer that doesn't suck, and so I was playing around with it rather than accomplishing things. That said, I have rediscovered my love of playing with pretend people , and while this may at first seem like a time-suck, it actually has inspired me to ever greater heights of productivity. Yesterday, this was mostly home-focused. But since this morning, I have....

1. Finished revisions on a collection essay.
2. Found and commented on a student essay left over from the spring for a student who wanted feedback greater than just a grade.
3. Made 15 bucks from the Bookbuyer Man.
4. Graded two sets of quizzes.
5. Corresponded with a plethora of folks.

Now, I'm going to do the following:
1. Go to the grocery store.
2. Play with my people and kitty-cat. (This can be done simultaneously.)
3. Finish the novel for my class tomorrow.

And who knows what else? I should go to the gym, but I'd intended to get there much earlier than 2 PM, which is what time it will be by the time I would arrive there. Maybe it's ok to skip the gym as long as I get back on the eating right wagon? God, I hate working out. I hate it so much. But I digress. My point here, is I think it's actually good for me to think about living my life as if I'm queuing things up to do. Is that a good thing or a sad thing?

This Made Me Laugh

Ok, so I got an email from Conference Friend, to whom I'd mentioned my decision to go on the market. (This makes it sound like we're less good friends than we are - you know how in Anne of Green Gables Anne talkes about "kindred spirits"? Well CF and I are like that, in that we became actual, real good friends, and I've met members of his family and things and we've known each other for years and kept in good touch through everything even though we've only been on the same continent for roughly 1 month total.) He writes the following (which of course I've edited to eliminate any incriminating details, about me or others in question):

"I had a little look on the MLA j-list last week -- anywhere tickling your fancy? I have, amongst others, a novelty rejection letter from Fancy School, and I see they're after a Person in Our Field of Specialty. I have a drunken photo of you and Very Fancy Scholar from Fancy School who is also in Our Field of Specialty outside a Drinking Establishment in a European Country, if you might like to use it in your application."

I am not at all sure what the above says about me (or the VFS).

Which reminds me: one of these days I've got to do the post that's been brewing about the dynamic between young-ish female scholars and less young-ish and more well-established male scholars at conferences in my field. (This brewing post actually has nothing to do with Very Fancy Scholar, at least as far as I recall.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Poetry Friday - Keats

Of all the Romantic poets, I do love Keats the best. Why? For stanzas like this one, from "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unweari├Ęd,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Quality of Life (A Job Market Post)

Bbound asked, in response to my post yesterday about the MLA Job Information List going online, "Out of curiosity, how much did quality-of-life issues narrow down your choices to those six?"

I thought that this was a good question, and one that might be of particular interest to the grad students (particularly those in English) who read this blog, and so I figured I'd post my response rather than burying it in the comments. So, to begin:

First, before we can talk about how I arrived at my list, we've got to talk about what we mean by "quality of life" issues. A lot of times when people in academia talk about these, "quality of life" translates into "I must be in a major metropolitan area on one of the coasts where everyone is a democrat and life is sweet." Or, when people in academia talk about these, they often talk about something that roughly translates to, "a place where I can be near to/live with my spouse/partner." Or, finally, they might mean something like, "a place with decent culture and where it's good to raise children and we can afford a house and there are good schools."

Now, I'm not questioning the validity of any of these, but these are not my issues, or at least they aren't entirely my issues. According to the usual measures of what gives a person good "quality of life," I should probably stay in my current location.
a. The cost of living is such that one can live on a professor's salary in the humanities.
b. I am in a metropolitan area, with an international airport that is a hub for a major airline.
c. The location has good museums, a nice symphony, a Shakespeare company, etc.
d. There are many fine restaurants, good local music scene, etc.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The point is, none of these things ultimately matter if you don't have a reason to go out and to do these things. Well, maybe b. still matters. I think that the first time I went on the market I equated "city" (even if it is a small, midwestern city) with "quality of life." I think I was wrong. I think that, perhaps, I had a bad attitude about a few of the places that I interviewed, and I wonder now whether, had I been more open-minded, I might have found that I did like it there. Because here's the thing: I am not the sort of person who's going to the symphony for every performance, and I think I've been to the various museums maybe once since I've lived here. While I do go to dinner fairly regularly, I'm not out trying each hot new restaurant. Part of this is because I'm a creature of habit. Or maybe I'm even a little lame. But that's real life, and so really, how much does it matter that I'm in this city-like location?

So, in looking at the list, I did not limit myself by location, other than that I do need to be within 1 hour of an airport. No truly middle-of-nowhere locations for me, as even I am not that open-minded. I have no ties to anyplace in particular, and yes, my family is all in one place, but the reality is that I only go visit a couple of times a year anyway, and you know what? I can afford the airfare. Sure, it's nice to be able to jump in the car and to go to them, but that's not a necessity.

So how did I get to the six? (Which is actually now 7, since I heard from a person about a search that is more fit for me than one might think upon looking at the ad.)

1. Well, to be blunt, there were only like 14 jobs total in my field. a) I am in a small field. Most universities only have one person - at most 2 - to cover my country/century. b) There isn't a lot of person-retiring-need-to-replace-position hiring in my field. c) Many places try to combine a position in my field with something else, which sometimes works for me, but more often does not because I don't really do the "hot" thing people often seek. d) I really am defined within this specific field as a scholar, which is a good thing in many ways, but it also means that "stretching" is less easy to do.

2. Even the year that I did the full-on assault on the market, the year that I got this job, when I applied for many jobs I was barely qualified for, I only was able to justify myself for approximately 50 applications. I know people who have sent out close to 200 in a season, so clearly I'm not in a high-demand field.

3. Quality of life also relates to one's professional life. My main criteria for narrowing my list was lighter teaching load. If I'm going to move just to be in the same job, my life will not demonstrably improve.

4. I zoned in on applications that really sounded like me. This is a luxury that I have precisely because I have my current job.

5. I think that one of the things that I am looking for is more campus life at whatever institution I might be hired at. I remember in college my professors being around at big events on campus, and I remember seeing my professors at the local coffee shop or restaurants or bars or whatever. I liked that. And I think I imagined that I would step into that role when I became a professor. My current institution, because really there is no campus life, doesn't have that. It's changing and moving more in that direction, but faculty seem very disconnected from the campus, and by extension students seem disconnected from the faculty. I'd like to be at an institution with a culture that's different from that, I think.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Having Perused the Job List....

1) I have found 6 positions that are a possibility.
2) Of those six positions, I am fairly certain that I have an actual shot at perhaps four of them.
3) The reality is that probably I think too highly of myself, and I really only have an actual shot at approximately two of the six.
4) Even still, the likelihood is that I can really only reasonably expect an interview at maybe (perhaps) one place.
5) And I've got to remember not to fret should even that one interview not come through, as the job market in my field is not wide open, and I know at least one person (but really more like 25 people) with whom I will be competing for these six jobs. And they're all really, really smart, and I need to remember that, too. Not that I'm not smart as well, but it is important to give props to one's competitors so as not to be too full of oneself and to come crashing down when one's bubble bursts and one has to face the reality of one's own position.
6) And so why go through all of this? Because I've got to know. I've got to know whether I can do it or not. And if not? Well, what the hell. You've got to put yourself out there in order to do anything, right?

So now it begins in earnest. The obsessive compiling of the materials, the checking once and then twice to make sure everything is right, and the obsessing over paper and envelopes and things. Oh, and maybe buying a new laptop because there was a tragic accident last night involving one idiotic (although lovable, but I'm mad at him) feline (who weighs more than my colleague's 2-month-old baby, incidentally), a glass of wine, and some very ill-advised attempts to mop up the keyboard without having turned off the computer. Of course, I do hope that maybe the computer fixed itself while I wasn't looking, but I'm not entirely hopeful, especially as this laptop is from like 1998, it weighs like 45 lbs., it's kind of stolen property, and it never worked very well to begin with. But I wrote my dissertation on it, and it has sentimental value, dammit! Oh well, I guess I'll find out.

But I digress. I really need to get back to obsessing about the six (or really 1 or 2) potential futures that I might have in various locations across these great United States (2 in the South, 2 East, 1 West, 1 Upper (and I mean Upper) Midwest). We shall see!

RfP Wednesday: Back to the Potter

Because the only "new" reading I've done lately is neither new, nor is it for pleasure alone. Yes, I spent yesterday in my bed reading a novel, but it was a novel for my upper-div. class, and so I won't be writing about it here. Yet, as you know, I do like to reread the Potter before bedtime, so I just wanted to note a couple of new things that are rattling around in my brain.

1) At the beginning of The Goblet of Fire, Harry "dreams" what's going on with Voldemort and Wormtail. The two are discussing having to kill somebody to get to Harry, and when Harry awakens, he immediately conflates the two things, thinking they're talking about killing him. I think we're going to find out that somebody (Dumbledore's brother Aberforth?) was killed by Voldemort/Wormtail, and that this was in some way necessary to set the stage for Voldemort's return to a body.

2) While I do think that Snape is actually good, I'm still wondering about how occlumency/legilimency/seeing into other people's memories is going to play out in the final book. It does seem to me that Snape was not really committed to teaching Harry how to block his thoughts/feelings, and I wonder now whether this was intentional on his part, but if it was, I'm not sure I get the way he emphasizes his own ability to control himself in Book 6.

3) What's the deal with the fact that there are so many apparently single and childless wizards on the Good Side whereas on the Dark Side it seems like there are a lot more marriages?

4) I would like to be able to transfigure into a cat. I think it would be nice.

Sadly, that is all for RfP Wednesday this week.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Using Online Discussion Boards

A long time ago, Bardiac asked me to post about how I use discussion boards in some of my classes, and so I figured today is as good a time as any, as I've just finished reading my students' weekly posts. Before I get into the whys and hows of it, though, let me give you an idea of context. I only use the online discussion board in my upper-division courses (and as I only teach one of those per semester, that means that I only use them in one course per semester). Part of this is because I feel like it is a substantial obligation for students to fulfill, and part of it is because I can't handle keeping track of more than one class doing this.

1. Why is it useful to use an online discussion board?
Well, where to begin? I suppose the first thing I'd say is that I like that students are forced to write about pretty much every text in the class. While my department does not have an upper-level writing intensive requirement, I run my upper-level courses as writing intensive courses. To me, writing about literature is crucial to our understanding of it, and by the time that students are in an upper level class, they should be committed to learning how to become literary critics. Quizzes are not going to turn them into critics, and I don't want to take class time to have them writing at length in there. Thus, the online discussion board is a good way to get students writing (and thus thinking in an analytical way) about the texts of the course.

Next, the weekly posts that they do on the discussion board constitute an "in-between" writing step in terms of formality. The least formal writing that students do in my course is to hand in an index card each class period with jotted down ideas/questions about the reading for that day. Next, comes the slightly more formal responses on the online discussion board. I do not evaluate either of these kinds of writing for grammar or punctuation, nor is their grade lowered for them getting something wrong. Rather, they get credit just for doing the assignment. (This also makes my life easier because I just have to check off that they've posted by the deadline each week in order to tabulate their grade.) Next, I have students complete four short analysis/response papers - one for each unit. These are obviously more formal, though they do not require any research component. Next come student presentations (with a small research component) and then finally a research paper. By building the assignments in the course in this way, students get a range of writing and critical experiences that each tie into the other, which I think is a good way to demystify the process of literary analysis for them.

It's useful to use the discussion board because it allows people who might be more quiet in class a forum in which to contribute to the discussion of the texts of the course. This is especially useful in smaller classes where group work seems weird to do. (In my larger lower-level classes, I tend to rely on group work to tackle this shy-people-need-to-participate-too problem.)

Finally, it's also useful for me as an instructor, because the responses on the discussion board show me what students are getting in class and what I need to spend more time on. A lot of the time, it's less easy to glean this information from conventional class discussion.

2. How can I make an online discussion board work?
I first tried to use one of these a few years ago, and it was not an altogether successful experiment. What can go wrong? 1) Students don't write anything of substance each week; 2) Students don't engage with other students' comments; 3) It's a pain in the ass to grade the posts.

I've already addressed how I've handled the grading issue, which is to grade the students on completing the assignment and not trying to grade for quality. That said, it is not worth having students do the discussion board assignment if they do not post in substantive ways and if they do not engage with one another. So what I learned is that I had to give students a prompt for each week. A specific prompt that asks for specific questions. It is not enough, I learned, to ask them to "respond" to the reading for that week or to what is happening in class. Rather, I come up with what basically amounts to 12 or 13 paper topics, and these serve as the prompts for their responses. Yes, this is a lot of work on the front end. BUT it's worth it. Why? Well, first of all, students have a clear idea of the sorts of things I expect them to think about when they read each assignment (they get the prompts on the first day of class) and so the in-class discussion tends to be stronger. Second, the prompts give students an idea of the sorts of issues that are appropriate to explore in their critical writing, so when I ask them to develop their own topics for the more formal writing assignments in the class, they have a little bit of help in determining what constitutes a solid topic. Third, and perhaps this is most important, the prompts help students respond to the discussion board as a "real" assignment - not just busy-work.

Getting the students to engage with the comments of other students is still a struggle for me, but I try to model this by responding to at least one person's comment per week, or to respond by bringing together multiple comments in my response. I also try to encourage students to respond to each other by praising those who do this. This is the one aspect of using the discussion board that is most frustrating for me, but I think it's also a particular problem for me because so many of my students work and so are very regimented in the way that they choose to do their assignments - they are not checking the discussion board multiple times, but rather they alot themselves 15 minutes (or whatever) to do their post and that's it. I've decided not to beat myself up over this. I'm just happy they're writing about everything that we're reading in the semester.

So what are your experiences with using discussion boards? How do you use them? I'd love to hear what other people do with this medium.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11/01 - Hearing the News

I've been thinking about whether I wanted to post anything related to 9/11 today - especially as we'll all be so saturated with images and reports and memorials by the day's end that to do so may be just kind of dumb. But I decided that I did want to post something about it, something unsentimental and true.

It was a gorgeous day. The sky was bright blue and there were little puffy white clouds dotted here and there. I was teaching a 9AM class that fall, and, as usual, I was cutting it very close about arriving on time to school. I was listening to NPR that morning, and I was moving at a snail's pace through campus and cursing at the people in front of me who were letting packs of students cross the road in front of them. The voice in the radio said that they had received a report that a plane had hit one of the WTC towers.

And I turned off the radio.

I assumed it was a little plane that hit the top or something. I didn't want to hear it. I mean sure, it would be sad if somebody died or whatever, but I had to get ready to teach, right? I was trying to figure out the plan for my class, which began in minutes. We were reading Paolo Freire's essay "The Banking Concept of Education" that day. Not an easy essay to teach to freshmen.

I arrived in class, probably a minute or two late, though I'm not really sure about that. None of my students had heard the news either, or if they had, they had heard it in the way that I did and completely blew it off. They had rolled out of bed, and some were still in pajamas, and they were trying to wake themselves up and to discuss this stupid essay that we'd read for class that day, right?

I remember feeling like the class went really well. I remember feeling like there was a good energy by the end, and that the students were really learning.

As I walked back up to my office, I ran into my dissertation adviser. He told me what was happening.

I returned to my office, to my department, and everybody was standing around radios trying to hear what was happening. Ultimately I went home, and then began a solid week of being glued to the television.

For a long time I lied to people and said that the first I'd heard about the planes hitting the towers was from my dissertation adviser. I didn't want to admit that I was so self-absorbed and callous that I just flipped off the radio when they first mentioned what I thought was an "accident." But maybe it's better not to lie. Maybe it's better not to sugar-coat it. Because while what happened on 9/11 was horrible, 364 days out of the year most of us don't think twice about it. We're absorbed with our own stuff, and we'll turn off the radio (or the tv, or whatever) rather than be bothered by unpleasant news. So. That's it, I guess. Not exactly a post to be proud of, but maybe something worth posting anyway.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

TCB - Woohoo!

1) I have completed a couple of tasks that I'd been putting off - yay!
2) I am heartened by the fact that I've got really great mentors. Compiling all of those materials for my possibly-not-going-to-make-any-difference job search is really not so horrible as I anticipated it might be.
3) I'm pretending that I'm going to finish my book proposal this weekend. This is funny, as it's only barely begun.
4) Isn't my little Man-Kitty darling? I miss him being a baby, but he's pretty nice as a full-grown Man-Cat.
5) I don't want to work out. I know I've GOT to do it, as I only worked out once this week. I also know that I'm heavier than I want to be, in part because I've been so erratic with the working out. Not tremendously so, but still. Nevertheless, I'm kind of thinking that I may just chalk up the dieting/working out until after the 15th, because I've got some revisions due on the 15th, I've got to get all my job search shit together by the 15th, and I've got a meeting with some muckety mucks that I'm kind of nervous about this week, etc. Maybe I shall stop feeling guilty and set a start date when some of these stressors are off my plate (so to speak).
6) I'm in love with the band Snow Patrol. Or their music at any rate.
7) Ok, must stop looking at the computer screen. Going either to the gym or to buy some kind of nasty food that will make me feel happy. (And yes, I know I could do both, but screw that.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Binder from Hell - Finis!`

That's right, folks. Except for a couple of annoying things (extra copy of CV, new cover sheet) I am done with the Binder from Hell. Not only am I done with it - I am done with it one full week in advance of when it needs to be done.

In other news, after taking care of much important (and yet stressful and irritating) business over the last couple of days - including not only the binder, grading 22 summaries and 22 descriptive essays and 10 response papers, email correspondence I'd been putting off related to the job search and to some publication-related things, a meeting related to the admin thing I'm doing this semester, and meeting with advisees - I have also discovered this website. I'm addicted.

And in honor of this new addiction, and in honor of my 2-year anniversary with the Man-Kitty, I am going to post one of his baby pictures. I would never put him up to the scrutiny of the Kitten War. He is obviously above such objectification.

A New Low

Remember this post? The one where I thought I'd misplaced a very important document? Turns out I misplaced it inside the Binder from Hell. That's right, folks, I thought it was lost because it was where it was supposed to be. Perhaps the thing about blogging lost things really does work, though, so perhaps I should mention that I have no idea where my copy (much annotated) of To the Lighthouse might be? And that I really need to find it pronto?

Poetry Friday - Stevie Smith

"Souvenir de Monsieur Poop"

I am the self-appointed guardian of English literature,
I believe tremendously in the significance of age;
I believe that a writer is wise at 50,
Ten years wiser at 60, at 70 a sage.
I believe that juniors are lively, to be enoucraged with
discretion and snubbed,
I believe also that they are bouncing, communistic, ill
mannered and, of course, young.
But I never define what I mean by youth
Because the word undefined is more useful for general
purposes of abuse.
I believe that literature is a school where only those who apply
themselves diligently to their tasks acquire merit.
And only they after the passage of a good many years (see
But then I am an old fogey.
I always write more in sorrow than in anger.
I am, after all, devoted to Shakespeare, Milton,
And, coming to our own times,
Of course
I have never been known to say a word against the
established classics,
I am in fact devoted to the established classics.
In the service of literature I believe absolutely in the principle
of division;
I divide into age groups and also into schools.
This is in keeping with my scholastic mind, and enables me to
Not only youth
(Which might be thought intellectually frivolous by pedants)
but also periodical tendencies,
To ventilate, in a word, my own political and moral
(When I say that I am an old fogey, I am, of course, joking.)
English Literature, as I see it, requirs to be defended
By a person of integrity and essential good humour
Against the forces of fanatacism, idiosyncrasy and anarchy.
I perfectly apprehend the perilous nature of my convictions
And I am prepared to go to the stake
For Shakespeare, Milton,
And, coming to our own times,
Of course
I cannot say more than that, can I?
And I do not deem it advisable, in the interests of the editor
to whom I am spatially contracted,
To say less.

Suspicious Minds (A Job Market Post)

Since the new semester began, I've felt a subtle shift in colleagues' attitudes towards me, a shift that directly correlates to the fact that I've had a bunch of publications accepted/come out in the past couple of months. (By "a bunch" I mean around 5, and no, not all of them are fancy, but in English that's a lot of productivity, especially at an institution like mine, as we don't do collaborative work. I should note, too, that in some respects the fact that all of this is happening right now is the fruit of the labor of like 2 1/2 years, of waiting on things to appear, etc., and so it's not like I have this kind of a burst regularly. Oh, and the colleagues know what's going on with me research-wise because we're supposed to tell an administrator in our department who sends acknowledgment of accomplishments out to our dept. listserv and to administrators higher up. I suppose I could just not follow that convention, but it does help the department to seem like it's productive, and I want to be helpful.)

In a few cases, the shift is entirely positive. Excitement that I've been able to achieve so much. Pride that somebody like me is in our department. Interest in what I'm actually working on.

In other cases, the shift is kind of positive, or even negative, but always characterized by suspicion. "Wow, you're really getting a lot done," said sarcastically. "I'm actually surprised that you're going to stay here," said with a raised eyebrow. Or then there's the worst, when they say nothing at all, but somehow are a little less friendly, a little less likely to chat at the copier, a little less likely to pop their head in my office door and say hello.

Have you ever been in a romantic relationship where the other person goes on and on about not being good enough for you? Where that person sees anything positive that happens to you that is unrelated to him/her as evidence that he/she can never make you happy? Where the person is always wondering if you're cheating on them, asking around to people who might know to try to get inside information? And then you begin to believe them - you begin to believe that you can do better, and you begin to resent their insecurity. You begin to wonder why you cared about the person in the first place, or whether you ever really were happy with them.

That's how I've been feeling lately. And it sucks.

I want to work at the kind of institution that regards productivity or success not with suspicion but with excitement. I want to work at the kind of institution that sees what I'm doing as a model for faculty achievement instead of a threat. I want to work at the kind of institution that believes it deserves me, that believes it is worthy of me.

That is how it is with some people at this institution, like Very Supportive Colleague, and Really Wonderful Mentor. The problem is, those people feel few and far between right now. I feel like if I stay here, I'll always be with the insecure boyfriend that can't realize that my success is a good thing not only for me but also for our relationship, that I want my success to inspire us to greater heights and not to threaten him. You know what? I've had that relationship. I lived in it for three years, from ages 25-28. It ended. Thank god. I've been in this relationship with my institution for three years as well, from ages 29-32. Will this relationship go the same way? Who the hell knows.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Dr. Crazy Halloween Costume

Well, Aayor tagged me for this meme, and I think it's a brilliant idea. Just imagine all of the Dr. Crazies at grad student halloween parties, and all of the kids who want to dress like Dr. Crazy, too!

So, the meme is this:

" If I were designing a [my blog title/pseud here] Halloween costume, it would consist of..."

[My Rule: Try to choose something representative rather than your most stylish/most interesting/most h.o.t. outfit].

I know that we're supposed to choose something representative, BUT I think that the Dr. Crazy costume would have two different possible outfits, for Dr. Crazy is sort of like a super hero who has different clothes for different tasks.

Option One: Teacher Crazy
  • A wildly patterned skirt, usually knee-length.
  • A solid-colored top, often black, that may or may not have sleeves.
  • A black cardigan.
  • This watch. Sadly, there are no other accessories because Dr. Crazy can't accessorize for shit.
  • Stylish and yet comfortable shoes, such as these.
Option Two: Scholar Crazy.
  • Well, obviously this would be the outfit described (and in part pictured) here. Obviously the main accessory is the tiara, but also there may or may not be a cloth hair bands/head-wrap thingie thrown into the mix.
Okeydokey. So I tag whoever wants to be tagged.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

RfP Wednesday: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Ok, so never have I been so happy to realize that it's Reading for Pleasure Wednesday, as I was struggling to come up with something about which to post, and then, realizing it's Wednesday, I realized I didn't need to struggle! Yay! Reading for Pleasure Wednesday is working exactly as I'd hoped it would! So, I've decided to talk about The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, because last week I decided to buy myself another copy of it so that I could read it again. I'm sure that I've got a copy of it at my mother's house somewhere, but I figured that I could afford to own two, as it is one of my top favorite books in my whole life, right?

I first encountered the book when I was nine or ten. It was a book that I ordered through the Weekly Reader, if I remember correctly, and I had no idea that it was a classic or a Newbery Award Winner or anything. See, I didn't come from the kind of family where "classic" literature was emphasized. I was not one of those kids whose mother had read all of the Anne of Green Gables books and thus made sure I had copies of them, or the Wizard of Oz books, or the Chronicles of Narnia. I only read the Little House books because of the TV show. I was one of those kids who came from a working class household where as often as not my mom would actually stop me from reading and tell me to go play outside. I mean, reading was seen as a good thing, but nobody wants too much of a good thing, right?

So in choosing The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I was very much choosing based on my own personal interests - witches, colonial times, spunky protagonist who meets handsome sailor - I mean, how can you go wrong with those? And I remember reading the book for the first time and being ENGROSSED in it. In fact, I seem to recall that it was one of the first books I read where I stayed up past my bedtime with the flashlight under the blankets just in order to keep reading.

So, the thing that was great about rereading it this week was the following:
1) Once again, I was engrossed, and I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it, although it was awesome to be allowed to do so.
2) The book is just SUCH a good book. Because it was written as historical fiction, it doesn't age in weird ways the way that some books for kids do, and it's romantic and exciting and just everything I enjoy in a pleasure read.
3) I really had some good taste as a kid. Who knew?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I'm trying to put things in order with my stupid Binder From Hell, and I appear (in all of my clutteredness) to have misplaced a Very Important Letter which must go into the Binder from Hell. Want to scream, as well as to torture the person who invented this process by giving them enough paper cuts that they bleed to death (which may well be my fate if things keep going the way they're going). WHY can't I be the sort of person who makes sure she always keeps things in their proper place? Why don't I file? Why do I think that organizing things in a system of piles (or when things are very bad, just one pile, with layers that only I can fathom) is a system of organization? WHY?!?!?!?!

(Of course, rather than allowing myself to stress out over this I could do one of three other Important Tasks unrelated to the binder, but I'm a procrastinating fool. What's wrong with me?)

When Tuesday Is Monday

Well, at least in my brain, anyway. On the one hand the short week is nice, but on the other, well, I like that my Tuesdays are normally the second day in my week. I feel much more in the groove of teaching on Tuesdays, usually, and I think that this has to do with the fact that I actually move into my week on Monday, if that makes sense. That said, I did have the joy of giving my model presentation today in one class and of lecturing on a text that required me to draw a fountain bursting into the air, a fountain located in a romantic chasm in fact. This is one of the favorite things I get to do every fall, which is truly and totally embarassing to my students. It may also be that I use the word "ejaculation" at least four times as I do the drawing. And yes, I am perverse, but I'll do what I've got to do to keep those eyes open and into the material.

In other news, I'm sad to see all the lonely people who responded to my post, but I am also heartened to see that there are this many of us hanging around, which has to mean that we may be lonely but that we are not weirdos. Or that we are weirdos, but at least not in this regard. At any rate, I don't have the heart to post more about this today, but maybe I will again at another time.

I think I'm going to go eat some lunch now. And I've got grading I really should do, which makes me want to cry, as it means that the semester is really underway. 44 things for one class and 10 for another. And yes, I know it's my fault as I assign all of this stuff. And no, I'm not really going to grade until I can't avoid it any longer, which will probably be Thursday.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Community, Isolation, and Socializing

I'm inspired to post about this in response to New Kid's recent post about her own tendency to isolate herself in her current location and how that relates to conducting a long-distance marriage with her husband. When I read the post yesterday, I immediately related to everything that she was saying about how isolating oneself can be an easy thing to do, and in reading the comment thread to her post today, what struck me is the range of people who identified with what NK wrote, whether married or unmarried, gay or straight, whatever.

As you all know, one of the reasons that I have decided to go on the market this year is in part because of this very issue - because of the fact that I don't feel like my "life" is here, or like I have a life here. As many (both on the blog and in my real life) have noted, moving may not be the answer to this, but the decision to try, to look and see what's out there, is very much connected to the fact that I have tried very hard to do things to make a life in this location and all of those efforts haven't resulted in me feeling rooted here. I've connected this failure to feel rooted at least in part to being single, to the fact that I'm not even close to dating/being in a relationship with anybody, but in reading New Kid's post it occurs to me that a relationship alone doesn't necessarily make a person feel rooted - particularly when one can't live in the same place with his/her partner.

See, this is the thing: this profession is pretty universally isolating. In part, we have to isolate ourselves in order to do our jobs. Grading is not social. Research is not social. Service commitments infringe on our weekends and evenings. In choosing this profession, we choose a lifestyle. But whereas making this choice may not seem very dangerous to us in graduate school, when we have a cohort of people to hang out with and who understand our experiences, or when we begin to think about joining this profession, when we probably still live in or near our hometowns, and have strong networks of family and/or friends who are geographically convenient to us, the reality is that most of us don't get jobs in our hometowns or in our grad school cities. We get jobs in places where we probably won't know more than one or two people if we're lucky, and we need to start from scratch. (And even if you did get a job in your grad school city, you're still weirdly isolated because your friends leave, or those who stay are still in a different life place from the one you're in, or whatever.)

The problem is, the vast majority of grown-up people don't start from scratch with making friends. They just don't. At a certain point, as Oso Raro noted in the comments over at New Kid's, friendships happen more organically. It's not like being 14 on the first day of school and having an expectation of making new friends. For grown-ups, the expectation is that you've got the friends you've got, and while you may meet new people, you most likely will not become "best friends forever" with most of them. But as an academic, uprooted from the social networks one builds over a lifetime when people ARE making their best friends forever - from ages 0-25 or so - what is a person supposed to do? Because when you move to a place, you NEED to make BFFs, whether you're married or single or somewhere in between. Because people need friends.

And the thing is, it's embarassing to say that as a 30+ year old person. It is embarassing not to have friends. It is embarassing not to know how to make friends.

What's funny about this is that I had a conversation with my best friend here about this very thing a while back. And it was like we were revealing a dirty secret to one another just in admitting that it sucks not to have friends here. (This is also ironic, I suppose, because we do have each other, but at the same time, having one friend is almost as pathetic as having none, you know?) At the time, I remember thinking that it was so good that we'd finally admitted this to each other, that we'd finally talked about it and stopped acting like the fact that neither one of us has been able to get it together to make friends is not a huge problem. And I had that same feeling when I read New Kid's post. It's important to shine a light on this. It's important to recognize that no matter how many friends a person has all over the country (and even the world) that a person still needs friends who are just down the street.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Poetry Friday - Denise Levertov


I like to find
what's not found
at once, but lies

within something of another nature,
in repose, distinct.
Gull feathers of glass, hidden

in white pulp: the bones of squid
which I pull out and lay
blade by blade on the draining board -

tapered as if for swiftness, to pierce
the heart, but fragile, substance
belying design. Or a fruit, mamey,

cased in rough brown peel, the flesh
rose-amber, and the seed:
the seed a stone of wood, carved and

polished, walnut-colored, formed
like a brazilnut, but large,
large enough to fill
the hungry palm of a hand.

I like the juicy stem of grass that grows
within the coarser leaf folded round,
and the butteryellow glow
in the narrow flute from which the morning-glory
opens blue and cool on a hot morning.

- 1959


I've been thinking a lot about this practice of corresponding lately, in part because I do so much of it. I have entire relationships that are maintained over email - the most significant of which being with my half-brother who is 11, but also with friends/colleagues in other countries/states, relatives, people with whom I continue to have a closeness but some distance in time and space that means that we don't talk on the phone. And then there is the correspondence with students: "Can you meet at this date/time Dr. C? I want to talk about my paper/going to grad school/why I haven't been in class/etc." Or with colleagues, which ranges from long cc'd diatribes directed primarily at administrators to chatter on our department listserv about nothing.

A new ingredient in the mix of my correspondence is that I now correspond with a number of people in Blogworld. This happened slowly. In the beginning, I don't even think I offered an email address through which to contact me. I felt like it was freaky to develop relationships with strangers. (So why blog? I don't know. I like to hear the sound of my own voice? Actually, that probably was the motivation in the beginning.... And even if people comment one can still construct them as an "audience" - which is not so easy to do when you actually "know" the people via email.)

But now I correspond with a number of people. Most are people who do English, and we've ended up talking for professional reasons. Some are "fans" who just wanted to say hi (but I as much as I'm an arrogant ass who likes the sound of my own voice, I hate for people to be "fans" of me, because I'm not so hot, honestly, and it's weird to have "fans"). And some fall into neither category.

But what's weird is sometimes I want to blab on the blog about things related to my Blogworld correspondents - nothing personal about them, but just things related to our correspondence - but then I feel like I can't because they read my blog. So in a weird way, I self-censor more because of my readers-whom-I-know than because of anybody or anything in my "real" life.

I dunno what any of this means. And in truth nothing I'd want to blab about is all that important. I only post about it because I wonder if others ever feel this way as well. If not, then I'm a big weirdo :)