Saturday, March 31, 2007

DONE! DONE! DONE!!!!!! (For real and totally)

Here's what the Man-Kitty was doing as I finished up last night:

And here's the finished product!

Friday, March 30, 2007

DONE (ish) !!!!!

Now, admittedly, I talked on the phone a bit, and if I'd not I might be DONE for real, except for printing, but I've typed in the changes, I've fixed the notes, I've edited, I've labored, and all that's left is a couple of teensy weensy little small things for the morning and then, I SHALL MAIL THE MANUSCRIPT OFF AND IT WILL NO LONGER BE MY PROBLEM!!!!!!!!!!!


I don't even know what to write other than this. I feel like I should have some profound thing to say, about how it feels or something, but you know what? It just feels AWESOME. The only thing that compares to this is the moment after my diss defense when I found out I'd passed. (And yes, I now realize that I'd not have been allowed to defend would I not have been passable, but the point is, it was a really awesome moment, even if it wasn't real.)

My point here, if there is one, is THE HELL OF THE PAST MONTH IS OVER!!!!!!! I AM FINALLY FINISHED WITH MY DISSERTATION PROJECT!!!!!! Sure, I'll have to look at the manuscript a few more times, but for all intents and purposes, THIS CHAPTER OF MY LIFE IS OVER!!!!!

The chapter of my life that included my second great love is over. The chapter of my life that included getting my first academic job is over. The chapter of my life of being a workaholic freak at the expense of all else is O-V-E-R. AND IT'S ABOUT DAMNED TIME!!!!!

How Appropriate

Sufjan Stevens' "Come on! Feel the Illinoise!" just came on the shuffle as I was typing in edits. Just look at the lyrics:

"Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquated
Are you writing from the heart?
Are you writing from the heart?

Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water level
Are you writing from the heart?
Are you writing from the heart?"

It's like the iPod KNOWS!

Surge of Energy - Editing Almost Complete!

1/3 of the way through the final pass through the manuscript.

Reading the whole thing through, making small changes, making sure I'm referring to people correctly on first reference, fixing notes, etc.

Will type it all in tonight, and then mail this motherfucker off tomorrow.

Am so happy I could cry, if it wouldn't get in the way of getting everything done. Will cry the tears of joy when really, truly done.

After I watch tonight's brand new episode of The Ghost Whisperer, that is.

(And you know what? I think I'm not actually horrified by the document. It's so. much. better. than the dissertation ever was. In fact - dare I say it? - it kind of doesn't suck. Who knew?)

Update, 5PM: Ok, done with edits on the whole thing and fixed first references. 1/3 of the way through the notes. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of the scholars with whom I argued in the notes of my dissertation. Oh lord, was I a tool. Note to self: notes are not there to have one-sided arguments with people that you don't know. God, I was such an asshole. I also apologize to the handful of people who've bought the dissertation and who have read said notes. You clearly must think that I have anger management issues. (I suppose I can be happy that all of this contentious brow-beating isn't in the text of the dissertation, but lord. What was I thinking?)

Update 6:13 PM: Notes, DONE! What's left? Bibliography (very few changes to be made there), a few last-minute additions to the newest sections (I feel like there's too much me and not enough secondary support - I've got all the research done, and I've marked where things need to go, so this should take no longer than a half hour), and then typing all the crap in. And then printing it out. And then mailing it. That's ALL. I don't think I'm forgetting anything.... MOTHERFUCKER! I'M SO EXCITED! COULD SHOUT FROM THE ROOFTOPS! Ooh, Louis XIV's "Hey Teacher" just came on the shuffle. That's a great song. Woohoo!!!!! So excited!!!!! Must work more but really just want to celebrate (though it would be premature). Can't wait until this stupid thing is done! Which means I should get back to work. Don't wanna. Want to prolong the elated feeling. But will feel more elated when am really done. Damn!

You know, Trans Am is amazed by the whole book thing - like in the "I can't imagine doing that" (with an implied "you're crazy") way. I suppose it is amazing, huh? I tend to think of it as normal and not particularly interesting, because of the crowd I run with, you know? (Actually, I find the amazement a little irritating if I'm honest. I'd much rather people take it in stride a bit more.) But damn straight it's amazing! I can't let myself think so most of the time or I'd be crippled with anxiety, but it's AMAZING! To Medusa: I want to write something to you, but you know that it's totally inappropriate to write, so you'll just have to guess what it is.

God, I'm an annoying blogger right now. But I can't go anywhere with people to tell them of my amazingness, or I'll never finish, and I can't call anybody because if I do that I won't finish. So you, my readers, will have to suck up the fact that I'm annoying. I promise to be more annoying later on, when I'm done with EVERYTHING BUT THE PRINTING!!! (Which of course I'm doing at the office tomorrow and not on my home printer. I also suspect I may be a little drunk at that point, so you may get a rare Crazy tipsy post.)

And I'm totally going out tomorrow night. This calls for TOTAL CELEBRATION and not any activity within the monastic prison in which I've caged myself in order to see this project through to its completion.

Oh, and The Man-Kitty's in the mood to celebrate, too. See, after nearly three years, he's managed to achieve his goal of getting on top of the kitchen cabinets. I didn't think this was felinely possible, but apparently, after much careful planning and strategic jumping onto the kitty condo, the ever-resourceful Man-Kitty found a way (without, I might add, going on the kitchen counters, which he's been trained not to do). Dude, my cat totally is the one in charge in this establishment. Ok, back to work.

Classic Juxtaposition

Imagine that you teach racy - some (students, Republicans) might say pornographic - subjects.

Imagine that your department asks you to advertise courses on a bulletin board in the hallway for upper-level classes.

Imagine that your crazily controversial sex class (a new course that you invented, pushed through the curriculum process, etc., and which will be taught at this university for the very first time) is advertised right next to "The Bible as Literature."

(I didn't put the flier up in that particular position - a student worker did. Classic.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fits and Starts

I posted that list below of things I could do with my night, but the night was more consumed with playing Scrabble on my computer than anything else. Now I am having a glass of wine, and I did talk to my mom on the phone, but other than that, tonight was spent doing a whole lot of nothing. Looking around on blogs, staring into space, etc. I thought about making the list of things to do, and that's what led me to pour the glass of wine a second ago.

Here's the thing I'm thinking about. I'm thinking that maybe I *have* been working tonight, that it's one of those times when I'm gearing up, and so I've needed to be quiet and mindless. Part of me resists this interpretation, thinking that I'm just making excuses for my poor work ethic. I'm telling that part to shut up. Because I know that it's important to just have space to think, and that's what I took tonight. Notice I didn't watch mindless tv, nor did I try to force myself to do some sort of thought-requiring activity. I played scrabble, which uses the brain, but which also allows one's mind to wander. I'm hoping that this will spur me on to ever greater productivity.

So I'm feeling pretty good. I really do think that I can manage to get the things done that I need to get done in the next few days, and I'm feeling pretty positive about personal-life stuff as well. That said, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I want in my life in the long term, reflecting on my experiences on the job market, reflecting on where I see myself heading in this profession but also on where I see myself heading as a person.

The facts:

  • I'm currently in my fourth year on the t-t. So I've got next year, and then I've got my tenure year. The reality is that if I'm moving, it's most likely going to happen in the next two years.
  • My personal life has been... well, it's been on the back-burner for some time. Part of this has been the job, but let's be honest: part of it is that I needed time to recover from the Last Big Relationship. Did I need a full four years? Probably not, but I took it. When Crazy loves, she does not love easily but she does love hard, and that requires recovery time. Do I think those four years have been wasted? Certainly not. I think I've figured out a lot of shit in those four years about who I am and about what I need (and don't need) in my life. I've also opened myself up to possibilities that didn't seem like possibilities four years ago. So this is all positive, if not particularly evocative of anything concrete, if that makes any sense.
  • My research agenda is totally insane for the kind of institution at which I currently work. Now, this institution is changing. It may be that this institution will allow me to continue at this pace in a more reasonable fashion sooner rather than later. But there's no guarantee of that. So as soon as the book is done and as soon as MLA 2007 is done, it's time for me to make some big decisions about what I want my productivity to be like in the next five years on the t-t.
  • I'm very happy with what I've learned and what I've become as a college teacher. I really enjoy the work I do in the classroom, and I don't see myself in another career. That said, being a teacher isn't who I am, and if this career got in the way of being who I want to be, I think I'd consider not being a teacher. I don't know entirely what that means, but I think that one thing I've learned this year is to separate who I am from what I do.
This leads to some thoughts on the book. When this project began - about seven years ago - this project was very bound up in my identity - or my identity was very bound up in it, I'm not sure which. I was fighting a lot of ghosts in the project. Ghosts of mentors, ghosts of ideas, ghosts of my adolescent self that I wanted to slay. In the transforming all of that into a dissertation, I think I did lose a sense of who I was apart from the project. I became the project. And then, in trying to transform it into a book, I think I'm realizing that those battles are over. I think I'm realizing that this is something I'm doing rather than something I am. It may have been who I was, but it's not who I'm going to be.

Part of this realization comes out of the fact that I'm much more known for the dabbling I've been doing in what now seems to be the primary thing that I'm known for. Working on stuff for MLA has driven home to me that the work I thought of as the "break" from my "real work" (the book manuscript stuff) is actually much more important than the "real work." More important to other people, I mean. I'm making a bigger dent in literary studies in this work than I've ever made in the "real work." The work I'm doing is more interesting and more "of the moment" in the dabbling area, and it's more important to the advancement of the field. This is a fluke. A total fluke. But it's true. I realized it when people cited me to me in their proposals for the panels I'm putting together; I'm realizing it further in looking at students' research proposals from my upper-level class, in which they are anxious because they can't avoid the work that I've done in the dabbling area. (They're horrified at the idea of getting me wrong. I've explained to them that this is ultimately the whole point - that they disagree with me or see things that I didn't see. I never imagined having this problem when all of this began. I didn't imagine anybody'd ever need to look at what I'd done in the dabbling area.) For this reason, the book almost seems like a foundation for the thing I'm really doing, as opposed to the real thing from which the other thing is diverting me. So if that's true, then clearly we can't be what we work on, because if that were true, I wouldn't be in this bizarre situation.

But even with that, it is strange how so many of my recent thoughts about where I'm heading are bound up in the book. I think I've come to realize that for a long time, I've viewed that - publishing a book - not finishing the diss, not getting the PhD, not getting a job - as the achievement. After this, then, what? Is the next book really the next marker? I don't think it is. I think the next marker is probably nothing to do with career. That's not to say I won't write another book or continue to Think Great Thoughts and Pursue Ideas, but I don't think, ultimately, I really care very much about continuing to strive so hard for professional stuff. I care about not being an idiot, and I care about being respected, but I don't care about adding more notches to my lipstick case professionally. And I don't think I really care about leaving here. That's not to say I won't go on the market again - I may - but I'm not interested in going on the market just to rise in the academic hierarchy. The bottom line is that I don't really need to do that. People who know my work and who know me respect me. Isn't that actually the point? And I'm not terribly motivated by money. I make a fine amount of money where I am. I didn't get into this for the big bucks, you know. So what do I care about? Where am I going? And is this really what I need to be thinking about right now?

See, but maybe it is. Maybe this is the process. Maybe it's all about fits of self-reflection and starts of productivity. That's how it's always been for me. And maybe that's ok. Maybe it's ok to contemplate the state of my immortal soul when I should be writing or editing or doing other professional activities, because maybe thinking about the state of my immortal soul helps me to do those things. Maybe that's why the blog has been so crucial to my achievements since I've started - and I do think it has - because it's a space that affords me an audience (I'm not just writing to myself in a journal) who will listen to this stuff, and so that audience forces me to think about things more productively than I did when I only had my journal to rely upon. I don't feel particularly accountable to journals. Never been able to write in them every single day, never have particularly thought about being coherent in them. Here, I've got to be at least somewhat coherent. And so maybe the reflecting (read sometimes: whining) here, actually gets me where I need to go in the work.

And in a weird way, I think it's getting me where I need to go in my life, too. The people whom I've met through the blog, and the experiences I've had with meeting people through the blog (in whatever form) have given me... I don't know. They've given me a strange perspective about who I actually am. It's strange when people "know" one through one's writing - and particularly through one's personal writing - and then when one "meets" those people, whether in person or via email or over the telephone, and gets to know them in a different register, in which the knowing is reciprocal. It makes one much more open than one might be in meeting a stranger, and one comes to realize that one can be much more open in many more situations than one might have been previously. I've lost a lot of my angst about self-presentation. I've become a lot more comfortable in my own skin. So which came first, the blogging or the egg?

So yeah. Tonight has been "unproductive." But it's not been Dark Night of the Soul unproductive. It's been... I don't know - Light Night of the Soul unproductive? Does such a thing exist? I'm just feeling so... centered. I feel like I have a plan. I'm not sure if it will work, but who cares about that? I think I know that I don't necessarily want to leave this job or this location at any cost. I also know that I would leave them in a heartbeat if there were a compelling reason to do so. I know that I want to have a more vibrant social life here, but I also know that having that doesn't mean I'm stuck here - it just means I'll have even more long-distance friends should I go. Laying down roots isn't a bad thing, even if one ultimately ends up pulling up those roots. Sometimes a plant just needs to be repotted. It's not the end of the world, right? And sure, I want stability. I want consistency. I want routine. But I also want adventure and light and life. And I think that it's possible to have both - maybe not at the exact same time, but to have each some of the time. It's not an either or.

I've been living my life like it is an either/or. I'm sure I will again - that's my way. But right now, I think I'm in a both/and sort of a place.

So. Tonight may be a wash (oh, who am I kidding, it is) but tomorrow, I'll work like a maniac. And Saturday, I'll work like a maniac. And Sunday I'll take the day off and clean my house. Fits and starts, people. Fits and starts.

What to Do? What to do?

Having pissed away my afternoon, I have some options:

  • Do tedious editing tasks that must be accomplished.
  • Work on MLA special session proposal.
  • Prep for tomorrow (though I think I know what I'm doing, so I'm not sure I really need to prep).
  • Go for a walk. (It turned out to be a gorgeous afternoon, most of which I spent napping. Damned allergies.)
  • Go to drugstore to buy some allergy meds, so won't be tired all the time. Maybe stop and buy a bottle of wine, too.
  • Drink wine, or have a beer, and watch television.
  • Bother people so as not to have to do work.
  • Ooh, I can call my mom! She's always available to be bothered at this time of evening!
  • Call Trans Am, which I should really do, but you know, I find I'm the sort of person who really doesn't call other people. I call my mom. I sometimes call my friends. But most of the time? Yeah, I just expect that people will call me. I think many people find this irritating, even though I'm quite an engaging conversationalist if people do call me.
  • Play with Man-Kitty (no longer under the weather but in fact quite awesome today).
  • Make a list of things to do in the next couple of days, thus readying myself for work even if I don't actually, you know, do work.
  • Send emails to people with whom I've fallen out of touch in a gesture toward rekindling friendships, although really it's a gesture that bespeaks procrastination.
I wonder which of these I shall decide to do? Hmmmm......

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Because I Know You're Dying for Information

So. I have gone on the date with Trans Am.

While the date itself was fine (good conversation, not horrible food, etc.), to describe all of this would be boring. But imagine the following scene:

Setting: The Parking Garage

Trans Am walks Crazy to her car (we met at the restaurant because he was coming from work, it was more convenient, etc.) and they say goodbye, exchanging the pleasantries that come at the end of a successful date. Trans Am goes off to his own car, which is parked nearer to the exit of the garage (not the Trans Am, incidentally, but another of his hot cars, for today it was rainy, and this is the car he drives in the rain). Crazy, like any self-respecting gossip, starts up her car but also busts out her cell phone to call Medusa on the phone to report. She drives toward the exit, and there is Trans Am, revving the engine of his other hot car (which I will give the pseudonym of "Sally.") So there is Trans Am, revving Sally's engine, and Crazy pretends she does not notice and drives right past, toward the exit. There are two exit lanes, and Trans Am attempts to come alongside Crazy (who is talking on the phone, which she's really not good at doing while driving, but in order to continue her conversation she manages to keep Trans Am one car length behind her) in Sally. Imagine the continuing revs of the hot car engine. Just as Crazy is about to turn onto the highway, Sally speeds forward, with Trans Am beeping the horn in salute as Sally zooms past Crazy.

Who does that? It was kind of awesome, though, like a public declaration of admiration via the automobile.

But so if he asks me out again I'll go. I like him. He's nice. Sure, he's unadventurous with food, and sure, we are very different, but that's ok. I had a good time. In fact, looking back over the Dating History of Crazy, this might have been the least fucked up date I've ever been on. That's not to say I've had all bad dates, but, well, none of them has been so adult and pleasant and fun. (Some have been more fun, but not as pleasant and definitely not adult, so I think that this is a step in the right direction - although a much less Crazy direction than I'm used to.)

A Happy, Non-Work-Related Post

So last night, basking in the elation I felt at finishing the last really hard thing I had to do with the manuscript, I was about to take myself off to bed. I should note that I haven't only been whining on my blog, but periodically I will send little messages to every person I've ever had an email address for looking for solace and assistance in procrastinating. (Most people don't respond well to this needy and bothersome behavior. Not that they respond badly, but they don't do what I want them to do. No, no they don't.)

But so anyway, I had sent one of my little notes out into the ether last night, and just as I was getting into bed, it bore fruit! Mountain Man called me on the phone! (I've actually talked to MM kind of a lot recently after a gap in communication. Not sure what's inspired the recent frienaissance - well, other than that we're both workaholics, which actually probably caused the gap in communication that necessitated the frienaissance as well... - but it's very nice indeed.) We had a cool conversation, and I somehow went to bed feeling like my life really didn't suck (in all other areas but the professional, of course, as really, my professional life is pretty great) and, I don't know... I just felt sort of nice and comfortable and unstressed out. Must bother MM more when I am in the low, overwhelmed, "what is this life I'm living anyway?" place.

Not that he's busy or anything, right? And I'm sure he's dying to listen to me whine about things. He's totally going to read this and be like, "Oh God. What have I gotten myself into?" He will also hate that I'm writing about him on my blog, I suspect, but I don't care. This is vague and I'm feeling all shiny and happy after talking to him last night, and so I feel like he deserves a shout-out for saying things to me that made me feel shiny and happy and relaxed when I've not really felt all three in combination in like a month. So yay, MM, and yay that on this rainy spring day the doom and gloom of recent weeks seems to have lifted!

Ok, must go grade, check on my kitty cat who seems to be a bit under the weather, and then go to campus.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Music for Writing, Music for Feeling Sorry for Oneself

  1. At This Point in My Life - Tracy Chapman
  2. Lua - Bright Eyes
  3. A Thousand Tiny Pieces - The Be Good Tanyas
  4. Come Around - Rhett Miller
  5. Parting Gift - Fiona Apple
  6. You Could Be Happy - Snow Patrol
  7. If You Ever - Sinead O'Connor
  8. St. Swithin's Day - Billy Bragg
  9. Shatter - Liz Phair
  10. Elephant - Damien Rice
  11. Those Three Days - Lucinda Williams
  12. A Song for You - Gram Parsons
  13. White Flag - Dido
  14. Madame George - Van Morrison
  15. Fly Away - Poe

I may need to back away from the computer, turn off the iPod, and go grade or something. :)

Update, 10:26 PM: Ok, so I didn't back away from the computer, though I did change the music. The writing continues, quite successfully, interspersed with emailing and looking at blogs, watching some chihuahua videos on Youtube (thanks, Medusa, for showing me the glory that is "When Chihuahua's Attack"), and talking on the phone. You might think it impossible to write under these conditions, but apparently I'm all about the multi-tasking. I've written two brand new pages and that's without supplementary criticism included yet) and I only have about two more to write, to add in the criticism, and then this motherfucker of a chapter will be DONE. And that means I can do the final edits, and then I can send this bitch off and get it out of my hot little hands. All is not sad and desperate! All is excellent! Excellent, I say! Ok, now back to the naked wrestling men, a favorite pastime of mine (that is going to result in some awesome hits from google, and I just can't resist :) ).

Update, 11:01: Ok, so I guess that it wasn't two more pages (without criticism) that was needed, but one. I am DONE!!!!! Tomorrow I will add in the criticism, and then FOR REAL DONE!!!! And then the last run-through with editing. AND THEN READY TO SEND THE THING OFF!!!!!!! "Kiss You All Over" by Exile is a brilliant song :)

Say What You Will about D.H. Lawrence....

But sometimes he gets it exactly right, as in this passage from Women in Love:

"In sleep, you dream, in drink you curse, and in travel you yell at a porter. - No, work and love are the two. When you're not at work you should be in love" (267).

(Let's put to the side for the moment that it's the doomed Gerald who says that.)

I know people have problems with Lawrence, but God, Lawrence seduces me in spite of myself. I mean, he gets things totally wrong in the end - in the end, he's kind of a madman with some really screwed up ideas about relationships - but there are these flashes of brilliance in Lawrence that feel organic in ways that I rarely experience with another writer.

Tragically, when I'm not at work, I'm not in love. I think that might be a problem.

RBoC: Tuesday Edition

  • You know it's bad when the first thing you think when you wake up in the morning is "I wonder whether I could cancel my classes today?" This has been a recurring question every. single. day. since spring break. I'm not kidding. Of course, the answer is always "no."
  • I had this conversation (if you can call it that) with the kid who took my order at Starbucks this morning, and the kid did this whole "You stay out of trouble" - wink-wink - thing with me. I must just look like trouble these days.
  • I always like my latte better when my favorite Starbucks person makes it. I think he doesn't really use non-fat milk and that's his secret.
  • My allergies are h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e. That said, spring here is fucking gorgeous.

Monday, March 26, 2007

When You Know Students Don't Like You

Not all students, but every semester, there are those students who don't find one charming or brilliant or interesting or funny. After the first year on this job, I realized there would always be those students. I've come to accept it. I don't need them all to like me.


That doesn't make it easier when you know the students who aren't into you. You know they will give you crap evaluations that bring down the numbers (something that does matter, which sucks, especially when one gets oodles of great comments and ratings from those who aren't haters)

I've identified two of the haters already this semester, if not a third. And I know there's nothing I can do to stop the carnage. It sucks so bad. So, so bad.

RBoC: It's Monday....

  • I haven't traditionally done RBoC posts, but I notice I've been doing them lately. I think I have been using so much writing energy on so many things that every now and again I just can't think to make paragraphs. Wouldn't it be great if my book could be formatted in RBoC-style? That bitch would be totally done if that were possible.
  • Today was pretty wildly productive.
  • How was today wildly productive? I thought you'd never ask.
  • First, I set things in real motion for the MLA panels. Yep, that's right, I said panels. I figure nothing ventured, nothing gained with proposing the special session, and while I'm expecting it to be rejected, I think it would be really cool if it weren't. Yes, it means more work this week, but since the MLA has extended the deadline for proposals to the 3rd because of their server situation, I figure what's a little more work? (This is why I will never have a personal life. Except that I may have a coffee date with Not-Trans-Am on the agenda, and I do have dinner plans with Trans Am this week. So maybe it's just about doing everything all at the same time?). As for the panel that I'm sure is going, well, I think it is going to kick hardcore ass. I'm immensely excited about it. I'm also excited not just for the content but also because I'm getting the chance a) to pay back a mentor for all of the opportunities she's given me, b) to give a grad student the opportunity to present on an MLA panel that will for sure go, c) to bring another junior-type person whom I totally don't know into the fold of this society I'm doing the panel for. One of the things I love about having some degree of power, within the society and as organizer of this panel, is that I get to include people who often get shunted to the side in favor of "regulars" in the world of allied organizations. It's one of the things that I think sucks about some other allieds to which I belong, and it's nice to be in a position where I'm one of the "regulars" but where I get to change the rules of the game a little bit. In some ways, that's why it was important for me to include my mentor in the panel (putting to the side for the moment that her work is tremendously interesting and that she gave me a kick-ass proposal that was exactly what I was looking for when I came up with the idea for the panel). She changed the rules of the game by welcoming me into this little teeny subspecialty, by advocating for me. I'm so excited I have the opportunity to reciprocate, if only in this small way.
  • As for the special session, I need to come up with a racy title and work on the proposal for it. I think the trick will be in showing how this small thing allows us to think about much bigger issues in the field (a) and in showing how it links to critical trends in our field and "fashions" in our field. It's time for this panel - and if the special session is not accepted, I am totally going to push to have this panel go as a society panel in the next two years (with a new call, of course, in that case, but ideally with the ability to include these people whom I've had to reject for the panel this yearl).
  • This also means that I'll be much closer to having a selection of essays for a potential collection, which I'm still not sure I'd want to do, but this will put me in a better position to choose to do such a thing should I wish.
  • I also worked on the final revisions of the last chapter I need to look at for the manuscript. I'll continue with that and finish with it after I write this post.
  • Oh, and I met with two students (one of whom has a kick-ass idea for her research project, one that is truly innovative and interesting and that really would contribute to scholarship on the text that she's looking at, and one that came out of the close reading assignment that I did last week!), I met with a colleague, and I went to a department meeting, where a proposal I cooked up over a year ago finally came to a vote and passed! Next stop, Crazy takes over the world, my friends.
  • Oh, and in thoughtful Crazy news, I mailed off a birthday present (ish, it was homemade) for a friend.
  • Oh, and you probably are wondering about that close reading assignment. I think I said I'd post about it and never did. It was really easy. We were finishing up discussing a novel that day, and I went through and chose 6 or so passages that I would have wanted to talk about in any case. I typed them up. I printed out two or three of each, and I included rules for analyzing them (basically what was on the blog). We started the class by writing. Nobody put their names on the papers, and then I collected them. (I decided not to do the round-robin thing in the interest of time.) I then began discussion, and as we moved from passage to passage, we both talked about the content, but also I read out the responses and we critiqued them - what was good about them, what could have been done more. Also, I did the assignment, too, to show them what I'd have done with it. We got through all of the passages (though I didn't read out every single response - time ran short), but I did take care to read out multiple responses to the same passage to show the differences in what individuals did with them. Since doing the activity, I've had 3 or 4 students schedule appointments to meet with me, so one benefit was I think that the activity made them feel more comfortable approaching me. Another benefit is that I think they all understand now exactly what I'm looking for when I say "close reading." It wasn't the most scintillating class, I'll admit that, but I think we all - me included - learned a lot from it. These really are capable students. They just didn't know the rules (except for those who'd had me before and my one Brilliant Boy who I think was born knowing the rules). Oh, and the ones who've met with me have been primarily female students, and that pleases me because the male students have been dominating to this point in the semester, and that's changing - finally. So yes. It was an easy activity, and it really accomplished so many things. I'll be doing this again - only now I'll do it early in every semester - not after midterm.
  • I talked to A., who's at a professional conference type of dealio, and who is fabulous and doing fabulously on her "first professional business lady trip." Yay A.!
  • So now it's time to finish revisions on that chapter. And I need to see whether I really need to grade tonight or whether I can put it off (I suspect I'm putting it off). And that's the latest with Dr. Crazy.

RIP Coffee Maker of Crazy

So my coffee pot used to be my grandmother's. I inherited it when we had to put her in a nursing home toward the end of her life, and she'd probably had it at least 10 years before that.

It's just your standard Mr. Coffee. Nothing special. Doesn't make particularly good coffee or anything.

But so this morning I"m making my coffee and I hear this sputtering sound and smell burnt coffee. Yeah, either the carafe has cracked or some other screwed up thing is happening, but I think it's time for me to break down and buy a new machine. This makes me feel slightly sad. Huh.


In other news, I didn't really do more work last night because I talked to my mom, Trans Am, and Medusa on the phone. Then it was time for the season finale of The L Word, and then it was time for bed. So today promises to be a long one, now made longer if I go and buy a new coffee pot, which I should do.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Seven Things Dr. Crazy Loves

  1. A homemade tuna salad sandwich. I generally hate all tuna salad not made by either myself or my mother. This is not unlike how I don't particularly like scrambled eggs unless they are made by either myself or my mother. It's not like these are gourmet dishes, but in order for them to be awesome, you just have to make them with the perfect texture, right? And they also shouldn't have too many ingredients. (God, I hate tuna salad with pickles or pickle relish in it - eeewww.) Same goes for a good grilled cheese sandwich. Anyway, my point here, is that I made some tuna salad for lunch and I'm now having a sandwhich and it is DELICIOUS.
  2. Making progress. Turns out, if one puts one's mind to it, it's not really that hard to do what one sets out to do. Edited to Add: The introduction is DONE!!!! (Ok, not really. I may realize I need to add in a citation or two (though I need to give the thing breathing time until I can tell whether that's true), and I have to monkey with the notes. But there is a beginning a middle and an end, it hangs together as a chapter, I don't have weird "need better transition here" notes to myself, and if somebody somehow got their hands on it without my permission, I'd not be totally embarassed. So yes, it's DONE!).
  3. Anyone who will say to me "you poor thing" when they hear my tale of woe. I really do wish more people would feel sorry for me, and so it's nice when every now and again somebody does, especially when it's a real life person.
  4. All of my far-flung correspondents. It occurs to me that I really do have an international posse, and that makes me feel very glamourous, in the way of Paris Hilton.
  5. The fact that I'm not, even though yesterday was lazy, in the depths of despair the way that I was last weekend. For the first time in recent memory I did not really have a Dark Saturday Night of the Soul. Now, it is true that it's difficult to have a DSNotS when one is watching Bring It On, but really, I do think I've turned a corner.
  6. The fact that I really do believe that I will finish the manuscript in the next couple of days and get it sent off to the publisher.
  7. The fact that I only have FIVE WEEKS LEFT! Of the semester that is. Woohoo! Light at the end of the tunnel! I see it!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

True Confessions

I didn't write today.

Sure, I looked at some things, made a couple of changes to the manuscript, read some stuff. This may have taken an hour.

But I didn't write today.

I didn't grade today.

I didn't prep today.

I didn't read in any substantial way today.

I didn't really talk on the phone today (at least not until after 5 PM).

I didn't email.

I didn't surf around on the internet.

I didn't work on stuff for MLA.

I didn't get out and enjoy the approximately 80 degree and sunny weather (because, of course, I wasn't "allowed" because I was supposed to be "working").

I didn't clean up around the house.

I did do laundry for five hours.

I also watched some ridiculous television and ridiculous movies on television (with commercials). I also petted the Man-Kitty and chatted it up with him a bit. (Incidentally, the Man-Kitty figured out how to open the sliding screen door, and so ventured out onto the balcony. He was very quiet about this, so who knows how long he was out there. Smart kitty, but also, bad kitty! You are an inside cat, Man-Kitty, and don't you forget it! The big wide world is dangerous!) I also made myself a very nice salad for dinner.

This does not make me a bad person. This does not mean that I'm behind. This does not mean that I'm a fuck-up.

Real people take time out to do things like laundry, and watch bad tv (E! True Hollywood story of Jennifer Lopez, anyone?), to hang with their pets, and to make nice salads for themselves. Real people don't work seven days a week. All I was today was a real person.

So I won't be going out with Trans Am tomorrow, because I pissed away my day today. And that's ok, too. I'd told him originally this weekend wouldn't work for me, and, well, this weekend won't. In part because it wasn't important enough to make it work. That isn't lost on me.

So now I need to fold the last load of laundry, and I need to put the folded clothes away, and I need to put the clean sheets on my bed. It's ok that this is what I'm doing, rather than writing, rather than being out, rather than preparing to go out with a guy.

I refuse to be guilty for needing a fucking break. Except for that I do feel guilty, and like a loser, and like I'm sabotaging myself in myriad ways, and that is so incredibly fucked up that I don't even know how to begin to talk about it.

So I'm not going to talk about it. I'm just going to keep reminding myself that, sometimes, a lazy Saturday happens to the best of us, even when it's not convenient. This doesn't mean I suck. It really, truly doesn't.

Things Are Not Going Well

Oh, they're not going badly. It's just in order for things to go well, you actually have to force yourself to write. You have to make sure that you don't end up watching the Drew Barrymore movie Never Been Kissed as well as all of the episodes of The Hills that you've missed recently. You have to make sure that you don't decide to do all of the laundry that exists in your house.

I'm such an asshole. Why won't I just do this last little bit and get it over with? What the fuck is my problem? And what am I going to tell Trans Am about tomorrow? (I think I'm going whether I finish everything I wanted to or not. I mean, it's not like I have to commit to hours and hours with TA, so I can, ostensibly, do work tomorrow and then have the reward of going out. Yes. That's how sensible people organize their lives. They don't hole up and procrastinate and refuse to allow themselves normal pleasurable things.


Ok, I've left the music organized for another and now I've got the iPod on shuffle. As I can't string two words together, or two thoughts together, to post anything of interest, and yet I'm still wired and awake, what better time for an iPod Shuffle? Though I'm not playing by the rules - I'm skipping over songs I don't like. So this is like a little mix for my readers (which it seems will go over 10 songs), as opposed to being the true results of my shuffle :)

  1. Don't Do Me Like That - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  2. What I Wouldn't Do - Old 97s
  3. The Boy with the Thorn in His Side - The Smiths
  4. Just Another - Pete Yorn
  5. Drivin on 9 - The Breeders
  6. Shame - PJ Harvey
  7. The State I'm In - Sinead O'Connor
  8. Ways and Means - Snow Patrol
  9. Hey Hey What Can I Do - Led Zeppelin
  10. Be My Husband - Damien Rice
  11. I Used to Love Him - Lauren Hill
  12. Minneapolis - Lucinda Williams
  13. Fantastic Fabulous - Luscious Jackson
  14. Better Together - Jack Johnson
  15. The Way You Been Treating Me - Buddy Guy
  16. That Day - Poe
  17. Roads - Portishead
  18. Chopsticks - Liz Phair
  19. Better - Regina Spektor
  20. Big Pimpin' - Jay Z
And no, I'm not kidding about the last one. I LOVE that song. Ok, so enough of the Mix for My Readers. Enough of blogging for the night. (I should note that it's 1:27 - this post was interrupted by a phone call, and so I fell down on the shuffling job, which is probably why I accepted "Big Pimpin'" as the last song :) )

Friday, March 23, 2007

Even I Can't Sustain The Writing Past a Certain Point

Ok, I'm giving it up. I didn't get as far as I wanted to get tonight (took time out to talk to my mom so we didn't need to talk in the morning, did some emailing, etc.) but I got a good start, and I think I'll be fresher and it will go more quickly in the morning, so I've made the decision just to stop for the night and to pick up where I've left off in the morning. A girl cannot work from 9:30 AM until infinity, and I've reached the breaking point.

I have to say, though, I'm excited. I think that what I'm writing is ultimately a really interesting and well-written book. I have a hard time owning that it's a book, or that it's mine. I generally refer to it as "the" thing or "the" manuscript - sometimes as "the book" but only rarely, as if it's something divorced from me. And when I'm working on it, that divorce is exacerbated because if I think of it as "mine" I feel overwhelmed or too committed to what I've already written or something. So I approach it as this weird and alien thing, this thing upon which I have to enact something rather than as something that is coming out of me. But now I'm tired, and I don't have the energy to keep the distance, and so it's mine. It's my manuscript. It's my book. And I think that it's not the most important book in the world, but I do think that people will get something out of it. I do think that it is a book, and I think that it isn't entirely terrible. There are things about it that could be different, and even better in some cases, but I think I'm ok with that. The point isn't that it will be or can be perfect. What book is? The point is that it will be the best that I can make it. And that's enough.

And tonight I can't do a thing else to it. I'm too exhausted from focusing on it all day long (with a few breaks for boy-craziness -not generally mine- and gossip with friends and a conversation with my mom about my nutso cousin with whom she went to dinner the other night) and too wired at the same time for anything else that I do to it to be any good. So instead I'm writing a winding down for the night blog post, and I'm drinking a glass of wine, and I'm thinking about how I'm going to structure my day tomorrow, and I'm wondering whether I'll feel far enough along to go for a ride in a hot car the next day. And I'm listening to music, music organized with another person in mind, but which is perfect for my mood right at this second. Which reminds me that I should send the music organized with another person in mind to that person, as he's going to England in like a week, and if I don't send it in the next couple of days, I probably won't send it ever. And then the person for whom the music was organized won't get a birthday/travel present, which really was the point, after all.

I so want to post what I'm listening to, but then the person will not be surprised. I hate it when people I know in life read my blog. "There's just no privacy anymore!" (I'm totally laughing in a very exhausted way as I write this. Special shout-out to anybody who recognizes that quote.)

Hmmm... what else? Again, I'm in the exhausted and wired place, and so I'm not tired, just fried. And so I want to write, but I can't work on the book, and I also can't really manage coming up with decent content. Maybe I'll have an idea soon. For now, though, I think I should go catch up with my celebrity gossip websites. Thank god this will be over in a few days!

Part Two of Day from Hell

As you all know, my Day from Hell was divided by the Man-Kitty's annual doctor's appointment.

He is the picture of health. Here he is, relaxing after his trip out into the world of the Very Scary Veterinary Examinations.

And So It Starts

I'm awake. (Or awake-ish, I was actively not-writing my book last night, which meant I stayed up until 2 AM facilitating various distractions and various possibilities for future distraction.) I've read a couple of articles since awaking (one of which was really excellent and written by a scholar with whom I'm slightly acquainted and who I just have to say is delightful both as a scholar and in person). I've looked at the to-do list for the manuscript. I've considered whether I should see if I can get in for an emergency hair appointment today. (There is no emergency other than that I'd like to get back to actively not-writing my book. Another justification is that I'm taking the M-K to the vet this afternoon, which is going to interrupt me anyway.... Yeah, that makes absolutely no sense as a reason to need to go to the salon.) I've thought about having McDonald's for lunch, even though that's also a procrastination thing, going out for lunch, but a McDonald's cheeseburger and french fries and a strawberry milkshake really does sound delicious to me. Except my McDonald's is always out of strawberry milkshakes when I decide I want one (which is only like 2 or 3 times a year, but whatever - I'm clearly on the wrong schedule) and so I always have to get vanilla instead and I'm never really as happy with it as I want to be....

So yeah, I need to get back to work. I do not need to email anyone. I do not need to call anyone. I do not need to turn on the television. I do not need to take a nap (yes, already thinking about napping). Must. Make. Self. Work.

Update. Nearly Noon. I've done much reading. I will do a bit more reading, and then I will do some editing I think (can't really do writing if I'm going to have to break to take the kitty cat to the vet). What I think I now realize about myself is that I have to work myself up into a frenzy of Craziness in order to accomplish things. Like I procrastinate, and I manufacture lots and lots of drama, and then I spend a lot of time gossiping about the drama I invent for myself, and all of this ultimately is part of the "process" that I use for academic work. Clearly, I am never going to have a functional relationship and will die alone. Ok, back to work now!

Update. Nearly 2:30. Well, things progress steadily. Now I have to take a bit of a break in order to take Man-Kitty for his check-up, and then I'll grab something to eat, and then back to the book. I wish that it were easier to see the progress I'm making instead of feeling like I'm working and working and working and getting nowhere. That's the problem with academic writing for me - I feel like I'm getting nowhere and getting nowhere and getting nowhere and then, poof!, I've gotten somewhere, but no instant gratification and very few markers of progress during the "getting nowhere" portion of the process. I try to set up little mini-goals within what I'm doing, but I never really feel satisfied or like I'm accomplishing anything when I achieve those. This is why teaching is in many ways preferable to research: lots of immediate feedback, whether positive or negative, about what one is doing. I always feel like I'm getting somewhere with teaching, whereas with the research.... well, it's a slog. Updates that you don't need and aren't interested in will continue, as they help me to feel like I'm doing something even when I don't have much in front of me that makes me feel like I am. I can't wait until this weekend is over.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

On the Eve of 72 (Perhaps 48?) Hours of Pain

So. This weekend, beginning tomorrow because I've worked it so that I don't need to go into the office, will be the final push on completing the book manuscript. I've made my list, I've checked it twice - now all there is for it is to do the work. There isn't really that much. I anticipate:
  • 6-ish hours of supplementary research (which may or may not get integrated, depending on the usefulness)
  • 5 hours on the introduction
  • 3 hours on another chapter
  • 2 hours on notes
  • 4 hours on final edits
  • 2 hours on making sure the bibliography is right.
This equals 22 hours. What that means is that in theory, if I make the big push tomorrow and on Saturday, that I could ostensibly be free to do something unrelated to the manuscript on Sunday. I have an offer on the table of something to do. That offer includes riding around in a '78 t-top Trans Am and then getting dinner bought for me. If that's not incentive to get my shit done, I'm not sure what is. That said, I resisted locking in plans, because really, the better thing would be to put off this imminent date until the middle of next week. But after the offer of the drive in the Trans Am, well, my resolve is weakening. I mean, it will just be so bitchin'!

It's weird, the date thing being on the horizon. I've not been on a date in ages. And the fact of the matter is that I hate dating. I get all anxious, I talk too much about myself (I know, you're shocked), and I'm always worried that I'm not being entertaining enough (feeling that I have to sing for the supper that's being bought for me), which I fear might make me obnoxious. The fact of the matter is, I'm much more comfortable with the style of male-female interaction popular in colleges across America, where you kind of know somebody, you make out or sleep together, and then you're instantly a couple. The "dates" then happen after you're a couple. The whole, "I'm going to be a gentleman and show you a good time" thing makes me feel weird. It makes me try on outfits and practice applying makeup. I know, it's what I "deserve," but I also think it puts a lot of pressure on things (i.e., me). Also, there's the calculation of the whole enterprise. I'd much rather be swept off my feet in a whirlwhind of romance and intrigue (although, of course, that doesn't often lead me anywhere good) than to calculatedly plan for somebody to take me out. I think it may be the planning that's the problem.

Also, "dating" is weird because it's not necessarily connected to Grand Liking of the person who asks one out. It's more like they're trying to get you to like them by taking you out, and you're trying to get to like them and to get them to like you by agreeing to be taken out, which is a different thing altogether. I mean, you've got to like the person in a superficial way, but that isn't necessarily connected to Grand Liking. So while I'm excited at the prospect of being taken out, I'm not tremendously excited by the person who will do the taking out. I mean, I like him, he makes me laugh, but... well, I'm more excited by the date than I am by him if that makes any sense. I like the attention I'm getting, and I like the idea that somebody wants to take me places, but I wonder whether I'd like that no matter who was involved in it.

And then there is this issue of the Grand Liking. What does that mean anyway? It's not necessarily romantic (though there is a frisson of attraction - physical, mental, emotional, or whatever - included in it), and it doesn't necessarily come from any sort of a practical place. Sometimes, I just Like in a way that is Grand. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, well, I hate to replace it with a practical and sure thing, even though it's what I always choose to do. It doesn't make sense to wait around for Grand Liking to translate into something other than Grand Liking - one has to honor it for what it is. I really believe that. But so then why am I always disappointed when my Grand Likes just don't translate? Why isn't Grand Liking enough, and also why isn't dating in non-Grand-Liking contexts enough?

Maybe I'm just boy-crazy. That's what my mom says. And she blames it on my rekindled friendship with my friend A. Apparently, my mom thinks that when A. and I get together, boy-craziness follows. This may not be entirely wrong. We do egg one another on.

The fact of the matter is that this is all part of Project Not Putting Life On Hold, and so I've got to go through with it in some fashion whatever the case. And I suspect it will be fun. So what's my damage? (To get all '80s in my phrasing)

I don't know. What I do know is that I got Chinese food tonight and my fortune was the following: "Progress always involves risk." Aint that the truth. But what does it mean? Is the greater risk going on a non-grand date or is the greater risk in refusing the non-grand thing in favor of the ideal? Is the ideal even possible?

In other news, I facilitated what turned out to be an awesome discussion in my upper-level class today. I am more proud of it than anything I've been proud of in my teaching in a really long time. The class started out very slowly. I had to give them all of this theoretical background on the front end, and people were dozing (it was rainy, they all have tests and proposals for research papers due, and they are tired), and I had no high hopes for where the discussion might go. And then, in the last 25 minutes or so - Boom! An explosion of discussion! Multiple hands raised at a time, comments flying, me having to cut the discussion off with hands still raised because we'd gone over time. Now, I facilitate a good discussion on a regular basis, but this was... electric. Electric discussions just don't happen every day, at least not at my university. Today, well, that 25 minutes or so was what I thought college teaching would be. This was overshadowed earlier by the subsequent failure of the students in my class that followed to have done even the bare minimum of reading, but looking back on my teaching day, well, the Grand Success of the one class shouldn't be cancelled out by the Disaster of the other. I mean, they were all saying such interesting things. Such smart things! There was laughter - there was double entendre - there was me leaving them with the final question of whether it is at all possible to get out of binary oppositions - there was just everything that should happen in a great class, at any university.

This reminds me of something that I said at my campus visit. Somebody asked me what I'd miss about my job. Without stopping to think, I said, "my students. Without a doubt. The students at my university are unbelievable." And yes, these are also the students who take too many classes in a semester while working full time, and they don't always do the reading, and they don't necessarily make their education a priority at all - let alone a top priority. They see a college education as time one does in order to get a degree that will get them a better job. Period. For the most part. But when you can inspire them - whether by something that you pick for them to read or by introducing them to something that they've never heard of before or by an activity or by some cosmic conjunction of elements - there is nothing like that. And while it's great to inspire any students, to inspire students who, for the most part, care so little, is so fucking rewarding that I can't describe it. Today my students were inspired. And they inspired me. It may not happen often, but when it does happen, it is everything.

So. Book. Date. Teaching. Project Not Putting Life on Hold. The consideration of Grand Likes. MLA Panel Formation (which I incidentally worked on today, and I think I'm closer to a Grand Decision where it's concerned, which may not be popular but which I think is good, and I also decided I'm doing a paper and my idea for it is, I think, really interesting and not only pertinent to the panel but pertinent to the as yet imaginary Second Book). These are the things going on with me. And Kanye's "Golddigger" is playing, and ultimately life is good. I love me some Kanye West.

It's That Time of the Semester

You know the time. The one where all but two of your students don't do the reading. And then you have to do the thing where you go all cold and mean and tell them to get out of your sight. And they're so shocked that they sit there for about two minutes before they realize you're not going to teach people who don't do their work.

But then you come back to your email and you realize you've gotten an email from Trans Am, so that was kind of nice, and you realize that you'll now have sufficient time to eat lunch before student conferences, so that's nice, too. Oh, and you saw a rainbow on the way to work, and I do think that's always a good sign of something, right?

So yeah. That's my day.

(Oh, I should probably mention that Trans Am called last night but I didn't talk to him, but so yes, he's being very attentive. I really, really love attentiveness. And just attention period, actually. This may be my tragic flaw.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Ask and You Shall Receive

So in the last post, I interjected with the exclamation, "I miss Michael Berube!"

Apparently, all Dr. Crazy has to do is to emote in this fashion and what she wishes comes true!

The Great M.B. will now be blogging over at Crooked Timber! Hurrah! (Of course, this was posted a couple of days ago, which reveals the fact that I don't keep up with CT every single day, but my point is, I wrote that I missed him without knowing about his return, and here he is! I really do feel magical, even though it makes no sense.)

Blogging the Real

There was a bit of a kerfuffle over at a friend of mine's blog (I'm not linking because she's doing her best to squash it) because of a post she wrote venting about her life. I've had similar experiences with blogging - where when I write a post because I'm frustrated or pissed off or something, it blows way up. Well-meaning readers advise - antagonistic readers make me feel like crap - and everybody leaves the exchange feeling the worse for it. And I've been on the other side of such outbursts, too, where I read something someone writes on their blog or mine, and what I see in the post isn't in fact what's there. Or it is there, but the emphasis wasn't intended. I want to write about this today. In part I want to write about it because I'm trying to warm up for an afternoon of actual writing; in part I want to write about it because in my actual intellectual life (as opposed to my blogging life) I'm especially interested in the relationship between representation and that which is represented - those things we might think of in our non-theoretical minds as "real." This is related to the project of close reading - to what extent do texts drive our readings and to what extent do we bring something to what we read that has more to do with ourselves than with anything that is actually pinned down in language.

In a weird way, though what I'm discussing here is very abstract, this will probably be one of the more personal posts that I do on this blog. These things have everything to do with why I started the experiment of blogging lo nearly 3 years ago, with what I am preoccupied by in my scholarship, with the questions that I introduce in the courses that I teach. And as I think about it now, I think I've been getting it wrong on the blog when I've talked about blogging and identity. I don't think it's actually about identity (real, constructed, or otherwise). I think it's more about a certain kind of intimacy that develops through the medium of written language. The identity of the reader or writer is less important than the thing that happens when people are connected through a text.

Words on a page are not, ultimately, "real." They are a translation, or a copy, and they reflect and produce certain kinds of experience, but they are not who a person is nor do they necessarily express some innate truth. Even though I know that what people respond to in many of my posts is the fact that "I" seem to come through in them, that they are "raw" (I miss Michael Berube!) as opposed to "cooked," I also know that the intimacy that my writing voice produces is not necessarily controlled by me once I hit "publish." People develop a certain relationship to the voice of this blog, but I can't really know what's happening on the other side. I construct my readers as wanting certain things from me. I try to speak to an audience with whom I feel a certain kind of intimacy, produced through writing for that audience consistently over years - do you realize my relationship with the people who read this blog is longer than some actual relationships I've had? - but in the end, I'm making up those for whom I write. And when you read what I write, you make me up, whatever truths are imbedded in the things that I write here. (Of course, this makes it a "perfect" intimacy.) We "know" each other, but we also are divided by the very thing that allows that knowing. The text stands between the reader and the writer even as it bridges the chasm between them.

This then leads to the problem of emphasis. When you've not met me, or spoken to me, you read these posts in a different cadence. You might respond to them because I'm somewhat talented at controlling how you "hear" the words that I put together, but you're not "hearing" me in the same way that you would, say, if we were on the phone or having a chat over a cup of coffee. (Aside: this came home to me when I met other bloggers at MLA. I realized I'd been reading them with MY voice in my head, even as much as I was "getting to know" them. Now, when I read the blogs of those people, I hear not my but their voices in my head. It's neither better nor worse, just different.) But it's not only "you" who brings something to the text or "me" who puts something there to be elicited. The intimacy that's constructed in reading the writing of another also is colored by the learned reading practices that we inherit - the how of reading. So, for example, if I choose a certain word, I can anticipate how that word will affect the tone for the reader, not because I know the reader but because I know how that word works in the greater lexicon of written prose.

The problem is not one of wanting to mask certain kinds of experience or to express them but rather a problem of how to reveal those experiences that truly communicates their significance. The difficulty, of course, is that the moment one chooses to reveal one thing over another, or chooses to reveal something in a particular context or in a particular order, a hierarchy of truth emerges. So the anxiety that some feel about blogging isn't so much about being "found out" or about people "discovering" who they really are - it's about finding a way to negotiate this treacherous terrain of achieving the proper emphasis, and of articulating that emphasis in such a way that readers won't get the emphasis "wrong." But that negotiation isn't only about honesty. It's about dealing with centuries of cultural baggage, conventions of academia (in the case of academic blogging), the personal experiences of the writer and reader (which of course are impossible to catalogue), and who knows what else. And so in the space of the blog post, what is written is not real and not-not-real. It is separate from lived experience, but that doesn't invalidate the "real" experiences that are produced both for writer and reader through the text.

But you might say that about any written text. The thing that makes this issue particularly crucial in thinking about what blogs do, however, is that it is writing that is simultaneously personal and public. Where I might feel a certain intimacy when I'm reading any text - a novel, a poem, a journal article - a meeting of minds, a kind of understanding - the intimacy that is produced by reading personal writing is an intensified intimacy. Moreover, it is even more greatly intensified when that person writes for you every day - not in a carefully constructed memoir but in a messy diaristic medium that underscores that a real person is doing the writing (not merely an Author).

This then becomes further complicated when "real" people read one's blog, and so you have to negotiate the difficult passage of writing for an audience with whom you are perfectly intimate through not-real-knowing and writing for an audience who knows the person behind the curtain. And so you write certain things that are in-jokes for the "real" people, or you choose to communicate certain things to them in blog-form so as to distance yourself from a "real" conversation, all the while trying to write for the general audience. It's one fuck of a balancing act.

And with that word "fuck" I return you to your regularly scheduled blog reading. I mean, shit, this post has been as close to my "academic" writing voice as any of you who don't know the identity behind "Dr. Crazy" will probably ever get. I'm so glad I don't do these posts all the time! That said, I do feel ready to do some for real academic writing now.

But before I close for real, I want to just mention as a counterpoint to all this theorizing an excerpt from an email that I received from a "reader" (whom I've never met but with whom I've been in various writing contact since 1997 - actually, we first encountered one another on a listserv, lost contact, and then he found me through Dr. Crazy, wrote to me, I realized I "knew" him... yeah, it's a small fucking world) that made me laugh my head off. It was in response to something that I said to him on the blog.

"Baby! I'm officially hott for you now, you lil' queen of spades, you."

God, we totally can't take ourselves so seriously, can we? Also, I may be a blogging whore.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Fast Cars

Look at the below cars. If Dr. Crazy were to have a date next week (and yes, this may be true), and if each of the below cars signifies a kind of suitor, with which do you think Dr. Crazy would be most likely to be planning to have dinner?

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Master Procrastinator

Note to self: Don't kid yourself that going to the bank for the second time in one day (I finally got reimbursed for my campus visit), making a list of things to do with your book manuscript (but not doing them), and organizing papers to grade (though not grading them) constitutes doing work. In addition, don't think that you need to load all of the cd's you are loading into your computer in there. Sure, there were many that never made their way into your iTunes library when you bought the new computer in the fall, but this is not a pressing or urgent matter for this afternoon. In addition, you should not try to suck others into your web of procrastination so that you have company in your bad behavior. I know you want to, but it is very wrong. It also annoys people. Just like this blog post is annoying people you don't know. Because procrastinating people are annoying. Even to themselves. Even if they've mastered the art.

Now Fully Rested, a "Real" Post

Except for of course it's not a "real" post, as it's really just a warming up to write post. After my 4:30 wake-up call, I did manage to go back to sleep for about 4 hours (yay!) and got my day off to a bit of a leisurely start because I didn't need to go in to teach this morning. So, since awaking, I went to the bank, went and got coffee (Mmmm.... ventisugarfreevanillanonfatlatte.... mmmmm), went to the grocery store. All things I needed to do, admittedly, (well, except the coffee) but I am feeling a bit guilty for the fact that in doing them it means that the writing day is starting at 11:30-12:00 rather than earlier, esp. as I do need to go into the office for a meeting at 3:30 - actually, a bit before in order to take care of some things there. Tonight, I've got about 10 papers to grade, so yes, it's back to the marathon work schedule that I've been keeping. I'm trying to keep things in perspective - all of this will be better in a week or two, it's just that the time of the semester is coinciding with other difficult things, and so of course I'm going to feel a little bit overextended, but it won't be this way forever - but perspective's not easy when one is overwhelmed. Just have to keep checking things off the list.

Also, I'm finding it helpful to turn my stress into mild resentment of others who have embarassments of riches. I've got this friend (oh, who am I kidding, it's my Object of Infatuation, and I shall be Infatuated with him for eternity, just as I've remained infatuated with my One True Love from grad school, for once I choose to be irrationally devoted to a person that devotion remains steadfast and true even if I try to say that it doesn't and even if I've not seen or spoken to the person since 1999) who finished his teaching FOR THE ACADEMIC YEAR on Friday. Yeah, that's right. He's DONE. DONE UNTIL SEPTEMBER. He's kind of freaking out about "how will I handle the unstructured time" issue, and you know what? Cry me a river! (That said, I know I suck with unstructured time, but given my current situation, I'd rather just be pissy that I don't have unstructured time, even though it would ultimately be very bad for me.) So yes, feeling a sense of moral superiority about being in the trenches at a university that has the longest semesters ever and that has (some) vastly underprepared students and that works me like a slave is somehow helping. See, I'm a "good person" because of the job that I do - it's not just about doing the job well but actually about martyring myself for the cause of students who would not otherwise get as good of an education. I am really a humanitarian in the manner of Angelina Jolie! See? Life gives you lemons and you make lemonade. Or, if you're my friend, life gives you lemonade and you somehow sift all the sugar out to turn it into face-puckering lemon juice. Maybe the answer for him would be to add vodka? Vodka and lemonade can be quite nice, if I remember back to college-style drinking habits.... Ooh, lemon drops! Those are lovely!

Ok, probably bad that I'm thinking about drinking at 11:26 AM. But can you blame me? I mean, in theory, I've got to send the completed book manuscript off in a week! A week! A MOTHERFUCKING WEEK!

I suppose I should go and write something.

1:41 Update:
The review! It is done! The meeting! It is being rescheduled! Should I probably go into the office anyway? Meh - nothing pressing to make me go there. Should I work on the Mansuscript? Yes, but I'm trying to decide what work I want to do - perhaps my first step should be to make a list of what work I have left to do, which I probably should have done last week. Should I grade? Of course, but I think the first step with the grading needs to be organizing the papers into conference order. Oh, and it turns out I only NEED to grade 5 for tomorrow. Should I prep for tomorrow? Yeah, I should. At least for the one class - the other class I actually did most of the prep for yesterday. Should I go to the gym? Yes, and I will do that... just need to decide what time I'd like to go. Should I do laundry? I do desperately need to do laundry, but since it's warming up again after tomorrow, it's not pressing, as I can break out the warm-weather clothes that are clean. But can I say how proud I am that I finally finished that review? That I've checked that one big thing off my list? Woohoo!

Feeling a Strong Desire to Murder Cat

Good morning, everyone. Oh yes, the timestamp on this post today is correct. A certain little Man-Kitty loves to wake up before the birdies - not with them - in order to be "ready."

Actually, I think the early rising may have something to do with the below, taken yesterday afternoon, as I was busy typing my little fingers to the bone. Now I'm going to try to go back to sleep for three hours. Ridiculous cat.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Slow Start, But a Start Nonetheless

Had to get the whinging off the top of the page. I do thank you all for the supportive responses, and again, writing that post really did help me to get my head around a lot of stuff. I'm still thinking, formulating a plan, but, for the moment, on to brighter topics.

I've made my list of things to do, I've accomplished three of them (and yes, one was showering, but come on - sometimes even that is an accomplishment), and now I'm on to accomplish more! More! (Yes, I'm trying to give myself a bit of a pep talk.)

In other news, it occurs to me that the ball of stress that I have become (knot in stomach, tension in shoulders, no appetite, too much caffeine), while totally unhealthy, may have the same result that becoming a ball of stress had in my first year of the PhD program: after that first year, I looked better than I've ever looked before or since. Stress as beauty regimen? Perhaps not wise, but nonetheless, if there can be any positive result of feeling this way, this is good, yes? And after that first year, I then had what I like to think of as The Golden Age of Crazy - suitors beating down the door, excitement, intrigue, all those things that make it possibe to sustain oneself in this otherwise monastic existence of Leading a Life of the Mind. Hmmm.... I am intrigued by the possibilities of this return to angst and desperation. Perhaps I will have my Second Golden Age of Crazy in just a few short months?

I'll tell you what: If I do enter into the Second Golden Age of Crazy, I'm totally cutting all my hair off. Not that it's long now, but it's been about 10 years since I had this haircut, and it really did look smashing on me, if I do say so myself. That said, I need to be a thinner me to rock that haircut, so the Dr. Crazy Stress Diet really might be essential to making that happen.

I wish it were about 20 degrees warmer outside. Spring is just not springing quickly enough.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Although of course, since I'm posting this on the blog it's not quite total introspection - extrospection? Is that a word? Because that's what I'm doing. When I'm truly introspective I write in my journal, but sometimes I find that I'd rather write on the blog than in the journal because it forces me to do more than to ramble and whine and pine and moan. Tragically, my journal tends to be one that is filled with the above - the good things that happen appear only as quickly dashed off lines - like punctuation to the rambling screeds that fill the pages. In that way, the journal is therapeutic, but it also means that it's not true. It's irrational, it's off the cuff, it doesn't much care about readability. It represents a version of my life, but that version is... limited. And so tonight, as I wind down after a day that wasn't as unproductive as it might have been though which was, largely, unproductive given the List of Things to Do, I don't want to write in the journal. I don't want to give in to its solipsism and I don't want to go round in circles in the way that I do there. And so I turn to the blog, probably making some people "amazingly queasy," not because I want to divulge all of the gory details of my life here but because I don't want to get caught up in the gory details. I want to take the gory details and to turn them into something - and I can't do that in a forum that exists for me alone. Or maybe I won't do that - I'm sure I could but whether I could or would I don't.

So tonight I had a great talk with my friend J., and it was... yeah, it was good. J. has had one hell of a past couple of years, involving a bad relationship, changing jobs, and a bunch of other things. But the thing that's great about talking to J. is that she's totally outside of the academic orbit. She reads self-help books and chick lit unironically, she goes to a shrink and to a psychic, she makes mistakes but she's always thinking about how to improve who she is. She believes that you can improve who you are. She's 35, single, she's got this great career, and she's not... cynical - even though she could be. Of the people in my life, I think that she's probably the one person I'd ever say wasn't cynical (even when she should be, some might argue - that a dose of cynicism can ultimately be a blessing). My point, I suppose, is it's good to have a person in one's life who can tell you, again, without irony, that you should pray to god and to the angels for what you want and then you'll get it. (She's not all fundamentalist or something - she just actually believes in things, which so many of us are far too "smart" to do.)

But so one thing that I've been thinking a lot about is that I need to live my life more - all parts of it. In a lot of ways I'm a really closed off person. I know, how is this possible, given that I blab all of my business out to the world every day? But while I blab, in my actual life, I think that I sometimes don't take leaps I should take. Oh sure, I take leaps, but they are rational leaps, sensibly and carefully considered leaps. And sure, people are often noting my "bravery" in taking those leaps that I do take, which for others might seem incredibly risky. But what I do when the opportunity for a real irrational leap happens is I back off. This is all related to my tendency to fall into holding patterns, to my tendency to put things that are scary or uncertain on the back-burner and instead to focus all of my attention on that which is controllable. The thing about J., as wacky as she may be with the angels and the psychic and all the rest, is that she really is open to possibility. I love the idea of possibility, I don't really believe in it and I'm not really open to it, not if it doesn't fit into the rational and logical constraints of my life. The problem is, I make those rational and logical constraints, and so perhaps a dose of faith might do me some good.

I've been thinking a lot about this because of the intense pressure I've been feeling in the past month or so, related to work stuff. I honestly haven't felt this kind of pressure since getting this job. Sure, I've been busy, and I've accomplished a lot - perhaps more than many others in the same situation might do - but what getting a job meant for me was that I had mental and physical space to become my unpressured self again. That's not to say that there hasn't been pressure, but I became a person who read for pleasure again, who listened to music again, who wrote in my journal not only about work again (the dissertation took over all journaling when I was dissertating, so I had to learn how to write in there about my life again after that was finished). In the past month or so, I've reverted in some really fucked up ways to the person I was in graduate school. I've lashed out at people who haven't deserved it, I've been really emotionally up and down, I've been beating myself up for all I'm not getting done, I've been really insecure about whether I'm doing anything well. And the thing that's crazy is that I remember being this person, and I thought she was gone.

The thing is about this, though, that some parts of it are really great. That may seem contradictory, but there is something... alluring... about not having every single fucking thing under control. It's nice in some ways (though uncomfortable) to think that things might happen that I don't plan, that I don't decide. But the corollary of that is that I also feel really out of control, and that makes me do things that don't make me happy, in an effort to get the control back. Notice a recurring word here? That pesky word "control"? Yes, I think I may be a bit of a control freak.

The fact of the matter is, I want to control everything. I always have. Like the whole world, I mean. I want to control how other people feel in relation to me, I want to control how every aspect of the classes that I teach go, I want to control every. little. thing. This is not healthy. I know it's not healthy. I do my best not to be this person. But deep down, this is who I am. And at the end of the day, I totally wish I were different. Because while these impulses serve me in many areas, they are deeply, deeply fucked up. And they fuck me up, even as I think at the time that they make everything ok.

I don't want to be a cynical person. I don't want to be a closed off person. I don't want to be a jaded person. I don't want to be the sort of person who questions everything to the point that she makes it unreal. I don't want to be the sort of person who retreats into work because it's controllable when ultimately, work is not going to be the thing that gives my life meaning.

In my conversation with my mom this afternoon, I said something that I never would have imagined I'd say. I said to her that if I won the lottery, or if there were a really good reason akin in scale to winning the lottery, that I would quit this job in a minute, even if it meant not having a job as a college professor on the tenure-track. I blurted this out while I was crying to her, and I didn't know I felt it or that it was true until I said it. The fact of the matter is, this job, this career, which I've used to define myself and to order my choices since I was 20 years old, isn't really all that important to me. I am in a place where I feel like I've achieved what I'd meant to achieve, and if something else came along - some opportunity, some possibility - I think it would be a mistake to hang on to this career just because of the years that I put into achieving it. The thing is, I've done what I set out to do, and ultimately, while my life is fine, I'm not satisfied with it. It's not enough. It never has been. I don't think it can be.

I don't want to go on the market next year just to move up in the academic hierarchy or something. I don't give a shit about that, even though I think I did when I went on the market this year. And I don't want to stay here just to get tenure. Sure, tenure means security, but fuck security if it means living this deliberately limited life.

But so. Where does all of this leave me? I've had this revelation, so now what?

  1. Of course I'm going to keep wanting things professionally and I'm going to keep pushing myself professionally. But that can't happen to the exclusion of everything else.
  2. Even as I'm totally overcommitted and totally stressed out, I'm going to work on my personal life right here. Sure, I might leave, but living in the future is no answer to my present dissatisfaction. Especially since this mythical future may never come.
  3. I'm going to let a thing that's going on in the periphery go on, and I'm going to see what develops. I'm not going to shut it down because it's inconvenient and stupid. Because as inconvenient and stupid as it is, it's somehow important. I don't know in what way it's important, but it's not some fake, imaginary thing, and it's not ... I don't know. I don't know what it's not but that's partly because I'm not entirely sure what it is. And while that indeterminacy is totally uncomfortable, I'm not going to do, or I'm going to try not to do, that thing I do, where I stop things before there's anything, really, to stop. (I'll admit, I already did a version of that thing I do, and - I think luckily - I failed.) But yes, it's in the periphery, and I need it not to be in the center, but I also think that I need to let it play out to whatever conclusion to which it will naturally come. I need to not do some melodramatic thing that closes off possibility (which I did in the one other comparable situation to this that I've had in my life - which I named and controlled and ultimately turned into a thing that cannot become anything other than the thing that I decided it could be).
I know this is cryptic, and for that I apoligize. I'm using you to figure shit out. So if you've read to this point, thanks. Because if it weren't for readers, if it weren't for blogging, I'd probably be crying again, writing illegibly in my journal. As it is, I'm feeling kind of good. I feel like this post helped me get my mind around a lot of stuff that I haven't really allowed myself to deal with.

Today's been a quiet day. Other than talking to J. and my mom, and to A. in the morning, I've been pretty much silent. I haven't been emailing, I haven't been emoting. I've kind of just been sitting with myself. And I think that's good for me every now and again, even if it's not something that is the norm for me, which it's not, because I'm chatty.

It's just so weird to think that I don't really care whether or not I remain an academic. It's so weird to think that I care about other things more than I care about professional accomplishments and success.

So I've been listening to the iPod on shuffle, and the song "Absolutely Cuckoo" by the Magnetic Fields just came on. I think that signals the end of this post.

Working When Unmotivated

Things accomplished today:
  1. Paid my Macy's bill off (yay!)
  2. Went to the drugstore, thought I wasn't going to buy anything non-essential, and the next thing I knew I'd spent 40 bucks. This is why I can really only allow myself to go like once a month.
  3. Began writing the review - 2 crappy, fragmented pages. But still - two crappy fragmented pages is a start. A crappy start, but a start nonetheless.
  4. Talked to my mom and actually cried. Like for-real crying - not just a teardrop welling up sort of crying but snotty sobbing crying. I haven't cried in.... recent memory. I used to cry all the time. Huh. I think this was a combo of the topic of discussion, the time of the month, and stress. It's just weird how close to the surface my emotions have been lately and how changeable they've been. Again, I think this is probably very much stress-related.
  5. Decided that tomorrow is a new day and that I will accomplish all the things I need to do then. That is a stupid, stupid thing to decide. At least I don't really need to go in Monday until 3 PM.
  6. Watched The Last Days of Disco.
  7. Thought about things I don't feel like writing about but that do make me feel kind of warm and fuzzy (for even with the crying, life is not all bad).
Tonight I'm going to watch episodes of Sex and the City, have a glass or two of wine, and do some research stuff I've got to do. I'm going to bed early and I'm going to have a for-real productive day tomorrow - not a faux productive day that one has when one would rather be doing almost anything other than working.

I can't wait until these two weeks of self-imposed exile are up (manuscript deadline is a week from Monday). My parents are talking about coming down for a visit, there are some social things on the horizon that might actually materialize, and well, it will be more consistently spring. And then it will be the end of the semester. Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I just need to get through the next week and a half and all will be fine. I just know it will.

Procrastination, Day Two

Though it turns out I won't go out tonight (which had been a possibility) so all is not lost, even though I still can't motivate myself to work. What am I doing instead of working? Let's let Nick Hornby describe it:

"To me, making a tape is like writing a letter - there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again [. . .] A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do" (88-9).

Yes, I'm making a mix. Haven't done this since 1999. (Oh, actually though, I think there was an intended mix for a guy I dated a couple of years ago, but I didn't put that much thought into it and I never gave it to him. Wonder whatever happened to that one....)

Next thing you know I'll decide to rearrange my furniture.

Or maybe dye my hair.

Or maybe clean my study.

Or decide to wash my car.

Lord, the possibilities for procrastination really are endless....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Oh, and a Thing That I Loved Today

A bumper-sticker, on a Chevy Corsica (and do they even make those anymore?):

"My Give-A-Damn is Busted"

I saw this as I was driving home from work. I think this might be my issue this week.

Productivity - Infatuation = Procrastination

I have spent my day today, rather than working on many of the things that I must complete immediately - like grading, a book, a review, prep - working on an advertisement and syllabus for a course that I will teach in the fall.

What is the course? Well, you'll have to guess from this image. The image is both disturbing and provocative, but curiously covered up and straight, don't you think?

In other news, I'm feeling very foolish for doing the Classic Crazy Flip-Out on the Object of my (former) Infatuation. I think I had a tantrum, like a kid who didn't get a nap that day. Let's ignore the fact that the CCFO happened between 6:30 and 9:20 AM. Comments from my friends to whom I told my tale of woe:

"You are your mother's daughter."

"Oh, I recognize this. It's that thing you do. That thing you do when you've been kept waiting just one second too long. It's a special skill, breaking up with somebody who isn't your boyfriend."

But so yeah. I'm procrastinating. Also, I make somebody amazingly queasy. At least the others who make this person queasy along with me are my peeps :)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Close Reading (By Request)

So what seems like an eternity ago, I did a post in which I talked about why I think close reading is so important a skill to teach to students. And somebody in comments asked me to post about how to teach close reading, and I never got around to responding. Tonight, another reader, who teaches physics, sent me an email asking me to talk more about it because apparently these kids today can't do story problems. And then today, in handing back papers in my upper-level class, it struck me that I need to do more in class to demonstrate how to do close reading in a more explicit way. So, in a little break from the lunacy of today, I've decided it's the perfect moment for a post about close reading. (Let's put to the side for the moment the fact that my "close reading" abilities may in fact end up being the end of me.)

Ok, so first things first. What is "close reading"?

You can't teach it if you don't tell them exactly what you mean by the term. But telling them isn't enough, because it's too abstract. You've got to tell them, and then also trick them into doing it. So, as a basic definition, I usually explain that it's really dealing with the words in a passage of text. That it's not using a passage to speak for you, but rather looking deeply at the passage and explaining what it says. I tell them to use the prompt of "in other words" to start the process. So, let's say you're dealing with this passage from Patricia Duncker's BRILLIANT novel Hallucinating Foucault:

"You ask me what I fear most. You know already or you would not ask. It is the loss of my reader, the man for whom I write. My greatest fear is that one day, unexpectedly, suddenly, I will lose you. We never see one another and we never speak directly, yet through the writing our intimacy is complete. My relationship with you is intense because it is addressed every day, through all my working hours" (72).

In other words, what? You can't just go from this to "In today's society, people pay more attention to the reader than the writer. Patricia Duncker's novel considers this, and blah blah blah." You also can't go from that to, "I totally agree with this because when I met my boyfriend, I realized blah blah blah." There's got to be more.

You've got actually to deal with the language. You've got to:
  1. Provide context for the passage. Who's speaking? Who's the addressee? Is there another assumed "reader" than the one to whom the passage is addressed? What is the situation in the book at this moment?
  2. Actually look at the language. What makes this particular passage significant? Why should anybody care about it more than about any other passage that might be chosen?
  3. You've got to relate what you have to say about language and context to your broader claim about the text at hand. You can't just assume the reader will "get it." The reader, rarely, "gets it" without some instruction from the writer.
So, this is great, right? A key to close reading. Just do #1 #2 and #3, and you've got it down. Except no. Because this is a skill that needs to be developed. It's not enough to be a talented writer (although that will help a great deal) and to know the rules. You've got to work to develop the skill to communicate your reading of a text to others. It's not just about getting it in your own head - in part because what you think in your own head doesn't necessarily mean you get it. This is why the whole "I think for a long time and then I just sit down and dash something off" thing doesn't work. Except, of course, that this is what students many times are trained to do. When they are asked to demonstrate engagement with a text, they are often asked to react to the text. Close reading is not reaction. I don't particularly care how you "feel" about a text. Nor does anybody else. Nor do I care that it reminds me of when your grandmother had alzheimers. That has nothing to do with what is in the actual text. Nor do I care what you "got from it." I care about what is there. (This, incidentally, is why I think Dr. Pion's students may be failing to comprehend the story problems - because they're used to reacting and not to reading.)

The problem, as far as I can tell, is one of focus. My students don't necessarily focus intently on what they read. They don't necessarily read with pen in hand. Or if the pen is in hand, it's just underlining cool stuff, and not really entering into a conversation with the texts that they read. When I was an undergraduate, I was a talented writer, but I was also the sort of reader who read for "cool passages." Now, of course I still read for "cool passages," but now I actually ask myself why they are illuminating and cool. THIS is what missing from the NCLB testing world. There is no need to focus because there is no need for a why. You don't need to engage deeply because there is no evaluation of deep engagement. And with no evaluation comes no reward.

So how do you force students to develop this focus? This deep engagement with the text? This ability to take apart something that is complex and to deal with it?

My strategy includes the following:

1) Regular (4-5 in a 15 week semester) formal writing in short (1-2 page), relatively low-risk (no more than 5% of the grade per paper) assignments that I grade with (some of my students might say) too-high expectations. They would have the exact same assignment for each of the papers. The point is not to change up the assignment, but to let them develop as writers through doing the assignment over and over again with different texts/arguments. What such assignments do is they force the writer to be concise (not enough room in a short assignment to pad), they force a writer to get to the point, and they force a writer to have a tight and logical organization. These assignments are NOT easy. How do I know? Because I had a similar kind of series of assignments in a class as an undergraduate. I learned more from writing those 1-page papers than I learned in graduate school. That's not hyperbole.

2) In-class activities that break down the process of close reading without saying "this is close reading." Example: Break students into groups. Assign each group a poem or a stanza of a longer poem. Then have each group do the same thing: 1) Look at the technical stuff - scan the peom, figure out the rhyme scheme, identify poetic devices like metaphor, etc.; 2) summarize what happens in whatever they're looking at; 3) talk about how looking at the form illuminates the content of the passage; 4) relate the passage to some bigger thing (the whole poem if it's a stanza, the unit of the course, etc.); 5) come up with three questions or comments related to the poem or stanza. This sort of activity teaches them how to read. It teaches them how not just to look at words and to react. And you can do similar things with asking students to evaluate characters in novels or plays, or to evaluate scenes or chapters of novels. The point is to take what experienced readers do and to articulate it to them in steps. And to use these kinds of activities regularly, so they get into the habit of looking at texts through these kinds of focal points.

3) Model for them what you are looking for them to do. This is one that I'm weakest on, but I've been working hard on it this year. One strategy I use for this in writing classes is to come up with an introduction for a paper on the board as a class. Another strategy I've used in upper-level classes is to give them a handout in which I mark up a piece of academic writing to show them where the analysis is, to show how much quoted material is there and how it is integrated, to show how the writer integrates quoted material into his/her own argument.

4) And I'm going to try something new in my upper-level class this week - a kind of hybrid in-class thing that comes from wanting to show them how to close-read while at the same time I want to discuss the end of a novel. The plan is this: I'm going to find a bunch of passages in the novel and type them up. Each student will get a unique passage. I'll give them five minutes to read the passage and to provide a "close reading" of it (with instructions about general things to address). They will not put their names on the sheets. When fifteen minutes is up, we will form a circle, and we will do this thing I've done in writing classes, sometimes called a "round-robin" activity, that's kind of like musical chairs. I'll have students pass the papers around until I say "stop!" (or yell, as often ends up happening, because this is kind of fun and crazy) When I yell stop, I call on somebody to read the passage and then the response to it. (Nobody is embarassed or called out on what they wrote because it's anonymous). Then, we discuss the response, both in terms of discussing the novel and in terms of critiquing the "reading" of the passage that the writer provided. I've never done this before, so it may be a disaster, but I think that it could do exactly what I need it to do. I'll report back when I've got results.

So, to sum up: define in plain terms, give opportunities (multiple, formal and informal) to practice, model. Yep, those I think are the keys to teaching close reading.

But a final thought, and one I've expressed in various situations to my students: developing one's ability to close read is a good thing but it's also a dangerous thing. It means that you will "read too much into things" and it means that you will make mistakes in life that less careful people would avoid. It will mean that you'll end up in whirlwinds of drama that any rational person would avoid or just would never even think of experiencing. Because once you learn how to do this, you can't not do it. You can't just take things at face value anymore. Everything has more than a superficial meaning. It's enough to make a person Crazy (even if she does get a PhD in the process).